Post-COVID Predictions and Observations

SWAN of the Week, Number 150
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Happy Friday!

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote anything specific about COVID-19, so I wanted to share some futurism things I’ve been reading, thinking about, and arguing about with my close friends when it comes to thinking about “what’s next.”

Of course, we’re nowhere close to an actual post-COVID-19 situation. But it’s worth suspending disbelief enough to think a bit about where we’re at and where we could be headed in the coming years.

In Amy Webb’s SXSW Online session on 2020 Emerging Tech Trends this week, she gave some great voiceover and COVID-19 color to her downloadable annual report (get it here!) including thoughts on the most optimistic and catastrophic outcomes we could face by 2035. 

Most concerning is not actually synthetic media and content (e.g., deep fakes and voice cloning), but rather a new economic species of humans who are programmable and those who aren’t. A trend that could lead to “Genetic Class Warfare” if we don’t strive to make technology accessible, affordable, and regulated. We’re seeing some of this play out already between the stay-at-homes and the have-to-works.

Other key takeaways:

  • You’ll soon have augmented hearing and sight.
  • A.I.-as-a-Service and Data-as-a-Service will reshape business.
  • Home and office automation is nearing the mainstream. 
  • We’ve traded FOMO for abject fear. 
  • Everyone alive today is being scored. 
  • It’s the end of forgetting. 

Webb is brilliant, and her team has been talking about pandemics and health care for years, although not as a Black Swan event. 

And speaking of, this week Quartz has a fantastic email roundup about the history of Black Swans — an event that has three attributes: it is an outlier; it has extreme impact; and that, despite its outlier status, people will come up with explanations for its occurrence after the fact. Key quote: “Labeling this crisis as a “black swan” gives policymakers cover for failing to take action earlier.”

Illustration: Glenn Harvey

What happens next? Steve LeVine has a 14 minute read about the future of American cities that’s worth a read, “The Harsh Future of American Cities.”

Key takeaways: 

  • We’ll still be sorting through the impact into 2022. 
  • “In the Midwest, we have been pushing density — the rehabilitation of downtowns, smaller apartments in the core, the joy of being in a city,” Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, said in an interview. “This completely arrests that development.” 
  • Much of our current aversion to crowds will dissipate with time.
  • Dining out may no longer be the main alternative to cooking at home. The winners will be Amazon and Uber, Walmart, DoorDash, and Target, whose boom in delivery will grow at almost everyone else’s expense.

And one of my favorite analysts, Mary Meeker, put out a 28-page report on COVID-19 that says the coronavirus’ high-speed spread and impact has similarities to the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which is different than comparisons I personally keep referencing (like 9-11 and other Black Swans). 

Specifically, she reports:

  • Prior epic viruses have permanently changed the world, but coronavirus may prove less impactful because of our information-sharing and scientific technologies.
  • Scientists and other domain experts are getting “more seats at the table.”
  • Digital transformation is accelerating, due to so many people working from home. New work-life balances are also being struck.
  • This may become the “call to arms” to better marry technology with healthcare, in terms of everything from telehealth to rapid point-of-care diagnostics, to applying automation and AI to health care services.
  • “We are optimists and believe there is hope on the other side of despair…. We need government, business and entrepreneurial intervention at scale (deployed logically and effectively) to get to the other side.”

Oh, and in Italy, they think when we go back to the beach, we’ll be in glass bubbles. And the WSJ says when we go back to work, we’ll be highly tested and tracked

The hardest part about predicting the future is determining where the fulcrum is to pivot. It’s hard to know where to push off of, so I love paying attention to what people way smarter than me are researching, thinking, and arguing about. 

What have you been reading about, being inspired about, or arguing about? Please share.

See you on the internet!


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You heard about Quibi, but did you try it?

SWAN of the Week, Number 146
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“Quibi is like if the gas station TV cost money.”


Screen time is all the time right now.

TV viewing is up. Streaming is up. Social network time is up.

So it would seem like the perfect time to launch Quibi, the nearly $2 billion-funded, mobile-only, Netflix-style app featuring six to 10-minute shows and series.

Quibi, short for “quick bites,” has been inundating the world with ads and teasers for months and months now. And it finally launched this week.

Except I downloaded it and promptly forgot about it.

Not a single one of my friends texted or posted about it this week. My feeds didn’t have a single mention about the platform or its shows. I finally remembered I had it on Wednesday and forced myself to purchase (you have to agree to payment post-trial before trying) and watch some episodes.

The mobile-first gimmick here is that all content is short-form and formatted for both vertical and horizonal screen flips. It’s truly a one-trick pony, and after the first few attempts to see how it works, you pretty much just watch horizontally like a normal show.

Even the ads are dynamic to how you hold your phone. I got served an ad for Lays potato chips that definitely let me flip my phone, and but I’m not sure it was very well targeted.

On Quibi, ads can’t be skipped, similar to Hulu or Pluto. But unlike Instagram and Facebook, they can’t be shared either. I got a hilarious ad for Old El Paso using YouTuber Parry Gripp’s “Raining Tacos,” but it wasn’t shareable or findable after it ran. Bummer!

The discovery UX for the initial slate of shows is pretty terrible. Unlike Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, IGTV, etc., there doesn’t seem to be any deep categorization, algorithms, recommendation, or discoverability features. Users get overwhelmed easily when there’s too much to watch. Tell us what content we will like!

From my experience, the content itself is… okay.

The Punk’d reboot with Chance the Rapper was agonizing and unfinishable. The Most Dangerous Game series was the slowest 7 minutes of television I’ve ever watched. Made it through two full episodes – dropping obvious foreshadowing hints in agonizing detail like a primetime TV drama – before giving up. The Report by NBC News is Snapchat-style news broadcast news, but you can’t share them or stream outside the platform to non-paying users, which seems strange for news.

But the Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson comedy show Flipped is fantastic. It’s almost like Funny or Die knows a thing or two about making short form, mobile-first content that pops. None of the rest of the programming doesn’t appeal to me, which either means I’m lame or Quibi’s recommendation engine and discovery is severely lacking. Probably both.  

I’m generally a fan of innovation in mobile, content and advertising. I’m also a huge social-sharer and want to screenshot, share and chat about entertainment content. Not being able to screenshot or record content seems extremely counterintuitive for the way content spreads today (h/t @ira).

On first review, Quibi is a social-less mobile-first content viewing experience, which seems very strange for a product launched in 2020. The launch content isn’t great, and I kept finding myself wanting to jump out of the shows to multitask or do anything than hang out inside Quibi. It’s reminiscent to the feeling you get sampling AppleTV, which also has a terrible user experience (muddling primary content with subscription and rentals) and yawn-worthy content. In fact, I forgot I had AppleTV completely.

Instead, I’m back to scrolling TikTok for hours each night, texting the best short-form content to friends, and enjoying its discovery algorithm that serves me content it knows I’ll love.

TikTok: 1.
Quibi: 0.

But Quibi does have almost $2 billion in investment, loads of famous directors in the queue, and a long runway to work out some of these mobile bugs.

You may not have tried Quibi yet, but you will be hearing more about it for quite a while.

See you on the internet!

PS: I send out an email every single Friday with stuff like this. You can sign up below! For example, here is this week’s Social Pulse round-up of digital, social and culture trends.

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