I hope you’re staying healthy and sane during the lockdown. If it hasn’t arrived to your country/city I’m sad to say that it will most likely arrive soon, so take the necessary precautions and get ready for some time at home.
On my end, this week marks my third week of “social distancing” (I prefer to call it physical distancing though, as I’ve been more social than ever thanks to Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc.). I’ve done some adjustments to keep as normal a life as possible.
What I am reading 📚
I spent the weekend going through my articles backlog. The best thing I read was an article series by Alex Danco called “Understanding Abundance”. I hadn’t read any of Danco’s work before and I feel I have so much reading to catch up. His writing is clear and compelling with plenty of ideas to ponder and digest.
This series on “Understanding Abundance” aims to explain how Software and the Internet have been eliminating the friction of distribution and consumption of goods and services and how we are entering an age of abundance, an age when so much is so easily available that we will see companies being falling in one of two categories: a generic platform offering a wealth of services and functions or a very differentiated and focused service.
This part explains it nicely:
Ben and James on Exponent describe an Internet Rainforest, and it’s a good analogy: in a rainforest, with its abundantly available water, sunlight and nutrients, two types of plants thrive: the tiny, highly differentiated plants on the forest floor, and the giant trees that form the canopy. It’s hard to be in the middle. It’s possible you’ll find customers, but nothing will impart you pricing power over the giants nor the agility to outrun a thousand different little plants.
This other part says something similar and warns startups aiming to build “platforms” about what they’re up against (the articles are from 2017 when everybody was building a platform, in 2018 the narrative shifted and everybody is doing something with “AI” but that’s another story):
Here’s the thing with calling yourself a platform. If you want to actually build a utility business that supports the ideas and differentiation of others, this is who you’re up against: Amazon: “When you asked Alexa to order a new breadknife, we also flew it in our own plane, ran an auction on Marketplace to find you the best seller, and computed it all on AWS, which was powered by our dedicated wind farm.” Apple: “When you listen to Taylor Swift on your iPhone, we also put together her Apple Music deal, designed the chipset and firmware that syncs your Airpods, and negotiated a state manufacturing subsidy between Foxconn and the Zhengzhou regional government to build them.” Facebook: “When you Liked your friend’s video, we also designed and built the switches and routers that decreased that Like’s response latency by 1 ms, laid undersea cables to our new zero-rated airplane internet station, and kind of got Donald Trump elected.” These aren’t horizontal or vertical businesses anymore. They’re giant utilities that sprawl out in all possible directions. The majority of challengers, by their own admission, have no desire to compete with Internet giants on volume of work done. What they’re really saying, but won’t admit, is “In a world of digital abundance, we’d rather leave the underlying work to other people, and we’d rather leave the differentiation to other people too, but uhhh we’re going to be valuable anyway, somehow.” In other words, they’re the proverbial British food restaurant in Palo Alto: they’re telling a lie. It’s particularly obvious when you hear things like “We are a differentiated platform.”
I am glad that I found these articles now. Most of what Danco says is true and still relevant today but with all the COVID-19 issues I’m wondering and researching how the tech landscape will change for the next couple of years. If you have any comments I’d love to hear them!
Nerd Corner 😷
After two weeks in lockdown, I feel I’ve found some sort of routine that I can keep up. I wrote a small post about it just in case you’ve been struggling like me. Keeping up with your routine and using this at-home time to improve and work on your projects is not easy but it is doable. Stay strong 💪.
Cool Finds 🤯
The coronavirus pandemic is hurting the global economy like most of us haven’t seen in our lives. OpenTable is publishing its restaurant-booking data and it shows a very very sad picture. At this rate, most of our favorite restaurants will disappear in the coming months.
One of the few things I always miss from my college days are Libraries. During my time at Oxford, I did pretty much all my work in a few of them so I was super happy when I discovered that the Bodleian Library of Oxford published recordings of the sounds of the library for everybody to enjoy! Needless to say, I’ve been listening to these recordings for the past week while working and I feel I can concentrate better than while listening to music.
The picture below shows what is believed to be the oldest unopened wine bottle. It dates back to at least the year 350 AD making it one of the oldest known forms of food preservation, predating the efforts of Nicolas Appert, the father of food preservation (who already made an appearance in Nerd Corner).
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