Start Up No.1563: the mystery app topping the charts, Trump quits blogging, Stack Overflow sold, Apple planning ‘homeOS’?, and more


An Italian artist has sold an “invisible sculpture” for €15,000. But how do you know if you’ve got the original? CC-licensed photo by VCU Capital News Service on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Home and dry. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Preorder Social Warming, publication June 24. Also available as an audiobook (the first 300 pages, definitely).


Why a mediocre keyboard app is topping the App Store charts • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:

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It’s hard to tell what will go viral online at any given time. Carp? Sure. Andrew Cuomo’s Nipples? That happened. The latest darling of the internet’s eye is less fishy and less… fleshy than both of the above, but no less bizarre: a low-grade knock-off of Apple’s Notepad app that was developed by a tiny Korean studio about two years ago. It’s called Paste Keyboard, and it’s the most popular iPhone app in the US right now.

An intrepid reporter at Mashable was the first to notice that the app isn’t only rocking the number one spot in the App Store right now, but it managed to snag that spot from TikTok. This is nothing to sneeze at; not only was TikTok the most downloaded iOS app in 2020, but it had also enjoyed its spot at the top of the charts for roughly a year, give or take some blips.

It’s impossible to say exactly what the tipping point was, but in the last few days of May, Paste exploded. An independent analysis by the mobile app researchers at AppFigures shows that the keyboard went from enjoying about 100 to 150 downloads per day, on average, to rocking 29,000 downloads on May 29th. The next day, more than 127,000 people downloaded it. Then 182,000. Over the past two weeks, the apps’ been downloaded more than 346,000 times—almost entirely from folks in the US.

The app went from being #910 in the App Store’s “Utilities” category to being #1 in literally four days. Its numbers are still skyrocketing. But why?

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The answer to this is likely to make you feel really quite old.
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Trump shuts down his blog, frustrated by its low readership • The New York Times

Annie Karni:

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Still banned from Twitter and Facebook, and struggling to find a way to influence news coverage since leaving office, Mr. Trump decided on Wednesday to shutter his do-it-yourself alternative, a blog he had started just a month ago called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.”

Mr. Trump had become frustrated after hearing from friends that the site was getting little traffic and making him look small and irrelevant, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

The site, which cost a few thousand dollars to make and was put together for Mr. Trump by a company run by his former campaign manager Brad Parscale, was intended to be an online hub for supporters to see statements issued by the former president and communicate with him.

…Last month, after The Washington Post reported that the blog was attracting virtually no readership, Mr. Trump played down its purpose, calling it a stopgap measure until he figured out what came next.

“This is meant to be a temporary way of getting my thoughts and ideas out to the public without the Fake News spin, but the website is not a ‘platform,’” he said in a statement. “It is merely a way of communicating until I decide on what the future will be for the choice or establishment of a platform.”

Some people in his small circle of advisers said on Wednesday that they were frustrated by his decision to shut it down. Others tried to put a more positive spin on it.

Jason Miller, an adviser, said on Twitter that the decision to suspend the blog was a precursor to Mr. Trump’s joining another social media platform.

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MySpace? Orkut? Bebo? Friends Reunited? He lasted just 29 days. That sets the bar that every other blogger who surpasses it can now wear as a badge of pride.
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Stack Overflow sold to tech giant Prosus for $1.8bn • WSJ

Ben Dummett:

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Based in New York, closely held Stack Overflow operates a question-and-answer website used by software developers and other types of workers such as financial professionals and marketers who increasingly need coding skills. It attracts more than 100 million visitors monthly, the company says.

Prosus, one of Europe’s most valuable tech companies, is best known as the largest shareholder in Chinese internet and videogaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. Listed in Amsterdam, Prosus signaled its appetite for deal making when it sold a small portion of its equity stake in Tencent in April for $14.6bn. The Stack Overflow deal ranks among Prosus’ biggest acquisitions.

Prosus invests globally across a range of online platforms focused on areas such as food delivery, classifieds and fintech. It also maintains a more than $200 billion holding in Tencent. Prosus’ parent company, Naspers Ltd. , acquired the Tencent stake in 2001 for $34 million.

The Stack Overflow deal is Prosus’ first outright acquisition in the educational tech space. Prosus already owns stakes in two educational tech companies—Udemy and Codecademy—servicing companies. It is set to make an investment in Skillsoft, a publisher of training software used by businesses as part of that firm’s plan to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital Corp II and list in New York.

Prosus is betting that companies will continue to build out technology to support remote working and online training long after the Covid-19 pandemic recedes.

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Udemy is blah (lots of dubiously acquired content), Codecademy somewhat better. The best comment on this sale: “database of wrong answers sold for $1.6bn”.

Quite a coup for Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, the co-founders. And for 59 other Stack Overflow staff who have also become millionaires.
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Biden allies urge Facebook to review spread of election fraud claims • POLITICO

Cristiano Lima:

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A nonprofit advocacy group with close ties to President Joe Biden on Wednesday joined calls for Facebook to review whether its actions contributed to the spread of unfounded election fraud claims leading up to the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol.

Building Back Together, an outside coalition formed by top Biden allies and campaign advisers, urged Facebook in a letter reviewed by POLITICO to commit to an internal probe of the matter, something the company’s oversight board recommended last month.

Requirements vs. suggestions: The panel, which recently upheld Facebook’s decision to suspend former President Donald Trump, also called on the company to carry out “a comprehensive review of Facebook’s potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence in the United States on January 6.”

While the ruling on Trump’s suspension is binding, the board’s recommendations for changes to Facebook’s policies and for follow-up actions, such as the review, are not. Facebook is required to respond to the suggestions by Friday, though, and Biden’s allies are pressuring the tech giant to make good on the guidance ahead of the deadline.

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It would be pretty much impossible for Facebook not to have been involved. It’s a no-win for Facebook, so it will doubtless resist getting involved for as long as it possibly can.
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Apple ‘homeOS’ mentioned in job listing ahead of WWDC • MacRumors

Hartley Charlton:

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An Apple job listing has mentioned “homeOS,” an otherwise never-before heard of Apple operating system, ahead of WWDC next week.

Spotted by developer Javier Lacort, the Apple job listing for a Senior iOS Engineer in Apple Music explicitly mentions “homeOS” on two occasions, alongside Apple’s other operating systems including iOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

»

You’ll get to work with system engineers across Apple, learning the inner-workings of iOS, watchOS, tvOS and homeOS, and optimizing your code for performance in ways only Apple can. Come join our team and make a real difference for music lovers worldwide.

The Apple Music Frameworks team owns the technology stack that enables the system-integrated Apple Music experience on all of our mobile platforms: iOS, watchOS, and homeOS.

«

Interestingly, the job listing mentions homeOS as a “mobile platform,” seemingly highlighting it as more akin to iOS and watchOS than systems like macOS and tvOS, but it is not clear why that would be the case.

The operating system could simply be a rebranding of Apple’s current smart home software, in much the same way iOS for iPad was rebranded iPadOS and OS X was changed to macOS, or potentially an entirely new OS.

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“homeOS” was changed, once this story appeared, to “HomePod and tvOS”, the spoilsports. But it would make sense to recognise that there are some devices that are always going to be based in the home.
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Judge dismisses charges against Apple security chief in gun-permit probe • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:

»

A court in California on Tuesday dismissed bribery charges against Apple’s security chief, writing that a key element of the case was “pure speculation” by prosecutors and unsupported by evidence.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in November had said a grand jury indicted Apple Chief Security Officer Thomas Moyer and two officers in the Sheriff’s Office.

Prosecutors alleged that Moyer had offered to donate iPads to the Sheriff’s Office after a 2019 meeting in exchange for help getting concealed-weapons permits for the company’s executive protection team.

It is illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in California, and county sheriffs have wide discretion over whether to grant them.

Judge Eric S. Geffon of the Superior Court of Santa Clara County found on Tuesday that Moyer had been in talks with the Sheriff’s Office about permits for more than a year by the time of the 2019 meeting. By then, Geffon wrote, the evidence suggests Moyer believed the permits were already approved and would be issued soon.

Geffon said prosecutors erred in alleging that Moyer had any corrupt intent in offering to donate the iPads.

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This story included for completeness – otherwise things begin, but then linger in the ether. Mark this one “resolved”.
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Elon Musk blames ‘supply chain price pressure’ for Tesla’s increasing prices • The Verge

Jon Porter:

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has blamed supply chain price pressure for incremental price increases the company has made to its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles over the past several months. “Prices increasing due to major supply chain price pressure industry-wide,” the CEO tweeted in response to a complaint about the changes. “Raw materials especially.”

Today, the CEO followed up to say that “microcontroller chips” are a particular challenge right now. But although Musk said that he’s “never seen anything like it,” he added that he doesn’t expect this to be a long-term issue. “Fear of running out is causing every company to overorder – like the toilet paper shortage, but at epic scale.”

Musk had previously indicated in an April earnings call that Tesla was well placed to weather the global chip shortage by “pivoting extremely quickly to new microcontrollers.”

Electrek has been tracking Tesla’s price changes in recent months. The Standard Range Plus version of the Model 3 has increased from $36,990 in February to $39,990 in late May, for example, while the Model Y Long Range AWD version has gone from $49,990 to $51,990 over the same period. Tesla has updated its prices almost half a dozen times since February this year.

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Musk talks a bad game. The WSJ reports that the SEC is struggling to rein in his tweets, and has failed despite his commitments to it.
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Stairway to Heaven (UNCAGED) • YouTube

I don’t have my glasses on, but these sound like terrific guest vocals from Robert Plant. (Via John Naughton.)

Extra unasked for bonus link: Nina Persson of The Cardigans performing Whole Lotta Love in front of Plant and Page at a tribute concert. The rabbit hole that this takes you down will surely be amazing.


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AI prompts a scramble for healthcare data • Financial Times

Brooke Masters:

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We are now seeing a mad rush to gain access to patient and hospital data and turn AI loose upon it. Last week’s deal that will see Google store HCA’s data and help the US hospital chain develop healthcare algorithms is one example. The UK NHS’s plan to consolidate 55m patient primary care records into a single database is another. Global fundraising for AI health start-ups has risen steadily since the end of 2019 and hit a new record of $2.5bn in the first quarter, says CB Insights.

In some ways, healthcare is following financial services. The 2008 financial crisis forced bankers to invest in better data collection and analysis to improve risk monitoring. The sector then started finding other ways to exploit it.

Healthcare has been slow to the data party, in part because so much of it is collected in ways that are hard to consolidate: in conversations, in different locations and using non-standard measurements and formats. Just having an electronic healthcare record system isn’t enough: it needs to be comprehensive and searchable.

“In a world where data is flowing in constantly [we need] something non-human to manage it,” says Robert Wachter, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of The Digital Doctor.

…Still, medical records include some of the most sensitive personal data, and it should not be shared too easily. A 2019 collaboration between Google’s health arm and Ascension, another US healthcare system, sparked outrage from advocates who feared the tech group would misuse the information. More recently, some efforts to use smartphones to track coronavirus exposures foundered on privacy concerns.

Google says it is simply providing storage and tools to HCA and will not get direct access to the data. The NHS says that identifying details will be stripped out and it will audit users to make sure data is not misused. But privacy groups remain concerned.

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Cryptocurrencies: government needs to move fast to help shape the new financial world • Reaction

Tom Tugendhat:

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There are a few quick warnings that are essential to understand. First, some of the transaction costs are astronomical. Switching currencies or wallets can cost 20% for the small sized moves. This is the charge for those who operate the network and verify the transactions and is an extraordinary tax on the market.

Second, the systems are awkward. Gone is the simple relationship between a sort code and account number, and instead there is a series of complex codes identifying a place on the blockchain with no correction if you get it wrong.

Third, not all systems are even vaguely user-friendly. Depending on the wallet, it can be near impossible to withdraw the money – there’s one wallet I can’t get £20 back from, and almost certainly never will. It’s not enough to worry about but it’s worth knowing.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, this is a world of believers and enthusiasts (if you’re feeling positive) or con artists and charlatans (if you’re not). The same has been true of technology booms and bubbles throughout the ages. This time is no different.

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What’s unusual about this is that Tugendhat is the Conservative MP who chairs the Foreign Affairs select committee. His willingness to get involved and find out what’s going on is unusual – though of course he’s able to maintain enough distance to assess what’s going on.
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Italian artist sells invisible sculpture for more than $18,000 • Newsweek

Sara Santora:

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Anything can be a work of art, even nothing.

Italian artist Salvatore Garau recently auctioned an invisible sculpture for 15,000 euros ($18,300). According to as.com, the sculpture’s initial price was set between 6,000 and 9,000 euros; however, the price was raised after several bids were placed.

Titled ‘Io Sono’ (Italian for “I am”), the 67-year-old artist’s sculpture is “immaterial,” meaning that the sculpture does not actually exist.

Though he’s received much critique for the sale, Garau argues that his work of art isn’t “nothing,” but is instead a “vacuum.”

“The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that ‘nothing’ has a weight,” Garau said of the statue according to as.com. “Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.”

Italy 24 News reported that per Garau’s instructions, the sculpture must be displayed in a private home free from any obstruction, in an area that is about 5 ft. long by 5 ft. wide.

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Wow, we’ve literally reached the literal Emperor’s New Clothes stage. It’s like the opposite of an NFT, which is something of which infinite copies can exist, and you pay for a single one.

Also, the insurance company rang and would like to know how you’d know if it had been stolen, or even if it had been swapped for a duplicate during transit.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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