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Amazon opens first UK bricks-and-mortar non-food store | Amazon

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Amazon is bolstering its UK high street presence with the opening of its first non-food physical shop offering its bestselling lines of books, electronics, toys, games and homeware.

The outlet, at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, is the online retailer’s first Amazon 4-star store outside the US and will use data from its website sales to judge which products are proving popular with local shoppers.

The range of products sold in the store will change regularly, with Amazon staff responding to customer feedback and new product releases.

Amazon opened its first 4-star store in New York in 2018. The concept gets it name from the idea that all of the goods sold there have been rated at least four stars out of five by shoppers.

The Bluewater store is Amazon’s latest venture into UK bricks-and-mortar retailing after a string of other recent trials, including a fashion pop-up shop, a till-less Amazon Fresh grocery store in west London, and even a hi-tech hair salon in the capital.

Andy Jones, the director of Amazon 4-star UK, said the company had been working on the UK outlet since before the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are obviously just really keen now to get customers in and see what they think,” Jones said. “We’ve seen that the model has worked really well in malls in the US, so a location like Bluewater made total sense to us.

“There are the Amazon products they will expect but also local products from small suppliers because that is a huge part of the Amazon business.”

The shop also includes displays of products from small business sellers, which are sold through Amazon’s marketplace operation.

However, Jones would not confirm whether the Bluewater outlet was an individual trial or whether more UK 4-star stores were planned.

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Richard Lim, the chief executive of consultancy Retail Economics, suggested the Bluewater store was a trial, with the retailer trying to gain more knowledge about customers’ behaviour.

“This is another attempt by Amazon to creep into physical retail space. I think, as far as Amazon is concerned, this is really just another opportunity to do some testing in the market,” Lim said.

“One of their key motivations and ambitions is to try to gain a much better understanding of how the physical and digital worlds interact. They understand how the digital world works but they don’t have much visibility over the physical world.”

Lim said that if Amazon did want to open a significant number of stores in the UK, it would do so through an acquisition of an existing high street retailer, as it did in the US when it bought the Whole Foods Market grocery chain in 2017.

“They don’t have a big presence in the UK but they do in the US. If they want to get into the market they are not messing around, they do a test and if they want to go on, a large-scale acquisition would give the best route,” he added.

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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Shocking testimony on Afghanistan • The Register

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Diplomats and soldiers were left grappling with appallingly inadequate IT and secure communications support as thousands of Afghans struggled to get help from the UK during the fall of the capital Kabul in August.

A massive shortfall in PC availability, lack of login for secure IT systems, disjointed IT systems and a desperate attempt to fall back onto printed paper methods all contributed to chaotic scenes at the newly merged Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), according to written testimony put before Parliament today.

“On the evening of Saturday 21 August, the soldiers were issued one FCDO computer for every two soldiers. These did not work because FCDO IT had not issued the passwords to unlock them. These computers were finally unlocked on the afternoon of Sunday 22 August. Until this, the soldiers worked with one computer shared between roughly eight people,” said former desk officer Raphael Marshall in his evidence [PDF] to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry on Government Policy on Afghanistan.

“This obviously considerably reduced their efficiency and speed. I printed out A3 spreadsheets for the soldiers but this was no substitute for a computer. The soldiers clearly needed computers to email travel documents to Afghans selected for evacuation,” he said.

As opposed to a simple loss of efficiency or increase in costs, these computer problems potentially may have led to a loss of life. Between 75,000 and 150,000 people applied for evacuation under the UK government scheme.

“The vast majority of these applicants feared their lives were at risk as a result of their connection to the UK and the West and were therefore eligible for evacuation,” Marshall said.

“I estimate fewer than 5 per cent of these people have received any assistance. It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban,” he said.

The failure to issue soldiers with sufficient computers for more than 12 hours delayed dispatching travel documents and would therefore have reduced the chance of selected Afghans being evacuated, and consequently may have directly resulted in the deaths of people unnecessarily left behind, his testimony read.

Chaotic technology support also extended to the phone system, Marshall said. Soldiers calling up Afghan nationals for evacuation were issued a paper list of logins for the department’s non-secure phone system. But the phone system was not suitable for classified information and did not work without logins.

“On the night of Monday 23 August, the soldiers lost this paper list in the handover between shifts. This would have prevented them from calling any Afghan nationals to the airport. My colleagues and I obtained phone logins for them from my Fast Stream WhatsApp group, the British Embassies in Beijing and Tokyo (who were online), and other sources,” Marshall said.

While the former desk officer said he tried to get around the phone log-in problem by contacting the British Embassy in Washington, it found the situation in the UK so implausible that it assumed an email to FCDO Security was a Russian phishing attempt.

Marshall was told to apologise for breaking security rules and that the correct course of action was to request new logins from the relevant IT team the next morning. “This would have wasted around 12 hours at a crucial moment to protect the integrity of an unsecure phone system,” he said.

Meanwhile a lack of integration between the IT system of the newly merged departments also contributed to difficulties, Marshall said.

“A group of around six FCDO staff formerly in DFID volunteered to assist. It was hard to integrate them effectively because we could not share live documents or give them access to the inbox because the DFID and FCO IT systems are not yet integrated. They were visibly appalled by our chaotic system,” he said.

The merger of the Department for International Development and Foreign Office was announced in June 2020, a full year before the Afghan crisis. In July 2020, Deloitte picked a £3m contract to define the “operating model, organisation design and toolset strategy” for the merged departments.

Users also lacked basic computer training for the task in hand which contributed to the failures as well, Marshall said.

He testified: “I was impressed by the soldiers’ professionalism. However, I believe that some of them were likely using Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Outlook for the first time in a professional context. I understand that some administrative mistakes reflected this lack of experience, including sending 91 travel documents from the wrong email accounts which meant that we did not have a full record of them. Again, this was not the soldiers’ fault,” he said.

The FCDO told us: “UK government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.

“More than 1000 FCDO staff worked to help British nationals and eligible Afghans leave during Op Pitting. The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant decisions on prioritisation had to be made quickly to ensure we could help as many people as possible. “Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring, and since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3000 individuals leave Afghanistan.” ®

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