Honi soit qui mal y pense …
After seven years of vigorous podnostication, the SmallDataForum reaches its diamond anniversary. Or semi-sesquicentennial (‘half one hundred and fifty’) as Sam (of course!) informs us. Seventy-five episodes of wondering and pondering about the strange times we live in, with absolutely no end in sight.
Our almost hour-long Zoomwag starts with the battle of the micro-messaging platforms: X vs Threads, Twitter vs Meta, Elon vs Mark – the digital cage fight over the monetizable part of the networked world. Tech maven and serial early adopter and experimenter-user Neville explains it all with exemplary breadth and depth.
Social anti-social media
“Mega instant network” Threads is actually part of Instagram and should thus be called Instagram Threads. Neville highlights benefits – it’s so easy to attract an audience, just follow all your Insta friends – as well as costs: if you decide to uninstall it, it will also uninstall Instagram.
We hear about Threads’ instant success, with more than 150m downloads and over 100m active users within days (though the latest news is that half of the early users have since left again).
Meanwhile, Twitter may or may not be tanking – the stated ambition remains to take the number of mDAUs (not a rare breed of Tasmanian marsupial, but the number of ‘monetizable daily active users’ – the folks, as Neville puts it, that should “expect to be pitched at, pimped at, marketed at, analyzed, and behaviour predicted”) from currently somewhere close to 200m to over 300m by the end of the year.
And while he takes us through the next stage in Twitter’s slow-motion car crash, Neville Freudian-slips in Trump for Musk, to the chuckles of his co-presenters. We discuss Elon’s X-rated brand vandalism and new Twitter/X CEO Linda Yaccarino’s praise of the present ‘strategy’, which appears to be little more than incomprehensible corporate buzzword bingo.
W(h)ither the “everything app”?
Neville tells us about some interesting new kids on the micro-messaging block: Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s Bluesky (currently 400k users) gets a mention, as well as T2: very new, very niche, with 10k users, one of which is our very own @Jangles, for whom the represents The Good Place (and now I can’t get the idea out of my head that Neville would make a very credible Ted Danson …).
As the, cough, senior member of our group, Neville is forgiven for not having TikTok on his experimental radar – but even the GenZ short video behemoth has now entered the micro-message fray with text-only posts to take on X.
So, quo vadis, Elon? Does he have a cunning plan, or is he just plain crazy? Neville rightly wonders whether advertisers will trust that the audience will still be there in future. As with Zhou Enlai’s take on the French Revolution, it’s too early to say whether X or Threads will win the battle of the mDAUs. Or who will finally build the WeChat-emulating everything app. Will Musk or Zuckerberg get there first? Will anyone? Why hasn’t it happened already?
Uncharacteristically humble, Sam declares that he doesn’t feel best informed to answer this question, but admits to enormous JOMO (=joy of missing out) at having dumped Facebook for good in 2016. As a never-Facebooker, to this I strongly relate.
Still, Meta appears to have recovered from its 2022 travails, and is now again posting strong quarterly results and user growth. With its 3bn+ monthly active users, Zuckerberg’s former Harvard dorm ‘hot or not’ idea seems to have evolved nicely into an everything app contender.
Then again, with his track record (PayPal, Tesla), no one should misunderestimate the modern Howard Hughes.
We move on to UK politics, and Sam takes us through the latest parliamentary by-elections, plus “the one that wasn’t”, because House of Lords deprived MIA MP and maîtresse des belles lettres, the honourable member for mid-Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, is too busy writing the ultimate account of her former boss’s downfall to resign and let democratic processes take their course.
On the subject of unflushable turds, we – ever so briefly – touch on the affair of Coutts vs Mr Toad (privately educated investment banker man-of-the-people, Nigel Farage). Neville gives rather short shrift to the story (“no-one gives a shit”), and despite UK media saturation coverage, Sam sees it as a “storm in a tea cup”.
I’m not so sure. He may never hold office, but he is still the most adept populist bully of his generation, and since political communication is increasingly reduced to culture war scuffles and battles, he may well be “Britain’s most influential politician”.
Back to by-elections, where Sam can’t quite hide his glee over “hideous gammon” Laurence Fox losing his deposit as a failed candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. And while the Conservatives somewhat surprisingly managed to hold on to former Prime Minister Johnson’s seat, Sam questions current PM Rishi Sunak’s ‘spontaneous’ celebration over a fry up in a local greasy spoon. With a 16k+ majority reduced to 475, performative air-punching does feel somewhat incongruous.
Tippy-tappy tactical voting
What made these elections truly interesting was the degree of disciplined tactical voting – Sam calls it “de facto proportional representation”, though I’d rather have the real thing, messy coalitions and all (more on that later).
This helped the LibDems overturn a 19,000+ majority in Somerton and Frome, while Labour overturned an even larger majority with 20,000+ in Selby. Keir “The Younger” Mather, who will now represent Selby for Labour, is 25 years old – and thus five years younger than the youngest ever member of the House of Lords, newly anointed Charlotte Kathryn Tranter Owen, now Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge.
Of course, the SmallDataForum does not engage in conspiracy-theoretical muckraking, and so we do not discuss the official and unofficial aspects of the relationship between Boris Johnson and his former SpAD. Honi soit qui mal y pense …
O viva España!
To the recent general elections in Spain, then, where I have developed a vested interest as a (hopefully) soon-to-be resident.
Incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez did rather better than expected, with his ‘socialist and workers party’ PSOE (more German SPD and pragmatic Labour, than hard left, more Guardian, than Morning Star) increasing their vote share and fending off a centre-right/hard right coalition between Partido Popular (the Spanish Conservatives) and VOX (the Spanish equivalent of Germany’s AfD).
There might now be another election, and things look to remain messy.
What made this result remarkable, though, was the fact that VOX lost particularly badly where they had been governing (as a minority partner) on regional level: in Castile y Leon, for example, they aimed to drive MAGA-style policies and push anti-abortion laws. And it turned out Spanish voters really weren’t up for that.
That doesn’t mean hard-right movements are on the wane: fear and uncertainty are drivers of right-leaning instincts, and there is a lot of that around. Thankfully, Britain’s very own Cincinnatus has now sprung off his very own Odysseus: future Cyclopses, Circes, Sirens and all, be warned.
Listen to episode 75: