We’re 50!

It’s been a long time coming, this in-person get-together of the three SmallDataForagers (I assume that’s what you call someone moderating a forum?) to celebrate our Golden Jubilee.

1,955 days, in fact, since our fateful first encounter in the now sadly defunct Hospital Club in Soho. And nearly 650 days since our last Olivelli feast, just before Christmas 2019, when the world was a different, less pandemic place.

That is of course all small fry compared with the 5,788 days that Angela Merkel has held the office of German Bundeskanzler. More of her and German politics later.   

So, a long time coming, and well worth the wait: great company, inspiring conversations – the three of us don’t just have now 50 SDF episodes to reminisce over, but also a shared professional history of one time (Sam, Thomas) and other (Neville) working in the London office of what is now Real Chemistry, a power house of digital analytics alchemy driven business insights in life sciences.

As rebranding is such a thing, and in light of our professional interests (not least Sam’s second book), perhaps we should start calling ourselves the SmallDataBigInsightsForum?

Demonstrating resilient continuity in the face of pandemic disruption, we also reconvened at the Picturehouse Central members bar high above Piccadilly for one of those rare occasions, a live in-person podcast recording.

Well of course. Nothing less would do for episode 50.  Thus we offer up to our dear listeners’ (readers’) delectation a hopefully entertaining-insightful, characteristically straight talking mix of oldies and goodies – from The Facebook to GDPR and GB News, interspersed with more recent stories, such as Sam’s recent must-listen SDF interview with renowned City media analyst Ian Whittaker.

Talking Cambridge Analytica-style data breaches, regulation and fines, Sam reminds us of Ian’s take on GDPR fines and the “oligopoly”: the FAANGs can cover those fines from their expense accounts, while smaller players suffer. Sam neatly sums up this issue of regulation and fines hitting the middle-class of tech firms: it’s the scale-ups rather than the start-ups that really suffer in these cases.

My concern is with that new GDPR-enabled legal compliance branch that again, the FAANGs of this world are perfectly equipped for, whereas most other firms aren’t. A case of EU regulation aiming for one target, but hitting a completely different one?

Neville’s concern is more basic: he doesn’t believe the EU will succeed in collecting the fines. From that sceptical view, Neville moves on to the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files, and comms guy Nick Clegg’s righteously outraged response. As for Facebook’s official communication, his philosophy is simple: “I don’t believe a word of what they’re saying”.  Sir Nick’s “pious pompous self-serving piece of garbage” – in Sam’s choice words – earned plenty of social media echo, especially on Twitter, gloriously collected on Techmeme.

Not quite done with SDF permatopic The Facebook, that Harvard dorm wet dream that turned into a nearly one trillion dollar business with nearly three billion users (all at time of recording) in the course of less than 18 years, Neville recommends Charles Arthur’s Social Warming, on the polarising and social fabric-eroding effects of social media.   

We briefly touch on GB News, poor upset Andrew Neil, and soon-to-be-new challenger talkTV. Or rather, Fox News UK according to Neville, Gammon TV according to Sam.

We don’t want to expend too much oxygen of attention on these ventures, but it’s worth noting that Neville really isn’t a huge fan of talkTV figurehead Piers Morgan. The words ‘vile’ and ‘obnoxious’ can be heard. I don’t disagree, but add that that merely makes him the perfect exponent of the new media outrage industry. Sam reminds us that doing a Piers Morgan is now a thing: don’t like to have your contrarian opinion challenged? Just storm off in a huff…

All this partisan media stuff has me launch into a mini lecture on US media history, from Father Charles Coughlin to Fairness Doctrine and its abolition under Ronald Reagan – and everything that followed, all the way to Fox News, Breitbart, OAN and Newsmax. It’s all in this great Columbia Journalism Review piece, How We Got Here.

Finally, we talk German politics. On the topic of expert opinions in politics, I’m reminded of a great podcast with hard-talking Scottish economist Mark Blyth, where he convincingly declared the SPD being dead, in January 2019.

At the time of writing these notes (Sunday 7:30pm), reports of the SPD’s demise appear greatly exaggerated: the latest projections of Germany’s General Election have the SPD in front on 25.5%, ahead of the CDU on 24.5%).

So there is a numerical result shaping up, however, with regard to the post-Mutti government, all we know is that we know very little: such are the wondrous coalitionary permutations that result from German elections, from traffic light (Greens, SPD-red, FDP-yellow) to Jamaica (CDU-black, Greens, FDP-yellow), to Grand (should the parties with the largest vote share muster a majority, which is highly unlikely).

All of this is masterfully explained by Jeremy Cliffe and the New Statesman. By the time of SDF51, we may or may not know the composition of the next German government. And Angela Merkel may yet challenge her mentor Helmut Kohl’s office record.

Listen to Episode 50:

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