For Tech’s Leaders, Big Keeps Getting Bigger


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

AJ Mexico | Flickr

Tech is dominated by a handful of enormous companies — but which, exactly, and what do we call them? The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo has dubbed them “the Frightful Five” and asked readers to ponder what it would mean to their lives to lose any of their services. In Recode, Rani Molla counts six of them — adding Netflix to Apple, Amazon, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, and Facebook — and christens them “FAMANA.”

This group of companies encompasses ’80s survivors (Apple and Microsoft), ’90s children (Amazon, Google), and one 2000s-born upstart (Facebook). Once upon a time we measured the cycle of the tech industry as a passing of the baton from one giant to another — as in Microsoft succeeding IBM. But today, it’s clear that the dynamic is more complex and accretive, like layers of geological formations accumulating in place.

Whatever you call them, and however you list them, it’s clear that these companies are not only leading their industry but also, in many ways, driving the entire global economy. Molla reports that this past quarter shows this combination of firms took in $18 billion additional revenue and pumped out $4.5 billion more profit. Those growth statistics sit on top of already-huge bases (excluding Netflix, which is less mature than the others).

The consumer-facing companies seem to have the strongest handle on how to keep growing in today’s chaotic tech landscape, while the giants of enterprise and business-to-business tech have had trouble navigating. Cisco is still trying to figure out how to transmute a stagnant switches-and-routers business into something that will grow. Oracle is trying to make up for a shrinking legacy database business by selling cloud-based services. IBM is betting that AI can reverse its shrinking sales.

None of these companies is going away, but each of them must answer the same question that the “Frightful Five” (or whatever you want to call them) have figured out: What do people want from their technology, and what will they pay for?

Here Are the Rules Facebook Moderators Try to Enforce

When you connect the world, you also connect all the world’s problems. Facebook is now employing an army of moderators to deal with a growing list of problems, from fake news to revenge porn to suicide broadcasts. A investigation by The Guardian offers a deep look into the manuals, codes, and rules Facebook’s moderators apply as they try to balance user safety against freedom of speech.

It’s a nearly impossible job, and the rulebooks are full of strange inconsistencies. For instance: “All ‘handmade’ art showing nudity and sexual activity is allowed but digitally made art showing sexual activity is not.” And: “Facebook will allow people to livestream attempts to self-harm because it ‘doesn’t want to censor or punish people in distress.’ ” Also “Anyone with more than 100,000 followers on a social media platform is designated as a public figure — which denies them the full protections given to private individuals.”

These rules come off as a weird hybrid of legalistic reasoning, psychological speculation, and brand management. It’s an impossible job that Facebook has taken on: The company achieved its success by collapsing all contexts — work, home, friends, family, classmates, hobbies, and so on — into a single all-encompassing social environment. Now Facebook is desperately trying to retrofit a system of contextual judgment onto the gigantic, context-destroying machine it has built. No wonder it’s having problems.

How Monopoly, the Board Game, Started Life as an Expose of Capitalism

Monopoly, the board game that launched a thousand junior Donald Trumps on a lifetime of deal-making, didn’t start out as a training tool for real-estate moguls (Tristan Donovan in Vice). The inventor of the original version of the game, Elizabeth Magie, was a devotee of 19th-century economist Henry George, who espoused a single tax on land as a replacement for the income tax and a weapon against inequality. Magie hoped that Monopoly’s logic — in which “the landlord gets his money and keeps it” — would help young players “see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system.”

Parker Brothers didn’t like the game when Magie offered it to them in 1904 — it was too political and too complicated. But even as George’s single-tax movement fizzled, the game spread by word of mouth and via handmade copies. Fans rewrote rules and changed property names as they passed the game along to friends.

Eventually, one version based on Atlantic City made its way (via what sounds suspiciously like theft) into the hands of a Philadelphia entrepreneur named Charles Darrow. Darrow added some cartoons by a friend, claimed a copyright, and started selling the game in 1933, as the Depression hit bottom. When Parker Brothers acquired it in 1935, the company settled with a variety of rights-holders (including Magie), and the rest is history.

Magie’s original aim of exposing the evils of the real-estate system didn’t survive the transition from underground sleeper to blockbuster hit. “Instead,” as Donovan writes, “players looked at Monopoly and decided they wanted to be the rich monopolistic landlord.”

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