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The metaverse goes public

Image: Roblox
Roblox

Good morning! This Friday, Roblox offers a peek inside its ambitions for the metaverse, Apple and Google are still pushing exposure notification tech and Slack has some Slack pro tips.

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The Big Story

'The metaverse is materializing'

Roblox just dropped its S-1 paperwork ahead of its IPO, because if you hadn't noticed, every company in tech wants to go public this fall. (My theory: Everyone's itching for a 2021 vacation, and yacht rentals in Monaco don't come cheap.)

Roblox is particularly fascinating, because it's one of the first game-slash-life companies to go public. It's a booming business, obviously, with 31.1 million daily active users and $588.7 million in revenue in the last nine months — but a loss of more than $200 million in the same period, too. Like so many startups, Roblox is about the long play.

  • As the company said in its S-1, it's one of the companies trying to build the metaverse, the digital place where people go partly to play games but mostly to hang out, see their friends and live their lives.
  • "The idea of a metaverse has been written about by futurists and science fiction authors for over 30 years," the S-1 says. "With the advent of increasingly powerful consumer computing devices, cloud computing and high bandwidth internet connections, the concept of the metaverse is materializing."

But building the metaverse is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. A few selections from Roblox's Risk Factors:

  • Like so many companies, Roblox says it's somewhat at the mercy of Google and Apple: "We have no control over these operating systems, application stores, or hardware, and any changes to these systems or hardware that degrade our platform's functionality, or give preferential treatment to competitive products, could significantly harm our platform usage on mobile devices."
  • Most Roblox users are kids, and that brings risks. The company explained its big efforts to keep the platform safe, but acknowledged that it can't catch everything — and that as it grows, even a small percentage of bad stuff can become a lot of bad stuff.
  • Who are Roblox's competitors? Basically everyone in entertainment (from Comcast to Disney) and everyone in tech (from Youtube to Snapchat) and everyone in gaming (from EA to Unity). The metaverse is a future everyone's building toward, and a lot of companies have far more resources than Roblox.
  • The company made a big push in China through a deal with Tencent, and the China section of its risk factors is basically a shrug emoji acknowledging that almost anything could happen there.

The S-1 makes plain exactly how big Roblox's ambitions are: It's trying to build an entire new world, with a new economy, a new currency, a new everything, and not just for kids. The company wants to be thought of like a tech giant, not a game developer. Soon, the markets will have their say.

Coronavirus

The push for more exposure notifications

Issie Lapowsky writes: As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, executives from Apple and Google are pushing Joe Biden's transition team to endorse the COVID-19 exposure notification technology they've developed. They're even hoping to get the tech implemented at a federal level once Biden assumes office.

  • "We're spending a lot of time educating Biden's transition team and Biden's COVID Task Force leads," Google's senior director of project management Stephanie Hannon said during a virtual event on Thursday. "My dream is to get to anywhere from just an endorsement — where there's a public statement saying, 'This is good, and let's get behind it all the way' — to thinking about more federal or national apps."
  • Google and Apple's initiative drew tons of attention this spring, but the rollout in the U.S. has been complicated by the fact that implementing the technology was left up to individual states, all with their own sets of expectations and demands.

Still, the early pickup on exposure-notification apps has been promising: Several states have seen rapid adoption since the apps came out in September.

  • Maryland's contact tracing director Dr. Katherine Feldman said on the call that a million people have enabled the technology in the state in the last week. Another million are using it in Colorado.

But there's no substitute for a federal plan that complements states' work, Hannon said: "We don't have an administration that's standing up and saying: 'Exposure notification is the thing,' and that's talking about downloading or turning on this tool as much as they talk about wearing a mask, and that's our dream." She's hoping that will change under the new administration.

Pro Tips

How Slack slacks

Slack is a powerful, useful work tool. It's also … a lot. To get the scoop on how to use the app more effectively, we turned to the super-experts — also known as Slack employees.

We learned a lot from the way Slack uses itself. Here are a few of the best tips from the inside:

  • Filter by emoji. Rather than combing the chatter for that one decision you made three weeks ago, plan ahead by tagging it with an emoji you can find later. Slack has used the fried shrimp for decisions it's made: When team members need to look up what was decided, they just filter the search for messages with that emoji.
  • Use info/channel details. This will quickly give you a list of all the files associated with a channel, so there's no more scrolling up to desperately hunt for that document you're sure was shared last week.
  • Set up the reacji channeler. This tool is basically email-forwarding and email-filtering in one, for Slack. Once you set it up (here are the basic instructions), every time someone reacts with a specific emoji, everything tagged with that emoji will move to a new channel of your choice. Slack employees use it like an internal email-forwarding system to make sure the right info gets to the right people.
  • Create more channels. A multitude of channels can keep the conversation more streamlined. If you use a prefix to organize lots of channels with different groups of people around the same event or topic, you can prevent that frustrating experience of watching a channel explode with irrelevant conversations.

This is the first in a series of stories we're going to do. What apps/companies/platforms would you want to get more pro tips on from the makers themselves? Send me all your ideas, and we'll get them done.

A MESSAGE FROM SAMSUNG NEXT

SamsungNext

Welcome to the age of synthetic media

Content generated or manipulated by AI through machine or deep learning is changing how we create, distribute, consume, and democratize media. What does synthetic media have the power to change next?

Learn more

People Are Talking

Even when we get a vaccine and go back to the office, SaaS businesses will still win, Bessemer's Byron Deeter said:

  • "We've just set a new baseline [for software] and the beauty of these subscription businesses is that they're not going to turn them off."

An auditor said that the EU's been too slow to take real steps against Big Tech:

  • "It now needs to scale up market oversight to be fit for a more global and digital world. It needs to get better at proactively detecting infringements and select its investigations more judiciously. "
  • If the EU's too slow, I wonder what they'd say about the U.S.?

Want to criticize Apple's new iOS privacy features? Bring it on, said Apple's head of privacy Jane Horvath:

  • "Facebook executives have made clear their intent is to collect as much data as possible across both first and third party products to develop and monetize detailed profiles of their users, and this disregard for user privacy continues to expand to include more of their products."

Only a few companies will win the streaming war, Liberty Media's John Malone said:

  • "The consumer's not going to want to buy from a broad number of subscription services. They're going to tend to want to go to one convenient supplier. It looks increasingly like that's going to be, you know, Amazon ... or it's going to be Apple, or it's going to be Roku. Or it could still be a Google effort."

Number of the Day

0.1

That's the percentage of Facebook content views that contain hate speech, according to the company's internal study on the subject. That means for every 10,000 views of content on the platform, 10 or 11 of them would contain hate speech — a perfect example of a small number that's actually a huge number, given Facebook's 2 billion daily users. Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer told us Facebook's making progress, but added, "I'm not satisfied until we're done, and we're not done."

In Other News

  • Investigators are preparing antitrust charges against Facebook that focus on its Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions, The Washington Post reports. The newspaper says a lawsuit from state attorneys general should be filed in early December, news confirmed by Reuters. Meanwhile, the FTC is reportedly set to significantly cut costs, which could limit future antitrust action.
  • Microsoft Teams is going after consumers. Up to 300 friends and family members can now join calls for free, with no time limit — a clear shot at Zoom.
  • Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin is leaving. He said he plans to build "something as remarkable as Twitch again." In other moves, Barbara Whye is Apple's new VP of inclusion and diversity.
  • Self-driving rules are incoming from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which issued an advance notice of proposed rule-making to get public input. Over in California, regulators said robo-taxi services can charge passengers.
  • Vietnam threatened to shut down Facebook, Reuters reports, unless it censors more political content. Facebook already agreed to increase censorship in the country; the government wants more.
  • Google agreed to pay French newspapers for showing article extracts, a big change from its initial opposition to the idea. It's not all good news for publishers though: It also said it would stop giving preferential treatment to AMP sites, raising questions about the format's future.
  • Verizon sold HuffPost to BuzzFeed. It's an all-stock deal, reportedly accompanied by a cash investment in BuzzFeed. AOL paid $315 million for The Huffington Post in 2011, before Verizon bought AOL for $4.4 billion in 2015.

One More Thing

What'd you leave at the office?

The last day I was in an office was the first week of March. My coffee mug — unwashed, untouched, probably half-full — is almost certainly ruined. I suspect the same is true for everyone: Fast Company has a fun story about all the half-eaten food, dead plants, disgusting desks and unfinished paperwork that realtors are finding in still-closed and up-for-rent office spaces. When you do go back, maybe wear a gas mask over your face mask just in case.

A MESSAGE FROM SAMSUNG NEXT

SamsungNext

Welcome to the age of synthetic media

Content generated or manipulated by AI through machine or deep learning is changing how we create, distribute, consume, and democratize media. What does synthetic media have the power to change next?

Learn more

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

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