Weekend news roundup

11 Jul 2011

A trawl through some of the weekend’s technology coverage in the newspapers, including Google Ideas, the search giant’s efforts at philanthropy, how Google+ tells who’s who in the Valley and why online dating has become a no-go area for middle-aged women.

Google’s Ideas take shape

Dublin got a mention in this Financial Times interview with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt about Google’s efforts at philanthropy, including Google Ideas. The company doled out grants of more than US$100m last year.

Google Ideas, created last October, has quickly set out to build a reputation for doing things most corporate units would strive to avoid. It sits within Google’s business operations and strategy division rather than under its philanthropic arm, and its six staff are based in the company’s New York office.

For the Save summit in Dublin, Google paid for more than 80 former jihadists, neo-Nazi skinheads, one-time Irish extremists and US gang members, all of whom now work to prevent radicalisation, to fly in from around the world. There, they huddled with Google employees, survivors of terrorist attacks and kidnappings, academics and other experts to try to come up with solutions to fight extremism.

But with the Dublin summit, Google Ideas was also deploying a model it wants to use on other issues. From exploring how to make so-called fragile states like Somalia function better, to addressing the lack of access to judicial resources faced by many in the developing world, there are plenty of problems to which Google can help find a solution.

Facebook and the Great Firewall of China

The San Jose Mercury News had a story on Facebook’s efforts to break into China. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ponders a strategy for China, the conditions imposed in the world’s largest internet market were highlighted recently when executives of the country’s top web companies gathered to sing revolutionary songs and wave red flags to commemorate the recent 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Former Silicon Valley technologist Robin Li, co-founder of Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, reportedly proclaimed, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics drives the development of the Chinese internet.” Some of the attendees at the Shanghai event, which featured a lecture on the party’s history and was sponsored by the government agency that regulates online content, posed uncomfortably before cameras, according to news reports.

The 8 June gathering underscores why “foreign companies are disadvantaged in China,” said Bill Bishop, a Beijing-based independent analyst who follows China’s internet market. “It was a picture-tells-a-thousand-words moment.”

Facebook, which aims to “connect the world,” says it can’t ignore China.

The online dating wilderness

The Observer reported how online dating is leaving middle-aged women in a ‘single wilderness’. Single women in their 40s and 50s are increasingly feeling that their love lives are over as men their own age use online dating to cherry pick younger models. But when did confidence and sexual maturity become so unattractive?

When a divorced woman on “the wrong side of 45 with a brace of kids” began to write about her experiences of being single last week, she opened her blog with the extraordinary statement that she was in “relationship no man’s land”, condemned to be alone for the rest of her life.

“I am,” she wrote, “a plankton on the food chain of sexuality and the prospect of a relationship.”

The anonymous woman, whose blog is titled The Plankton, is not alone in believing there are problems specific to being a single woman in middle age. A survey this month found eight out of 10 women over 50 think they have become invisible to men. Seven out of 10 women in the study felt overlooked by the fashion industry, while three-quarters of women in their 60s believed they had lost their identity by being labelled as a “mum”.

Government in website standoff

The Sunday Independent reported that a war between the Government and the judiciary over the proposed referendum on judges’ pay escalated yesterday after Justice Minister Alan Shatter issued a formal rebuke to the chief executive of the Courts Service.

The latest row centres on the judiciary’s decision to publish the full text of a memorandum, in which it criticises the wording of the Government’s proposed referendum, on the Courts Service website.

Having learned of the judges’ move, Shatter is said by sources at the Law Library to have instructed one of his officials to phone the chief executive of the Courts Service, Brendan Ryan, and demand that the memorandum be removed.

The demand is said by the same sources to have been “politely but firmly rebuffed” by Ryan, with the reminder that the Courts Service operates independently of his office.

Google+ is the new barometer of who’s ‘in’ in Silicon Valley

The San Jose Mercury News reported there’s a new way to tell if you’re part of Silicon Valley’s “in” crowd. It’s called Google+.  Launched just a couple of weeks ago, Google+ is the search giant’s latest stab at building a social-networking service. But most people are stuck outside the velvet ropes of what has quickly become the most exclusive club in the tech universe, because Google extended invitations only to a select group of bloggers, entrepreneurs and tech execs.

And to the surprise of just about everyone who has tried it, Google+ is pretty damn good. For now, part of the appeal is its exclusivity, something that’s pure catnip to early-adopter types and a bit of genius marketing by Google.

Robert Scoble, a leading tech blogger and the insider’s insider, joined Google+ on day one, and as of Friday was the fifth most-followed person, with 17,109 followers. In a blog post called “Why yo momma won’t use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end),” Scoble expressed the unlikely hope that mainstream users would shun it.

“So, what is Google+ for, then? It’s for us!” he wrote. “Come on now, we geeks and early adopters and social media gurus need a place to talk free of folks who think Justin Bieber is the second coming of Christ. That’s what we have in Google+ right now. Do we really want to mess that up?”

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