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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

Remote work: reply later

Many organisations have been “working from home” for a few months now, and there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to being remote. You don’t need to spend time or money commuting, you can work the way you want, etc. On the other hand, you might be trying to care for and homeschool children while also working, which is exhausting and impossible.

One of the non-obvious disadvantages of remote work is that if you try faithfully replicate the experience of being in an office there are additional cognitive costs. Doing a Zoom meeting is slightly harder work than doing a meeting face to face because many of the social cues that help make a conversation happen are lost in the “Can you hear me/I think Marina dropped out/I didn’t catch that” dance. So after a tough day of back to back meetings on the Zoom grid, you are finished.

Here’s an article that argues that remote workers are more productive than their present-in-the-office counterparts, and that asynchronous communication is the reason. If people send messages and avoiding demanding an instant response, recipients have freedom to fit replying into all of their other work. So there are fewer interruptions (related: Basecamp - how we communicate). You can see that even if messages are happening more slowly, more work will probably get done.

But it is also obvious that making remote work work isn’t easy. Nor is it the right answer for every situation. This is the negative argument: Our remote work future is going to suck: “remote work makes you vulnerable to outsourcing, reduces your job to a metric, creates frustrating change-averse bureaucracies, and stifles your career growth”. So there’s work to do to make sure that remote work doesn’t end up like that!


Amazon: free grocery delivery in London

Amazon takes on supermarkets with free food delivery. Same or next-day delivery will now be free for Prime subscribers in London on orders above £40. Amazon says “members will get fast grocery delivery - free with their Prime membership ­­- starting today [28 July] in London and expanding to millions of members across the UK before the end of the year”.

Last week the newsletter looked at how grocery delivery services that fully or part-subsidise delivery suffer significant margin erosion. So bundling delivery free into another service is a big move. This might be a classic “land and expand” plan. The free delivery is a loss leader to win Amazon customers who will later be loathe to switch supplier once they’ve committed. (And Amazon has the cashflow machine to outlast others.) 

Another way to look at it: Amazon is just following shopper behaviour: people want convenience, and recently they’ve got used to groceries being delivered (also everyone now lives in a world where “popping to the shops” involves queues and having to wear masks and worry about getting ill, so a push of free delivery works fits with that).

Or Amazon sees it in terms of the ecosystem. Shoppers would like free delivery, so Amazon adds it to Prime, and Prime gets slightly harder to cancel, even though its annual cost keeps nudging up. This approach only works if Amazon are consistently good at working out what shoppers value. If they make a mistake, Prime starts looking like a bad deal and cancellations will grow. But if it works, Prime is the recurring membership fee that eventually looks like essential life infrastructure.

Last week: the shop inside the self-scan bleeper.

Queues and retail news

Sainsbury's tests virtual queuing system. Shoppers will be able to join the queue from a remote location, such as their car, using a smartphone app, avoiding the need to stand outside the shop. Previously on queues: Could online supermarket queues do good? and Managing queues inside and outside Co-op stores during the pandemic

Good list of local, independent retailers in the US, many of them co-operatives.

The Book of Dreams closes: Argos is going to stop printing its massive catalogue. “Many declared childhood had been "ruined" by the news and decrying that children will never know the joys of circling potential birthday and Christmas gifts.” (The Book of Dreams has its own website, which is worth a visit.)


Tech industry: regulation?

Last week the Big Tech company leaders got hauled into the US congress’s Zoom chat to talk about whether they’re too big and whether the US gov should use anti-trust action to break them up. Here’s a summary.

Traditionally US competition law has seen monopolies in terms of price fixing - they’d ask if consumers are getting fair prices. On that basis, companies like Amazon usually don’t look anti-competitive because they generally force prices down.

However you’d think that regulation is on its way for a couple of reasons. First, market power now comes from controlling demand rather than supply. So the traditional price-fixing measure of monopoly damage may not be sufficient - and academic thinking on monopoly power is now evolving. Second, if you step back from anti-competition law specifically, regulation looks inevitable as the tech industry becomes ever larger and subsumes other industries, remaking them with software and data. It’s natural that the technology industry should face more regulation to limit its harms to consumers, other companies and wider society, its negative externalities, its unexpected consequences:

“Some time between 1850 and 1900 or so the industrial world worked out that regulating industry is necessary, and since then we’ve been arguing about how and how much, industry by industry, from industrial food to banking to airlines. Now that gets applied to tech.”

Related: I tried to live without the tech giants. it was impossible.


Uber’s algorithm and other mobility

Uber drivers to launch legal bid to uncover app's algorithm - this is interesting. if you work for an algorithm (the algorithm tasks you, and determines how much money you make) then it is deeply in your interest to understand how it works.

Also Uber: the company has cancelled plans to provide digital wallets and other financial services. They’ve committed to being profitable soon, and (thanks partly to the virus) the corporate emphasis is on Uber Eats.

Elsewhere in mobility data… the county of Devon will use data from running app Strava to prioritise popular cycling roads for repairs. And some global data on electric scooter rideshare use (nb electric scooters became legal in UK in July).


Co-op Digital news and events

The Federation House team is running weekly drop-in chats for the community every Wednesday at 10am: Join us here. See our online events. You can also see how The Federation is planning for a safe return to the co-working floor.

Other free of charge events:

  • Andy’s Man Club – Gentleman's Peer to Peer Mental Health Meet Up – Mondays 7pm 
  • Self Care – Online Workshops – Various dates/times in July 
  • Northern Azure User Group – Meet Up – 5 Aug – 6pm 
  • Virtual Data Expedition – Online Workshop – 11 Aug – 10am. “Do you wish you had more confidence with data? Do you want to use data to better inform what you do? Whatever your data skills, wherever you are, you're invited to join a Virtual Data Expedition being led online for the first time by Open Data Manchester, with the support of charity data experts 360Giving. A Data Expedition is a way of working with data from 'start to finish' – from identifying a question you have, to finding and using data to try to answer it, to telling a story with it. Sign up to join a series of guided workshops on a journey of data discovery.” 
  • NW Drupal User Group – Meet Up – 11 Aug – 7pm 
  • Beginners Guide to Retrofit – Webinar – 12 Aug – 6pm 
  • Women in Tech – Networking – 13 Aug – 8.30am 
  • LGBTQIA – Hackathon – 28-30 Aug 

Paid for events:

  •  Invisible Cities - Online Tours of Manchester or Edinburgh – Various Dates & Times 
  • Mandala Yoga – Online Yoga Sessions - Various Dates & Times 
  • Tech Ethics – Meet Up – Various Dates & Times 

Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend! If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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