When criticism turns to hate: the case for unfollowing @TechShitty

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.

 

The BBC would change if we had Veronica’s courage

Thursday, 17 November 2011

This column originally appeared in The Catholic Herald

Horrific though the revelations are about Christians being persecuted abroad, and frustrating though it is that David Cameron seems focused on denying aid to countries intolerant of homosexuality, as opposed to those in which believers are being murdered, there are just as many reasons to be depressed about what Christians – and Catholics in particular – are suffering at home.

We recently reported on the case of Veronica Connelly, the Catholic grandmother who refused to pay her licence fee because she was so appalled at the output from our state broadcaster, the BBC. Her principled stand should be applauded. Though she is likely to lose her final appeal in the European Court of Human Rights, Mrs Connelly’s brave actions reflect a growing consensus among the silent majority of Britons concerned about the secularisation of our culture and the increasingly debauched values of this taxpayer-funded media organisation.

On these pages, I have often praised popular culture, while drawing attention to its occasionally pernicious influence. But for the BBC to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera, a worthless and blasphemous epic of smut and disrespectfulness, showed – as long ago as 2002 – that its values are now entirely at odds with those of the British people, and that it no longer takes its commitment to public service broadcasting seriously, preferring to sneer at religion and trample over the boundaries of decency. And there was me, thinking that’s why we have Channel 4.

 

Ballou PR Sells US Operations To MWW Group

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.

 

Brian Paddick: Clegg and Cable ‘owe me big time’

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Liberal Democrats asked that this profile be removed from where it was originally published, citing “homophobia”. The publisher in question complied. So I am preserving it here.

“I have access to some of the most important people in Government,” says Brian Paddick. “In order to get London a good deal, I want to call in some favours. And I’m telling you: they owe me big time.”

Last week, LONDON24.com published the results of a poll that placed Paddick, the gay ex-cop turned politico, ahead of both of his rivals. It turns out that only 775 people voted in the poll, and that the second choice of LONDON24’s visitors was the Green Party’s also-ran Jenny Jones, so I doubt Boris and Ken will have lost much sleep over this particular show of hands. But Paddick is optimistic about his chances to make an impact on the election, and when I sat down with him at the Liberal Democrats’ London headquarters last week, he was at pains to stress how seriously he is taken by political commentators of all stripes and that, even if beating Boris will be very difficult, he might well come second in the 2012 race, given the number of second-preference votes he is likely to get.

That would be deliciously embarrassing for Ken Livingstone, but many will find the prospect of Brian Paddick a hair’s breadth from the mayoralty troubling. This, after all, is the man who bared his buttocks, in a queasily exhibitionist display of gay triumphalism, on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. He was the only contestant to shower naked, and his explanation, “I had a shower like I always have a shower,” does not – to coin a phrase – hold much water. He is surely not that naïve about life in the public eye – particularly if his exquisitely thorough media training is anything to go by. Rather, it was surely a deliberate, publicity-seeking stunt, and one that, rightly or wrongly, has harmed his electoral prospects – as did the slightly grotesque snog-fest with his boyfriend that we were treated to after his eviction. Paddick’s appearance on the show did not do the sort of reputational damage that loveable old slap-head George Galloway’s did after Celebrity Big Brother (who can forget that cat impression?), but it is hardly edifying, in retrospect, for a man who would be mayor.

 

More information about my new publication, and a call for submissions

Monday, 14 November 2011

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. 

Our favourite phrase is: think bigger.

 

Skimlinks closes $4.5m funding round led by Bertelsmann

Monday, 14 November 2011

I don’t normally bother with funding stories, but since the chief exec of Skimlinks is my best friend I don’t think she’d forgive me if I didn’t point out some happy news. VentureBeat reports that Alicia Navarro’s affilate marketing company, which has offices in London, San Francisco and New York, has closed a $4.5m funding round, let by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments.

This comes hot off the heels of Skimlinks’s acquisition of Atma Links in October. I couldn’t be prouder of my Leithy and her awesome co-founder Joe.

 

Back to Black(Berry)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

As with so many significant relationships in my life, my love affair with the white iPhone 4 has come to a juddering halt just as it was getting started.

I don’t understand how anyone can use an iPhone as their primary mobile phone. You can’t type on it, the apps are a hideous time sink, the call quality is dreadful (I like to phone people), the battery life is non-existent and iOS 5′s messaging service is a very poor imitation of BlackBerry Messenger. This bitch is going data-only.

Despite RIM’s recent and embarrassingly mismanaged service outages, at least I get a usable signal with a Bold. And BlackBerry remains the only credible choice for those of us who have to type thousands of words a day away from a computer: the keyboard is unparalleled. So there you go. Friends can re-add me to BlackBerry Messenger with the usual email address.

 

Happy birthday to a dear friend

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Not everyone – including some who arguably deserve it even more (I’m more grateful than I can say to a handful of people who have supported me through the ups and downs of the last twelve months) – gets this sort of treatment. But since I found out, before the event, which is atypical, that it’s my adored buddy’s birthday today, and given how kind, generous and, dare I say it, indispensable, Constantin Bjerke has been to me over the last year – man, it seems absurd that I’ve known Constantin for such a short time – I felt moved to once again break my rule about public congratulations to say bravo, and thank you, to a dear and cherished friend. Happy birthday, dude.

 

The etiquette of ‘live cast’ opera

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Last night, I saw a live cast of the Met’s stellar production of Siegfried at the Hackney Picturehouse. It was broadcast in HD, as “people’s diva” Renée Fleming, who hosted the show, enjoyed reminding us between acts – though I have to say, that grainy DVD set of the Met’s 90′s Ring is perfectly good enough for me.

The production was a triumph, even though some of Fabio Luisi’s musical decisions were a little odd. (He raced through the last few dozen bars at breakneck speed, robbing the final, throbbing harmonies of much of their dramatic clout.)

But what really fascinated me was how confused the audience were about how to deal with noisy neighbours and, especially, applause. Were we in the cinema? Or ought we to have been pretending to be in the opera house? Judging by the furtive glances round the auditorium, no one seemed quite sure to begin with. But after spending the best part of six hours with this discerning metropolitan crowd, I distilled what I guess must be the accepted norms of behaviour for these events.

 

Affiliate marketing industry still working hard to shake off its sleazy image

Friday, 4 November 2011

I was sent this by my friends at Skimlinks as an example of the sort of swanky dos they get invited to. Though I am reliably informed that very few women (or men) who attend these parties look much like those in the image below.

To misquote Loyd Grossman, what kind of a person would be tempted by a flyer like this?

 

It’s time to fix European technology journalism

Thursday, 3 November 2011

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.

 

Return of the living dead: Johann Hari heads back to the Independent

Thursday, 3 November 2011

This week the chill wind of redundancy blew through the offices of the Independent and the Evening Standard. So far, only 20 jobs are threatened. But no one believes that the downsizing will end there. This would be a tricky problem for Independent editor Chris Blackhurst under normal circumstances. But he has also painted himself – or been painted – into a nasty corner. For, however many hacks he has to “let go”, he has promised to welcome back Johann Hari, the most comprehensively disgraced journalist in the recent history of Fleet Street. “It will be like a zombie movie – the undead Hari waddling around our corridors looking for fresh young blood,” says one source.

The fat fraudster has deposited more than one foul-smelling mess in his old newspaper’s offices. For a start, there are more revelations of his near-psychotic fantasising to emerge. What will happen, for example, if a particular African charity chooses to tell the whole story of Johann’s dangerous and histrionic hissy fits in war-torn territory?

Second, Blackhurst has to face the protests of his own journalists, who feel insulted that they have been left to clear up the aforesaid messes made by the paper’s grossly overindulged wunderkind. Just this week, star Indie columnist Julie Burchill wrote a final article for the Indie in which she referred sardonically to Hari. It was censored, of course.

 

Blubbing and blackmail: g2i’s intriguing new approach to meeting start-ups

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Violet Elizabeth Bott’s got nothing on the g2i executive who just visited a start-up CEO friend of mine in Shoreditch. I’ll leave both her and the friend unnamed, for the sake of kindness. Here’s what my friend had to say afterwards:

Today I had a visit from a g2i representative. In her introductory speech, she claimed that g2i had raised £18 million since the programme began. I immediately pulled her up on this, saying that I don’t think the companies who have spent months of meetings, presentation writing and contract negotiating would agree to that claim. I also pointed out that 50% of that money probably relates to Huddle. The Huddle guys are friends of mine and I really couldn’t imagine them handing over credit for their funding to g2i.

Seconds later, the woman pulled out a tissue and began to cry. The crying continued for the rest of the meeting. I apologised and pointed out that I was merely providing feedback, and that I value initiatives like g2i and Tech City. Who wouldn’t want help with presentations and the funding process if they were new to this type of thing? I just didn’t like the way they positioned themselves or the claims they made.

She replied: “Who are Tech City?”

I realised I was giving feedback to the wrong person and apologised again. But the crying didn’t stop.

She then pulled out a form asking for my wage bill and funding amounts. She said she also required “proof”. My funding was undisclosed at the request of the investors, although, as their anonymity is now out of the bag, I did tell her their names. But I now have to write a letter confirming the company’s wage bill with supporting evidence. I don’t want to, but, since she was crying, I promised I would.

I don’t want to largely because I am sceptical about how this information will be used. We’re currently planning a series A round which will ultimately go public. I’m interested to see how much credit they’ll want to take for that.

Like I said, I think g2i is a valuable programme and has great alumni events (for which I’m almost certainly off the invite list now!). But I think that if g2i want to make bold claims they need to use stats from people who really believe g2i was the main contributor to gaining funding.

There’s also a presentation problem. When I joined the programme, I was told it would include mentoring from the likes of Brent Hoberman and Melanie Hayes (then of 4iP). That was the main factor for me signing up, in fact.

The sessions ended up being run by companies earning a commission on finding you funding. This was still not a major issue until I got to my first mentoring session and was told that there wasn’t really much they could do to help me and that I had it all in hand.

The session lasted around 10 minutes and a week or so later I received a ‘subsidised’ mentoring invoice for £352.50. (To give some credit, the lady did point out that the consortium of companies running the programme – Quotec, Pembridge, E-synergy – have done so at a loss.)

With that, the publicly-funded princess wailed, “I’ve got a sick husband! I didn’t come here to be attacked!” and fled back to her office.

With stories like this circulating, is it any wonder curmudgeons like me are so vocally sceptical of Government-subsidised programmes?

 

Wall Street Journal gets it hopelessly wrong about Silicon Valley Comes to the UK

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I admire the Wall Street Journal Europe‘s tech blogger, Ben Rooney, for his initiative and enthusiasm, but in his naïveté and inexperience about the European technology industry he made a hopelessly and hilariously misjudged snipe about my friend Sherry Coutu’s legendary annual Silicon Valley comes to the UK in his gushing review of the F.ounders conference in Dublin.

Ben has never been invited to SVC2UK, which is perhaps why he doesn’t realise that it is, by a considerable margin, the heaviest-hitting and most impressive initiative currently operating in Europe to connect Silicon Valley elites to European founders. So I worry that Ben, whose journalistic pedigree is better than most of his peers, might be feeling pressured into sucking up to the new kid on the block at the expense of accuracy.

 

Engaged

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Yesterday I proposed to a woman I do not yet know intimately, but with whom I wish to share the next chapter of my life. She accepted.

It will be an unconventional marriage, to say the least, but I am confident we will make each other very happy. I hope you will join me in celebrating soon.