A sobering lesson for Silicon Valley

The smartest insight and analysis, from all perspectives, rounded up from around the web:

It didn’t take long for Uber’s much-­anticipated public offering to skid off track, said Corrie Driebusch and Maureen Farrell at The Wall Street Journal. The mood around Uber soured shortly “after a celebratory bell-ringing ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange” last Friday, as the ride-hailing giant raised $8.1 billion to become the largest IPO since Alibaba, in 2014. By market close, “the total money lost by ­investors” — $655 ­million — “was the most since at least 1975” for a company in its debut. Shares in Uber fell 7.6 percent below Uber’s already conservative $45 listing price, then fell another 11 percent the next day. Across Wall Street, investors played the “blame game,” arguing over who was responsible for the disastrous offering, said Eric New­comer at Bloomberg​. Uber was hit with “a lot of bad luck, including the abrupt flare-up last week in U.S.-China trade negotiations that drove markets down around the globe, as well as the recent dismal performance of Uber’s main rival, Lyft Inc.” But questions are flying about how Uber’s bankers had miscalculated last year, when they widely suggested a $120 billion valuation for Uber that they could never deliver.

“Uber is hardly the first company to stumble in its first days, weeks, or months of trading,” said Stephen Grocer at The New York Times. In 2012, Facebook shares opened for trading 11 percent above their IPO price, but the stock fell 13 percent a week later and 31 percent a year later. Now, “its shares currently trade at about five times” the price of its IPO amid worries that the company has grown too big. Of course, Uber’s own executives love the Facebook comparison, said Alex Wilhelm at Crunchbase​ — just don’t take it too far. The history of companies like Alphabet, Google’s parent, and Facebook don’t point to a “historical precedent for the Uber turnaround.” There’s one difference between Facebook and Uber that’s really easy to see: In the 12 months before its IPO, Facebook had $1.75 billion in profits; Uber had $3 billion in losses.

Uber’s IPO could mark a “problematic moment in financial history,” said Richard Waters and Shannon Bond at the Financial Times. This offering could “define the era of the ‘unicorns’ — the large number of tech startups …read more

Source:: The Week – Tech


This little robot is going to clean the Chicago River

Each week, we spotlight a cool innovation recommended by some of the industry’s top tech writers. This week’s pick is a river-cleaning robot.

A “waterborne version of the Roomba” vacuum cleaner is going to help clean up debris in the Chicago River this summer, said Luke Dormehl at Digital Trends. TrashBot is a remote-controlled raft the size of a kickboard that is able “to pick up trash in its immediate vicinity, and then ferry this to a collection point on the riverbank, where it can be later removed.”

(Courtesy image)

But the TrashBot is not completely autonomous. Because “teaching a computer to understand what constitutes trash isn’t easy” — and could be problematic for wildlife — the river vessel will be piloted through the website of the company that created it, Urban Rivers. Anyone who logs on will be able to search the river for trash. Letting ordinary people take control, said one of the robot’s creators, “makes for a really cool experience.”

…read more

Source:: The Week – Tech


What a Game of Thrones protest petition says about modern popular culture

You can count me among the legions of viewers who found themselves disappointed with Game of Thrones this past weekend. It wasn’t so much the violence or the evil depicted, as the abrupt, cheap-feeling reversal. In response, I did what any good, 21st-century cultural critic does: I took to Twitter to whine and cuss about it, along with about half of my timeline.

It is part and parcel of what it means to consume entertainment and art in the 2010s. The interactive, participatory nature of the Web has turned pop culture into an event, and moments like Game of Thrones’ denouement are among the few remaining collective popular experiences we have.

But if the reactive nature of online culture is one aspect of the fun, it also has a tendency to take on a life of its own. The latest example: there is now an angry Change.org petition titled “Remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers.” As of writing, it has 588,000 signatures.

Such fan rage has become normal in the last decade. It emerged out of more traditionally “nerdy” corners of the Web, particularly video games, a field which has since become notorious for fans harassing creators. And somewhere in between the sense of democratic participation and petulant, angry dissatisfaction is the lingering sense that the Web may be doing something terrible to art — at once commodifying it and stultifying it.

It’s not that the ability of fans to make their voices heard is unequivocally a bad thing. In many cases it has allowed previously marginalized voices to make themselves heard. Girls creator Lena Dunham, for example, reacted to vociferous criticism of her show by trying to diversify its cast and its concerns. There is also the more straightforward fact that fans can let creators know things they have overlooked, from plot holes in Star Wars to unfair design in video games.

What’s more, criticism is essential to art. Film as a medium developed in conjunction with film criticism, and it is hard to find an author these days who is not also a literary critic. There is a healthy dynamic between entertainment and its interpretation that, at its best, can be mutually productive.

But what is happening online these days seems far from best. Instead, when hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition demanding that a TV show be changed to suit their whims, it …read more

Source:: The Week – Tech