Curate Google Alerts in Cronycle

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Cronycle lets you integrate the widest range of sources, including Google Alerts into feeds.

Feeds are used as a starting point for your information workflow. Other sources you can use to create feeds include RSS feeds, Twitter handles, newsletters, and our own automated Topics. (Note that you can also also add files on boards.)

This posts explains how to create a Google Alert and add it to Cronycle.

Step 1 – Create a Google Alert

First, in Google Alerts, create an alert for the subject you are interested in. You will see it in your list of alerts, such as Artificial Intelligence Ethics in this example:

You can use common syntax elements to shape these alerts, such as + to include content with several words, – to do exclusions, “or” to have several options, “quotes” for specific expressions, etc. Read more about more tricks to optimise your Alert here.

Step 2 – Generate an RSS link from your Google Alert

Click on the pen of the Google Alert you want to follow to show the settings. Select RSS feed in the last option to deliver the alert to.

Save to update the alert. Now, when you hide the options, you will see an RSS icon by the alert. Right click to copy the destination link – a fully working RSS feed URL.

Step 3 – Add the Google Alert in Cronycle

Now, you are ready to add this RSS link to Cronycle. In Feeds, click on Manage All Sources (bottom left).

Paste the link in the input field to add new sources: as soon as the alert is loaded, press on the + icon to save it to your source library. It appears in the list of sources, at the top.

Paste the Google Alert RSS URL in the Add new sources field and add

Next, you probably want to create a feed to see content flowing in from that Google Alert. You can select one or several sources, of different kinds if you want (Twitter handles, RSS, Google Alerts, Topics). Click on “Create Feed” to build your own custom feed.

Select the Google Alert(s) and any other source to group into a feed

You can also start adding keywords to further refine your feed. From there, you can pin interesting content to boards and continue the workflow all the way to publishing.

The resulting feed. A keywords adds more relevance.

Step 4 – Try a smart alternative: Cronycle Topics

While you can do the above to use your current set up, know that we have an alternative to Google Alerts, which we call Cronycle Topics. Our mission is to help you gain time by surfacing relevant content. You can search and preview Topics easily in the Discovery section in Cronycle, or from Add/Create Feeds.

We identify thought leaders, or influencers, per Topic. They are ranked in terms of influence within the community of the Topic, so we are confident they bring value to the discussion. We look at what these influencers share about the topic on Twitter to surface important and relevant content. You can read more about how this works on this post from Vishal, our CEO.

Explore Topics, here with the list of influencers

You can add one to five Topics per feed, and add keywords within Cronycle to you can get content at the intersection of some of our 50k Topics and another dimension.

Feed with 1 Topic (Artificial Intelligence) and ethics / ethical as keyword filters

You can also limit the influencers to take in consideration, by deactivating them individually, and/or by selecting a range.

In feed settings, filter by influencers

To try all this, create an account for free, which gives you all the power of a pro account for 28 days. No credit card required!

Start to curate in Cronycle: import OPML

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You can easily start to curate content using Cronycle: we let you import the standard file (OPML) from feed aggregators, import your Twitter contacts (Pro Trial, Pro & Enterprise plans only), get suggestions based on your Twitter activity and/or search for RSS feeds, Twitter handles and our automatically curated feeds on 50k Topics. We even have a Chrome and Safari extension to save single pieces of content or to grab RSS. This is an important start in our end-to-end workflow, to let you curate, organize and publish content.

This post is about importing OPML.

How to import sources using an OPML file

RSS aggregators let you export sources as an OPML file. This is a standard file format that consists of a list with structure and links. In the case of Feedly, the OPML file groups sources together, by feed.

In Cronycle, we have a source library to import and manage sources (in Feeds, find “Manage all sources” to the bottom left).

When you import an OPML file, you will see that all the sources appear in a list. Also, if you want to keep the same feed structure as in Feedly, you can filter sources by folder, select all, and click on Create Feed.

Then, you can name the feed, add or remove sources, and even start to add keyword filters. Save, and your feed is ready to check through!

A little work about source pooling…

Our Enterprise plan includes a unique functionality: the ability to pool sources across your organisation. All curators and admins within the organisation can see the same sources and build feeds.

We’ll soon have more news on this space, as we’ll make it more collaborative…

Receive your favourite newsletters in Cronycle

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We have some news in Feeds! You can now curate newsletters too.

Cronycle Feeds already lets you curate content from RSS feeds, Twitter handles and our own Cronycle Topics – Dynamic relevant feeds across 50k topics automatically curated from top influencers.

Now, you can receive all your newsletter subscriptions in a dedicated feed, so all your content can be collected in the same tool, ready to be filtered, selected, organised, enriched and published.

How does it work?

First, in Cronycle, go to Feeds. Click on Add Feeds. Near the bottom of the pop-up window, you will see a section called “Subscribe to newsletters”.

Simply copy the email address provided and use it to subscribe to your newsletters. You can close the pop-up.

As soon as the first email will be received, you will see a new feed in your feed list, named “Newsletters”. Note that this can take a couple of days, depending on the pace of your subscriptions. This is where all your issues will be collected, as well as address confirmation emails (so don’t forget to check it out!).

Currently, if you want to curate a link from a newsletter issue, you need to open the original content. From there, you can use our Content Clipper extension (available on Chrome and Safari) to save it to a board, where you can organise, enrich and publish.

Did you know? You can also easily create and send your own newsletters from your curated content, within Cronycle. Learn more here.

Our WordPress Plugin

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We recently did a total update of our plugin in WordPress. If you still have the old one, we recommend you read this detailed post and update it in WordPress. If you are new to this, please read on…

The Cronycle Content Plugin enables you to create news feeds on your website, using the content you curate on your Cronycle boards. Curated content includes articles, videos, Twitter conversations and Story Arcs (grouped content), with or without your commentary.

Our plugin has two features:

Board Content as Banner – Provide functionalities to generate a newsfeed banner on your website with certain Cronycle board content. It applies your default font.

Board Content as Draft post – Provide functionalities to fetch Cronycle board content and insert into the WordPress as draft post which can be edited and published to your website.

Create a free Cronycle account today to try it out, and follow our dedicated WordPress plugin guide.

Start using Cronycle for free

Newsletters made simple, by Cronycle

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In an age of exponential content production and social sharing, finding relevant content can feel like painstaking work. Among the options available for your audience to navigate information, curation has grown and is now standing out. Most people trust a few hand-picked curators to do at least some of the work for them. If you are reading this post, you are probably a curator (or a curator-to-be). And that’s what Cronycle can help you achieve, alone or with your team.

In this post, we’ll look at newsletters.

Newsletters are powerful tools to raise awareness of your brand and expertise. But until recently, connecting a myriad of tools to select, create and distribute issues made it a time consuming task many of you could not afford. And any change with one tool made this card castle crumble.

But this has changed, Cronycle made it simple – mostly because we integrate discovery, curation, organization and publishing in our integrated workflow.

Choose Topics of interest from over 50k Topics (and many more sources) and create feeds

Filter feeds with keywords to only get what is potentially relevant within the feeds

Pin content from the feed onto boards, or clip to your board from anywhere on the web using our Content Clipper extensions

Collaborate with your team to enrich the best content on your boards

Drag & drop the best articles within custom sections into our newsletter templates

Import & manage your newsletter distribution list, then send or schedule your issues.

Use the same board content to publish to your WordPress website, social media (via Buffer), RSS, Cronycle Curated feed, or to Slack.

Give it a try! You can sign up for free and you will get 28 days free pro trial to curate, assemble and send newsletters.

Cronycle Topics & Influencer Communities

Reading Time: 2 minutesCronycle is an information workflow application powered by Right Relevance (subsidiary of Cronycle), which is a topical information search and relevance platform.

Topics and Influencers (per topic) form the backbone of the search and relevance technology.

  1. Topics (over 50 thousand) including metadata like related topics & semantics like synonyms, acronyms.
  2. Topical influencers (over 2.5M) with score and rank.

Topics are identified by algorithmically mining over 10M unstructured documents on the web and leveraging Wikipedia and Right Relevance topical graph neighborhood techniques. Relationships and semantics are derived from this process with manual corrections and injections for the last mile.

Topical Influencers mining is fully algorithmic and primarily graph based. The methodology leverages ML, semantic analysis and NLP on unstructured data at scale and involves a 2-level proprietary people rank (custom page rank for social graphs):

Stage 1. Global PR to reduce a ~300M nodes graph to ~6M (for now) globally ranked influencers. This is a first level reduction and we don’t expose the scores. It doesn’t have topical context.

Stage 2. Graph partitioning of the ~6M connected nodes from stage 1 across our ~50K structured topic space using unstructured data assigned to each node. This leads to ~50K per topic sub-graphs, where a secondary PR is applied to determine the topic score for each node in each topical sub-graph. This secondary PR score is normalized to calculate the Right Relevance topic score and rank influencers for every structured topic in our platform. 

Our custom PR algorithm is derived from google pagerank but is specialized for social graphs (instead of links/webpages) with many important differences applicable to social networks.

The RightRelevance score of an expert/influencer for a TOPIC represents the authority within the topical community say for e.g. ‘machine learning’ of that influencer. This measure of influence per topic is termed as ‘topical influence’ and the topical communities formed are termed as “Tribes“.

Once we have the scored and ranked influencers’ community for a particular topic (e.g. machine learning, behavioral science, big data, emergency medicine, oil and gas, angularjs,  social media marketing etc.) we mine the web for content. The numeric influence from topics and influencers is inductively applied to this content for measuring relevance and forms a critical part of the search. We download ~600K articles daily from ~2M websites every month. Topical content and information are available in the form of articles, videos and conversations.

Points to note:

  • We dampen followers count, tweet count etc. noisy signals and lay much more focus on the topical network itself.
  • Each influencer can be part of multiple topical sub-graphs aka communities and have a different score, and rank, within each. This is exposed in our apps via scored tags.
  • Other, non structured, topics work via free-form search but the relevance may not be of the same quality. This can be seen by the score ’10’, which, probably poorly done, means we didn’t find a community for the topic.

Both topics and influencer graphs are mined and built algorithmically at scale with ever-increasing quality after every iteration.

Event: mastering information in a Trump Twittersphere

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We are hosting an event at the Century Club (61-63 Shaftesbury Ave, London) to discuss how Twitter is gaining importance in financial markets.  We will show you how hedge fund managers and analyst are using Cronycle (www.cronycle.com) and RightRelevance (https://www.rightrelevance.com/search/articles?query=crude%20oil – on crude oil for example) to keep ahead.

Please RSVP at [email protected]

We look forward to seeing you there.

Date:  9 July, 2018

Tine:  6pm onwards

Venue:  Century Club, 61-63 Shaftesbury Avenue

 

 

Storytelling: From Discovery to Delivery

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Are you setting the “visions, values and agenda for an entire generation that is to come”?

I grew up in rural Africa with a rich culture of storytelling and Steve’s words in the quote above resonate deeply with me.

A good storyteller will have a vast tapestry of anecdotes to draw from in order to weave a powerful narrative that will open the hearts and minds and change behaviours of their listeners, incrementally shaping the future with every story.

In my youth, the storytellers would roam from village to village, observing activity, collecting anecdotes and retelling tales in order to help the village elders achieve the behaviours and outcomes they desired. Tales of tragedy would be used as a warning of the dire consequences associated with a certain path of action while stories of hope and prosperity achieved by other villages would motivate new behaviours and actions in an attempt to imitate the same.

I am the current day incarnation of the storytellers of my youth.

I scan the world for TIPS – Technologies, Innovations, Patents and Start-ups and I  contemplate the consequences and implications that these will have on the future of society, industry and the individuals within.

But my villages where I harvest the anecdotes from are vastly dispersed and while I do my best to visit as many as I can in person by attending conferences and exhibitions across the world and speaking to academics and thought leaders and participating in discussions and panels, there is no way I could find and keep track of the stories and snippets from which to weave my narratives without a little help.

OK – without a LOT of help.

 

I have previously made use of a plethora of tools, folders, ad-ins, widgets and whatnots in an attempt to curate order from chaos but was frequently overwhelming and required far too much overhead to sustain.

And then – in May 2016 I overheard a brief snippet of a pitch being delivered to a potential customer browsing an exhibition stand at The Next Web (TNW).  It was something about “content curation” and the fact that they were using my language stopped me in my tracks – I had to investigate further!

The diminutive stand belonged to Cronycle – a platform I’d not yet heard of which was surprising to me as I thought I had tried them all. I moved in closer, steeling myself for the inevitable disappointment associated with much of the “vapourware” I was used to coming across at events like this. I could hardly contain my excitement as the exhibitor stepped me through the capabilities of the fledgling app. It was already a more capable tool than the combination of three or four of the tools I was using, all put together! Of course, in such situations, the correct response is always to act cool and probe for more – you wouldn’t want a start-up to think they had nailed it one now do you?

I eventually left the stand with a casual “I’ll give it a try” and walked off.

At first, I did simply “give it a try”. You must understand that I had already invested hundreds (more like thousands) of hours building up a repository of information from which to create my stories that I tell across the globe to audiences of all sizes. There was a LOT at stake here – my reputation being the most important factor taken into consideration!

The first shock came when I was almost instantly contacted by the COO, Jeremy. He wanted to know if I would be willing to come into their offices in London to explain how I did what I do and how Cronycle could play more of a role in helping me achieve my goals. Then came the second shock – this wasn’t just a customer platitude! Jeremy genuinely listened to what I said and he shared with me his vision of where they were headed.

He had a great story – I bought into it completely!

 

Over the next couple of months the feature drops and enhancements came at a pace I’ve rarely seen in any start-up – and I’ve mentored my fair share of them over the last couple of years.

My days now start with a journey through my digital villages to catch up with the latest happenings – content feeds curated around major topics by Cronycle themselves and those that I have created using a combination of my own sources and a myriad of previously unknown sources surfaced via the Cronycle interface. If I am researching a brand new industry or topic I know I will have relevant content pouring into my feeds within seconds. Cronycle is now my primary discovery tool that I consult before tapping into any other source.

Storytelling discovery on CronycleDiscovery – showing Wired article on board

But discovery is only part of what I do. Curation is arguably of greater importance to me and for the first time ever, this is effortlessly achieved in a single interface. I can “pin” articles, documents and images to “boards” and even upload my own, tagging them for cross-referencing using my own taxonomy. If I worked in a larger organisation as opposed to on my own, I could invite others to comment and discuss and add their views and opinions to enrich the information snippet (yes, I do use this to argue with myself on occasion but we will gloss over that for now).

I later use these boards when I’m invited by a company or event to stand up and tell stories to an audience – drawing from a vast tapestry of anecdotes in order to weave a powerful narrative that will open the hearts and minds and change behaviours of their listeners, incrementally shaping the future with every story I deliver.

Storytelling at a client workshopDelivery – showing Wired article on screen at Customer Experience event

These guys are on a mission to change the way relevant content is uncovered, socialised, curated and repurposed and they are now woven inextricably in my own work from discovery all the way through to delivery.

Go on – give them a try – and see for yourself how you can set the “visions, values and agenda for an entire generation that is to come”.

 

The guest post was written by Andrew Vorster, Innovation Catalyst. You can follow Andrew further on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

 

BailBloc: A Lesson in Cryptocurrencies’ Constraints?

Reading Time: 2 minutesCharity is not the most obvious use of cryptocurrencies. In fact, it might be fair to say that most anecdotes involving blockchain-derived monetary systems are about conmen and almost criminally gullible suckers. Between ridiculous Initial Coin Offerings, with proposals as wild as reshaping the dental sector, the association with petty criminals and the far-right, and simple, old-fashioned fraud and theft, the innovation which was meant to reshape how we did business has had a rough time.

But with BailBloc, a brainchild of the New Inquiry (a New York based cultural magazine), that looked set to change. The initiative, in tandem with the Bronx Freedom Fund, promised users that slacktivism powered by blockchain could really have an impact on the world. By running the application on your computer, you could effectively take part in bitcoin ‘mining’, solving complex equations to earn Monero. This money is then ploughed into the Bronx Freedom Fund, and used to support those who cannot pay for their bail.

As a number of commentators have pointed out – perhaps most notably arch crypto-sceptic David Gerard  – it’s a far more circuitous route than it first looks. The amount of electricity poured into cryptocurrencies has risen over time as the calculations have grown increasingly complex: each ‘block’ you mine makes the subsequent one worse value for power. Not only is this massively detrimental to an environment already reeling under the blows of Trump’s EPA and worsening pollution elsewhere in the world: it also means that the amount of money donated will fall over time. Gerard makes the colourful analogy that it’s essentially burning $5 of coal, then sending $4 to the Bronx Freedom Fund. He also makes the valid point that Monero is a favoured target of particularly nefarious users of cryptocurrencies, because it is a especially hard to trace. As a result, BailBloc users will find themselves competing with automated accounts and botnets, which can muster up far more power.

It’s unfair to call BailBloc naive, because in many ways it recognised how the magic of cryptocurrencies – printing money from thin air! – can motivate users. In a very real sense, the project grasped the amount of processing power on hand around the world; it’s a lot easier to get people to give that up than to follow traditional donation models. The New Yorker‘s decision to class it as art does feel patronising, ignoring its fundamental genius: BailBloc runs on the principle that people (even its creators) don’t really understand how computers, or the internet, or cryptocurrencies really work.

In spite of the radical libertarian ethos which underpins them, blockchain-based currencies are increasingly the game of criminals (who have access to large scale botnets), or miners who can afford massive server farms. In short, those looking to use them for social causes are inevitably likely to be outgunned. In fact, those who are looking to use them for personal gain are also likely to be outgunned. The quest for grand decentralisation simply puts the power to mine new money into the hands of a different set of elites.

The (In)justice of Algorithms

Reading Time: 3 minutesIn 1956, when Philip K. Dick wrote The Minority Report, the internet wasn’t around. In fact, the internet’s forbears wouldn’t appear until the next decade. But whilst the detection of ‘precrime’ in Dick’s short story was through the power of unfortunate mutants, we are rapidly moving into a present where the power of big data and algorithms are to solve crimes. The supposedly cold rationality of computing is supposed to trump our own prejudices.

And yet, it won’t.

The fear of algorithms is not exactly a new topic, but it’s one that only grows more relevant over time. Algorithms decide what news you see on Facebook – which not only pushed out valuable workers, but also doesn’t really fix underlying issues of exclusion and bias. Then there’s the complaints about the exact algorithm which Facebook uses to push different contacts to your newsfeed: another black box, which the company is unlikely to crack. The other social media titan of our time, Twitter, has also quietly pushed algorithms to shape the content we view, including one which is designed to ‘support conversation’ – by listing potentially controversial comments lower in a list replies. When those controversial tweets are often more conservative, it’s unsurprising that the right cries out against media bias (try looking at a statement by Trump, and you’ll often find tweets skewering him for incompetence at the top, in spite of the dates). Uber, which threatened to bring down the cab industry around the world before a series of corporate missteps and outright illegal acts stymied its progress, is built upon the algorithm which routes drivers to passengers, allows for the complexity of UberPool, and keeps drivers on the job longer (for the good for the good of the company). And unseen to all of us are the advertisers who use algorithmic information to work out with which ads to target us to best effect, building up a composite image of our lives. They might not be totally accurate, but they offer a far greater amount of information than any survey did before.

Civilian deployment of algorithms is concerning, but manageable – an inconvenience which can be outwitted with enough time and energy. Search engines like DuckDuckGo can keep you off their radar; as a last ditch measure, there’s always Tor. Admittedly, staying off Facebook and Twitter is toxic for your social life (and for professions like journalists, dangerous for your work life too), but it’s not a matter of life and death.

Unlike, say, an algorithm which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants to bring in, to help with tasks like “determin[ing] and evaluat[ing] an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society as well as their ability to contribute to national interests in order to meet the EOs outlined by the President.” If you thought that having real human beings deciding whether you should be allowed into a country was a worrying thought, imagine outsourcing that to an algorithm.

Assuming that it doesn’t break down – always a big assumption – the real fear lies in the coding behind it. As in the cases described above, algorithms aren’t neutral entities: they reflect the beliefs of their designers. It’s safe to assume that if ICE – an enforcement agency not known for its charitable views on immigrants – is designing something to do their job for them, it’s stance won’t be a liberal one.

And it doesn’t stop there: just as algorithmic job interviews are coming into practice, so is algorithmic sentencing. In theory, it offers redress through the power of big data. In practice, it amplifies the biases we practice everyday, but it gives authorities an excuse for their decisions: ‘computers can’t be wrong’, or so the argument goes.

Explainer: Austrian Elections

Reading Time: 2 minutesWhilst British politics has been in turmoil over the past few months (even ignoring Theresa May’s disastrous speech to her own party), Europe’s attention has been rather rudely diverted by events in Austria. After the shock success of the Alternative fur Deutschland at Germany’s elections shattered the nation’s belief in its immunity to populism, legislative elections at Austria appear to have done the same there.

It’s not an entirely unexpected turn of events there, admittedly. Over the course of a twisted presidential election last year, the far-right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (the Freedom Party of Austria or FPO) received the most votes in the first round, only to lose out in the second against the Green Party. Then, the whole election was declared void due to apparent irregularities in the process. Finally, the FPO was defeated in December 2016, but gained a respectable 46% of the vote.

At first glance, the victory of the conservative Österreichische Volkspartei (OVP) under Sebastian Kurz is less significant than the FPO’s presidential performance. Whilst it has anti-immigrant rhetoric, the OVP is broadly speaking a less extreme party, defined by economic liberalism and Catholicism. But an alliance between the OVP and FPO now seems likely, and would have the precedent of an earlier coalition as recently as 2002.

In essence, this gives the FPO a run at power on its key issues: most notably immigration, euroscepticism, and Islam. Where the centre (both in Austria and in the European Union at large) would have provided a bulwark against changes on these fronts in 2002, the situation today is almost unrecognisable, with Britain leaving, Germany lurching rightwards from under Angela Merkel’s feet, and Emmanuel Macron, the greatest supporter of Eurozone integration, isolated and losing popularity fast. Instead, as Politico reports, Austria is joining a vaunted club of Central European countries whose leading political movements (Fidesz in Hungary, and PiS in Poland) care little for Brussels and even less for Muslim refugees. A dangerous and growing isolationism, tied to archaic ideals of national identity (often carefully skirting the knottier bits of history).

That broader context is what makes the groundswell of right-wing populism so dangerous, creating a cycle in which parties in neighbouring countries see the successes of these ideologies and find themselves emboldened. There doesn’t seem to be a master plan for a grand European populist alliance as yet, in part because Europe is a messy patchwork built by generations of wars and treaties (the FPO, for example, demands part of Tirol – historically an Austrian province – back from Italy) – and yet each victory is a blow against the EU.

In light of all that, Theresa May’s situation looks a little less grim. Britain might be a ship with no clear helmsman, but the mood in Europe, towards the idea of Europe – tempered by the refugee crisis of 2015, growing ethnonationalist tensions, and a general displeasure with neo-liberal elites – is turning increasingly ugly. Brussels’ power has taken yet another blow, and this is unlikely to be the last.

Explainer: Godmen

Reading Time: 2 minutesGodmen are hardly new to India – in fact, the image of the charismatic figure, perhaps in saffron, with a flock of devoted followers hanging off every parlour trick, is practically a cliche. They come in different varieties – some claim to cleave to Hinduism, others are more lax on their religious heritage – but at their core, all share a similar callous disregard for human autonomy and a commitment to finding fame and fortune.

Some of the stories are borderline ridiculous – take Guru Ashutosh Maharaj, whose body has been left in a freezer since a fatal heart attack three years ago. Whilst his family want it back, his devotees are convinced he’s just meditating, and that sticking the corpse in a deep freeze is the closest thing to the calming environment of the distant Himalayas. But this isn’t the story of irrational superstitions so much as it’s a tale of greed: the late Ashutosh had property in the order of $160 million. It’s hard to be so convinced of the purely religious piety of his followers when that much money is floating around.

If there was one godman who best epitomised the worst of the trend, it’s been Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh – the man whose arrest for carrying out the rape of two young followers sparked rioting which lead to the deaths of more than 30 individuals. Singh, in spite of his supposedly aescetic religious background, was known for gaudy jewellery, large-scale civic hygiene events, and a series of movies starring himself as, essentially, a God. If there was any doubt about this humility, his decision to essentially dress up as a Sikh religious figure should have put paid to that, sparking riots between his followers and orthodox Sikh groups – a prelude to the more recent, deadlier violence he initiated.

Singh is not the only member of his movement to be dubbed ‘eccentric’ at the least. His adopted daughter, Honeypreet Insan, had starred in several of Singh’s movies, and has 1.2 million followers on Twitter – not an insignificant following, considering that she is now in police custody under suspicion of having organised the riots surrounding Singh’s arrest. Her website paints her as a world-renowned actress and director rather than a felon.

The problem of religious zealots is not a peculiarly Indian one; neither is the problem of religions acting as cash cows. But the central role which godmen like Singh play in politics is less common in other states, where the religious fringe is treated as the religious fringe for good reason. Singh has been courted by both the Congress Party and the BJP, India’s largest political parties. For India’s politicians, he was a convenient vote bank, offering access to large numbers of voters. Whilst they might have sent in police forces to help restore order after his followers had gone on the rampage, politicians had effectively allowed Singh to become the problem that he was.

Other controversial godmen have found similar succour from the state – Asaram Bapu, another convicted rapist, had received massive grants of land from Congress and BJP governments. By using them as middle men, India’s political system chooses to ignore the problems which create them – rampant inequality, religious intolerance, and the remnants of the caste system all play a part. By failing to deal with godmen, India’s politicians have fundamentally neglected these issues – and the citizens plagued by them.

 

Explainer: Alternativ für Deutschland

Reading Time: 3 minutesIn 2012, a group of German luminaries of some stature – including a former state secretary of Hesse, a veteran journalist, and a professor of macroeconomics – started a party as an alternative to Angela Merkel’s government. The Eurozone crisis was at its fiercest, with Grexit looking significantly more likely than Brexit as austerity measures grew increasingly unpopular and Brussel’s patience with the southern European state grew thin.

The ‘Alternative for Germany’ (Alternativ für Deutschland or AfD)began with a manifesto which received the support of journalists, thought leaders and professors who agreed that the Euro was increasingly becoming an unstable and ineffective currency for Germany to participate in. Many of its early members – including Alexander Gauland, former state secretary – were drawn from Merkel’s own Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU), a traditionally conservative party which retained a deeply conservative aspect, fiscally as well as socially.

At a time when the EU’s woes were marked by the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was hard to imagine that the party would become the de facto voice of Germany’s xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment – ending the decades long claim by the country’s politicians that the nation’s history  immured it to populist hatred.

Back in 2012, a Eurosceptic party in the heart of the Eurozone’s most powerful and industrious nation was enough to make quite a splash. At first glance, its showing at the 2013 federal elections wasn’t so promising – it achieved just 4.7% of the vote, about one and a half percent more than UKIP in 2010, and missing out on entering the Bundestag. But German’s fractured electoral system, which relies upon alliances between parties with often disparate goals, made this showing considerably more potent – especially as the other smaller parties all lost a few percentage points. Nevertheless, the union of Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU) received a 41.5% of the votes, putting it within spitting distance of an absolute majority.

The AfD was not phased by this, and entered the European Parliamentary elections in 2014 with enthusiasm, reaping just over 7% of the national vote, with its seven members joining the European Conservatives and Reformists group alongside the Tories and other major European conservative parties. 2014 marked a turning point in the group’s fortunes, with state elections that year and in 2015 providing further proof of a German swing to Euroscepticism.

It was to be in 2015 that the anti-immigrant, xenophobic party which the AfD is known as today emerged, as Frauke Petry, a self-described national-conservative, took control of the party, moving it away from the economic conservatism which had marked its early stages. Instead, it became the party which most readily capitalised upon Angela Merkel’s choice to welcome refugees fleeing from ISIS. If dissent towards the Eurozone had been shocking, an uncomfortably mainstream party with anti-immigrant, pro-Russian leanings was horrifying – hinting at a strain of politics which Germany had long claimed to reject.

All of which made the 2017 election so disturbing. Not only did the CDU and CSU return with a significantly reduced majority of 32.9% – a sign that Merkel’s support for refugees had significantly if not fatally dented her popularity within her own party – but the AfD surged to take 12.6% of the vote, clearing the barrier to gain representation in the Bundestag and becoming the third largest party.

In terms of practical politics, the other German parties have done their best to exclude the AfD: politics there has traditionally been based on alliances, allowing Merkel to stay in power without an absolute majority. But the challenge she faces can’t be ignored: her most likely allies, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) and Die Grünen (The Green Party),are at odds with each other politically, and unlikely to have great faith in the future of the CDU-CSU.

Yet the AfD’s path to further political disruption is unclear. Petry announced her resignation co-chair shortly after the election – perhaps ironically as part of a belief that the party’s ever more radical bent (with current leader and founder Alexander Gauland clamouring for recognition of Wehrmacht soldiers) will doom it to the position of a noisy but perennial opposition. But regardless of the political change it enacts, the AfD’s success this year mark a new high-water mark for populism – and a new ebb for those who saw Germany as the ‘special case’ of Europe.

Explainer: Journalism in India

Reading Time: 3 minutesIndia has long prided itself on being the world’s most populous democracy, in contrast to its nominally Communist neighbour to the north-east. Journalism, usually considered a key tenant of free societies, dates back to the colonial era – in 1871, Irish surgeon James Hickey started a paper in Bengal. Hickey, who had fallen out of grace with the local governor Warren Hastings, used the venture as an attempt to ‘speak truth to power’, accusing him of being a tyrant.

Unsurprisingly, Hickey’s Bengal Gazette lasted approximately a year in total, but it would symbolically pave the way for a press unafraid to take on the government. Gandhi himself founded Young India after his release from jail in the 1920s, as a vehicle to disseminate his message in favour of non-violent protest against British rule.

So it is doubly disturbing that a constant stream of Indian journalists have been killed in recent years. For a country which continues to point to sister states Pakistan and Sri Lanka as examples of poor press freedom, the world ranking suggest otherwise: India comes in at 136 on the Reports sans Frontieres Press Freedom Rankings, just three above Pakistan and five above Sri Lanka. The killing of Kannada journalist Gauri Lankesh – just one of many – have brutally exposed this.

It’s true that this isn’t the first time in India’s history that the press has come under sustained attack. Most famously, for 21 months between 1975 and 1977, Indira Gandhi ruled the country by decree in what became known simply as The Emergency. In with campaigns of forced sterilisations orchestrated by her son Sanjay, the arrests of regional opposition leaders, and the essential end of habeus corpus, the power was cut off to printing presses. In one of India’s most famous obituaries, The Times of India carried this:

“D.E.M O’Cracy, beloved husband of T Ruth, loving father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justice, expired on June 26.”

But the simple fact of the matter is that journalists in India have rarely been safe. Since 1992, the Committee to Protect Journalists has listed 68 journalists and 3 media workers as killed, over half covering politics or corruption. The difference today is perhaps in the callousness – or even delight with which the murders are considered amongst audiences and even fellow journalists.

Lankesh’s death was treated as just vengeance by nationalists incensed by her critique of Brahminical politics and the ruling BJP, and her support for non-military options when dealing with the Naxalites (Communist insurgents prevalent in India’s Eastern ‘Red Corridor’). As reported in The Wire, an Indian online publication, elements of India’s right wing sought to place the blame on Naxalites who had turned on her, or sought to defame her by association with student dissidents.

And where Lankesh made the headlines, dozens others have not. KJ Singh, a veteran editor , was stabbed to death along with his mother in their home in what police consider a professional killing. Bengali journalist Santanu Bhowmik was abducted and murdered whilst covering clashes between the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Tripura, allegedly by members of the former (although many questions still remain to be answered on this front). The IPFT is aligned with the National Democratic Alliance, the BJP lead power bloc, though as with anything in Indian politics,

And those are just this year: at least five more were murdered last year (according to the Committee to Protect Journalists), and another four in the year before that (and the list seems woefully incomplete, not yet updating for the killings of Singh or Bhowmik). Previous victims included Rajdev Randan (who had worked on stories about a political leader from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, a Bihari political party.

With strong nationalist and theocratic tendencies under the current government (which treats any dissent as ‘anti-national’), coupled with equally potent and ruthless regional parties keen to push for their own agenda, it is hard to see the situation resolving any time soon.

Explainer: Chat Bots and the Artificial Intelligence Revolution

Reading Time: 3 minutesA recent report by market researchers Inside Sales paints a fractured image of artificial intelligence. The growth of the industry is unquestionable, but respondents were not uniformly pleased with this. Nearly 40% worried about lost jobs, and over half said they never used it, with 20% predicting their coworkers would be robots. At the same time, over half saw a positive net effect on business, with about two fifths envisioning machines replacing humans in dangerous jobs. 

The humble chatbot hardly seems the most inspiring face of the artificial intelligence revolution – Siri has pages and pages dedicated to her misunderstandings, Alexa orders products she hears on TV, and Microsoft’s Tay was reduced to a xenophobic bigot within hours. 

But their increasing ubiquity – in spite of their flaws – suggests that they’re increasingly integral to businesses. Granted, we might not see the robot takeover the media foresaw when Facebook’s chatbots began talking to each other in their own language – but a report by computing giant Oracle suggests those who predicted robotic colleagues were probably right. 

Oracle sees a $174 billion saving for finance, retailers, and customer services through chatbots. Amongst the  advantages they offer is 24 hour service, which half of those interviewed desired. They can also  provide a far quicker rate of response than manned messenger apps, which can take up to 10 hours to be responded to. 
Oracle puts all this within a broader trend of consumers engaging more directly with businesses via Facebook messages rather than simply posting on pages. Whilst the chatbots evolution and expansion is good news for customers suffering from emergencies and in need of immediate support, the subtext is that the associated jobs in the service industry are likely to vanish. 

The report also differentiates between two schools of chatbots. The task oriented are “more robust interactive FAQs”, whilst digital helpers fall under the conversational. The former, whilst less complex, are still pretty useful. Josh Browder, a Stanford graduate, popularised a sub category of ‘legal chatbots’, for example. His app DoNotPay, mistakenly labelled as a ‘robot lawyer’, offered easy legal advice for those with parking tickets. He’s also created an app to allow those who were effected by the Equifax hack to sue in a small claims court for up to $25000 without a lawyer. 

Neither are very ‘clever’ chatbots – you can’t expect them to be launching challenges against the Supreme Court – but they fulfil their purpose quite handily. But it’s the conversational chatbots, who are capable of opening their horizons through machine learning, that are most promising. 

Experts admit it’s still early days for them. At the Mobile World Congress Americas, developers pointed out that the current generation are capable of responding to commands – “Play Taylor Swift”, for example – but largely lack the capacity for a conversation. Moreover, they tend to follow rigid patterns, and can fail to understand different expressions with the same meaning. 

As machine learning is becoming more widespread, these flaws will slowly vanish however. Already, natural language processing and neural networks are (at a lower level) fairly quotidian. For some complex tasks even current generation conversational bots are proving their mettle – as Wired reported, conversational bots are being deployed as bias free HR recruiters

And the future looks even brighter. Conversational interfaces – which can draw from voice as well as messaging and other stimuli – are just entering the fray. As this article from Chatbots Magazine shows, the evolution towards the high tech AIs of Hollywood is not linear – sometimes offering users less freedom of inputs in the short term will increase their interest in the longer term. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that sweeping changes in chatbots aren’t coming. 

The parameters for the extraordinary are constantly shifting. To access the Internet was a limited luxury; today, it is practically a necessity. The idea of a digital helper was limited to the realms of Clippy for years – today, Siri or Cortana are industry standards. Whatever misgivings we might have about even more advanced chatbots have to be settled soon, or we risk losing out to those early adaptors who seize the moment.