Image: Jamison Wieser
May 20, 2020
Good morning! This Wednesday, Microsoft builds for the web, Facebook wants to be your online shop, and the story of tech's favorite COVID charity.
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People Are Talking
Even when Google offices reopen, Sundar Pichai said they'll be much less crowded:
- "I think we'll probably start with trying to get 10 to 15% of the company back, prioritizing people who actually kind of need to be there. And that way, we can really have a de-densified environment and have a lot of safety procedures in place. And just because we are talking about 10 to 15% capacity doesn't mean that many people — we can rotate and actually get more people in once or twice a week."
Elon Musk isn't leaving Fremont any time soon, Gov. Gavin Newsom said:
- "I think it's in all our interests to continue to find areas of common ground and that's, by the way, exactly what we do in the state of California with Tesla. And they were accommodated, and they began reopening as manufacturing and logistics and warehousing all across the state has operated and reopened in the last few weeks."
The Big Story
Five things that matter from Microsoft Build
Was Microsoft's virtual developer conference a little awkward? Did it somehow run long, despite being pretaped? Yes and yes. And on some level, even the idea of a "virtual developer conference" is flawed — the point of events like Build, F8, and WWDC is to put like-minded people in a room and let them learn from each other.
But nevertheless! Microsoft made some big announcements on the first day of Build, including five that I think have a chance to really matter. They represent a big bet on the cloud and Microsoft's continued move away from desktop software and onto the internet:
- The Fluid Framework, a webby rethinking of the file. You can edit a table and watch it update everywhere it's embedded, or open a Word doc in Teams and edit it together. It wants to be the thing that comes after the collaborative Google doc, and it could be very cool.
- Project Reunion, Microsoft's attempt to bring some sanity to Windows app development. With Reunion, developers can build one app and trust that it'll work everywhere.
- The Microsoft Supercomputer, which Tom Krazit wrote about on Protocol. Built for OpenAI and run entirely on Azure, it's a monstrously powerful system for handling huge machine learning projects.
- Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, the first of the company's clouds designed for a single industry. It's mostly a repackaging of existing tools, but it's yet another sign that Microsoft — like every other tech company! — sees health care as tech's next big business.
- Progressive web apps, which Windows and Edge will now treat much more like native apps. The distinction between "web" and "desktop" has basically blurred into oblivion, and Microsoft's smart to roll with it.
Oh, and my real favorite:
- Microsoft Lists, an Airtable-ish app that works in Outlook, Teams and SharePoint. Because if there's anything Microsoft needs, after building OneNote and SharePoint and Microsoft To Do and who knows how many others, it's another place to make lists.
The key for all these announcements will be getting developer buy-in. But Microsoft has a long history of rolling out interesting, clever features that are largely ignored by developers more concerned with supporting old standards than inventing with new ones.
For more on the goings-on at this year's Build, you should check out Tom's Cloud newsletter.
Where will your store open online?
"We're seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online businesses get online for the first time," Mark Zuckerberg said on a Facebook Live on Tuesday. Many of those businesses don't have web design teams or money to pay a contractor.
So Facebook has a solution: Build your store on Facebook!
- With the new Facebook Shops, anyone can quickly build a store and attach it to their Facebook and Instagram accounts, then let people buy stuff from right within the app.
- Business owners can use Facebook AR to let people try on clothes, customers can use their existing credit card to pay, and more.
"Come build your shop with us!" is a popular new slogan. Shopify — which had a hilarious stock drop when Zuckerberg announced Shops, then a big rally when its CEO Tobias Lütke showed up on the stream — wants you to build there. Google Shopping wants your store. Now Facebook does, too. And, of course, there's Amazon, just quietly taking over the universe.
- It's a real estate contest, really. Is it more powerful to have your store integrated into search results or a news feed?
- One trick Facebook may have up its sleeve: a "universal product recognition model" that can make everything it sees shoppable. This sounds cool, but historically such technology has been a little janky.
If this takes off for Facebook, it's another big step toward the WeChat-ification of its app. If it can be a place people shop and buy anything and everything, it becomes an app you have even less excuse to leave.
In related news: Walmart just had a monster quarter and announced that it's shutting down Jet.com four years after spending $3 billion to buy it. That's one platform you don't have to worry about anymore.
A MESSAGE FROM WALMART
'Neighbors Helping Neighbors' With Help From Walmart
Walmart and Nextdoor announced the launch of a program to make it easier for neighbors across the country to help one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tech industry's favorite COVID-19 charity
Chef José Andrés' emergency food nonprofit World Central Kitchen made a name for itself back in 2017. Just days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, WCK was there, feeding millions of people — and running laps around FEMA. Since then, it's worked with organizations like Salesforce, Dropbox and Google. "But I definitely think that our pandemic response has grown that dramatically," World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook told Protocol's Sofie Kodner.
Indeed, WCK has become the tech industry's go-to partner for goodwill during the coronavirus:
- WCK has been responding to COVID-19 for months, feeding cruise ship passengers stuck on the Diamond Princess outside of Japan in early February. "We began then to start thinking and preparing about what's going to happen when it comes to the United States," Mook said.
- When the Grand Princess docked at the Port of Oakland in March, WCK was ready. Tech companies — especially those in SF's Financial District that could literally see the ship in the Bay — took notice.
- "We rallied behind José's World Central Kitchen because of their focus on helping communities in need, specifically in San Francisco and New York, which are the top two cities in tech," HQ Trivia CEO Rus Yusupov told Sofie. HQ Trivia gave WCK $100,000 as part of its relaunch show last month. Salesforce, Apple and Jack Dorsey have each given hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations since the start of the pandemic, as well.
WCK has distributed over 6.5 million meals during the outbreak. But even for them, this emergency comes with new obstacles.
- In addition to setting up socially distanced meal distribution centers, WCK launched new partnerships with Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub and Postmates across the country to support local restaurants while also getting meals to high-risk groups.
- "We have a responsibility to really engage directly into what's happening and what needs to happen," Mook said. "You're seeing companies like Apple doing things like purchasing masks, right?" Like the big tech companies, Mook said WCK doesn't wait for an invitation.
"I think of José as being part superhero, part chef," Salesforce's head of philanthropy, Ebony Beckwith, said during a recent virtual event. Plus, real recognize real. "José loves technology," Mook said. "José loves the latest gadgets."
Joe Rogan is taking his podcast talents to Spotify. The deal is reportedly worth at least $100 million, and gives Spotify exclusive distribution of one of the world's most popular podcasts by the end of the year. Next up: Apple buys This American Life? Stitcher snaps up Serial? From Deezer Premium, this is Fresh Air, I'm Terry Gross?
Douglas Loverro, NASA's chief of human exploration, is leaving the agency. He departs just a week before SpaceX and Boeing, in a project Loverro led, are set to launch astronauts to the ISS.
In Other News
- On Protocol: In the fight between restaurants and delivery apps, cities are trying to play peacemaker. But fee caps may cause as many problems as they solve.
- The first game from Amazon's internal studio, creatively named Amazon Game Studios, drops today. It's apparently sort of an amalgam of every other video game, in a boring-but-playable package. Sounds about as on-brand for Amazon as I can imagine.
- The British airline EasyJet said a "highly sophisticated cyber-attack" stole information about 9 million of its customers, including email addresses and travel details.
- The White House American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which includes Tim Cook and Ginni Rometty, reportedly said the U.S. needs "an unprecedented investment in digital infrastructure." It wants better plans for reskilling, tech-forward education, and a system for credentialing new workers.
- SoftBank may be looking to unload $20 billion of its shares in T-Mobile, which it got after the Sprint merger. Why? Because SoftBank, and its CEO Jesus Christ — sorry, I mean Masa Son — could really use some cash right now.
- Google made some big changes to Chrome, including a handy tab-grouping feature and tracker-blocking in incognito mode. It's part of Google's push to make Chrome more secure, though critics say it just gives Google more of a monopoly on your personal info.
- Don't miss this story from Obscuritory about what happened when a company called Maxis Business Simulations started running real-life simulations in SimCity. And they kind of worked.
One More Thing
Tired: Flying. Wired: Hitting the open road.
Someday (hopefully) soon, we'll all be allowed out of the house to take summer vacations. But who's getting on a crowded plane? Evidently nobody, because they're all renting RVs and planning road trips. RVShare, sort of an Airbnb for the Winnebago set, reported a 650% increase in RV rentals since early April. Have you seen RVs recently? They're decked out like Hollywood megamansions, drive like a dream, and are basically smart homes. This is a socially distanced lifestyle I can get behind.
A MESSAGE FROM WALMART
Walmart Adds Another Way For Customers To Shop Safely
Walmart and Nextdoor's "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" program makes it easier for vulnerable community members to coordinate their grocery shopping completely contact-free.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.