A New WeWork Documentary Relives Its Roller Coaster Story

The new documentary about WeWork begins with Adam Neumann letting out a fart.

It’s 2019, and Neumann, the company’s charismatic founder and then-CEO, is recording a video for WeWork’s roadshow, the traditional presentations executives make to investors as they prepare a company to go public. Flatulence is not the only issue for Neumann. He struggles to read the teleprompter. He demands silence from everyone in the room, insisting that he would get the script right if everyone could just shut up. It’s this kind of archival footage that makes WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn worth watching.

The story of WeWork—the starry-eyed founder raised on a kibbutz, the real estate company rebranded as technology startup, the bamboozled investors, and the failed IPO—is well documented by now. Journalists covered in real time the company’s meteoric rise and, more recently, its deflation. Reeves Wiedeman’s thorough account, Billion Dollar Loser, was published in October. A second book, The Cult of We by Wall Street Journal writers Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell, comes out this summer. WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork tells the same story in podcast form. Apple is now developing a WeCrashed adaptation for its streaming service, starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway. More scripted dramas are in the works, including another TV series and a movie.

Which is all to say that WeWork the documentary, which premiered at South by Southwest and comes out April 2 on Hulu, is not the only history of the coworking company out there, nor is it the most comprehensive. But the film offers an easy crash course in the material, especially for those who don’t like to read. What WeWork lacks in detail, it makes up for in the immediacy of its medium. Billion Dollar Loser mentions that Neumann is dyslexic; in the documentary you can instantly see his frustration with the teleprompter. Similarly, Neumann’s grandiose statements about himself and his company come off differently when you hear them straight from his mouth rather than quoted on the page.

WeWork’s director, Jed Rothstein, is best known for stories of religious terrorism and financial fraud. His portrayal of Neumann takes on similar themes of extreme greed and self-grandeur. This is not a documentary about a company, really, but a character study of its larger-than-life leader. Notably, even though WeWork has another cofounder—Miguel McKelvey, an architect who gave WeWork its signature design—he isn’t mentioned much in the film. Instead, WeWork delves into Neumann’s background, his family, and his vision.

From the get-go, WeWork was more than office space. It was “the world’s first physical social network.” It wasn’t for people at work, but for people doing what they love. Neumann is an extraordinary salesperson for his idea, both to investors and customers as well as his own employees. The documentary draws on testimonials from many former WeWorkers, who explain the attraction to the company, and to Neumann. These sit-down interviews make WeWork feel, at times, like a documentary about a cult. But they also add important nuance to a story that’s easily reduced into its more outlandish details. One of the company’s former lawyers appears onscreen to explain a few of the more legally dubious business decisions, but he also talks about how fun it was to work there. This wasn’t just a hot, new startup, it was a company with a mission—one doing nothing less than changing the world. “It wasn’t just about changing the way people work. We were going to change, ultimately, every facet of the way people interact,” Megan Mallow, Neumann’s former assistant, says in the film. “It really spoke to me.” Publicly, Neumann said that every WeWork employee was given equity. But in reality, employees were given stock options—often to compensate for low salaries—most of which ended up being worth nothing.

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One Startup’s Solution for Zoom Fatigue? The Walk and Talk

Seven years ago, Greg Caplan ditched his desk at Groupon, where he managed the site’s Things to Do category, and committed to doing more things himself. He wanted to travel the world, and he wanted to help others do it too. So Caplan founded a startup called Remote Year, a concierge for office-weary workers to do their day job while traveling abroad. For a fee, Remote Work arranged lodging, coworking space, and even excursions. “We were trying to preach to the world that great work can be done from anywhere,” says Caplan.

Remote work became the norm for many last year—though, ironically, the conditions of its rise more or less tanked Remote Year, the startup. As borders closed last spring, dreams of traveling the world were dashed, and Remote Year “postponed” its ongoing trips, leaving some customers stranded abroad without refunds. The startup laid off 50 percent of its staff in March. Caplan stepped down as CEO in April, and the company was acquired by Selina, a hospitality brand, in October. Since then, Caplan has been free to think more about how to make remote work meaningful, even without the globe-trotting.

When Caplan was working in Mexico City years ago, he marveled at the technology that allowed him to do his job remotely, but he also found it draining. Rather than seeing the world, he was staring back at his own face on Zoom. As a respite, he started taking some of his meetings off-camera, with headphones on, on long walks through the city. He’d walk circles around Hippodrome, a tree-lined neighborhood with an old horse racing track, listening to birds chirp and pedestrians chatter. “It was a small change, but it was like a light bulb moment for me,” says Caplan. “I was having a lot of weeks where I was walking 30,000 steps a day.” He felt more energized, more connected to the city and to his work.

Energized? Connected? It’s a far cry from what many Americans experienced in their own (forced) remote year. More than half of Americans worked from home during the pandemic, according to Gallup—and many will continue to work remotely in the future. The software tools that have enabled this transformation have also left workers shuffling between bed and desk, hunched over their laptops, suffering from novel illnesses like “Zoom fatigue.” Caplan, a longtime remote-work advocate, doesn’t think the solution is rushing back into offices. Instead, his enemy is the office chair.

His next startup aims to provide a fix: It’s called Spot, a virtual meeting platform made just for walks. Spot can be used on a desktop, but it is designed to shine on mobile, so you can take your calls into the fresh outdoor air. It has a built-in calendar for scheduling meetings and seeing which calls are next. It can record and transcribe calls, using Google’s voice transcription software. It also has a feature called Smart Mute, which algorithmically filters out street noise by amplifying frequencies that look like a human’s speaking voice and toning down everything else. For now, Spot is in closed beta on an invite-only basis, but it plans to launch with a freemium model—free for individuals, not for businesses—soon.

Perhaps the concept sounds familiar? Like Zoom, without the camera? Like WhatsApp audio? Like … a phone call? Caplan argues that his software does add something new, because it combines enterprise features (scheduling, transcription, smart mute) with a mobile-first approach. It’s “lightweight,” designed to be used on the go, without the awkward dance of videoconferencing.

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Miami’s Mayor Woos Techies. What Does He Need to Succeed?

Still, Mayor Suarez believes that recruiting the right people can change that. “We’ve been a city that, for many decades, has produced talent that we’ve lost to bigger cities,” he says. “That’s something we want to recapture.” Miami has attracted a few smaller startups, like sleep tech company Eight Sleep. Matteo Franceschetti, Eight Sleep’s founder, moved to Miami for a higher quality of life, but found that the city was also good for networking. “I connected with more people here in the past month than in New York City in the past year,” he says. Franceschetti wants others to join him: In January, Eight Sleep announced a new promotion of 20 percent off mattresses to tech founders, investors, and employees who relocate to Miami.

“I think it’s extremely exciting for there to be new entrepreneurs, investors, and companies coming here,” says Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, the director of performance management at REEF Technology, which became Miami’s first tech unicorn in 2018 (when it was called ParkJockey). Martinez-Kalinina says newcomers will make the existing sector much richer, but “you have to come with the mindset that most things are not 100 percent built.” Miami isn’t a city with a massive tech industry ready to plug into—it needs a group of thoughtful people to come prepared with ideas about what that industry, and the city itself, should look like.

Those who are enthusiastic about Miami’s future as a tech hub think it can avoid the growing pains of Silicon Valley, where the rise in technology companies has accompanied rising inequality and a housing crisis, among other issues. Miami already has the second-worst economic inequality in the nation by some measures—worse, in fact, than any city in California. One-third of households in Miami-Dade County earn less than $35,000 a year, according to Annie Lord, the executive director of the housing nonprofit Miami Homes for All. “The problem is not going to be a few hundred people with very high net wealth moving to Miami,” says Lord. “It’s when you’re talking about the creation of new industries that dramatically change how people relocate to Miami, that’s really going to have a massive effect.” If tech entrepreneurs and startups relocate to Miami, they could create new opportunities for the people living there, ranging from service industry jobs to high-paying office work. But it could also exacerbate existing inequalities. A writer for The Miami Herald recently warned locals that “an influx of backpack-wearing venture capital disciples” would do to Miami what they’ve done in every other city: “raise housing costs astronomically, increase the douchebag factor in the region and generally make life miserable for everybody else.”

Mayor Suarez, for his part, believes that conflating income inequality and the tech industry is an oversimplification. “There’s a presupposition that income inequality has been brought by tech,” he says. “It’s not created by an industry, or a company.” Instead, he points to the housing crunch in cities like San Francisco, which have exacerbated homelessness and poverty. The Miami metro area, too, faces an affordable housing shortage, but Suarez argues that Miami-Dade County has “a tremendous amount of underutilized land”—something San Francisco does not—and the capacity to grow along with a new industry.

Some developments, however, have made urbanists more nervous about gentrification. Last year, the city approved a $1 billion development called the Magic City Innovation District, a commercial and residential area marketed to startups and entrepreneurs. The district is located in a part of the city known as Little Haiti, where many people live below the poverty line, and activists have argued that new construction threatens to push those people out.

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How Restaurants Retooled for Takeout—and Survival

The owners’ resistance to takeout is almost forgotten. “If we want the business to survive, we had to change the business model,” said White.

Go National

Another restaurant rethinking form and function is Planta, a Miami-based chain of plant-based cafes. Earlier in the pandemic, business was limping along with limited indoor dining and a modicum of takeout. For Steven Salm, Planta CEO, and his partner, chef David Lee, the only way to sustain 10 restaurants and 550 employees was to fashion their food into something that could be shipped across the country, which meant rethinking how to prep, cook, freeze, and seal pizzas, burgers, and dumplings, their most popular item.

Stuffed with a range of veggies—shiitake, spinach, and potato—dumpling wrappers stick like glue to keep their contents contained. They also stick to other dumplings, which can lead to falling-apart-ness. Planta had to engineer a precise system for laying out the dumplings, flash freezing, and vacuum sealing them: If there was too much moisture in the freezer bag, the wrappers would stick together. If there was too much oxygen, the dumplings would smush and lose shape. If they weren’t packed tight enough, just barely touching but not sitting on top of each other, the freezer bag would roll like a toothpaste tube and crack the things open. As they were working out the process, Salm sent daily dumpling packages to friends and influencers who would take photos of every corner and crimp upon arrival before receiving the go-ahead from Salm to toss them in a pot of simmering water.

Now the restaurant chain is sending out hundreds of next-day boxes a week, kept cold by dry ice blocks, though Salm would really like to figure out how to send them second-day instead. Much cheaper. And Salm and Lee aren’t slogging through this “little” project only to pivot back when the restaurant industry comes back online. “We wanted the Planta-at-home brand to feel special,” says Salm. Dumplings arrive accompanied by cute glass jars filled with truffle soy sauce and chili oil. Once they’re empty, you’ll keep them around.

Cheers

At Bathtub Gin, a somewhat hidden bar in New York City, the problem was how to keep selling cocktails even when no customers were allowed inside. “It’s been a long, hard struggle,” says beverage director Brendan Bartley. Prior to Covid, Bathtub Gin was known for its intricate cocktail menu—a 30-ingredient concoction was common. Once the pandemic struck, Bartley set to work recreating his drinks so that he could bottle them for takeout, delivery, and eventually national shipping. For bonus points, the Australian spirits expert also wanted them to be shelf stable for six months. When the bar reopens, the plan is for a single staffer to make use of those same bottled cocktails—fewer people meant a safer workforce. And he wants zero waste.

Some drinks like the complex 17-ingredient, 15-step “If You Like Piña Colada” could be made in advance and bottled. Others, like the “Lime-Less Margarita,” were tougher than you might think. Bartley says the problem with limes, and really any citrus, is that they’ll eventually ferment in the bottle and spoil. But acids give that pleasant tang, and, well, a margarita needs lime like the rim of the glass needs salt. Bartley was able to replicate the crucial fruit by adding citric, malic, and tartaric acid plus lime oil to a blend of tequila, agave, and distilled water. “We have this ideology that fresh is best,” said Bartley. “But it’s not always the best thing to use when you’re trying to make things consistent.”

Make A LOT of Reservations

Not to be dark, but one thing people don’t need right now is dinner reservations. This left restaurant reservation apps like Resy, Tock, and Open Table scrambling to figure out news ways to make money. Pre-Covid, Tock allowed fancy restaurants to sell prepaid dinner reservations, what Nick Kokonas, CEO and founder of Tock, calls “tickets.” When the pandemic struck, Tock was sitting on tens of millions of dollars in restaurant tickets that would need to be cancelled and refunded. “There was an existential risk to both of my businesses,” he said. (Kokonas is also the co-owner of The Alinea Group in Chicago, which includes the three-Michelin-star Alinea.)

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Marissa Mayer’s Next Act Is Here

When Marissa Mayer decided to start her own company, after nearly five years as Yahoo’s CEO and 13 years at Google, she turned to her rolodex of contacts. For a startup in its early stages, success often has less to do with what you’re building than who is building it. And Mayer, one of Silicon Valley’s marquee names, had a lot of numbers she could call. There are over 14,000 people stored in her iPhone.

So it’s not surprising that Mayer assembled a fine team at Lumi Labs. Enrique Muñoz Torres, her cofounder, has more than a decade of experience in advertising and search products; Rohit Chandra, the head of engineering, has a PhD from Stanford. Like many of the other recruits, they worked with Mayer at Yahoo and Google, and no doubt jumped at the chance to work with her again, in the old Google office that she’d rented for the “good juju.”

Mayer, who was the 20th employee of Google, has spent her career on some of the most iconic products in consumer software. She designed the interface for Google Search, organizing the world’s information, and helped to launch Google Maps, an ambitious project in mapping the entire planet. She was also on the small team that developed Google AdWords, the platform responsible for most of Google’s revenue. At Yahoo, where she became CEO in 2012, she oversaw the acquisition of Tumblr; when she left, in 2017, she reportedly received a $186 million exit package. That, along with her deep connections and star power in Silicon Valley, put Mayer in a position to do whatever she wanted next. She has chosen to make a better address book: an iPhone app for organizing your contacts, using AI.

“It’s crazy that we can have self-driving cars and global facial recognition, but still can’t do simple things like remove duplicates in your contacts,” Mayer said, in an interview this week with WIRED.

Word that Lumi Labs’ first product would focus on contacts was initially reported by The Information last July. After two years and $20 million in capital investments, not to mention Mayer’s own money, that app, Sunshine Contacts, is finally here. Lumi Labs is also rebranding as Sunshine for the launch.

Phone with Sunshine App

Courtesy of Sunshine

For now, Sunshine Contacts is available by invitation only. After downloading the app, users can grant it access to their Apple Contacts and Gmail. Sunshine Contacts scrapes information from those contact lists and messages to build a database of people you know. (The company has pledged to “protect your data, keep it safe, and never sell it.”) It automatically deletes double entries, syncs scattered information, and fills in gaps like a missing last name. It can also update out-of-date information, like deleting someone’s old corporate email, and has features to easily swap contact information with people nearby. The app is free to use, with plans to introduce paid features later on.

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An Ethics Guide for Tech Gets Rewritten With Workers in Mind

In 2018, Silicon Valley, like Hamlet’s engineer, was hoist with its own petard. Citizens were panicking about data privacy, researchers were sounding alarms about artificial intelligence, and even industry stakeholders rebelled against app addiction. Policymakers, meanwhile, seemed to take a renewed interest in breaking up big tech, as a string of congressional hearings put CEOs in the hot seat over the products they made. Everywhere, techies were grasping for answers to the unintended consequences of their own creations. So the Omidyar Network—a “philanthropic investment firm” created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar—set out to provide them. Through the firm’s newly minted Tech and Society Solutions Lab, it issued a tool kit called the EthicalOS, to teach tech leaders how to think through the impact of their products ahead of time.

Two years later, some things have changed. But it’s not CEOs who are leading the charge. It’s the workers—engineers, designers, product managers—who have become the loudest voices for reform in the industry. So when it came time for the Omidyar Network to refresh its tool kit, it became clear that a new target audience was needed. “We realized how much the scene had changed,” says Sarah Drinkwater, Omidyar Network’s director of beneficial tech. “We believe really firmly that the people who are going to force the change through are the workers, not the leaders.”

Now, the Omidyar Network has a new tool kit, designed to get tech workers talking about the way their products shape society, democracy, and more. The Ethical Explorer Pack, as it’s called, covers many of the same topics and ideas as EthicalOS, but with added guidance on how workers can bring these issues up on their teams—whether to identify red flags early on, to brainstorm solutions to potential problems, or to set boundaries around things like data control, surveillance, or disinformation. The kit, which comes as a free digital download or a physical deck of cards, provides exercises, activities, and prompts that can be used alone or with a group to guide conversations.

The Ethical Explorer Pack fits into a broader push for companies to think about social and cultural impacts the way they think about user engagement or profits. Some companies in Silicon Valley have even created internal corporate positions to focus on those issues, like Salesforce’s Office of Ethical and Humane Use. (Salesforce’s chief ethical and humane use officer, Paula Goldman, was poached from the Omidyar Network; she helped to create the original EthicalOS.) There are also other tool kits designed to help people go much deeper on specific problems, like the Open Data Institute’s Data Ethics Canvas. But Drinkwater says there weren’t enough resources to simply help rank-and-file workers raise ethical concerns within their own teams.

The past several years have seen tech workers grow more outspoken about their employers’ products and policies. In 2018, thousands of Googlers signed a petition objecting to the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a controversial military program to use AI for drone footage; the backlash forced Google not to renew its Pentagon contract and create a code of ethics for AI. Last fall, Amazonites staged a walkout to demand the company take more steps to combat climate change, leading to a series of sustainability initiatives. More recently, hundreds have protested working conditions at Amazon facilities during the pandemic. Even unsuccessful protests have brought awareness—and public shame—to tech companies. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stood firm in his decision not to moderate political speech (specifically, Donald Trump’s) on the platform, even after hundreds of employees staged a virtual walkout last month; now hundreds of advertisers say they’re boycotting Facebook over hate speech and misinformation.

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A New Card Ties Your Credit to Your Social Media Stats

Spencer Donnelly, who goes by TheRussianBadger on YouTube, has cultivated an audience of nearly 2.7 million subscribers for his gaming videos. For years, business has been rosy. YouTube shares a percentage of the ad revenue on each of his videos, and the money is good enough that playing videogames on camera has become a full-time job. A few years ago, he even incorporated The Russian Badger, legitimizing his YouTubing business. The only problem: No bank would give him a serious credit card.

“Imagine that you’re making $2 or $3 million a year and they’re capping you at $20,000 a month,” says Donnelly, which was the best he could get from a traditional bank. When it came time to upgrade his gaming setup—a pricey but necessary expenditure—he found himself buying components in parts and then paying off the card to cycle through his own credit.

Donnelly, like many of the creators who make their living on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch, has long felt shunned by institutions that don’t understand that his lifestyle is also his business. That makes him the target market for Karat, a new startup offering financial services to the influencer set.

Karat’s first product is the Karat Black Card, designed specifically for influencers, with credit lines starting at $50,000. Its perks can be customized (gamers get cash back on streaming services; beauty influencers get perks for product purchases), and the credit limits are determined by an influencer’s social metrics, revenue streams, and cash in hand. To issue the cards, Karat has partnered with the payments company Stripe, which launched its own corporate card late last year. For now, Karat wants to be the flashy card in every influencer’s wallet. But eventually, the startup could become a one-stop shop for a creator’s business needs.

Before its official launch, Karat piloted the black card with a small group of successful creators like Donnelly, many with similar stories of financial frustration. “We actually have clients who make millions of dollars, and the bank had given them a card with a $10,000 credit limit,” says Eric Wei, Karat’s cofounder. “We’ve met creators who have over $100,000 in a PayPal account—they’re not even using a bank.” A former product manager at Instagram, Wei had been astounded to see how much money some creators were making on the platform. He was even more shocked to see how many of those creators were turned away from financial products like credit cards and mortgages.

“The traditional banking system is messed up,” says Will Kim, the other cofounder, who previously worked in finance. “It’s overlooking these vast swaths of underserved groups. That’s where we were like, ‘Wait. This is a massive opportunity.’”

The influencer market will be, by some estimates, worth close to $15 billion in just a few years, with hundreds of thousands of people earning sizable income from viral videos and social posts. By Karat’s own count, there are over a million professional full-time creators globally who earn at least $80,000 a year—but many of them have trouble accessing the same resources as someone with a more traditional small business. Part of the difficulty in loaning to influencers is that their business models vary so much. Influencer income can seem, to a bank, unreliable; the money can vary wildly from month to month, and it can come from a variety of different sources, from sponsorship deals and shares of ad revenue to subscriptions and donations from fans. That makes it more difficult for banks to gauge what sort of credit they should offer to an individual creator, and to compare one creator to another. “It’s hilarious seeing traditional institutions work with YouTubers,” Donnelly says. “The easiest way to put it is that everybody thinks you’re a drug dealer.”

A looping video of influencers "selling" products to adoring fans.

The WIRED Guide to Influencers 

Everything you need to know about engagement, power likes, sponcon, and trust. 

To develop Karat’s underwriting capabilities, Wei and Kim had to collect data on how various influencers were making money. In order to apply for the card, creators submit social media metrics and income information. (Karat’s website says it will “prioritize creators with verified followings of at least 100K or those referred by our partners.”) But “it’s not as simple as millions of followers equals millions of dollars,” says Kim. “Social stats are good indicators, but they’re not the full picture.”

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What Is Clubhouse, and Why Does Silicon Valley Care?

Kurt Schrader, the CEO and cofounder of Clubhouse, knew that Clubhouse had become Silicon Valley’s idée fixe when, in early May, his Twitter mentions became flooded with people desperate to get on the app.

But Schrader’s Clubhouse, a project management tool, is not the Clubhouse that’s suddenly in demand. That would be Clubhouse, a new social network more exclusive than Berghain. That Clubhouse is still in beta, and invitation only. Schrader, who has been tagged in numerous posts requesting said invites, eventually clarified on Twitter that he could not grant them: “At this point I might as well just spend my Saturday building a Twitter bot that automatically corrects all of the people that say Clubhouse but mean Clubhouse, and also the other people that say Clubhouse but actually mean Clubhouse …”

Fads come and go. Exclusive apps for everything from email (Superhuman) to dating (Raya) get christened by investors, and then are mostly forgotten. Clubhouse—a sort of voice-based chat room—is the furor du jour. In a matter of weeks, it has become the talk of Silicon Valley. Jack Dorsey and Hannibal Buress have been said to hang out there. The other day, E-40 hopped on Clubhouse to share thoughts about the future of rap, and MC Hammer joined a conversation about how the new coronavirus has affected prison populations. Marc Andreessen, who spends a great deal of time on the app, is known to talk shop with anyone in the room. His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, won a bidding war this week to invest $10 million in the app, plus $2 million in secondary shares. That’s a big bet that Clubhouse’s formula can last longer than the boredom of the pandemic, and its current buzz.

For the few thousand who have scored early invites, spending hours on Clubhouse has become a source of bragging rights—due to the app’s appeal, surely, but maybe also because everyone has been homebound in a monthslong pandemic. Some have attributed their time spent in the app to being lonely, isolated, or simply “single.” Entering one of Clubhouse’s “rooms” feels like dropping into a house party, if you close your eyes. Or at least, Clubhouse fans say, it’s a much closer approximation to real-world socializing than Twitter or TikTok.

Austen Allred, the cofounder of the coding bootcamp Lambda School, says an audio-based network has a very different feel than text-based ones, like Twitter. On Clubhouse, he says, “you hear people’s voices and talk to them in real time. It’s very humanizing.”

Allred was among the first few hundred users to join, in early April, and got hooked right away. “I think Twitter is the closest analogy because you find, get to know, and follow people that you don’t know,” he says. “But the audio format is fascinating because you can have it on in the background, it’s not a permanent record, it’s multi-way. People have actual conversations, which is something that doesn’t happen much right now.” Soon after he joined, he sent a message to Paul Davidson, the cofounder, asking if he could invest. (Allred is not yet an investor. Davidson and Andreessen Horowitz declined to be interviewed for this article.)

By the end of April, Nikolas Huebecker was spending upward of 36 hours a week on Clubhouse. Huebecker, who at 17 may be one of the platform’s youngest members, says Clubhouse feels different than the other social apps on his phone, like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter. “You might be in this giant room and people are listening,” he says, but then “you can go off and have a conversation in a corner—start your own room—and talk to someone one-on-one.” Each room determines its own speaking privileges, which range from intimate conversations among friends to conference-like gatherings with a few “speakers” and a large “audience” listening in.

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Buying Giphy Gives Facebook a New Window Into Its Rivals

Facebook announced Friday it was acquiring Giphy, a leading service for making and sharing GIFs that will now be part of Instagram, a leading service for making and sharing photos. Even if you’ve never visited Giphy’s website, you’ve likely seen its footprint on social media, dating apps, maybe even in your workplace on Slack. Founded in 2013 as a search engine for GIFs, Giphy soon expanded to tools that enabled millions of internet users to seamlessly embed the short animations on sites like Facebook and Twitter, helping to make “reaction GIFs” the core medium for digital expression it is today.

Facebook characterized the acquisition—reportedly worth $400 million—as a way to help its millions of users “better express themselves.” “By bringing Instagram and Giphy together, we can make it easier for people to find the perfect GIFs and stickers in Stories and Direct,” Vishal Shah, vice president of product at Instagram, said in the announcement.

The news was not uniformly celebrated across the web. Critics of Facebook’s track record on issues like privacy worried what would happen now that it controlled a beloved GIF service. “Many have reached out to ask whether we should be concerned about Giphy search in Signal,” tweeted Moxie Marlinspike, one of the app’s cofounders, before assuring users that the privacy-focused messaging service already prevents “GIF search providers from receiving user data.”

Within hours of the announcement, Giphy’s head of content was also on Twitter, dispelling rumors that the service was removing GIFs of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Want to clarify that this is not true as we only take down content that violates our guidelines,” he wrote. And with Giphy’s tools already integrated with so many Facebook competitors—including Twitter, Snapchat, Slack, Reddit, TikTok, and Bumble—it seemed reasonable to wonder how long that would remain the case.

Both companies said that Giphy’s outside partners will continue to have the same access to its library and API. The awkward GIFs your boss sends over Slack aren’t going away anytime soon. But now Facebook, ultimately, will be the gatekeeper for all those integrations, and it will have unprecedented insight into how people use GIFs.

Facebook says it will not collect information specific to individual people using Giphy’s API, but it will get valuable data about usage patterns across the web. Facebook’s suite of apps already made up a huge chunk of Giphy’s traffic—50 percent, according to the company—but now it can collect data from other platforms, many of them competitors, and possibly spot emerging trends. If Facebook realized a certain type of GIF was trending on Twitter, for example, it could commission an artist to make a corresponding collection exclusively for Instagram, luring more users there. Facebook has also been accused of copying features from rivals like Snapchat for years, and will now have insight into how their users interact with GIFs.

Facebook has a history of trying to learn more about its rivals through data-rich acquisitions. In 2013, it acquired the VPN app Onavo, and later used it to gather data about apps like the messaging platform WhatsApp, which it also bought the next year. Data from Onavo showed that people were sending far more messages a day on WhatsApp than on Facebook Messenger, which helped to justify paying $19 billion for the competing app. Facebook shut down Onavo in 2019, after it was criticized for using code from it to collect data about people as young as 13.

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Amazon, Instacart, Target Workers Unite for May Day Strike

On Friday, front-line workers from Amazon, Instacart, Shipt, Target, and Whole Foods have organized to walk out of their jobs together over demands that their companies provide better pay, benefits, and protections. Some of these workers deliver packages; others deliver groceries. Some stock shelves in warehouses, and others ring up customers in stores. Some of them are classified as independent contractors and others as employees. But all of them claim that the companies they work for have denied them basic protections on the job, even as the pandemic poses greater risks to their health and safety. Despite being classified as essential workers in a crisis, they say, their companies treat them as disposable.

Worker dissatisfaction at these companies has been simmering for years. But the pandemic, which has placed these workers under a spotlight, has raised the temperature significantly. Friday’s strike follows individual walk-outs at Amazon warehouses and Whole Foods stores, as well as protests from delivery workers at Instacart and Shipt. It marks the first time workers from all those companies will strike together as one united force with similar demands.

“An Amazon warehouse worker has different rights and protections than an Instacart shopper,” says Vanessa Bain, an Instacart worker who helped plan Friday’s strike. “But at the end of the day, our organizing should be interconnected. We’re all in this struggle as workers who are deemed essential, on the front lines, and we’re struggling against giants.”

Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, and Target, which owns Shipt, are among the nation’s largest retailers. Instacart, too, is valued at billions of dollars. Each company has hundreds of thousands of workers across the country; Amazon and Instacart are hiring thousands more, as shutdowns dramatically increased demand. In press releases and statements, all three companies say they take workers’ safety seriously and have spent millions of dollars to support their workforces during the pandemic.

The protesters share many of the same demands, including increased hazard pay, expanded sick-leave policies, and stricter cleaning and social distancing measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus in facilities. Companies announced new measures as the number of Covid-19 cases in the US grew, and with it safety concerns. Amazon and Target both raised wages by $2 an hour, expanded sick leave, and increased cleaning at facilities. But some of the policies have been temporary: Amazon, for example, provided unlimited unpaid leave for workers but only until the end of April. And the workers who have spoken out—along with groups with names like Target Workers Unite, Amazonians United, Whole Worker, and Gig Workers Collective—say their companies should do more.

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That workers are now looking outside their own company isn’t surprising, some experts say. “The problem isn’t unique to Instacart, or Target, or Whole Foods. The problem is across essential work,” says Benjamin Sachs, a labor law expert at Harvard Law School.

Even several groups of workers banding together may not be able to effectively withhold labor enough to force companies to meet their demands. Organizers say their bases number in the tens of thousands, but that represents a minuscule part of the overall workforce of these companies. And even reaching that level of participation may be difficult. One Instacart worker, who was asked by WIRED about Friday’s strike, said she’d never heard it was happening; another said she had seen shoppers talking about it on Reddit but had no intention of participating, “because Instacart won’t even blink.”

Instacart workers already staged one nationwide strike on March 30, which Bain says had thousands of participants. Instacart says that had “absolutely no impact” on its operations; in fact, it reported 40 percent more workers picking up groceries that day than one week before. The company did announce it would supply its shoppers with safety gear, but dozens of workers have since complained about the availability and quality of those products. Organizers say their other demands, like hazard pay and extended sick leave, have gone unmet.

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