Monday Moves v1.4: Zuckerbots and Uber Plots
*Apologies for the delay. This post was ready to be sent on Monday only to face a technical roadblock from Substack.*
Raj: While we’ve covered many of the major tech players in this newsletter, we haven’t posted much on Facebook. I don’t think Zuckerberg has a vision as compelling as that of Bezos, Gates, Musk, or others. The social media platform also immensely turns me off. But the company is getting its fair share of the newsletter this week, as we cover some of its recent moves.
Oh, by the way, it’s not Facebook anymore; it’s FACEBOOK. And I will refer to it as such to highlight what a useless rebrand this is. Discovering the Caps Lock key isn’t enough to drag your company out of PR hell. If I got a Libra coin for each time I mention FACEBOOK...
Sam: I can’t even remember the last time I logged into FACEBOOK, so I have very little interest in writing about the service or its overlord. If you don’t already know, we are TWITTER fans around here. Thanks Raj for taking one for the team. So Gruber Hub some Pad Thai, fire up Halo 3, and buckle up for some fun below.
Sam: Uber Eats wants to buy Grubhub… and there are all sorts of problems
Well Uber wants to take a stab at buying Grubhub (new name Gruber Hub?), which makes sense. Uber has seen an 80% decline in ride-share bookings while simultaneously experiencing an 89% growth in food delivery. Buying Grubhub would not only eliminate a competitor, but it would help Uber scale its service and expand into more markets. This move is already facing two big issues.
Democrats are already opposed to the merger
Delivery companies are not profitable, and are facing a myriad of internal problems, along with pressure from users, restaurants, and politicians
Senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar tweeted, “If Uber takes over Grubhub it isn’t good for competition and it isn’t good for you.” The Chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee David Cicilline made a statement which blasted Uber and Grubhub as “predatory” and declared this was “a new low in pandemic profiteering.” The truth is, if Uber Eats and Grubhub merge they will have have roughly the same market share as DoorDash. Still, it appears that any potential merger between the two companies is going to face regulatory backlash.
Despite exploding interest in meal delivery services, delivery companies including Uber Eats and Grubhub are having issues remaining profitable, restaurants are frustrated with increasing costs, and local politicians want to cap delivery fees. Grubhub loses an average of $2.50 per QSR order and $1.50 for non-partnered restaurants. Jersey City and New York City are imposing caps on delivery fees, and delivery companies are increasing their surcharges in response. Restaurants are also having trouble making money through the delivery services as franchisees are getting stuck with required contracts and independent restaurants get hit with promotion fees and smaller margins. It is a hectic time for delivery companies, and as they work out the kinks in their business models and battle with various influences, there will certainly be changes in the industry moving forward.
Sam: Wait… was I wrong about Microsoft and the new Xbox?
Two weeks ago I wrote about Microsoft’s plans to corner the gaming industry through Game Pass and Project xCloud. Many industry reporters and investors are excited about Microsoft’s future in the gaming industry; however, as Forbes’ Dave Thier writes, the Xbox Series X and PS5 are going to suffer from the law of diminishing returns, and selling consumers on the new hardware might be tough. The simple fact remains that it’s hard to convince gamers to buy a new system with increased graphics and performance when many are okay with how games look now. Thier points out that the jump in performance in past consoles was big enough for game fans to make the switch, with noticeable changes in speed and graphics that improved gameplay and wowed users. I will never forget the first time I played Halo 3 on my friend’s Xbox 360. I was amazed at how good the game looked, and the now console’s power allowed fun new multiplayer experiences and features like Forge. Sure, the next generation of consoles have better graphics, but is that really what consumers want now? The graphic capabilities of the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro (the highest end models of the current generations) are already stunning, and most of the popular games (such and Fortnite and GTA 5) hardly scratch the surface of what these consoles are capable of. Will other features of the new consoles be enough to boost sales, or will gamers stick with the tech they already have? Personally I think that many of the new features, including cloud gaming, will help drive console sales over
Raj: FACEBOOK is testing Internet access service Discover (I think DISCOVER would have been a better name but that’s just me).
Several years ago, FACEBOOK launched Free Basics and Internet.org to much fanfare only to be rejected by India within a matter of months. The initiative was supposed to bring online much of India’s rural population, which at the time had very little access to smartphones or the Internet. I criticized it strongly on my (now defunct) FACEBOOK account. My major issue was that Free Basics restricted Internet access to only a preselected handful of the biggest websites, which would have made FACEBOOK the de-facto regulator of online content in rural India. Rather than giving users unlimited access to a severely restricted Internet, FACEBOOK should have given limited access to the entire Internet. Others questioned its impact on net neutrality and how many of its users were actually the intended crowd of first-time Internet users.
Zuckerberg is back with another initiative to bring the masses online for free. This time it’s being called Discover (an on-brand ambiguous name). It’s available only on mobile web browsers and as an Android app, which makes sense given its focus outside America. In a 180-degree from Free Basics, it treats all websites equally. The mobile operator partner of the region determines users’ daily data allowance (e.g. 10 MB in Peru, where Discover is being tested), and image or video media is not supported to allow users to load more websites. Let’s see whether Discover discovers the same pushback as Free Basics.
Raj: Spotify, TikTok, and others suffered crashes recently due to a bug not in their own apps but in FACEBOOK. The ubiquity of one third-party service in most major applications creates a precariously fragile software ecosystem.
Recently, numerous iOS apps including Spotify, TikTok, Tinder, GrubHub, Viber, GroupMe, Pinterest, Bumble, Doordash, and many more experienced problems in launching. Many developers reported the issue on Github.
This ended up being an issue in FACEBOOK’s software development toolkit (SDK). An SDK is a collection of software tools put out to make it easier for developers to build on or interface with a particular platform. Typical apps that offer multiple services often leverage a bunch of SDKs, sometimes with multiple for a single service. Tons of apps these days use the FACEBOOK SDK for login and authentication (remember all the times you’ve selected “Sign up with FACEBOOK”), as well as those “Share to FACEBOOK” buttons.
It’s unclear exactly what the issue was in the code, but it appears that a “dead man’s switch” had blocked a necessary server configuration update in the then-latest release of the SDK. The issue was soon fixed, but a deeper malaise of the software ecosystem was not.
In my early days of using the Internet, I signed up for services using third-party logins without a second thought. I’ve since come to my senses, and a while back I unlinked every single online account of mine from FACEBOOK and Google before dumping my FACEBOOK account entirely. Not only did I have reason to believe that my activity and data on any linked app were shared, I was nervous about the effects of centralizing forces in software.
Though I encourage everyone to follow suit if possible, it isn’t enough of a precaution by itself. Developer Guilherme Rambo has posted an insightful analysis of this situation and calls out third-party SDK creep:
“It’s quite possible that every single app you use on any particular day is running code from FACEBOOK, Google and other data-gathering and data-mining companies. Because of the way this code is integrated...these companies can effectively control those apps, or worse, access all of the data those apps have access to.”
One possible way out includes having apps allow integration with FACEBOOK login without leveraging the SDK. Finding a technical solution is doable, but the shift really has to reach the board room where decisions are made. And to do that will require overcoming the immense amount of cultural inertia that allows for unnecessary features and seeking the easy way out.
Raj: FACEBOOK has overhauled the tech stack for their web app.
I’ve been saying for years that FACEBOOK’s web app has the clunkiest experience of any of the major web platforms (Amazon being a distant 2nd). Much of it is due to the challenges posed by a never-ending list of features and functionalities. With all the data and components that FACEBOOK manages and displays, its engineering team faces the daunting task of building a web app that starts and responds fast enough to maintain dominance among the smaller, sleeker social media platforms gaining traction today.
FACEBOOK Engineering made a major announcement last week about overhauling their tech stack. Here’s a rundown of the biggest changes:
Cutting back on CSS.
CSS is the code that determines the styling, sizing, and placement of components, and large CSS files are a major contributor to slow loading. FACEBOOK reduced CSS loaded on the homepage by 80% by generating atomic CSS, which allows combining various pieces of CSS code across the website into “a single, small, shared stylesheet.”
Downloading code just when it’s needed.
Pre-loading and streaming data.
FACEBOOK’s lean overhaul could be an example for all web apps to follow in the coming years. While I tend to criticize FACEBOOK for its privacy and data malpractice, credit is due to its engineering team for delivering useful tools such as React and GraphQL, which I work with everyday.
That’s all for this week. Keep on moving.
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Till next Monday,
Raj & Sam