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Antitrust hearings, Zoom fatigue and Affirm CEO Max Levchin

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Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from antitrust scandals to Max Levchin's favorite popover recipe.

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As always, let me know what you think, and what (and who) you'd like to see more of in our weekend edition. I'm, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks! Onto the good stuff.

Best of Protocol

Control issues: How Twitter is forcing companies to rethink security and access, by Tom Krazit

  • Tom says: "Do you know how many employees at your company can touch your most sensitive data and your mission-critical tools? This week is as good as any for businesses to take a good hard look at how they manage insider access, and striking a balance is trickier than it sounds: Too much access leaves openings for security incidents like the one that happened to Twitter, but too little access can lead to poor customer service."

The big tech CEOs are heading to Washington. Here's what they'll have to answer for, by Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum

  • Emily says: "The hearing with Zuckerberg, Bezos, Cook and Pichai may have been postponed, but we've got a primer on the top antitrust questions that they won't be able to avoid when it does happen. Of course, that's assuming the lawmakers remained focused on antitrust — which is still an open question."

One company's plan to build a search engine Google can't beat, by me, David Pierce

  • A lot of people I talk to worry that there will eventually be just four companies left in the tech world because competing with Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon is impossible. So I'm always interested to see a company compete with Big Tech not with resources or flash, but by building something the giants just can't. Like a search engine without all the ads.

Leading an employee resource group is like a second job. Now, one startup is paying for that work, by Issie Lapowsky

  • Issie says: "I'd been talking to people who have run employee resource groups for Black and brown tech workers about how it can sometimes be a thankless job that requires a lot of overtime and emotional labor, without any additional pay or recognition. In the course of that reporting, I stumbled on Justworks, which had decided to start paying ERG leads for that work. I hadn't heard of any other companies doing that and wanted to find out more about how they reached that decision and what compensation looks like. Their head of diversity, Michael Baptiste, walked me through it."

With 24/7 programming, the future of TV looks a lot like its past, by Janko Roettgers

  • Janko says: "Remember the cable grid guide? Turns out it's having a bit of a comeback moment, as a number of streaming services are betting on 24/7 live TV channels. The latest to do so is Plex, which launched 80 channels this week, complete with a traditional EPG. Don't expect CNN or ESPN, but the programming is free, and good enough for those times when you don't want to choose what to watch next. That's a problem for cable companies, but also an opportunity to reinvent TV in a way that's a bit more familiar to mainstream audiences."



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Best of Everything Else

Reliance: Origins — Keeping Up With India

  • There's no tech story more important to understand than the battle for market share in India. And that story starts with Reliance, the company that raised $20 billion in the last four months to try to become the biggest tech company in the country. This is a great history of the company and its place in the country. (Oh, and here's part 2.) Once you're done, read Ben Thompson's great piece from this week on the same subject.

Amazon met with startups about investing, then launched competing products — The Wall Street Journal

  • To Emily's point above: While Google and Apple reckon with app store-related issues, this is the kind of story that'll haunt Jeff Bezos' dreams. Especially combined with the stories about Amazon using sales data to decide which products of its own to make. Whether this stuff is just business, or illegal, is going to be a central question of the next few years.

Who loses big in the great streaming wars? The user — Rolling Stone

  • The story puts a fine point on a feeling we all have: There's never been more great stuff to watch, and it's never been more of a pain in the ass to find any of it. Alan Sepinwall starts with a brutal diagnosis of the streaming TV user experience and ends with some smart ways to fix it. Many of his solutions, by the way, would make almost any product better.

What comes after Zoom fatigue — Recode

  • This story starts with a fun history of video chat, which goes back much further than most people realize. (I'm just saying, we really should have kept calling them "two-way television phones.") Then it dives into where video chat goes from here, because video chat is part of life now. But "video chat" won't mean "a bunch of boxes on your laptop screen" for very long. The future is more complex — and more interesting. Spoiler alert: HOLOGRAMS.

How Harvard's star computer science professor built a distance-learning empire — The New Yorker

  • I've talked to a lot of people in the last few months — including my college professor mother — about what the new normal of online-offline school is going to look like. Nobody knows for sure, but there's a lot to be learned from David Malan, the Harvard professor who's spent years teaching the iconic CS50 class to thousands of people nowhere near Cambridge.

One Person's Opinion

Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm

Affirm's product is fairly simple: It's an online-first way to buy something now and pay for it later. But the idea is powerful, it's catching on around the industry, and it's leading Affirm into other parts of the finance world; in June, it launched savings accounts, and this week it announced a partnership with Shopify.

Max Levchin, Affirm's CEO, is a longtime vet of the payment wars, all the way back to founding PayPal when "paying for stuff on the internet" also seemed like a simple but powerful idea. He's seeing big changes coming to the way money works on the internet, much of which we talked about on this week's Source Code Podcast. Meanwhile, here are five things he said he's into right now:

  • Ableton Live. "Although I have a decent enough music background, I never delved too deep into what I would call somewhat advanced harmonies. So I've been exploring what things like 11th and 13th chords do to the way music feels. To that end, I've (mostly) hidden a large MIDI keyboard next to my Zoom station and sometimes 'play off' meetings by piping the musical output into my headphones (other participants cannot hear me). Also listening to lots of Jacob Collier's output."
  • Speeding up his home internet. "In an attempt to increase internet bandwidth at my house, I've spent a fair amount of time talking to AT&T technicians and learning a lot about bonded pairs and how they really work and what signal-to-noise ratio you can put on a line that's this many feet away from a 'street box' and lots of things like that, all while wearing KN95 masks and rubber gloves."
  • Perfecting the "Levchin Family Popover" recipe. "2 eggs beaten, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon of salt. 450F for 17 minutes, 350F for 17 more in a proper buttered popover tin. The trick, as always, is in details: Eggs need to be warmed up to room temperature before being beaten, and milk should be steamed to 90F or so (using an espresso machine steam wand). Don't even attempt to make it on an especially humid day (which is half the days in San Francisco). My 8- and 10-year-olds love this stuff, so on one or two mornings per week, this is my 5:30 to 6:15 a.m. activity.
  • Reading several books at the same time. "Ideally uninterruptedly, by way of buying both the Kindle and the Audible versions — they track each other, so you can listen when you can't read, etc. Currently wrapping up E. Morris's 'Edison,' digging into 'How To Be An Anti-Racist,' by I.X. Kendi, and keeping up with Mick Herron's ever-expanding 'Slow Horses' universe (dry spy novels are a guilty pleasure)."
  • Zwift. "Living through the surreal experience of not having a Tour de France in July to obsess over. I've been making up for it by setting a progressively more intense 'pain cave' for indoor bike training, with some convoluted Bluetooth connections and heart-rate-controlled air fans to emulate the feeling of riding outdoors … while watching Tour de France Virtuel, a virtual competition (yellow jerseys and everything!) hosted in Zwift."



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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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