Monday, 22 July 2013
July has been a rough month for tech blogs. Robin Wauters, a talented startup reporter, announced just now that he has been let go from The Next Web. Brad McCarty is also out the door. But they’re not the only ones.
Wauters wouldn’t be drawn on the subject and I don’t know McCarty, but I am told by those in the know that both Alex Wilhelm, who posted obliquely on the subject last week, and one other (very senior) person I can’t name yet are leaving the site, too.
They join Matt Brian, Jamillah Knowles, Anna Heim and Amalie Agathou as people who either left or were fired from TNW already this year. If you spot a trend there, you’re right: all the good reporters are going or gone.
“I have no clue which direction they plan to go,” says one source. “They’re clearly not profitable nor able to keep talent. [TNW] is going to stop covering news though, that at least I know.”
Meanwhile, PandoDaily has been humiliated in the most abject manner, immediately after having to deny claims that it has already burned through all its funding.
Let me be clear: I take no pleasure in any of this news after my own horror story earlier this year. If anything, it’s simply another cautionary tale about how hard it is to make a media business work.
I believe it comes down to quality, integrity and strong editorial direction. These sites aren’t turning a profit because they aren’t providing a good enough overall product.
If there’s any light on the horizon here, let it be more media entrepreneurs betting the farm on quality, rather than rehashed press releases and made-up news.
Because, if you ask me – quite aside from various financial woes – readers are getting pretty sick of the sloppiness, contempt for basic journalistic ethics and downright terrible writing that has plagued technology journalism for so long.
Monday, 15 April 2013
I have today been appointed writer-in-residence at Axel Springer’s new Plug&Play Accelerator in Berlin. It’s a cool project – more credible and considered, it seems to me, than Telefónica’s efforts in Munich and London – and I have some experience of working (and playing) with the ebullient Robin Haak, among others. I think it will be fun.
The full press release is pasted below, for those interested.
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Sunday, 14 April 2013
I’m in the south of France, on a post-MIP creative retreat with a hand-picked group of technology entrepreneurs, television commissioners, network producers, actors, entertainment professionals and, later this week, a media-minded MP. We’re discussing TV formats, trends in media and ideas for new media business models in a villa nestled in the beautiful, mountainous French countryside above Tourrettes-sur-Loup.
And it occurs to me how dramatically the technology industry would be transformed, were founders to shake off the limitations of self-regard and spend their downtime with great minds from other worlds. The number of thrilling new business ideas discussed casually over Bordeaux and pâté is remarkable. It’s a testament to the organiser, my friend Robert Loch, that such catalysis is going on.
Then again, the space for this sort of thing is still wide open, because the entertainment industries are crying out for innovation and expertise from technology. The posers in the TechCrunch beauty parade haven’t the faintest idea how to interface with such enormous and lucrative industries and markets, so consumed are they by photo-sharing, by social networking and by congratulating themselves at shoddy conferences and laughably amateurish awards ceremonies.
Not least among the many reasons for start-up failure, it seems to me, is this utter lack of imagination, ambition and, yeah, sex appeal. We can do better. A little modesty is called for: rather than the frankly desperate cult of “disruption” and its systemic disdain for the content industries (and just about everyone else), entrepreneurs would do well to take a moment and try learning from those they arrogantly suppose their platforms and APIs are set to displace.
The future is more complex – and collaborative – than you think.
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
As friends will know already, Berlin is rapidly becoming my home from home. Part of the reason is the extraordinary friends I have made there, particularly in hy! founders Hans Raffauf and Aydo Schosswald.
I’m thrilled that Hans & Aydo have this week given me an excuse to spend even more time in the city I love by asking me to come on board as Editorial Director of their terrific invitation-only event series.
I’ll be helping to put the programme together for an event I already know and love. Axel Springer-backed hy! is by far and away the most credible and inspiring gathering of entrepreneurs and creatives in Europe. I look forward to contributing to its ongoing success.
I’m moving to Berlin full-time, with immediate effect. I’ll still be writing regularly for the usual complement of European & US newspapers, magazines and websites – but a bit less often.
Thursday, 4 April 2013
We have to talk. This thing you’ve been doing, it has to stop. When I ask you for a recommendation for an app, or a restaurant, or a new brand of toothpaste, I do not need to know that the CEO is a personal friend of yours. We all have impressive-sounding address books because this industry is the size of a postage stamp. So cut it out.
Seriously. It’s like a sickness. (Before I go on, let me just get one thing out of the way: it’s an illness I have periodic and obnoxious bouts of too. This post is partly an attempt to shame myself out of bad habits.)
It impresses no one. It adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence and it just makes me think the speakers are cocks who locate way too much self-esteem in utterly fucking unimportant things. And that makes me sad, because I know they’re not cocks. That’s why they’re my friends.
Is there any industry as pathologically addicted to name-dropping as the start-up world? I only ask because this particular epidemic seems to be spiralling way out of control. You see, I was talking about this last night to two dear friends of mine who are chief executives of two of the most successful British internet start-ups. I won’t name names but you’ve probably heard of them.
There are always outliers and eccentrics: blow-hards who swank and bullshit their way through, fibbing and flirting to get what they want. Like Julie Meyer. She’s kind of a big deal. (I can introduce you, if you want.) But seriously: when did “Oh, and she’s a really good friend of mine” become as necessary to the end of a sentence as a full stop?
I don’t need to know who people know - if they even actually really do – at every possible opportunity. When I ask how they are, I don’t need to know the name of the hotel they’ve just checked out of, as if that’s somehow relevant, or which class they flew home in. (Don’t even get me started on airport lounge bragging.) I don’t need to know that they were speaking at a conference; that they were there is all the information I need. Even that is often unnecessary.
At it’s simplest, this behaviour is a class giveaway. These are working class-nerds on the make – or, in some cases, achingly nouveau wide-boys desperate to show off because they’re so insecure about their newly acquired social standing. Beta males to a man and hating every minute of it. We get it, you had no friends at school. My friend Anthony, who used to be Mark Cuban’s PA, and I were laughing about this with Tim Ferriss at a dinner in San Francisco in 2010. Ferriss picked up the check.
At times it can seem as though the technology industry is one big happy family. Except, as we all know, it isn’t.
The problem with all this constant public back-slapping, self-congratulation and obsequiousness is two-fold: first, that you forget the almost preternatural power of a subtle, private endorsement from someone with serious clout. Like that time the president of a huge American foundation who’s on the board of like seven multinational corporations, and who is now a friend and fan, put in a good word for me with some conference I wanted to speak at.
Or that time I was at a dinner with Steve Ballmer opposite. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I know Larry Ellison does because his office got in touch to invite me to lunch in Redwood City. I don’t think I ever got back to them because I was invited to a private island for a meditation retreat with the cast of a US TV show. That was a fun summer.
Second, when everyone’s being nice to each other and praising everyone else, no one is really saying anything, are they? It’s a bit like politics, where the rows are all basically bollocks because the whole Establishment is run by a tiny elite who all went to the same schools and who don’t really disagree on anything. I’ll bring this up when I have dinner again with the leader of the UK’s third largest political party. He’s a hoot!
If it’s not a pat on the back or a bit of self-aggrandisement, no one wants to know. You see, the tech industry has inherited oppressive thought police culture without the style or substance even of politics. (That’s a good line, actually; I might mention it the next time I’m in the House of Commons. I dated an MP, you know.) Nor does it have the effete charm of the fashionista who air-kisses and daaaaaahlinks! her way through a cocktail party. Nor, even, of the movie industry, where at least mutual compliments are passable because everyone’s so damned good looking.
This reminds me of the time I was couch-surfing in Beverly Hills in 2008 and at a pool party just off Mulholland I was talking to a really cute guy for about an hour outside by the pool and we nearly made out and it suddenly dawned on me that it was Tobey Maguire. At least I think it was Maguire; it could have been Gyllenhaal. Whoever it was, he offered me coke. I was shocked, and said no.
The tragic irony of all this saccharine sucking-up is of course that the characters at the top of the air-kissing tree are such grim, sociopathic bastards. Except the ones who are my friends, of course, who are really just very misunderstood. I just wish people would be honest, like Aaron Levie from Box. I met him in 2010. He gave me his business card.
I wouldn’t have brought all this up but I thought a touch of comic verisimilitude might help me make my point.
I mean, to drop such things gratuitously would be appallingly gauche.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
I’ve written a long piece for Slashdot’s original content channel on Google’s new wearable computers. You can read the whole thing here.
Consumer hardware may not yet have the power to capture and process olfactory search terms, but it is more than capable of augmenting sight. Thus we have been gifted Google’s latest, most horrendous idea: a wearable, Internet-enabled computer it has christened “Glass,” but whose inelegant aesthetic is better represented by the product’s goofy unofficial moniker, “Google Goggles.”
It’s an audacious product for a company no one trusts to behave responsibly with our data: a pair of glasses that can monitor and record the world around you. But they do so much more than that. Let’s not beat about the bush here: these specs are a thing of wonder. They can email, take pictures, record video, provide walking or driving directions, conduct searches, translate signs… the possibilities are endless.
But if Glass becomes as ubiquitous as the iPhone, are we truly to believe that Google will not attempt to abuse that remarkable power?
Thursday, 21 March 2013
I’m reading a lot at the moment. I’ll post extracts from time to time that I’ve found helpful or enlightening. In the meantime, though, here’s something that simply made me giggle, from David Brooks’s The Social Animal. (I have always said that white middle class males are the real persecuted minority.)
Popular, good-looking and athletic children are the subjects of relentless abuse. While still young and impressionable, they are force-fed a diet of ugly duckling fables to which they cannot possibly relate. They are compelled to endure endless Disney movies that tell them that true beauty lies inside. In high school, the most interesting teachers favor the brainy students who are rendered ambitious by social resentments and who have time on Saturday nights to sit at home and develop adult-pleasing interests in Miles Davis or Lou Reed. After graduation the popular and good-looking have few role models save for local weathermen and game-show hosts, while the nerds can emulate any number of modern moguls, from Bill Gates to Sergey Brin. For as it is written, the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the Earth.
On a related and slightly more serious note, Bobo culture, together with the outrageous behaviour of technology companies, are the reason, I think, that the “geek” is becoming the most hated subculture on the planet – among ordinary people, that is.
Don’t be fooled by the tech press: geeks and tech entrepreneurs aren’t, and won’t ever be, cool. They have many virtues, but coolness isn’t one of them.
Friday, 3 February 2012
A common misconception about those awful people in the comment box who screech obscenities at journalists and toss insults as though they were green salad, whom we in the trade call trolls, is that they are sad old – or, indeed, young – men who sit in front of their computer screens in yellowing underpants muttering curses and slogans as they type. Actually, if you were to meet a troll, you probably wouldn’t notice anything odd about him. Or her. But one thing’s for sure: after five minutes, you’d be longing to fling yourself down the fire escape – anything to escape their company.
The dedicated troll is never amusingly eccentric. On the contrary, a troll is a 24-carat bore, someone who has spent years emptying parties with their “small talk”, but who now has the miraculous opportunity to force their way into a conversation. These creatures know they are hated, but because they are hiding behind inane pseudonyms, that doesn’t bother them.
They take delight in the literary equivalent of farting in a lift. Their odour is repulsive, but, when they step out into the lobby, they could hardly look more ordinary. Spruce pensioners with tidy comb-overs and UKIP membership cards in their blazer pockets; 35-year-old “indie kids” who still play bass guitar in dad’s garage; sour-faced primary school teachers who would rather people assume they were lesbians than admit that even the flashers in the park find them off-puttingly plain.
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Friday, 30 December 2011
Originally posted at Blottr.
Times were that you could pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and be simultaneously educated and entertained by their informative infographics, which were lovingly crafted from authoritative data and accompanied by judicious analysis. The key to success with these graphics was that they explained something about the data you might not have gleaned simply by looking at a column of numbers. The Economist, too, was pretty good at revealing trends and interesting correlations with clear, unfussy graphs.
Then something odd happened. The nationals started getting a taste for these fancy ways of explaining data. But in imitating the method, they forgot the purpose, and began to drizzle their pages in useless, stupid pie charts that added nothing to the written stories beside them. Were they just filler, to paper over declining ad sales? The question was asked at the time, and continues to be pertinent.
More likely is that the hubris of the newsroom – the “Who can do me one of those?” you so often hear from editors – led to generalist publications over-reaching themselves. Pick up any newspaper today – particularly, in the lst half-decade, the Independent, and you’ll see that the results can be gruesome.
The apotheosis of the trend toward explaining everything as if to children is seen on the BBC, particularly during elections. You might think it normal that a broadcast medium would rely more heavily on visual help, but, apparently, the population of the United Kingdom is now so breathtakingly stupid that they cannot digest even the simplest percentage or set of figures without a gaudy illustration of it looming over the presenter. The visuals are rarely instructive, and usually distracting.
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Wednesday, 14 December 2011
From an in-depth examination of how technology is reshaping our lives, to rumours on the entrepreneurial social scene, The Kernel will take on every question in business and technology.
On Monday, the first issue of The Kernel will go live. I say “issue”, but as a digital magazine we’ll be publishing articles throughout the month. Our big pieces and many of our features – the flagship essay, interviews and our digital “agony aunt” column – will, however, appear monthly. In the intervening periods, you can look forward to sharp, entertaining analysis from guest experts, who will attempt to explain how technology is changing our lives, and pieces by our regular columnists. Don’t expect a packed publication schedule right away: we’re about quality, not quantity.
Breaking news isn’t really our thing, which is why you won’t see a news section on the site. We think that market is crowded enough already. Instead, The Kernel will offer comment, reports, analysis and thoughtful and amusing writing about technology, media and business: long-form, high-quality content that gets people thinking. Some of our content is for those in the technology industry; other pieces have more general appeal. You can help us as we find our voice by letting us know which pieces you’re enjoying and which you’re not.
We’re big on entrepreneurs. Not just those in the Silicon Roundabout beauty parade – though we’re certainly covering them too, with tongues planted appropriately firmly in cheek – but the businesses and inventions you don’t hear so much about that promise to revolutionise industries, and the social, political and personal ramifications of technological innovation. We’re also about the people, places and ideas behind the headlines, which is why you’ll find a cheeky and irreverent Scene section about the individuals and events helping to usher in those disruptive ideas and products. There’s also an Editors’ Blog – a place for snappier, short-form content which will be updated more regularly by our senior writers.
But the website is only half the story. Our email bulletin, The Nutshell, is where much of the action will happen. What were the biggest stories this week? Who’s had a good week? Who’s had a week they’d rather forget? Who was spotted where, and with whom? The Nutshell comes out every Friday afternoon and contains intel, rumours, tips, sightings and speculation, as well as a round-up of the best content on the web, our own and from other blogs, newspapers and magazines.
There’s nothing else like The Nutshell in Europe. We think it’ll rapidly become the must-read weekly bulletin for anyone working in or interested in technology in Europe – which is why, in the future, The Nutshell will be a paid subscription. But if you sign up now, you’ll get it for free for the first three months and you’ll get the option of a discounted rate when we switch to a paid subscription model. We’ll also keep you posted on developments back at The Kernel. There’s no obligation beyond your first three free months, so go ahead and pop your email address in the box below.
You’ll be able to submit tips for inclusion in the newsletter if there’s something you’d like to see appear, whether it’s a brilliant article you’ve read this week or something juicy you’ve overheard at the office. Look out for the tips box on the website on Monday. Of course, everything you submit to us will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.
Mission statement and values
We believe that much of the purpose of journalism is to hold the powerful to account and to reveal facts and express opinions about which those in authority may be apprehensive or uncomfortable – not to act as a mouthpiece for others or a redrafting service for corporate press releases. We will scrutinise those in power, fairly and without fear or favour, but always with a consideration of public interest.
We will be transparent about our methods and honest about our mistakes. Our deep and excellent connections in the emerging technology industry mean that writing about people we know will be unavoidable, but we will disclose relevant conflicts and let readers decide whether our opinions are trustworthy. We encourage you to write to us, to comment on what we publish, and to write responses of your own, which we will point readers to if we consider them valuable contributions to the debate.
We also believe that scepticism and rigorous enquiry are central to the practice of journalism. Some of our writers hold very strong opinions. We see no shame in occasional contrariness when it is thought-provoking and well-argued, so we will encourage them to make their case forcefully, but with care, supported by appropriate evidence. No single writer or column should be interpreted as reflecting the opinion of The Kernel, and no writer is exempt from our exacting editorial standards and processes.
That doesn’t mean The Kernel has no opinions of its own: where there is consensus among our editorial board on a particular issue, we will use leading articles and editorials to express our view.
Finally, we believe that having a sense of humour is important. You can expect send-ups, satire, gentle teasing and even the occasional bit of coarse language from our columnists and on the Editors’ Blog. Technology is often not, in itself, a particularly enlivening subject, but we aim to make our writing entertaining as well as informative. As Kingsley Amis put it, “There’s little point in writing if you can’t annoy somebody.”
What you’ll see at kernelmag.com on Monday is a snapshot of the kind of content we think is lacking elsewhere. Much remains to be added and we look forward to soliciting the advice and contributions of our readers. Over the coming months, we will be adding new columnists, more staff writers and we will be listening to readers’ responses to our content. We are open to critiques of all kinds and we will be responsive to them.
So dive in on Monday, take a look around, and let us know what you think. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook to be kept up to date. And if something inspires you to write an article of your own, do get in touch.
Stephen Pritchard, Managing Editor
Milo Yiannopoulos, Editor-in-Chief
Monday, 12 December 2011
It’s the object of widespread ridicule from those not endlessly flattered and sucked up to with invitations to swanky drinks parties. It spent £55,000 on a website everyone hates and which fails to meet even the basic standards of modern web design. It is coming under increasing fire for shameless appropriation of others’ achievements.
But Tech City, the wasteful pet project of trendies in Downing Street that has so successfully used internet businesses in east London as PR for the Government, has already burned through at least £1million.
I was surprised at how small that number was, initially. But of course it doesn’t include all the other bits of Government chipping in to help, the extensive schmoozing going on overseas and God knows whatever else they’ve charged to someone else’s budget. Nor does it include the investment fund. So the real total cost is probably something like three times that amount. Think what three million quid would have done if simply given to Seedcamp to invest in start-ups!
Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I submitted in November, the annual budget of Tech City has been revealed today as well. £150,000 is set aside for marketing and communications. £250,000 for events. £220,500 on employing civil servants elsewhere in Government. And a little under £1.2million in staff and consultant costs.
These are staggering sums. How much of that is chief executive Eric van der Kleij’s salary, I wonder? (Tech City wouldn’t say: they’ve come up with an ingenious way to dodge FoI requests, and public accountability, by muddying the employment arrangements of their staff with contracts from PA Consulting and Grant Thornton.)
I ask again: what, precisely, has been accomplished with this massive splurge of cash?
Friday, 9 December 2011
My new online magazine covering technology, business and innovation from a European perspective will go live to the public on Monday, 19 December 2011. We’ve assembled an excellent set of writers and commissioned some fascinating and thought-provoking content from entrepreneurs, investors and academics.
We’ll be in open beta until January, at which point more content will drop, we’ll announce the full line-up of columnists, the design will be finalised and we’ll have a party. That’s all for now. See here and here for background.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Sometimes it helps to make a list of your friends and close contacts and rank them. I’ve been doing this for years. It really helps you prioritise. If you do it in a spreadsheet, you can colour-code them by friendship circle, which makes it easy to sort your friends for party invitations. I don’t know about you, but my personal friends and professional contacts are extremely similar lists. I guess that’s the case for most people these days. I actually use a database to manage this list now, so I can perform more complex sorting operations. You may like to consider that if you have lots of friends in overlapping circles. I can also categorise them by age, gender, sexuality, geography and income, which is also helpful for planning tables at dinner parties.
But recently I have been thinking about a more complex system that will enable me to define clusters of friends and their relative closeness to each other. A 3D rendering of my friend network would help enormously: I could pick particular geographies on the network for individual events. I imagine flicking between friend cluster view (in which I do not feature), which would appear like a spider web, and a flat spine-based layout with connections determined by, say, my ten closest friends. This isn’t another social network: more like a guest list tool on steroids. You’d have to enter a lot of data initially, but think how amazing the result would be. For example: when I fell out with someone, I could demote them or pull them from the network entirely and watch the whole map adjust in real time. Likewise, after a holiday that brought me closer to a particular person, I could up their ranking and the spine-based view would change.
This all sounds a bit high school, I know: but isn’t that how we all still operate really? And what a brilliant way of never forgetting important people, which those of us who plan lots of dinners and parties do all the time. Note that this web is created manually, by me, so I have control, unlike Facebook and the associated attempts which try to infer relationships and always get it hopelessly wrong. It’s more than worth my while to keep something like this up to date, and I’m willing to bet plenty of people would do it for the sheer hell of it. So why does this not exist? If it does, who’s building it? Do you want to help me put this together? If so, get in touch. The first network we build can be mine and I’ll happily publish it here as a social experiment.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Who am I to talk, right? I mean, who’s been more of a thorn in UKTI’s side than me, with the embarrassing Freedom of Information requests, the patronising “how it could have looked” pieces and the cattiness on Twitter? While my colleagues and friends got invited to swanky dos at the palace, I stayed home, uninvited and unloved because – as I imagined – I was the only one with the platform and temerity to say: hang on a minute. Is this really what Silicon Roundabout needs? It’s a shame UKTI don’t deal well with criticism, but given the awful circle-jerkery of European technology journalism, I can’t say I blame them for being a bit shocked.
But here’s the thing. While few have been more vocally critical of the Government’s Tech City Investment Organisation, its Tech City-branded website and events, the people, economics and philosophies behind it and the amount of money it spends, I have at least done so in articles published under my own name – even though it has not served my interests to do so. I don’t point this out to be self-congratulatory (as if!), but to make a point.
Yeah, I’ve been tough. I’ve been bitchy and sarcastic, too, because I think some of the claims made by UKTI are risible. That 600 figure is a joke, and it deserved to be mocked. But the bile streaming out of this new, pseudonymous @TechShitty account, set up last night, of which I am but one of many victims, is neither constructive nor even entertaining. It’s just trolling, from someone with neither the wit and wisdom to make devastating critiques, nor the courage to identify themselves. The tweets from this account are sufficiently wide of the mark that you can tell this person doesn’t really know any of the people or businesses he’s sniping at. Thus, while some valid points might be made about the Tech City initiative, gratuitously vicious remarks like the one above render the whole account impotent.
So, if you give a damn about making things better, about reducing unnecessary Government expenditure and dialing down the media spin, overblown rhetoric and outright lies through constructive – even if sometimes harsh – criticism and dialogue, do what I just did, and unfollow @TechShitty. Then log in to your own blog, or Tumblr, or whatever, and write something that expresses what you really feel. Because only when we’re more honest about what the Government is really achieving with our money in east London, and have the courage to put our own names underneath what we write, is there any hope of change.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
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.