Weekend news roundup

12 Apr 2010

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

Web-icated followers of fashion!

The Sunday Tribune reports that Auction site eBay is stepping up its fashion presence and will this week begin a major marketing campaign plugging the dedicated fashion area on its site. The online marketplace has been boosting its retail areas and has already signed up retailers such as Superdry, Bench and Schuh, which sell current and past-season stock on the site. The move is an attempt to change customers’ perceptions of the site, and make it more of an online retailer rather than merely an auction site. eBay has significant operations in Blanchardstown in west Dublin, where it recently announced the creation of 150 new jobs. Sister company PayPal is also based in the area and between them they employ 1,600 people. PayPal is also expanding there at present. As revealed by the Sunday Tribune, eBay has been planning to expand for several months and reviewed its operations in Blanchardstown with a view to a possible move to a new building. However, that is now unlikely to happen.

NHS data blunder

The Observer reports families allowed organs to be donated, after being given wrong information on what consent had been given. A major investigation is under way into how a data-handling blunder by the NHS led to 800,000 people having their organ donation wishes incorrectly recorded. The NHS will contact about 20 families who allowed organs to be taken from loved ones after being misinformed about what consent had previously been given as a result of the decade-old error, according to the Sunday Telegraph. Of the individuals for whom data was wrongly recorded, 45 have now died.

The errors affecting the UK organ donor list stretch back to 1999 but only came to light last year when NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), which runs the organ donation register, wrote to new donors thanking them for joining the scheme and outlining what they had agreed to donate. But many of those contacted wrote back pointing out that the information was incorrect, resulting in the investigation. Donors can give permission for any of their organs to be taken, or provide more specific agreements. Consent is often not given for eyes to be removed or for bodies to be used in medical research.

However, the distinctions were accidentally deleted in 1999, when information held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – which includes a request for consent in applications for a driving licence – was transferred to the organ registry. After detecting the error, NHSBT was able to correct 400,000 of the flawed records. But hundreds of thousands more people are due to be contacted shortly and asked to confirm what consent has been provided. Until fresh consent is obtained, no organs will be taken from any of those people in the event of death.

To be read or dead

The Sunday Business Post reports newspaper owners are gearing up for a clash with RTE over its free news website, as publishers move to charge for online content. The issue is to be raised at government level, with newspaper owners saying RTE should not be allowed to use taxpayers’ money to provide news for free in competition with commercial publishers.

The representative group for the newspaper industry, National Newspapers of Ireland, is preparing a policy document on the issue. However, RTE says its online operation is a ‘‘necessary and important’’ service for domestic and overseas audiences. Recent legislation appeared to clear the way for the use of licence fee money for online services. John Fleming, who heads business development for Thomas Crosbie Holdings, which owns the Sunday Business Post and 16 other papers, voiced concern over RTE’s news sites. “I think there has to be an awareness among the political class that news media is under pressure around the world, and Ireland is no different,” he said.

Joe Webb, managing director of Independent News and Media (INM) Ireland, said the group was trialling a fee structure for its 13 regional titles, and would ‘‘absolutely’’ start charging for its daily and Sunday papers. However, he said RTE’s online services presented a problem. ‘‘The biggest issue for the entire newspaper market is RTE. It is a big problem for us, it’s a big problem for the industry and for the government, I suggest,” said Webb.

The Great Social Wall of China is rocked

The Wall Street Journal reports China has the attention of RockYou, one of the earliest developers of widgets for social networks. But it isn’t China’s nearly 400 million internet users that are the main draw—it’s the nation’s developers.

RockYou CTO and co-founder Jia Shen said at a social game summit in Beijing Friday that the company, which plans to expand its presence in Asia, is “actively” looking at acquisition targets in China rather than more users, because social games are less lucrative here than in other markets, mostly due to a lack of openness of Chinese social networking sites. According to Shen, companies that operate social networking websites in China, including Tencent Holdings Ltd., have huge user numbers, but demand an average of 40-50pc of revenue from the games distributed on their websites, or more than is standard in other markets. And though a higher rate of Chinese users pay to play the games, they spend much less, he said.

“For something a Chinese user is willing to pay one Renminbi (for), a user in the US would pay $1,” he said. “It’s almost a one-to-one comparison.” (One dollar is the equivalent of almost seven Chinese yuan.) Other developers at the conference echoed the sentiment Friday, saying the difficult local environment is forcing them to look overseas for distribution opportunities, even though their home market boasts the most internet users of any nation. Social games, part of a burgeoning sector within the online game world, generally cost less to develop than such massive multiplayer online games as World of Warcraft, and attract wider audiences.

By John Kennedy

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