Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Triller

Is Triller the next TikTok?


Good morning! This Monday, Trump has a new social platform, Uber and Lyft grapple with a CA shutdown, and Flight Simulator makes an epic comeback.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

Triller's time to shine

In the moments it seemed TikTok might really go away, Triller looked like the app that might step up. It jumped to the top of every app store, creators started registering accounts, and Triller proudly announced that after a 20x increase in weekly downloads, the app had been downloaded 250 million times worldwide.

Over the weekend, Triller scored its biggest coup yet: The Trump campaign joined the platform. So far, @donaldjtrump only has four videos and roughly 10,000 followers, but it's still a significant move.

  • Quick primer: Triller is a video-based app that looks and feels a lot like TikTok, but is particularly dedicated to music and entertainment. It was created by Ryan Kavanaugh, a producer and the head of Proxima Media. Mike Lu is the CEO.
  • The app might be new to most people, but it's been part of the entertainment world for a little while. "Say you're working with Cardi B, and you want people to get hyped about her new song, you might create a challenge on Triller," Tim Armoo, CEO of influencer-marketing agency Fanbytes, told me on last week's Source Code Podcast. He said it's not quite a mainstream place to be, but it's a platform he does tell clients about.

Trump does feel a bit out of place given the app's entertainment focus. (Comments on most of the account's videos so far are either about TikTok or politics. Mostly TikTok.) But plenty of social networks have cropped up to replace the supposedly problematic ones, and the Trump endorsement is a big one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more conservative accounts have been following Trump onto the platform over the last couple of days.

This is going to be another crazy week of social chaos, so here's a quick catchup on what else is going on. Facebook started merging Instagram and Facebook Messenger, as part of the Great Combining the company's been promising. Facebook is also testing TikTok-style video in the Facebook app, but only in India for now. Trump gave ByteDance a little more time to divest TikTok, pushing its deadline to after the election. And now the White House may also be looking at banning Alibaba.

Gig Economy

California's ride-share countdown

I got a push notification from Lyft on Sunday. "Save rideshare in California!" it said, exclamation point and all. "Rideshare is at risk of shutting down next week in California. Learn more."

If I'm doing my math correctly, this Thursday is the big day: 10 days since Judge Ethan Schulman gave Uber and Lyft 10 days to classify their drivers as employees, and since Uber and Lyft immediately threatened to stop operating in California until at least November, when a ballot provision could help decide this issue once and for all.

  • One complicating factor: This might be the worst time ever for the two companies to shut down. Thanks to the pandemic, ridership has cratered for the last several months, with Uber's rideshare bookings down 73% last quarter compared to the year before, and Lyft's down 60%.
  • Bradley Tusk told CNN that "If voters couldn't get an Uber or a Lyft when they wanted it, that's one thing. But ridership is down so drastically, if this does prompt a political outcry, it'll come from the drivers, not the riders."

Yet again, Uber Eats might save Uber. Even if it has to shut down ride-hailing in California, it plans to keep operating Eats. Which, by the way, is the fastest-growing and most successful part of Uber's business. So it could be an interesting test of what Uber's business looks like without its money pit of a primary business.

Either way, it's going to get awfully political, and awfully chippy, between now and Thursday.


The future is flight simulators

I hope you've cleared your schedule (and your hard drive), because Microsoft's new Flight Simulator comes out Tuesday. And by all accounts, it's fantastic. I mean, it better be, it's 14 years in the making!

Flight Simulator is also a loud statement from Satya Nadella and the rest of the Microsoft team about exactly how far ahead they are in cloud gaming, Seth Schiesel writes for Protocol.

  • Microsoft's team built something like a living, breathing simulation of the entire planet, complete with weather reports. Seth writes: "The algorithms and data — including OpenStreetMap — were then fed into Microsoft's vast Azure computing cloud to generate Flight's 2.5-petabyte model, which includes 2 trillion trees, 1.5 billion buildings (you can probably find your house), 117 million lakes and just about every road, mountain, city and airport on the planet."
  • Jörg Neumann, who runs the Flight team, told Seth that "If we want to have a million-animal caribou herd where every caribou is running its own AI, we can do that. The boundary of the local machine is broken. That is no longer a barrier for us to do things. Now it really just comes down to, 'What do you want to simulate?'"

Freedom from the limits of a local machine is core to the whole future of gaming. (And computing in general, for that matter.) Rather than prove its chops in a massive tech demo or publish a whitepaper somewhere, Microsoft built an unprecedented system and rolled it into a game.

  • As Amazon, Google, Sony and others try to build out their own cloud-gaming services, they're all going to have to try to live up to Flight. This is now the gold standard of the future of gaming.

Join us this Wednesday


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.

People Are Talking

Google hates backward compatibility, said Grab engineer (and former Googler) Steve Yegge, and that makes Google Cloud a problem:

  • "It means they are going to force you to do some work, possibly a large amount of rework, on a regular basis, as punishment for doing what they told you to do originally — as punishment for listening to their glossy marketing on their website."

President Trump said he's thinking about a pardon for Edward Snowden:

  • "It seems to be a split decision. Many people think he should be somehow treated differently. And other people think he did very bad things."

Trump also dismissed the concerns of those worried about the business effects of a WeChat ban:

  • "Whatever … Gotta do what's good in terms of the security of our country. We've been very badly let down by China."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger said that Republicans need to denounce QAnon. Like, now:

  • "We have a candidate that embraces it that won a primary. I supported her primary opponent, the president hasn't fully denounced it or denounced it at all. Now it's time for leaders to come out and denounce it."

Coming Up This Week

Keep an eye on Uber and Lyft as we approach their Thursday deadline. A lot could change quickly there.

In fact, there are brewing fights everywhere: Apple and Epic, Google and Epic, Apple and Facebook, Trump and WeChat, Trump and TikTok. Everything feels like it's bubbling under the surface, and industry-changing events could happen at any moment.

More predictable are earnings reports, coming from Alibaba and Nvidia this week.

In Other News

  • The best thing I read this weekend: Ethan Zuckerman's open letter to whoever succeeds him at the MIT Media Lab. It's mostly about weird window cranks, but I promise it's worth reading.
  • Facebook's latest hate speech problem is in India. After politician T. Raja Singh posted violent anti-Muslim content, Facebook public-policy exec Ankhi Das reportedly stopped employees from intervening, saying that to do so would hurt Facebook's Indian business. Facebook did eventually remove the posts, but only after the issue had blown up into a big enough deal for The Wall Street Journal to report on it.
  • The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is under fire for marginalizing Black employees. The Washington Post reports that the organization's approach to giving also doesn't follow through on Mark's racial justice commitments.
  • Google's shaking up its chat app strategy. Again. It's reportedly planning on replacing Google Duo with Google Meet, bringing us a little closer to the single-app holy grail. Though it'll probably all change again in six months.
  • In Australia, Google's trying to lobby users to reject a new law. The company said that having to pay publishers for their content would make Google Search and YouTube "dramatically worse." It clearly feels strongly: It's plastered its Australian homepage in huge banners to get the message across.
  • ICE is using Clearview AI's tech, with a $224,000 contract for "mission support." CEO Hoan Ton-That said it was helping the Child Exploitation Unit.
  • San Francisco's favorite deal-making spot is no more.The Creamery shut down this weekend, citing COVID-related difficulties and giving residents yet another reason to flee the city.
  • Speaking of: People are fleeing SF. Real estate inventory is up 96% year-on-year, according to Zillow data, more than in any other major U.S. city.

One More Thing

The most bot-y town in America?

T-Mobile loves to give away free money. And for months, it was giving away a shocking amount of that free money to people in one tiny town in Pennsylvania. The people of Chadds Ford won many thousands of dollars in gift cards and prizes, through what looks like a bot-driven campaign to create entries. It's a shockingly simple scam, and a pretty good example of Internet Rule #46: If you build it, bots will come. And apparently they'll come from small-town Pennsylvania.

Join us this Wednesday


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, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

The best of Protocol

The confessions of SBF

Your holiday book list

A tale of two FTXs