On any given day, Franco Trimboli’s hobby makes the news.
During office hours the 42-year-old who lives in suburban Melbourne is a coder, digital designer and project manager for the educational branch of the jobs website Seek.
But Trimboli is also the little-known founder of Tveeder, a website that provides a live transcript of almost anything that airs on free-to-air TV in Australia. Even if you have never heard of it, you will certainly have read an article or watched a news bulletin that relied on it.
The site is freely accessible to anyone, but has become an essential tool for almost anyone working in the media or politics.
When it works, people copy and paste its success; when it fails, they curse its misses.
For the working journalist, Tveeder has for years been like a spare limb – it scribbles down the press conference, the leadership spill, the politician’s tears or the police commissioner’s briefing, or even an episode of MasterChef, all in real time. In its 10 years of life, it has captured an estimated 2.4bn words.
When Tveeder is down, a dozen people will unfailingly trumpet their dismay that “Tveederisdown”. There are long-running lists of people’s favourite Tveeder bloopers – it often has particular trouble with names, having once rendered Barnaby Joyce as “Barnaby bok choy” and Josh Frydenberg as “Josh frightened bird”.
During the pandemic, as daily press conferences have become appointment viewing, Tveeder has emerged as a quiet hero among its users.
But many of them would know little about how Tveeder works, or how it came to be. The website is bare, with a no-frills, black and yellow palette, reminiscent of home brand butter. There is no “About Us” tab and no menu, just six channel options and the endless feed.
Tveeder may seem like magic but the way it works is simple, Trimboli says.
Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, all free-to-air channels are required to provide captioning between 6am and midnight on their main channels, and to caption news and current affairs at all times.
The channels employ or subcontract fleets of human transcribers to provide the captions, which can be switched on when watching any modern TV. All Tveeder does, Trimboli says, is capture that data and upload it. No artificial intelligence or voice recognition is required.
Trimboli says people think Tveeder is a bigger operation that it is. It has no staff. It is not a company nor a charity. There is no Tveeder board. It is run entirely by Trimboli and occasional volunteers, in his spare time, and costs him $500 a month out of his own pocket.
Initially designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Tveeder is a personal project that has grown into a public resource.
Amy Remeikis, Guardian Australia’s politics live blogger, says Tveeder is “instrumental” in live coverage, and has improved the transparency of communication between public officials, journalists and readers.
“I’ve often thought about who runs it, because we all owe them a massive debt of gratitude,” she says.
Remeikis discovered Tveeder while covering Queensland state politics, when a reporter covering a federal election shared it with her – it was like a secret code.
“It was a revelation for when you needed to file quickly – as you do on election campaigns,” she says. “It completely revolutionised live reporting, which was also still in its infancy then.”
Now, during the pandemic, “it’s a way of getting large quotes out very quickly, which, when people want information and want it quickly, is absolutely crucial.
“I have always assumed it was someone who developed a code to help the hearing impaired,” Remeikis says. “Which is why I’m just so grateful for the service, and would never criticise it – we might have co-opted it, but it was never made for us. We should just be happy we have something which for the most part makes our job easier.”
‘Most of my relatives are oblivious to what I do’
Trimboli is a calm and deliberate man whose other hobbies include cycling, sketching and illustration, smart-watches and supporting Collingwood.
Like so many others, he is home schooling – which means he now has three jobs: his day job, Tveeder and teacher.
Trimboli and his family live in a low-slung, red brick house, on a nondescript street. Bright banksia screen a window, and there is a small basketball hoop in the back yard. Three young children run around the house. Trimboli works at a desk set up in the bedroom. His wife, a security engineer, works in the study. He says the children frequently leave Lego strewn across the computer when he is working.
“Not many of my family would realise what I do,” he says with a laugh. “I think my wife tolerates the fact that I have lots of different interesting side projects. And it’s just who I am. It’s part of my persona.
“I think that most of my other relatives are oblivious to the projects that I create. If anything, it’s an amusing story at a family party.”
Trimboli grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the child of Italian immigrants who arrived in the 1960s. His father was a builder and Trimboli, for more than half his life, was the same. He studied design and then architecture at university.
He never expected or desired to work in a field that intersects so heavily with politics or journalism. When he was a young boy, Bob Hawke ruffled his hair and shook his hand on the campaign trail. “But I never really followed local politics or world politics until I grew up,” he says.
Trimboli loved technology, sparked by the video games boom of the 1980s, and moved gradually from architecture into digital product design.
“I don’t have any friends that are journalists,” he says. “But I’ve always been interested in the evolution of journalism, how it’s evolved at great pace.”
The idea came to him in 2010, when he was working for a messaging company called Whispir that was making a text service to allow deaf and hearing impaired people to access New Zealand’s equivalent of the triple zero phone line. It got him thinking about applying the same process to live TV.
He has few regrets that Tveeder has been thoroughly hijacked by journalists – even when that demand makes the site crash. (He also encourages users to submit feedback via firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“It brings me lots of joy to see journalists using it,” he says. “If anything, I feel bad about not continually investing in the actual features of the platform.
“It helps journalists focus on how they add value. It reduces that cognitive load and allows you to think, ‘Well, what is the story here?’ You know, I can just report what someone is saying, that’s easy to do with Tveeder now. What else can I add to this story in real time?
“If it drives further transparency and speed in reporting of breaking news stories or important issues, then for me, that’s a win as well.”
Soon after Trimboli launched Tveeder in 2011, the ABC’s current director of news, Gaven Morris, invited him on a tour of its Ultimo headquarters and showed him how Tveeder was being used by journalists. The ABC News 24 channel, now rebranded as ABC News, had also recently launched. The two services, essentially the same age, are like family friends who have grown up together.
For the first two years of Tveeder’s existence, News 24 was the only channel it streamed. In 2012, it added colours to help make clear who was speaking. In 2013, it added ABC1, SBS and the commercial networks. Since then it has essentially been the same.
Now, during the pandemic, the ABC’s own text live blog still uses Tveeder, and openly acknowledged it in a behind-the-scenes piece from May 2020. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age ran a similar piece last year about “the bloggers who bring the news live”. Tveeder isn’t mentioned but it’s there in the pictures, front and centre.
“The whole media industry in Australia owes the creators of Tveeder a very big debt,” Remeikis says. “I think anyone who wasn’t aware of Tveeder before the pandemic, is now.”
Splicing together Insiders and Rage
At any given time, Trimboli says, about 1,000 people are simultaneously viewing Tveeder, and that rises to 5,000 during pandemic press conferences.
“It’s more than just journos that are hitting the site,” he says. “It is everyday viewers and consumers as well.”
During the bushfires, Trimboli noticed that people without TV reception, or people who could not listen to the radio because of deafness, relied on it. “I have received emails from people who have said, ‘Thank you very much for your Tveeder service, I was able to access the captions on my mobile phone.’”
Remeikis says staffers will often message her when they cannot believe what Tveeder has just transcribed. “You’ll get messages of ‘DID THEY REALLY SAY THAT?’ And usually, when it’s someone like Barnaby Joyce or Bob Katter, yes, they did. What you think could only be a transcription error is actually word for word what they said.”
But of course, it has also been wrong. Famously, on multiple occasions, Tveeder has spliced together Insiders and Rage. “It always seems to be Insiders and Rage for some reason,” Trimboli says. “Why does it always happen on a Sunday morning?”
Trimboli keeps the site’s capacity capped, which sometimes results in it going down when demand peaks.
“It can be solved, but that would just compound the costs,” he says. “If I was paying $1,000 a month, I don’t think my wife would be very happy. Over $12,000 a year on a side project. That is halfway to a small car at that point.”
Tveeder takes no ads and only occasionally receives donations.
“We might get, you know, $10 one week or $50 another week,” Trimboli says. “But any contributions are well received, and we’re very appreciative.”
“A lot of people have wanted me to kind of monetise it … but the ultimate aim of Tveeder isn’t to make money.”
If the media and politicians use Tveeder so heavily, should they help to fund it?
Trimboli says: “It’s a really good question … perhaps there’s an opportunity for them to pitch in.”
But if not, he is happy to keep doing so.
“From my perspective, if it’s a platform that’s helping journalists be better journalists, and if it helps politicians be more accountable, then it’s worth me spending the money to maintain it. It should be accessible to all. If it helps the quality of journalism, then I’m happy for it to be free. Forever.”
The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to using their corporate muscle to advocate for stronger climate policies, their engagement is almost nonexistent, according to a new report.
Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Microsoft poured about $65m into lobbying in 2020, but an average of only 6% of their lobbying activity between July 2020 and June 2021 was related to climate policy, according to an analysis from the thinktank InfluenceMap, which tracked companies’ self-reported lobbying on federal legislation.
The report also sought to capture tech companies’ overall engagement with climate policy by analyzing activities including their top-level communications as well as lobbying on specific legislation. It found that climate-related engagement levels of three of the five companies – Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft – had declined compared to the previous year.
Tech companies, which have some of the deepest pockets in corporate America, have been racing to come out with increasingly ambitious climate pledges. Amazon has a target to be net zero by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and Facebook has a target of net zero emissions for its entire supply chain by 2030.
In 2020, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 to have removed all the carbon the company has ever emitted. Apple has committed to become carbon neutral across its whole supply chain by 2030.
And Google has pledged to power its operations with 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, without using renewable certificates to offset any fossil-generated power. “The science is clear, we have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” the Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, said in a video announcing the policy.
Yet this strong pro-climate rhetoric is not being matched by action at a policy level, according to the report. “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all,” said the InfluenceMap executive director, Dylan Tanner.
Tech companies have not been entirely silent. Apple, for example, has expressed support for the Biden administration’s proposed clean energy standard, which aims for all US-generated electricity to be renewable by 2035.
But these efforts are significantly outweighed by those of big oil and gas companies, which have ramped up their climate lobbying over the same timeframe, according to the report. “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative,” said Tanner.
A lack of engagement is especially disappointing given the new momentum around climate action under the Biden administration, said Bill Weihl, a former Facebook and Google sustainability executive and now executive director of Climate Voice, which mobilizes tech workers to lobby their companies on climate action. “The dominant business voice on these issues is advocating against the kind of policies that we need,” he said.
Joe Biden’s $3.5tn budget reconciliation bill, which includes large investments for climate action, is facing fierce opposition from some industry groups. The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s most powerful business lobbying group, has said it will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. All of the tech companies, with the exception of Apple, are members of the Chamber.
“Our best chance to lead the planet to safety in the race against climate change is through this reconciliation bill, yet InfluenceMap has shown that big tech is still MIA on climate in Congress,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and longtime advocate for climate legislation.
Microsoft and Apple declined to comment on the report and Alphabet did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company engages at local, state and international levels to “actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system”.
A Facebook spokesperson said “we’re committed to fighting climate change and are taking substantive steps without waiting for any legislative action”, adding that the company supports the Paris climate agreement goals and helped found the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.
But these actions are not enough given the scale of the crisis, said Tanner. The UN warned in a report published on Friday that even if current climate emissions targets are met, the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” for 2.7C of heating by the end of the century. “We’re running out of time,” Tanner said, “physically on climate but also on a public policy level.”
TechUK – the UK’s digital trade association representing computer giants and start-ups alike – has called on firms to check their green credentials and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.
The warning comes as UK businesses were told to brush up on their eco-claims or risk public humiliation and enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Businesses have until the New Year to make sure their environmental claims – such as those regarding energy consumption, packaging, recycling, and product lifecycle assessments – comply with the law and are not simply an exercise in greenwashing.
As part of its efforts to steer companies, the CMA has published a six-point Green Claims Code in a bid to make it clear that anyone spouting eco-friendly claims “must not omit or hide important information” and “must consider the full life cycle of the product.”
The CMA is targeting sectors that some onlookers may regard as low hanging fruit including textiles and fashion, energy-hungry travel and transport, and fast-moving consumer goods.
However, any sector and the companies that operate within it – including tech – could fall within the CMA’s crosshairs.
In a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief exec of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms don’t get the recognition they deserve. Any business that fails to comply with the law risks damaging its reputation with customers and could face action from the CMA.”
However, there are worries the new rules may lead to confusion. In its evidence to the CMA, techUK said the six principles set out in the guidance were “not specific enough” and also called for more information to help tech firms. It also warned that different variables made in lifecycle assessments could lead to misleading results [PDF].
In a statement, Susanne Baker, associate director for Climate, Environment and Sustainability, techUK, told us: “The CMA’s guidance is important for any company making a green claim about their services, products and company. With more green claims being made by the tech sector than ever before, it’s absolutely vital that these aren’t deemed to be greenwashing.
“Firms have until the new year to address this and will need to think carefully about any green claim they make, be sure they can substantiate them, that they aren’t misleading, and are truthful and accurate,” she said.
The CMA announced that it was investigating the impact of green marketing on consumers last year when it found that 40 per cent of green claims made online could be misleading – suggesting that thousands of businesses could be breaking the law.
Amazon recently found itself fending off a whistle-blower’s claims alleging it dumped unsold goods to landfill, and later bragged that it had achieved lower carbon “intensity” in its business practices. The latter claim was shot down by an unimpressed scientist close to The Reg who remarked that the fact Amazon’s business was growing was not “helpful to Earth”, and the fact it polluted less per unit of activity didn’t change the bottom line “which is that they are polluting more this year than they did last year.”
Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced the electric car maker will stop accepting Bitcoin payments for its vehicles, due to the “increasing use” of fossil fuels, particularly coal, to support Bitcoin’s electricity-hungry mining and transaction processing.
An Intel sponsored report by non-profit Resilience First, highlighted in June the role of tech in reaching net-zero carbon emission goals. However, making chips has been a dirty business, with a 2002 study concluding that a single 2g semiconductor chip required a whopping 1.6kg of secondary fossil fuels and 72g of chemical inputs to be put into production. ®
The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.
Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.
This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.
The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.
In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.
‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’ – MARTIN CASADO, A16Z
For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.
“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”
Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.
Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.
In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.
“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.
The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.
Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.
“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.
“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”
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