Tech: Links for 11th June, 2019

  1. “Microsoft now generates about $7.5 billion in annual revenue from web search advertising. That is a pipsqueak compared with Google’s $120 billion in ad sales over the last 12 months. But it’s more revenue brought in by either Microsoft’s LinkedIn professional network or the company’s line of Surface computers and other hardware.How did Bing go from a joke to generating nearly three times the advertising revenue of Twitter? Bing is emblematic of what Microsoft has become under Satya Nadella, the CEO since 2014: less flashy and less inclined to tilt at windmills in favor of pragmatism.”
    ..
    ..
    A nice (and at least to, somewhat surprising) read about how Bing isn’t an utter failure – far from it. It isn’t Google, of course, and probably never will be, but the article highlights how starting Bing was in retrospect useful for many different reasons.
    ..
    ..
  2. “One effect of Donald Trump’s sanctions on China’s tech giant Huawei seems to be a growing nationalistic sentiment among some Chinese consumers: sales of iPhones have fallen in recent months, while Huawei products have seen an uptick. It isn’t hard to find patriotic slogans backing the embattled company on social-media platforms such as Weibo.”
    ..
    ..
    The article speaks about the possible “Balkanization” of technology, and one can easily imagine a fairly dystopian view of the future as a consequence of this. Not saying that this will happen, to be clear – but the possibility should be contemplated.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist, and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.“The cellphones changed how drugs were dealt,” Edlund told me. In the ’80s, turf-based drug sales generated violence as gangs attacked and defended territory, and also allowed those who controlled the block to keep profits high.The cellphone broke the link, the paper claims, between turf and selling drugs. “It’s not that people don’t sell or do drugs anymore,” Edlund explained to me, “but the relationship between that and violence is different.””
    ..
    ..
    Staring at phones the whole day may actually have saved lives. Who’d have thought? The rest of the article is a nice summary of other hypotheses about why crime in the USA went down over the years.
    ..
    ..
  4. “The current state of monetization in podcasting mirrors the early internet: revenue lags behind attention. Despite double-digit percent growth in podcast advertising over the last few years, podcasts are still in a very nascent, disjointed stage of monetization today.”
    ..
    ..
    A rather long article about podcasting as a business today, but I found it interesting. The reasons I found it interesting: I have a very small, fledgling podcast of my own, monetization in podcasting hasn’t taken off, and I remain sceptical that it ever really will, and most importantly, listening to podcasts is truly instructive.
    ..
    ..
  5. The camera app VSCO is unlike its social counterparts. Though it has a feed similar to Facebook’s News Feed and Twitter’s Timeline, it doesn’t employ any of the tricks meant to keep you hooked. VSCO doesn’t display follower or like counts, and it doesn’t sort its feed with an algorithm. Instead of optimizing toward keeping you on its app, VSCO — which last reported 30 million monthly active users — simply encourages you to shoot and edit photos and videos, regardless of whether you post them or not.
    ..
    ..
    Speaking of monetization, this newsletter tells you how VCSO has funded itself – and speaks about pricing in general when it comes to technology today.
Advertisements

On Podcasts

I did my undergrad from Ferguson College, Pune (’01-’04) and then my masters from Gokhale Institute, Pune(’04-’06). The only way for us then to access what economists were talking about was by reading newspapers/academic papers/textbooks.

Blogs had started to make an appearance on the scene by then, but weren’t all that popular a forum. And podcasts were virtually unheard of (or at least I and my friends then had never heard of them). One thing I really and truly envy about people who want to learn economics today is the mind boggling variety of resources that are available for free online.

In fact, if anything, the problem today is one of too much, not too little. There is easily accessible material online, but it can often get difficult to figure out what one should start with. Which is the idea behind this current series of posts: books you might want to read to start learning about economics, how to read stuff apart from books – and now, podcasts that you might benefit from.

With one important caveat: this series of recommendations isn’t just about economic podcasts, but about stuff from elsewhere as well. But all of it is fun, informative and free.

In this post, I’ll provide a brief overview of what podcasts are, how to listen to them and why they are useful. And on the five succeeding days, I’ll speak about one particular podcast, and specific episodes from that podcast that I have enjoyed more than others.

I don’t know (nor care) what the technical definition of podcasts is. To me, they are audio blogs. And by that I mean two things: podcasts can be subscribed to, the way you can subscribe to a blog. But in addition, there is a level of informality that a podcast naturally has, which makes it more accessible, friendly and approachable than a stuffy academic paper.

It is one thing to read a paper titled “Using Big Data to Estimate Consumer Surplus: The Case of Uber” and quite another to listen to Steven Levitt talking about it with Stephen Dubner, for example.

And that, to me, is why podcasts are, at the same time, insanely awesome and grossly underrated. Insanely awesome because there has never been a time before in human history where you can take a walk in your neighbourhood while listening to a Nobel Prize winning economist joke around with a journalist, and in the process teaching us about behavioral economics. And grossly underrated because schools, colleges and workplaces ought to be outsourcing a large amount of learning to podcasts – they’re free, freely available, and ridiculously accessible (same with blogs, of course, and YouTube videos).

How should one listen to podcasts? Use an app on your phone is the easiest answer. I use an app called PocketCasts, but it is a paid app. Google has an app called Google Podcasts which is free. If you are an Apple user, your phone ought to have a Podcast app, which is free. Or if you like paying for quality apps, then you might want to try Overcast. Each podcast also has a website, if listening to podcasts on the computer is your thing.

Here’s the thing: humans have, for the longest time learnt by listening to stories. In other words, we listen to people talking, and we learn. Today, you, I and everybody else has the opportunity to listen to the best and the brightest people in the world talk, and therefore learn. And the more we do not tap into this resource, the more criminal the waste.

Strong words, perhaps – but justified ones, in my opinion.