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worst startup idea of the year?

Tech Revolution
Issue #1021 • View online
Well hello there,
Welcome to another weekly Tech Revolution.
This week, the award for ‘worst startup idea of the year’ goes to this company
The US tax authority, the IRS, struggles to answer the calls it gets from the public. The vast majority of callers never get through at all. It’s a frustrating problem, but, as the LA Times describes, one startup had an answer: “The company, called EnQ, swamps the IRS’ switchboard with its own calls, then sells desirable, time-saving slots near the head of the hold line to accountants and tax preparers willing to pay up to $1,000 a year.”
“When there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity,” the EnQ’s found told the newspaper. Well, yes, BUT hijacking the available call slots so that perhaps the only way to get through is to pay your company is a dirty, scammy move that reminds me of shady practices in the hot food delivery space. Rent-taking for things you don’t own is bad for the soul, folks.
Meanwhile, this week I have been:
  • Weirdly excited about William Shatner’s trip to space today. These increasingly common jaunts into space for non-professional astronauts usually don’t grab my attention, but this one does - as much for the fact he’s 90 as the whole Star Trek connection.
  • Looking forward to Apple finally revealing a blazing-fast new MacBook Pro next week. I currently have a Windows laptop (generally doing very well, apart from a dodgy spacebar because I bash it too hard) but a 16" MacBook Pro running Apple’s own processor tech could have me gazing longingly in their direction again.
  • Wincing at the huge, embarrassing Twitch hack.
  • Watching my grammar on social media more closely than usual.
  • Wondering if any enterprising hackers took advantage of a security hole at Brewdog to snag free birthday beers all year round
  • Checking my sandwiches for hidden USB sticks packed with military data. That must have been particularly crunchy peanut butter.
Okay, shall we begin the newsletter proper? Let’s do that…
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
💰 Is the creator economy a swizz?
The opportunities for individuals to make money from their content are greater than ever. Just last week Snapchat launched some new initiatives, and Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Twitch, and YouTube all have multiple ways to make money for an increasing chunk of their userbases.
But this is no great democratisation of social media earning potential. As Axios reports:
What’s happening now with the creator economy mirrors all of the previous waves of digital media economies built before it via social media, blogging and websites.
New platforms have long offered hope of empowering smaller voices, only to see the top creators reap the most benefits.
Internet theorist Clay Shirky famously dubbed this phenomenon the “power law distribution” in 2003.
In other words, a few select stars suck up most of the revenue, leaving everyone else to pick up a trickle of leftovers.
It makes sense - there’s only so much attention and money to go around, and we tend to be drawn to creators that draw a big audience we can feel a part of
So before you quit your job to go all-in on creating for other people’s platforms, be aware that star power is still very much alive and well, and becoming a star takes far more than signing up for a creator monetisation programme.
📡 Will this be Woz's second great act in tech?
Steve Wozniak is a lovable elder statesman of tech. He co-founded Apple, got out early and has dined off the anecdotes ever since. He played an important part in the growth of the tech industry, but he’s not been a serious figure to keep an eye on for a long time.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to read about his new startup, which actually seems to be ambitious, timely, and needed.
Pitched as “Google Maps for space”, Privateer aims to help rockets avoid the enormous amount of old junk orbiting the Earth. The company will send up its first satellite to start mapping the debris, dead satellites and the like in February.
Wozniak’s co-founder Alex Fielding told TechCrunch just how important it is to understand space junk better:
To not pursue a complete Google Maps of space might not just be negligent — it could be fatal, according to Fielding. “I’m an optimist and I still am very, very, very afraid that we’re too late, that we’re probably within 24 months of the first on-orbit human space casualty. And the reason for that is just the proliferation in low Earth orbit.”
If Privateer helps keep space safe, Woz might have another great legacy alongside the fruit company he helped establish all those years ago.
📴 Does Instagram really want you to take a break?
It’s clear that the latest Facebook scandal isn’t going away fast, so the company has started announcing things it hopes will take the edge off the critics’ barbs.
Instagram’s potential harm to young people is one of the most contentious topics right now, so Instagram is keen to emphasise it takes the issue seriously.
The company’s comms chief, Nick Clegg, said on US TV at the weekend:
“We’re going to introduce something which I think will make a considerable difference, which is where our systems see that a teenagers is looking at the same content over and over again, and it’s content which may not be conducive to their well being, we will nudge them to look at other content.“
[Clegg also said the company] planned to introduce a feature “called ‘take a break,’ where we will be prompting teens to just simply take a break from using Instagram.”
It’s worth noting that Clegg was simply repeating information from a blog post in late September, when news of the ‘pausing’ of the Instagram Kids project overshadowed the other initiatives. But these ideas aren’t in testing yet - they’re just planned for some time "soon,” which gives them the air of the kind of feature Facebook announces when the heat is on, and then quietly cans once the media has moved on.
Let’s face it, features that encourage less Instagram use might be healthy, but they go against all of Facebook’s growth-focused priorities. Unless the company shifts its focus right from the top, nudges to take a break are going to be nothing more than token gestures.
More news you shouldn’t miss…
  • The much derided Magic Leap has raised another $500m and plans to release a new headset. It will hopefully be less underwhelming than the last, which spectacularly failed to live up to all the hype the company had generated for years. [Protocol]
  • Don’t expect Apple to open up the App Store to third-party payments any time soon, despite a judge’s order. The company wants to hold off for as long as it can. [Gizmodo]
  • Sky is launching its own TV. The 4K screen, in three sizes, is meant to ‘declutter’ homes by replacing the company’s satellite dishes and set-top boxes with streamed content over the internet. In the 2020s, satellite TV feels very old-school. [Sky News]
  • The chip shortage is affecting Apple’s latest iPhones. The company has been largely resilient in the face of the global shortage, but has now reportedly slashed its iPhone 13 production estimates. [BBC News]
  • The biggest DDoS ever took place in August, according to Microsoft, who mitigated the attack on a European Azure customer. [The Verge]
  • Google wants to take on Twitter, with plans for a feed of breaking news in its Search product. [Bloomberg $$$]
🌟 Thing of the week
Fairphone 4 review: the price of sustainability
🏭 Future of work
Netflix is the latest company to completely fail to understand its employees or why they’re upset. You could call it ‘Basecamp syndrome’.
Comedian Dave Chapelle’s new special for the company features transphobic content, which trans employees are understandably not happy about.
Rather than listen to staff concerns and reflect on whether the company should be funding and promoting content that, as one protestor put it “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness,” management sided with the big-money talent over the marginalised community and pulled an ‘it’s not us, it’s you’ move:
“This will not be the last title that causes some of you to wonder if you can still love Netflix. I sincerely hope that you can,” wrote co-CEO Ted Sarandos in a tone-deaf, out-of-touch, and missing-the-point statement.
‘Today’s employees are too mouthy about social issues that should stay out of the workplace’ is a common complaint I see on social media. But if you’re funding content that questions the validity of some of your own employees’ existence, you should be able to understand if they think that’s a social issue that absolutely needs to be discussed in the workplace.
Listen to employees in a case like this and you might find it’s the talent that is wrong, and some things are fundamentally more important than keeping Dave Chapelle sweet for another content deal.
More future of work:
  • Discord is a work communication platform for some people. But just like Slack is a ropey tool for social communities, I wouldn’t recommend Discord for work. [Protocol]
  • And speaking of Slack, this is an upbeat assessment of its impact on workplaces. [The Atlantic $$$]
  • Amazon is the latest company to call off a whole-company back-to-the-office plan, and let individual team managers decide what is best for them. A good thing, too - ‘everyone back’ is outdated thinking that ignores the importance of flexibility around working styles and team needs in the modern workplace. [CNBC]
📰 Big reads
How Los Angeles is preparing for the air taxi takeoff
The covid tech intimately tied to China’s surveillance state
1 Billion TikTok Users Understand What Congress Doesn’t
More big reads:
🐣 Tweet of the week
⌚ The past was good too
Mortal Kombat's Ed Boon Shows Off the Original 1992 Scorpion Video Capture
That's all for now...
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