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Uber, but for ... finding work outside of Uber

Image: Uber

Good morning! This Wednesday, there's a new normal in education, Uber's helping drivers find work at other companies, and everybody's hacking their Peloton.

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People Are Talking

Jack Dorsey is spending $1 billion to fund coronavirus relief, UBI, and girls' health and education:

  • "The needs are increasingly urgent, and I want to see the impact in my lifetime. I hope this inspires others to do something similar. Life is too short, so let's do everything we can today to help people now."
  • Jack's whole thread is worth reading – he explains how he picked the causes, how he structured the giving, and more. (Also, he's running the whole thing out of a Google spreadsheet.)

But billionaire philanthropy alone won't save us from coronavirus, Dustin Moskovitz said:

  • "Philanthropy is taking on a greater portion of the responsibility for response than anyone expected. Unfortunately, I think it's clear to anyone closely following the situation today that philanthropy simply can't solve this crisis on its own."

Virus-related surveillance can't be allowed, Color of Change president Rashad Robinson told Protocol's Levi Sumagaysay:

  • "These are the same people who have ensured we have failing hospitals and underfunded schools, who have been given huge tax breaks while cutting services in our community. And now they want tools to surveil because they want us to think they care. We're raising an alarm because we don't believe it."
  • "We're not fighting for privacy protections because we're being obtuse. When America gets a cold, black people get the flu. It will impact black and brown communities disproportionately."

The Big Story

Edtech is adapting to an upended education system

Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of Coursera, showed me a slide deck the other day that neatly encapsulated how crazy his life has become. It's a map of the world, with countries highlighted that have closed their schools.

  • The slides start on March 4, when UNESCO first predicted a huge coronavirus-related disruption to education.
  • They end just three weeks later, with 1.53 billion students — 90% of school-age kids — unable to go to school.

Here's what Maggioncalda told me he and Coursera have been doing to keep up – and why he thinks the education landscape might be changed forever.

On handling a huge influx of new customers:

  • "We had 4.8 million enrollments in March. In the last 18 days we've launched 2,100 more Coursera for Campus programs. We've been really busy."
  • "In the U.S. there are over 2,000 course catalogs online, in a standard data structure. So we built a natural language processing algorithm that actually did semantic mapping for every university course and every Coursera course. Now we have 1,800 catalogs and 2.6 million courses that are automatically matched to the Coursera catalog."

On what all the new Coursera users are doing:

  • "We've seen spikes in life sciences, personal development, everything. Personal development, a lot of it is this one course, it's actually the most popular course at Yale. On Coursera we call it The Science of Well-Being." (32 million people have viewed the course in the last 30 days.)
  • "Another example of a hot course is Imperial College of London: they put out this free course on COVID-19." (1.7 million people viewed that one.)

On what the new normal could be for education:

  • "Step number one is kind of emergency mode, which is just 'teach into the camera and we'll figure out the rest later.'"
  • "After that, now people are starting to think about the fall: How do I go beyond emergency remote teaching and start actually delivering a good learning experience to people who aren't on campus?"
  • "The new normal for probably the next couple years will be mixed classrooms where some of the people are physically there and some of the people aren't."

Gig Work

Uber, but for ... finding work outside of Uber

With demand for ride-hailing down by as much as 94%, Uber is rolling out a new feature called Work Hub to help drivers find work — at Uber or elsewhere.

  • It's now easier in the driver app to switch to Uber Eats, connect to carriers with Uber Freight, or sign up for work shifts with Uber Works. The hub also lists job postings from nearly 15 other companies, including Domino's, Shipt, and CareGuide.
  • Uber's Xavier Van Chau told Protocol's Sofie Kodner that Uber is looking to list companies hiring for a large number of opportunities nationwide, that have taken steps to ensure worker safety, and that are focused on moving essential items like food. He said Uber is not taking a job-placement commission — likely a very smart PR decision.
  • "The diversity on our platform is helpful," Van Chau said. "We want to lean into that, be it with opportunities with Uber or beyond."

Now that Uber's flagship service is down-and-out with no end in sight, the hub could signal a new era for Uber as a platform.

  • "As we move into this economic reality, where does that position Uber?" Van Chau asked — a question that he said is at the top of his mind right now. The hub, he said, is the beginning of a more holistic approach to connecting people who want flexible work with opportunities.
  • There's no data yet on flipping rates because, while Uber has been encouraging drivers to switch to Eats for weeks, the Work Hub itself is new. But Van Chau said the company has heard from drivers that they are looking for additional ways to get income, even if it means taking health risks.

There's another advantage here for Uber, too: If drivers are using the platform to find work at other companies entirely, it could be harder to argue that Uber drivers are Uber employees. It's the closest thing to a true platform Uber's ever been.



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"It's clearly just an Android tablet stuck to a bike"

Coop a bunch of tech workers up at home for weeks on end, and you can bet they're going to tinker with every screen and device they can find. One particularly fun example: Peloton bikes.

  • A number of people have figured out how to add extra apps to their bike or treadmill, so they can watch movies or take meetings while they exercise. It voids the warranty, but it's not very difficult. (Or hard to undo.)
  • "It took 10 or 15 minutes to get it up and running,"Button co-founder Chris Maddern told me. He started tinkering after noticing one of Peloton's dialog boxes was clearly cribbed from Android — so he went to developer settings, tapped ten times to turn on dev mode (as you do), and started installing extra apps. So far, he's got Netflix and Zoom on his bike.

Maddern doesn't do full workouts during meetings, but said he will gently pedal as he chats, kind of like walking while you talk on the phone. And there's a bonus: "The camera on it is one of the best webcams I've ever used," he said.

  • Already, he's fired up Pelo-Zoom for a meeting only to discover he was chatting with someone doing precisely the same thing.

Maddern doesn't plan to stop here. He told me he wants to put some games on his Peloton. Oh, and of course: "I'd be fascinated to see if you can code on it, too," he said. "Like, it has Bluetooth and it's Android, and there's nothing stopping you from just connecting a keyboard."

For those not looking to spend upwards of two grand on a video-conferencing rig, there's what you might call The Reverse Peloton: buy a $50 set of pedals, stick them under your desk, and use the Peloton app on your own tablet.

Number of the Day


That's at least how much interest Airbnb is reportedly paying on the $1 billion in funding it received on Monday. The Wall Street Journal also reported that "investors will also get warrants that can be converted into shares with a valuation for the company of $18 billion, a drop of almost half since Airbnb's last fundraising in 2017." It also reportedly comes with a verbal agreement to add at least one new executive to the company's ranks. Airbnb needed cash, and it appears to have paid a steep price to get it. It may not be done, either: Airbnb could be raising as much as another $1 billion, Bloomberg said.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: Intel is giving $50 million to fund online education and virus research. Germany is using a smartwatch app to track the virus's spread. Apple Maps now highlights food delivery, hospitals, and other essential services. Verizon won't be doing home installations for a while. And Tesla is furloughing workers and cutting salaries around the company, though it told employees it plans to be back to normal production by May 4th.
  • Nuro is the second company to get a DMV permit to test its fully driverless R2 vehicles on California's public roads — before now, only Waymo could do so. Initial testing will begin in Mountain View, home to the company's headquarters, but the company won't start until shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted. Next, it's seeking a deployment permit to to test commercial delivery.
  • WhatsApp has clamped down on message forwarding: Users can now forward them to only one person at a time. (It used to be five, down from 20, down from 256.) Limiting forwarding continues to be WhatsApp's best tool for fighting viral misinformation.
  • From Protocol: Startups are trying to change stimulus package rules to ensure that they can benefit — while simultaneously planning sweeping changes in case they run out of time.
  • Microsoft bought the domain, one of those tricky names that is often used for internal drives but can also resolve to the internet. Here's a good explanation of what that means — and why it's good news that Microsoft got the domain before anyone else.
  • Amazon decided to "pause" its in-house shipping service beta test — its last day of pickups will be June 5. Business Insider reports that sellers liked how cheap Amazon's shipping was, but not how unreliable it was.
  • Toast laid off about half its staff after sales dropped by 80 percent practically overnight. CEO Chris Comparato said that "with limited visibility into how quickly the industry may recover, and facing slower than anticipated growth, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of reducing our headcount."

One More Thing

Zoom backgrounds are the new fashion statement

Want to be on the cover of Fast Company? Now you can! At least on video chats. The magazine put out a bunch of downloadable virtual backgrounds that make you look like a cover star. And I don't know if you've noticed, but all the cool kids have fancy Zoom backgrounds now. You can live inside your favorite memes or video games; be a Pixar character; re-create your 8th grade school picture; and basically anything else you can think of. It's even become a clever way for artists and illustrators to make some money in a difficult time. Personally, I'll be doing all my calls from now on from The Office's confessional set — the perfect place to complain about my coworkers.


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