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Small Data Forum Podcast

How do you make Big Data less intimidating, more actionable and thus more valuable? That is the question at the heart of the Small Data Forum, an initiative by LexisNexis Business Insight Solutions to listen, learn, share and educate ourselves and others who grapple with the challenges of the information avalanche.
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Jun 23, 2019

In England’s distant past, long before the spread of wealth and the explosive growth of the middle classes, holidays were a rarity. Overseas holidays were unheard of, except for those gilded few who’d grown fat on the Empire and took a ‘grand tour’ of Europe for months at a time, or else went off to add new lands to said Empire.The closest most workers got to any kind of holiday was being taken in a charabanc to the nearest seaside resort, where enforced fun would be had on piers stretching out into coastal waters.

One of the highlights of such a visit would be an end-of-the-pier show, where metropolitan idols would perform song-and-dance, music hall routines for the masses. The shows were often billed as Summertime Specials.

In the world of the Small Data Forum podcast, this latest episode – 28 already – is our equivalent of an end of the pier show, our very own Summertime Special. As regular listeners will know, Thomas, Neville, and Sam don’t meet together IRL all that often. But in a tradition stretching back – ooh – as long as last December, last week we three braved metaphorical thunder, lightning, and rain to meet again at our favourite pre-pod haunt, Olivelli in the Cut, Waterloo, London.

Suitably stoked by pizza, pasta, and a surprisingly modest couple of bottles of Nero d’Avola, we set about our task of looking at the uses and abuses of data big and small in business, politics, and public life. But for only the third time in the three years we’ve been recording the podcast, we did it in person.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Apr 7, 2019

So this is the episode when the three stooges of the SmallDataForum were meant to reflect wistfully on what was Great Britain exiting Greater Europe.

The irony of recording this on April Fool’s Day wasn’t lost on us.

Brexit Fool’s day is every day, these days. Our resident classicist Sam even managed to squeeze in Juvenal’s Satire VI, and even though the reference was in regard to another April Fool’s – Facebook regulation, haha – Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes might just as well mean “who regulates the regulators?”

Ah – wouldn’t that be The Great British Electorate? Well, they have spoken, just over 1,000 days ago. And what they said, means what it means. Fool’s Day and any other day.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Mar 3, 2019

"We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.“ So the famous US Supreme Court Justice and ‘crusader for social justice’ and breaker-upper of Gilded Age monopolies, Louis D. Brandeis is said to have said, perhaps sometimes in the early 1930s.

Today, perhaps the best-known neo-Brandeisian anti-trust advocate is Tim Wu, Columbia law professor, ‘father of net neutrality’ and author of a series of books likening today’s commercial excesses – in particular in the digital space – to the ‘Gilded Age’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In our latest discussion about Facebook, GDPR and general big tech regulation issues, Neville, Sam and I come down on different sides of the either-or debate of public vs business interest. Of course, it is not really an either-or debate. It’s a complex and convoluted, tangled web of interests and angles, and any claimant of simple solutions has likely got a degree from snake oil university.

Neville discusses an article in The Conversation by De Montford University professor Eerke Boiten, who advocates GDPR-based impact assessments to hold tech firms accountable, rather than letting them continue to ‘move fast and break things’.  Jeff Jarvis, CUNY journalism professor, takes a very different stance in his recent EU regulation critique Europe Against the Net.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Jan 28, 2019

It’s our Silver Jubilee – 25 times SmallDataForum, and so much has happened since our first episode less than a fortnight before the EU Referendum. And yet here we are, Brexit still front and center and no one’s none the wiser.

When we started, our aim was to reflect on communicators’ needs

  • to increase the value of data,
  • to understand data and its insights to inform better business decisions,
  • to manage data from machines (data processing) and humans (turning Big Data into small, relevant, business-critical insight).

Little did we foresee how much our chosen field would be dominated by the narrative of Western democracy and society being undermined by the powers unleashed by social and digital media.

Yet here we are, with Neville discussing GDPR as the modern equivalent of the Feds nailing Al Capone for tax evasion.

Perhaps an update of The Untouchables will see Benedict Cumberbatch play DCMS Committee Chairman Damian Collins as a modern Eliot Ness. Or Christian Bale as EU Competition Commissioner Margarete Vestager, in the new tradition of the near-real-time biopic.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Dec 23, 2018

The SmallDataForum celebrated its third Christmas with a highly calorific and somewhat alcoholic Italian lunch, followed by post-prandial musings about high- and low-lights of 2018, and some crystal ball gazing for 2019.

Our regular followers / listeners – or just about anybody with any interest in tech and communication – won’t be surprised by a list being topped by Facebook, and then some more Facebook. Followed by GDPR and other regulatory activities, mainly by the EU.

And of course we also touched on the topic that’s been with us from episode one, when it was called Brexit. These days, Brexitexit is beginning to sound more fitting.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Nov 22, 2018

“The ever-present function of propaganda in modern life is in large measure attributable to the social disorganization which has been precipitated by the rapid advent of technological changes.”

This is not the latest comment on the perpetual missteps, mishaps and misuse of Facebook, but a quote from Harold D. Lasswell, eminent media scholar and creator of the eponymous and never-aging model and formula to determine media effects: who says what to whom in which channel with what effect?

Who said what to whom, and subsequent effects – that was also the theme of a multi-thousand-word investigative piece on Facebook and its executive team in the New York Times on 15th November.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Oct 7, 2018

The latest episode of the Small Data Forum podcast sees the founding trio of Neville, Thomas, and Sam striding confidently into our early 20s. Who knew that the fledgling born at an event in Covent Garden’s fashionable London in May 2016 – pre-Brexit, pre-Trump, pre-Cambridge Analytica farce – would endure to its twenty-second episode.

We start our latest offering with a look at Facebook’s latest, topical woes: a technical vulnerability leading to a breach of security for at least 50m European users last month. And probably 40m more.

Thanks to a favourite topic of the SDF Podcast, Facebook were required to report the breach to the EU within 72 hours under new GDPR rules. Playing by the book, Facebook did so, contacting the Irish Data Protection Commission.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Sep 4, 2018

Our latest podcast ended up being a tad longer than planned – clearly a sign of a lively, engaged discussion. In talking about various aspects of the attention economy, we managed to hold each other’s attention for a good 45 minutes.

Many ‘attention economists’ these days quote Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon and his observation that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. It is certainly a quote that has aged well, and one can only wonder what Simon would make of the world now, 47 years on from his famous statement.

Sam doesn't quite see the crisis of attention that brands often lament. But quality and controllability matter more than ever, and producers of content – especially the advertising and media industries – need to up their game to stay relevant. Users control their online experience through ad blockers and subscription services to filter out interruptive commercial communication.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Jul 24, 2018

"If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" A modern version of this 18th century thought experiment by the philosopher and cleric George Berkeley might read: "If the EU fines a big tech firm billions of dollars, and no one has the power to enforce it, has it actually happened?"

A recent opinion piece on AdExchanger discussed the connection between Google’s $5bn antitrust fine, and the enforcement of fines for GDPR non-compliance. Europe is committed to taking a stand against corporations when it comes to privacy rights of consumers, intellectual property rights of content producers (although the planned law is controversial), and anti-competitive market positions.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Jun 10, 2018

Thomas Stoeckle, Neville Hobson and Sam Knowles in conversation on big and small data.

In this episode, we discuss the immediate aftermath of GDPR following its enablement on May 25, 2018.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

May 8, 2018

Data, data everywhere, but ethics in short supply.

The latest episode of the Small Data Forum podcast follows the classic narrative arc of a three-act story. Beginning, middle, and end. The set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

And although our wide-ranging discussion did run the risk of leaving all three co-hosts in the depths of despair, Neville Hobson, Thomas Stoeckle, and I end up hoping that the asteroid NASA predicts is hurtling towards earth can be diverted from its nihilistic path.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Apr 2, 2018

The SmallDataForum convened in late March, and as for our big story, we had several candidates and angles on the same theme of the use and abuse of data.

Sam is now a newly published author of a book about how to tell powerful and purposeful stories with data, Narrative by Numbers. A very timely (and equally timeless) topic and title.

A recently published study in Science about the velocity and spread of true and false news online caught our attention. Tina McCorkindale, CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, did a great analysis with key takeaways for communicators.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Feb 14, 2018

Yet again, the Three SDF Podcasteers Neville Hobson, Sam Knowles and Thomas Stoeckle tackle a range of related themes, from trust in society to clarity in corporate messages, global attitudes towards news, and Silicon Valley's growing number of critical voices.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer finds China and the US poles apart, with the US in last place, experiencing its largest drop in the survey's history, and China on top with the strongest gains among all 28 surveyed countries.

Now in its 18th year, the Barometer makes for an excellent chronicle of perceptions of trust around the world - and a time series that warrants more deep dive analyses, to glean insights, learn, and perhaps to lead to better informed decision-making.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Jan 8, 2018

Our Christmas episode was recorded under the auspices of Janus, the god of all things related to time. Now into the month named after him, the SmallDataForum reviews its predictions and looks at the year ahead:

Will Europe ‘take back control’, or will commercial pressures curb big tech's enthusiasm? Will 2018 be the breakthrough year for chatbots and DPAs (digital personal assistants), both in business and personal use? How will continuous technological and economic transformations affect connections between people?

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Dec 13, 2017

As the Small Data Forum progresses through its early teenage years – our latest podcast is episode 14 already – regular co-hosts Thomas Stoeckle, Neville Hobson, and Sam Knowles are taking the opportunity to look forward by looking back.

Patients of our own medicine, you might say, we’re using the year end and what we’ve observed and learned in 2017 to enter the predictive analytics business.

We take our inspiration from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and time, after whom January is named...

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Nov 5, 2017

"Trust, but verify" is a phrase that was used often by Ronald Reagan. It is more than a little ironic that this is originally a Russian proverb (Doveryai, no proveryai).

Trust is also what links the various topics in episode 13 of our podcast.

From Chinese citizen scores to alleged irregularities in the UK referendum and the US presidential election, the implications of GDPR and the prospects of blockchain: trust is the glue that should hold together the fabric of such interactions, in private as well as public contexts.

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Oct 12, 2017

September was PR Measurement Month, and October is conference season. Not just in UK politics, but also for a number of trade bodies in communications, PR and media monitoring.

From AMEC and the PRCA, to FIBEP, ICCO, PRSA – there are plenty of awards and some reflections on where we've come from, where we are, and where we are likely to be going.

Fake news remains the centre of attention.

Tuesday's New York Times ran the story How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape US Politics.  As an issue that affects the democratic process in Western societies, this continues to have the mainstream media in its thrall. It has, as Sam puts it, "upset the liberal apple cart."

Continue reading -> https://www.smalldataforum.com/

Sep 14, 2017

Thomas Stoeckle, Neville Hobson and Sam Knowles in conversation on the history and function of PR, business and Big Data (and the ten Vs of Big Data), SNCR research initiative and survey into fake news, and more.

Jul 24, 2017

Amid congressional hearings and FBI investigations in the US about whether and how Russia interfered with the US Presidential Elections, discussions continue about the efficacy and ethics of micro-targeting voters. In our latest and 10th edition of the SmallDataForum podcast, Neville, Sam and I reflect on the outcome of the recent general elections in the UK.

Jun 21, 2017

In the latest episode of the #SmallDataForum podcast, Sam Knowles, Thomas Stoeckle, and  Neville Hobson, subject the latest piece of Big News to their usual scrutiny. There’s lively debate about old vs new media, with the right-wing traditional media (particularly the press) apparently little more than an echo chamber of vitriol, as well as the fleet-footed use of social channels and influencers to target younger voters. The very younger voters who were largely ignored in 2016’s two seismic polls and whom traditional media finds harder and harder to touch.

May 25, 2017

SDF episode 9 discusses the challenges and opportunities of accelerating progress in the areas of machine learning and AI (which for us means augmented, rather than 'just' artificial intelligence). When it comes to permanent change driven by technological advancement, the genie is out of the bottle and it is too late to resist change. We need to get better at understanding it and living with it. 

Another key subject are the big social media platforms and their roles as pure technological intermediaries, as opposed to taking on the responsibilities of publishers. This is a complex and controversial field, with a broad range of opinions. Robert Thompson, CEO of News Corp. and former editor of The Times, published a strongly worded editorial in the Times on 10th April where he claimed that "the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive". He calls for Authenticated Authenticity – verified provenance, accuracy, reality – as an asset of increasing value. 

Our general, rather broad advice is to question everything. More specifically, seek out sources with a proven track record that you can trust, with authors that link to things they state – to allow verification

Mar 31, 2017

A topic that’s dominated our conversation in recent episodes of The Small Data Forum podcast is fake news and related issues.

In episode 7, hosted by Thomas Stoeckle in conversation with regulars Neville Hobson and Sam Knowles, we consider world wide web inventor Tim Berner-Lee’s call to action on what he sees as three big challenges for the web:

  1. Loss of control of personal data;
  2. Spread of misinformation; and
  3. Questionable political advertising.

The second one in particular – spread of misinformation – offers another perspective on the fake news topic, part of the so-called post-Truth world, that speaks to a key aspect of this contemporary phenomenon: the dissemination of falsehoods and how can we address that. Thomas asks: Is it time for a new or updated Cluetrain manifesto? Cue lively discussion.

Feb 13, 2017

In their first SDF podcast of 2017, Neville, Sam and Thomas enjoy a wide-ranging conversation that looks at the issues of loss of trust in institutions, fake news and post-truth from the perspective of machine learning, psychology and personality mapping, political marketing, neurosciences, understanding audiences through better data, and ultimately how to tell more compelling stories with better data.

Dec 14, 2016

In episode 5 of the Small Data Forum podcast series hosted by LexisNexis – our Christmas and year-end edition – Neville Hobson, Sam Knowles and I reflect on fake news and their distribution networks, the alleged gaming of Google search rankings, the promise of augmented intelligence and broad questions of how civil societies deal with the emerging and evolving challenges. Do we need more regulation? And who will regulate the regulators?

 

In the last few weeks, there has been significant attention in mainstream and social media on

  • how Google search rankings are being influenced by right wing propaganda (link)
  • how the production of fake news has become a business model (link)
  • how professional journalism is struggling with the phenomenon of fake news (link).

Even Pope Francis joined the debate by denouncing the slander and defamation through fake news as sin (link). 

The debate following the surprising outcome of the US Presidential Elections has shifted from highlighting the shortcomings of political polling, to a thorough examination of the circumstances and conditions that led to the election of Donald Trump.

The media researcher and data journalism expert Jonathan Albright tested his hypothesis of a fake news ecosystem by crawling and indexing more than 300 websites known to be associated with fake news. He analysed more than 1.3m URLs and found what he described as a "micro propaganda machine".  

Whilst it is possible to identify both 'left-wing', and 'right-wing' media ecosystems, the core of the matter is not about politics, but about trust in facts and accurate information. It is about the responsibility of stakeholders, including the large social networks such as Google, Facebook and YouTube.

But how will such a responsibility be defined? How will it express itself? Can the claim of algorithmic neutrality still be upheld, or should it be replaced with algorithmic accountability? Is this a question of morality and ethics, or rather one of regulation and the application of the Rule of Law? How do we weigh the risks of policing and censoring the internet against the dangers of a manipulated anarchic swamp of bigotry and hatred?

Listen to Neville, Sam and myself debating the various aspects of the current debate.

 

Dec 2, 2016

Recent expressions of democratic political will – the UK referendum on EU membership, the US presidential elections – have surprised most observers and commentators. Both outcomes, i.e. Brexit and Trump, were not what most of the polling data indicated. This episode of the Small Data Forum is asking whether we should and could have seen this coming.

Together with Sam Knowles of Insight Agents and Neville Hobson of IBM Social Consulting, I'm looking at some of the mechanisms at play: the psychology of predictions, the new phenomenon of fake news, echo chamber effects in the way people consume and share information, the way data was analysed and interpreted. Were the wrong questions asked? Are there better, more reliable ways of asking questions in order to get to more robust and reliable answers? And would those answers lead to more accurate predictions of outcomes?

As academics, professional communicators, political commentators and others are trying to put the recent developments in context, to understand the future of our information economy and ecology, the Small Data Forum will continue to highlight and explore some of the big and small issues that big and small data both raise, and address.

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