May 18, 2020

A new chapter for libraries

May 18, 2020
The Hustle
TOGETHER WITH
Miso Robotics

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Turning the Page

Libraries hope their return will not be overdue

If you see a row of cars snaking across the parking lot of your local library, don’t be alarmed: That’s the book checkout line. 

As states start to reopen, libraries are getting in on curbside pickup. A full return to service is still far off in many states, but librarians haven’t let the pandemic Dewey decimate their work:

  • In Hillsborough County, Florida, libraries are offering drive-thru options for people to grab public assistance forms.  
  • Instead of in-person trivia games for kids, a Pennsylvania library built a Harry Potter digital escape room in Google Docs. 
  • One Virginia library launched a magazine — called the “Quaranzine” — to tell local stories during lockdown. 
  • If you ever showed up to the library to ask for homework assistance, your librarian didn’t forget you: In Seattle, librarians are reaching out to kids to ask how they can help them with homework.

Libraries can’t shelve their most essential services 

With their doors closed, some libraries have found workarounds to reach the community members who need help with more than just checking out books. Libraries are taking public assistance forms online, or moving WiFi hotspots to the parking lot. 

A Colorado library district converted itself into a mini call center. Older people are dialing in not just to ask for advice about using the internet but also because they just want to talk. According to the librarians, they want to be there “just to say hi” when people need to hear another voice.  

Reopening is not going to be easy

Spaces built on sharing are not faring well in this pandemic — ahem, WeWork — and libraries probably won’t look the same for a while.

The head of the New York Public Library has considered quarantining returned books for several days after they arrive. Those public-access desktops? They may have to be moved apart

And if some of your usual librarians are missing, that may be because they’re working as contact tracers now. 

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Coping Tips

You can Houseparty ‘til your eyes fall out from the screen time. But digital togetherness can’t actually replace the feeling of actually being near other humans. We’ve got more tools than ever to connect with people online, yet life in isolation still feels lonely sometimes.

That’s why we want to call your attention to this excellent Q&A from our Trends contributor Polina Marinova. It’s about the science of loneliness and practical things you can do to prevent it (one tip: Pursue a goal or project that pushes you to interact with others).

If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up for Polina’s newsletter, The Profile. It’s filled with insights about how you can improve personally and professionally.

Please Hold

The corona crisis means the busy signal at the call center never ends

Do you ever wish you could listen to the hold music on a customer-service call a little longer?

Great news, ya weirdo: Up and down the phone lines, from state unemployment centers to travel and business services, call centers are jammed.

Press 0 to keep talking to yourself

Many call center operations are outsourced to India and the Philippines — but as Vox noted, lockdowns in those countries forced services to go remote or shut down entirely. 

For US customers, the time difference means things can get weird. Their calls ring on the other side of the end of the globe in the early morning — when talkative roosters are known to crow in the background.

For the US workers on the other end of the line, the job is endless: One call-center worker in Pennsylvania told The Wall Street Journal that she works ~14 hours a day during the week, and another 7.5 on weekend days.

A research firm estimates that the industry is operating around 80% of full-strength, but help is on the way.

AI means robocallers are good now?

IBM offered businesses and public agencies a free trial of an AI-powered assistant that answers common customer questions. Traffic to the assistant was up 40% from February to April.

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Sponsored

Meet Flippy, the AI assistant chef cooking up food at MLB stadiums for $3/hour

Miso Robotics SeedInvest is still open — invest here. 

You ordered your burger medium-rare with mustard and it came out burnt with ketchup. Ugh. 

We call that the quick-service quandary — when the food comes fast, but it’s also unreliable.  

That’s all changing soon though, thanks to a new robot manning the grill at places like Dodgers Stadium and Caliburger: Miso Robotics’ own Flippy, who cooks every burger it touches to absolute perfection like some kind of chrome-plated Guy Fieri. 

Innovate, automate, and elevate the commercial kitchen

Thanks to thermal vision (along with 12 different pending patents), this AI assistant chef is helping to address the challenges facing quick-service restaurants and cloud kitchens:

  • Economical: Flippy’s low hourly cost can give quick-service restaurants a 300% lift in margins
  • Scalable: Flippy has cooked 60K+ lbs of fried food and 12K+ burgers, and counting!
  • Responsible: Flippy makes for a safer work environment by keeping human workers away from dirty and dangerous kitchen tasks 

The cooking chops of this skillful little chef are paying off for his creators, too — Miso Robotics is now in prime position to be one of the main players in automating the up-and-coming cloud kitchen market

So, here’s your opportunity: Get in on their SeedInvest fundraising round while it’s still open (and before Flippy starts making the rounds on Kimmel), and see where this investment takes you. 

Hey, the sky’s the limit. 

Invest here →
The Wheel Deal?

Scooter companies hope for a 2-wheeled revival — if they can survive long enough

With more states easing up on lockdown restrictions, city-dwelling consumers who leave their quaran-caves after weeks in isolation have a few questions to answer:

  1. Can I find a pair of hard pants that still fits?
  2. Does this mask match my outfit?
  3. How the heck am I going to get around?

Scooter companies are hoping they can at least help you with that last question — even if they can’t solve your fashion emergency (or that hair emergency).

The pandemic put them through hell on wheels

The scooter business was already wobbly, and the pandemic made things much worse. The New York Times reported in April that consumer spending on scooters dropped by 100% — more than any other mode of transportation.

Startups like Bird and Lime have announced big layoffs, and the industry is starting to consolidate — not unlike some of the recent movement in the food-delivery business. Uber recently offloaded its bike and scooter biz, Jump, to Lime — as part of a deal that included a $170m investment.

The Washington Post says scooter and bike businesses are hoping to capitalize on the public’s need to move, at a time when people may swear off the Petri dish of public transit. 

In South Korea, Lime says scooter ridership is up 14% from before the pandemic, and some companies say riders are taking scooters for a spin over longer distances.

But the road to long-term success may not be smooth

Scooters will still have to fight cars for room on the road. Some car makers say they’re seeing a surge of business in China — especially among first-time buyers looking to avoid transit or shared rides.

The Verge explored a few routes to potential scooter viability in a post-pandemic world: public subsidies and corporate sponsorships. One example: The city of Portland waived daily fees in exchange for the scooter company Spin cutting the cost of its rides in half.

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Seeds of Hope

One way to save the magazine industry: vegetable seeds

Gardening is so popular right now, it might help some magazines bloom.

Since India’s lockdown began in late March, one family magazine — the Manorama Weeklydecided to test out a new marketing strategy: Glue packs of vegetable seeds to every print issue. 

Circulation has jumped 30%, and the editor in chief is sure that the vegetable seeds are one reason why. 

About all of those AOL CDs 

Vegetable seeds are a new twist, but magazine cover add-ons  — called covermounts — have been flooding bedrooms with unwanted vinyl discs since the 1960s.  

In the ‘90s and ‘00s, CDs ruled the covermount game — so much so that, in 2007, Prince debuted his record Planet Earth as an attachment in a UK newspaper, The Mail on Sunday

You might have encountered covermounts without even realizing it. To get people to sign up for the internet in the ’90s, AOL stuck free CDs in Happy Meals, cereal boxes, and magazines — in total, the company mailed out about $300m+ worth.

Covermounts went beyond discs, too: One tech-y fanzine attached a computer — in the form of Raspberry Pi Zero hardware — as a covermount in 2015.

Should we care about covermounts in 2020?

It’s no secret that the coronavirus is staining the media industry in red ink. While some magazines are doing quite well, disappearing ad dollars have led to massive layoffs at Condé Nast, Vox, VICE, The Hollywood Reporter, and others.

Everyone’s money is tight, so publications are fighting to make themselves essential. The Los Angeles Times wants to be your babysitter: It rolled out a kids’ section amid quarantine. Iowa’s The Gazette is filling its PennySaver with school district updates for families without internet access. 

But don’t be surprised if your local paper starts to get more ambitious. If vegetable seeds started the trend, covermounted sourdough starters might come next.

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Snippets

🇺🇸 Memorial Day is coming up. Tell us about how your plans to honor fallen service members are changing this year.

👀 Facebook bought Giphy for $400m — here’s how the ‘book could use the GIF warehouse to collect your data.

🤔 Students say they uncovered a College Board sting operation to catch AP test cheaters on Reddit.

💵 Why discount chains could dominate after the pandemic.

🥖 Inside Etsy’s unexpected rise as a hot source for baked goods.

🛡For the ones who want to whip it: Devo is selling face shields inspired by the band’s famous energy domes.

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