Newley's Notes

NN216: Facebook Bets $5.7 Billion on India; Dogs on Diving Boards

Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, April 26, 2020.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

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A big – and, for once, non-coronavirus related – story for this week on my radar: Facebook and India.

🇮🇳 Faithful NN readers may recall that two years ago I wrote a page one story that began: “India’s richest man is catapulting hundreds of millions of poor people straight into the mobile internet age.”

The billionaire: Mukesh Ambani. His company: Reliance Jio. The product: inexpensive 4G mobile access, which had been nonexistent before.

Jio has continued to grow since that piece came out, unveiling new products aimed at consumers in rural India, where most of the country’s population lives.

🆕 On Wednesday news emerged that another very rich man – Mark Zuckerberg – was plowing $5.7 billion into Ambani’s firm.

My colleague and I called it, in our story about the deal, “a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.”

About those difficulties: Facebook suffered a high profile setback when its Free Basics campaign was shut down on net neutrality grounds in 2016. And Facebook’s WhatsApp – which has a mammoth 400 million users in India – has been waiting for more than two years for permission to completely roll out its digital payments service.

In a subsequent piece, also out Wednesday, I wrote that the deal “could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan – both coveting e-commerce.”

🤔 How would Facebook and Jio work together? One example the companies gave is that WhatsApp users could tap into the platform to buy items from neighborhood mom and pop shops, which Jio has been connecting via point of service machines. Other potential collaborations are less clear.

So: Facebook/WhatsApp gets to use Jio’s on-the-ground presence in rural India, access to its expertise in tapping the roughly half a billion people who have still yet to get online in the country, and partners with an Indian billionaire in a place it has faced regulatory hurdles.

💰 Jio gets a big cash infusion, and perhaps tie-ins with WhatsApp to expand its e-commerce projects.

Will it work? As they say, stay tuned.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) When should U.S. states begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? New projections provide a simple answer: The earlier they locked down, the earlier they can safely resume normal life. And yet Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee – not among those states that acted quickly to enact restrictions – plan to ease lockdowns as early as this week.

🧪 2) Bill Gates says the coronavirus pandemic will produce massive global innovation, just like World War II did. Think treatments, vaccines, testing, contact tracing. “Melinda and I grew up learning that World War II was the defining moment of our parents’ generation,” he writes. “In a similar way, the COVID–19 pandemic – the first modern pandemic – will define this era.”

🌆 3) Will major cities still be worth living in after the coronavirus? Some people who can afford to are accelerating their plans to leave New York City, a WSJ colleague reports. “This could go on for six months, 12 months,“ said one resident who is ditching Manhattan. ”And who knows what the city could look like after.”

🖌️ 4) The coronavirus pandemic will inspire a lot of art. What kinds of themes will writers and directors explore? Think economic inequality and marginalized communities, death’s inevitability – and perhaps the end of the superhero.

💻 5) One unexpected result of the pandemic: Zoom is giving us new glimpses into our colleagues’ lives. We should just roll with it, The New Yorker’s Naomi Fry writes.

🆒 6) And speaking of Zoom: With so many people stuck at home, folks have been creating fun backgrounds for videocalls. There’s ZoomerBackgrounds (my fave is “guy looking back at me”, aka the Distracted Boyfriend meme), and even is getting in on the act (I’m partial to Tatooine). There are some good ones from The Met museum, as well.

⏳ 7) Former Wall Street Journal global economics editor Neil King says a cancer diagnosis in past years has prepared him for the coronavirus. “I have seen the beauty of life on the six-month plan, which goes something like this: Be confident in the span you know you have; extract from it all you can; look no further,” he writes.

✈️ 8) A family in Australia had their trip to Europe cancelled by the coronavirus. But they decided to simulate the 15-hour flight…from the comfort of their living room. They “screened” their luggage and even ate “in-flight” meals.

🇯🇵 9) Here’s an interesting travelogue from an eight day walk along the eastern coast of Japan’s Kii Peninsula.

🐕 10) Dog video of the week: Doggo’s just trying to help.

💡 Quote of the week:

“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” – Georg Hegel.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


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