Reading roundup for Wed Sep 15: Nokia acquisition = death, texting while walking, another IIMK startup, dealing with shrinking cities, Muslim chick-lit and more

In the same week as Nokia World, we read this article on the Guardian about how being acquired by Nokia was the kiss of death for the startup Dopplr. (“Since then, Dopplr has fallen completely out of the web’s view. Its blog has not been updated since two days after the acquisition. While Dopplr was too young to have grown a large user base, the Nokia acquisition could, with some imagination, have given it scale. Instead, comScore shows its monthly unique user numbers falling from 39,000 in September 2009 to 29,000 in July this year.”) The article ends by listing seven startups Nokia bought over the last 3 years that have either disappeared into oblivion or are dragging their weight along – including Symbian itself.

Then, TIME investigates the new urban hazard caused by texting while walking, and the debate about how much this habit is to blame for the recent increase in U.S. pedestrian accidents. In Britain, “East London’s busy Brick Lane, lined with trendy boutiques and curry shops… people have been filmed walking head down, ricocheting off various stationary sidewalk objects. The solution? Wrap Brick Lane’s lampposts with fluffy, white rugby goalpost cushions.”

Finally, a group property-buying startup founded by two alumni from IIM Kozhikode. (“Groffr.com aggregates demand for real estate projects and then approaches the builder for a discount for the group that a single buyer cannot negotiate.”) While they’re known for their property dealings, they plan to offer group discounts “on homes, phones, cars and motorbikes”.

In nontech, a fascinating look at how local authorities are dealing with cities that are shrinking – such as Detroit or Philadelphia. Instead of the conventional objective of managing urban growth, these cities are have had to plan to ‘shrink well’. (“Rather than trying to lure back residents or entice businesses… cities may be better off finding totally new uses for land: large-scale urban farms, or wind turbines or geothermal wells, or letting large patches revert to nature… or they might consider selling off portions to private companies to manage.”) Great coverage of the challenges in providing garbage collection, policing and suchlike in increasingly vacant neighbourhoods.

Then we read about Stephen Hawking’s surprising comments about, among other things, corresponding with potential aliens – or not. (“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”) In summary, aliens that are smart enough to respond to our communication are also likely to be smart enough to destroy us.

Finally, we look the recent spurt of interest in books by young, even veiled Muslim women about their – apparently normal – lives. It appears to be something like chick-lit meets Islam, and it also looks like there’s a market, however fleeting, however driven by contemporary focus on Islam, for it. Of course, pioneers of this genre had problems finding a publisher. (According to one author “’We need an ‘alias’ of a book that is already out there so people understand how it relates to previous books’, they said. It had to be a forced marriage story or one about the escape from Islam”)

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