London’s tech scene is in the throes of a painful reckoning. Big-name conferences are dropping like flies. One events company told me they had “bet the farm” on Tech City after talking to excitable government advisors. The directors are now reportedly in the process of filing for bankruptcy.
On Tuesday, we learned that London Mayor Boris Johnson’s “million pound” startup competition in 2013 was a humiliating flop. Humiliating for the tech scene, that is, not for the mayor: Not a single one of the entrants was deemed qualified enough to take home the prize.
Tech City UK, the quango set up to cheerlead east London’s technology businesses, has been quietly strangled: Its national and “inward investment” remits have been taken away, its budget has been slashed, and responsibility for its activities has passed to London and Partners, which effectively means that David Cameron has passed the turd to Boris.
Former Tech City boss Joanna Shields cannily distanced herself from the day-to-day hell of all this some months ago by quitting as CEO and rebranding herself chairman. Shields was always a curious choice as public sector spokesperson, given that as the head of both Google and Facebook in Europe she presided over tax gymnastics that earned her the nickname Joanna “Tax” Shields. Legal? Yes. Patriotic? Not so much.
Shields did nothing in her role and only gets her hands dirty these days on special occasions– such as the government’s recent, desperate entreaties to the tech community to come in and “hack” a solution to the flooding crisis in the south of England. In other words, fluffy projects with no risk of PR blowback that are invariably a waste of everyone’s time.
(The government’s approach to natural disasters these days seems to be: put “hack” on the end of it and send a press release to the Guardian. Does Cameron really think an iPhone app can mop up flooding in Somerset with a pinch-and-swipe? If so, I can think of another two-fingered gesture that the dispossessed in the Home Counties would be quite justified in using about now.)
So it’s little wonder the Potemkin village of Tech City is finally being exposed. There have been no significant exits, few startups of even cursory commercial or consumer interest, and no notable job creation in east London since the government started describing the number of tech and media companies in the area in 2011 in a PR strategy some have called a “fecal glitter cannon.”
Despite all this, word reaches me that the Tories are planning another crack at it: a second iteration of Tech City, specifically for financial technology companies. I can’t abide gossip, of course, but the word on the street is that they’re tapping original Tech City chief executive Eric van der Kleij on the shoulder to come in and make all the same mistakes all over again. Ugh. Will they never learn?
Speaking of Shields, someone should really have a word with her about email etiquette. The venerable Shields has reportedly been sending out a number of circular emails recently from a chameleonic register of different government email addresses, spamming east London CEOs with requests for help and updates about the latest irritating public sector initiatives.
The problem? No one signed up to receive these marketing messages from Tech City. There’s no contact phone number or address listed, nor, most infuriatingly for the CEOs who have been forwarding me these missives, any unsubscribe links. This is almost certainly against the law. Perhaps someone should drop a note to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Cult German hit Er ist wieder da, a novel about Hitler waking up, bewildered, in 2011 —and then reinventing himself as a YouTube star—is finally out in translation this week. I tried to wade through the German version a few months ago, with the help of a friend who does a spookily accurate imitation Führer, but eventually abandoned it.
Now I’ve had chance to skim the English I can recommend it heartily. Hitler as an icon of deranged evil is always good fodder for fiction, but it’s Timur Vermes’ hilariously spot-on analyses of the problems (and opportunities) of user-generated content that make this such a fun read. Wann dem Führer wuste!
A gang of overenthusiastic nerds and self-help gurus say they are going to conquer Kilimanjaro for charity. Well! Spotify founder Daniel Ek could certainly do with losing a few pounds, but for the rest of them this is a pretty drastic form of attention-seeking, even by tech scene standards. Climbers include lifehacker Tim Ferris, “beauty professional marketplace” creator Melody McCloskey, and the executive producer of Step Up 4.
A word of advice to aspiring climbers: With the amount of shaggy, unkempt hair on display from your tour guides,and the feral whelps from your fellow lactic acid-ravaged keyboard warriors, be careful you’re not mistaken for a pack of elderly hyenas and picked off by hungry vultures.
Last night I appeared on Channel 4 News, discussing the impact of “who’s around me right now” apps such as Grindr on gay life. It occurs to me I may have been too hard on them in previous columns. The real tragedy, surely, is the domestication of homosexuality, which has been fuelled by a gay marriage crusade spearheaded by the chattering classes on Twitter.
Gay rights group Stonewall, which in my opinion is floundering, directionless, really ought to take up the cudgels for dissolute, alternative lifestyles. I mean it: Can you imagine anything worse than a semi-detached in Rochester, a second-hand VW Polo, and three mewling brats? Give me K-holes in Vauxhall nightclubs and disposable sexual encounters any day of the week.
Facebook’s purchase, for $2 billion, of virtual reality company Oculus VR comes as no surprise to those who know the social network’s green-eyed founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck has been overheard recently at Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters grumbling about Google’s acquisition spree. He knows his social network is getting left behind in the race for the future.
But while Facebook is no Skynet or Weyland-Yutani, it still has a decent shot at being one of the great American corporations. Given its creepy insistence on keeping profiles active long after their owners have died, might I suggest Life Extension from Vanilla Sky as a possible blueprint?
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is off on one again, this time ranting about alternative health quacks. You know, those dreadlocked weirdos who believe his encyclopaedia should be more sympathetic to kooky, unscientific treatments. Candidates for more “balanced” coverage include something called Tapas Acupressure Technique, which to me sounds like a method for passing troublesome stools after one too many prune croquettes.
I can’t help but wonder about the selectiveness of Wales’s bullshit detector, though—particularly when there are pretty young supermodels in view. For example, he was instrumental in getting the government to give wannabe tech founder Lily Cole £200,000 toward the cost of running her mystifyingly stupid wish commune, Impossible.com. But then, Wales isn’t the only tech founder to have basked in Cole’s healing energies recently, is he?
Milo Yiannopoulos is the founder and former Editor-in-Chief of The Kernel. His first book, The Sociopaths of Silicon Valley, will be published in 2015.