Category Archives: Tech & Business

Uber Tensions at Cannes

#voxmediaroseprogram #CannesLions

A photo posted by Lockhart Steele (@lock) on

I’ve been in Cannes, France since last weekend with a great cast of colleagues. This is the week each year when the advertising and media industries descend on this town for Cannes Lions, an advertising awards/conference/thing that’s really an excuse for taking one thousand meetings and drinking one thousand glassies of rosé. (Current personal tally: 882, with 18 hours to go.) It’s a beautiful place to be, we’ve had a ton of great meetings, and we hosted a dinner with Gawker Media last night at Da Mimmo. As the week begins to wind down, all we have left to worry about is getting our heads beaten in by rage-filled taxicab drivers.

Cannes is one of seven French cities where Uber is currently up and operational; predictably, it works perfectly. Riding in an Uber a few nights ago, I struck up conversation with the driver. He proceeded to do what Uber drivers do everywhere: bitch about Uber. What used to be a 100 euro trip from the airport to Cannes is now just a 45 euro trip, we learned, which seems like a decent consumer benefit? In any case, what upset our (Uber Black) driver even more than Uber’s pricing is the existence of UberPOP, which is what UberX is called in Europe. As a licensed black car driver, he thinks only licensed drivers should be allowed on the Uber platform. Uber, of course, disagrees.

The French cab drivers are also upset about the existence of UberPOP, and to make that clear to the world, they’ve decided today to burn the country to the ground. Having lived in Paris in the late 1990′s, I’m familiar with the French predilection to faire une grève; I even fondly recall a dairy farmer strike that filled the streets of Paris with cows one day. Today, though, the French cabbies are taking things a little further.

Driving into Cannes this morning from the Vox Manor on the edge of town, we hit a roadblock of cabbies and police officers in a roundabout. UberSTOP stickers adorned the backs of idle taxis. Jonathan Hunt expertly navigated past the roadblock, which had only managed to curtail traffic coming from the other direction; there was much shouting. Evidently we faired better than Courtney Love, whose car got smashed at a Paris airport while cops looked on. “Is it legal for your people to attack visitors?” she asked on Twitter. (Excellent question.) I haven’t witnessed any violence, though a guest at our Vox BBQ this afternoon told me she’d seen an UberPOP driver pulled from his car and beaten on the other side of town. Um, Jesus.

I’m writing these words looking out over the bright blue Mediterranean, and the cognitive dissonance is as strong as the breeze.

Slack Down!

Yesterday, for the first extended period of time, Slack went down at Vox HQ. And, apparently, down too at the HQs of every other company that now uses Stewart Butterfield’s chat platform. The feeling felt like nothing so much as the Fail Whale of yore: people in our office looking at each other with eyes that seemed to say, “Well now what are we going to do?” Until someone near our desk pod said out loud, “Slack is down. Now what are we going to do?”

The importance of Slack at this moment in time at the companies that have fully bought into it can’t be understated. (Literally: the platform is expensive on a per-user case, as captured wonderfully by Mat Honan’s chronicling of Gawker’s Joel Johnson in this Wired essay on Slack.) At a Vox Media offsite last week, Slack came up as the solution to a bunch of thorny problems, and was citied as the savior of several more. For a far-flung company like Vox — with big teams in New York and Washington DC, and employees in spots ranging from Austin to Los Angeles to London — a comprehensive chat-and-chatroom product like Slack that people actually love has been a true gamechanger.

But what of Campfire, HipChat, or plain old Gchat? I’m not totally sure, but there’s something about Slack that seems to click with everyone. Back at Curbed, we tried multiple communication tools over the years but none caught on with every team, so groups ended up isolated on islands of their own, unreachable by the rest of the company except via email. Slack nearly instantly won over everyone — to the point we all sat here yesterday, when Slack went down, and wondered what the hell we were supposed to do next. (At least I’m still on AIM.)

In the Wired piece on Slack, Mat Honan writes, “Slack’s well-designed chat function is a trojan horse for bigger ideas. Its ambition is to become the hub at the center of all your other business software.” Alright, fine, but I think Slack’s next opportunity is simpler. It is to replace email. Not all email, of course. I have concluded that there will always be email. But the amount of email that has disappeared at Vox Media since the conversion to Slack is nontrivial — and there’s the promise of much more. The day I can Slack a meeting with people at Gawker Media instead of emailing them to set up a call will be a very good day.

Meantime, Slack: no more Fail Whales, please, yes? (AIM: lockloct)

Tuesday’s List, Mostly Restaurants Edition

DAILY BLOGGING
Harder than it looks. Fell off the wagon hard last week in the depths of Eater bug-crushing. Still trying to find a rhythm to this practice. Typing this while on a conference call (suboptimal).

URBANSPACE
They’re the main competitors to the Smorgasburg team, and far lesser known from a brand perspective despite having been at it for a whole lot longer. (This NYTimes story comparing the two is a nice balanced read.) UrbanSpace opened a two-block stretch called UrbanSpace Garment District a block from the Vox NY office in mid-September, and it’s been nothing short of a miracle for midtown lunching. If you work nearby, because you read this blog, I share with you a top-secret research document created by the 10th Floor of Vox Media that may well change your life as it has changed ours.

ALDO SOHM WINE BAR
AKA, How to Up Your Midtown Game for Fall. Across the courtyard from Le Bernardin, its longtime sommelier (and great guy) Aldo Sohm gets his own wine bar. The space is midtown to the core — high ceilings, cool metallic finishes, everyone in suits. But the seating options are nicely varied: there’s a large central sofa that wraps around the middle of the room; high boys on the sides, and a wine table/bar at the back of the room. Night we were there, Eric Ripert was roaming the room, greeting the crowd. That’s because there’s a small menu, too; the $6/per chicken drumsticks, coq au vin style, highly recommended.

BIRDS & BUBBLES
Is Sarah Simmons’ new eatery, tucked into the subterranean space that used to be Grotto on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side. We’ve known Sarah since before she started CityGrit, so can’t possibly be even-handed about this, but our group dinner at Birds & Bubbles a few weeks back blew our group away. Nothing remained in the two fried chicken baskets. The challenge here will be overcoming the space, which breaks Ben Leventhal’s rule of subterranean dining (namely, that people don’t want to do it, for some unnatural spidey-sense reason). Perhaps, like Lure, Birds & Bubbles can break the mold.

ATERA
Ryan Sutton gave it four stars today on Eater; I’ve never eaten here and can’t imagine wanting to, despite the convenient Tribeca location. (Okay, maybe the Lounge Burger for $20. Maybe.)

MICHELIN STARS
It’s reckoning day in the world of NYC restaurants, as establishments find out their Michelin stars, or lack thereof. Amazing to me how huge a deal this remains in the industry (and, sure, the media). That said, surveying this year’s list, I’m on board with Blanca’s elevation to two, very happy to see a group of places I love get one (La Vara, Betony, Pok Pok, The River Cafe), and on board with the Sushi Nakazawa shutout (am I the only Eater staffer ever not to love my meal there?).

IPHONE 6
Don’t own it yet. Calm down, people who keep seeing me and asking me if I’ve upgraded yet since my public proclamation to do so. It’s standard operating procedure to wait a month to ensure against (a) critical early hardware problems; (b) critical early software problems. I’m targeting a trip to the West Coast in mid-October as ideal upgrade time. Stand by. Meantime, full credit to Fred Wilson for this. Intrigued to see the outcome.

No surprise, this, but always nice to hear. Check Pierce on the iPhone 6 and Patel on the iPhone 6-Plus (“It is not often that a new iPhone threatens to alter the course of human evolution, is what I’m saying. But here we are. I have really big hands.”) Also best of class: The Verge’s twin iPhone video reviews: iPhone 6 video review, iPhone 6-Plus video review.

Monday’s List

LEFSETZ
Is the best blogger working today, inside or outside the music industry. He’s the master of a type of ruthlessly judgmental quick-hit post that takes on anything and anyone, which, in the spirit of stealing from the best, I hereby undertake in this space now.

IPHONE 6
Of course I’m upgrading (6, not 6 Plus). Upgrading every year to the new iPhone is one of the few no-brainer decisions available in this modern age. If you’re not upgrading every year because you’re waiting until you’re eligible for an upgrade from your carrier, I submit that you’re choosing one of the strangest ways possible to save a couple hundred bucks. The new phones are always better, always faster, and if you spend more than a few minutes a day on yours, you’re robbing yourself by not upgrading. Two friends over at our apartment last week forced us to dig an iPhone 4 cable out of the drawer for them. How debasing.

ANDROID
Nope. No chance. I got a free Samsung phone for participating in Guest of a Guest’s questionnaire/photoshoot You Should Know Powered by Samsung Galaxy. Nice looking phone. Feels good in the hand. But the software. It’s still terrible. Feels like everything’s on a lag. The finesse just isn’t there. Talked about this with a friend who’s a major CTO this weekend. Asked him if he’d consider swapping his iPhone for Android. Answer: “No way. No chance.” Yup.

AT&T
I’ve had it since the first iPhone, and I’m not thinking of changing carriers. Lefsetz thinks this makes me one of the stupider people in America. Maybe? Or maybe just the fact that we make so few phone calls these days means only data and data speed really matter?

ROGER GODDELL
Of course should go. Will he? I suggest that he will, because with the NFL facing a threat to its very existence over the coming decades, Goddell has shown that he is not up to the task. I suspect the owners know this and that despite their public defenses of the man, they will act accordingly. To make it interesting, harryh and I made a bet a few days ago about whether Goddell will be the person to hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl champs in February 2015. I have $100 that says he won’t be.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Looked like absolute crap in week one. Looked totally dominant in week two. Lesson: who the hell knows? Though among Pats fans, feels like everyone’s in the mood for fatalism this year.

RUSNY CASTILLO
How to keep interest in your last-place baseball team this late in the season? If you’re the Red Sox, make a surprise $72 million signing of a Cuban outfielder who’s never played a game in the major leagues, then send him quickly up through your farm system over the past few weeks before unveiling him in the majors tomorrow night in Pittsburgh. Somehow Larry Lucchino wins again.

OAKLAND A’S
Are the team I’m rooting for in the postseason. Wouldn’t hate to see Baltimore or K.C. win, either. As always, fuck the National League.

ROOT & BONE
Is the new East Village restaurant that captured some buzz this summer because its chef came from Yardbird, the fantastically awesome fried-chicken-and-southern-cuisine restaurant in South Beach, Miami. Finally made it to brunch here a few weekends back. Maybe because I’ve been to Yardbird, maybe because I’ve spent more time dining in the South as of late, but — pass. Liked the vibe of the room but the food didn’t do it for me. When the cornbread is a miss, where you gonna go from there? And this, by the way, is patently absurd. The fried chicken tastes of dill. Dill!

TRIBECA
Is more Tribeca than ever.

MARK BITTMAN
Is responsible for three-quarters of the meals we put on our tables. (Well, Mark and Quinciple. Quinciple, about which I’ll have more to say on another day.) This time of year, we’ll do like Mark and make this recipe at least half a dozen times in the next two weeks. Enjoy.