Weekend news roundup

4 May 2010

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

Electric cars with sound effects

The Sunday Times reported how the vision of tranquil modern cities, with inhabitants gliding by silently in electric cars, may be shattered by European plans to introduce artificial warning sounds to the new generation of zero-emission vehicles.

Each manufacturer may be permitted to provide its own “signature tune”, with the regulation simply setting a minimum volume to prevent pedestrians, cyclists and especially blind people from stepping into the path of battery-powered cars.

Some manufacturers are likely to opt for an engine noise while others are considering adopting the noises of spacecraft from science fiction films, such as the podracers from Star Wars.

To minimise disturbance, the noise will be projected in the direction in which the vehicle is travelling. Lotus, which is developing electric and hybrid models, has adapted sound-cancelling technology to project a sound that changes with the speed.

The industry believes an artificial sound is likely to be needed only at speeds below 20mph because above that all vehicles create enough tyre noise to be heard.

The next big thing

The same paper wrote that Foursquare is positioned to be the next big thing.

The New York-based start-up is expected to announce a funding deal shortly that could value it at $80m (£53m), or more. Yahoo! is reported to have made a $100m offer for the company that the founders Dennis Crowley, 33, and Naveen Selvadurai, 27, have rejected. Microsoft, which has a partnership deal with Foursquare for its Bing search engine, and Facebook have also looked into buying it.

It allows users to “check in” using mobile phones when they visit a specific place or business. The application uses a mobile’s GPS locator or mobile-phone masts to work out its location. Users can see if friends have checked in near them and get suggestions on things to do where they are. The attraction for the web giants is the potential for mobile advertising. Advertisers have seized on the model as a way to serve up location-based ads and special offers, without irritating mobile phone users. In the United States, Tasti D-Lite, a frozen dessert company, and Starbucks have set up customer loyalty programmes. Foursquare already offers deals to users based on where they say they are and the company has said it plans to offer targeted advertising for local firms.

Analysts expect spending on local mobile marketing to rise quickly in the next few years as more consumers buy smartphones connected to the web. The consultancy Borrell Associates said mobile marketing hit $2.7bn last year in the US and is expected to reach $57bn by 2014.

Facebook and Spotify’s megalomania?

The Observer expressed its opinion that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg has succumbed to megalomania and other web players like music site Spotify could go the same direction. It warned that venture capitalists ought to start funding the search for a cure, because it’s costing many of them a lot of money, and is likely to cost even more in the future.

Here’s how it works. A smart entrepreneur – a Harvard dropout, say, or some guy who made a lot of money by selling off his last venture to some clueless multinational – starts up a web business which grows like crazy by attracting millions of subscribers who use its services for free. Pretty soon, it’s got 400 million of them and everyone is saying: “Wow! 400 million users! That must be good for something.” Then several things happen. Firstly, the proprietor of the sensation du jour starts drinking the Kool-Aid and contracts the aforementioned megalomania. He begins to fantasise that he could own the whole internet. Secondly, thousands of other entrepreneurs think “Wow! He could own the whole internet. We need to make sure our stuff has hooks into his stuff. Otherwise, we’re toast.” And then the mainstream media, whose insights into this could be written in 96-point Helvetica bold on the back of a postage stamp, are going around saying, “Jeez, this stuff is the real deal. How do we get onside?”

Irish music industry sings a lucrative tune

The Sunday Independent reports that Irish music industry types are humming a happy tune despite the terrible sales figures that came out last week.

Ireland’s 600,000 illegal downloaders are blamed for a lot of the €60m crash in Irish music sales in the past five years, but a crackdown is likely, thanks to a new judgment.

Judge Peter Charlton ruled that record companies handing over the IP addresses of illegal music downloaders is not a breach of data protection law. Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes had held that it was an invasion of privacy. The move could be worth €20m to the music business, IMRO boss Dick Doyle says.

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