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Facebook plans Silicon Prairie

Can Silicon Valley remain the world-leading crucible for ideas, innovation and their funding if a large portion of its constituents is dispersed to the four winds?

Tech has led the way in embracing remote working during the current pandemic, but the potential impact on creative development is still an unknown. Twitter and Square employees need never come back to the office, according to their boss Jack Dorsey, and now Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said 50 per cent of its workforce could be working remotely in the next five to ten years.

That would mean anywhere, with the Valley becoming a prairie: “Being able to recruit more broadly . . . is going to open up a lot of new talent that previously wouldn’t have considered moving to a big city,” said the social network’s chief. 

Broadening the talent pool could certainly help innovation and the development of ideas can be democratised better on an expansive remote Zoom call than in a small office meeting room. But Silicon Valley’s success is built on a tight network of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs exchanging and selling ideas in bars, restaurants and the workplace. The big tech companies have given birth to successful spin-offs from employees who struck up relationships, bounced ideas off one another and shared their dreams by the water cooler and in staff canteens.

Spreading workforces beyond the Valley would certainly ease the social and housing pressures that have been building up in the Bay area, but it could also mean a dilution of its secret sauce. Big Tech, as Richard Waters writes, is emerging from the crisis stronger than ever, and a distributed workforce could give it more power and control over any potential competition. But for the Valley, a successful culture, where workers were encouraged to work, eat, play and even sleep in the office, is bound to be changed by the loosening of ties the pandemic has wrought.

**#techFT will return on Tuesday, after the holiday weekend**

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Out-of-fashion Alibaba
China’s two largest ecommerce sites Alibaba and Pinduoduo have reported better than expected sales growth despite struggling with shortages of merchants and couriers under lockdown. Alibaba increased quarterly revenues by 22 per cent to Rmb114.3bn ($16.1bn) but sales of clothing fell: “Because of the pandemic people spend less on apparel, on fashion — people wear face masks and they don’t even need make-up,” said chief executive Daniel Zhang.

2. Trad tech tightens belt
In a tough business environment, IBM is cutting thousands of jobs in at least five US states, according to Bloomberg. Hewlett Packard Enterprise said it would cut jobs and pay as it outlined $1bn in cost reductions.

3. Nvidia benefits from wfh
Graphics chipmaker Nvidia is seeing its processors being used in cloud data centres as well as gaming PCs, hence its upbeat earnings report where it said “work from home, learn at home, and gaming” had driven demand.

4. Drones get Covid-19 lift-off
Police use them with loudspeakers to enforce social distancing, hospitals transfer medical equipment and test kits to one another, some are being designed with virus-zapping UltraViolet lights to disinfect public spaces. Car dealers in China are even taking online orders and then delivering keys to the balconies of new buyers. Patrick McGee reports on how new use cases for drones have emerged through the pandemic.

5. Axel eBay bid, Future’s online future
Axel Springer, the German media group backed by private equity firm KKR, has submitted an initial bid for eBay’s classifieds business, according to people familiar with the matter. Future, the hobby-magazine publisher behind titles such as PC Gamer, said commissions on sales made through its online magazines and newsletters nearly doubled year-on-year in the six months to the end of March.

Tech tools — GoPro Zeus Mini

The action camera makers’ latest product could be a flash(light) of inspiration — a torch that leverages GoPro’s impressive range of mounts. The $70 Zeus Mini is magnetic, waterproof, rechargeable and features a 360-degree swivelling clip that is compatible with GoPro’s full line of camera mounts.

 


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