Start Up No.1531: Clubhouse’s value balloons as interest slows, how to fix online harassment, new crypto wastes disk space (not energy), and more

The UK government has put a temporary halt to Nvidia’s purchase of ARM. But why wait seven months to do so? CC-licensed photo by Seth Anderson on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. I’m listening. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

• What happened when two algorithms started fighting inside Facebook?
• How does Twitter choose what to show us?
• Is online conflict inevitable?
• What can we do about it?
• How has WhatsApp affected society in India?

Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.

Clubhouse buzz is already fading but Andreessen Horowitz isn’t put off • CNBC

Sam Shead:


The invite-only iPhone app, which celebrated its first birthday last month, allows users to find and listen to conversations between groups of people. It was quickly embraced by Silicon Valley types and it was backed by well-known venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (whose co-founder speaks on the app from time-to-time) in a January funding round that reportedly valued it at $1bn.

On Sunday, Clubhouse confirmed Andreessen has led a new series C funding round after The Information broke the news on Friday. The latest round of investment, which includes new backers DST Global and Tiger Global Management, reportedly values the company at $4bn. But investors appear to be more bullish than many of the app’s users.

While some people were desperate to get a Clubhouse invite, some users who are already on the platform are failing to see the long-term appeal. Clubhouse, which was founded in April 2020 by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

“I think the initial FOMO about getting a Clubhouse invite and trying it out has ebbed away,” social media analyst Matt Navarra told CNBC.

One of the main gripes with Clubhouse is that there’s a lack of relevant talks, or rooms, that users see when they open the app. “I tried to get into it for a bit, but the only rooms it was showing me were run by the kinds of people who unironically call themselves ‘growth hackers’,” one user told CNBC, adding that it felt like social media managers arrived before everyone else.

Navarra said Clubhouse’s challenge “is making sure when you open the app you discover lots of great rooms and speakers, every time.” He added: “The content quality issue is only going to get tougher as more users are added and quality content gets diluted. Much like when Meerkat users started to see endless dull live streams, Clubhouse is full of spam, scams, and snake oil salesmen.”

Timothy Armoo, chief executive of Fanbytes, a company that helps brands advertise through social video, told CNBC that “showing the right people the right things at the right time” is a “hard problem” and that it can’t scale.

“The elitists have left the building. Marc Andreessen isn’t doing stuff anymore. The allure of Clubhouse was that you could almost eavesdrop on interesting convos from interesting people. As the interesting people have left, what’s the point?”


Question is, has it hit a sufficiently large install base to guarantee liftoff, or is it going to run out of steam?
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Here’s how to fix online harassment. No, seriously • WIRED UK

Tracy Chou:


I have the unfortunate personal experience of over a decade of online harassment. In this time, I’ve seen everything from dedicated hate and conspiracy pages, whack-a-mole harassers who create account after account on the same platform when they get suspended, cross-platform attacks, impersonation accounts that post abuse under my name and image, co-ordinated harassment campaigns and troll brigades, waves of abuse that come following a viral post, private messages that chastise me and tell me how I might make myself more attractive to men, invites to group chats where people I don’t know discuss murdering me  – not to mention simple garden-variety sexism and misogyny.

To build solutions for the entire space of abuse issues is no easy task. It gets harder when every new feature is also a potential vector of abuse. Platforms have a responsibility to build in basic protection mechanisms, and this is necessary  –  but not sufficient. Platform-level decisions will always be crude, hewing to a lowest common denominator, and are not contextualised or personalised. To give users more control over their individual experience, platforms must first build moderation and safety constructs such as reporting, blocking and muting. But they should also open up their trust and safety APIs, so that others can invent a full range of consumer solutions. This would allow third-party developers to build creative, sometimes specialised or maybe “niche”, services for users that need and prioritise different things.

…Opening APIs would allow consumers more choice and control over how they navigate social media. My company, Block Party, takes advantage of existing Twitter APIs to build one such service. By automatically muting accounts that don’t pass user-configurable filters  –  for example, in a mode called “I need a break”, you can choose to only hear from people you follow and people followed by people you follow  –  we let people quieten the noise in their Twitter mentions. These hidden accounts are put into a folder on Block Party for later review and action, if and when desired; access to this folder can also be shared with trusted friends to help review. It’s a simple concept. But for people who deal with harassment or just a lot of unwanted replies and mentions, having this extra layer of customisation to quarantine the mess can be a huge relief.


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Chinese manufacturers begin production of cryptocurrency mining dedicated SSDs as Chia Coin gains popularity • WCCFTech

Hassan Mujtaba:


The rise in popularity of Chia Coin, a brand new cryptocurrency, is expected to cause major SSD & HDD shortages around the globe, as we reported yesterday. Given the increasing demand for SSD and high-performance storage devices, Chinese manufacturers have commenced production of mining dedicated SSDs which should be hitting retail soon.

The Chia Coin cryptocurrency was founded by the creator of BitTorrent, Bram Cohen. Unlike the traditional cryptocurrency algorithms which rely heavily on GPUs, Chia Coin relies on fast SSDs & HDDs. In short, its mining is mostly done on fast and high-capacity storage devices. Chinese retail segment is reporting that they are already facing huge shortages of high-capacity HDD and SSDs. 8 TB HDDs are already out of stock and it looks like even stock for lower capacity mainstream drives will soon be out depleted.

The mining process of Chia Coin requires a large amount of free space and runs several reading & writing operations. In this case, endurance (TBW) is equally as important as speed, so consumer SSDs aren’t the best choice for mining due to their lower endurance, and running these operations will significantly reduce the lifespan of an SSD. Hence, the target for these miners is primarily hard drives and data center SSDs.


At what point when cryptoassets start cornering all the useful things – energy, GPUs, hard drives – will we start treating them as social pollutants, to be taxed, like smoking, out of existence?
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How fit can you get from just walking? • GQ

Graham Isador :


Four months ago my friend John Sharkman stepped on the scale and realized he was the heaviest he’d ever been. Sharkman—a former college football quarterback—was weighing in at 263 pounds, fifty pounds heavier than his time as an elite athlete. The realization that he’d jumped up to the size of a lineman was humbling, and he knew he needed to shed some weight. He asked me, his fitness journalist friend, to help. But the request came with quite a number of caveats: he didn’t want to cut off certain food or alcohol, he didn’t want to go to the gym, and he didn’t want the whole process to feel that hard.

In the past, I’ve undertaken a number of successful fitness and fat loss challenges. I’ve taken all the pre-workout in the world, done thousands of kettlebell swings, gone paleo. But Sharkman’s request got me thinking: What is the least amount of effort necessary for substantial weight loss? Can you get real results by just kind of messing around?


No. But: if you put in your 10,000 steps at a suitable pace, you’ll make a significant difference. (Though the article doesn’t point it out, consider an Olympic athlete who runs 10K – about 10,000 steps – v someone who slowly walks 10K each day. You’re going to put your money on the Olympic athlete being the fit one.)
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UK opens security inquiry into Nvidia’s $40bn deal for Arm • Financial Times

Jim Pickard, Kate Beioley and Nic Fildes:


Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said he had written to the Competition and Markets Authority to inform them of his decision and had instructed them to begin a “phase one” investigation to assess the transaction, which was first announced in September.

The competition regulator will prepare a report by the end of July with advice on jurisdictional and competition issues, as well as a summary of potential national security concerns. Then Dowden could clear the acquisition, approve it with certain conditions or launch a more detailed inquiry.

The deal raises potential security concerns because semiconductors underpin defence-related technologies.

“Following careful consideration of the proposed takeover of Arm, I have today issued an intervention notice on national security grounds,” said Dowden. “We want to support our thriving UK tech industry and welcome foreign investment, but it is appropriate that we properly consider the national security implications of a transaction like this.”

However lawyers said the government’s decision to call in the deal between Arm and Nvidia was also a sign of an increasing focus on industrial strategy and the protection of British national interests.

Becket McGrath, an antitrust partner at Euclid Law, said: “What’s interesting here is that the deal is not a classic defence-orientated national security case.”


Pretty much the same story everywhere. Nobody is clear about precisely why the UK government has chosen now – seven months after the announcement – to speak up. Analysts now put the chance of the deal going through down to 25%.
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Falun Gong, Steve Bannon and the battle over internet freedom under Trump • NPR

David Folkenflik:


Of all the disruptions unleashed by the Trump White House on how the federal government typically works, the saga of one small project, called the Open Technology Fund, stands out.

The fantastical tale incorporates the spiritual movement Falun Gong, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, the daughter of a late liberal congressman and a zealous appointee of former President Donald Trump.

And specifically, it involves a fierce, months-long battle over whether the US Agency for Global Media and the US State Department should subsidize software developed by adherents of Falun Gong that auditors found wanting. The decision to prioritize this software stripped money intended for critical apps from a federal fund designed to bolster technology vital to dissidents overseas, officials say.

On top of that, once the software was approved for funding, a grand total of four people abroad used it to access Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, a key purpose for its subsidy. That’s right, four.

The whole fight was, in short, bananas.


Like so much of that era.
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Apple to reinstate Parler, the app at centre of online-speech debate • WSJ

Matt Grossman:


Apple removed Parler from its app store in January, citing objectionable content. In a letter to Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, Apple said Monday that a revised version of the Parler app with improved content moderation would be approved for release to Apple users.

The letter from Apple was posted on Twitter by Mr. Buck, and it was confirmed by Mr. Lee’s office. Apple declined to comment.

In the letter, Apple stood by its initial decision to remove Parler from the app store, citing posts that denigrated races and religions, promoted Nazi ideology and called for violence. Since January, Apple has had “substantial conversations” with Parler, and the app maker has proposed updates to its platform and its content-moderation policies, Apple said.

“The App Review Team has informed Parler as of April 14, 2021 that its proposed updated app will be approved for reinstatement to the App Store,” the letter said. The letter came in response to an inquiry that Messrs. Lee and Buck sent to Apple last month.

Mr. Buck said on Twitter that the decision was a “huge win for free speech.”

…Parler held itself out as a Twitter competitor that would take a hands-off approach moderating content. That policy made the platform an attractive online meeting place for the president’s supporters, who grew aggrieved at Twitter’s approach to content moderation as Mr. Trump disputed the results of the 2020 election and as Twitter eventually suspended his account.

Mr. Trump doesn’t have a Parler account, but conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have an active presence on the platform. Lawmakers who have given Mr. Trump strong support, including Rep. Devin Nunes of California and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, also have active accounts, as does Mr. Buck.


I love how they feel obliged to celebrate this on Twitter. An essential element of social warming 👆is bringing conflicting sides together: Parler doesn’t have any liberal users (to an adequate approximation) which means there’s nobody for the Trumpistas to rile and disagree with. So they flow back to Twitter, where confrontation is guaranteed by the algorithm.
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In their own words: How different people respond to coronavirus guidance • Office for National Statistics


In a study, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) sought to understand what influences people to follow the guidance or not, and how this differs between social backgrounds – students, young people, ethnic minorities, parents with dependent children, high income workers and low-income workers. We commissioned IFF Research to interview 180 people between 23 December 2020 and 22 January 2021, 90 of whom also kept diaries.

On the whole, people’s compliance was high but there were some factors that led to some participants not complying, which we explore below. From fear of the virus and a desire to protect the vulnerable, to concerns about their mental health and confusion about what they should and should not do, several factors influenced how people followed the guidance. The challenge is also reflected in data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) from 7 to 31 January 2021.


Interesting to browse. “Vaccine hesitancy” really isn’t a thing for those aged over 50 (5% at most), and hardly a thing for those aged 16-29 (17%). Very much a minority sport. People also still think it could take a year for things to get back to normal, from where we are now.
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Ever think about how Asus put out 40 models of a laptop called the “Eee PC” • The Verge

Nilay Patel:


There were two products that arrived in 2007 that fundamentally changed computing: one, of course, was the iPhone. The second, obviously more important product was the $399 Eee PC 701. It originally ran a custom Linux operating system that reviewers loved (Laptop Mag’s Mark Spoonauer said it was “ten times simpler to use than any Windows notebook”) and was generally heralded as a new kind of computer with tremendous mass appeal. Spoonauer: “Pound for pound, the best value-priced notebook on the planet.”

Again, this was a weirdo little two-pound plastic laptop that ran a custom Linux distro that was basically a front for various websites. (We hadn’t invented the phrase “cloud services” yet.)

Windows getting shown up by Linux was not allowed, so Microsoft did some Microsoft maneuvering, and by January 2008 the Eee PC was running Windows XP instead. It was also part of a larger category called “netbooks,” and we were all made to know what netbooks were.

A little later, Microsoft created something called Windows 7 Starter, which was a hilarious cut-down version of Windows just for netbooks — you weren’t even allowed to change the desktop background! — and the netbook explosion was unstoppable. My friend (and Verge co-founder) Joanna Stern built the early part of her career obsessively covering netbooks, first at Laptop Mag, then Gizmodo, and then with me at Engadget.

And there was a lot to cover: at one point Joanna noted that Asus had put out at least 20 different models of Eee PC in 2008 alone. And that was just Asus! Dell, HP, Lenovo and others all chased after the netbook idea furiously. Do you remember when the Nokia Booklet 3G was going to reinvent Nokia? You do not, because it didn’t. It was very pretty, though. I asked Joanna about this moment in time, and this is what she sent me:

“I was basically Bono in this ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ video. Eee PC after Eee PC. MSI Wind after MSI Wind. Toshiba whatever it was called after Toshiba whatever it was called. I was constantly looking for a netbook that had a keyboard that didn’t require doll hands, a trackpad that didn’t leave a blister on my thumb, a hard drive that didn’t take three days to open Microsoft Word. It was a constant search for the perfect blend of price, portability and power.”


Let’s not pretend that they weren’t terrible. They were terrible. But they sufficed in a brief interregnum before the MacBook Air (Jan 2008), ultrabooks and better smartphones.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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