Conan’s Newsletter: No. 5

TikTok, Amazon, and Impact of Tech on Gig Workers; New York City Evolution Animation; The first woman to design a memorial on the National Mall.


Trump’s deadline (09/15) for TikTok to sell its US business is approaching. What is TikTok Worth to Whom and Why is a great essay by Kevin Xu about the potential buyers of TikTok and their motivations. Chinese Government recently put new AI trade rules that prevent TikTok to sell its recommendation algorithm. Unfortunately without the algorithm, the deal would be much less attractive to the US buyers. With only three days left, it is very unlikely that a deal could be made before the deadline.

Other than the recent drama, TikTok is very fascinating because of its fast growth. In fact, it is the fastest social app to reach 1bn users worldwide. Here is a youtube video that visualizes the growth of social network platforms from 2004 and 2020. TikTok appeared only at the end of the video, but its explosive growth was jaw-dropping.

Another interesting thing about TikTok is that it’s the first social network platform to reach popularity both in Chinese and International Markets. This is very unique because previous generations of successful Chinese Internet companies copied their business models from the US, and their successes were mostly limited to China.

TikTok is also much more than a social app. For this topic, I recommend you to read The Video-First Future of eCommerce, a great essay by Connie Chan and Avery Segal on the video eCommerce popularized by TikTok.

Amazon and the impact of technology on gig workers

Let us switch the topic to the largest eCommerce player in the US. Amazon’s Profits, AWS, and advertising is a great essay by Benedict Evans about Amazon’s business models. One interesting fact is that Amazon is much more than just an eCommerce platform now (a pattern for big companies!). In fact, in addition to eCommerce, it becomes the largest 3rd party eCommerce platform and the largest cloud provider, and it also has a thriving “search Ads” business that threatens Google.

As the big tech companies become more and more powerful, they become more and more impactful to human life — not only for their employees/customers but also equally important for their gig-workers. One interesting article I saw this week is that Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees to Get More Work. This may sound funny to us, but the people who are doing this are very serious because they depend on the platform for their main income.

When the rules of the platform are unfair to its gig workers, it also will significantly harm their life qualities and eventually backfire the platform. This week a viral article about the miserable life of the couriers who work for Meituan-Dianping — the uber eats in China — puts it under the fire. Please see this TechCrunch report for more details.

Interesting Facts

The New York City Evolution Animation. This great animation show how New York City grew from a small town to the big metropolitan as of today.

Maya Lin is the FIRST woman to design a memorial on the National Mall. In 1981, Lin, then still was an undergraduate, submitted a proposal for the Veterans Memorial, to be built on the National Mall in Washington D.C. H. The design was initially controversial for several reasons: its untraditional design,, Lin’s Asian ethnicity, and her lack of professional experience. Lin defended her design before the US Congress, and a compromise was reached: The Three Soldiers, a bronze depiction of a group of soldiers; and an American flag were placed to the side of Lin’s design.

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