Since The Kernel returned to your computer screens last year, reimagined as a tabloid magazine that would treat the web as a cultural phenomenon, rather than simply a technological or economic marvel, we’ve broken some of the most important news and told some of the best stories it’s possible to read anywhere on the internet.
Our stories have appeared everywhere, from the BBC to Time; from Gawker to ABC News. On a modest budget and with a small but ferociously dedicated team, we educated and entertained some 500,000 people a month.
During that time, we watched and admired another, similar publication flourish. The Daily Dot describes itself as the internet’s paper of record, and the team over there are doing extraordinarily brilliant work in approaching the communities and stories from and about the internet as people-centric news, instead of the same old boring and hopeless tech coverage you get everywhere else.
Sooner or later, it was inevitable that the two companies would discuss pooling their resources, sharing what they had learned with one another and becoming, through the combination of their expertise, more than the sum of their parts.
To realise that vision, as reported by the London Evening Standard this morning, we have sold The Kernel to Daily Dot Media. From 1 February 2014, our team will report to Austin, Texas, while The Kernel’s brand and assets will be rolled gradually into the Daily Dot’s core product. Shortly after that, I will step down as Editor-in-Chief of The Kernel to pursue other projects.
None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary hard work and loyalty of my team, the generosity and hospitality of the Daily Dot and, most importantly, you, the reader. You voted with your feet to demonstrate that quality journalism – important news, great stories and sharply-written commentary – can still excite people in the age of Buzzfeed.
Together, The Daily Dot and The Kernel will offer a compelling blend of deep-dive investigative reporting, entertaining features and gripping human interest stories. I look forward to tracking their successes and I hope you’ll join me.
As most readers will know by now, The Kernel is back. We go live on Monday, 12 August: in 62 days.
I thought I’d explain a bit more about where we’re headed, because there was a fun piece in the Independent on Sunday about our return but I’m not sure it made clear, as I’d like it to have done, that we’re making some changes to the way The Kernel looks, sounds and operates.
At its best, The Kernel was a mixture of whimsical, satirical fun-poking and serious, thought-provoking comment. With the journalists we’ve invited back this time, we’re holding on to that feeling of cerebral mischief while excising some of the more, say, vindictive excesses of the past.
That’s one of the reasons The Nutshell, our runaway success subscription newsletter, is not returning.
The other is that The Kernel in its new incarnation will be a more middle-brow, mass-market product than before. I won’t claim we’ll never again shine a spotlight on the hubris and absurdity of the Tech City project, or Europe’s bland and derivative tech blogosphere, but in general our mantra is to punch up, not down, and do so in a way that is intelligible to ordinary people.
With that in mind, we’ll be concentrating on more policy and governmental journalism, explaining and analysing the frictions that occur between the fear and control freakery of government and the disorientating pace of advance and innovation in the private sector.
We’ll also be covering more of the research, discoveries and businesses that matter to civilisation. If we were occasionally a little pessimistic in the past, that’s largely because we focused on the petri dish of the east London internet industry, leaving infinitely more transformative stories from the worlds of artificial intelligence, robotics and politics untold.
I’m particularly excited about our renewed focus on psychology and neuroscience. Whilst scrupulously avoiding the charge of windbaggery we will make more space for academic discussion. Then, of course, there’s the small matter of internet culture and online celebrity, which is in our blood and will be returning with aplomb.
Besides that, you can expect comment, analysis and investigative work in technology, media and politics, in particular in the areas of addiction, art, morality, sexuality, body engineering, augmented reality, love, sex, death, money and every other important corner of life that technology is touching and changing.
In short, we’re returning to our original mission: a blend of Vanity Fair, the Spectator, the Daily Mail, the Economist and the National Enquirer for tech: a funny, feisty, clever and compelling blend of satire, opinion and expertise that entertains as it informs: the one truly unmissable tech publication in a sea of derivative bilge.
My favourite technology PR firm, Ballou PR, which focuses on high-growth technology and health IT clients, has sold its US operations to MWW Group. Founder Colette Ballou told me that the firm’s focus will now be on Europe, and that expansion into other countries, either organic or by acquisition, is on the cards for 2012. I guess she’ll be using the cash from this sale. Ballou will continue to offer services in the US through its new partner MWW Group.
Colette’s firm has added several prestigious clients to its roster lately, including Twilio, Eventbrite, Evernote, Seatwave, Ostrovok, Marin Software, Care.com and goBalto, rapidly establishing itself as one of the leading emerging tech PR firms in Europe. Recently the company’s focus has shifted from start-ups to higher-growth businesses.
Silicon Alley Insider, which broke the news, quoted Colette as saying the acquisition was “a nice liquidity event”. (But no, she wouldn’t tell me what the deal was worth either.) What she neglected, out of modesty, to say to SAI is that this was the second exit in two weeks for the European technology power couple she is one half of – Colette’s boyfriend Max Niederhofer sold his company, Qwerly, to Fliptop three weeks ago.
So lovely news all round in the Ballou-Niederhofer household. I can’t wait to see what they get us all for Christmas!
Disclosure: Colette and Max are friends of mine. Her firm has represented me in the past and I once briefly consulted for them.
I’m delighted to share with you today a bit more information about the editorial vision behind my new project. I’ll be revealing who’s behind it in the coming weeks: we are adding new team members all the time! And I’d like also to invite those people who want to contribute to the magazine to submit their pitches this week.
So here’s our boilerplate.
******* is a quality online magazine that publishes the best writing about complex contemporary issues: principally, the way technology is rapidly changing our lives. We commission long-form reviews, comment pieces and essays from the best writers and thinkers we can find. Our focus is on the people, places, events and ideas that are refashioning the world around us.
We embrace controversy and unpopular opinions provided they are thought-provoking and well-argued. We are enthusiastic about software and the internet but we realise there’s a lot more to technology than just web and mobile.
Our writing is authoritative, sharply argued, thoroughly edited and often funny. We love discovering and nurturing new writers and sharing intelligent views and inside information gleaned from our deep and excellent connections in the industry.
Because the emerging technology industry is small, there’s a shortage of brilliant, opinionated writers with the wit and intelligence to make people smile, and, more importantly, think. The ones who are out there, for whatever reason, are not getting jobs. Instead, we have a glut of rather embarrassingly illiterate bloggers who, in their competitiveness for pageviews, feel pressurised into churning out rewrites of press releases and other people’s posts, occasionally over-reaching themselves to pen opinion pieces.
Start-ups have become conditioned to this cult of the mediocre, but it’s time to snap them out of it. Entrepreneurs who aspire to refashion the world around them deserve writing just as audacious and thought-provoking as their own ambitions. Unfortunately, as the technology sector in Europe has expanded, the quality of commentary around it has failed to keep up.
Depressing, isn’t it. Where are the columnists, the brave iconoclasts? The people who can make insightful links between technology and other disciplines, draw distinctions, see revealing connections? Why aren’t they being given platforms? And who is providing founders and venture capitalists themselves with a platform to share their expertise in pieces whose appeal reaches beyond the tech blogosphere? (Such an endeavour admittedly requires a patient editor. I’ve tried to do it once before, and it went down exceedingly well, but it was for a one-off project.)
Where, too, are the sketch-writers, the gossip columnists, the people writing about the people, places and events that shape the headlines? Fundamentally, people are interested in people, and we don’t hear nearly enough about the faces behind the technology that is so rapidly changing our world.
Regular readers will know that I leave serious reporting to the likes of Tim Bradshaw at the FT and the inimitable Mike Butcher. Love those guys. But frankly, for me, slavishly reporting on funding rounds and acquisitions and paying obeisance to the cult of UKTI is just too fucking tedious.
So I like to write about what’s going on around the edges of the technology scene in Europe: the people, places, events and ideas that are behind the dry reportage and which silently shape the headlines.
In some circles it’s considered bad form to review books in which you appear. Fortunately for you, I don’t move in those circles. Because as one of this volume’s (admittedly minor) characters, I’m better placed than most to verify what might otherwise appear a wildly implausible series of ludicrous drunken adventures.
The Icelandic rock stars. The near-death experience with Spanish drug dealers. The hairdressers’ convention. The 6,000 mile booty call. In short: yes, it’s all true.
Paul Carr has forged a surprisingly stable career out of his alcohol-fuelled antics, failed relationships, friendship with infamous London entrepreneur, networker and mischief-maker Robert Loch and his opinions about the latest internet technology. But despite weighing in provocatively on privacy, copyright and media issues in his TechCrunch column, his forte has always been writing about himself, which is the singular subject of both of his books to date. Even more surprisingly, he manages to be fresh and entertaining without slipping into limp Hunter S. Thompson burlesque.
People need attention: it’s a normal and healthy part of life. And getting attention is marvellous: it makes you feel smart, sassy and confident and leads you to perform better in life, at work and in the bedroom. But guess what? Your start-up is no different! It too needs nurturing to perform at peak efficiency. So how do you make your start-up feel like the prettiest girl in the room?
If you’re in the early stages of building a B2C product, you know that capturing people’s imaginations by explaining to them why they absolutely have to sign up to your beta is critical to your future. But there’s a problem, right? At precisely the time in your company’s lifecycle that you need a bunch of users to prove your model, you can least afford so-called luxuries like PR. Why shorten your runway, goes the thinking, when you could be ploughing the cash into developer time?
On the outskirts of a regional city in Britain – Bristol, perhaps – two hundred people gather to discuss “radical engagement strategies”. They are oddballs: a mixture of chippy girls with unruly fringes and sweaty, overweight blokes with bits of burger stuck in their beards. They fire cheap jibes at the Microsoft event they’re sharing a building with, and from which they’ve nicked a few chairs – a fact they crow about on Twitter as if it were some sort of victory over the “evil” corporation.
These are the social media gurus, a rag-tag crew of blood-sucking hucksters who are infesting companies of all sizes, on both sides of the Atlantic, blagging their way into consultancy roles and siphoning off valuable recession-era marketing spend to feed their comic book addictions. They claim to be able to improve your relationships with your customers by “executing 360 degree reignition programs”. But who are these people? Where did they come from? And how on earth have they managed to hoodwink so many big companies so quickly and so comprehensively?