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Data Sheet—China’s Internet Transformation Cannot Be Over-Hyped

July 23, 2018, 12:58 PM UTC

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The two biggest stories of the last twenty years have been the Internet and China.

Both have been on my mind of late, particularly the intersection of the two, namely the Chinese Internet industry embodied by its two biggest players, Alibaba and Tencent.

I bring up the twin trends because both have been heavily hyped. Journalists, investors, entrepreneurs, careerists, and the like can’t seem to stop talking when these trends get massive. And for good reason. Watching the venerable venture capitalist John Doerr running around these days talking about “objectives and key results,” or OKRs, I can’t help but think about how prescient Doerr was about the Internet two decades ago. It was always easy to joke about Doerr’s Internet cheerleading back in the day, when he argued that the emerging industry was under-hyped and still in its first inning. Except that it was.

Sure, mistakes were made, fortunes were lost, opportunities were squandered, and hands were overplayed. But the Internet is essential today. Doerr called that one.

It is similarly easy to get carried away with China and its techno-future story. The New Yorker is just out with a magnificent read on how, whose CEO Richard Liu spoke in Aspen last week, is changing the very nature of life in rural China. This transformation can’t possibly be over-hyped, so thorough is the change.

Yet that doesn’t mean everything will be up and to the right. The Chinese Internet companies will run out of growth opportunities or investments eventually, which is why they already are looking overseas for expansion. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, as lucid and cogent an onstage presenter I’ve ever seen, opined in Aspen that there’s nothing fair about Tencent and Alibaba having servers in Silicon Valley while Google and Facebook can’t have them in Beijing. There will be repercussions for this.

Success stores are better when they’re complicated. And they always are.

Adam Lashinsky


The future approaches. Self-driving cars from Waymo are traveling an average of 25,000 miles on public roads each day, and have racked up a total of 8 million miles since 2009, CEO John Krafcik announced Friday at the National Governors Association meeting in Santa Fe. Most of that growth has come in the past year. Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet, just reached the 4 million mile mark in November 2017.

The future approaches, part II. Smartphone users won't see the super-fast download speeds available from new 5G networks until they can buy compatible phones that can operate on the new higher 5G bands like 28 GHz. Qualcomm had already introduced a 5G phone modem. On Monday, it unveiled 5G phone antennas. Expect to see new devices rocking the QTM052 antenna in early 2019.

The opposite of sticky. A new effort announced on Friday by some of the largest Internet companies will let users not only delete or download their data, but also move it to a new service with relative ease. Still in development, the Data Transfer Project will create data portability among at least Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter. No launch date yet.

Rovey McRover. The European Space Agency is building a six-wheeled robot it plans to send to Mars to roam the red planet starting in 2021. In the search for an inspiring name, astronaut Tim Peake has launched a campaign encouraging citizens of ESA member states (including associates, like Canada) to submit suggestions online.

First they all rush in. Not enough Snapchatters were sending each other money via the Snap app's peer-to-peer payments feature so the company is canceling it. That only leaves the field...still incredibly crowded, with pioneer Venmo, bank copycat Zelle, and services from a half dozen other tech companies battling it out.

Got you covered. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board of New York State concluded that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors as the company maintains. “The credible evidence establishes that Uber exercises sufficient supervision, direction or control over the three claimants and other similarly situated drivers,” the board wrote. Uber said it disagrees and may appeal.

Volume discount. Tech publisher Future, which already owns sites including TechRadar and PC Gamer, paid $133 million for competitor Purch, which owns sites like Tom’s Hardware and Top Ten Reviews. “We create content services that fit a need and then we monetize that need,” Aaron Asadi, Future's COO, tells Digiday.


Our many electronic screens aren't doing much to help us sleep. Or as Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School, puts in it a new National Geographic feature story: “It seems as if we are now living in a worldwide test of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation." The piece, by Michael Finkel, explores the latest brain research about the importance of getting enough shut-eye. There's a lot going on:

Our brains aren’t less active when we sleep, as was long thought, just differently active. Spindles, it’s theorized, stimulate the cortex in such a way as to preserve recently acquired information—and perhaps also to link it to established knowledge in long-term memory. In sleep labs, when people have been introduced to certain new tasks, mental or physical, their spindle frequency increases that night. The more spindles they have, it seems, the better they perform the task the next day.

The strength of one’s nightly spindles, some experts have suggested, might even be a predictor of general intelligence. Sleep literally makes connections you might never have consciously formed, an idea we’ve all intuitively realized. No one says, “I’m going to eat on a problem.” We always sleep on it.


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How did I do an entire space-themed Data Sheet on Friday without realizing that it was also the 49th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's historic moonwalk? NASA held a black tie gala at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Saturday as the start of a year-long celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the event. "Space is still hard, really hard—it still really matters," billionaire space aficionado Richard Branson told the crowd.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.