June 19, 2020

Can Zoomin’ be more human?

June 19, 2020
The Hustle
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MainStreet

Today is Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the US, in 1865. As of yesterday afternoon, ~500 companies said they’d be observing the holiday — including big names like Lyft, Spotify, and Mastercard.

HellaCreative, a coalition of Black tech creators, lobbied for national recognition of the holiday. Its HellaJuneteenth campaign encouraged companies to participate, and it outlines ways to support the Black community.

June Johnson, who is involved in the campaign, told us the group plans to follow up with the companies observing today’s holiday — to offer them support and to hold them accountable.

“It’s a pledge,” Johnson said, “but it’s also an ongoing commitment.”

Zoom Doom

These startups want to make your Zoomin’ a little more human

In the early days of quarantine, the magic of Zoom felt like a blessing. One click, and poof — all of your colleagues appeared in neat little rows.

By now, the spell has worn off. The Zoom exhaustion feels more like a curse — and a damn hard one to break.

So some startups are embracing a tried-and-true perseverance tactic.

When life hands you lemons, make freakin’ lemonade

Wired cataloged the cottage industry of companies and projects that are trying to make connections feel a little more like the Before Times. 

Consider the very aptly named Online Town (population: everyone!). It mashes up a standard video-calling interface with a 2D world that looks like a game — you can wander in and out of conversations, “like Zoom and Pokémon combined.” 

People’s voices get clearer as you approach — replicating the definitely not awkward at all sensation of trying to judge when it’s OK to jump into the conversation.

Prefer a little private gossip?

Shindig might be for you. It lets you wrangle 1k+ active participants (!) — and video chat or text privately with other people in the giant audience. 

Last year, a VR-focused startup called High Fidelity (from the founder of Second Life) pivoted away from conquering the world one headset at a time. It now creates 3D audio spaces to mimic the sounds of real life.

If you need an exit strategy

It’s hard to come up with an excuse for ghosting on someone’s Zoom invite. If all else fails, try this tactic from Kathleen Walsh: “Go ahead and pretend your delivery order just arrived.”

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Volume up

Want your cheers on ESPN? There’s an app for that

Attention, sports fans: All those boos you’ve stored up over the last few months? Now that sports are tipping off again, they’re suddenly a matter of national urgency. 

Last Tuesday, when live boxing jabbed its way back onto TV, ESPN partnered with a startup called Hear Me Cheer to sprinkle in people’s at-home reactions.

Hear Me Cheer works like this: You run a recording of yourself in front of your TV. When you start hollering, the site grabs the audio, adds an acoustic effect to make it sound like you’re in a stadium, and relays it back to ESPN. 

The result: The sound of thousands of fans jeering (or rejoicing, depending on the action) from their living rooms hits the airwaves. At its peak last Tuesday, 15k people were using it.

From the cheap seats to the front row

Hear Me Cheer is the brainchild of Elias Andersen, who started a sports-tech company called ChampTrax ~2 years ago, when he was 18. 

Andersen thought up Hear Me Cheer back in March. In less than a month, he had a working app.

Fan noise has become a big business. England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are each peppering in prerecorded fan sounds from… EA Sports. Germany’s Bundesliga is mixing in audio from the last time teams faced off.

Make some noise for… uh, yourselves? 

Andersen’s system is blowing up. “We’re talking with a number of different leagues both in North America and in Europe,” he tells The Hustle.

But with the NBA, the NHL, and MLS gearing up for their July returns, the eerie emptiness of big venues will be top of mind. Startups are cutting through the silence with some creative fixes. 

We’ll have more on that theme soon: Watch this preview for a taste of this week’s Sunday story, where we dive into the world of cardboard cutout fans.

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Zooming pets

Long-distance relationships only work if they’re with a dog

Tired: Fostering a dog in quarantine. 

Wired: Adopting a virtual dog in quarantine.

In India, a veritable kennel of pet owners unleashed their dogs into the streets back in March. The fear? Pets could spread COVID-19 (the risks are probably small). But overwhelmed shelters have come up with a way through a ruff situation: Long-distance adoption

Shelter volunteers care for the dogs, but virtual adopters hand over $39 a month to cover food and other costs. In exchange, the shelters will throw them a bone — video-chats with their remote pets.

Shelters are getting hounded

Turns out, remote workers are lonely — and they’re desperate to add some low-lift friendships into their lives. Frankly, compared to a labrador licking a webcam, Zoom llamas just don’t cut it. 

One New Delhi accountant dubbed the hour he spends video chatting with his long-distance golden retriever his “stress buster.”

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Snippets

1️⃣  The Supreme Court’s decision on DACA yesterday kept the program alive for now. Almost half of the ~1.2m DACA-eligible immigrants in the US are essential workers.

2️⃣  Big Tech’s big commitments keep coming: Facebook is pledging $200m to support Black-owned businesses, suppliers, and other organizations.

3️⃣  Even our wallets are going remote: Venmo, PayPal, and Square have all seen big boosts in quarantine. 

4️⃣  How low can Freddie Mac go? Mortgage rates fell to 3.13% — the lowest level since tracking began in 1971.

5️⃣  The number of Black business owners in the US fell 41% during the pandemic, according to a new paper. Among white owners, that loss was only 17%. 

6️⃣  Twitch is the streamer of choice for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

7️⃣  Colin Kaepernick is taking his talents to… Medium. 

8️⃣  Lockdown is the era of second chances: A hot air balloon company that promised in 2013 to send people into the stratosphere is back with a new name. 

9️⃣  TIL: Unsecured electric vehicle technology could be a threat to the nation’s power grid.

🔟  Meet Plume, a new healthcare startup aimed at the trans community.

Shower Thoughts

🎵 “Don’t go chasin’ Shower Thoughts, please stick to the baths and the tubs that you’re used to” – TLC 🎵 

1. The world could stop making coffee mugs, and there probably wouldn’t be a shortage for many years

2. When you touch your skin you feel it twice

3. We globally decided that the opposite of vanilla is chocolate

4. There’s an animal named fly, but oddly there are no animals named walk and swim

5. The opposite of ‘lol’ is ‘cry in silence’

Plus one that finally says what we’ve all been thinking:

6. Some idiot thought it was a good idea to make the lowercase L look like the capital i

via Reddit
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