Michael O’Doherty in bad journalism shocker

The Evening Herald’s Michael O’Doherty recently bemoaned the “Apple society” of which he had become a member, following his purchase of an iPhone.

This world was full of unlikable hipsters, he said, who do little more than brag about their latest Apple purchases.

As evidence of his claim he pointed to news that Apple was rolling out a ‘Friend Bar’ in its shops; a place where people can go to talk about Apple products as opposed to actually get help, support or repairs.

The ‘Friend Bar’ story, however, came from the Onion News Network, the internet’s finest fake news site:

Friend Bar story from ONN

BlogTalk conference to be held in Galway (IT – 13/08/10)

Leading figures in social media will descend on Galway later this month as part of the seventh annual BlogTalk international conference. The two-day event, which took place last year in South Korea, will be held on the campus of NUI Galway on August 26th and 27th.

Speakers already scheduled include Galway-born entrepreneur Fergus Hurley and Dan Gillmor, the former Silicon Valley journalist who is now director of the Knight Centre for Digital Media Entrepreneurship. Representatives of the industry’s biggest players, including Google and Facebook, are also due to address attendees.

The conference’s general chairman John Breslin accepted that in recent years many other social media conferences had been created and this had pushed them to open the event to anyone interested in attending.

However, despite these other events he felt BlogTalk still had a unique selling point, particularly due to the more forward-looking approach it takes to the industry.

“We have a nice bunch of speakers coming in this year; it has traditionally been more of a technical event but now there’s a split between technical and general interest,” he said. “It also has a mixture of what’s going on now but also has some future talks.

“We have a lot of people coming in talking about what they’re doing next which is always very interesting.”

Despite the conference’s name, this year’s BlogTalk will have little to do with the relatively old-fashioned platform of blogging, instead focusing on the impact of newer social tools such as Twitter. Mr Breslin said this was a sign of how quickly the internet was evolving and creating new communications channels.

“The conference was all about blogging when it started seven years ago but blogs have kind of faded from the limelight and it’s more about social media now,” he said. “This is probably the last year we will use the BlogTalk name, to be honest.”

Two-day tickets for the event are €149 or €99 for students and the unemployed; a one-day ticket costs €99. A full list of speakers and times can be found at 2010.blogtalk.net.

Deal paves way for customer loyalty schemes (IT – 13th August 2010)

Small retailers will be able to establish inexpensive customer loyalty schemes following a deal between AIB Merchant Services and Irish-based Zapa Technology. The exclusive agreement means merchants can use Zapa’s contact-less chip technology in their shops, removing the need for individual loyalty cards and systems.

Zapa uses near-field communications technology to produce a small sticker that can then be stuck to a customer’s phone or wallet. Users can then tap the sticker on a terminal at the point of purchase, registering it on the chip and gaining rewards in return.

One sticker can be used across any number of shops, with each business’s loyalty programme working independently of others.

“This is a merchant-specific scheme but the sticker works in multiple merchants,” said Chris Mason, managing director of AIB Merchant Services. “The points a customer earns across shops does not get consolidated into one place; each retailer can have their own scheme in place.”

However, it is also possible for a single loyalty system to be established across a number of shops, for example, allowing businesses in small towns to offer a centralised reward scheme to those who buy locally.

In addition to saving money by not having to roll out and manage an individual loyalty scheme, the Zapa system will give merchants access to more customer information, Mr Mason said.

“The merchant can go online to see how many points have been redeemed, how many customers have the tags and what they are doing. It offers a lot of information in terms of who’s been in their shops and how regularly they have done so.

“They would also have the chance to communicate with them through an SMS or e-mail campaign.”

In order to participate, retailers will have a special terminal installed, which will cost up to €30 extra per month depending on the number a retailer takes. Merchants will also be given a supply of Zapa stickers that cost less than €1 each, a cost the retailer is able to pass on to the customer if they wish.

Zapa was launched last year by Alphyra founder and former Payzone executive John Nagle. The company’s first venture was a loyalty scheme with the Insomnia coffee chain.

Start-ups to collaborate on plans in Galway (IT – 6/08/10)

A new Irish networking event aims to give start-ups and entrepreneurs a chance to collaborate to develop tailor-made action plans for the year ahead.

Féile Icarus takes place in Letterfrack, Galway, on August 27th and 28th and invites attendees to share their experiences to help one another identify the next step.

According to founder Chris Mortimer, the event aims to get individuals talking about what drives them and from there decide where they need to go next.

“The nature of the event is a room with 50-100 people who crowd-plan their strategy for the next year; they do that through exchanging their plans and answering the question ‘why do I do what I do?’,” he said.

“That’s why we call it a festival, there’s a passion and even a madness where these people will keep going despite it being difficult to do so.”

The intended end result is for each person to leave with a “flight plan” for the months ahead and a partner with whom they can work to see it through. Mr Mortimer hopes that these teams will then return at next year’s event to talk about their successes and failures.

“There are different methods for exchanging information and working out why you do what you do,” he said.

“The idea really came from my own failures. I’ve spent the last 10-12 years working in start-up businesses and I failed at quite a lot of things and you learn so many things from that.”

More information is available at feileicarus.com.

In search of the light fantastic (IT – 6/08/10)

The switch to green lighting has moved from CFL bulbs to LEDs and Irish firms are targeting niche shares in a burgeoning market, writes Adam Maguire.

As LEDs (light-emitting diodes) become an increasingly promising replacement for traditional light sources, numerous Irish companies are seeking – and finding – niches in a burgeoning market.

CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) have to date been the assumed replacement for inefficient incandescent bulbs as companies, households and governments alike seek to go green. LED equivalents, however, have quietly moved into prominence in recent years, offering even greater efficiency and life-span than CFLs with less environmental risk.

This sudden shift is evidenced by Philips, which two years ago announced it would not spend another penny on research for CFLs, focusing instead on LEDs only. Since then, the company has been engaged in a race with General Electric (GE) as they attempt to create a practical LED for the consumer market.

With billions of dollars up for grabs, it is easy to see why these big players are so keen. What may be less clear is how a number of small Irish companies think they can compete against such massive manufacturers.

“Everybody is focused on getting LED into where a critical mass is, there’s definitely momentum behind the technology,” says Cian O’Flaherty, chief executive of Frontline LED which provides indoor and outdoor lighting for companies such as Tesco and Vodafone Ireland. “However a lot of international companies are focusing on bulbs, spotlights . . . Philips and GE seem preoccupied on supplying street lights and incandescent replacement.”

Rather than try to compete in the same space, Irish LED players are instead targeting niches, the aim being to take market-share before the big players get there.

“Nobody is at the level that we are at or the level we are looking to get at with our down-lights. We believe we can steal a march on the market,” says Seán Carty, chief executive of Lita Lighting which is developing and manufacturing lighting for industrial, commercial and retail with a long-term view towards a consumer offering.

“It really is a great product and what we want to achieve nobody else is even touching at the moment.”

Lita Lighting was originally based in Spain but moved to Ireland after it was acquired by Carty late last year. He says many people told him he was mad for not manufacturing in Asia but to him, the legacy of the multinational manufacturers in Ireland made the move an obvious one.

“There was a biblical exodus of manufacturing companies from this country over the past few years,” he says.

“The good news is that the US multinationals left behind an incredibly educated workforce who know how to make technical goods well.”

He says there are no other real perks of the move – such as easy grants or tax incentives – and it was purely a business decision.

“There are significant cost savings being based in Ireland and having development in Europe, not least the quick access to market,” O’Flaherty says.

“It’s also an English-language economy. LED in the US has been a huge story and being in Ireland gives you an advantage there as it’s a place and location that’s attractive to the US market.”

Frontline currently has its RD (research and development) and manufacturing facilities in Seoul, South Korea, where O’Flaherty is based. He says this helps keep them close to the cutting-edge development taking place there but he feels it will not be long before that knowledge is taken back to Kerry with him.

“South Korea is one of the largest economies in the world and is well known for quality semi-conductors. Being able to work at the coal face with companies that are so familiar with the product and the industry is so advantageous.

“Ireland has suffered from companies coming in and moving on when the economics make sense. We’re taking the opposite tack, we’ve come to harvest the knowledge and then bring it home.”

One of the most successful Irish LED companies to date has been Nua Lighting. This company specialises in the lighting of fridge and freezer displays in a retail setting and has been extremely successful internationally, working with large multiples such as Tesco around the world.

Unfortunately no spokesman for the company was available to talk at the time of going to print, however there was no shortage of praise for Nua Lighting from its peers.

“When you see what Nua has done in such a short space of time, it’s just phenomenal, they really have a great product and a great set-up in what they do,” Carty says.

“Nua have had such market exposure for six years, that exposure is invaluable even if others decided to compete with these guys,” O’Flaherty adds.

However, despite the rapid progress of late, LED still faces the challenge of its high cost – something which has so far thwarted Philips’s and GE’s attempts at a consumer iteration. For businesses this is different, however, as return on investment is given a much longer time-frame. It stretches beyond simple energy savings, too.

“You’re talking about a 50,000-hour life-span so it’s a two- to three-year return on investment,” O’Flaherty says.

“During the lifetime you also don’t have to worry about maintenance, like a crane going up a floodlight to change bulbs every few months, so it makes perfect sense.”