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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Chances are we'll all be toast before we make the equine connection

Robin Gibson hacks through racing's digital rainforest

Paddy Power: suspended from Twitter for a day, but nobody knows why
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There are always signs we're nearing peak internet. Look at Toasteroid – that toaster with an app to print messages on toast. Most thought it was a joke, but people kept crowdfunding. At one point it looked like it might happen. But it's all gone quiet on toast messaging and they haven't tweeted since February.

Wired toast sums up part of the internet like dinner served on binlids sums up part of London, but the meaningful peak will be when technology delivers humanity's crowning connection: talking to the animals. Never mind getting your fridge to order cheese, this is it!

Trend-predicting futurologists say it is, anyway: "The money spent on pets means there is huge consumer demand . . . somebody is going to put this together." It doesn't get more certain than that, eh? The futurologists' report was commissioned by Amazon (nap) and as Amazon can, and will, do anything, it looks like a goer.

Inter-species chat will be enabled by "a device", unsurprisingly, although there is outstanding guesswork over what this might be or how it will work. Nevertheless Con Slobodchikoff, a professor at Northern Arizona University who has been working with prairie dogs for 30 years (love to see his productivity graphs), backs it, although he concedes cats, for example, could well just be saying "You idiots, just feed me and leave me alone".

We can only hope. This device will be a boon for trainers, jockeys, bookies, punters and tipsters, all heretofore hindered by uncertainty over horse intentions. Someone looking for the inside track might have to sneak in to the stables at night, but better to sneak in with an Android thingy than a loaded syringe.

Another plus is the chance for genuine debate about the whip, although you suspect there will be dissembling on both sides and a stand-off. It's unlikely every horse is as willing as Boxer out of Animal Farm.

Bookies can't yet connect you to horses but Coral have been connecting reality and virtuality with the Connect account which lets punters skip sprite-like – an unlikely scenario, but there you are –from shop to phone to desktop with funds both digital and folding interchangeable. 

Now they've launched a Connect app, as with everything just in time for the new football season. This looked good, with a funky logo designed to appeal to both young and middle-aged gits, like the artwork on a Paul Weller album. It's certainly in contrast to the firm's website, more in need of a makeover than the actual Paul Weller. But the app has an abrupt tone, like a dalek, missing out the indefinite articles. "I have Coral Connect card"; "I have Coral account". You expect it to continue "You not have?".

I have Coral account, and wasn't scared – you couldn't accuse the firm of being a hostile alien machine-organism. But they're not making things smooth. After I entered my account details it verified my phone number. Then it sent me a code. Then when I put that in, it tried to log me in again. Then it verified my phone number. Then it didn't send me a code, and tried to log me in again. Then I deleted the app. Then I reloaded it. The process repeated.

You could still see what was going on, though. The app lets you track your shop bets by entering a code from your slip if you're not in a shop and will guide you to a shop if you want to be in a shop. All seems a tad complex but Connect has been running since 2014 so someone is doing it.

Mind you, you can bet what you like on Coral's website or in their shops. The app's 'sports' menu offers only football, racing, lotto(!), dogs (set out as two words: grey hounds), tennis, cricket, rugby union and golf. Bit prescriptive.

At least Connect exists. Running for years is no guarantee of that. Look at Bet Blocks. This firm have been banging the Twitter keypad all month about their (you guessed it) just-in-time-for-the-footy-season "messenger app like WhatsApp, turbocharged with the ability to place bets . . . create chat groups between mates, find and share bets by typing or saying them, compare odds and place them with any major bookie, without leaving the app".

This ubiquitous social-bettting blahblahblah of the past couple of years seems directed only at football followers. Presumably there's a focus-group-backed belief that they wager in communitarian, high-fiving fashion, unlike traditional punters for whom betting is solitary self-flagellation. 

Bet Blocks has a snazzy website – although anyone can build one of those now, to the vexation of those who toiled in 1997 with Adobe Pagemill 2.0. You can't actually join; just sign up for 'early access'. I'm number 134 and the top 500 become founding members with free bets and offers "when they become available". Still I'm not lying in wait, because Bet Blocks joined Twitter in 2014. That's one long run-in to a season.

The net is haunted by ghostly embryos. Who is funding this? Crowds? Angel investors? Or is it just a few dudes in a room, fantasising (which might be the definition of social betting)?

One firm who definitely exist and know how to socialise are Paddy Power, but the great wits were suspended from Twitter on Monday. Then they were readmitted on Tuesday. No one knows why, at least not right now. There has been rudeness, albeit with more blanks than a Drake song doctored for kids' radio, on their brilliant #FanDenial slots. The latest, 'Chelsea fans react: a dramatic reading', certainly has balls.

But these are regurgitations of football fans' social output. The fans would have to be banned before a compilation got the compiler banned – surely?

Anyway, as the Prince Regent remarked to Blackadder, boil my brains, it's only a dictionary. There are worse things around than a few rude words. Apps for toast messaging, people threatening nuclear war, gross misogynists – that sort of thing. Shut them down first.

Twitter: @surfnturfRP

If you enjoyed this, read more Surf & Turf:

There are ways to help the outside world come in from the cold

Kudos to GBR for trying to engage with the underage


Inter-species chat will be a boon for trainers, jockeys, bookies, punters and tipsters, all heretofore hindered by uncertainty over horse intentions
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