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March 23, 2019
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Apple kerfuffles, praise groups, and media layoffs

in Asia/Delhi/India/Media/Politics/The Extra Crunch Daily by

Lots of news and interesting tidbits to wrap up the week.

Apple kerfuffles

Apple has been vindicated (for a brief moment anyway) in its long-standing dispute with Qualcomm. From Stephen Nellis at Reuters:

A U.S. federal judge has issued a preliminary ruling that Qualcomm Inc owes Apple Inc nearly $1 billion in patent royalty rebate payments, though the decision is unlikely to result in Qualcomm writing a check to Apple because of other developments in the dispute.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on Thursday ruled that Qualcomm, the world’s biggest supplier of mobile phone chips, was obligated to pay nearly $1 billion in rebate payments to Apple, which for years used Qualcomm’s modem chips to connect iPhones to wireless data networks.

We have chronicled Qualcomm’s challenges for some time. This long simmering dispute is complicated since Qualcomm needs the revenues from its patents, while not pissing off its arguably most important customer. The sooner the situation is settled and the parties move on (regardless of financial outcome), the better.

Meanwhile, Spotify and Apple has been the big antitrust story this week. TechCrunch’s news editor Ingrid Lunden covered the latest turns in the saga:

In a lengthy statement on its site called “Addressing Spotify’s Claims”, Apple walks through and dismantles some of the key parts of Spotify’s accusations about how the App Store works, covering app store approval times, Spotify’s actual cut on subscription revenues, and Spotify’s rise as a result of its presence on iOS.

At the same time, Apple carefully sidesteps addressing any of Spotify’s demands: Spotify has filed a case with the European Commission to investigate the company over anticompetitive practices and specifically to consider the relationship between Apple and Spotify (and by association any app maker) in terms of whether it is really providing a level playing field, specifically in the context of building and expanding Apple Music, its own product that competes directly with Spotify on the platform that Apple owns.

2019 is the year that most of the app stores are going to break on their revenue models. And it isn’t just limited to Apple — Steam is also facing huge challenges in the gaming market. As Chris Morris wrote for Extra Crunch a few weeks ago:

So what’s the draw for game makers to sell via the Epic Games store? It is, of course, a combination of factors, but chief among those is financial. To convince publishers and developers to utilize their system, Epic only takes a 12 percent cut of game-sale revenues. That’s significantly lower than the 30 percent taken by Valve on Steam (or the amounts taken by Apple or Google in their app stores).

According to Morris, Epic learned that it can be profitable at 12% based on its own experience with Fortnite, and therefore it wanted to rejigger the standard economics of game stores. Apple has a monopoly with its App Store on its own devices though, and so this sort of competition isn’t available. Given that Apple wants to increase services revenues in its financial model going forward, this is an important battle to watch.

One interesting model for improving the internet: praise groups

Photo by Yiu Yu Hoi via Getty Images

When it comes to unique business models for the web, the Chinese internet market is absolutely the place to get inspiration from.

The What’s on Weibo folks have an article on a popular new form of online communication in China:

A new phenomenon has become a hot topic on Chinese social media these days. ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群) are chat groups where people share some things about themselves – even if they are negative things – and where other people will always tell them how great they are, no matter what.

The team pays $7.50 for a five-minute session complete with 200 “participants.” Their experience:

How does it feel to be praised by some 200 people, receiving hundreds of compliments? It’s overwhelming, and even though you know it’s all just an online mechanism, and that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, it still makes you glow a little bit inside.

Although some experts quoted by Chinese state media warn people not to rely on these praise groups too much, there does not seem to be much harm in allowing yourself to be complimented for some minutes from time to time.

I just rely on Extra Crunch members.

Media job cuts & Tumblr traffic crash

Image by Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

A lot of tech execs left their jobs yesterday (or were pushed out), but the same is also true in the media industry according to a new report:

Consolidation, declining revenue, combative language from the Trump Administration, and occasional violence marked 2018 for members of the media. It was also the year with the highest number of job cut announcements in the sector since 2009, according to the monthly Job Cut Report compiled by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

A huge challenge for traditional media and even some startups like Vice is that their cost structures are incompatible with their revenue models. We have heard this for years, and years, and years, and yet, we haven’t seen media companies rebuilding themselves from the ground up to be profitable today in 2019.

Red ink is not a business model.

Meanwhile, Tumblr (which is owned by TechCrunch parent company Verizon Media) seems to be heading for the abyss according to Shannan Liao at The Verge:

Tumblr’s global traffic in December clocked in at 521 million, but it had dropped to 370 million by February, web analytics firm SimilarWeb tells The Verge. Statista reports a similar trend in the number of unique visitors. By January 2019, only over 437 million visited Tumblr, compared to a high of 642 million visitors in July 2018.

As I wrote in a scathing review of the Tumblr decision (and my employer) a few months ago:

I get the pressure from Apple. I get the safety of saying “just ban all the images” à la Renaissance pope. I get the business decision of trying to maintain Tumblr’s clean image. These points are all reasonable, but they all are just useless without Tumblr’s core and long-time users.

Now the data is increasingly showing the high cost of these product decisions. And people wonder why media has layoffs.

Why can’t we build things? The inevitable vs the avoidable

Photo by Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch via Getty Images

Written by Arman Tabatabai

As we wind down our obsession with infrastructure development, it’s clear that there is no one answer to the question of “why can’t we build things?” Inefficiencies exist across all aspects of a project’s life cycle, from planning to financing to construction. While we can pin some of the difficulties to misaligned incentives, gamesmanship, or outdated business models, some of the friction in infrastructure development exist purely as a result of the deep complexity that underpins any project of such immense scale.

We’ve previously dug into issues on the infrastructure planning and financing side. This week, we sat down with structural engineer and author Roma Agrawal to learn more about the difficulties in the engineering and construction processes and how they came to exist, as she lays out in her 2018 book, Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures.

Built acts as a layman’s primer into the history and science behind structural engineering. Using historical and modern examples, Agrawal breaks down all the under-appreciated factors — from complex physics and wind conditions, to water and fire resistance — that engineers have to consider when planning the built infrastructure on which we all layer our lives.

In our conversation with Agrawal, we tried to get a better grasp of the major issues large project engineers encounter and which ones are actually avoidable. These are some of the most interesting highlights of our conversation:

  • Confirming a key dynamic we discussed with infrastructure expert Phil Plotch, Agrawal noted that misinformation and a lack of understanding between project participants can be an issue for many projects.
  • In her past life as a structural engineer, Agrawal noticed a palpable lack of knowledge about what the field of structural engineering was and what it actually entailed. And the unfamiliarity came not only from the public but from architects and project developers working alongside her on major development projects. Developers often didn’t know or care how their decisions impacted architects, and architects didn’t know or care about how they impacted engineers and so on so forth.
  • Agarwal discussed how historically, there was a lot more congruence between these careers:“If you go back in history — say the Roman times — there wasn’t a separation between architects and engineers. They used to be called Master Builders… [they] would talk about architecture but with discussions about forces and materials and wind.” However, while some tie the decentralization of information across these fields to complacency, laziness or ignorance, Agrawal explained how such conclusions are harsh oversimplifications of something that is really a product of…
  • * …The incredible, and growing, complexity that goes into the minutia of each project. For example, financiers may have to deal with unintelligible structuring of debt while engineers are forced to make precise calculations based off of conditions that are incredibly hard to measure, such as the quality of deep-buried soil and the historical chemical exposure of that soil.
  • “I would say that it’s near impossible today for one single person to understand all the different specializations in enough detail to get a modern structure constructed. So we started to naturally split up into the people that paid more attention to the steel and concrete compared to those that looked at the ventilation systems are those that looked at the drainage and those that looked at fire escapes. And obviously the architects themselves, and then the people funding it, and so on.” And with each development or change in technology, project size, climate or otherwise, it becomes more difficult for each person in the development process to understand how their decisions flow through a project and impact their counterparts.
  • Thus, misinformation and lack of mutual knowledge to some degree is inevitable. The success of many construction projects then becomes tied to coordination according to Agrawal. Similar to Plotch, Agrawal noted that since it’s incredibly difficult for people at one level of a project to understand what is going at another, poor communication and gamesmanship can cause one issue to quickly cascade into many and subsequently into cost overruns and delays.
    • “Generally there is a number of things that have to go wrong and add up. So if you think about if you had 100 steps that go into making a project work safe, and one, two, or maybe even five things are not quite 100% – the product will still probably be okay at the end. But when you get to that threshold whatever that number is that oh maybe 15 or 20 things have gone slightly wrong that’s where we start to run into some real issues.”
  • And while it seems like error compounding happens in almost every major project in the US, Agrawal noted that after her deep research into historical engineering and construction processes she believes we’re actually getting better at executing on projects than ever before. Agrawal pointed out that while mega projects and big hiccups get all the attention, generally most large construction projects are executed successfully.
    • “I think we tend to forget that we’ve now, at least, have these amazing debug procedurals. We go in and we think: ‘Oh my god, these are so huge? How do they stand up? How did the engineers get this right?’ But what we forget is that a number of these structures have collapsed and killed people before they got to the right one that worked… And if anything, we’re getting better and better at preventing the loss of that life — the accidents that happen now are much more manageable and occur at a tiny percentage compared to what we used to have.”

Thanks

To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people, and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to danny@techcrunch.com.

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

News Source = techcrunch.com

The adversarial persuasion machine: a conversation with James Williams

in Advertising Tech/Artificial Intelligence/Delhi/Democracy/Facebook/Government/India/Media/Oxford/Politics/Social/TC/Twitter by

James Williams may not be a household name yet in most tech circles, but he will be.

For this second in what will be a regular series of conversations exploring the ethics of the technology industry, I was delighted to be able to turn to one of our current generation’s most important young philosophers of tech.

Around a decade ago, Williams won the Founder’s Award, Google’s highest honor for its employees. Then in 2017, he won an even rarer award, this time for his scorching criticism of the entire digital technology industry in which he had worked so successfully. The inaugural winner of Cambridge University’s $100,000 “Nine Dots Prize” for original thinking, Williams was recognized for the fruits of his doctoral research at Oxford University, on how “digital technologies are making all forms of politics worth having impossible, as they privilege our impulses over our intentions and are designed to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities in order to direct us toward goals that may or may not align with our own.” In 2018, he published his brilliantly written book Stand Out of Our Light, an instant classic in the field of tech ethics.

In an in-depth conversation by phone and email, edited below for length and clarity, Williams told me about how and why our attention is under profound assault. At one point, he points out that the artificial intelligence which beat the world champion at the game Go is now aimed squarely — and rather successfully — at beating us, or at least convincing us to watch more YouTube videos and stay on our phones a lot longer than we otherwise would. And while most of us have sort of observed and lamented this phenomenon, Williams believes the consequences of things like smartphone compulsion could be much more dire and widespread than we realize, ultimately putting billions of people in profound danger while testing our ability to even have a human will.

It’s a chilling prospect, and yet somehow, if you read to the end of the interview, you’ll see Williams manages to end on an inspiring and hopeful note. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: this interview is approximately 5,500 words / 25 minutes read time. The first third has been ungated given the importance of this subject. To read the whole interview, be sure to join the Extra Crunch membership. ~ Danny Crichton

Introduction and background

Greg Epstein: I want to know more about your personal story. You grew up in West Texas. Then you found yourself at Google, where you won the Founder’s Award, Google’s highest honor. Then at some point you realized, “I’ve got to get out of here.” What was that journey like?

James Williams: This is going to sound neater and more intentional than it actually was, as is the case with most stories. In a lot of ways my life has been a ping-ponging back and forth between tech and the humanities, trying to bring them into some kind of conversation.

It’s the feeling that, you know, the car’s already been built, the dashboard’s been calibrated, and now to move humanity forward you just kind of have to hold the wheel straight

I spent my formative years in a town called Abilene, Texas, where my father was a university professor. It’s the kind of place where you get the day off school when the rodeo comes to town. Lots of good people there. But it’s not exactly a tech hub. Most of my tech education consisted of spending late nights, and full days in the summer, up in the university computer lab with my younger brother just messing around on the fast connection there. Later when I went to college, I started studying computer engineering, but I found that I had this itch about the broader “why” questions that on some deeper level I needed to scratch. So I changed my focus to literature.

After college, I started working at Google in their Seattle office, helping to grow their search ads business. I never, ever imagined I’d work in advertising, and there was some serious whiplash from going straight into that world after spending several hours a day reading James Joyce. Though I guess Leopold Bloom in Ulysses also works in advertising, so there’s at least some thread of a connection there. But I think what I found most compelling about the work at the time, and I guess this would have been in 2005, was the idea that we were fundamentally changing what advertising could be. If historically advertising had to be an annoying, distracting barrage on people’s attention, it didn’t have to anymore because we finally had the means to orient it around people’s actual intentions. And search, that “database of intentions,” was right at the vanguard of that change.

The adversarial persuasion machine

Photo by joe daniel price via Getty Images

Greg: So how did you end up at Oxford, studying tech ethics? What did you go there to learn about?

James: What led me to go to Oxford to study the ethics of persuasion and attention was that I didn’t see this reorientation of advertising around people’s true goals and intentions ultimately winning out across the industry. In fact, I saw something really concerning happening in the opposite direction. The old attention-grabby forms of advertising were being uncritically reimposed in the new digital environment, only now in a much more sophisticated and unrestrained manner. These attention-grabby goals, which are goals that no user anywhere has ever had for themselves, seemed to be cannibalizing the design goals of the medium itself.

In the past advertising had been described as a kind of “underwriting” of the medium, but now it seemed to be “overwriting” it. Everything was becoming an ad. My whole digital environment seemed to be transmogrifying into some weird new kind of adversarial persuasion machine. But persuasion isn’t even the right word for it. It’s something stronger than that, something more in the direction of coercion or manipulation that I still don’t think we have a good word for. When I looked around and didn’t see anybody talking about the ethics of that stuff, in particular the implications it has for human freedom, I decided to go study it myself.

Greg: How stressful of a time was that for you when you were realizing that you needed to make such a big change or that you might be making such a big change?

James: The big change being shifting to do doctoral work?

Greg: Well that, but really I’m trying to understand what it was like to go from a very high place in the tech world to becoming essentially a philosopher critic of your former work.

James: A lot of people I talked to didn’t understand why I was doing it. Friends, coworkers, I think they didn’t quite understand why it was worthy of such a big step, such a big change in my personal life to try to interrogate this question. There was a bit of, not loneliness, but a certain kind of motivational isolation, I guess. But since then, it’s certainly been heartening to see many of them come to realize why I felt it was so important. Part of that is because these questions are so much more in the foreground of societal awareness now than they were then.

Liberation in the age of attention

Greg: You write about how when you were younger you thought “there were no great political struggles left.” Now you’ve said, “The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time.” Tell me about that transition intellectually or emotionally or both. How good did you think it was back then, the world was back then, and how concerned are you now?

What you see a lot in tech design is essentially the equivalent of a circular argument about this, where someone clicks on something and then the designer will say, “Well, see, they must’ve wanted that because they clicked on it.”

James: I think a lot of people in my generation grew up with this feeling that there weren’t really any more existential threats to the liberal project left for us to fight against. It’s the feeling that, you know, the car’s already been built, the dashboard’s been calibrated, and now to move humanity forward you just kind of have to hold the wheel straight and get a good job and keep recycling and try not to crash the car as we cruise off into this ultra-stable sunset at the end of history.

What I’ve realized, though, is that this crisis of attention brought upon by adversarial persuasive design is like a bucket of mud that’s been thrown across the windshield of the car. It’s a first-order problem. Yes, we still have big problems to solve like climate change and extremism and so on. But we can’t solve them unless we can give the right kind of attention to them. In the same way that, if you have a muddy windshield, yeah, you risk veering off the road and hitting a tree or flying into a ravine. But the first thing is that you really need to clean your windshield. We can’t really do anything that matters unless we can pay attention to the stuff that matters. And our media is our windshield, and right now there’s mud all over it.

Greg: One of the terms that you either coin or use for the situation that we find ourselves in now is the age of attention.

James: I use this phrase “Age of Attention” not so much to advance it as a serious candidate for what we should call our time, but more as a rhetorical counterpoint to the phrase “Information Age.” It’s a reference to the famous observation of Herbert Simon, which I discuss in the book, that when information becomes abundant it makes attention the scarce resource.

Much of the ethical work on digital technology so far has addressed questions of information management, but far less has addressed questions of attention management. If attention is now the scarce resource so many technologies are competing for, we need to give more ethical attention to attention.

Greg: Right. I just want to make sure people understand how severe this may be, how severe you think it is. I went into your book already feeling totally distracted and surrounded by totally distracted people. But when I finished the book, and it’s one of the most marked-up books I’ve ever owned by the way, I came away with the sense of acute crisis. What is being done to our attention is affecting us profoundly as human beings. How would you characterize it?

James: Thanks for giving so much attention to the book. Yeah, these ideas have very deep roots. In the Dhammapada the Buddha says, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” The book of Proverbs says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Simone Weil wrote that “It is not we who move, but images pass before our eyes and we live them.” It seems to me that attention should really be seen as one of our most precious and fundamental capacities, cultivating it in the right way should be seen as one of the greatest goods, and injuring it should be seen as of the greatest harms.

In the book, I was interested to explore whether the language of attention can be used to talk usefully about the human will. At the end of the day I think that’s a major part of what’s at stake in the design of these persuasive systems, the success of the human will.

“Want what we want?”

Photo by Buena Vista Images via Getty Images

Greg: To translate those concerns about “the success of the human will” into simpler terms, I think the big concern here is, what happens to us as human beings if we find ourselves waking up in the morning and going to bed at night wanting things that we really only want because AI and algorithms have helped convince us we want them? For example, we want to be on our phone chiefly because it serves Samsung or Google or Facebook or whomever. Do we lose something of our humanity when we lose the ability to “want what we want?”

James: Absolutely. I mean, philosophers call these second order volitions as opposed to just first order volitions. A first order volition is, “I want to eat the piece of chocolate that’s in front of me.” But the second order volition is, “I don’t want to want to eat that piece of chocolate that’s in front of me.” Creating those second order volitions, being able to define what we want to want, requires that we have a certain capacity for reflection.

What you see a lot in tech design is essentially the equivalent of a circular argument about this, where someone clicks on something and then the designer will say, “Well, see, they must’ve wanted that because they clicked on it.” But that’s basically taking evidence of effective persuasion as evidence of intention, which is very convenient for serving design metrics and business models, but not necessarily a user’s interests.

AI and attention

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Greg: Let’s talk about AI and its role in the persuasion that you’ve been describing. You talk about, a number of times, about the AI behind the system that beat the world champion at the board game Go. I think that’s a great example and that that AI has been deployed to keep us watching YouTube longer, and that billions of dollars are literally being spent to figure out how to get us to look at one thing over another.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Daily Crunch: Spotify files complaint against Apple

in Delhi/India/Media/mobile/Politics by

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Spotify files a complaint against Apple with the European Commission over ‘Apple tax’ and restrictive rules

Spotify is taking off its gloves in what has up to now been a behind-the-scenes tug-of-war with Apple — it competes against Apple Music but also relies heavily on the company for distribution of its app on iOS devices.

CEO Daniel Ek announced that his company has filed with the European Commission a complaint against the iPhone giant, over how Apple has “introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience — essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers.”

2. Verizon’s 5G to launch first in Chicago and Minneapolis on April 11

Current subscribers can expect to pay an additional $10 a month for access, and at launch, the only supported device is the Motorola Z3 with the 5G Moto Mod.

3. A first look at Twitter’s new prototype app, twttr

“Twttr,” as the prototype build is called, was created to give Twitter a separate space outside its public network to experiment with new ideas about how Twitter should look, feel and operate.

PARIS, FRANCE – (ARCHIVE): A file photo dated June 21, 2017 shows Boeing 737 Max flies during the 52nd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

4. Boeing is moving to address potential issues in new 737s as Europe bans its plane

On Sunday, a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed just minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 on board the flight. Last October, a Lion Air flight departing from Jakarta crashed in similar circumstances, killing all 189 people on board. The plane involved was also a 737 Max 8.

5. Microsoft shows off Project xCloud with Forza running on an Android phone

This is the first look at gameplay on Microsoft’s game-streaming service.

6. TPG’s Bill McGlashan is put on indefinite leave after being charged in a giant college admissions cheating scandal

McGlashan is among 49 others accused of participating in a bribery ring involving parents, admissions counselors and athletic coaches at prestigious universities in an effort to secure spots for their children at the schools.

7. ICE has a huge license plate database targeting immigrants, documents reveal

Newly released documents reveal Immigration and Customs Enforcement is tracking and targeting immigrants through a massive license plate reader database supplied with data from local police departments — in some cases violating sanctuary laws.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitter launches its first podcast, ‘Character Count,’ focused on its ad business

in advertising/Delhi/Headline/India/Marketing/Media/podcast/Politics/Social/social media/TC/Twitter by

Twitter today is joining the podcasting arena. This morning, the social network is launching its first-ever podcast series with a new show focused on Twitter’s advertising business, which it’s calling “Character Count.” The company says, for now, it’s testing the waters with five already-produced episodes of around 25 to 30 minutes in length. It plans to wait to record more shows after getting the crowd’s reaction to the first few episodes, so it can make adjustments if need be.

The podcast will be hosted by Joe Wadlington, a marketer at Twitter who’s specifically supporting Twitter’s Business initiatives.

Each episode will involve talking to people behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s advertising stories, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq), Dropbox (@dropbox), and Simon & Schuster (@SimonBooks). The companies will speak about how they built effective ad campaigns and why Twitter’s audience mattered to them. The goal, says Twitter, is to offer others in the industry a look into which brands are “doing it right on Twitter,” and potentially spark more brands to do the same.

The launch of the podcast arrives when Twitter is trying to shift Wall Street’s attention away from the network’s stagnant user growth. Twitter recently said it would stop reporting monthly users, in favor of daily users, as a result of its inability to grow this key number. The change was announced in Twitter’s Q4 2018 earnings release, where the company said it had lost another 5 million monthly users in the final quarter of 2018 bringing its total down to 321 million.

Instead, Twitter wants more attention on its ability to turn a profit from the users it does have – as it did in Q4 for the fifth quarter in a row, and the fifth time ever. Its Q4 revenues were $909 million, which were more than the expected $868.1 million and up 24 percent on the year ago quarter. Advertising accounted for 87 percent of those revenues, Twitter said. It’s no surprise, then, that Twitter now wants to help advertisers learn from others succeeding in this space and grow that figure further.

Twitter is not the only company that’s tapping into the popular audio format of podcasting to talk to advertisers and marketers more directly.

In January, Facebook also launched its first U.S. podcast with a series focused on entrepreneurship – the larger, unspoken goal being to position Facebook as a place where entrepreneurs come to advertise their business. And somewhat related, LinkedIn debuted LinkedIn Live, a new video broadcast service which gives people and organizations the ability to stream real-time videos to groups in a sort of cross between YouTube Live and video podcasting, perhaps.

Twitter, like Facebook and LinkedIn, will not be running other ads within its programming. That makes sense, as the podcast itself is effectively an ad for Twitter’s business and advertising tools.

New episodes will debut every two weeks on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, and Stitcher.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Juggernaut is a subscription media company for the South Asian diaspora

in Asia/Buzzfeed/China/Delhi/editor/Facebook/India/McKinsey/Media/Musicians/New York/Politics/Scroll/TC/the juggernaut/Y Combinator/yale by

Everyone and their dog seems to have an email newsletter today, but what happens if and when yours takes off? Some have gone down the paid route, but another credible alternative is to turn it into a subscription media business.

That’s a route that The Juggernaut, a new pay-to-play publication targeted at the Indian diaspora, is going down now.

The company is part of the current Y Combinator cohort and it is looking to make a mark by giving a voice (and insight) to the South Asia diaspora without relying on advertising.

There are already a collection of member-based media services that go after the tech audience — think The Information, Stratechery, The Ken in India… even TechCrunch’s own Extra Crunch — which The Juggernaut is drawing inspiration from, but its play is more akin to The Athletic, the sports-focused publication that graduated the YC program nearly three years ago.

“Our goal is to tell the untold stories of the South Asian diaspora,” founder Snigdha Sur, an American of South Asian parentage who is based in New York, told TechCrunch in an interview. “When China came on to the world stage, everyone wanted to get smart about China but now there are many in the diaspora who are looking to get more smart about South Asia. We’re second- or third-generation Americans trying to find our voices.”

A subscription to the Juggernaut costs $4.99 per month, with a discounted $3.99 option for those who commit to a year. Students are eligible for a $2.49 rate.

Here’s the mission courtesy of an FAQ for the publication:

Why now?

Because South Asians are juggernauts. We’re an unstoppable force. People are getting off Facebook, and yet, whole groups dedicated to South Asian memes and other South Asian communities are booming. There has been a rise in South Asian-led brands. And we’re taking a cue from other targeted media companies: The Athletic with sports, Blavity for black millennials, and The Infatuation for restaurants. South Asians deserve the same sort of representation.

The Juggernaut began as a free newsletter that led to the launch of a subscription-based site in February 2019

Sur’s journey into media, and The Juggernaut, started with her InkMango newsletter last September. After racking up “thousands” of subscribers in a few months, she decided that there was enough potential in her storytelling niche to expand into a full-blown publication. The newsletter remains and it is free.

“As we curated third-party South Asian news, we noticed the need for smart, nuanced, inclusive analysis,” Sur explained.

The focus is initially on culture, with the primary audience U.S-based readers with a connection to South Asia, however, that’s likely to expand as the publication grows, Sur said.

A graduate of Yale (undergraduate) and Havard (masters), Sur spent time in India in 2014 and 2015 when, among many things, she worked as a third-party consultant to BuzzFeed media companies Scroll.in and Spuul. That experience, she said, taught her that “people were looking at content and media in India, having previously said it wasn’t monetizable.”

After returning and spending a year with McKinsey in New York, she jumped back into media by starting The Juggernaut in October 2018. The publication went online proper in February of this year.

Like The Ken — which TechCrunch has written about a number of times — The Juggernaut produces one story per day and it uses a team of freelance reports to do so. There’s no immediate plan to expand that editorial flow, but Sur plans to use funds raised from YC — and its famous demo day — to bring writers on full-time.

“We want to hire another editor to expand and that might mean that we expand that output, but we still believe that content can be overwhelming so we’re not actively trying to do that. We’re trying to tell untold stories, and that could be many mediums so we’re figuring out other formats we should be in,” she explained.

You can find out more about The Juggernaut at its website (here). The publication offers a one-week free trial although that does require credit/debit card details up front.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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