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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Facebook got a makeover. Cue the copycats.

Image: Facebook
Facebook homepage redesign

Good morning! This Monday, contact tracing needs both tech and humans, Facebook rolls out a huge redesign, and Microsoft fights back against all-company reply-alls.

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People Are Talking

Alameda County won't let Tesla reopen its Fremont plant yet. Elon Musk fought back:

  • "Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant 'Interim Health Officer' of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!"
  • Musk also said Tesla's done with Fremont: "Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependent on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA."

Michelle Phan was a YouTube pioneer, and now she's turning her eye to crypto:

  • "Now my viewers are hungry for more than makeup and skincare. They want to know how to protect their purchasing power. I am investing a lot of my time and energy into helping promote mass adoption for bitcoin."

Why did Apple make AirPods, and why did they do so well? Apple's Greg Jozwiak has a simple explanation:

  • "We had this incredible wireless product, the iPhone. And yet, what began to feel odd is when you saw somebody using wired headphones. Right then you thought, why would you attach the wire?"

The Big Story

Maybe tech alone can't solve contact tracing

Put aside all the privacy concerns and data-collection worries for a second. Are we sure a purely technological approach to contact tracing is going to work?

There are certainly … problems:

  • The U.K. is considering ditching its homegrown contact-tracing app for the tech built by Apple and Google, partly over concerns about the app's impact on battery life. (Though it did apparently figure out how to keep the app running in the background.)
  • Many others working on their own tracing solutions are running into similar problems. Colombia, North Dakota and others are all struggling to get systems working well.

But wait! Some states and cities across the U.S. are hiring thousands of people to do standard contact tracing.

  • A group of respected doctors and officials urged Congress to spend $12 billion hiring 180,000 new contact tracers.
  • And around the world, even in places that have taken to high-tech solutions, data is being mostly funneled to human tracers. It's kind of like when Facebook says it uses "AI moderation" but doesn't mention the armies of people doing the brunt of the work.

There's a place for tech here, of course. But automated contact tracing alone doesn't seem to be the answer. Instead, tech may help prioritize the list of people for real-life tracers to interview.

  • "A piece of software won't save lives. What will save lives is software and existing public health infrastructure, like manual contact tracers," MIT professor and Private Kit creator Ramesh Raskar told The Wall Street Journal.
  • So maybe just as important as contact-tracing and exposure-notification apps will be apps that help human contact tracers do their jobs — interviewing, data collection, and the like — more easily.

Facebook

The new-look big blue app

It's been a long time since Facebook gave the big blue app a new coat of paint. So it's maybe not surprising that it took the company a full year to roll out the latest version of Facebook.com, after Mark Zuckerberg announced it at last year's F8. (Remember conferences? Those were fun.)

After months of waiting and more months of limited availability, the new Facebook is available to everyone. And, in a bit of a coup, for once it doesn't seem to have sparked too many groups with names like MILLIONS AGAINST THE NEW FACEBOOK!!!

Along with the new design, which promotes groups, video and messaging (and includes dark mode!), two front-end engineers published a blog post with lots of interesting details on the infrastructure behind it. It's a dense read, but an interesting one:

  • One of Facebook's key goals was "as little as possible, as early as possible," they wrote. "We should deliver only the resources we need, and we should strive to have them arrive right before we need them." They wanted a site that felt fast, felt native, and didn't crush anyone's memory or bandwidth.
  • They also re-architected the way they use CSS to style the site in order to make the process cleaner and faster. Anyone who works with CSS knows how quickly it can get messy and heavy.
  • Facebook does much more pre-loading now, grabbing and streaming more data every time a user pings the server so it can lazy-load as a user scrolls. Because, come on, this is Facebook. Everybody scrolls.

Facebook's one of those companies that others follow: When it decides how the web works and how its site is developed, the results are seen almost as a set of guidelines. So the things you see on the new Facebook.com are likely to be everywhere soon.

What do you make of the new Facebook? What does it tell you about the future of the web? I'd love to hear what you think: david@protocol.com.

A MESSAGE FROM PALO ALTO NETWORKS

Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges. Join this live webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity—plus a chance to have your questions answered in a live Q&A.

Join us here.

Domains

The unbeatable dot-com

After we wrote about the dot-org saga last week, I kept wondering: Who cares about domains anymore? Doesn't everybody just find stuff on Google and social now? Then I got an email from Rob Davis, who runs a domain-name shop called Intelliname, telling me there's a new domain on the market: house.com. Starting bid? $30 million.

A lot of people still care about domain names, he told me. (That $30 million isn't even a crazy price in his world.)

  • Millions of users still browse the web by adding a dot-com to the names of things they need — contractors, houses, dishwashers, whatever.
  • Even a dormant domain with a common name tends to get a lot of traffic, and domain name relevance matters for everything from SEO to ad prices.

The dot-coms still rule, too. And not for lack of trying: ICANN continues to pump out new suffixes from .software to .pizza to .sucks, but Davis said none have come close to mainstream relevance.

  • The closest anything ever got was .xyz, in part thanks to Alphabet's debut at abc.xyz. But it never actually caught on, Davis said. Even now, most people don't even recognize these unusual domains as domains. "It just looks like a typo in a Word document," he said.

Davis told me his hope for house.com is that Zillow CEO Rich Barton snaps it up.

  • His worst-case scenario? That someone might grab the domain to wage political war over the House of Representatives. Davis said he'll only sell to people who want to use it for good. With great domains comes great responsibility.

Coming Up This Week

The next bitcoin halving should happen today or tomorrow, which, depending on who you ask, is either a crucial moment in the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency or a sign of its imminent failure.

Maria Sharapova will talk entrepreneurship tomorrow as part of the WSJ's Future Of series.

RedisConf, a big-data conference, is free, virtual, and kicks off tomorrow.

Pulse conference, for all things customer success, is also free and also virtual, and starts on Wednesday.

The bulk of tech earnings season is behind us, but Cisco and Tencent both report this week.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Apple has been quietly hiring a number of well-known cloud computing engineers. After many years of losing the cloud wars, Cupertino appears to be making moves.
  • More chips could be made in America soon. The WSJ reports that the Trump administration is in talks with Intel and TSMC to build factories in the U.S., and may be trying to get Samsung to expand its American presence.
  • On Protocol: A number of politicians are trying to pass federal rules for autonomous vehicles, which they believe could be crucial to the socially distant future of everything. All anyone's done with these bills so far is fight — but a pandemic could make things move faster.
  • Don't miss this story from Wired about what happened when one reporter's number appeared every time someone searched for "Mackenzie Bezos Phone Number." Never underestimate the power of Google's featured snippets.
  • Delivery apps have an underage drinking problem. Postmates, Uber Eats, DoorDash and others are reportedly delivering booze to minors, and the State of California posted a reminder that the restaurants, bars and breweries are responsible for where their goods go — no matter who's doing the delivering.

One More Thing

Death to reply all

At some point, it's happened to every company: the reply-all email storm that starts with one person accidentally emailing a huge group and ends with an impossible number of "STOP REPLYING ALL" emails that are, ironically, replying to all. Microsoft (which has had its share of these events) is trying to fix it: Outlook will now sense when 10 reply-all emails have been sent to groups of more than 5,000 in the course of an hour, and will shut it down. It's a good start! But there's only one true answer to reply all: Just don't do it.

A MESSAGE FROM PALO ALTO NETWORKS

Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges. Join this live webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity—plus a chance to have your questions answered in a live Q&A.

Join us here.

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

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