Weekend news roundup

15 Nov 2010

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

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone talks new products

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Sean Garrett, the company’s director of communications, visited The New York Times this past week to talk about the current state of Twitter and plans for the company over the next few years.

Some of the key points Stone highlighted included possible new advertising models, like location-based and local advertising, and new products Twitter users can expect to see.

“Get ready for the pitchforks and the torches.”

Stone, who comes across as an affable jokester, said he spends a majority of his time at the company on new product efforts, while making sure to meet with employees who have recently joined the Twitter team.

Stone said although the company is focusing on new features and revenue streams, most of the company’s engineers are currently devoted to maintaining the service’s stability and managing its unabated growth.

“The most important thing right now is reliability, because there are 370,000 people signing up to the service every day,” Stone said. “To manage this, we have 300 people working at Twitter right now, but by this time next year we expect to be a company of 600 or 700 employees.”

Garrett said Twitter was also working on helping new users figure out how to use the service.

“We have an on-boarding team that is working to bridge the gap between global awareness of Twitter and actually helping new people become more engaged with the site,” he said.

Warning on tech firms’ earnings

The Financial Times’ Lex Column hinted that the halcyon days for tech firms amid the global economic gloom may be short lived. It said US$20bn vanished on Thursday morning following the second disappointing quarter in a row from Cisco Systems. The technology sector suffered only mild disconcertion, as problems appear confined to the networking equipment maker. But behind the 15pc drop in Cisco’s stock price is a cautionary tale for other technology companies sitting on large cash piles and searching for growth.

First, though, the shock. Cisco actually met its non-GAAP earnings forecasts, but sticklers will note stock-based compensation expenses were up 26pc on the year before, well ahead of operating cost growth, as the company continues a hiring spree. Meanwhile, order growth was down across the board, with guidance for sales next quarter far below expectations. To make the new full-year target of 9 to 11pc expansion requires a remarkable rebound in the second half of the financial year.

October orders missed internal targets by $500m, mainly because of weakness in the public sector and set-top box businesses. The former contributes just over a fifth of sales, and if weak spending by US state governments and the European public sector is a new trend, it should show up in tech results this month: Dell, reporting next Thursday, makes almost a third of its sales from government, calculates Barclays Capital.

Irish Army marches on cyberspace

The Defence Forces are emerging as a champion of social media communications, according to the Sunday Business Post.

Having initially established its social media platforms in 2008 with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, the Defence Forces are now increasingly engaged with the social media audience.

The army is planning to launch apps for iPhones and Android phones early next year, and is relaunching its website to make it easier to update regularly with more dynamic and engaging content.

Young people are increasingly using the Defence Forces Facebook page to source information about a career in the army, while soldiers based overseas are using the image-sharing site Flickr to send photographs home to relatives in Ireland. (Valentine’s and Mother’s Day campaigns proved particularly popular.) Twitter was also used by the Defence Forces during the bad weather last winter, to inform the public about operations in support of local authorities.

Judicial review for UK’s Digital Economy Act

The Guardian reported at the weekend how BT and TalkTalk have won the right to a judicial review of the Digital Economy Act on all four of the contested legal grounds, the high court has ruled.

The verdict, delivered late on Friday afternoon, represents a 4-0 victory for two of the UK’s largest broadband providers, though the Act was already on its way to judicial review before Mr Justice Wyn Williams had made the judgment.

It does little to change the course of the controversial Act in the short term, but it stops the dust settling.

The Act has its supporters. The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has been vociferous in its support of many of the Digital Economy Act’s more contentious proposals since they first surfaced.

Smart economy: no quick fix!

The Irish Independent reported Saturday how two prominent businessmen have sharply criticised the Government’s smart economy plan, describing the term as “insulting” and “misunderstood”.

Speaking in Dublin, the managing director of Glen Dimplex, Sean O’Driscoll, and the founder of Flancare, JJ Killian, claimed that, while they supported a smart economy in principle, it may leave behind traditional businesses and not create badly needed jobs.

“The term smart economy is divisive because it has connotations of elitism. When we refer to the smart economy, are we suggesting the rest of the world is dumb? I don’t think it has been thought through. To me, the smart economy is about doing things better and doing more with less,” said O’Driscoll.

Mobile phones and your health

The New York Times issued a warning on Saturday: holding a mobile phone against your ear may be hazardous to your health. So may stuffing it in a pocket against your body. It referred to a book by Devra Davis, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, who pointed out there has been a drop in incidents of brain cancer among elderly people but a discernable rise amongst the 21-29 population in America.

The legal departments of mobile phone manufacturers slip a warning about holding the phone against your head or body into the fine print of the little slip that you toss aside when unpacking your phone. Apple, for example, doesn’t want iPhones to come closer than 5/8 of an inch; Research In Motion, BlackBerry’s manufacturer, is still more cautious: keep a distance of about an inch.

The warnings may be missed by an awful lot of customers. The United States has 292 million wireless numbers in use, approaching one for every adult and child, according to C.T.I.A.-The Wireless Association, the mobile phone industry’s primary trade group. It says that as of June, about a quarter of domestic households were wireless only.

If health issues arise from ordinary use of this hardware, it would affect not just many customers but also a huge industry. Our voice calls — we chat on our cellphones 2.26 trillion minutes annually, according to the C.T.I.A. — generate $109bn for the wireless carriers.