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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Alphabet gives up on its city of the future

Image: Justin Tung
Toronto Skyline

Good morning! This Friday, Sidewalk Labs gave up on building the city of the future, Facebook has a new plan for diversity and inclusion, and Elon Musk goes back on the Joe Rogan Podcast.

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People Are Talking

On Protocol: Lime's new CEO, Wayne Ting, said that raising a down round led by Uber was Lime's best chance to survive the pandemic:

  • "What matters for me, Lime and all of our shareholders and employees is that we're going to weather this. We're going to come out of this on the other side because of the investments being made today. This gives us a chance to fight back to whatever valuation happened before."

Nine U.S. senators sent a letter to Jeff Bezos that begins with a laundry list of problematic Amazon-worker-firings and ends with this:

  • "Given the clear public history of these four workers' advocacy on behalf of health and safety conditions for workers in Amazon warehouses preceding their terminations, and Amazon's vague public statements regarding violations of 'internal policies,' we are seeking additional information to understand exactly what those internal policies are."

Slack and Zoom are big, but Box CEO Aaron Levie sees another wave of remote-work tools coming:

  • "Phase two is: 'Now that I've settled into this way of working, I need easy ways to collaborate with my partners, I need to be able to ship data around, I need to digitize certain businesses' processes.' That's obviously where we play."

The Big Story

The city of the future is … undergoing some delays

First, the Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs was going to reinvent a whole section of Toronto in a tech-forward, ultra-futuristic, everything-is-wonderful way. (There were going to be building raincoats! Whatever that means.) Then it was going to do all that but in a much smaller area. Now, it's … not going to do it at all.

  • Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff announced in a blog post that "as unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community."

But as Mike Murphy writes on Protocol, as one hugely ambitious Alphabet project fades, another rises.

  • Two former Googlers, Jonathan Winer and Brian Barlow, spun off a new company from Alphabet. It's called the Sidewalk Infrastructure Partnership (SIP for short) — despite being separate from Sidewalk Labs. Confusing!
  • The new venture plans to tackle large-scale infrastructure problems of the future with investments. It'll look at things such as plastics recycling, highways for self-driving cars, and high-speed internet in rural and urban environments.
  • Winer told Fortune that SIP's job isn't so much to build those things as to bring together others who do. "Once we have a thesis, we act as a convener. We bring together groups of people, including technologists, Alphabet executives, traditional infrastructure players and policymakers," he said.

Interesting, big, productive idea, right? Very IT'S TIME TO BUILD of them. But Mike points out that the $400 million that SIP already raised barely scratches the surface of the true price of infrastructure:

  • Even looking inside Sidewalk's own company, the signs don't look good. Google Fiber and Loon seem to be massive money pits, Mike writes: "Although Alphabet doesn't break out how much each Other Bets company loses, the division routinely loses hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter."

Sure, Alphabet is unusually good at getting difficult things done. And unusually willing to spend in the process. But for all its work and hype, Sidewalk Labs never made much real progress — and it's not entirely clear if SIP can be different.

Diversity

How the pandemic changed Facebook's thinking on diversity

This was supposed to be the year companies finally got serious about hiring for diversity. That was before the pandemic. But from hiring freezes to layoffs, the ability to shape the makeup of a workforce is changing, and not necessarily in the way it was meant to.

  • At least one company, Airbnb, did specifically call out its commitment to diversity in considering who would be laid off.
  • But for most companies, "if people think it's just nice to have, then in times where you can't afford nice to have, you let it go," Maxine Williams, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Facebook, told Protocol's Sofie Kodner.

Facebook is among those that made big D&I plans this year. After its 2019 diversity report revealed minimal progress, the company set itself an ambitious goal to have 50% of its workforce be made up of people from groups under-represented in tech by 2024.

  • The typically data-obsessed Facebook is taking an approach that's more emotional than numerical. Williams said she's doing safety checks with every single Facebook employee group across the world. "It's literally check-ins like, 'OK, how are you today?'" Williams said. She began with the Asia Pacific Islander group because of the surge in xenophobia since the outbreak.
  • For the first time ever, Facebook also removed all performance ratings: "That was an action to address the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the conditions we were dealing with now."

While Facebook has committed to hiring 10,000 more people this year, Williams doesn't know if the pandemic will affect its hiring targets when it comes to diversity.

  • "If you are black and brown in America, even if you work at Facebook, you are more impacted by COVID-19 than many other people in many other groups," Williams told Sofie. "We'll have to … sit down and review this and say: Are these goals reasonable, given this?"

You can read lots more from Sofie's interview with Williams on Protocol.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Elon Musk

Rogan/Musk the sequel: Fewer joints, more mind control

You already know what happened last time Elon Musk was on Joe Rogan's podcast. Yet, on Thursday, Musk pulled back up to the microphone.

This appearance won't cost anybody a security clearance: The two spent about half the show talking about coronavirus, which both Rogan and Musk agreed was being way overdramatized.

  • "People really wanted a panic" was Musk's explanation.

But there were plenty of insights and surprises in the two-hour chat:

  • Rogan led with the day's most important question: How do you pronounce the name of Musk's new son? Musk laughed, and then explained: X Ash A-Twelve. The plane was Musk's contribution; Grimes came up with the rest.
  • When Rogan asked about Musk's plan to get rid of all his stuff, Musk had a surprising response: "I think possessions kind of weigh you down. They're kind of an attack vector. They say, 'Hey, billionaire, you've got all this stuff.' Now I don't have stuff, what are you going to do?" The big question, he said: Should he be allocating his time to designing a cool house, or to getting people to Mars? He's choosing Mars.
  • Musk said he's spending most of his time on Tesla and SpaceX, but is still thinking about other projects like The Boring Company and Neuralink. "We may be able to implant a Neuralink in less than a year in a person, I think," he told Rogan, sparking a long conversation about brain implants, the possibility of rejection, and all things mind control.
  • And if you're waiting on your Roadster to get delivered, keep waiting. Musk said Tesla's working on Model Y, gigafactories, and even the Cybertruck first, and all have been slowed down by coronavirus. Though Musk did say that "with the Roadster, we're going to do some things that are kind of unfair," whatever that means, and promised that it'll be worth the wait.
Also: Musk reportedly emailed Tesla employees last night saying the company's Fremont factory would open later today.

Making Moves

Javier Soltero is now in charge of all of Google communication products, including Google Meet, Duo, Hangouts, and the rest. When I interviewed Soltero recently, he had a lot of thoughts about the future of messaging — and he might be the one to make Google's plan make sense.

Carolyn Tisch Blodgett, Peloton's head of global marketing, is leaving the company after four years. Makes sense, really — I mean, how could you ever top that one ad?

Atlanta-based SalesLoft laid off 55 employees. It was for a long time one of the city's fastest-growing tech companies, and said it was hurt by many salespeople losing their jobs — and thus no longer using SalesLoft.

In Other News

  • Zoom made its first acquisition. It bought Keybase, an encrypted-messaging service with tech that will be rolled into the whole Zoom platform. Soon, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan wrote in a blog post, "Zoom will offer an end-to-end encrypted meeting mode to all paid accounts."
  • Facebook and Google both told employees that, if they are willing and able, they can work from home through the end of 2020. Those who need or want to come back will start doing so in July, but working from home seems to be totally acceptable going forward.
  • Here's a thoroughly modern sentence: SpaceX and astronomers are fighting over internet-beaming satellites mucking up the astral view. Now, though, the company has found a way to darken the satellites, potentially helping save the night sky.
  • YouTube viewing on TV screens is up 80% over last year, the company said. Live content watch time on TVs has grown by 250% in the past year, and movie watch time by 800%. With that in mind, YouTube's ad platform is getting a big-screen overhaul.
  • The U.S. might work with Huawei after all. Reuters reports that the Commerce Department is "close to signing off on a rule" that would allow some global collaboration in setting standards for 5G networks in the future.
  • If Uber and Lyft end up having to reclassify drivers as employees rather than contractors — which is to say, if they lose that big lawsuita new report says the two companies would owe California about $413 million in unemployment insurance taxes alone.
  • The U.K. is reportedly building a second contact-tracing app, this time using Google and Apple's APIs. Critics have said the existing app, which doesn't use the APIs, won't work as intended.

One More Thing

A new way of thinking about video games

Buying a video game used to be so simple: purchase a disk, stick it in the slot, and you're done. Now it's all free-to-plays and streaming and DLCs, and every time you upgrade consoles you have to start your library from scratch. Microsoft has a clever idea about how to fix that. It's called Smart Delivery, and it basically means this: You buy a game once, and then it figures out what device you're on and optimizes accordingly. Yesterday, Microsoft announced a bunch of games from big publishers that make it seem like Smart Delivery might actually catch on. Of course, then there's Madden, which will require users to buy the game and then redeem an upgrade code by a certain date. Because we can't have everything be easy.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

An end of week thanks to Jamie Condliffe, Source Code's editor, and Sofie Kodner and Shakeel Hashim, its producers. And, of course, to the whole Protocol team, without whom we'd have nothing to talk about here.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.

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