This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
The talking and texting app Discord is popular with video gamers who use it to plot strategy for blowing up virtual enemies.
But Mieke Göttsche and Bianca Visagie, avid readers from South Africa, use Discord for hosting thoughtful book club discussions.
I spoke with Göttsche and Visagie to better understand the appeal of Discord and why it has been in deal talks with Microsoft for a transaction that could top $10 billion. Talking through how their book club uses the app helped me to better understand what the fuss is about.
They said that they had considered hosting book discussions on Zoom and tried Instagram group gatherings, but Discord was the ideal combination of flexible, collaborative and relatively easy to use.
“Discord seemed to be the most expansive, and we could talk about multiple topics at once,” said Göttsche, who is 25 and completing her master’s degree in children’s and young adult literature.
Like group texts with family — but organized
Göttsche and Visagie walked me through how their Read Better Book Club uses Discord. Think of the app as like running group texts with your family members, except meticulously organized by topic and with options to seamlessly jump from text to voice chat.
Each month’s book selection has its own text thread, called a channel. The women subdivide each book into four parts, and participants hop on Discord at the same time each Monday to discuss the chapters, mostly in furious back-and-forths of texts and emojis.
“I sit in my bed each Monday at 11 p.m. and chat about books that I love,” Visagie, who is 24 and lives outside Johannesburg, told me in a conversation in Discord.
Quiet members are welcome, too
Göttsche and Visagie tell participants that they should feel free to just observe. That’s more welcoming for some readers. (A library in Ontario hosts a text-based “Introverts Book Club” on Discord.)
Within their book club, there are multiple channels, including one for members to tell a little about themselves, and another for those who play the collaborative online game Among Us to have group voice calls about what’s happening.
The channel “Currently Reading” hosts discussions of books other than that month’s selection. Recently there was a debate about whether it’s worthwhile to keep slogging through books or add them to a “DNF” (did not finish) pile.
With tools to hide spoilers
They also make use of a feature on Discord to avoid ruining plot twists. One club member asked in “Currently Reading” whether anyone had read “Legendborn,” a young adult fantasy novel. Visagie replied that she had, with details of what she thought of the book — but she opted to blackout her text so people didn’t see spoilers. Only people who clicked on Visagie’s post could read her full message.
Discord is most commonly used by video gamers to collaborate on multiplayer games, but people also use its screen sharing feature to play board games and students have used it to work together on homework. (Discord has also struggled with people using its app for harm.)
A ‘saving grace’ during a tough year
Göttsche and Visagie both blog about books and started the club last year when they found that pandemic life left them less able to remember and digest what they were reading.
Like many others who found virtual communities in the last year, the book club proved especially valuable as normal life was disrupted. Göttsche finished her master’s program in Ireland mostly virtually. And Visagie has put on hold her plan to move to China after she recently finished her master’s degree.
“I miss the physical interaction,” Visagie said, “but the digital book club was a saving grace in the pandemic.”
Intel goes big
Intel, one of America’s pioneering technology companies, has lately fallen on its face. Competitors raced ahead in producing the most cutting edge computer chips. It got so bad that Intel lobbied the U.S. government for taxpayer help, and it seemed possible that the company might stop manufacturing at least some of its chips. Can you imagine if Ford had to outsource making cars to Toyota?
But on Tuesday, Intel did something bold. Instead of throwing in the towel on computer chip manufacturing, Intel said it would do the opposite: Go bigger.
The company said it will spend $20 billion to build two new chip factories in Arizona. And in a surprise, my colleague Don Clark wrote, Intel plans to start taking orders to manufacture computer chips for other companies. That’s something that the global chip kings in Taiwan and South Korea do.
Intel’s choice could prove smart or misguided. We’ll see. But you’ve gotta give Intel some credit for chutzpah. We want giant companies to take risks that could pay off — to help themselves, sure, but hopefully that will trickledown into better products for the rest of us.
The timing isn’t bad, either. For both political and business reasons, this may be an ideal moment to go bigger in computer chip manufacturing.
Government officials in the United States and Europe have gotten nervous about pandemic-related shortages of computer chips. They believe that industries and militaries would have more reliable supplies if more chips were made inside their borders and not in Asia.
Intel is essentially promising to give those governments what they want, and the company wants something in return. Don reported that Intel hopes to negotiate with the Biden administration and other governments to get help paying for those chip factories.
Before we go …
A financial service that fails to protect people’s money: What happens when young companies are sometimes not good at the basics? My colleague Kellen Browning wrote about horror stories of people whose accounts with the cryptocurrency savings app Coinbase were frozen or plundered by attackers, and they said they couldn’t get Coinbase’s help.
A stabbing in Israel that challenges online speech rights: American internet companies have legal protections for what their users say online. But my colleague David McCabe examines a novel legal argument that the powerful algorithms used by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter could make them complicit in offline crimes.
Selling a New York Times column, for journalism: My colleague Kevin Roose explains the mania for NFTs, a type of digital collectible that is the newest frontier in the cryptocurrency gold rush. Kevin turned his column into an NFT and will auction it off for charity.
Hugs to this
This aging pet spider had a hard time walking up to its favorite plant hangout spot. A little spider ramp helped it find its way. (Thanks to my colleague Adam Pasick for spotting this one. And uhhh, don’t click on it if you’re weirded out by spiders.)
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at [email protected]
If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here.