Weekend news round-up: Twitter’s firehose problem; remembering Steve Jobs

7 Oct 2013

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech news coverage, Steve Jobs is remembered on the second anniversary of his death; Twitter’s firehose problem is going to impact growth as its ecosystem is littered with the corpses of long-abandoned accounts; Google, BT and Microsoft join white space trials in the UK; and EU attempts to protect against the big data harvesting of its citizens.

Remembering Steve Jobs

9to5Mac reported on an email that Apple CEO Tim Cook sent to staff to mark the second anniversary of the death of Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs.

Cook wrote: “Steve was an amazing human being and left the world a better place. I think of him often and find enormous strength in memories of his friendship, vision and leadership. He left behind a company that only he could have built and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple. We will continue to honour his memory by dedicating ourselves to the work he loved so much. There is no higher tribute to his memory. I know that he would be proud of all of you.”

And Steve said: ‘Let there be an iPhone’

The New York Times carried a piece from the perspective of Andy Grignon, who worked on the first iPhone with Steve Jobs. Grignon recalled the rehearsals and the secrecy before the phone was launched, and sized up its overall impact on the world we live in.

“The impact has been not only economic but also cultural. Apple’s innovations have set off an entire rethinking of how humans interact with machines. It’s not simply that we use our fingers now instead of a mouse. Smartphones, in particular, have become extensions of our brains. They have fundamentally changed the way people receive and process information. Ponder the individual impacts of the book, the newspaper, the telephone, the radio, the tape recorder, the camera, the video camera, the compass, the television, the VCR and the DVD, the personal computer, the cellphone, the video game and the iPod. The smartphone is all those things, and it fits in your pocket. Its technology is changing the way we learn in school, the way doctors treat patients, the way we travel and explore. Entertainment and media are accessed and experienced in entirely new ways.”

Tech giants join white space trials in the UK

Technology firms including Google, BT and Microsoft are taking part in Europe’s first major pilot of white space technology to drive the next wave of wireless innovation, Telecoms.com reported.

“Over the next six months, around 20 public and private organisations will be participating in Ofcom’s pilot by running trials to test a variety of applications, such as sensors that monitor the behaviour of cities and dynamic information for road users.

“Fixed line incumbent BT and white space technology start-up Neul will work with the Department for Transport to test the potential enhancement of traffic information. Using white spaces to transmit data on traffic conditions to vehicles, the technology is designed to improve information to drivers. Ofcom said the trial could lead to deploying technology that could reduce congestion and even improve road safety.”

Making sense of the Twitter firehose

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine summarised one of the major growth challenges facing Twitter in a piece entitled Twitter Quitters and the Unfiltered Feed Problem.

Summing up the typical scenario of users who begin by thinking they’re shouting into the abyss but who eventually find Twitter is a one-way motorway of data, Constine says people see fewer interesting things in their feed than they used to.

As a result, Twitter is littered with the corpses of accounts that passed away too young or never truly lived.

“You put up with the mess but don’t enjoy your experience as much. If you’re a power user, you might create a Twitter List of your favourite people, but it takes a lot of effort. For everyone else who wants to trim the fat from follow lists, it’s tough to know where to start.

“Twitter keeps on recommending more people to follow, both organically, and in exchange for ad dollars, but doesn’t tell you who you never interact with and should unfollow. It takes multiple clicks to unfollow someone, making it a laborious chore to ditch 10 accounts, and you still have hundreds left. You might have noticed that the ‘Follow Friday’ trend where you’d recommend people others should follow has died off. No one has the bandwidth.

“Your firehose is full, and it leads to two behaviours that are devastating to Twitter: You visit less and you stop following new people.”

Chrome coming to Windows 8

The Verge reported that Google has been updating its desktop version of the Chrome to run essentially Chrome OS within Windows 8 Metro mode.

“Chrome traditionally runs on the desktop in Windows 8, but you can set it to launch within the Windows 8 Start Screen into a special ‘Metro-style’ mode. The new updates are very different from the existing stable channel version of Chrome in Windows 8 that simply presents a full-screen browser. In the latest dev channel release, the UI and functionality is identical to Chrome OS. There’s a shelf with Chrome, Gmail, Google, Docs, and YouTube icons that can be arranged at the bottom, left, or right of the screen. Like Chrome OS, you can create multiple browser windows and arrange them using a snap to the left or right of the display or full-screen modes. An app launcher is also available in the lower left-hand corner.”

Privacy may become a thing of the past in the big-data age

Our notions of what we call privacy are being eroded – mostly by ourselves through social media – on a daily basis. That’s why The Guardian reported the EU is scrambling to come up with new data protection regulations to extend controls to companies like Google or Facebook who process the data of EU citizens.

“Watching the legal system deal with the internet is like watching somebody trying to drive a car by looking only in the rear-view mirror. The results are amusing and predictable but not really interesting. On the other hand, watching the efforts of regulators – whether national ones such as Ofcom, or multinational, such as the European Commission – is more instructive.

“At the moment, the commission is wrestling with the problem of how to protect the data of European citizens in a world dominated by Google, Facebook and Co. The windscreen of the metaphorical car that the commission is trying to drive has been cracked so extensively that it’s difficult to see anything clearly through it.”

Stay informed – get daily updates on the latest happenings in technology directly to your inbox.

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