Looking back

The Memo’s year: 2016 in review

By Kitty Knowles 16 December 2016

The best, worst and most bizarre bits of the past year, captured in some of our favourite stories.

It’s been a great year at The Memo.

We now have over 500,000 readers every month, 20,000 subscribers to our newsletter, and we’ve received industry awards including Best Specialist Site for Journalism at The Drum‘s Online Media Awards.

We’ve really enjoyed covering the changes that matter across innovation, business, culture and policy, and to round 2016 off we thought we’d share some of our insights about the biggest and best news of the year.

Alex Wood

Alex is Editor in Chief of the Memo and a visiting lecturer at City University.

“The sharing economy went from hero to zero.”

Who doesn’t love great food delivered to your door, cut price taxis and cheap holiday villas? In a couple of taps on your smartphone, it’s hard not to love services like Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo.

But this was the year when the so-called Sharing Economy went from hero to zero.

The tides have turned. The FT calls it “neo-feudalism”, and regrettably, they have a point. It’s time to stop drinking the kool-aid, the sharing economy has a lot of upsides, but we can no longer ignore the negatives.

When flats in big cities are flipped into holiday rentals without regulation, how can this not impact already stretched housing supplies?

And when drivers and delivery workers are “hired” as contractors, but expected to work under the thumb as near de facto employees for often less than minimum wage without rights, are they getting a fair deal?

In 2016, the people behind the sharing economy stood up and made their voices heard. Question is – will consumers sit up and listen?

Adam Westbrook

Adam is Associate Editor for the Memo and a video essayist.

“Time for a career change.”

“ROBOTS TO STEAL 15M OF YOUR JOBS” screamed a Daily Mail headline earlier this month.

The realisation that improvements in technology will eventually put the majority of people out of work has been around since the 1930s – the economist John Maynard Keynes called it “technological unemployment”.

But it feels like in 2016 this dawning realisation has started to go mainstream.

The Mail‘s front page splash came after a speech by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England at the start of December. The fact that Britain’s chief money manager is now worrying in public about robots suggests the time to talk about technological unemployment has come.

What happens when half the workforce is made redundant? Who pays for their food and housing? How does the government fund services when its tax revenue collapses?

The increased conversation has only served to highlight how astonishingly unprepared those in power are for such a fundamental change ahead. Our politicians on both sides of the political divide talk about creating more industrial jobs, seemingly unaware these will be the first to be lost in the coming decades.

The most popular solution to the problem – the Universal Basic Income – has gained traction too in 2016, but it’s long way off from being widely accepted.

The new year is always a good time to take stock about work. This year it might be worth asking: will my job still exist one day?

Kitty Knowles

Kitty is Senior Features Reporter at The Memo.

“Virtual reality arrived.”

It would be easy to dismiss the arrival of virtual reality as a flop – after all, few have rushed out to buy an expensive VR headset. But this attitude is oversimplified and wrong.

This year provided just a glimpse of the potential of VR – of a ‘mixed reality’ world where virtual technologies impact and shape every element of our lives.

In less than a year, VR has already cut straight to the core of creative culture: The first VR ballet was literally and metaphorically en pointe; London’s National Theatre opened its own spellbinding VR studio.

Film makers like Aardman (of Wallace and Gromit fame), Disney, and LucasFilm made incredible cutting-edge content; festivals like Underwire and LFF paid homage to VR films. Edinburgh even opened its own Virtual Reality cinema.

Art institutions like MoMA, Glasgow International, and Somerset House embraced the media with sell-out exhibitions – and the esteemed annual Lumen art prize went to a virtual painting.

VR has also already transformed the world of health: doctors are using it to vastly improve life for those with schizophrenia, and we learned first-hand how it can help everyday people overcome crippling phobias.

In education, it offers a new way for kids to connect with everything from science to politics. Virtual toys open up wondrous new worlds.

David Attenborough said how VR can help combat climate change, TOMS shoes boss Blake Mycoskie said it’s making charity more meaningful, and David Beckham threw his weight behind VR sport.

Where one virtual experience let a WWII veteran re-connect with his past, the first VR travel app has brought holiday booking into the future. One of the world’s first VR porn festivals was shut down for being too popular.

There simply isn’t an industry VR hasn’t touched. This is just the beginning.

Oliver Smith

Oliver is Senior Reporter at The Memo.

“The algorithm uprising has begun.”

2016 was the year the world woke up to the realisation that the technology, which was supposed to bring humanity together… is actually tearing us apart.

Trump, Brexit, the Italian referendum, all caught hundreds of millions of people off-guard – they found themselves completely disconnected from the other half of their societies.

It turns out the news, views and opinions that you’re reading on Facebook, are totally different to what the other half of the country have been raised on – you’re living in an echo chamber of things you ‘like’.

Sometimes that chamber becomes very noticeable, even dictatorial, like when Mark Zuckerberg decided that nudity on Facebook was unacceptable, even if it was in a Pulitzer prize-winning historical photograph of the Vietnam war.

Or when fake news – purposefully deceitful and designed to appeal to our inner-prejudices – exploded across Facebook and Google.

The actual rules that govern what we see, hear, and experience online, those algorithms of Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, are top secret.

And that’s a problem because for over half of Brits who are online, Facebook is their primary source of news.

Our world is changing, but we’ve been blinded by algorithms.

Ashley Evans

Ashley is a partnerships manager at The Memo.

“The tech state removed the blinkers.”

2016 is the year the investment community woke up to the idea creativity and talent exists outside the M25.

For years London has been mecca for companies in other parts of the country, largely due to the lack of viable funding options and support for small companies elsewhere. Not anymore!

This year we’ve seen hubs like Newcastle and Manchester raise their heads above the parapet and accelerator programs like Wayra are nailing their colours to the mast in places like Oldham and Cheltenham. Edinburgh University has the highest rated computer sciences programme in the UK, and it’s no coincidence more companies start there than any other city in the country.

Moving into 2017 the onus is the VC community to look further afield and begin fostering growth in these smaller markets. Helping create economic conditions which allow these startups to thrive without having to migrate to London might just be the greatest contribution many of these VCs make to the UK tech scene.

Molly Flatt

Molly is Associate Editor at The Memo and The Bookseller – and Digital Editor at Phoenix Magazine.

“Publishers fell out of love with the app.”

Newspapers and magazines realised that an ‘app wrapper’ for content simply creates another barrier to entry – for readers and search engines alike.

The smart ones are going back to the browser says Molly Flatt, Associate Editor at The Memo and The Bookseller.

Forward thinkers are using web software like Shorthand to create stunning, multimedia, scrolling stories that automatically adapt to any device. In 2017 we’ll increasingly see digital journalism returning to this sort of emphasis on print-quality design, longer form writing and factual rigour – in an officially ‘post-truth world’  a trusted media source is a rare and valuable commodity, as Facebook struggles to combat fake news stories and once-hot viral content sites start to cool off.

In the book publishing world the app was also under attack – at the FutureBook 2016 conference just a couple of weeks ago Hachette UK’s CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson declared that he was yet to see a single one that looked or felt like the future of the book.

Instead, publishers are looking to more immersive tech. In June Hachette acquired games studio Neon Play to work on tie-in gaming projects, while October saw the first ever acquisition of world VR rights for a YA novel trilogy.

And audio – don’t forget audio. It’s the fastest growing digital content area among the major trade publishers, with innovations such as 3D binaural drama – being used by the likes of Scottish startup The Owl Field – making the spoken word more compelling than ever.