Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Google kills Orkut, EU slashes roaming charges & landlines die

There have been several changes to the way we communicate this last week, though many may notice little change.

Goodbye Orkut

Google announced that it was to shut down its long running social network Orkut. Whilst still popular in Brazil and India, for most of the world Orkut is little known. Launched in 2004 Orkut was Google's first foray into social networking but take up was slow and scuppered by Facebook's launch only months later.

Orkut became popular in Brazil where its user base even soared above that of Facebook though by late 2011 Facebook took first position [Mashable].

With the growth of YouTube, Blogger and of course Google+, the search giant said in a blogpost that it will shut down Orkut on 30th September 2014 as it concentrates on its other projects [Reuters / Mashable].

Orkut joins dozens of other retired products that Google has killed off. Indeed this list grew even further as Google also announced it was pulling the plug on QuickOffice [Mashable]. In a statement Google said, "With the integration of Quickoffice into Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps, the Quickoffice app will be unpublished from Google Play and the App Store in the coming weeks." Of course the decision is not unexpected. Google announced at the I/O Developers Conference that Google Docs users can now edit and convert Microsoft Office files through the cloud-based service. The company also announced that Microsoft Office documents can be accessed and edited offline and on mobile, essentially making the Quickoffice services redundant.

Cheaper roaming

In other tech news there was much talk about roaming charges. People can often be caught out and pay exorbitant fees whilst using their phone abroad. In recent weeks reports have highlighted cases in which individuals have received bills of several thousand pounds [Daily Mail].

However there was some good news for customers this week after the EU brought in changes forcing mobile companies to drop the amount they charge for roaming by half [BBC / ITPro]. And it could get even better as regulators plan to scrap roaming charges within Europe altogether by next year [PCWorld].

Despite the ruling customers are still advised to exercise caution when using their phone abroad and keep track of their data usage.

Slow death of the landline

For many people the mobile phone is an extension of themselves and something which is now replacing the fixed landline. Indeed the Daily Telegraph has suggested that the landline is now obsolete.

In the 1950s, the telephone was proof that you were a household for the modern age, with decanters full of gin on your G Plan sideboard, writes Harry Wallop. It was not until 1974 that the majority of homes in Britain had a fixed telephone. Before then, many people had to go to the end of the road and use a phone box. They themselves are in decline, but so too is the fixed line telephone in people's homes.

Many people may have them, but they are also becoming redundant. Some admit to the fact they never actually answer calls coming in on a landline let alone making calls [FT]. Telecoms providers want to kill them off too. In the US there is a desire to rewrite legislation that obliges telecoms companies make it possible for every citizen to have access to a landline [WSJ]. Such legislation could be detrimental however. There is no legal obligation to provide Internet access and by cutting off small communities by removing exchanges could in theory remove their ability to communicate by landline or through dial-up Internet. This could prove even more disastrous if mobile coverage was also poor.

Even in a small country such as the UK broadband coverage is primarily confined to large conurbations. Meanwhile fast data connections via cellphone infrastructure is patchy with many regions left in black spots.

According to EU statistics, 81% of British households now have access to a fixed-line phone, while 92% have access to a mobile. And while the landline may not disappear in the immediate future, it is fast becoming as obsolete as the record deck, tape cassette player and VHS recorder which were once considered state of the art technology.

On 30th September there will be few outside India and Brazil lamenting the demise of Orkut. When landlines disappear altogether there might be some that will miss the familiar dial-tone. Though as technology gets better, and as cell coverage improves and becomes cheaper there will be a great many others that will happily live without being tied to a fixed line.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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