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Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: Gaming as Prophylaxis to Elections

 

 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The New York Times

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The New York Times
Sheryl K. Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, in January 2016. Facebook’s user growth defies the usual trajectories for social media companies.
Sheryl K. Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, in January 2016. Facebook’s user growth defies the usual trajectories for social media companies. Ruben Sprich/Reuters

Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: Gaming as Prophylaxis to Elections

Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.
Mike: Good morrow, Sir Farhad. How doth thou feelest this faire morning?
Do you like the way I’m talking? I’m really into this video game where I’m a witch hunter in like the 1400s and have to speak to everyone like this. Then I hack up scary monsters with my sword and cool potions. It’s very much like my real life.
Farhad: It’s interesting that you mention that. To distract myself from this crazy election, I’ve been playing Mario games on my kids’ Nintendo Wii. But I guess I’m still not in a good mood, because I started getting annoyed that Princess Peach keeps getting herself kidnapped. She seems pretty careless, if you ask me.
Mike: Right, onward toward our voyage into thee wild beasts and demons of technology!
So on Halloween, a new streaming video Q. and A. app called Whale was released, winning over the hearts and minds of at least one tech blog in Silicon Valley. “Whale” makes me immediately think of Twitter’s faulty “fail whale,” so I’m not sure about the whole branding issue here. But it was built by this guy Justin Kan, who’s basically been doing (and making big bucks off) live video stuff on and off for years. So, we’ll see.
Speaking of live video, the Vine guys are back with another video app called Hype. It, too, focuses on live streaming video, and apparently incorporates some other stuff. I’m sensing a theme here.
Call me old, or something, but it’s starting to bore me. Maybe my life isn’t cool enough to broadcast live all the time.
Farhad: I haven’t heard of Hype (ironically), but someone did send me a Whale message the other day, so I checked it out. It actually seemed pretty interesting. Lots of people have tried to build question-answering apps over the last few years, but I haven’t seen a video-based service before, and that could be a compelling twist. Imagine the hordes that would pay to see us answer questions about how to succeed in life?
Mike: Now that right there is irony. Onto some other stuff. Instagram debuted some commerce features on its platform, which basically turn some photos into pages that allow users to pick out and buy stuff they see. The guy in charge of the project told me he thinks of it a lot like a catalog you and I may browse but, uh, for your phone.
All I know is, if it shows me anything like the weird gadgets they have in SkyMall, I’m down.
Farhad: This seemed like a big deal to me. I think of Instagram and Pinterest (which also has a version of this feature) as the digital evolution of glossy fashion magazines — people scroll through them for ideas and inspiration, which means they’re often primed to buy stuff.
I’ve argued before that Amazon’s dominance means there isn’t much room online anymore to create new e-commerce businesses, but one thing Amazon doesn’t do well is give you ideas for things you might want but don’t know about yet. Instagram could fill that hole, I think. I mean, if you saw a robotic jar opener in your feed, wouldn’t you buy it? I would!
Mike: The one time I tried to actually buy something from an Instagram ad, some concert tickets, they had already sold out. Huge bummer.
Oh, something else to note. Facebook is still a moneymaking machine, crushing Wall Street estimates yet again with its quarterly earnings this week. What’s most mind-blowing to me is that they continue to grow ever larger, nearly at 1.8 billion monthly users to date, despite being totally ginormous already.
Imagine that: Already serving one fourth of the world and still growing like a weed. I truly don’t understand how that happens. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, told me it was because they have a “great product” which, uh, simplifies things a bit. I really want to know the secret sauce.
But what goes up must come down, and analysts are freaked out about Facebook reaching the limits of “ad load,” or how many ads they can jam into the News Feed over time. Which, I think, is a reasonable concern if your main worry is how Facebook is going to keep making more and more money. A rather base concern to me, but hey, I don’t work on Wall Street.
Farhad: Yeah, I was a bit surprised by Wall Street’s reaction to the news that so many people are using a single product so often. It’s evidence of finance guys’ short-termism.
Sure, in the next few years, it’s possible Facebook’s ad business may not grow as fast as it’s been growing. But getting that many people hooked is an incredible foundation on which to build all kinds of new products and other ways to make money. If your product is a daily addiction for nearly two billion people, how can you lose?
Mike: Right. So let’s talk about something incredibly boring yet surprisingly important: Collaboration!
This week, the world’s least threatening war was waged between Microsoft and Slack, which now offer two competing enterprise workplace collaboration products. Good Lord, I almost fell asleep saying that.
Farhad: Wait a minute, I think part of the reason you’re putting us all to sleep is you’re calling them “workplace collaboration products.” Aren’t they just group messaging apps? Basically, you see your co-workers in a chat room and send them funny messages and GIFs all day.
Mike: I’m pretty sure our co-workers hate that we use it like that.
Farhad: Also, Slack offers deep integrations with third-party apps, allowing you to control all kinds of other workplace software (like your expense reporting or customer service tools) through your messaging app. That’s what we’re talking about.
Mike: Yes, O.K., fine. It can do all that stuff, and Slack loves to tout it. But at least one of the primary aims, as I see it, is to eventually kill off email as the primary way of how we communicate with one another internally. Which is a noble goal, in this age of reply-all disasters.
So it’s a bit snoozy, but it’s key to the future of how we work. As more of us telecommute and forgo regular trips to the office — I’m writing this on the floor of my apartment right now! — we’re growing increasingly reliant on services like Slack (or Microsoft Teams) to stay in communication with our co-workers. You and I do most of our private chatting on Slack when we’re not tweeting. Or, you know, talk about “Game of Thrones” with other co-workers.
So the conceit is, perhaps one or a handful of companies will be responsible for providing the connective tissue that serves us all in our nifty workplaces of the future. Slack, so far, has been doing a good job where many others like Yammer, a Microsoft-owned product, mind you, have so miserably failed in the past. Now, Microsoft wants another crack at the problem, and is using its incredible distribution clout with Microsoft Office to give its new product away to paying subscribers.
Slack is probably freaking out, as was slightly evident by the full-page ad they put out in The Times this week. (Our business side thanks you for the $$$, Slack!)
What say you about collaboration? Isn’t this incredibly important to you?
Farhad: Yeah, I think these could be a big deal, and I think Microsoft is wise to enter this area. Slack is doing very well. Companies keep signing up for it, and as they start recognizing how terrible email has become (thanks, Hillary!), I suspect more will turn to chat apps.
And Microsoft has a real shot here. Slack has momentum, but Microsoft has a huge sales staff and deep connections with I.T. staff at businesses across the world. In its full-page ad, Slack confessed to being a little bit scared of Microsoft’s big push. I think it should be.
Also, are you going to join my Microsoft Team?
Mike: Yes, but only if we use it as a gaming chat room, too. To the battlefield, Sir Farhad!
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