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.
Fire and music go well together. Sixties rocker Arthur Brown – a long-time resident of the liberal enclave of Lewes, home of your correspondent, Podnosticator Knowles – made an entire career out of his 1968 cult classic, Fire
Indeed, I even played roadie to him and had the honour of putting him out when he caught fire during the first chorus of Fire in a Sussex gig back in 2007, my pimple on the backside of rock ‘n’ roll history. And the first time Arthur had gone up in flames since the 1971 Windsor Jazz Festival.
The least successful rockstar of all time, John Otway, was given a 50th birthday present to remember when his fans “rigged” the charts in a totally legal way and bought him a second, top-ten hit in a 5,000-plus gig career, and that catchy ditty Bunsen Burner stormed the charts.
Its chorus features the line “Burn, baby, burn”, a lyrical echo through the ages, from The Tramps to (appropriately enough) Ash.
And “burn baby burn” is exactly what it appears the planet will be doing – even quicker than the entire combined scientific consensus has unequivocally determined it will do, thanks to our crack-like addiction to fossil fuels – if we don’t shake our very recent, very deep love of generative AI.
Sam starts episode 72 of the Small Data Forum podcast with a look at the latest developments in this new technology, whose poster boy is ChatGPT and one of whose early funders was Elon Musk. But more of the Musky one, anon.
The 17th century French moralist François de La Rochefoucald observed in his Maximes: “In the misfortunes of our dearest friends we always find something not wholly displeasing unto us.”
So there was more than just the tang of sweet Schadenfreude in the air during the recording of the latest episode – 63, no less – of the Small Data Forum podcast.
For some of our dearest friends from the past six years of our data-ish ramblechats put in an appearance, like the cast of a mash-up musical all jostling for attention and approbation in light of their latest misdemeanours.
For once, it appears, the Small Data Forum three are ahead of the news.
So often in recent months and years, we’ve recorded an episode on a Friday morning and by the Sunday night before publication we’ve had to make rapid edits to the show notes because … a president has been impeached, a special adviser been sacked, or a new lockdown announced.
But today – today feels different. Is it because we were recording first thing on a Monday for next-day publication? Or is it because so much news had happened of late that we had the timing right for once? Time – of course – will tell.
On day 110 of Russia’s war on Ukraine – a topic that doesn’t delay us beyond a heartfelt appeal for the nonsense to stop – Thomas opens proceedings by reflecting on Prime Minister Johnson’s “victory” in his vote of (no) confidence handed to him by his own members of parliament.
Well, 211 MPs (59%) voted for the bloated bloviator, while 148 (41%) wanted to see the back of him. A smaller majority than that recorded by Johnson’s lame duck predecessor, Theresa May (a 63%-37% split), who was history less than six months on.
In another case of the speed of news catching out the SmallDataForum’s best-laid arguments, Neville’s, Sam’s, and my combined Musk-whispering was rendered somewhat outdated by the announcement – just hours after our podcast recording – that enigmatic Elon has put his Twitter purchase on hold because … oh never mind the stated reasons.
Actually, it wasn’t our exploring Musk’s motivations that had become outmoded, it was merely the factual base of our musings. Will he, won’t he buy Twitter? Will he, won’t he lose billions over the deal?
Will he, won’t he instate rules and regulations that draw the line really only at whether speech has been performed by an actual human (you’re fine, and if you say something that’s “illegal or destructive to the world”, you face temporary suspension, because free speech is a more holy principle than protecting against the impacts of hate speech, ostensibly), or a bot (in which case Elon really doesn’t want you, and in fact will retract his offer if he feels he is being outbotted).
The free speech issue is one of many highlighted by Neville in his characteristically well informative and well judged blog post. Neville also points us to an Axios piece listing everything Elon Musk wants to change about Twitter (surely another news item that would benefit from hourly updates), as well as challenges surrounding the commercials of the bid: a triple whammy of Twitter’s market cap dropping $9bn below Elon’s offer, Tesla’s share price down by a third from April Fool’s Day, and the Bitcoin crash impact on Tesla’s investment position.
So maybe, just maybe, Musk’s stated bot problem is a bit of a sock puppet. The Washington Post at least thinks that won’t get him out of the deal.