Finding support for your great idea(s)

The sociable existence of the techie type

As mentioned in my previous post, this year we’ve launched a new award category, the Young Innovator Award. But what's out there for innovators over 25 (other than all the other NMA categories, of course)?

Events and conferences

Most nights of the week in London and in other large cities across the UK there are technology events taking place that are great for finding out the latest thinking and are fantastic for networking. If you still think that techie people are anti-social, think again. There are a huge variety of topics, themes and industry sectors catered for, from groups devoted to talking about the programming language Ruby on Rails to nights showcasing the latest start-up companies. And a month rarely goes by without a large technology/new media based conference of one sort or the other.

If you have a digital idea or concept you'd like to take further then these events should be your first port of call. They’re ideal for finding like minded others, encouragement, and building your contact base – you never know you may even find someone to invest in your plans.

Naturally, online social networks have become the way to find out about what is going on, and the top favourite at the moment for finding out about UK tech events is Upcoming, where the New Media Awards listed here.

Investment from government agencies
As well as running services such as Business Link, Regional Development Agencies across the UK are investing in various ways in technology, creative and digitally based ideas, events and businesses. One of the ways that the London Development Agency supports this area is via the strategic agency Creative London. Creative London is particularly active in supporting the new media, digital and computer games industries and recently sponsored ten companies £5,000 each to attend the week long London BBC Innovation Lab.

Venture Capital and Angel Funding
Many Venture Capitalists got burnt back in 2001/02 and as a result those who are investing in the UK technology sector are being far more cautious. Recent success stories include Trampoline Systems and Trusted Places who recently received £3 million and £500,000 investment respectively. But there is nothing like the billions of dollars sloshing around as there is over in the US. To get this kind of investment your idea needs to have got off the ground and already proven to be a success, you’ve also got to be ready to part with a considerable share of the business you’ve built up.

There are a number of sites and organisations providing information and support in this area, here are just a few of the main ones:

Chinwag
Ecademy
e-consultancy
NMK
Open Business
Vitamin

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Fark.com’s censorship story is a striking insight into Google’s unchecked power

The founder of the community-driven website claims its advertising revenue was cut off for five weeks.

When Microsoft launched its new search engine Bing in 2009, it wasted no time in trying to get the word out. By striking a deal with the producers of the American teen drama Gossip Girl, it made a range of beautiful characters utter the words “Bing it!” in a way that fell clumsily on the audience’s ears. By the early Noughties, “search it” had already been universally replaced by the words “Google it”, a phrase that had become so ubiquitous that anything else sounded odd.

A screenshot from Gossip Girl, via ildarabbit.wordpress.com

Like Hoover and Tupperware before it, Google’s brand name has now become a generic term.

Yet only recently have concerns about Google’s pervasiveness received mainstream attention. Last month, The Observer ran a story about Google’s auto-fill pulling up the suggested question of “Are Jews evil?” and giving hate speech prominence in the first page of search results. Within a day, Google had altered the autocomplete results.

Though the company’s response may seem promising, it is important to remember that Google isn’t just a search engine (Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has too many subdivisions to mention). Google AdSense is an online advertising service that allows many websites to profit from hosting advertisements on its pages, including the New Statesman itself. Yesterday, Drew Curtis, the founder of the internet news aggregator Fark.com, shared a story about his experiences with the service.

Under the headline “Google farked us over”, Curtis wrote:

“This past October we suffered a huge financial hit because Google mistakenly identified an image that was posted in our comments section over half a decade ago as an underage adult image – which is a felony by the way. Our ads were turned off for almost five weeks – completely and totally their mistake – and they refuse to make it right.”

The image was of a fully-clothed actress who was an adult at the time, yet Curtis claims Google flagged it because of “a small pedo bear logo” – a meme used to mock paedophiles online. More troubling than Google’s decision, however, is the difficulty that Curtis had contacting the company and resolving the issue, a process which he claims took five weeks. He wrote:

“During this five week period where our ads were shut off, every single interaction with Google Policy took between one to five days. One example: Google Policy told us they shut our ads off due to an image. Without telling us where it was. When I immediately responded and asked them where it was, the response took three more days.”

Curtis claims that other sites have had these issues but are too afraid of Google to speak out publicly. A Google spokesperson says: "We constantly review publishers for compliance with our AdSense policies and take action in the event of violations. If publishers want to appeal or learn more about actions taken with respect to their account, they can find information at the help centre here.”

Fark.com has lost revenue because of Google’s decision, according to Curtis, who sent out a plea for new subscribers to help it “get back on track”. It is easy to see how a smaller website could have been ruined in a similar scenario.


The offending image, via Fark

Google’s decision was not sinister, and it is obviously important that it tackles things that violate its policies. The lack of transparency around such decisions, and the difficulty getting in touch with Google, are troubling, however, as much of the media relies on the AdSense service to exist.

Even if Google doesn’t actively abuse this power, it is disturbing that it has the means by which to strangle any online publication, and worrying that smaller organisations can have problems getting in contact with it to solve any issues. In light of the recent news about Google's search results, the picture painted becomes more even troubling.

Update, 13/01/17:

Another Google spokesperson got in touch to provide the following statement: “We have an existing set of publisher policies that govern where Google ads may be placed in order to protect users from harmful, misleading or inappropriate content.  We enforce these policies vigorously, and taking action may include suspending ads on their site. Publishers can appeal these actions.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.