Will the West get a WeChat?

For those unfamiliar, WeChat (微信, or, "micro letter") is the dominant messaging platform in China. But, it's more than a messaging app—it's essentially the mobile operating system of China. WeChat is different from messaging apps popular in the West simply because it does so much more. It is a payments app, a hookup app, a lottery app, and, most importantly, it's a platform for third-party apps. Official Accounts on WeChat can be heavily customised for users to navigate and interact, essentially replacing the need for a website. In China, the most important layer of the mobile stack is not operating systems like iOS or Android, it's WeChat. This is because most of the essential apps in China's mobile stack are not iOS or Android apps, they are WeChat apps. With WeChat available and dominant on both platforms, mobile operating systems are left with very little opportunity for software differentiation. This could partially explain why Apple has struggled in the Chinese market.

In the West, nobody dominates in the same way, but platforms are inching closer. Facebook and its subsidiaries have a clear lead and are taking inspiration from WeChat. Mark Zuckerberg has announced that messaging is the future of Facebook. He expects "future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network". For many small businesses, Facebook pages have replaced websites and Facebook Messenger has a slew of commerce functionality. Apple's iMessage platform has received R&D attention in recent years but is yet to break out as more than a messaging app. WhatsApp is ubiquitous but limited in functionality. Google has repeatedly fumbled. Instagram seems to be in the lead for millennials. Hospitality venues around the world are using highlighted stories to add content and navigation to their Instagram profiles in place of a website.

Recently, Instagram announced Instagram Checkout, a significant expansion of their commerce capabilities. Already, merchants have been able to push their product catalogues to Instagram (via Facebook), allowing audiences to browse their selection in-app and allowing merchants to tag their posts with links to relevant products. But, the in-app experience has always ended with browsing—with shoppers directed to a brands website to complete any purchase. Instagram will now begin to allow users to complete transactions in-app, bringing consistency and expedience to the experience at a fee to the merchant. It is not yet clear whether merchants will be able to opt-out of this new flow and continue to drive users to their websites to complete transactions.

While this may come across as Instagram muscling its way into a transaction it has traditionally had no claim to, I think this will be positive for many retailers. In a world where just a few marketplaces continue to consume the ecommerce market with the online store taking a backseat to other channels, competition should be welcomed. Further, many of these dominant marketplaces focus on commoditising all merchandise, focusing heavily on price and convenience over customisation and specialty—product lines become offers and brands are all but relegated to a note on the buy box. A world where all online shopping takes place on these commoditised marketplaces, while convenient, could turn out incredibly dull for consumers and difficult for specialised brands.

Instagram, however, has always been brand-focused, if not obsessed. Even personal users with no ambitions to become an influencer are considering their personal brand and how the content they post can establish it. The Instagram user-interface is very friendly to brands seeking to stand on their own, control how they are represented and reach out to their audiences. For the most part, Instagram users are generally pretty happy to subscribe to marketing and advertising from the brands they like, with 80% of people following at least one business account. As a result, Instagram seems to have fallen into a place where it has become the dominant platform for specialised retailers to market their goods to their existing audience and grow their audience through paid advertising and collaborations with influencers. It's inevitable for Instagram to seek to better monetise the relationships they are facilitating and advisable for merchants to take advantage as early adopters of features that can make transactions easier for their audience, keeping them from instead browsing today's dominant marketplaces.

Following suit, WhatsApp Payments (which apparently will not be developed in Silicon Valley) has been announced, alongside WhatsApp Product Catalogs

While there is not yet a single app dominating this layer of the mobile stack, the battle is well underway, and, while Facebook probably won't be replacing government IDs anytime soon, they are leading the race.

A Guide to One-on-One Meetings for Managers and Employees.

Over the past four years, I noticed how almost every person I talked to did not know the answer to that question. They held one-on-ones — but felt in the dark if their one-on-ones could be run better (or, if they were working at all).

In these guides, you’ll learn…

  • The purpose of one-on-one meetings: What’s the point?
  • How long, how often, and with who to hold one-on-ones with
  • How to prepare for a one-on-one meeting
  • The best 8 questions to ask during a one-on-one
  • What to put on your one-on-one meeting agenda (with 4 agenda templates)
  • How to get honest insights from your one-on-one
  • Best practices for writing notes during a one-on-one meeting

— Claire Lew (2018, August 8). Announcing: A Guide to One-on-One Meetings for Managers and Employees

Excellent and concise resource for managers and employees doing one-on-ones. Easy to peruse and find takeaways.

The Library of Congress is going to stop preserving all tweets

The Twitter archive may not be the record of our humanity that we wanted, but it’s the record we have. Due to Twitter’s original terms of service and the public availability of most tweets, which stand in contrast to many other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Snapchat, we are unlikely to preserve anything else like it from our digital age.

Undoubtedly many would consider that a good thing, and that the Twitter archive deserves the kind of mockery that flourishes on the platform itself. What can we possibly learn from the unchecked ramblings and ravings of so many, condensed to so few characters?

Yet it’s precisely this offhandedness and enforced brevity that makes the Twitter archive intriguing. Researchers have precious few sources for the plain-spoken language and everyday activities and thought of a large swath of society.

Most of what is archived is indeed done so on a very selective basis, assessed for historical significance at the time of preservation. Until the rise of digital documents and communications, the idea of “saving it all” seemed ridiculous, and even now it seems like a poor strategy given limited resources. Archives have always had to make tough choices about what to preserve and what to discard.

However, it is also true that we cannot always anticipate what future historians will want to see and read from our era. Much of what is now studied from the past are materials that somehow, fortunately, escaped the trash bin. Cookbooks give us a sense of what our ancestors ate and celebrated. Pamphlets and more recently zines document ideas and cultures outside the mainstream.

— Dan Cohen (2017, December 29). The Significance of the Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress

Ubers abysmal year in review

Let’s recap: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick joins President Trump’s business council, and faces an immediate backlash; Uber is accused of undermining a taxi driver protest at JFK airport; the #DeleteUber hashtag goes viral; Susan Fowler speaks her mind; Waymo files its lawsuit; a self-driving Uber runs a red light; a self-driving Uber crashes; Travis Kalanick is caught on camera being a jerk; we learn about Uber executives visiting a South Korean escort bar; Apple threatens to remove Uber from the App Store; “Greyball;” “Hell;” Anthony Levandowski pleads the Fifth; Anthony Levandowski is fired; Uber considers smearing a rape victim in India; many Uber executives resign; Kalanick resigns; Lyft outpaces Uber; London bans Uber; the new CEO apologizes; a failed auto-leasing program is canceled; a major Uber investor sues Kalanick, who countersues; Uber is subject to five separate criminal investigations; Uber is fined for enabling unqualified drivers; a data hack exposes personal information of 57 million riders and drivers; the hacker is paid off and the hack is covered up; and (last but not least) Uber’s secret spying unit is exposed, and it sounds insane.

— Andrew J. Hawkins (2017, December 29). The Verge 2017 tech report card: Uber

Why are there so many knobs in Garageband?

The first Billboard #1 single that was recorded to a hard drive instead of tape was “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in 1999; 18 years later, in 2017, most audio software still looks like the designers attempted to replicate physical equipment piece for piece on a computer screen. Faders, switches, knobs, needles twitching between numbers on a volume meter — they’re all there. Except you have to control them with a mouse.

Winamp may have been Patient Zero in this gaudy epidemic, but it has spread far and wide. I spend a lot of my time mixing and editing audio, and that often involves having multiple audio plugins (essentially applications that run inside the main audio program) from multiple vendors running simultaneously. But all audio software, for what I suppose are historical reasons, features the most egregious skeuomorphic design in all of software.

— John Lagomarsino, The Outline (2017, August 24). Why are there so many knobs in Garageband?

Apple has recently flattened the UI for both Logic and Garageband, but knobs are still frustratingly abundant.

51% of China’s $11trn internet-payments market is controlled by one company

China’s internet-payments market is the world’s biggest, reckons Goldman Sachs, with $11trn in transactions last year, twice the size of America’s credit- and debit-card industry. Ant controls 51% of it. The firm is 16 times larger than PayPal, an American counterpart, on this measure.

China’s lead is about more than size, though. People make payments mainly by using phones. Whereas Western products such as Apple Pay typically piggyback off credit-card firms’ networks to access clients’ funds, China’s firms often access bank accounts directly, cutting out the middlemen.

Ant has developed a menu of services: its home screen lets you buy train tickets, pay utility bills and invest in mutual funds. Yu’e Bao, a money-market fund run by Ant, has $166bn of assets. Ant lends to its clients, but so far its balance sheet is modest: outstanding loans to small firms were $5bn in 2016. Fees are low, but Ant’s profits still reached a chunky $820m last year, up by 14% since 2014. (It does not publish its books, but some figures can be inferred from Alibaba’s accounts.)

— The Economist (2017, August 19). China’s digital-payments giant keeps bank chiefs up at night

Crazy to think how little movement there has been in the internet payments industry in Australia. It'll be interesting to see how western governments respond to Ant, and it's competitors, starting to move intro their markets.

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