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- Uber’s new CEO issues public apology to London for company’s mistakes
Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.
Farhad: Hey, Mike! How goes it? I tried a weird sleep experiment this week. I slept from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., and then again from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. I love the super-early morning hours before my kids wake up. I find I get more stuff done then. And who doesn’t like a daily nap?
Mike: That sounds like me in college. You haven’t also started beer-bonging cases of Keystone Light, too, have you? Because, um, studies have shown that it is not great for you. And by studies I mean “my freshman year grade point average.”
Farhad: O.K., here’s what happened in tech.
Twitter rolled out an update that was universally panned by people on Twitter. That happens every time Twitter rolls out an update, but this time the update was actually bad. Twitter stopped counting user names against the 140-character limit (if you don’t get what that means, don’t worry), which resulted in people being able to create huge chains of Twitter spam aimed at other people. As Sarah Jeong writes in Motherboard, it’s a really terrible implementation that makes you wonder if anyone at Twitter even uses Twitter.
Mike: I came online after a day of working and literally could not understand what Twitter did or how to use it, on the desktop at least. It seems like I’m talking to myself in a vacuum when I tweet. Which, coincidentally, is pretty much how I use the service anyway. So I guess I don’t mind it?
Farhad: What are these people thinking? I mean, sure, Twitter is under pressure to attract new users, and the old format did clog up text with a bunch of @symbols @that @only @made @sense to the initiated. But the fix they chose creates more problems than it solves.
Mike: Maybe it’s one of those things like when we’re writing a story and stare at a terribly written sentence long enough that it begins to make sense. I bet you strongly relate to that one.
Farhad: Wow, thanks.
O.K., let’s turn to another social network. Facebook intensified its all-out assault on Snapchat this week by implementing Stories in its own app. For those counting at home, that means all of Facebook’s social apps — Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and now the blue app — let you create a disappearing video diary of your day.
Mike: I don’t use any of them, and still use Snapchat’s Stories function. Does that make me weird? I guess I’m averse to major change. Which is why I order the same thing every time I go to a restaurant. Does that make me weird, too?
Farhad: Yes. It does.
So, back to Facebook. We’ve talked about the frighteningly effective brazenness with which Facebook copies its competitors before. I don’t really know what to say other than I stand in horrified awe. We’ve just witnessed a pilfering on a historic scale. Snapchat’s Stories is one of the most interesting and original new social features in years, but in the long run it’s Facebook and its subsidiaries that may end up enjoying the most of this innovation.
No one ever said the tech business was fair, I guess.
Mike: On the other hand, the argument I keep hearing is that it’s not about being first, but about “executing best.” And honestly, Instagram Stories is pretty well done. I may not use it, but I certainly appreciate it.
One thing I wonder is how these employees fill their Stories with new fun stuff all the time. They’re pretty much forced to look like they’re living an amazing life at all hours in order to test the product. But if I were constantly filming Stories? It would be me hunched over my laptop, shoveling Indian food into my mouth.
Does that make me weird?
Farhad: Look, we’ve been over this. Yes.
Finally, can you fill me in on what on earth just happened with Google and Uber? Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is suing Uber for what it says is theft of its technology. Something amazing happened in that case this week.
Anthony Levandowski, the Uber engineer at the center of the lawsuit, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in a response to a request to turn over documents in the case. Uber’s lawyers recommended that he hand over the documents, but Mr. Levandowski disagreed, apparently.
Am I missing something or is this very, very bad for Uber and the future of its self-driving program?
Mike: So here’s the big thing about this. We have to delineate the differing interests here. Uber’s lawyers are trying to protect Uber. While Levandowski, who has hired his own counsel who specialize in defending against white-collar criminal offenses, has Levandowski’s best interests at heart.
Those two interests are not necessarily aligned. And as we saw this week, Levandowski’s opting not to provide some evidence might actually hurt Uber (though Uber’s lawyers say they can prove Uber is innocent even without Levandowski’s help).
Anyway, the whole thing is a complete mess. But it’s fascinating to watch Uber and Levandowski slowly disentangle themselves from each other in public view.
I’m not sure what that means for self-driving initiatives at Uber. But if they are served with an injunction to stop working on driverless cars until the case is seen through, there’s going to be about 1,000 Uber engineers with a whole lot of nothing to do.
O.K., that’s enough out of me. I hope you get some better sleep this weekend!
Farhad: I’m headed off to bed right now, in fact. See you!
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