Weekend news roundup

13 Dec 2010

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers.

The new entrepreneurial hot shots

In what could be an instructive path for graduates here, the New York Times carried an interesting report on how young college graduates, effectively blocked out of the jobs market by high unemployment, are taking the entrepreneurial high road and viewing start-ups as a better, more viable career track. The Young Entrepreneurial Council council consists of 80-plus business owners across the country, ages 17 to 33. Members include Scott Becker, 23, co-founder of Invite Media, an advertising technology firm recently acquired by a Google unit; Lauren Berger, 26, founder of the Intern Queen, a site that connects college students with internships; Aaron Patzer, the 30-year-old who sold Mint.com to Intuit for $170m; and Josh Weinstein, 24, who started CollegeOnly.com, a social networking site that is backed by a PayPal founder.

The council, which has applied for non-profit status, serves as a help desk and mentoring hotline for individual entrepreneurs. People can also submit questions on subjects like marketing, publicity and technology, and each month a group of council members will answer 30 to 40 of them in business publications like The Wall Street Journal and American Express Open Forum, and on dozens of small business websites.

Council members assert that young people can start businesses even if they have little or no money or experience. But whether those start-ups last is another matter. Roughly half of all new businesses fail within the first five years, according to federal data. And the entrepreneurial life is notoriously filled with risks, stresses and sacrifices.

But then again, unemployment is 9.8pc; Gerber’s inbox is flooded with e-mails from young people who have sent out hundreds of résumés for corporate jobs and came up empty. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 24.4pc of 2010 graduates who applied for a job had one waiting for them after graduation (up from 19.7pc in 2009). What do some people have to lose?

The lesson may be that entrepreneurship can be a viable career path, not a renegade choice — especially since the promise of “Go to college, get good grades and then get a job,” isn’t working the way it once did. The new reality has forced a whole generation to redefine what a stable job is.

Cyber warfare in the 21st century

The Financial Times carried an interesting look into the mysterious cyber groups who are launching attacks on prominent websites. But when the mysterious forces of Anonymous took it upon themselves to attack opponents of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website, their success took everyone – not least victims such as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal – by surprise.

This year has seen military and security experts often warn about the prospects of “cyber warfare”. Few expected the most prominent assaults against large companies to come from a scattered group of anarchists and idealists with no identifiable leader, membership or nationality.

The loose internet grouping that calls itself Anonymous has been notorious in web circles for years, particularly for its apparently random attacks on the music industry, Kiss singer Gene Simmons, YouTube and Scientologists. Its wilfully illiterate grammar and black humour has permeated the internet far beyond the 4chan messageboard, which originally spawned it.

Even as the more serious matters of attacks on big companies were plotted this week, Anonymous followers in 4chan’s open chat rooms chimed in with insults and jokes. But with what it has dubbed ‘Operation Payback’, the group has mounted its most ideological crusade yet.

Angry Birds flock together

The New York Times reported on the Angry Birds phenomenon, a game that involves catapulting birds at elaborate fortresses constructed by evil pigs but which is one of the unlikeliest pop-culture crazes of the year — and perhaps the first to make the leap from mobile phone screens to the mainstream.

Angry Birds, in which the birds seek revenge on the egg-stealing pigs, is meant to be easily played in the checkout line and during other short windows of downtime — but some players have trouble stopping. Rovio says people around the world rack up 200 million minutes of game play each day. (Put another way, that is 16 human years of bird throwing every hour.)

The game has inspired parodies, homages and fervent testimonials. Homemade Angry Birds costumes were big hits on Halloween. Talk-show host Conan O’Brien demonstrated the game in a YouTube video promoting his new show, and a sketch from an Israeli TV show about a birds and pigs peace treaty was popular online. Pop star Justin Bieber and other celebrities have professed their love of Angry Birds on social networks.

Games like Angry Birds are reaching a wide audience of players who might never consider buying an Xbox or PlayStation, but are now carrying sophisticated game machines in their pockets — smartphones. Software developers, eager to become the next Rovio, are creating so-called casual games for this crowd, games that are easy to learn and hard to stop playing.

Twitter hits 100m users

The Sunday Telegraph reported on new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which shows that 8pc of adult internet users in America are on Twitter, with that figure rising to 14pc of 18-29-year-olds.

Almost a quarter of Twitter users check the service several times a day, although 21pc said they never checked it at all, suggesting that some people sign up to the service but don’t use it.

The study also revealed that African-American and Latino adult internet users in the United States were twice as likely as white American adults to use Twitter.

Around 13pc of Latino adult web users and 18pc of African-American adult web users also use Twitter, compared to just 8pc of white adults.

Minority groups are bigger users of the microblogging service because they are younger and more connected to mobile technology, said the study.

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