Social media and The Truth (The Guardian)

Yes this is a bit about Europe too. But it’s to flag up an important Long Read article from The Guardian which looks wider, and perhaps begins to explain why we have arrived at Brexit without a clear idea what it will look like.

Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor, starts with a story that has nothing to do with the referendum, and outlines how a story supported by no actual evidence, that was carefully published by a mainstream newspaper as an “allegation”, ended up being trended on social media and probably believed by many people even now.

She then moves on to look at the pro-Leave claims and the way they were speedily dumped after the result (no, not £350m; no, we probably can’t reduce immigration – the two claims that probably won most votes). I’ve seen these on Facebook myself, persistently re-trailed even when challenged. Clever, inspirational campaigning trumped [sic?] a continual appeal to facts and evidence.

Facebook, Viner says, is now the dominant news source for many people. Well, I remember being really pleased when my sons were taught history at school: they were taiught to look at different sources, assess the reporting and the agendas as well as what was said, and come to a conclusion. I was trained to teach similarly myself as an Open University tutor. So maybe there’s hope; but read the Guardian article for yourself.

Link:
• How technology disrupted the truth, Katharine Viner, The Guardian, 12 Jul 2016

Frost & Sullivan on Brexit

Continuing to track what the analysts are saying about Brexit: Frost and Sullivan (F&S) have just notified A Post Brexit View of the UK High Tech Sector, published from their Digital Transformation practice.

They point out that the technology sector accounts for around 10% of the UK’s GDP but see four key challenges. First: a brake on migration is not certain, since free movement of EU labour goes with access to the single market. But if it materialises, then F&S see UK-based technology firms struggling to find the right skills to drive businesses forward; and EU citizens currently working here may migrate out, to other parts of Europe.

Second: many firms, particularly US-based ones in our sector, have come to the UK at least in part because it provided a good gateway into the enormous European market. Once this is no longer the case, will they migrate to other locations (e.g. Frankfurt, Paris, …). This will be more of a problem if single-market access is sacrificed to control of immigration.

Third, as I’ve already commented: leaving the EU does not necessarily mean less red tape. F&S highlight data protection, as I did previously. “Pan-European contracts will need to be renegotiated, and IP/trademarks may require separate treatment for the UK and the EU”. We will be divorced from the creation of the regulatory environment, and F&S suggest firms may find it harder “to navigate legislation and ensure they abide with the varying rules in different countries”; and the UK will without question have less clout than it does as part of the EU.

Fourth, F&S point out that the European Investment Fund is the largest investor in UK venture capital firms. Will this funding stream remain in place? and if not, can it be replaced out of the fabled £350m per week, along with everything else?

Links:
• A Post Brexit View of the UK High Tech Sector, Frost & Sullivan, undated but publicised 14 Jul 2016; the link is to a download form (if this doesn’t work search
• What about the EU? ITasITis, 24 Jun 2016
• An aggregation of post-referendum comments, ITasITis, 2 Jul 2016

An aggregation of post-referendum comments

Commentary from analysts, and other reactions, are beginning to emerge in the wake of the referendum vote and the likelihood (perhaps it’s still not a certainty) that the UK (or what survives of it) will withdraw from the EU.

Here and in subsequent posts I’ll gather those that have come to my attention. I should say that I have only looked at these reports in outline, in order to be timely with this note.

First: the British Computer Society, in true professional style, intends to open up discussion among its membership (and beyond, among those in its communities). It has invited its members to give their opinions about the key topics for discussion, with an initial list. They say: Based on current dialogues and their relevance to Europe, we have identified and are suggesting the following topic areas for detailed discussions: capability, data protection/regulation, education and UK research. This is part of an ongoing initiative to develop a UK position on the new situation, and help ensure the UK’s digital future.

Ray Wang’s Constellation Research hosted a rapid-reaction webinar focussed on the Future of Work and cloud/Next Gen Apps, using the PESTEL (political, economic, societal, technological, environmental and legislative trends) framework. A webinar replay is available.

Ovum has been publishing notes since day one and I recommend a visit to the Ovum website and simply search “Brexit”. Tim Jennings, a long-standing contact from his days at Butler Group, posted a piece on the day after the vote which examines the likely implications for IT investment. Tim doesn’t say this in so many words, but the raft of changes likely to be needed for the new trading world could be of Year 2000 proportions – starting with a triage with the same options now as then: continue unchanged, need updating and testing, should be ditched or replaced.

Ovum’s conversations with enterprise IT leaders , they say. suggest that few have planned or prepared for the changes. Since Tim’s piece was published immediately, this note suggests that these discussions have been going on for some time and that Ovum might themselves be planned and prepared to offer support. Other notes in the search results (at the time of writing) highlight impact on offshore companies and on the regulatory framework (including privacy).

Gartner has begun to provide research, with headline impacts listed as cost optimization, people and talent, applications, suppliers and partners, data management, analytics, governance and operating model changes, and risk management. They suggest a  likely increase in application portfolio complexity. There’s a link on their home page. A key recommendation is for CIOs to not over-react, but to create a taskforce (small, at present) to prepare for what may need to be done. This also sounds a lot like early Year 2000 to me! It’s perhaps a predictable Gartner reaction, but none the less valuable as Gartner are clearly prepared to track the issues.

Forrester’s responses seem a little more creative but not so coordinated. A quick search reveals several short articles aimed at all their constituencies (B2C and marketing as well as CIOs and tech). They expect digital and customer-facing talend to migrate out of the UK; and urge a continued focus on customer experience and innovation. Interestingly, a search on Brexit also threw up a note from March 2016 regarding response to market volatility (Wall Street then, but looking forward to Brexit implications).

That’s enough for now, probably more another day.

Links:
• Ensuring the UK’s digital future post-referendum, British Computer Society (Institutional Thinking Blog), 29 Jun 2016
• Post Brexit Analysis Webinar Recording, Constellation Research, 29 Jun 2016 (slides can be downloaded; no subscription needed)
• Ovum: Brexit decision will impact enterprise IT investment, Ovum Press release, 24 Jun 2016. For other reports, search Brexit on ovum.com (no subscription needed for this content, apparently)
• CIOs Must Act to Prepare for Changes Triggered by Brexit, Gartner, 27 Jun 2016 (free sign-in account needed)
• After Brexit, Will Paris Become The New Startup Hub In Europe? Forrester blog (Thomas Husson), 30 Jun 2016
• With Brexit, A Customer-Focused Agenda Is More Important Than Ever Forrester blog (Laura Koetzle), 24 Jun 2016
• Quick Take: UK Firms Must Drive Innovation In The Age Of The Customer, Despite Brexit Forrester, 24 Jun 2016

What about the EU?

In the aftermath of the vote, there are some instant comments around in the IT sector as elsewhere. Outsell, for example, have mailed an analysis for the information industry (though not related to our IT analysts about whom more anon, perhaps).

A couple I know a little about.

First: research and development will shortly lose access to a significant source of funding, especially for pre-market development; and to the wide-ranging academic and industrial collaboration that the EU research programmes are intended to – and do – foster. World-leading many of our research centres undoubtedly are; our IT provider companies less so.

Second: data protection. Let’s take EU-wide data protection standards (unified, more or less effective and collaboratively developed) to stand for the EU regulations which are somehow supposed to cease to trouble UK industry. Will UK companies have to (probably separately) demonstrate their compliance to EU data protection standards before they can do business? Or will the UK have to set up something like the UK Safe Harbor arrangement, before ditto? One or the other; and surely more of a burden, more of a cost, than at present when just operating from the UK provides de jure compliance.

Oh, and a postscript. In today’s daily paper there’s a splash advert from one of the mobile phone companies: “Travel to Europe with no roaming charges!” We all know that’s the result of a European negotation and agreement with the providers, and a bit of big stick from the regulators; it’s not the provider’s initiative. Watch out for their re-introduction, somewhere down the line. Will the UK have the independent clout to keep them at bay? Will Europe care? Not a chance!

Microsoft and LinkedIn

News arrives that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for a phenomenal sum. This is a rapid reaction; I’ll update it and add links later.

There will be plenty of comment. My own perspective is not just as a user (still an active account although I’m no longer undertaking consulting work). In days gone by, as a member of a CSC Leading Edge Forum study tour, I visited LinkedIn when they were still a start-up with the coke machine in the corner of the meeting room. Until then, I hadn’t got the point of their model. But then, I did, and I’ve been a user ever since.

I guess the aim of any start-up is either to make lots of money in their own right (which LinkedIn still hasn’t) or to get bought by a major. So that makes their backers’ investment a commercial success. What integration with Microsoft will mean remains to be seen …

The human face of Facebook hoaxing

It’s accepted that scams happen on Facebook. Take notice, for example, of Facebook’s own recent warning about tear-jerking fraudulent stories about terminally ill children. If you say Amen to one of these, and share it, you may be helping a real child rack up their ten thousand Likes; but you may not. You may, perhaps more likely, be helping fraudsters to build up lists which can then be used to post further scams, or misrepresent the popularity of their product. Images are usually stolen from elsewhere on the web, to add to the misrepresentation. No, they don’t enable people to take over your Facebook account itself. But it is better not to respond. See the Hoax-slayer article, indexed below, for a route into more accurate information.

But there’s a new slant on this problem in a “long read” article in The Guardian last week. This profiles a US hoax investigator, Taryn Wright, who initially looked into one particular hoax in depth. What caught her attention was simply the number of problems attributed to the same family – childhood cancer, fatal car accidents, murders. There was no tie-up with reporting in any other media, despite the human interest aspect to the tragedies which would (in this country) be a natural for the tabloids or at least local press.

She found she could identify the original sources of many of the pictures used on the posts. With the help of contacts through a blog, she could follow through IP addresses to identify the source of the stories. And this is where this story diverges from what you might expect.

She didn’t find financial scams or promotional hoaxes. She found a real person with genuine social problems, who’d created the ficititious family and all its problems, over more than a decade, to gather the community of friends, contacts and support that her real life had denied her. And Taryn Wright created a real, supportive friendship from the contact; a pattern she has repeated in other cases too.

But also: among the investigative group that spontaneously gathered, many were more inclined to a vigilante-style approach than to compassionate response. Taryn Wright had to close down most of her group, working with only a handful who share her approach. And of course there has been internet abuse and some physical threats too.

It’s a story well worth reading. Form your own opinion!

Links:
• Facebook Posts Asking You to Type ‘Amen’ To Help Children or Animals Are Like-Farming Scams Not Hackers, Hoax-Slayer, 24 Nov 2015 (or search Google for “Don’t say Amen on facebook“)
• Cancer cons, phoney accidents and fake deaths: meet the internet hoax buster, Rachel Monroe, The Guardian, 18 Feb 2016

Crowdfunding again: a personal request

Readers will remember I’ve blogged in the past about crowdfunding with the headline “Not just for geeks”. I’ve contributed myself to a couple of things: a board game based on the history of Oxford, and an early music opera (La Liberazione de Ruggiero …) which was triumphantly presented recently at this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival to stunning reviews.

Now a new one, and this time I’m asking for your help. Since I did my own university research, decades ago now, the funding system has changed out of recognition and it can be near impossible to find a scholarship or a fellowship or simply money to fund the laboratory costs of worthwhile research. Not least because the utilitarian view of science prevails in the public purse and there’s a strong bias away from primary research. If there isn’t a directly marketable product at the end of the process ( what was called near-market work when I was involved in European Community IT projects), forget it!

In medical research, there is arguably no more important issue than the increasing prevalence of obesity and its frequent consequence, diabetes. It isn’t just a lifestyle issue, though in some cases it can be. Prevention and control currently rest on expensive drug treatments or highly invasive surgical intervention. But the body may have its own mechanism built in, if we can figure out how to activate it.

This is where I run off the end of my understanding as a non-medic (albeit one who worked in pharmaceuticals for many years). We have two kinds of fat: white fat stores energy, but brown fat consumes it. If the brown fat mechanisms can be successfully activated, a new and effective treatment is on the cards. But this is primary research, not near-market work.

My son James Law, who is a senior Registrar in the Nottingham NHS and a member of staff at Nottingham University, working in the Queen’s Medical Centre, is undertaking research in this area. He needs your involvement through crowdfunding. Please visit the link to his own pages, and help if you can.

Links:
• Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero. ITasITis, 21 Nov 2014
• Ruggiero reviews: see Brighton Early Music on Facebook
• Click here to participate: Activating brown fat to improve diabetes and obesity, James Law & Michael Symonds, on experiment.com