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A weekly(-ish) newsletter on commerce, media, science, tech, investing, & internet culture by Alex Taussig of Lightspeed.

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A weekly(-ish) newsletter on commerce, media, science, tech, investing, & internet culture by Alex Taussig. I am a partner at Lightspeed in Silicon Valley.

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Drinking from the Firehose #163

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I finally got around to reviewing the content from our Social2030 conference a few weeks ago in SF. Lightspeed will release an official post later this week, but I wanted to preview a few highlights for all of you.
 

How vertical networks can monetize

My partner Jana Messerschmidt asked her panel how business models of vertical networks will different from utility networks like Facebook*. The panelists argued that the benefit of a vertical network is greater trust, and that trust creates the possibility of direct monetization. Moving away from ads may also create more aligned business models for these vertical communities:

Trust and safety plays a big role here. We're starting to see some of the backlash against Facebook, Twitter, Instagram because of what we've seen them do with all of our collective data. And so now being able to position as a company and say, "We will not do that, and therefore, here's monetization strategy X," actually resonates and has value. — Lisa Marrone, Revel


The sports fan has a ton of attention and time to spend on the content that they care about. The average run time of an NBA game is three hours. If you can find a way to be a meaningful part of that person's experience on a nightly basis for the duration of a season, and then multiple seasons across sports, there's a lot of potential to monetize that time. We built Sideline as a game, and there are a lot of really cool opportunities to progress a person through their success in a game that are monetizable. — Howard Akumiah, Sideline

How English can erode non-English native communities

Alex Heath from The Information interviewed Farid Ahsan of Sharechat*, a social media company based in India. Farid made an interesting point on why Sharechat doesn’t support English, even though a large number of Indians speak English:

If you put English [in the app as an option], what happens is that everyone ends up picking English.

India has a colonial past. 80 years ago, we were a British colony. There's some amount of this feeling associated with English, that it is something which is of higher value, that it is something which makes you an elite, which is not exactly the case. You can be a very intellectual person knowing only your own language.

If you give English as an option, everyone tries to pick English as something of a high aspirational value. But then, that community is not able to serve everyone's need in the same way. It's then biased towards people who can speak better English or probably who have a richer vocabulary. Hence, it will not work for anyone because people will not then pick their own language, or enjoy English as a community.

So the easiest way out is just not have it. There's hardly anyone in India who can say that they only know English as a language. You always know one or the other language when you're born in India or belong to India.

A new format for fame

My partner Nicole Quinn interviewed Stefan Heinrich Henriquez of Cameo (and formerly CMO of Musically/TikTok) on how new media formats can open up networks. His discussion of the shifting of the “talent graph” from YouTube to TikTok was fascinating:

YouTube was the first platform really that democratized fame. Before, it was a gray-haired white man somewhere in Hollywood deciding who's going to be famous and who won't. With YouTube, it was possible that at least one in a thousand people could have a voice and broadcast themselves. But you still had to know Adobe Premier and other creative tools to edit, etc. It still took some skill.

With musical.ly and then Tik Tok, the technology advanced, and we could give more editing tools in the app. We made the tools that you needed to be creative accessible. In this construct, we can democratize fame even more than with YouTube.

You could see it really in early numbers: one in four people was creating content [on Musically/TikTok]. 25% was huge if we compare to one in a thousand on YouTube. I think we really started a new wave of social platforms, where it's not just one way anymore, but it's interactive. It's about the two-way communication. I think that goes a lot against what Hollywood and fame was standing for, which is around, okay, create mystery around a celebrity and limit access. Now I think what social media is showing us overall is the people that are giving most access to themselves are more popular.

Why Twitter sounds like a fortune cookie

Eugene Wei had some thoughts on why everyone on Twitter talks like an expert. The network actually reinforces those norms until it’s all that’s left:

A lot of us follow Twitter accounts that sound like fortune cookies now.

The broader social lesson is that, when we wired up the world for singular public feeds, we changed the structure of our most dominant conversation arena. And the reason that Twitter accounts become like fortune cookies over time is that if you get more and more followers, it's almost like becoming like a broadcast TV show where you have to appeal to the lowest common tastes. And the risk of your saying something that will offend someone also increases exponentially. And so there's a feedback loop where you kind of just keep giving people more of what got you the followers in the first place. And it over time reduces to a cliche.

Also if you put in a lot of qualifiers on your ideas and things, that stuff doesn't travel as well on social media. So everyone sounds more certain on social media. And to me, everybody sounds more smug in their ideas. But that's what it kind of encourages.

The next network will have new primitives

On my panel, in which we discussed the next social platform, we focused on the idea of new social primitives, and how we’re already starting to see them emerge in games like Fortnite* and Roblox. The below is from Rec Room CEO Nick Fajt:

Earlier we were talking about a lot of the social networks are basically built on the same set of primitives. I'm sharing some container I can share, retweet, like, etc.

The thing that we are seeing with Fortnite and Roblox is the shape of whatever is next. That social gaming space [is where] a lot of those primitives are emerging. There are these worlds or rooms or islands that are built by not the publisher and then you're seeing more of a social exploration than a true like, "Hey, I'm moving through level one, level two." I think that's what we're seeing is the primitives emerging.

I will share more media from the event later this week. Would love to get your feedback on some of the content and opinions shared.

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#commerce

This is why LGA sucks (video).

I stopped frequenting LaGuardia Airport when I moved to California. No direct flights from the west coast. All my New Yorker friends tell me that it’s one of America’s worst airports now.
 

I enjoyed this video featuring an airport design expert, who breaks down why LGA is straining under increased travel loads, and discusses how the future LGA will solve some of these problems.

#media

Sleep watching.

Taylor Lorenz’s latest column covers the trend of “sleep streaming.” Why would anyone want to watch another person sleep?
 

Well, that’s not really the point. Viewers are showing up to participate in the live stream via the comment section. The sleeping individual merely provides a canvas for the conversation. It’s also the most “authentic” a person can be, when they’re sleeping:

“Audiences really like the behind the scenes of someone’s life,” he said. “They want authentic, engaging content. Watching someone sleeping, while it’s unique and somewhat strange, as you start to understand what really works on social media, it makes sense.”

#tech

Virtual insanity.

Virtual reality (VR) was on fire 5 years ago. But like many new technologies, it overpromised and underdelivered. The evidence is building though that VR may be, just now, pushing into the mainstream.


Tipatat Chennavasin wrote in RoadtoVR that VR software sales likely broke $300 million in 2019, tripling year-over-year. If it continues at this growth rate, 2020 VR software revenue will be similar to that of mobile apps in 2009 — implying that the inflection point for consumer VR is right around the corner.

#science

Flattening the curve.

By now, you’re probably inundated with COVID-19 related news, rumors, and advice. Rather than add to the pile, I thought I’d just share the seminal study of Spanish Flu from which “social distancing” term emerged. While not a perfect A/B test by any means, the respective treatments of this past pandemic in Philadelphia and St. Louis shows how shutting folks in their homes can help flatten the curve.

#culture

I'ma feed you to the monster (video).

Eminem’s out for blood with his new hit “Godzilla.” And the internet’s having fun putting its own spin it. Check out this mesmerizing video of someone recreating Godzilla’s main beat using an iPhone running GarageBand.
 

If you’re into it, I’d also recommend this other cartoon style, fan-produced music video. In addition, search on TikTok for any number of fans attempting to spit the last verse at warp speed (and mostly failing).

Disclaimer: * indicates a Lightspeed portfolio company, or other company in which I have economic interest. I also own stock directly in AAPL, ADBE, AMZN, CRM, FB, FTCH, GOOG/GOOGL, NFLX, SHOP, SNAP, SPOT, SQ, and TWLO.

Lightspeed Venture Partners, 2200 Sand Hill Rd, Ste 100, Menlo Park, CA 94025 USA Sent to ataussig@gmail.com — Unsubscribe