KITES CAN'T FLY  

Dapper Labs, the company behind NBA Top Shot, valued at $2.6 billion (or half the New York Knicks)

Another day, another story about the success of NFTs. This one’s about Dapper Labs, the company behind NBA Top Shot: they’ve raised $305 million in new funding, bringing them up to a valuation of $2.6 billion. They could almost buy half of the New York Knicks with that money. We’re on our way to ridding ourselves of James Dolan, y’all.

Looks like they’re only getting more popular, as well. Here’s Kellen Browning for the New York Times:

Top Shot has exploded in popularity, part of a larger frenzy for cryptocurrencies and NFTs that has driven up the value of Bitcoin and led to head-turning bids for digital artwork. There have been more than three million Top Shot transactions, Dapper Labs said, generating $500 million in sales. The company makes money through the sale of the digital moments and also collects a cut whenever a moment is resold.

Dapper’s new investors include a few NBA stars as well, “including Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson”. I might get involved if they release a Klay Thompson toaster moment.

In some ways, it’s nice to feel vindicated about my prediction for NFTs. In other, more important ways, every article about NFTs being a hit should mention how astonishingly bad they are for the environment.

It’d be interesting to know how much Dapper contributes to the problem: a lot of the furore is about Ethereum, and Dapper use their own crypto system called Flow. Haven’t seen much of anything about that, carbon wise, but it should be less energy hungry than Ethereum.

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The “Amazon of South Korea” is worth billions, facing accusations of employees being worked to death

What’s a few bodies on the path to a billion-dollar valuation?

The BBC:

South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday making a multi-billionaire out of its founder Bom Kim.

Coupang’s US listing is the biggest by an Asian company since Alibaba in 2014. [It’s] share price rose 41% in its trading debut, which was the biggest US initial public offering (IPO) since Uber in 2019. Coupang is often referred to as the Amazon of South Korea.

[…]

Despite the company’s popularity, it has faced scrutiny after reports of several deaths among delivery and logistics employees who were allegedly overworked.

Sounds like they’re following the Amazon model to a tee.

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Why does the Apple TV still exist?

You may have heard that people enjoy television. Apple have dabbled in the space for quite some time, what with the Apple TV streaming box, the Apple TV app, and the Apple TV+ streaming service. That’s a lot of TV.

The first piece of that, though, the Apple TV box hasn’t seen a lot of love in recent years. It used to be the only way to access parts two and three of Apple’s offering but, now, the app and streaming service are hitting other television sets and boxes.

So Jason Snell asked why the Apple TV box even exists:

I don’t know where the Apple TV hardware is going, but it can’t stand still. It either needs to evolve into something else, or die. And it might need to die anyway.

One quick thing: I don’t think anyone who owns an Apple TV, right now, is in a great position to say why it still exists. If you bought one recently, maybe. But most others? Nope. There’s a difference between “Why do you still use and/or like this thing?” and “Is this thing a viable product in the market today?” The answer to the second question, when you’re looking at the Apple TV, is “… Nah”.

The answer to the first question, for me, is “I like it, is all.” And there’s one reason for that: I’m an unabashed Apple TV apologist.

Snell rattles off a list of its advantages – even if he cruelly, callously casts off the TV’s screensavers as an afterthought – and they don’t justify the little box’s premium price point (which hasn’t dropped in three years and it was expensive to start with). It’s a competitive marketplace for this kind of device and, yeah, Apple’s offering doesn’t distinguish itself or justify the expense. It’s just nice.

But it is nice.

If my Apple TV 4K packed it in today, I’d buy a new one. Options are limited here in Australia and I’m not sold on Chromecasts or Fire Sticks.1 Asking Siri to jump through videos is just that good. The screensavers are incredible. tvOS, neglected as it is, is smooth. Then there are the services: Music and Fitness+ have their hooks in me.

There’s something to be said for paying a bit extra, if you can afford it, for an experience you just plain like. The OS is quick and easy to navigate. App icons animate with faux-depth when you wiggle them around. It’s fun: making the Settings icon shimmy is a nice way to fiddle when you’re thinking about what to watch. Apple is particularly good at adding small sparks of joy to their products and they’re the kinds of things that make a product, even a neglected one like Apple TV, harder to give up. People will remember how you make them feel before they remember what you do, after all.2

None of that makes the Apple TV a particularly good product right here, right now (especially at its price point). It’s in dire need of an update, if that factors into Apple’s plans, or a price drop to stay competitive.

Chances are, the box isn’t a big part of Apple’s plans. They’ll more success, and more product lock-in, by getting things like AirPlay and their services (TV+, Fitness, Music) on other streaming boxes rather than relying on their own. An Apple TV box is a better experience if you’ve bought shows and movies from the iTunes Store but that doesn’t scale as well as getting your services everywhere else.

But I like the Apple TV. I’d get a new one if mine died and I’d love to see an updated version of the little box that could.

Like I said: I’m an apologist.


  1. I also just dislike Google and Amazon. 

  2. No idea if this applies to products, though. 

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Human society is just collateral damage in climate change

We caused climate change and it’ll change our societies forever, in ways small and seismic. But the problems we’ll face are a small part of the problem: climate change is a catastrophe across every single ecosystem. We’re a sliver of that, albeit a self-focussed one.

Jake Bittle captures this reality in his review of The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change:

In the best of these three pieces, “The Sixth Extinction,” Kolbert positions “climate change” as a pan-organic calamity, a form of ecological genocide that incidentally may inflict irreparable damage on human society. This is perhaps the most valuable piece of climate journalism ever written because it is the only one that accurately depicts the scale of a crisis too often rendered in narrowly human terms. Extinction is not a metaphor, but it functions like one, carrying with it a fearful connotation that has yet to be matched in subsequent accounts of the calamity.

We’re responsible for that – even though it’s a wide-ranging structural issue and not the result of any one individual doing any one thing. We, as a society, appointed ourselves master and controller of the planet by shaping it at every level. From micro plastics in the ocean to wide-spread deforestation to gases in the sky, we’ve touched everything.

That matters, this is our doing. But the effects go well beyond us. And we need to reckon with that.

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App Store scams and Apple’s priorities

It’s hard to feel good about the App Store when Apple removes perfectly fine apps for not using their payment system while scam apps run amok. It makes you question their priorities a bit.

WatchChat Alex spent three years building a successful Apple Watch app, only to have his business destroyed by fake apps stealing his work to scam people. Apple, meanwhile, haven’t done much to stop it.

I have spent the last four years of my life working on my very successful app only to have it ruined by scam apps with very obvious fake reviews as well as false advertising claims that Apple does not take action against. I can literally prove they are fake but Apple refuses to take action for undisclosed reasons, allowing thousands of more people getting scammed by these apps day by day.

Alex story follows that of Kosta Eleftherious, who shared his battle with another Apple Watch related scam:

The App Store has a big problem 👇 You: an honest developer, working hard to improve your IAP conversions. Your competitor: a $2M/year scam running rampant

There are more, of course.

Meanwhile, apps have been knocked back from the App Store because they didn’t include Apple system for in-app payments (among various other reasons, some good and some baffling).

Apple seem to be doing two things at once:

  1. Claiming that the App Store is necessary to keep customers safe
  2. Failing to staff their app review team well

Scam apps are a problem in and of themselves: they rob people of money. Apple’s failure to catch them speaks to a bigger problem. They’ll dock apps quickly if, for example, don’t include their in-app payment system (from which they take a 30% cut) but they, for whatever reason, haven’t taken action on scam apps that rake in a whole lot money for fraudulent developers and, of course, Apple.

There’s a lot we can’t know here. We don’t know how many scam apps get taken down quickly and we don’t know how many never make it through the review process. Maybe we only ever see 1% of those submitted to the store.

But we can only assess what we see and, right now, less than a year out from a brouhaha over apps not using Apple’s in-app payment system there’s another tussle over their inability to take down scam apps that are making them a lot of money.

Taken one after another, it’s starts to paint a picture, you know?

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The changing face of uwu

uwu has become one of the internet’s original sins. It’s the kind of performative “cuteness” that rankles people, either because it’s disingenuous or because that’s the point.

Like everything bad on the internet, uwu started somewhere. Brian Feldman dug into it for his newsletter BNet – turns out, the first recorded usage of uwu is from a piece of Yu-Gi-Oh fan fiction, adding yet more weight to my belief that fanfic communities spawn at least a third of everything that becomes a thing online.

Feldman makes an interesting argument, though. The uwu in question was used in a self-effacing author note:

Wheee! Sarah/ryoulover4ever was my 200th reviewer! I’m sorry this took so long! -/smacks self/- Again, feel free to throw squids and fish at me. UwU I deserve it, I know.

Feldman argues that, in this context, uwu wouldn’t make sense if it was being used in a performatively-cute way. It doesn’t jive with the tone. It’s closer to confounded face emoji in tone, right down to the w-shaped mouth.

Here’s Feldman:

All of this leads me to theorize that the oldest known use of uwu deploys it in a dramatically different context than the one we are now used to. Which is fine, because internet language is rarely prescriptive — there is never one exact right way to use ambiguous pictographs like emoji and emoticons. In fact, that’s how they derive their power: allowing the reader to use the surrounding conversational context to figure out exactly what they mean.

Still, I’m not quite sure how uwu might have gone from a grimace to a cute face. Regardless, kinda neat.

uwu has changed. It’s evolved. That’s to be expected, really: anything that becomes popular will, eventually, become something new.

Who knows what it’ll become next. It may even turn into something even more annoying and more powerful.

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Will people still pay for news without President Trump?

Donald Trump wasn’t good for much but he was great for the news. The New York Times, for example, saw a 300% uptick in digital subscriptions once Trump became President. There’s a good reason for that, which we’ll get into below. (Hint: it’s the same thing that drives engagement on social media.)

Trump isn’t the only reason places like the New York Times have seen an uptick in readers and subscribers: they’ve built their entire operating model around getting subscriptions and its paid off. But Trump’s presidency, and the burning need people felt to know about it, helped.

Can media outlets maintain that need without him? Chris Cermak, Monocle’s news editor, asked as much about The Washington Post on The Late Edition of the Monocle 24 podcast:

Will [reporting on the Biden administration] attract readers in the same way [as Donald Trump]? Will that maintain this positive feeling that liberals have, for that matter, about The Washington Post? Will they continue to read or will they go back to being more apolitical now that Donald Trump is out of office?

You can ask the same of the New York Times and any of the liberal and left-of-centre publications that saw a surge of readership – or even just a clear sense of purpose – under the Trump administration.

Audiences love a villain. They simplify things. Why pay for news? So you know what he’s doing. Why donate to this cause? To help stop him.

Conservatives and the far-right have always been good at this kind of thing. They manufacture enemies, tiny paper demons folded from lists of your nightmares, to stand against and to rally their base around. It’s how Trump got himself elected: he invented opponents to push over. Fox News do the same thing.

It’s not exclusive to the conservative side of politics, of course: über-engaged people on social media, across the political spectrum, are amazing at finding enemies to rally around. Some of them are real, some of them are only real under the tawdry veneer of a newsfeed but they all inspire a share and a whole lot of something. You never want to find yourself as the main character of Twitter, after all.

Media outlets made a whole lot of hay out of Antagonist Trump. He was an main character big enough and important enough to inspire real, tangible action. His show was worth a subscription. Now, though? Biden isn’t as compelling.

Really, Trump’s tenure as president was an audition for outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post. Are they worth the money to people now that Biden has arrived? Have people learned to value the news as a product? Is the habit engrained? Will people just forget they’re subscribed? Is inertia enough?

There are real woes and troubles that are worth knowing about: coronavirus, China’s continued rise as a global superpower, climate change, to name a few. But none of them have really inspired the passion required to throw a few dollars at a paywall in the past.

They’re not characters. And people love a character.

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Neo-Nazis recruiting people to Telegram after Parler shuts down

Nature abhors a vacuum (and so do extremists looking to yell about things). So, of course, everyone feeling lost without Parler are looking for somewhere to go. Enter Neo-Nazis and Telegram.

Here’s Cam Wilson, reporting for Gizmondo:

With Parler down for the time being, those banned from mainstream platforms, free speech advocates, the far-right and — as is often the case — those who are some combination of the three have been looking for a new safe space online. And Neo-Nazis are rolling out the red carpet for these disgruntled netizens by inviting them to their Telegram channels, in hopes of winning them over to their cause.

[…]

Gizmodo Australia has also seen users in Neo-Nazi chats discuss trying to radicalise former Parler members.

“Redpill these kids”, one administrator said in an international Neo-Nazi chat, and included a link to one of the new chats for Parler refugees.

This won’t end well. Misinformation, propaganda, and more has spread for years on WhatsApp, contributing to some truly horrible things (like lynchings in India), not to mention rampant fake news in the 2019 Brazilian election. Info spreads from group chat to group chat, often pushed along by well organised campaigners, and it’s all incredibly difficult to track.

If Neo-Nazi groups manage to swell their ranks on Telegram, things could even more extreme in the US – quietly and then very loudly.

UPDATE: Telegram Finally Takes Down Neo-Nazi Channels – Ali Breland, reporting for Mother Jones.

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