Weekend news round-up

17 Oct 2011

In this week’s trawl through the weekend’s newspapers we discover Facebook has been hailed the potential saver of the music industry, discover the meaning of memes and reveal how an email hacker turned one person’s life upside down.

Facebook – unlikely saviour of the music industry

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is already a rock star in Silicon Valley. The next year will likely determine whether he becomes a rock star in the music industry as well, reported the San Jose Mercury News.

That industry, suffering from declining sales and revenue, is counting on Facebook’s plans for digital music sharing to give it a boost.

By allowing Facebook’s more than 750 million users to see what songs their friends are listening to, and then instantly click on those tracks through Facebook-integrated music services like Spotify, Berkeley-based MOG and San Francisco-based Rdio, the hope is that people will discover new music they would be willing to pay for, either by subscribing to a streaming service, attending a concert, downloading tracks from iTunes, or perhaps even engaging in the quaint behavior of buying CDs.

“Facebook could be a tremendous outlet to supercharge people’s awareness of these services,” said Rdio CEO Drew Larner. “Subscriptions could be the driver to get revenue moving in the right direction, so the music industry can move back toward where it was. Will it ever be where it was? I don’t know about that.”

It’s been nearly a month since the announcement at Facebook’s annual developer conference of its partnerships with Rdio and other music services. That’s too soon for a definitive answer about whether Facebook will reboot the music industry. There are early signs for optimism, as well as pessimism.

The meaning of memes

The Financial Times had an interesting article on the meme craze that sweeps the web and social networks daily. From Star Wars Kid to Maru the cat, what causes videos to go viral? And what does the success of the ephemera that washes across the internet say about us?

Have you met Maru? No? Maru is a cat. A cute cat. Is there anything special about Maru, apart from the cuteness, which, if we’re honest, he has in common with quite a few other cats?

He lives in Japan. He’s a straight-haired Scottish Fold, four years old, slightly rotund (his name means “round” in Japanese). Otherwise? Well, there’s this thing he does where he jumps into an empty cardboard box. He jumps into all sorts of cardboard boxes. And out. Sometimes he climbs in a bin. Just for fun!

And Maru is famous. At the time of writing, YouTube videos of Maru have been viewed 100m times. He’s the subject of a recent hardback book, I Am Maru. It consists of 95 glossy pages of photographs of Maru being a cat. In August, three weeks before its publication date, it was the number one cat book on Amazon UK.

Maru is just a cat. But he’s also more than just a cat. Maru is a bellwether of the state of the culture. Maru is a meme.

Moore’s millions

The Sunday Independent reported that Louth-born businessman George Moore may have banked up to €150m after the sale this week of TargusInfo, his Washington DC-based marketing technology company.

Declining to disclose the exact size of his stake, Moore said: “I have a considerable shareholding. TargusInfo’s 300 or-so employees at all levels, including the receptionist will all now get a nice cheque. Their shares amounted to a double-digit percentage.”

US telecoms and internet firm Neustar paid more than €507m in total for the company that Mr Moore co-founded with Jim Shaffer, a California IT and software entrepreneur.

It is thought that they each owned a stake of up to 30 per cent and would have shared just over €300m.

iPhone fest turns into Steve Jobs remembrance

USA Today reported that it wasn’t just the latest iPhone that drew people to Apple stores Friday.

Many consumers waited in lines for hours — sometimes enduring chilly temperatures and overnight thunderstorms — to remember Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary who died last week.

The company’s first iPhone release since Jobs’ death turned into another tribute. Some customers even joked that the new model 4S stood “for Steve.”

Tony Medina, a student from Manhattan, stood outside Apple’s flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue for nine hours, waiting through rain. He had originally planned to order the phone online but decided to join a crowd of about 200 people to honour Jobs.

“For loyalty, I felt I had to do the line,” he said. “I had to say thank you.”

Hacker pushes victim to edge of reason

The Observer had a fascinating albeit disturbing tale about how an email hacker ruined someone’s life and then tried to sell it back to her. Rowenna Davis told how her identity was held hostage by an email hacker who wanted stg£500 to let her back into her account – and explained how it felt worse than daylight robbery.

She wrote: “It started when my phone went crazy in the middle of a crucial meeting. Some 5,000 contacts received an email from my account saying that I’d been held up at gunpoint in Madrid. My internet-savvy friends sent texts to say I’d been hacked, while my elderly, migrant and more vulnerable friends wanted to know where to send the cash. According to the story, my mobile phone and credit cards had been taken and I was badly in need of money. There was a number to call to reach me at my hotel – presumably chargeable – and a Western Union account had been set up in my name to wire a transfer.

“Suddenly you’re hit with an organisational bombshell – drop what you’re doing; freeze your bank account; answer anxious calls; lose crucial, last-minute messages; miss work deadlines; irritate bosses; reset all email-based passwords; forget to pay e-bills; irritate friends who think you’re ignoring them. The realisation dawns that the email account is the nexus of the modern world. It’s connected to just about every part of our daily life, and if something goes wrong, it spreads. But the biggest effect is psychological. On some level, your identity is being held hostage.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years