Image: Emily Morter / Protocol
March 15, 2021
Good morning! This Monday, tech employees think their industry is too powerful, Dapper Labs wants to turn NBA Top Shot into the future of the crypto world, what we know about the "Everydays" buyer and a new development in the Theranos trial.
The Big Story
What tech employees think about tech
We hear a lot from the Jack Dorseys and Sundar Pichais of the world, but what do the thousands of other employees at tech companies actually think about the big issues facing the industry? That's what Protocol asked 1,504 tech employees at all levels, from all over the U.S.
A few highlights from the survey, which you can read in its entirety on Protocol:
- 78% of employees said the tech industry is too powerful. And when we asked only about Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet, the number was practically identical.
- 56% said that U.S. restrictions on Chinese tech companies have gone too far, and 58% said they worry about the repercussions of a cold war with China. Far more people think tech should avoid working with law enforcement than think it should avoid working with China.
- Regulation is a popular idea. 73% of employees said they wanted regulation for AI, and more than 71% of those familiar with Section 230 said it needs to be reformed.
One overarching narrative that sticks out here: While executives might like to think that the employees staging walkouts and complaining about working on government projects are just a loud minority that doesn't actually represent the team as a whole, they're wrong.
- And the tech industry is actually deeply divided on a lot of issues: 45% of our respondents said tech does more good than harm, for instance, while 40% said the opposite. Just over 40% think the big four companies should be broken up, but more than 68% hope they partner with or get acquired by one of those same four.
- The reckoning is real, the answers aren't obvious, and the employees fighting for change represent more of the company than you might think.
The niftiest thing in NFTs
Like so many overnight successes, NFTs have been around longer than most people realize. Dapper Labs — which owns NBA Top Shot, the most successful and important platform in the space right now — knows the history better than most. As Protocol | Fintech's Tomio Geron writes, Top Shot isn't even Dapper's first shot at this.
- Dapper Labs created CryptoKitties in 2017, a sort of blockchain-based Tamagotchi that became so popular it practically destroyed the Ethereum blockchain.
- That's why, when it built Top Shot, it built its own protocol to power it. "By separating into those two buckets we could get to massive scale without resorting to sharding," Dapper CTO Dieter Shirley told Tomio.
Top Shot is booming, but Dapper won't stop there. The company did $232 million in sales in February (up more than 5x from January), and is potentially about to be valued at $2 billion.
- Dapper wants to be far more than just Top Shot: It wants to build the whole stack. Its chain is called Flow, and it's meant to be "the blockchain for open worlds."
- Think of Dapper like Epic, which built Fortnite originally as a showcase for the underlying Unreal Engine. Top Shot is big and growing, but the bigger picture for Dapper is how it works.
This is one of the great questions facing the decentralized future: What does the stack look like? There are protocols like IPFS hoping to underpin everything, while some companies are effectively trying to reinvent not just the wheel but the tire, the rubber, even the whole idea of a circle. Someday there will be a few standards, but until then there will be chaos.
- Oh, and the whole "blockchain" thing definitely isn't the point. Dapper wants people to invest through Top Shot because they love the NBA, not because they love hash functions. "We very consciously said from the beginning we need to focus on creating value for people who don't even know the token exists," Shirley said.
The mysterious MetaKovan
It's fitting, in a way, that we don't know the identity of "MetaKovan," the person who spent $69 million on Beeple's "Everydays" NFT last week. The crypto world is filled with pseudonymous celebrities, all the way back to Satoshi Nakamoto.
That said, here's what we do know about the mysterious MetaKovan:
- He (and we do know that much) is a longtime NFT collector, through a crypto fund called Metapurse. (MetaKovan's partner in the operation goes by Twobadour, and honestly I can already imagine the buddy comedy.) They've been investing in the space for a while.
- He's also a repeat Beeple buyer, having bought 20 pieces for $2.2 million in December. (Remember when that price seemed huge and nuts? Simpler times.)
- He tokenized his previous buys and sold fractional shares through a token called B.20. As Amy Castor describes, it's kind of a brilliant plan: He buys more artwork and adds it to the bundle, the bundle gets more valuable, the token goes up, he sells more to get Ethereum, uses the Ethereum to buy more art, and round and round it goes. (So far, he's said he doesn't plan to do the same with "Everydays.")
- And he's convinced he didn't overpay. "When you think of high-valued NFTs, this one is going to be pretty hard to beat," he said in a statement. "And here's why: It represents 13 years of everyday work. Techniques are replicable and skill is surpassable, but the only thing you can't hack digitally is time. This is the crown jewel, the most valuable piece of art for this generation. It is worth $1 billion."
As for who he really is? One particularly convincing theory: MetaKovan might be Vignesh Sundaresan, the Singapore-based CEO of Portkey Technologies and longtime Ethereum believer. Castor pointed out that Sundaresan's history, interests and even voice match MetaKovan's story. But I wouldn't bet my life on it. Remember all the people claiming to be Satoshi, and all the times their identity has been "discovered" incorrectly?
JOIN USJOIN US
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the most-discussed and least-understood law governing the modern internet. This event will delve into the future of Section 230 and how to change the law without compromising the internet as we know it. Join Protocol's Emily Birnbaum and Issie Lapowsky in conversation with Senator Mark Warner. This event is presented by Internet Association.
People Are Talking
In a talk with Tyler Cowen, Patrick Collison said ByteDance's CEO was dealing with many of tech's most important issues, and doing a great job:
- "Zhang Yiming is plausibly the greatest entrepreneur, or at least software/internet entrepreneur, of the present day."
The end of one company's dominance over the EV market can't come soon enough, Panasonic's Kazuhiro Tsuga said:
- "At some point, we need to graduate from our one-legged approach of relying solely on Tesla. We are entering a different phase and we need to keep an eye on supplying manufacturers other than Tesla."
Being rational in an irrational market can crush you, Indie.vc's Bryce Roberts said:
- "The way the startup game is played, even compelling fundamentals take a distant back seat to how much money companies are raising, at what valuation they are raising it, and which top-tier firm is leading the raise. This is not a knock; rather, an acknowledgment that those are the rules. I tried to play by a different set of rules and got burned."
Elon Musk and Zach Kirkhorn have new titles at Tesla, and they're a lot:
- "Effective as of March 15, 2021, the titles of Elon Musk and Zach Kirkhorn have changed to Technoking of Tesla and Master of Coin, respectively. Elon and Zach will also maintain their respective positions as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer."
Coming Up This Week
It's virtual SXSW week! No Austin, no tacos, but lots of speakers and comedy and stuff to see starting tomorrow.
Samsung's having an event on Wednesday, reportedly to launch some lower-end phones. And if Apple's having an event this month, we'll likely hear about it this week.
In Other News
- Stripe is now worth $95 billion. A new $600 million fundraising round has made it Silicon Valley's most valuable private company — and suggests the company isn't going public any time soon.
- Amazon was ordered to close a Canadian fulfillment center due to a COVID-19 concern, and all workers were told to self-isolate for two weeks. Amazon is appealing the decision. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos declined Bernie Sanders' invitation to testify on income inequality.
- Facebook made a "playbook" to help employees respond to criticism that it fuels polarization, BuzzFeed reported. In a talk to employees, research scientist Pablo Barberá reportedly pointed out that "issue polarization is not necessarily bad."
- The FCC said Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision and other companies are national security threats. Hikvision said it does not belong on the list. Separately, a Washington judge blocked the DoD from imposing investment restrictions on Xiaomi.
- Google will face a class action lawsuit over whether it tracks incognito mode browsing. Alphabet's attempts to get the case thrown out failed.
- On Protocol | China: Chinese companies are making their own semiconductors in response to U.S. sanctions. Case in point: Baidu, which just raised money for its AI chip unit Kunlun at a reported $2 billion valuation.
- India is going to ban owning and trading cryptocurrencies, Reuters reported. The new law would reportedly give owners six months to liquidate their holdings. Bitcoin, meanwhile, hit $60,000 over the weekend, though it's since fallen a bit.
- Elizabeth Holmes is pregnant, and that might delay her trial. Her lawyers asked that the trial doesn't begin until Aug. 31, after her due date.
One More Thing
NFT of the day
Patrick Mahomes, NFL quarterback superstar, is getting in the NFT game. He announced the "Museum of Mahomes" on Friday, with a number of collectibles going up for auction this week. (And if the digital art isn't good enough for you, he's also giving away signed helmets and jerseys to buyers.) Though, to be fair, Rob Gronkowski did beat him to the punch. Just rubbing it in after the Super Bowl win, I guess.
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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.