Social media feels like it’s going through one of those Big Bang moments — of the cosmos kind where it’s hard for the user to duck and avoid all the social media shrapnel being spread at force.
Over the past month, I’ve doubled the number of messaging apps on my desktop — Slack and WhatsApp have been joined by Telegram and Signal as friends and groups have moved on to what they deem more private conversations.
A whole new world of audio has opened up as well, as chat appearances by Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg this week finally tempted me to accept an invitation to the Clubhouse app. John Gapper has just joined as well and describes it in his column as “a mash-up of social network, virtual world, podcasting and trade fair that has been eagerly adopted by digital nomads stuck at home during the pandemic. If you cannot escape to a technology conference in Monterey or Barcelona and mingle with new people in the hallway or hotel bar, it is the next best thing.” Miles Kruppa and Hannah Murphy in San Francisco report Silicon Valley thinks this could be the next Twitter.
It can be exhausting trying to stay across this splintering of social media. I’ve wisely resisted the temptation to produce any kind of dance moves with the family for TikTok posterity and have stayed away from Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets discussion forum.
But both have had an influence on the eye-popping stock market debut of Kuaishou on Friday as retail investors looked to pile into the latest hot stock. Its shares nearly tripled on their first day of trading in Hong Kong, for a valuation for the Chinese viral video app of $160bn, $20bn below that of TikTok’s owner ByteDance.
Its initial public offering to raise $5.4bn was the biggest in the tech industry since Uber raised more than $8bn in 2019 and shows video sharing has as much value as ride sharing these days.
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. SoftBank’s Vision improves
Three years after SoftBank’s Vision Fund became Uber’s largest shareholder, it is finally seeing a handsome return on its investment with a $2bn cash-in and near $5bn paper profit currently. We report on how a sharp recovery in investor sentiment towards risky, high-growth technology companies over the past several months has swung parts of the Vision Fund portfolio back into favour.
2. Amazon machine to roll on
Jeff Bezos has created an “invention machine” at Amazon, says one of his former advisers, in our Big Read on his legacy. The FT View is that the timing of his departure means his successor Andy Jassy will be in the hot seat facing regulatory scrutiny. Richard Waters notes that Jeff Bezos is joining the changing of guard at a crunch time for Big Tech. The sector’s fortunes are being ploughed into expansive projects as pioneers break free from corporate constraints.
3. News media moves on
The departure of Donald Trump from the White House has ushered in a changing of the guard for the news business that feels almost as climactic. Reuters, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, HuffPost, Wired and Vox Media — are all looking for new editorial chiefs. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has unveiled its bet on the future of British television news with the soft launch of streaming services.
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4. Semi shortage chips at Ford earnings
The worldwide shortage of semiconductors is forcing Ford to cut production next week at two plants that make its bestselling F-150 pick-up truck. The shortage could cut Ford’s earnings this year by as much as $2.5bn, said John Lawler, chief financial officer. German carmakers, meanwhile, are considering building up semiconductor stockpiles to avoid shortages.
5. Former US cyber chief calls for military to attack hackers
Chris Krebs, the ex-head of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has called for the military to target organised criminal gangs of hackers who launch ransomware attacks on companies and governments. He was speaking and dining with us in a Lunch with the FT.
Tech tools — BT’s Hybrid Connect
Remember the Fusion phone? It was BT’s grand plan to glue together the worlds of fixed and mobile communications with a handset that could switch between a mobile and a fixed network while the user was on the call, writes Nic Fildes.
Back in 2005, the prospect of such a ‘hybrid’ handset seemed genuinely innovative, but the concept didn’t take off and Fusion phones – a converted Motorola Razr handset in essence – were largely forgotten.
Fast forward to 2021 and the concept of automatically switching between a fixed and a mobile network is back – this time in Wi-Fi hub form. The catchily named Hybrid Connect box has an inbuilt SIM-card that means customers willing to spend on a premium package will be switched to the EE network if the main fixed-line broadband connection goes down.
In the future, BT expects that the box will be able to switch seamlessly between the fibre line and 5G network depending which is faster at the time so that customers will always be on the fastest connection. BT’s chief executive called it a “breakthrough” when presenting the company’s third quarter numbers on Thursday.
Broadband outages are the bane of people’s lives now they are working from home. An outage that takes out BBC Bitesize on the iPad, Spotify and two work laptops is more infuriating than a car alarm going off next door, so the hybrid product should be something of an open goal for BT’s marketing team.
Yet underneath it are signs that the consumer side of network convergence — a long trumpeted concept of bringing mobile and broadband technology closer together — is finally starting to show its mettle. BT, which acquired EE five years ago, is hoping to stake a claim in that converged product category, ahead of its arch-rival Virgin Media’s merger with O2 allowing it to do a similar thing.