Weekend news roundup

1 Nov 2010

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

A look inside Twitter

The New York Times carried a nice in-depth interview with Twitter’s former CEO Evan Williams that gave an insight into the management style of one of the fastest-growing internet companies of our time. Twitter has 175 million registered users, up from 503,000 three years ago and 58 million just last year. It is adding about 370,000 new users a day.

It has helped transform the way news is gathered and distributed, reshaped how public figures, from celebrities to political leaders, communicate, and played a role in popular protests in Iran, China and Moldova. It has become so muscular and ubiquitous that it now competes with the likes of Google and Facebook for users — and is beginning to compete with them for advertising dollars.

Yet for all its astonishing growth, Twitter has succeeded in spite of itself — the enviable product of a great idea and lightning-in-a-bottle viral success rather than a disciplined approach to how it’s managed.

Because of that, Twitter is on the cusp of becoming the next big, independent internet company — or the next start-up to be swallowed whole by a giant like Google or, possibly, the next start-up to run out of steam.

Now the company is trying to instil some of the rigour and sense of purpose it needs to ensure that it is, indeed, the next big thing.

“The thing I’ve learned that’s much different than any other time in my life is I have a team that is really, really great,” says Williams, 38. “I’ve been studying this stuff for a really long time, and I’ve screwed up in many, many, many ways in terms of managing people and product decisions and business, so I feel fairly confident at this point that it could scale pretty well.”

Google’s Texas probe

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Texas attorney general’s office is conducting an antitrust review of Google Inc.’s core search-engine business, a sign of widening government scrutiny of the web giant.

Texas’ top prosecutor has inquired about allegations by several small companies that Google unfairly demoted their rankings in search results or the placement of their advertisements on the search engine, Google said Friday.

The internet giant disputed the allegations, which have been reported previously, tracing them to three companies with ties to rival Microsoft.

A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said an investigation of Google was ongoing but declined further comment. A Microsoft spokesman declined comment.

Don Harrison, a deputy general counsel at Google, said in a blog post that the company is sometimes asked about the fairness of the search engine and why some websites are ranked higher than others.

“Given that not every website can be at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower-quality websites will be unhappy with their ranking,” Harrison wrote.

Christmas online shoppers face delay

The Sunday Independent reported that Irish online shoppers are set to face significant delays in receiving their purchases as a result of Friday’s global terror bomb scare.

A number of the big online shopping companies were attempting to assure customers that delays will not happen, but experts speaking yesterday said such interruptions are unavoidable. The discovery of US-bound mail bombs on cargo planes at East Midlands Airport, England, and at Dubai reveals the vulnerability of air shipping, which is governed by a patchwork of inconsistent controls that make packages a potential threat, even to passenger jets, experts said yesterday.

Irish consumers spent more than €2.13bn on purchases from internet sites in 2009, with the average Irish shopper spending €1,450.

This is a decrease from an average of €1,700 in the previous year.

Flights and holidays are the most popular online purchase, with 83pc of survey respondents having paid for these via the internet last year.

Tickets for concerts, movies and other entertainment events were also popular, with 67pc of survey participants buying them online during the course of the year

Interesting dimension on 3D

The Sunday Business Post‘s Adrian Weckler took an alternative view of the hoopla surrounding 3D. Are 3D tellies a gimmick or are they the next big thing? Right now, he wrote, they fall into the former category, but the electronics and film industries are praying that they will soon be in the latter.

The truth is that 3D is largely aimed at children. Kids don’t mind putting on silly glasses in their living rooms, whereas adults take a bit more persuading.

This reality has been accepted by movie studios, who have focused almost all of their energies on making 3D a kids’ movie technology. Of the 20 films released in 3D in Ireland over the last year, some 90pc have been children’s titles. Of the handful of “grown up” films to be launched in 3D, almost none was a top 5 grossing title (Avatar, a crossover film, was an exception).