Happy Thursday! I can’t believe it has been four weeks since the first edition of Command Line. Thanks to all who have subscribed so far and for helping to make this already feel like a community with your emails and DMs. It was great seeing a few of you earlier this week at IAB’s conference in Florida. My seven-hour flight delay while getting back to LA was, however, not great.
I have a packed edition this week, starting with the bigger implications of Meta unbanning Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg’s warning to middle managers, some Twitter office gossip, and my notes from being immersed in ad industry chatter over the past couple of days. But first…
Follow up: Google layoffs and Discord M&A
Less than a day after I sent last week’s edition with some thoughts on the likelihood of Google layoffs, Google confirmed that it was indeed axing 12,000 employees. Some teams were hit hard, like recruiting and Area 120, the company’s in-house startup incubator, while other areas saw seemingly random cuts. Two dozen in-house massage therapists were laid off in Mountain View alone.
After talking to current and ex-Googlers and reading farewell posts on social media, it’s clear that people are upset about the way the layoffs were handled, with affected employees being cut off from work systems in the middle of the night with no notice. This includes many people who had been at Google for over a decade. Meta, by contrast, at least gave its laid-off employees some time to say their goodbyes.
Also, last week, I mentioned Discord’s acquisition of Gas, the anonymous polling app that went viral in high schools. I’ve since heard that Discord hopes Gas isn’t a one-off kind of deal; the company is currently looking to acquire more startups that are looking for an exit.
Meta, Trump, and middle managers
For anyone closely following Meta’s handling of Donald Trump’s account, it was no surprise that he would be allowed back on Facebook and Instagram now that his two-year ban expired. What caught me off guard, however, is the other changes that are coming with reinstating Trump. As policy chief Nick Clegg explained: Meta will be able to completely shut off the distribution of select posts, meaning even Trump's followers would have to go directly to his page to view content the company deems "borderline" but not in direct violation of its rules. (Yes, that is as squishy as it sounds.) Additionally, Meta is building the ability to turn off the reshare button on such posts.
The company says that this new power will only be used if Trump or another public figure posts something potentially dangerous that doesn't directly violate the rules. I’m of the opinion that platforms adding more nuance to how they practice content moderation is a good thing, but this is also introducing additional levers that I predict will put Meta’s leaders in uncomfortable situations down the road. Ultimately, product-level changes like this will have greater ramifications than whatever Trump does or doesn't post. As someone involved in this week's Trump decision told me: "What happens from here on is more interesting than what happened today."
The handling of the decision also reflects how much the company has changed since 2016. Back then, Mark Zuckerberg would have announced something like this himself, and employees would post fiery comments about it internally on Workplace. This time, however, I’m told that Zuckerberg was consulted but ultimately let Clegg make the final call. And the comments were turned off underneath Clegg’s internal announcement on Workplace.
Elsewhere in Metaland, employees are bracing for a reduction in middle managers. Chief product officer Chris Cox first addressed the need to "flatten" the organizational structure in an internal Workplace post earlier this month.
During an internal employee Q&A last week, Mark Zuckerberg went into more detail, saying that managers should not be rewarded for creating larger teams: "I don't think you want a management structure that's just managers managing managers, managing managers, managing managers, managing the people who are doing the work." If you read between the lines, the implication is that more layoffs are coming.
Staying on the topic of efficiency, Zuckerberg also mentioned that work is underway to build AI tools, similar to ChatGPT, that are trained on Meta's codebase to assist engineers with basic coding internally. He suggested that such AI tools could eventually help non-engineers, though it sounded like that is still far from reality.
A special visitor at Twitter
A recent visit by Emil Michael to Twitter HQ has stirred an office rumor that Elon Musk is considering the ex-Uber chief business officer to be CEO. On paper, the idea actually makes a lot of sense: Michael and Musk have known each other for a long time, they are politically aligned, and given his experience, Michael would be a logical choice if Twitter is going to rely on more fundraising to stay alive or eventually go public again. He has also been putting himself out in the press more, which suggests he is ready to move past the optics of his scandal-laden departure from Uber in 2017.
I looked into Michael’s meeting with Musk at Twitter and have learned that, while they did discuss business ideas for the company, the idea of Michael being CEO didn’t come up. Musk has said he will give the CEO title to someone else “foolish enough” to take it, though like Twitter’s revenue, that list of possible names grows smaller by the day.
The ad industry versus Apple
I spent the beginning of this week in Marco Island, Florida, for the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual summit, where leaders from across the digital ads industry gathered to talk about the year ahead. The big takeaway? Apple is Public Enemy No. 1.
“While there are no shortage of extremists attacking our industry from the outside, there are some attacking it from the inside out,” said IAB CEO David Cohen in his opening remarks while standing in front of a graphic of a rotting apple on a massive, 8K LED wall. “Most notably, Apple exemplifies the cynicism and hypocrisy that underpins the prevailing extremist view.”
There is a cynical take on either side of this debate. Yes, Apple has used its platform control to unilaterally kneecap its competitors while it is at the same time ramping up its own advertising efforts. The company makes next to no effort to work with the rest of the industry. There was only one Apple employee in attendance at IAB this year. At the same time, there is little incentive to talk about the problems beset by Google and Meta — the antitrust lawsuits, the record privacy settlements, etc. — when they are flagship IAB members and out in full force at the conference. Meta chief privacy officer Erin Egan went onstage immediately after Cohen to pitch the room on why “we need to delight people with the story of personalized ads.”
I was there for an onstage chat with metaverse expert Matthew Ball. We expounded on his latest essay explaining why VR and AR headsets are taking longer to go mainstream than everyone thought. I recommend reading it if you’re interested in the topic and not just because he name-checks me twice.
A few other things I heard from the stage, in the halls, and at the hotel bar at IAB:
- The prevailing rumor is that Google will again delay its replacement for third-party cookies in Chrome.
- After Insider reported that Apple is looking for a sales executive for streaming video, I’ve confirmed that early work is underway to bring ads to its TV service, though I’m unclear if that means a new tier or not.
- Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel onstage responding to the CNET AI scandal: “We will never have an article written by a machine.”
A big reorg at Spotify in connection with its layoffs: Alex Norström and Gustav Söderström are co-presidents with chief content officer Dawn Ostroff departing. While CEO Daniel Ek praised Ostroff in his memo, it’s widely known that the two didn’t really get along, so I’m not surprised to see her leaving.
- Some new leaders at Reddit: Harold Klaje is the new global president of ads, Ori Schnaps joined from Meta to be VP of core product engineering, and Milana Cullagh joined from Coinbase to be VP of legal. (Reddit also just did layoffs.)
Tian Lim has left Google to be Roblox’s new VP of product for creators.
- Snap product veteran Will Wu is leaving.
- Ty Ahmad-Taylor left Meta to be Snap’s VP of product marketing.
- Fraser Kelton, OpenAI’s head of product, is leaving to be an investor.
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next Thursday with a special report. In the meantime, if you have any feedback, questions, or tips, please reach out. You can respond to this email or ping me on just about any messaging app at 502-572-8619.
Lastly, if you liked what you read, please forward this email to a friend. In lieu of an online archive (we’re working on it), last week’s edition is viewable at this link.