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Oxford Nanopore float offers London a proper tech future | Technology sector

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Another day, another tech float on the way for London. This one involves proper technology too: cutting-edge DNA sequencing and analytics, as opposed to takeaway food delivered by bicycle. Oxford Nanopore’s likely arrival on the London Stock Exchange later this year is therefore very welcome. The UK market is short on life sciences companies capable of commanding multibillion-pound valuations.

Let’s not pretend, though, that the choice of London is some sort of national triumph. Oxford Nanopore was founded in 2005 as a spin-out from Oxford University. Its manufacturing and research base is near the city. And the company received a useful leg-up last year, courtesy of the UK government, via a contract for Covid testing worth up to £113m, which is not bad for a business whose revenues in 2019 were £52m. It would have been very unsporting to run off to the US to join the biotech brethren on Nasdaq.

The live question is what Oxford Nanopore is worth given that Covid has transformed prospects beyond mere testing. The company’s kit is used in identifying variants and the biggest long-term demand may lie in virus surveillance. An “analyse anything anywhere” philosophy has also taken the firm into territory ranging from cancer research to crop yields.

IP Group formally values its 15% stake at £340m, implying £2.3bn for the whole company, but that may be conservative. Analysts at Jefferies reckon £4bn based on comparisons with listed US rivals. Others go higher. A wide range of estimates is only to be expected at this point: this is a classic case of a “scale-up” story after several rounds of investment.

The reception for Oxford Nanopore may therefore tell us more about London’s real appetite for funding high-growth tech companies than either Deliveroo, which will limp across the line with a bottom-of-the-range price tag on Wednesday, or secondhand car merchant Cazoo, which grumbled about UK investors and took the US route. A healthy life sciences sector is the most interesting tech opportunity for London.

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Saving Liberty Steel is by no means simple

Kwasi Kwarteng has done the easy bit. He, or rather the government, has refused Liberty Steel’s request for a £170m rescue loan. That decision will have taken about two minutes since the structure of the parent company, Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, is indeed “opaque”, as the business secretary put it.

But is there an actual plan to save Liberty Steel if the collapse of Greensill Capital, the main lender, proves terminal? At the moment Kwarteng is at the “all options open” stage, which presumably is a hint that some form of temporary public ownership, as with British Steel in 2019, would be contemplated to save thousands of jobs.

There are at least two complicating factors, however. First, Liberty is an amalgam of several businesses. The position could become messy if Gupta succeeds in re-financing some, but not all, of his UK operations.

Second, British Steel was eventually steered into the arms of Jingye – a Chinese firm, as many are in the steel business. This time any deal involving Beijing is surely impossible in a political climate of sanctions. So the pool of potential buyers may be shallow.

A complete list of options, then, would include a more full-throated, or longer-lasting, form of nationalisation. One could make an easy case for attempting a publicly funded reboot. Liberty’s Rotherham plant has two electric arc furnaces, which fit exactly into the government’s industrial decarbonisation drive. And the operation in nearby Stocksbridge makes high-spec steel for the aerospace industry, the added-value end of the market.

Does the government’s scenario-planning include such a medium-term project? It should if it still has a half-claim to having an industrial strategy.

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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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.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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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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