Clubhouse, Russia and the end of the virus season

How unexpected exponentials and unserved needs blossom into sudden changes

Clubhouse is software eating cities

I’m stealing this tweet to introduce Clubhouse, the smash hit of the week. It’s a very simple idea: an app for conversations that are audio only, happen live, cannot be recorded, and with an invite system to make it very exclusive, until the last couple of weeks. What changed that was that Elon Musk joined a conversation with the CEO of Robinhood (due to the /r/WallStreetBets saga) on the app, and Clubhouse rode the wave of free PR by loosening the invite restrictions. Now Musk is proposing the Kremlin to have a conversation there… reality is stranger than fiction.

The genius of Clubhouse is that, like Snapchat and unlike podcasts:

  • optimises conversations to be with people you know, as rooms are shown only to people that follow, you can see who’s listening at any time; and

  • makes conversation informal, because people know that their words will have a much smaller possibility of being repeated afterwards.

Clubhouse’s success comes not by competing within a specific social network’s interaction mode —it’s not Facebook for dogs—, but by solving an existing problem in a novel way and creating a new market out of it. Podcasters want a living audience for their chats, listeners want to have the ability to take part on the conversation, and nobody wants to either have to look good for the camera or spend hours editing a chat and distributing it.

Russia: friendship ended with Europe

After the debacle of the EU’s foreign minister visit to Russia, the Kremlin says that it’s ready to cut ties with Europe if the EU takes any measures that create risks for their economy. Germany, Poland and Sweden expelled Russian diplomats after Russia did the same over Navalny’s protests; so prospects are not looking rosy.

On the other hand, Germany has strong reasons for playing nice with Russia due to its interest in that huge gas pipeline, while as criticism grows both from inside and outside the bloc. Even if the Eastern side wants more decisiveness towards Russia, Merkel doesn’t seem to be changing her mind anytime soon. And since in the EU all roads go to Berlin (passing through Paris), the EU’s next actions don’t seem clear. What is for sure is that they will neither be surprising (not Europe’s style) or fast (getting 27 members to agree is not easy).

This is how the end of Covid-19 looks like

Even though estimates say vaccines will not be available in some countries until 2022-2023, economies of scale might make it much faster that expected: Pfizer expects to cut vaccine production time by ~50% as production ramps up and efficiencies increase. And those vaccines seem to be working very well too! In Israel, where ~70% of the country is already vaccinated, cases, hospitalisations, and critically ill number in people 60 years old and above are going down by a lot:

Compound into that effect, the drugs to treat Covid are getting better and better: a hospital in Israel says it may have found Covid-19 cure as all treated patients make full recovery. It’s also unlikely that virus variants keep evolving so much that vaccines can't keep up and we end up in a situation like the flu, here is some pretty good analysis about that. Most likely as time goes by the virus will be cornered into low risk populations —young and healthy people— quickly via selective vaccination, and the serious cases will be solved by targeted medication.

All of this reminds me of some a couple of stories I was reading about hyperinflation and virus transmission rate: we are not good at estimating the future when exponential numbers are in the picture. The end of 2021 might seem like it will be very similar to now in regards to the virus, but might as well be end of a process cascading spectacularly over the next few months towards the end of the pandemic as we know it.

Stories from around the web

  • There was a project in the 50s to put a ring of copper needles around the Earth, the craziest thing from the Cold War that most people haven’t heard about. Link

  • When asked about the biggest empire ever, the Roman or British one normally come to mind. Here’s a fresh take for that stat, how Asia looked under the Mongols back in 1290 BCE. Link

  • Britain wants to follow the US’s DARPA model for R&D, by creating an agency with almost the same name to boost “blue skies” research: high-risk projects with potential to create technology that will define the future. Link

  • Something without a clear explanation: The U.S. is seeing a massive spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. Related to the “China Virus” rhetoric maybe? Link

  • I’ve seen many 60FPS colorised videos of the US from a hundred years ago, I guess you’ve seen some too. Here’s a cooler one: Beijing in 1910-1912. Link

  • The Queen of England has more power over British law than expected. She needs to give consent for anything that affect the royalty, which is a very broad litmus: for example, since the Royal Family employs people for their homes, she has power over labor laws. Link

  • Nidec, a Japanese motor maker, predicts that electric vehicles will cost $3,000. There is one in China already that costs $4,300, so the projection is not crazy. Link

  • Once weekly injection, 13kg average weight loss. Link

  • The best article I’ve seen about the future usability of Bitcoin: as a hedge against system failure. Link

That’s it for this week! Hope you enjoyed it. I’m sharing ideas from all over the spectrum, if you want me to focus on something particularly, the comment section is open for your feedback, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks!