Weekend news roundup

23 Jan 2012

In our trawl through some of the weekend newspapers’ tech coverage, we discover how U2’s former rehearsal stage in Dublin’s docklands will be the setting for the launch of a new generation of tech start-ups, Facebook’s latest retro gaming sensation, PayPal moves into the physical store market and how Google is breathing fresh air into the workplace.

Start-ups! Get on your boots

The Sunday Independent reported that an area previously used by rock band U2 as a rehearsal space in Dublin will be the focal point for a new generation of technology start-ups.

The newspaper reported that a group of well-known Irish technology entrepreneurs will launch a new venture called Startupbootcamp in Dublin next week. The new programme is designed to help domestic and international start-ups bring their first products to market.

Backers of Dublin’s first Startupbootcamp, which will work with 10 start-ups from Ireland, Europe and America, include Iain MacDonald, the founder of Skillpages.com, who previously sold Perlico, a telecoms company; Elaine Coughlan, a partner in Atlantic Bridge and Conor Stanley, a founder of Clearscape and investor in Bloom Equity.

Eoghan Jennings, the former chief financial officer of online business networking company XING, has also invested in the project, as well as co-founding Startupbootcamp, which is already up and running in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

“What we’re doing is entirely privately funded,” Jennings said, “and it will help develop innovative start-ups, from places like Brazil, Lithuania, Poland, the UK and even California in the United States, here in Dublin.”

Jennings said Startupbootcamp’s tech supporters were investing €300,000 initially in helping the first 10 start-ups, which will be based in Dublin for three-month programmes of business development, mentoring and networking.

Start-ups will be based in The Factory, on Dublin’s Barrow Street, near Facebook and Google’s European headquarters, in a building previously used as a rehearsal space for U2.

Google green theme makes it the best place to work in US

Google CEO Larry Page and co-founder Sergey Brin often get props for their brains, reported The San Jose Mercury News, but Google being named the best place to work in America by Fortune on Thursday may also have something to do with their noses.

From the company’s earliest days, the co-founders – who are said by some of the company’s first employees to share an acute sense of smell and sensitivity to toxins – have had an intense focus on air quality, as one way to create a work environment second to none. The company says its air quality rivals a hospital rather than an office building, and it has long scrutinised all building materials – including, literally, a sniff test – to make sure they are free of chemicals with any negative health impact.

Although Fortune‘s article, which lauds famous Google perks like free food, drinks and massages, doesn’t mention the air, company insiders cite it as an indication of Google’s intense focus on employee well-being. “We’re really thinking about long-term health effects,” said Anthony Ravitz, who heads the “Green Team” for Google’s Real Estate & Workplace Services. “How can we extend the life span of our employees by 30 years?”

There’s retro gaming and then there’s Retro World

USA Today reported on Facebook’s latest gaming sensation – Retro World – which is a new online game that revives famous celebs of yesteryear, like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe or John Belushi, as well as living legends, including Dick Clark.

Aimed at the 40-and-over crowd, Entertainment Games’ free Facebook offering fuses Hollywood nostalgia and past pop culture references with point-and-click adventure games popularised in the ’90s.

While many parts of the game are still under construction (marked by “Coming Soon” banners), Retro World should provide hours of enjoyable and lighthearted gameplay.

After you type in your name and select an available avatar, you’ll begin Retro World on a Hollywood set. You’ll click around to the different areas, interact with characters and accept missions, such as bringing a starlet some sushi – after you’ve found a suitable knife for the chef in the props closet. Some items will be added to your inventory to use at a later time, while you’ll also solve environmental puzzles, such as rewiring a fuse box.

But the real fun doesn’t start until you choose to play one of the “Shows” at the movie theatre, beginning with a ’60s-style spy thriller, Owl Files, which pays homage to James Bond, Communists, the Space Race, and so on. While Dick Clark plays himself as the game’s host, of sorts, other licensed stars assume the role of fictional characters in these story-driven tales; Monroe is a sexy spy in Owl Files, for example, while Presley plays as a doctor in an upcoming show.

PayPal’s physical store strategy reveals itself

The San Jose Mercury News reported that eBay’s PayPal e-commerce payment business plans to let shoppers pay with its service in more than 2,000 Home Depot stores by March, part of an effort to win customers from credit-card companies.

The company began a trial with shoppers this week in 51 of Home Depot’s home-improvement stores, primarily in the San Francisco area, said Anuj Nayar, a spokesman for PayPal. It intends to extend the offer to all national locations, or about 2,200, he said.

PayPal, the fastest-growing part of eBay, aims to maintain that expansion by moving into the offline world, challenging Visa and MasterCard on their home turfs. While eBay says payment volume from in-store terminals will be “immaterial” to next year’s financial projections, it expects to profit from the shift in the next three to five years.

“Longer term, this could move the needle for PayPal, but right now it’s still in testing mode,” said Herman Leung, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group in San Francisco.

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