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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Fortnite, China and futuristic documents

Image: Oleksandr Panasovskyi and Protocol
Fortnite, China and futuristic documents

Good morning! Here's your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from Ron Wyden's thoughts on China to Shishir Mehrotra's thoughts on robot board games.

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

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Best of Protocol

Ron Wyden thinks we're going about TikTok and China policy all wrong, by Emily Birnbaum

  • Ron Wyden's been doing this whole internet-policy thing for a while, and as a result he tends to see issues more broadly than most. His interview with Emily — on China, the EARN IT Act, the Privacy Shield and more — is a thoughtful and useful one.

How COVID-19 rewrote Y Combinator's last Demo Day, by Biz Carson

  • The 240 companies in the most recent Y Combinator class came out of the program in a … very different world than they entered it in. Biz dug into what that looked like, what it's like out there for a new startup right now, and how groups like YC are trying to figure out how to help founders from far away. It's messy.

Amazon is good at so many things. Why is it bad at games? by Seth Schiesel

  • Amazon's one of those companies that has so many resources, so much market power, and so many built-in advantages that you'd think it couldn't possibly fail. But corporate in-fighting and culture clash can take down any project at any company. And, as so many companies have discovered, the content game is very different from the tech world.

How COVID-19 helped — and hurt — Facebook's fight against bad content, by Issie Lapowsky

  • The numbers here are nuts: Facebook took down 22.5 million pieces of hate speech on its platforms in the span of three months. But more interesting is the way Facebook's trying to figure out how to balance human and machine in its moderation policies, a challenge that's increasingly important as Facebook leans into remote work. Right now, AI moderators work well, but not well enough.

How Epic could actually win its cases against Apple and Google, by Emily Birnbaum

  • I swear, someday kids will study what Epic did this week in business school. But it did raise a question: Is this just a publicity stunt, meant to score Epic a few cheap points but ultimately lead nowhere? Turns out, Epic might have a real chance to win this case — and its legal team is filled with people who know exactly how to do so.

Join us Wednesday

ITI

During the 2020 national political conventions, Protocol will host a two-event series on the tech and policy needed to enable a diverse future workforce and a strong economy. Join us at noon ET on Wednesday for the first event in the series, hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

Best of Everything Else

The Pinterest Paradox: Cupcakes and Toxicity — Francoise Brougher

  • Francoise Brougher is something of a legend in tech, which I think is why her story about being discriminated against (and eventually fired) at Pinterest landed differently than most. Her story is an excellent window into a really important issue, and a clear way to understand how discrimination works, what it looks like and what it feels like. None of which is always as obvious as you might think. And it's not just Brougher: The New York Times had a good story on the broader issues at play here, too.

Death of a Smart City — OneZero

  • Alphabet's Quayside project was always one of my favorite moonshots in tech. You can just imagine the slightly over-caffeinated meeting in which somebody said, "Wait wait wait, guys, what if we built a whole freaking city?" and everyone just cheered and high-fived and then called Canada to make it happen. Even if that origin story isn't quite accurate, what happened next was a study in the difference between tech and government, private and public, money and society. Anyone looking to change the way the world works should study what happened here.

The human cost of a WeChat ban: Severing a hundred million ties — MIT Technology Review

  • It's hard for me, an American who mostly talks to other Americans, to grok exactly how important WeChat is to the lives of more than a billion people. It's not just a messaging app, it's where life happens. And it's how friends and family and businesses and pretty much everyone split between two increasingly distant countries stay in touch. "These now-tenuous connections are ultimately the foundation of the U.S.-China relationship: They are what allow both countries to keep an open dialogue and grow commerce and collaborations," as MIT Technology Review's Karen Hao writes.

Eyes in the sky — Rest of World

  • When we talk about "the surveillance state" and the possibilities of facial recognition and other similar tech, those conversations tend to be really abstract. Big Brother is just a boogeyman. But stories like this one, about the lengths the Indian government went to watch over the Magh Mela festival, put it all into real-life terms. The good, the bad, the shockingly expensive, the sheer amount of planning it takes to pull something like this off is all incredible.

Epic's complaints against Apple and Google

  • Happy Sunday morning, let's read some legal filings! But seriously: If you want to understand the core of the antitrust fight and how it concerns the app world, there are worse places to start. (Knowing the details of this one is important, too — this'll probably be the fight everyone remembers.) Plus, you won't find many lawsuits that open with a bigger bang than this one: "Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation."

One Person's Opinion

Shishir Mehrotra, Coda CEO

Coda was an early entrant in the race to reinvent the tools people use to do their work. Founder and CEO (and former longtime YouTube exec) Shishir Mehrotra had a big theory: that the place to start wasn't with projects, or tasks, or messaging, but with documents. If you can improve the way people make, share and work with documents, he figured, you could improve their whole workflow.

Coda is now used by 25,000 teams across a bunch of industries, and the company just raised another $80 million to keep working on it. But Coda's space is increasingly crowded. Mehrotra and I talked about where this all goes next, why Excel is so hard to kill and what you can — and can't — improve about the way people work. For our whole conversation, listen to this week's Source Code Podcast. Here, as always, are five things Mehrotra said he's into right now:

  • First Lego League. "It's just an amazing experience. My daughters are both on the team now, so it's become kind of a family activity. Legos are such an inspiration for me as a product thinker as well — the fact that pieces made from the 1960s will join with any piece made today, and the level of precision on these things, it's just amazing."
  • TikTok. "Obviously, with two kids in the house, I watch a lot of TikTok. I've been pulled into some of them myself, but I'll leave that to your readers to find. Every call that I'm on with industry folks, we just can't stop talking about TikTok and what it's doing to the social industry. And I sort of wrestle with, what would we have done at YouTube to make sure we would have captured this? It's just an ongoing, nobody-wins competition, and I really like it."
  • Schoolhouse.world. "This is a fairly new product, a thing that Sal Khan is doing. He had this idea: With all these kids at home, and teachers struggling to keep up, and nobody quite adjusted to distance learning this way, he thought there was an opportunity to build a platform to connect teachers and students. The core idea is that the best tutors and best teachers may not be in your neighborhood. I serve as a volunteer, and Coda sponsors it, and it's a really interesting idea."
  • Ricochet Robots. "I don't think [this] game is actually new, but it's new to us. It's incredibly hard to find, actually, but it's really good; there's also an online version called Robot Reboot. You can play it with one person, or with 20 people, and it's one of the few games in the house where my youngest daughter kicks everyone's butt."
  • Des Traynor's productivity guide. "Des is the co-founder of Intercom, and he wrote a tweet that I couldn't stop thinking about, about managing your time. The core idea — of taking better advantage of your time — has become a passion of mine. Now I have a document that pulls in my email, pulls in my calendar, and pulls in my tasks, and I run a weekly process of aligning them. And at the end of this week, I have this chart that shows me what percentage of my time was spent on things on my to-do list versus not. If I crack 50%, it's an amazing week."

Join us Wednesday

ITI

During the 2020 national political conventions, Protocol will host a two-event series on the tech and policy needed to enable a diverse future workforce and a strong economy. Join us at noon ET on Wednesday for the first event in the series, hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

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

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