WhatsApp tries to keep the lights on
Good morning! This Wednesday, Facebook and WhatsApp are fighting to keep their services up, layoffs are sweeping across the tech industry, and there's an Instagram Live comedy show you won't want to miss.
First, two things you should know about: Tom Krazit's new cloud newsletter launches this morning, and it's awesome, and you really need to subscribe. Also, Tom and Kevin McCallister are hosting Protocol's second Virtual Meetup tomorrow, and we'd love to have you there! (You can also listen to the podcast version of last week's meetup.)
People Are Talking
Facebook usage is way up but ad sales are struggling, Mark Zuckerberg said:
- "We don't monetize many of the services where we're seeing increased engagement, and we've seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19."
Impossible Foods could make meat unlike any animal's, said CEO Pat Brown:
- "I think we can have a lot more fun and create a diversity of flavors and textures and so forth. But we don't want our sales to be supplementary to existing meat sales. We want them to be at the expense of existing meat sales."
Marc Benioff has an eight-step plan for coping with coronavirus, including this:
- "7. Every ceo take a 90 day 'no lay off' pledge."
Instagram is trying to bring us all together. Its Live concerts, the Stay Home story, and the new Co-Watching feature all serve that same purpose, Adam Mosseri said:
- "These are ways of, yes, helping people stay entertained, but also giving people a reason to stay in and also creating a sense of solidarity or camaraderie … all this is just to bring people together when we can't be physically proximate. A lot of us need that. I know I do — I'm in this garage all day."
- Mosseri also addressed the removal of likes, and what testing that out means for the company: "There's a bunch of interesting challenges: How can you tell what's relevant on Instagram? What does this mean for the creator ecosystem and branded content ecosystem? Does it just make Instagram less interesting?"
The Big Story
WhatsApp tries to keep up with coronavirus
Mark Zuckerberg has said what we've been hearing from tech execs for the last two weeks: "We're just trying to keep the lights on over here." At WhatsApp, the go-to messaging platform for more than 2 billion people, that's been an all-hands-on-deck process:
- The company told me that WhatsApp usage is up across the globe, but voice and video calling are growing even faster — and putting real strain on WhatsApp infrastructure. It has nearly doubled its service capacity in the last few weeks, and brought a new data center up to speed in record time.
WhatsApp is also trying to figure out how to manage information. But it can't operate like a social network, where things are public and have URLs and can be moderated by humans or machines. So it's building a sort of end-around system:
- Users can forward a message to a local fact-checking service to see what's real and what's fake. A feature currently in beta also puts a magnifying glass at the top of any virally forwarded message. Users can tap on it to search the web for what's in the message — a quick way to verify what they're reading.
- And more than 10 million people have signed up for a WHO WhatsApp bot that shares updated stats, debunks false information, and offers advice on how to protect yourself. Countries around the world are developing their own bots as well.
WhatsApp tells me it's confident it'll stay up and running going forward. But the information wars won't end — not even when coronavirus does.
GoFundMe takes a stimulus package to small business
While government officials debated the inner workings of a stimulus package, people had already turned to GoFundMe to give and receive money at unprecedented rates. More than 22,000 coronavirus related campaigns were created on the site in the last few weeks, raising more than $40 million. And that's just the start:
- Small businesses across the U.S. are now automatically getting their own fundraising campaigns. GoFundMe's new Small Business Relief Initiative includes listing auto-generated campaigns next to qualifying small businesses in the Yelp app.
- A lot of businesses qualify: restaurants, nightlife, beauty, and fitness businesses with fewer than five locations nationwide. This could lead to millions of new campaigns, Yelp SVP Chad Richard told Protocol's Sofie Kodner. Campaigns that raise at least $500 will get another $500 from the Small Business Relief Fund — at least until the fund runs out.
GoFundMe has always been passive, a place for individuals to create campaigns for people or causes they're passionate about. Now, for the first time, the company is proactively filling gaps where it sees need — led by a CEO who just started three weeks ago.
- "We haven't ever auto-created campaigns for folks," new GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan told Sofie. "It's a function of the unique circumstances we're in. We thought it made sense to try and be proactive here, given the scale of the problem."
The biggest of these projects in the U.S. is the Frontline Responders Fund, launched yesterday by Flexport. Its GoFundMe campaign seeks to raise $10 million to keep delivering supplies to medical facilities in need, and already has high-profile donors like Paul Graham, Jack Dorsey, Ron Conway, Edward Norton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- "We all hope that there's going to be more government aid," Cadogan said. "But we have a role and you know, it's sort of our duty to do everything we possibly can to use our platform."
Has your company been picked out for a GoFundMe campaign? Did you know it was coming? Let me know what you think: email@example.com
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Live from (a living room in) New York, it's Wednesday Night!
Here's something to brighten your evening: Comedian Catherine Cohen's Instagram Live variety show at 8 p.m. ET. Cohen normally hosts the show every week at New York's Club Cumming, but with the venue closed she decided to move things online — and raise money for charity in the process. Her Live debut was last week, and she told Protocol's Shakeel Hashim that she was pleased with the results.
- "It was definitely an experiment," she said. Cohen used Instagram's co-broadcasting feature to patch in guests, helping to "recreate some camaraderie" — while practicing good physical distancing.
- Last week's show found a big audience. "At Club Cumming, we have 150 people," Cohen told Shakeel. On Instagram, "so far we've had 11,000 people watching. It's just completely nuts." Cohen also set the recording of the show to disappear after 24 hours — last week's is gone, sorry folks — which helps "keep some of the live feeling there."
The new venue took some getting used to, though. Alongside technical difficulties that plague all live streams, Cohen said it was just ... weird performing to a virtual audience.
- "I don't think I could try out jokes, because when I'm on stage the whole point is to see how it's immediately received. And you don't get that with Instagram." Though there are live comments, she said, they lag behind the video so "don't really make sense." Still, "the ultimate goal of making people happy for a bit and raising some money was accomplished."
Tune in tonight — it should be fun. Plus, it's not like you have anywhere else to be.
O'Reilly Media shut down its event business and canceled all future conferences. "Without understanding when this global health emergency may come to an end, we can't plan for or execute on a business that will be forever changed as a result of this crisis," O'Reilly President Laura Baldwin said.
Sonder laid off or furloughed about a third of its staff — more than 400 people — as bookings decline across the travel industry. "There isn't a single line that won't come under deep scrutiny," CEO Francis Davidson told The Information.
TripActions, another travel startup, laid off 350 of its employees — also about a third of its staff — after taking on a huge round of debt funding right before coronavirus took hold.
Zeus Living, also a travel startup, laid off about 80 employees. "It's especially tough because our people are the ones who've helped build the company and get us to where we are today," CEO Kulveer Taggar said.
From Protocol: Linden Lab, the company that makes Second Life, sold its Sansar VR platform to a startup called Wookey Projects.
In Other News
- Today in coronavirus: Lawmakers and the White House reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package. India is in lockdown. Apple is donating 9 million masks from its warehouses. It's also planning to start reopening stores in mid April. Intel said it will donate a million "protective items." WeWork wants to pay employees $100 a day to keep going to the office. Twitter donated $1 million to two journalism organizations so they can keep going. The market for thermal cameras is growing like crazy. Oracle is helping the government run clinical trials on two malaria drugs to see if they can help treat coronavirus. (There's no evidence they can.) YouTube is throttling video quality globally. Minecraft offered free educational worlds for kids cooped up at home. Google is extending temp contracts by 60 days. And the Israeli government wants to know if it can detect coronavirus just by listening to people speak.
- There's a new way to get a simpler browser. Mozilla and Scroll worked together to build Firefox Better Web, which cleans up and removes trackers from lots of news sites — and provides them with a new source of revenue.
- Drone deliveries are coming. Someday. UPS is partnering with Wingcopter, a German startup that ... well, you can figure out what it does from the name. They're working on a drone with a 75-mile range and speeds up to 150mph, that could eventually deliver packages to your door.
- Robinhood is offering credits to users who were affected by the outages it suffered over the last few weeks. (Given how crazy those trading days were, I'm guessing that's close to everyone.) It also said, again, that the underlying issues have been solved.
- Square pulled its revenue guidance for the whole year. That comes right after Twitter — Jack Dorsey's other company — pulled its guidance for the quarter. Square said Cash App is doing well, but slowdowns in other businesses are offsetting that growth.
- SoftBank is in the middle of offloading assets to help it get through coronavirus. But the Financial Times reports that the company actually looked into going private over the past week, with help from Elliott Management and an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund.
One More Thing
The world's new favorite sport: drone racing
No, seriously. Hear me out. While other sports are canceled, the Drone Racing League is becoming a ratings bonanza. It's a perfect sport for these times, really: Everybody stands far apart, only the robots touch each other, and it's shockingly fun to watch those tiny things fly around the course at breakneck speed. Don't believe me? They're streaming last year's season starting tonight at 5 p.m. ET — I'll be the one screaming and waving a foam finger.
JOIN US ON THURSDAY
Protocol brings to life our Braintrust franchise with guests from the Protocol Braintrust, hosted by Associate Editor Kevin McAllister and Senior Reporter Tom Krazit. Our first Braintrust conversation will focus on where cloud computing is headed, the opportunities in cloud app investment and development, and the implementation strategies most effective across businesses. We will be joined by Jonathan Heiliger, General Partner at Vertex Ventures; Abby Kearns, CEO and Executive Director at Cloud Foundry Foundation; and Sash Sunkara, VP of Product and BD at Kontain.
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