All posts in “Podcast”

Why the gig economy was doomed from the start

For a while there, it seemed like “Uber for X” was the only pitch that mattered.

To many, the rapid rise of Uber wasn’t just a major tech success story — it signaled a wholesale change that was coming to how people thought of work. Traditional jobs, the thinking went, would soon become less and less common, with predictable, inefficient employment getting replaced by the flexibility of independent contract work. The “gig economy” was underway, and it was unstoppable.

Except that it stopped. In her new book, Gigged, reporter Sarah Kessler chronicles the ascent and decline of the gig economy, starting in the early 2010s, when it seemed every service — from grocery shopping to cleaning offices — could be “app-ified” to be done by easily scalable contract work, to the death of many of those services a few years later, when their models proved unsustainable.

Kessler, a former Mashable startups reporter, visited the MashTalk podcast to talk about the gig economy, and its failure.

Gigs that don’t translate

One of the main problems, she observed, is that for many jobs outside of driving people from Point A to Point B, the work requires more skill than you think. It turns out that even something as seemingly menial as grocery shopping has nuance to it, and individuals tend to be very particular about the way it’s done. Finding the best avocados for you might not be the same as finding the best avocados for me.

“People saw Uber making this business model work, and you had a bunch of people who are experts at starting tech companies launching a service business for cleaning or washing your clothes or whatever,” says Kessler, “And it is a lot more complicated and requires a lot of expertise to do those things, and so a lot of them did get in trouble.”

Sarah Kessler

Sarah Kessler

Not only did the jobs require more skill than expected, but the gig economy is set up in such a way that work is inherently modular, sometimes varying wildly from contractor to contractor. The problem is customers generally want consistency and reliability, and for many of these tech startups, creating an environment that encourages that — while also offering a cheaper product than traditional employee-driven industries — was too tall an order.

Not all gig economy companies failed, though. One of them, a cleaning company called Managed by Q, ended up pivoting to an employee model, just with the same conveniences enabled by technology that the original contractor model had. There was some sacrifice in nimbleness, but the shift resulted in a better business overall.

“They did make that change, and decided there was a business reason to do so,” Kessler explains. “They wanted their cleaners to have relationships with people whose offices they were cleaning, and through those relationships they would start to sell other services like supplies. And you needed to have happy workers who liked your company in order for that to work.”

Downfall of ‘Uber for X’

The danger of pivoting away from the original gig economy promise is that it’s a much tougher sell to investors, who tend to fixate on scale, scale, scale. While there will always be tech startups based around centralizing contract work — and some may even succeed — the central lesson of the gig economy is that it’s much harder than it looks.

“You could see in the reviews of some services that they would be raving about one person but then talking about getting your jewelry stolen by the next person. The acquisition cost of trying to go find people, who have no allegiance to you and then pseudo-train them to do what you want to do but then they leave the next week when they find a real job, is pretty high.”

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

Listen on Google Play Music

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Why Apple is slamming Facebook hard

Disclosure

Every product here is independently selected by Mashable journalists. If you buy something featured, we may earn an affiliate commission which helps support our work.

WWDC. Apple’s software show. “Dub-dub.”

Whatever you call Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, it’s the event where we find out what cool new features are coming to the company’s multiple platforms: iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS. It’s also where we get to know what’s on Apple’s mind.

The new software shows Apple’s hand in ways its hardware doesn’t: From new features to combat iPhone addiction to updates meant to prevent data companies from tracking you, Apple is playing both defense and offense in the ongoing backlash against big tech companies. It also quashed (but maybe not fully?) the rumor it was going to merge iOS with macOS, inadvertently giving us a GIF for the ages:

On this week’s MashTalk podcast, we go beyond the keynote quips and basket of feature updates to get at the big questions: What kind of experience will users get when this software finally ships? How the competition respond? And with its promises and software bets, exactly what kind of company is Apple trying to be?

To help answer those questions, we talk to renowned Apple commentator Philip Elmer-DeWitt, the man behind Apple 3.0 and a former tech reporter for Time and Fortune.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

Listen on Google Play Music

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How should cryptocurrency be regulated?

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Does Facebook know something about blockchain that we don’t?

Probably. If there’s one thing we can all agree on about blockchain tech and cryptocurrency, it’s that most people don’t understand them. Facebook, which recently re-organized itself to make blockchain one of its major focuses, clearly has something up its sleeve with regard to crypto. But even if Facebook revealed what it is, users would likely react with a head scratch.

The financial world is already a mystery to many. Add to that a layer of novel technology involving a digital “immutable ledger” that runs on a peer-to-peer network, decoupling the currency from any central authority, and even an interested person will start to resemble the Confused Lady meme.

To those folks, this week must have been especially troubling. It was Blockchain Week in New York City, headlined by CoinDesk’s Consensus Conference. Besides the Lamborghinis on display and the bizarre crypto-inspired stunts, there was clear progress in bridging the world of cryptocurrency with that of real-world finance, including a new suite of investor tools and a new “stablecoin” for jittery crypto investors. HTC even debuted a blockchain-based phone.

But does any of that matter in light of crypto’s Wild West reputation, with shady startups and scams dominating most of the headlines? How should the field be regulated? And what is Facebook’s crypto team up to anyway?

On this week’s MashTalk podcast, Mashable Senior Editor Stan Schroeder and Tech Correspondent Jack Morse give a status report on the state of cryptocurrency and answer some of the fundamental questions around the space around regulation, energy consumption around “mining,” and whether or not all these tokens will be worthless in the end.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

Listen on Google Play Music

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Roboticist Gil Weinberg talks about our weird android future

Georgia Tech’s Gil Weinberg has a thing or two to say about interacting with robots. A musician and roboticist, Weinberg has created some of the coolest robots I’ve seen including Shimon, a robot that can play the marimba alongside human musicians. Weinberg learned early on that musicians need visual cues from their bandmates and so Shimon bops along to the beat and can totally its own in a jazz combo.

In this episode of Technotopia we talk to Weinberg about robotics, human interfaces, and, for the briefest of moments, the possibility of sex robots that can play Isaac Hayes. It’s a fun conversation with a cool researcher.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.

Anchor’s new app offers everything you need to podcast


Broadcasting app Anchor, which helps anyone record and share audio, is relaunching its app today with a new focus on serving the larger podcaster community. While in the past, Anchor was carving out a niche for itself in the short-form, social audio space, the new version – Anchor 3.0 – aims to be everything you need to record, edit, host, publish, and distribute a podcast of any length, as well as track how well the podcast is performing.

The changes follow Anchor’s close of a $10 million Series A from Google Ventures and Accel last fall, and arrive at a time when interest in podcasts is continuing to grow. Half of U.S. homes are now podcast fans, Nielsen has said, and 22 percent consider themselves “avid” fans. In addition, the rise of smart speakers with voice assistants has made it more convenient to listen to audio recordings in the home, helping to boost adoption further.

Anchor’s general belief has been that anyone should be able to easily record and share audio without the need for special tools or technical know-how. The new product represents a doubling-down on that belief, as it aims to remove the many obstacles that would-be podcasters face, from hosting fees, to the needs for special editing software, and the lack of insight into how well podcasts are being received by listeners, among other things.

Though Anchor had been targeting short-form audio, professional podcasters began using its app in greater numbers last year to take advantage of several of its tools. This included Anchor videos, which turns audio into shareable, video clips (which will be re-added to the new app in a later release), as well as a “call-ins” feature which allows them to receive voice messages from listeners that could be later integrated into a new episode.

But most of all, they were using the one-touch podcast feature that lets anyone record and distribute audio with a tap of a button.

“That’s when the floodgates opened, and we saw all this interest around podcasting, specifically using Anchor tools,” explains Anchor CEO Mike Mignano.

He says the team then looked to see how they could better serve their podcaster user base, and found that it was still surprisingly hard to create a podcast today.

“It seemed crazy how difficult it was to make an actual podcast. There’s the expensive microphone you have to buy, the difficult software you have to manage on your computer and learn. And there’s the process of uploading and paying to host your audio files,” he says. There’s also dealing with the podcast’s RSS feed, which not everyone understands.

What’s New

The new app will now drop users straight into a podcast creation screen, with color-coded buttons for using Anchor’s various features in addition to the big, red “Record” button.

There are buttons for recording with friends; for call-ins (now called voice messages, meant for direct, private conversations); for adding music from Apple or Spotify; and for adding transitions from Anchor’s built-in library of sounds.

As you create and use these components, they appear as drag-and-drop modules in a visual editor on the screen, so you can move them around to create your podcast episode.

This all color-coded as well, as is a bar at the top of the screen showing the length of each audio piece you’ve assembled. And Anchor has dropped the 5-minute limit on recording your voice, too.

Anchor will also now host your podcasts for free, and allow you to easily import your back catalog if you want to make a switch from your current hosting provider. There are no limitations on who can use this feature.

“In 2018, this is just the way it should be – there shouldn’t be hosting fees holding people back from this,” says Mignano.

After you’ve finished your edit, you can push a button to publish the podcast for availability on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Overcast, Pocketcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Alexa devices, Google Assistant devices, Apple HomePod, Android Auto, Apple Carplay, and, as of today, Spotify.

Also in the new app, and to a greater extent on the web, Anchor now offers podcast analytics which show things like plays per episode, total plays, downloads, and more. On the web, these are available as charts and graphs, and there’s a section showing which platforms listeners are coming from, too.

The web version offers a more advanced editor with the ability to upload audio files from your computer and re-use recordings from your Anchor history.

Of course, there is one concern for professional podcasters migrating to Anchor’s platform – and that’s whether it will be around in the long-term.

For now, the company isn’t generating revenue – it’s living off its funding. Podcasters who pay for hosting or self-host don’t generally have to worry with whether they’ll one day have to quickly migrate elsewhere because the company is shutting down or being acquired – and that’s always a concern with startups.

Mignano says Anchor’s plan is to eventually introduce monetization tools for podcasters, which will play a role in Anchor’s business model. (Specifics were not available, but Anchor would likely take a cut of the revenue it helped to generate, as is standard.) This seems like a good bet, especially considering how popular the format has become.

Several big names are launching on Anchor 3.0.

This list includes: Reshma Saujani & Girls Who Code, BuzzFeed, Relay FM, Penguin Random House author Alison Green, Tiffany Zhong and Zebra Intelligence, Seeker, Fatherly, Eniac Ventures, Abby Norman, The Outline, Cheddar, The Players Tribune, and Atlantic Records.

Along with hosting, every podcaster gets their own custom URL for their show, which includes buttons to subscribe anywhere its hosted – like Apple Podcasts, Google Play, etc.

Partners, and other Anchor broadcasters, will continue to see their work featured within the app, as before, but in a redesigned “browse” section that has more of an iTunes-like look-and-feel.

Anchor 3.0 is rolling out to iOS and Android, and on the web, starting today.