Keep up to date with news from our content curation platform

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You have several options to follow news and tricks about Cronycle – your content curation tool:

As a matter of fact, all these options are available within Cronycle! Receive newsletter subscriptions, and follow Curated Feeds, RSS feeds and Twitter links – all within your feeds (click on Create Feed).

Our Product Newsletter

Publishing with Buffer

Reading Time: 2 minutesWe’re very excited about this new partnership integration which we have launched today with Buffer. For those of you know who don’t know Buffer is a social media management platform trusted by 6M+ people worldwide. We listened to our customers feedback about having scheduling content feature built in, but we thought we should link up with experts in their fields. Buffer was also the favourite choice amongst our customers so we didn’t need to look elsewhere.

By publishing and scheduling your content through Buffer, you are able to to do to so on the following social platforms:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook (Profile/ page/ group)
  • Linkedin (Profile/ page)
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • G+ (Profile/ page)

Another speciality of Buffer which is close to our heart and values is, Buffer will only let you publish new content which you know absolutely what our mission as a platform by cutting through the noise and improving the way organisations discover, manage and distribute information and analysis. 

To get discovering, you can find this new feature within your board Publishing settings – Once you have connected your Buffer account, then you can easily manage what you would like to publish, whether it be articles, story arcs or editor approved only. The content will then be automatically added to your queue within Buffer and you can schedule as you normally would.

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Please note the feature mentioned above are only available with our Pro plan – to find out more about the pricing packages you can see further information here. In addition, your queued content may vary depending on which Buffer account you have.

 

Story arc and publishing

Reading Time: 3 minutesWe mentioned a couple of weeks ago on our blog about our Daily Digest feature rollout that we are introducing new features to help our clients with their enhanced curation needs. This release is packed full of three new features:

1. Adding summary to articles

This is an evolution of a feature that we had. Before you were able to add comments to articles, now you have the ability to add an intro summary to the article of up to 1,000 characters (screenshot below as an example). You will also notice a few other tweaks including up and downvoting change of icons, plus engagement scoring of articles symbolized by ∑.

 

2.  Ability to group articles and create a Story arc

Story arc (defined by Dictionary.com) The principal plot of an ongoing storyline in the episodes of a narrative; thecontinuous progression or line of development in a story

To us, a story arc is a way of grouping together articles/content which create their own theme or story. You can add summary descriptions to these arcs and have several arcs within the same board. We wanted to ensure you as a user, have a more enhanced and customizable experience with the content you have curated and selected. You can easily add to an existing arc or create several new arcs within the same board. In addition, if you want to remove an arc, you can simply delete it and the articles will remain as before on your board.

 

 

3. Publishing modes

Now for the publishing part of the feature – Once you have your story, we developed several different ways for you to get your voice heard:

a) Editor approved publishing mode

You may be working in a team whether it be with a Manager or as collaborators, where other people will have input as to what content you use or publish. This easy way with “editor approval” means the nominated person can approve the content with the tick boxes, which means you can publish the content only, which has been approved.

b) Content-type publishing mode

A different way of thinking about the content you are publishing, you can choose to publish editor approved only or from (and not limited to one) story arcs, articles, uploaded files. This applies for both the purposes of a curated channel and of a curated source.

c) Publishing a Board as a public feed

You may have a company newsletter or professional blog where you would like to have a stream of content for your audience to read. You can share this link wherever you like for external accesses. Articles only will be visible. The same applies, where you can allow your board to be visible to your organisation/ team as a feed, therefore, people will not have edit writes to change anything on your board but have “viewing” rights as such.

Please note some of these features mentioned above are only available with our Pro plan – to find out more about the pricing packages you can see further information here.

Daily Digest

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I introduce to you, Cronycle Daily Digest.

Our daily digest may not seem like something revolutionary and new to you, however, this is the start of things to come with new features for us. Previously to this, our Curation team had been pinning articles every day for us to send our daily newsletters, which means although the articles were of interest, they were not dedicated to your subject matter.

DailyDigest

We have worked through and found, what we like to think to be, the perfect combination. Your daily digest will arrive in your inbox around late lunch time (GMT) and will contain the top reads scanned from your feeds that you have within Cronycle. You will receive a daily digest, every working day, so that’s Monday to Friday. We are still working on further customization for the newsletter so please do provide us with any feedback and thoughts you have.

For now, if you choose to opt out of receiving the daily digest or are on a business account and would like to opt in to receive these – you can do so from your profile account settings – “Cronycle Daily Digest“.

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Not to worry, we haven’t made everything machine learning, as we still keeping our weekly Curators Club email, we have just changed the day we send it out, so now you will receive it on a Sunday and renamed it to “Sunday’s best” – little afternoon read with a cup of tea – Hand picked reads from the week from our Curation Team.

If you already have an account with Cronycle then you will automatically receive this (unless you have opted out), if you do not have an account with Cronycle and would like to subscribe, then you can do so here on our website.

SundayBest_Subscribe
On our homepage, you can subscribe to our Curators Sunday Best email

As mentioned, this is the start of email/ newsletter features that we have in the pipeline so be sure to watch our for future updates in the next coming months. In addition, we will be sending out comms in the next few weeks to manage your preferences (if you are currently subscribed) inline with e-Privacy and GDPR.

#DeleteFacebook Isn’t About Data Security

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In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook might actually be in trouble. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag is trending, and it’s seen some unlikely contributors, like Blink 182 singer Mark Hoppus, and Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, which was itself sold to Facebook. Meanwhile, Facebook stock has dropped by 10% this week so far. The FTC has announced that it’s opening an investigation into Facebook’s business practices, to determine whether Facebook violated its user agreement, an infraction which would come with a hefty fine. Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t made a public statement about the matter yet, but he’s been summoned by the UK Parliament. The bad news keeps piling up.

The obvious question is whether Facebook will survive, after whatever punitive measures are dispensed. And, while it’s possible that it won’t, it’s difficult to imagine how its extinction would come about. Its users could always leave, but there’s very little individual incentive to do that, and, given that a third of the world uses Facebook, getting everybody to quit would represent a massive coordination problem. Therefore, unless Facebook is banned outright, or somehow sued into oblivion, it seems likely that it will persist, if in some sort of regulated or otherwise curtailed form.

The less obvious question is: why now? This is by no means the only data scandal that Facebook has been embroiled in. Any intelligent consumer of digital media knows very well that Facebook is harnessing their personal data, and that such data has been treated carelessly before, and used for somewhat nefarious ends. Probably the most striking example came in 2014, when PNAS published a study by researchers who quite literally played with the emotions of Facebook users to find experimental evidence of Internet-based emotional contagion. More recently, earlier in March, it was revealed that Facebook’s researchers had told advertisers that it had figured out how to identify whether its teenage users were feeling desperate or depressed—and that this could be worthwhile marketing data. Given all of this, it’s clear that data security isn’t the primary force driving #DeleteFacebook.

It’s much more plausible that what’s behind the media conflagration isn’t data security itself, but rather the involvement of Donald Trump. Some have claimed that Cambridge Analytica was responsible for Trump’s election, having provided his campaign with personal data about voters that (maybe) offered unprecedented psychologiccal leverage, revealing which precise people could be viably targeted by propaganda. If you’re anti-Trump, and you believe this, then your beloved social network has unwittingly engaged in a large-scale erosion of democracy, which is to say, a technologically-driven coup by a candidate you don’t like.

This may not even be the case, by the way. The person who’s most loudly proclaimed that Cambridge Analytica was responsible for the election’s outcome is the now-suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix. Ted Cruz’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, obviously didn’t win the election, and, as David A. Graham of the Atlantic reports, “found that CA’s products didn’t work very well, and complained that it was paying for a service that the company hadn’t yet built.” Corroborating this view is Kenneth Vogel, a New York Times reporter from their Washington Bureau, who recently Tweeted that Cambridge Analytica “…was (&is) an overpriced service that delivered little value to the TRUMP campaign.” He went on to claim that campaigns only signed up to secure access to the Mercer family—a rich line of big-time Republican donors—being that they’re major CA investors.

To sum up: Cambridge Analytica is only one of many organizations which have used personal Facebook data in a sinister manner, and its use of that data might have actually been inconsequential. If this is the case, #DeleteFacebook offers a clear lesson to tech companies, which is that it’s not actually important whether your product or service unscrupulously surveils its users. It’s more important to ensure that your company doesn’t give its data to anybody particularly unpopular, especially if they end up getting elected. If you sell your data to relatively unproblematic clients, you’ll probably be okay.

Cyborg Chess and What It Means

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When arguably the greatest chess player of all time, Garry Kasparov, was beaten by Deep Blue in 1997, some took it to mean that human intelligence had become irrelevant. For instance, Newsweek ran a cover story about the match with the headline “The Brain’s Last Stand.” However, the chess-related conflict between human and computer cognition turned out to be somewhat more convoluted than that.

In the wake of the match, Kasparov came up with a concept he called “Advanced Chess,” wherein computer engines would serve as assistants to human players—or the other way around, depending on your perspective. Kasparov’s idea was that humans could add their creativity and long-term strategic vision to the raw power of a computer munching through plausible-seeming variations. He thought that, perhaps, in long games, such cyborg teams could beat computers, complicating the idea that human intelligence had simply become obsolete.

He was right. Highly skilled cyborg players turned out to be stronger than computers alone. Most famously, in 2005, a cyborg team won a so-called “freestyle” tournament—one in which entrants could consist of any number of humans and/or computers. And, even more surprisingly, the tournament was won by a pair of relatively amateur players—Steven Cramton, and Zackary Stephen, both far, far below master strength. They came out on top of the powerful program Hydra, as well as esteemed grandmasters like GM Vladimir Dobrov. And the secret to their success seemed to be that they were the best operators—they had figured out the ideal way to enhance the chess engines’ intelligence with their own.

In other words, for the human half of a cyborg team, being a supremely good chess player wasn’t as important as knowing how to steer computer intelligence. AI manipulation was itself a relevant skill, and the most important one. Cramton and Stephen ran five different computer programs at once—both chess engines and databases which could check the position on the game board with historical games. Using this method, they could mimic the past performances of exceptional human players, play any moves that all the engines agreed upon, and more skeptically examine positions where the different engines disagreed upon the right way to proceed. Occasionally, they would even throw in a slightly subpar but offbeat move that one of the programs suggested, in order to psychologically disturb their opponents.

This is kind of a beautiful picture of computer-human interaction, in which humans use computers to accomplish cognitive tasks in much the same way that they use cars to accomplish transportation. However, there’s a strong possibility that this rosy picture won’t last for long. It’s possible that, eventually, chess engines will get strong enough that humans can’t possibly add anything to their strength, such that even strong operators like Cramton and Stephen would, if they tried to provide guidance, only detract from the computer’s expertise. In fact, this may have happened already.

In May of 2017, Garry Kasparov said in an interview with Tyler Cowen that he believed cyborg players were still stronger than engines alone. However, that was before Google’s AlphaZero chess engine, in December of 2017, absolutely destroyed a version of one of the world’s best chess programs, Stockfish. AlphaZero, which was grown out of a machine learning algorithm that played chess against itself 19.6 million times, won 28 out of the match’s 100 games, drew 72, and lost not one.

What was more notable even than AlphaZero’s supremacy was its style. AlphaZero played what seemed like playful, strange moves: it sacrificed pieces for hard-to-see advantages, and navigated into awkward, blocked-up positions that would’ve been shunned by other engines. Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen, upon reviewing the games, said “I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know.” If there’s any computer that’s exceeded the capacity of cyborg players, it’s probably AlphaZero.

This progression—from the emergence of strong AI, to the supremacy of cyborgs, to the more complete supremacy of even stronger AI—could pop up in other fields as well. Imagine, for example, a program, Psychiatron, which could diagnose a patient’s mood disorder based on a momentary scan of their face and voice, searching for telltale signs drawn from muscular flexion and vocal intonation. That program would make psychiatrists irrelevant in terms of diagnostic process.

However, you might still need a psychiatrist to make sense of Psychiatron’s diagnostic to the patient, and provide that patient with a holistic treatment that would best address the many factors behind their disease. Psychiatron would simply enable psychiatrists to be better. Eventually, though, that cyborg team might be superseded by an even stronger Psychiatron, which could instantly dispense the right series of loving words upon making a diagnosis, as well as a carefully co-ordinated package of medications and an appropriate exercise plan, all through machine learning techniques that would be completely opaque to any human operator.

This is a version of the future that’s either utopian or nightmarish depending on your perspective—one where we are, as Richard Brautigan wrote, “all watched over by machines of loving grace,” who, like parents, guide us through a world that we’ll never fully understand.

Cryptocurrencies and the True Source of Value

Reading Time: 5 minutesOne of the arguments against Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general is that they do not represent true value. Behind the crypto-algorithms, according to this line of argument, is really nothing that could objectively be considered currency; indeed, nothing at all. Hence, cryptocurrencies are a bubble which is bound to burst. This is not just an any-man-on-the-street opinion; it has been espoused by the billionaire investor Howard Marks, who predicted the “dotcom bubble” of the 1990s. “In my view, digital currencies are nothing but an unfounded fad (or perhaps even a pyramid scheme), based on a willingness to ascribe value to something that has little or none beyond what people will pay for it,” Marks said in 2017. Marks used historical precedent to underscore this point, pointing to the notorious “tulip mania” that started in the Netherlands in the 17th century. In 1637, at the height of the mania, a single tulip bulb could be worth up to ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

Lydian coin. Inscription reads “I am the sign of Phanes”. Electrum (alloy of gold and silver), length: 2,3 cm. Late 7th century BCE, found at Ephesus. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

One might wish to consider other historical precedents, however. Currencies per se are a surprisingly recent invention in human history. According to the archaeological record, the first coins were used in Lydia (present day Turkey) in the 7th century BCE (see image above). This is long after the rise of cities and kingdoms and indeed the successful smelting of metals, including gold, silver and bronze; even 500 years after the commencement of the Iron Age in the Middle East. We also know that this was not due to lack of technical engraving ability, since many small metal seals with intricate designs have been found dating from many centuries prior to the 7th century Lydian coins (see image below).

Seal of Tarkummuwa, King of Mera. Silver (diameter: 4.2 cm). c. 1400 BCE, found at Smyrna. Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.

The anthropologist David Graeber has provided an interesting explanation of why coinage was eventually developed. Coins were not initially used by most ordinary people, he argues. The available archaeological evidence shows that the first coins were used by soldiers. This makes sense, Graeber argues, when we consider that ancient rulers had to find a reliable way of feeding armies at the frontier of their empires. If the soldiers were stationed inland, he points out, it would be extremely difficult to move large amounts of grain or other foodstuffs with them. If, however, standardised coins could be minted and given to soldiers, the soldiers would be able to buy the necessary food from the ruler’s civilian subjects in these far-flung parts of the empire. By taxing his subjects, these metallic tokens of value would then be returned to the king. They began as a more efficient way of feeding armies, but once they acquired universally recognised value within the state, could be applied to any economic transaction.

In order to be hard to forge, coins had to be minted out of rare metals by skilled craftsmen. But even gold, silver and copper, which were used for the earliest coins, have no intrinsic value, as Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari points out – “you can’t eat it, or fashion tools or weapons out of it.” The lesson here is that no form of currency has value above and beyond what we ascribe to it, collectively, as human beings. Thus, it will not do to dismiss a cryptocurrency, as Marks does, because it has no value beyond what people will pay for it (this is not to say, of course, that other arguments against cryptocurrencies fail; only that this particular line of argument is unconvincing). One might well imagine an ancient Lydian exclaiming, “These bits of metal with their fancy designs and inscriptions have no real value. The whole fraud will surely collapse after the king dies.” And yet, as we now know, it did not turn out that way. The coins had value because enough people came to believe that they did and that was all that mattered.

We have since, although only relatively recently in 1971, abandoned the gold standard, making way for the the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. One could even argue, as some have, that the dollar is a less reliable store of value than either gold or Bitcoin, because the US Federal Reserve can simply print as many units as it sees fit – and indeed, in the last round of quantitative easing since the 2008 crash, it has been printing an unprecedented number. The amount of gold in the world runs up against physical limitations, whereas the amount of Bitcoin runs up against mathematical ones. While it is true that other cryptocurrencies can avoid the same limitations that appear to be built into Bitcoin, matters such as the total number of units to be issued and the value of each unit relative to everything else still depend on the vital criterion of consensus by the community of users. Notice that the technological aspects aside, this criterion also applied to the very first currencies used by our species. While it is true that the first coins were issued by rulers in a top-down fashion, these rulers did not realise that they had brought into being a monetary system that would soon escape their control. As Graeber also notes, after appearing in Lydia, coinage soon emerged independently in differently parts of the world. This meant that when different empires came into contact with each other, they had to arrive at a fair exchange rate. If the empires were of roughly equal power, this could not be determined by either of their rulers and was determined instead by market factors beyond any one individual’s control. Exchange rates between different official currencies have thus continued to fluctuate from ancient until modern times.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies could indeed be seen as the next logical step: prior to their emergence, the only “non-physical” medium of exchange resembling a truly global currency was the IMF’s “Special Drawing Rights” or SDRs, although as their name suggests these have only been issued and used in exceptional circumstances. Better yet, unlike SDRs, cryptocurrencies are not controlled centrally in any way. Instead, they are designed to bypass both governments and banks. All they require is a public ledger, the blockchain, to keep track of all transactional information. Governments and banks understandably find this frustrating and will likely do all they can to bring cryptocurrencies under their control. In this respect, however, they may resemble a Lydian king who tries to fix the prices of various commodities, only to find his attempts frustrated by his subjects, who find roundabout ways to buy or sell commodities at market prices.

The fact of the matter is that we are now all living in a global economy, and cryptocurrencies have beaten the IMF to the finish line of establishing imaginary units of value that are created (or “mined”), recognised and used globally. One or even all of them may collapse eventually, but the point is that such an event cannot be brought about by governments or banks. The technology is now out there, as is the will to avoid the fiats of governments or banks. And if they do collapse irreversibly, that is not necessarily good news for fiat currencies. The need for an independent global currency will likely persist even in their absence, perhaps leading to a return to something like the gold standard. In any event, when we go back to the very root of currencies and what makes them valuable, we may well discover a counter-intuitive (at least, to some) truth: that both gold and cryptocurrencies are better placed as stores of value than fiat currencies, such as the pound, dollar or euro.

Are you an influencer?

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This week we rolled out a new feature update which allows you to identify who is an influencer

Influencers. The word seems to be thrown around so much nowadays, with the likes of influencer marketing as a strategy or celebrities like the Kardashians supposedly impacting Snapchat’s user base and uninstalls. As described by IMB,

An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with. The size of the following depends on the size of the niche.”

How does an influencer enhance my content curation experience? As you know, we recently rolled out “topics” which are curated by content from top influencers. We have taken this experience one step further to be more transparent with you about who those influencers are. In your advanced settings, you now have the ability to dictate whether you want that particular feed to be from the top 20, top 100 or a custom score range of influencers. This short video shows you how and where you can find this functionality.

 

In addition, if you are looking for “top trending” content which you may want to post yourself or as part of a newsletter, we have made it easier for you to see what is the most shared content on each article where it says “XX influencers shared”. You can also explore who those influencers were that shared it.

The ultimate question I’m sure you are wanting to know the answer to … How is the influencer score worked out? There’s is a complex algorithm, but the key takeaway that you need to know is that topical influencers are the social experts on a topic within the Cronycle and Right Relevance platforms. The score provides a measure of the social capital earned by an influencer in a topic.

Start Exploring

Does Social Media Really Polarize Our Politics?

Reading Time: 3 minutesIt’s often said that social media has a polarizing effect on our politics. And, on the surface, this narrative makes a lot of sense. The polarization of politics has continued as social media has taken over our brains. And what social media does, among other things, is make a game of earning the approval of your peers, thus solidifying your group identity. When you post something that pleases the sensibilities of your cohort—whether it’s a handsome selfie or a solemn plea for stricter gun control—you get the satisfaction of an immediate bombardment of friendly notifications. The reward structure of the social media experience doesn’t provide incentives for expressing minority views, or objecting to the prevailing narratives, or befriending those who disagree with you.

Moreover, Twitter and Facebook aren’t great places for dialogue. Political arguments are usually futile in real life, even with all of the felicitousness provided by face-to-face interaction. It’s much worse when ideological disagreements need to be reduced to 280 characters, or haveto compete with cute pictures of somebody’s baby. In this setting, sensitivity and nuance doesn’t play well. What gets the most attention is pithiness and aggression. In short, social media enables the self-congratulation and self-separation of mutually hostile political factions. Sounds pretty polarizing, right?

Yes. However, there’s a big and obvious question here, which is whether this is actually any different from the pre-Twitter media landscape. Long before Facebook was ever a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, the various political classes selected the media that was most collegial to their respective worldviews. To take America as an example, in previous decades, Christian conservatives tuned into right-wing talk radio to hear about the horrors of the gay agenda, whereas elite liberals picked up Harper’s to read about the horrors of capitalism. (This is still true today, in part.) Bubbles and echo chambers exist in absence of Twitter. All that’s required to create ideological homogeneity is tribal self-selection or homophily—the tendency of people to hang out with people who are like them and agree with them, given freedom of association. That’s definitely a pre-iPhone tendency.

But, of course, it’s still possible that social media has enhanced tribal patterns of behaviour—that this is not a difference of kind, but it is a difference in degree. So, if we check the data, what do we find? Well, it appears that social media does, in fact, have an effect on polarization. It’s just the opposite effect that critics might expect. According to a demographic study by Boxell et al., published by Stanford University, political polarization is actually less pronounced among demographics that use social media more often (young people, essentially). This shows that it’s unlikely that social media is a more powerful driver of polarization than old-fashioned media. (Or it shows that, even if social media does polarize, there’s some countervailing anti-polarizing force that’s much more powerful.)

And, like the just-so story about why social media polarizes, there’s an appealing readymade narrative about why the opposite might be true. While political disagreements on Twitter and Facebook tend to be shallow and nasty, they’re still genuine disagreements—something that doesn’t usually occur in traditional media. The New York Times doesn’t contain a second page declaring that all the articles on the front page are slanted. And while it’s true that debate programs are a staple of political television, such programs are usually staffed by a preexisting team who are paid to perform a predictable set of reactions to ongoing affairs. Meanwhile, on Twitter, it’s quite easy to run into novel objections to everything you believe in, which, even if they aren’t particularly convincing, might compel more considered private reflection.

Or maybe it’s even simpler than that. It’s possible that young people are less polarized because social media is so nasty and tribal. While a minority of social media influencers make a lot of provocative noise, it’s possible that the non-contributing majority is quietly alienated by the vitriol. While a controversial tweet with 1200 retweets looks impressive, there’s no way to measure the number of users who have quietly rolled their eyes and moved on—or have simply quit Twitter altogether.

There’s a larger lesson here, which is that it’s unwise to infer narratives of societal change based simply on the most visible behaviour provoked by one app or another. (Another demonstration of this: millennials have way less sex than their parents, despite the existence of Tinder and all the moral panic surrounding it.) Ultimately, sensationalist narratives about the polarizing effects of social media are just the kind of thing that’s popular on social media.

Slack-GDPR

Reading Time: 1 minuteWith the GDPR soon becoming enforceable (25th may 2018), Cronycle has launched the first-ever GDPR slack community which is aimed at building a community to foster the conversation about the General Data Protection Regulation. By joining the community, you will get content straight to your Slack channel from top influencers as well as our monthly insight reports that we produce on this topic.  You can view our latest insight for January here.

Join the community

Once you have received your invite and agreed to the Terms and conditions you can get started straight away. We have provided top articles on GDPR but also on related topics such Data Protection, Cyber Security, and Privacy. To add any of these topics, simply click on the “Channels” and you will get a pop up to browse the different channels/ topics. We’ve added a quick 20-second video to show you how.

 

 

The final part, as we are building a community we encourage that you invite fellow peers to join the community, this is an open channel so it’s as simple as “+ Invite people” at the bottom of your direct messages, fill in their email and Voila!

We value feedback so if you have any other suggestions on how we can improve the community then please drop us a message. To note, this is the start of the Communities by Cronycle, as we are looking to add more in the coming months.

There is No Solution to the Problem of “Fake News”

Reading Time: 4 minutesIn the aftermath of the 2016 election, the term “fake news”, seldom heard previously, became ubiquitous. This was, of course, no coincidence: the unexpected victory of Donald Trump cried out for an explanation, and invoking the concept was one such attempt by the president’s many critics, who could not bring themselves to face the possibility that he won fairly. As one conservative commentator saw it, “just as progressive ideas were being rejected by voters across the western world, the media suddenly discovered a glitch which explained why. Fake news is the new false consciousness.” But the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda is as old civilization itself. The internet is merely a new means of spreading these, and even then, not especially new. Consider, for instance, the anti-vaccination and “9/11 truth” movements of the preceding decades, and the role played by the internet in amplifying the noises of otherwise small groups of dedicated ideologues or charlatans. So we are still left wondering: why only in the last few years has the term “fake news” entered public discourse?

A possible answer is that the point has been reached at which traditional purveyors of news feel that they no longer have control over broader narratives. Their sounding of the alarm over “fake news” is thus a desperate rallying cry in order to regain this control. Some have drawn an analogy to the invention of the printing press in the 16th century, which also revolutionized the spread of information and led to the Protestant Reformation (and of course, disinformation, such as exaggerated accounts of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition). From this perspective, it is futile to resist the changing ways in which information spreads. One must adapt or die. In many ways, Donald Trump, who began his presidency fighting off a cascade of “fake news” allegations, including about such petty matters as the size of his inauguration crowd, has done a better job of adapting to the new informational eco-system. Twitter, with its 280–until recently, only 140–character limit, has turned out to be the perfect medium for a president with a reportedly short attention span. He also uses it to bypass the mainstream media in order to reach the public directly with his own message or narrative. And the president has masterfully turned the weapon of “fake news” around, aiming it right back at the media. At the end of 2017, his first year in office, he seemed to relish releasing the “The Highly Anticipated Fake News Awards”, a list of misleading or false anti-Trump news stories undermining the media’s insistence that it is impartial.

For all its faults, however, the mainstream media does have a legitimate point about the dangers of “fake news”. There must be an objective standard against which all purveyors of news are held and there does need to be a common set–or at least core–of facts upon which all rational parties in society can agree. But this is easier said than done, and it is far from obvious that there is a “quick fix” solution to this problem that does not merely favor one set of news purveyors over another, based on criteria other than factual accuracy. For example, many in the US fear that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed changes to “net neutrality” rules will give a few major companies the ability to speed up, slow down or even block access to certain web addresses or content. Comcast, for instance, is simultaneously the largest television broadcasting company, through its National Broadcasting Company (NBC) channel, and the largest internet service provider in the United States. Should the current FCC chairman’s plans to end “net neutrality” succeed, this will put Comcast in a powerful position to regulate–effectively–much of the online media landscape according to its own financial interests as a news organisation.

Social media companies such as Facebook have come under fire for spreading “fake news.” Although Mark Zuckerberg initially argued that Facebook is a tech platform and not a media company per se, he was eventually forced to concede that whatever he had originally intended the company to be, an increasing number of people around the world did in fact get their news primarily from their Facebook newsfeed and that Facebook therefore had a “a responsibility to create an informed community and help build common understanding”. Behind this corporate newspeak must also lie a very real fear that government regulation of Facebook as a media company could end up crippling its business model. If Facebook could be held liable for the spread of false information, it would need to hire thousands of fact checkers to nip this in the bud whenever it occurs, but doing so would be far too costly for the organisation, to say nothing of the practical challenges involved. Thus, it has had to rely on very imperfect “fake news” detection algorithms, and more recently, a deliberate de-emphasis of news altogether, the idea behind this being to return the platform to its original purpose of connecting friends and family.

But it is gradually dawning on many people that the war on “fake news” may be unwinnable. This is because there is no in-principle solution to the age-old philosophical problem of how to know what is true. If anything, this problem has become vastly more difficult now that there is an abundance of information to sort through, presented to us in a non-random–but not necessarily truth-tracking–way. We would all do well, however, to exercise greater skepticism in response to all truth claims, including official ones, such as the vague claim that Russia “hacked the election”. Skepticism does not come naturally to human beings, who are notoriously credulous. One should thus be taught to be skeptical from a young age, and to favor logical consistency and empirical evidence over other considerations when evaluating competing truth claims. This approach falls well short of a real solution, but it may help us individually and collectively to navigate the treacherous ocean of information in which we find ourselves. Hopefully, we will find ways of adjusting to our current information environment and a new equilibrium will emerge from the informational chaos. Cronycle is one platform that is ahead of the curve in this respect: it not only recognizes the problem of information overload, but provides its users with useful tools for finding the trustworthy, high quality content out there in the Wild, Wild Web.

What’s your topic?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This week we rolled out a new feature update which allows you to have an enhanced curation experience. Topics.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Topic; A matter dealt with in a text, discourse, or conversation; a subject. Likewise, according to Merriam Webster, related words subject matter/talking point/idea, point/issue (you get the idea).

Others refer to it as social listening or brand monitoring, but to us, it’s more than this … It’s a completely new enhanced curation experience. Our recent acquisition of Right Relevance means we are able to integrate their AI into our platform and increase the functionality of content being serviced to you. We have a pipeline of new features in the next few releases, but this one we are especially excited about.

A topic you ask, how is this created?

Using our algorithms, cross-referencing people and articles to created top scored influencers on the subject matter, they are then aggregated into an automated feed.

You’ll notice the Discovery section has had a facelift, by this, Topics have a new coloured banner for you to easily identify in your feed, these are red whereas the curated club content which is hand selected by the curators and team have a green banner and still available.

https://vimeo.com/252729122


The advantage of having topics as a feature means you can keep up to date with the latest trending topics or selections by industries, all pre-curated and ready for you. These trending topics are constantly changing and sorted by order of most popular.

This is where it gets really special, if you have logged in with an email address, you can also connect a Twitter account to see even more personalized content. Tried and tested, these really are influenced by your activity on Twitter. This is the button to look for to make it happen;


As always, let us know if you have any thoughts on other topics or features to enhance!

Does the Future of Religion Lie in Technology?

Reading Time: 7 minutesVery little these days seems untouched by technology. Indeed, people’s lives are so saturated with it that they sometimes speak of “withdrawal symptoms” on those increasingly rare occasions when they find themselves without internet access. Some try to escape it at least some of the time, for instance, by “disconnecting” for a day or more when on holiday or on a retreat. Yet surely, one might think, religion is one area that remains largely untouched by technology. This is certainly true of the Amish or ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are outright suspicious of any new technology. But it is true of mainstream religion as well. The eternal “flame” in synagogues is now often electric, churches have replaced candles on their Christmas trees with electric lights, and the muezzin’s call to prayer is often amplified by a loudspeaker. These changes, however, are trivial. Ancient religions have shown themselves able to incorporate technology into their practices, without disappearing or changing beyond recognition. It seems, then, that technology does not directly threaten religion.

Nevertheless, throughout most of the Western world, the churches are empty. Declining church attendance certainly seems to be correlated with technological advancement, but is there a causal connection? Perhaps the further factor causing both is the triumph of the scientific worldview. This laid the ground for the discoveries of biological evolution and Biblical criticism–which pulled the carpet from under religion–as well as for rapid technological advancement. What makes Western societies different from non-Western ones is that the former experienced both of these processes simultaneously. The latter, by and large, experienced only the latter. It is possible, however, that in the coming decades, the whole world will secularise as all societies move toward the scientific worldview. The question then is whether religion dies out and mankind continues without it, or whether one or many new religions are born into the vacuum that will be left.

Already there are some indications of what these religions might look like. The Way of the Future (WotF) “church” was founded in 2015 by self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski, on the “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.” Although this doctrine sounds somewhat comical and far-fetched, when one unpacks it a little, it begins to make sense. Through all the data and computing power to which it had access, Levandowski’s AI would be, for human intents and purposes, omniscient and omnipotent. We would believe in its ability to answer all our questions and solve all our problems and “worship” it by doing whatever it required of us in order to perform these tasks better, including handing over all our personal data. We would also do well to show proper respect and reverence towards this AI-godhead, so that it might in turn have mercy upon us. “There are many ways people think of God, and thousands of flavors of Christianity, Judaism, Islam,” says Levandowski, “but they’re always looking at something that’s not measurable or you can’t really see or control. This time it’s different. This time you will be able to talk to God, literally, and know that it’s listening.”

The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, distinguishes between two main types of “techno-religions”: “techno-humanism” and “data religion” (or “dataism”). Although he uses the term “religion” more broadly than most other writers would (e.g. he considers capitalism a religion), his discussion is helpful here. WotF would fit into the former category, since it posits that humans would continue to exist and to benefit from AI. “Dataism”, however, as Harari puts it, holds that “humans have completed their cosmic task, and they should now pass the torch on to entirely new kinds of entities.” (Harari, p. 285) This is more in line with what has been called the singularity, the point at which humans either merge entirely with AI or are eliminated by it – perhaps due to their inefficiency. It is of course entirely possible that techno-humanism is only a stepping stone on the way to the singularity, in which case it is indistinguishable from data religion, but Harari leaves this possibility open. Levandowski, too, dislikes the term “singularity”, preferring to speak of a profound “transition”, the end point of which is not at all clear.

A central tenet of “dataism” is that data processing is the highest good, which means that it evaluates everything in terms of its contribution to data processing. As a further corollary, anything that impedes the flow of data is evil (Harari, p. 298). With this in mind, Harari proposes Aaron Swartz as the first martyr of “dataism”. Swartz made it his life’s mission to remove all barriers to the free flow of information. To this end, he downloaded hundreds of thousands of articles from JSTOR, intending to release these so that everyone could access them free of charge. He was consequently prosecuted and when he realised that he was facing imprisonment, committed suicide. Swartz’ “martyrdom”, however, moved his goal a step closer, when JSTOR, in response to petitions and threats from his fans and “co-religionists”, apologised for its role in his death and agreed to allow free access to much of its data (Harari, p. 310).

These ideas about future techno-religions are all interesting, but they seem to miss at least one key feature of religion, namely its continuity with the past. Much of religious belief and practice is concerned with events that occurred in the past and are re-enacted through common rituals. Nicholas Wade, in his book The Faith Instinct, argues that religion has evolved gradually throughout human history (and pre-history). According to his thesis, religion “evolved for a single reason: to further the survival of human societies. Those who administer religions should not assume they cannot be altered. To the contrary, religions are Durkheimian structures, eminently adjustable to a society’s needs.” (Wade, p. 226)

He observes that every major social or economic revolution has been accompanied by a religious one. When humans were in their most primitive state, that of hunter gatherers, they were animists who believed that every physical thing had an associated spirit. Their rituals included dancing around campfires and taking hallucinogenic drugs in order to access the spirit world. With the agricultural revolution, humans developed calendars and religious feasts associated with the seasons. They came to worship a smaller number of “super-spirits”, or gods, often associated with agriculture, for example Demeter the Greek goddess of the harvest. The next phase of this revolution was increasing urbanisation, which began in the Middle East. As cities gave rise to states, and states to empires, the nature of religion changed again. It needed to be organised in a unified and centralised manner, and as the Roman emperors eventually discovered, Christianity was more conducive to these requirements than paganism (in the Far East, Buddhism, and in the Near East, Islam, fulfilled much the same function). The Protestant Reformation happened at approximately the same time as the voyages of discovery and the expansion of European empires around the world. This new form of Christianity placed greater emphasis on the individual, and so ushered in capitalist free enterprise. The Industrial Revolution then followed, which was the last major revolution until the present Information Revolution, as it might be called. Yet in the approximately 200 years since then, no new (or rather, updated) religious system has yet emerged. As Wade suggests at the end of his book.

Maybe religion needs to undergo a second transformation, similar in scope to the transition from hunter gatherer religion to that of settled societies. In this new configuration, religion would retain all its old powers of binding people together for a common purpose, whether for morality or defense. It would touch all the senses and lift the mind. It would transcend self. And it would find a way to be equally true to emotion and to reason, to our need to belong to one another and to what has been learned of the human condition through rational inquiry. (Wade, p. 227)

One might wonder whether techno-religions would be up to the task. Notice, however, that all the previous religious transformations were gradual – so gradual, in fact, that many people who lived through them may not even have noticed them. We still see evidence of this in the many pagan traditions that were incorporated into Christianity, for example, the Christmas tree, which probably derives from the ancient Roman practice of decorating houses with evergreen plants during the winter solstice festival of Saturnalia. Ancient temples devoted to pagan gods became churches. See for example, the Temple of Demeter pictured below, first built in 530 BCE and later rebuilt as a church in the 6th century CE. When Islam arrived on the scene in the 7th century, it did not claim to be a new religion. On the contrary, it held that the first man, Adam, was a Muslim and that everyone had subsequently strayed from the true religion, to which Muhammad would return them. It retrospectively retold all the Biblical stories in order to fit this narrative. Hagar, for instance, is a mere concubine of Abraham in the Bible, but according to Muslim tradition, she was his wife. This is important because she was the mother of Ishmael, who is considered the father of the Arabs and the ancestor of Muhammad.

The Temple of Demeter (rebuilt as a church), Naxos, Greece

The problem with techno-religions, as currently construed, is that instead of building on all this prior religious heritage, they propose to throw it out and start again de novo. But human nature is not like that, at least not until we have succeeded in substantially altering it through gene editing or other technology! Human beings crave a connection with the past in order to give their lives meaning. Since religion is mainly in the business of giving meaning to human lives (setting aside the question of whether there is any objective basis to this perceived meaning), a techno-religion that tells us to forget our collective past and put our faith in data or AI is surely one of the least inspiring belief systems we have ever been offered. If, however, we could imagine techno-religions that built on our existing religious heritage, and found some way of preserving those human values and traditions that have proven timeless, perhaps by baking them into the AI or data flow in some way, these religions might be on a firmer footing.

2017 Insights Analysis – GDPR

Reading Time: 3 minutesAfter four years of preparation and debate about GDPR, the EU Parliament approved the regulation in April 2016 to replace an outdated data protection directive from 1995. Today, we have five months to go until the enforcement deadline of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. At which, non-compliant organisations can face fines /penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of your global annual turnover, whichever is greater. Encase you are ever in doubt of the time frame, there is a live countdown timer on the EU GDPR website to remind you.

 

You may be wondering, why the regulation was agreed in the first place? There are two key takeaways as summarised by IT Pro

  • The EU wants to give people more control over how their personal data is used, bearing in mind that many companies like Facebook and Google swap access to people’s data for use of their services. The current legislation was enacted before the internet and cloud technology created new ways of exploiting data, and the GDPR seeks to address that. By strengthening data protection legislation and introducing tougher enforcement measures, the EU hopes to improve trust in the emerging digital economy.
  • Secondly, the EU wants to give businesses a simpler, clearer legal environment in which to operate, making data protection law identical throughout the single market (the EU estimates this will save businesses a collective €2.3 billion a year).

 

Our newest collaboration between Cronycle and Right Relevance means we can produce insights reports on hot topics to analyse the conversations at any point in time. As GDPR is a key focus for us (and others), we started with this and launched our report this week which you can view here.

Flock graph for GDPR Report 2017

Our report examines the all online conversations during the time period from November 15th to December 4th and along with Right Relevance topics, topical communities’ and articles data. All that data allows us to plot impressive graphs of interactions, with clear communities forming along the lines of nationality and business type. The pale blue cluster, for example, centres on the French data commissioner, CNIL: those accounts orbiting it include French firms and governmental departments.

 

Our overall findings are that the discussion about GDPR is driven by fear of failing to become compliant, across all kinds of users. Just a glance at our groupings of top trending terms can give a flavour of keywords, which focus on guides and webinars which provide clear guidance on compliance. Discussions about more the more positive side of GDPR, such as greater protection for user information or ethical innovation under the new regulations, appears to be less central at this time.

Using Right Relevance’s data, we can also produce a list of flocks: that’s those accounts which have the most influence in our specific period of research in our specific field. Rather than measuring long-term power, they’re instead a snapshot of the key players at a given moment. They included the British and French data commisioners (the ICO and CNIL), tech journalists, privacy experts like Max Schrems, and trade groups. Conspicuously missing from the table below? Members of Parliament from Britain or France, the countries from which most traffic on GDPR came.

What these flocks show is that it’s not just follower count which gives accounts importance: Laura Kayali (@LauKaya), a Brussels-based reporter, tops out our list but only has 1,524 followers compared to over 37,000 for the ICO (@ICOnews).

Our report also discusses important metrics which are often not covered elsewhere, such as betweenness centrality: how well does an account act as a node for the overall network? Whilst high page rank and betweenness centrality (being a connector here) can be interlinked, that’s not always the case: @LauKaya has a high page rank, but is not a key connector, for example.

 

Let us know if you have any thoughts or feedback as we are looking to produce a report on GDPR topic at least once a month to keep us all in the loop of conversations.

 

View the full report

Not another collaboration.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Collaboration. “The action of working with someone to produce something”

One of our key values, not only attached to our product but also our culture featuring an international team of 12 nationalities across 4 time zones. How can you make this work effectively with  the help of technology directly impacting the way teams are engaging  today? Without surprise, the hottest job title on trend currently is  “Digital Nomad” – defining people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, and recreational vehicles. So much for a trend though, it’s been predicted that by 2035, over 1 billion people will be working this way. Without doubt, this life isn’t for everyone, but I’m confident we have all been through office space transformations with hot-desking and remote working all very 2005.

With more tools becoming available to encourage collaborative working, we see the likes of GitHub and Slack improving efficiencies, and at a rapid pace and scale. We, as employers or employees, are working smarter and more on the go than ever before. Is there a skill for Alexa to do it? The only thing that remains the same is that  we all have the same amount of time in a day, and there is no way to get more of it. It doesn’t matter how successful or wealthy one is – we are all capped at 24 hours per day.” as quoted by The Entrepreneur.

In the way technology makes us evolve as humans, it also encourages us to shape and adapt our products. As a result, we’ve rolled-out the largest update on “Boards”. Think of a board as an enriched collaboration space online, that enables you to work on specific projects with your team and to keep track of  notes, files, articles and everything in between. Roll this up with our Chrome extension clipper. This lets you clip the content directly from the web and continue collaborating as such with tagging and commenting straight to the Boards. It has never been easier to consolidate!. As Pokeshot rightly mentioned, “Find and use tools that integrate, so your employees can find everything in one place”.