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David Pierce

Why Basecamp matters

Hey app.

Good morning! This Monday, what you need to know on the first day of Epic v. Apple, what your company should take away from the Basecamp fiasco, the head of Neuralink is out and there's a new browser to save you from your browser.

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The Big Story

Lessons from Basecamp

One question that has floated around a lot the last few days is, uh, who cares about Basecamp? It makes a couple of quasi-popular apps and has (or had, anyway) 57 employees. Co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson have a lot of Twitter followers and are influential thinkers on the future of work, but still. Who cares?

A lot of people do, and the reason is simple: Basecamp's story isn't just about Basecamp. Or about Coinbase from a few months ago. This kind of cultural upheaval and reset is either already happening or coming soon at pretty much every company, everywhere. And in reality, every company should reckon with how companies interact with society, what is and isn't a company's responsibility, and what it means to be a good place to work in a messy, complex world.

  • Basecamp basically tried to exempt itself from all of it. But to a lot of people, that is either utterly impossible, an abdication of responsibility, or both. For so many people, everyday life feels inseparable from political issues, and being told not to talk about them from 9 to 5 doesn't sit well.
  • And workers increasingly expect their employers to be engaged in societal issues, to have and act on values and to think deeply about things like diversity and equity. They're beginning to prove, at Basecamp and elsewhere, that they'll quit when their employers don't live up to those expectations.

This kind of conversation has always happened at work. But when it happens on Slack or in Workplace, in view of the whole company, free of context and stored forever, the conversation has a different effect on the team. And so maybe the rules need to change.

  • But tech companies have spent years advocating "bringing your whole self to work," talking about their employees as families, and designing their offices and systems to keep people at work for as many hours a week as possible. So it's not exactly surprising that telling people to shut up and code isn't going to go over very well.

None of the answers are easy or obvious. And I wouldn't take too much advice from me, your friendly neighborhood white dude, on the subject. But I do have one recommendation: Don't try to do it all at once. And maybe find a better way to explain yourself than a punchy blog post. That doesn't seem to work very well.

Regulation

This trial is going to be epic

Epic v. Apple, the only trial I can remember that got its very own animated trailer the first day the case was filed, is kicking off in court starting today. We'll be covering the trial a lot over the course of the next few weeks and have a big preview you can read, but here's what you need to know before the gavel drops:

  • The trial is set to last about three weeks. During that time, each side gets 45 hours to make its case. It's happening in person in Oakland, but only a handful of people can be in the courtroom at a time.
  • Epic wants out from under the Apple Tax. It wants to sell V-Bucks to iOS-using Fortnite players without having to use Apple's in-app purchase tools, and to be able to operate its own app store on iOS.
  • Apple wants to prove that the App Store is a vital part of iOS. That's its entire argument, really: that its payment systems, reviews processes and security tools are so important to the iPhone experience that you couldn't possibly separate the two.

The cast of characters for this trial is long and involves high-level executives on both sides, but there are a few names you should pay special attention to:

  • Tim Sweeney: This whole fight, this whole grudge against Apple, comes from Sweeney, Epic's CEO. He's rich, he's powerful and he's been itching to pick this fight for a long time.
  • Phil Schiller: He doesn't officially run the App Store anymore, but, as Apple's designated representative for this trial, he's still pretty clearly its primary defender. Nobody gets more credit — or bears more responsibility — for the way the App Store works than Schiller, and he knows absolutely everything about how it works.
  • Lori Wright: The VP of business development at Xbox will be asked to explain, from another trillion-dollar company's perspective, everything from 30% commissions to how to get around the App Store.
  • Phillip Shoemaker: His testimony from his time as the technology director of App Store review has already had an impact on the case. He's the one who said Apple uses app review "as a weapon against competitors."
  • Ned Barnes: A forensic accountant, whose testimony is apparently so explosive that Apple tried to get the court to prevent it from being made public.

As for how this is going to end, it's hard to even count the possibilities. It could upend the App Store entirely; it could change nothing. Apple could be forced to collect 12% commission, or 8% or 4.36895% or 57%! It could be forced to allow developers to advertise other places to pay, and leave it at that. Epic could help determine the future of the antitrust fight, or make Apple even more powerful against it.

All we know for sure is that we're about to learn a lot more about the inner workings of the largest company on Earth than anyone at Apple Park is comfortable with. It's going to be wild.

A MESSAGE FROM INTEL

"For the developers who strive to bring solutions to market quickly, the challenge to overcome complex requirements, unique connectivity needs and disparate edge infrastructures can impede progress and create delays," says Bill Pearson, VP and GM of developer enabling in the company's Internet of Things Group.

Learn more

People Are Talking

The way to lead in crisis is to "communicate four times as much," Airbnb's Brian Chesky said:

  • "Quarterly board meetings became every Sunday. Monthly all-hands meetings became weekly. I used to answer five questions at the Q&A, I started answering 10."

Warren Buffett is not impressed with SPACs:

  • "SPACs have been working for a while and if you secure a famous name on it you could sell almost anything."

Streaming is going to take over the TV ad business for one simple reason, Roku's Alison Levin said:

  • "One of the most powerful things about streaming is that you can find the right audience at the right moment … It's why Google and Facebook work so well. It's the data targeting aspect to it that was missing in linear TV."

Coming This Week

Josh Hawley's book, "The Tyranny of Big Tech," comes out on Tuesday. Early reviews make it sound like it's exactly as angry (and exactly as misguided) as you might expect.

More earnings! Twilio, Match, Square, Roku (someone please ask about YouTube on the earnings call), Dropbox and Cloudflare all report. So do Uber and Lyft, which will be fascinating after Labor Secretary Marty Walsh dropped a gig-economy bomb last week.

Will the Oversight Board finally rule on Donald Trump? Maybe! Or maybe we'll all die wondering because Facebook hates us. Who knows.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Shouzi Chew is the new CEO of TikTok. He'll run the company from Singapore and continue being ByteDance's CFO at the same time. Vanessa Pappas, who has run the company in recent months, is now COO.
  • The head of Neuralink is out. Max Hodak co-founded the company with Elon Musk, but now says he's moving "onward to new things."
  • On Protocol: Tech apprenticeships are helping U.K. companies hire and train a more diverse workforce. The idea has never really caught on in the U.S., but a company called Multiverse thinks it can change that.
  • Telecom groups hate New York's new broadband rules. They're fighting back against requirements that they offer $15 and $20 monthly broadband plans, challenging the state's authority even as other states try to adopt similar laws.
  • Microsoft looked at ways to reduce its commission for Xbox game sales. That would be tricky, given the razor-thin (and sometimes negative) margins in the hardware business, but it seems to be where the industry is headed.
  • On Protocol: Don't miss this profile of Buy Nothing, the giant free-stuff community built on Facebook that's now trying to grow even bigger and better outside the big blue app.
  • PSA: Turns out you can punch a hole in your AirTag and hang it on your keychain. You just have to know where to punch.
  • On Protocol: A former Netflix IT exec was found guilty of taking bribes from vendors. He got kickbacks from nine different companies between 2012 and 2014, in exchange for approving millions of dollars in contracts with Netflix.

One More Thing

Chrome, only not terrible

One of the more intriguing apps that launched last week was Mighty, which takes Chrome off your computer and turns it into a streamed browser from a supercomputer somewhere else. I've been testing it periodically for a while, and it does exactly what it says on the tin: runs Chrome, only without setting your computer on fire. If you're a tab hoarder, this is one to keep an eye on.

It's still invite-only, but I suggest getting on the waitlist and giving it a spin. We're headed for a generational overhaul in the way web browsers work, and this looks like part of the answer.

A MESSAGE FROM INTEL

"For the developers who strive to bring solutions to market quickly, the challenge to overcome complex requirements, unique connectivity needs and disparate edge infrastructures can impede progress and create delays," says Bill Pearson, VP and GM of developer enabling in the company's Internet of Things Group.

Learn more

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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 david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

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