December 1, 2021

Today's Topics

3 charts for you today:

  • Twitter. Jack Dorsey is stepping down from his second term as CEO of Twitter.
  • GIF not loading. Facebook's acquisition of Giphy just got blocked.
  • Air travel. Just as air travel was getting back to normal... Omicron appears.
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This week Jack Dorsey resigned from his role as CEO of Twitter, marking the end of his second spell running the social media company (the first ended in 2008). Dorsey will hand the reins to Parag Agrawal, who was the company's Chief Technology Officer.

Under Dorsey's most recent reign, Twitter made substantial progress — almost doubling its daily active user base since 2017. But, as always, some investors wanted more, and didn't like that Dorsey was also the CEO of $100bn fintech company Square, or that he wanted to run both companies during a 3-6 month move to Africa.

Leading the charge against Dorsey was Elliott Management, an activist hedge fund, which last year bought a big chunk of Twitter stock (4% of the company), and agitated to have Dorsey removed as CEO. Elliott and others hoped that progress for Twitter would be swifter under new, more focused, management.

In the end, the two sides reached a deal, and Jack stayed on for another 18 months, until this week when he joined the great resignation.

What's next for Twitter?

Agrawal will have a wish-list of things to get done in the next 5 years, but in 280-characters-or-less the task is simple: to continue growing the user base, monetize those users more effectively and make it into as few "big tech is bad" headlines as possible.

That last part is probably the hardest, but the second goal has proved tricky also. Twitter's successfully rejuvenated its growth, but despite a lot of effort and investment it just can't squeeze out the revenue from its users that Facebook is able to. Twitter makes around $2 a month per active daily user (estimated). Facebook makes almost $5.

Speaking of Facebook, this week the company was told it wasn't allowed to rule the world of GIFs. The UK's competition regulator (CMA) announced yesterday that Facebook (technically, Meta) will have to unwind its ~$400m acquisition of Giphy, just 18 months after the deal was announced.

Competition in GIFs

The CMA ultimately decided that Facebook's ownership of Giphy could stifle competition in social media. The most obvious way that would play out would be if Facebook stopped users on competing platforms from using Giphy content.

Whether a lack of killer GIFs would really harm Facebook's competitors isn't the most interesting point from this news (maybe it would?). The most interesting thing is that regulators are finally doing what they have talked a lot about: blocking big tech acquisitions.

The only issue is that Facebook — like much of big tech — makes more acquisitions than you might have realized, 93 in fact since the company was founded. Some, like WhatsApp or Instagram make the headlines, or go on to be huge household brands or products in their own right — but most don't. Most are small deals, where Facebook acquires a core team that might have an innovative product, piece of technology or high-quality individuals — and those deals are much harder for regulators to keep tabs on than big transformative deals.

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Airlines had a lot to celebrate last week, as the TSA screened more than 2.45 million passengers through US airports on Sunday — not far off the numbers from 2019.

Unfortunately for the travel sector (and all of us personally), Omicron put a dampener on the revival.

Almost overnight, travel restrictions were tightened or re-introduced. Many of those restrictions targeted South Africa (and its neighbors) which was the first country to detect and then report the variant to the WHO, although many other countries — 19 to be exact — have now reported cases of the variant.

It might be 2022, or probably even beyond, until air travel is fully feeling itself again.

More Data

1) Apple Music and Spotify have released their lists of the most streamed songs of 2021.

2) The US Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to a Mississippi law on abortions today that could overturn Roe v. Wade. Were that to happen, the percentage of people living over 200 miles away from an abortion provider would increase from 1% to 29%, according to analysis from Axios.

3) Elon Musk sent an anxious email to SpaceX employees on Friday, detailing that the company faced a "genuine risk of bankruptcy" if the production situation on SpaceX’s Raptor engine line didn't improve.

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5) A nuclear-fusion startup has landed a $1.8 billion Series B round of investment to help fund its development of what would be a true "breakthrough technology".

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