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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Qihoo Outapcing Baidu in China Internet Race

originally appeared in Bloomberg News:

Qihoo 360 Technology Co. (QIHU), the Chinese Internet company that started offering a search engine in August, is overtaking rival Baidu Inc. (BIDU) in the stock market on prospects the newcomer will boost its share in the industry.

American depositary receipts of Qihoo jumped 5.9 percent last week to trade at 35 times estimated earnings, double the valuation of Baidu, and reversing a discount of as much as 50 percent in January. Baidu, owner of China’s most-used search engine, rose 1.3 percent last week in New York, sending valuations to 17 times profits. Qihoo’s gain helped the Bloomberg China-US Equity Index (CH55BN) of the most-traded Chinese shares in New York rise for a third week.

Qihoo’s site --, which means search in Chinese --has cornered more than 9 percent of the search market since its Aug. 16 debut, compared with Baidu’s stake of about 60 percent, according to October data from New York-based Internet-tracking firm Experian Hitwise. Qihoo will extend its rally on expectations the Beijing-based company will post faster sales growth than Baidu this year as well as in 2013, Oberweis Asset Management Inc. said.

If a small upstart takes a little bit of market share from the industry leader, it may not be a big deal for Baidu but it’s material for Qihoo, according to a fund manager who oversees $700 million, including shares of Qihoo and Baidu, at Oberweis said by phone from Lisle, Illinois, on Dec. 20. Qihoo probably has the more aggressive opportunity to hit much higher growth rates if they are successful in executing their strategies.

Sales Forecast

Qihoo, whose fourth-quarter sales projection given in November beat the median of six analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg, has soared 69 percent this year. Beijing-based Baidu, down 15 percent in 2012, is forecasting the slowest revenue growth since 2009 this quarter. Analysts also forecast a 67 percent jump in Qihoo’s net income next year, compared with a 26 percent increase for Baidu, Bloomberg data show.

Qihoo develops anti-virus computer software and desktop applications that include its web browser, the most popular in China with 303 million users as of September. Searches derived from Qihoo browser’s personal start-up page have contributed 11 percent to its total query traffic last month, Hitwise data show, the most among Chinese companies with similar services.

Qihoo’s search engine ranks second after Baidu’s and its market share exceeds that of Tencent Holdings Ltd., China’s largest Internet company by market, and Inc.

Initial Growth

Qihoo is still gaining market share and, as a new entrant, initial growth should be strong, according to a senior analyst at Maxim Group LLC who recommends buying Qihu’s stock and selling Baidu, said by phone from New York on Dec. 21. Baidu is facing lower margins on a permanent basis. Qihoo is facing lower margins because it’s investing in the search markets, and that’s temporary.

The iShares FTSE China 25 Index Fund, the biggest Chinese exchange-traded fund in the U.S., declined 1.3 percent on Dec. 21 to $39.24 for a weekly loss of 0.3 percent. The ETF has risen 13 percent this year. The Bloomberg China-U.S. index retreated 1.3 percent on Dec. 21 to 96.42, paring the measure’s gain this year to 7 percent.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 0.9 percent to 1,430.15 after House Republican leaders canceled a vote on higher taxes for top earners, causing a standstill in the U.S. budget talks.

We’re seeing some good engines coming from emerging markets, but it all depends on what happens in the U.S., according to an analyst who helps oversee $426 billion at HSBC Global Asset Management, said by phone from New York on Dec. 21. If the U.S. went into recession in 2013, it’s likely to become a very big drag on exports from China.

E-House Plunges

E-House China Holdings Ltd., a real estate brokerage based in Shanghai, was the worst performer on the gauge last week, losing 15 percent. Its ADRs sank 13 percent to $3.64 on Dec. 21, the biggest one-day slump since 2009. SouFun Holdings Ltd., the Beijing-based owner of the largest real estate information website in China, dropped 2.2 percent on Dec. 21, trimming its gain last week to 6.1 percent.

China won’t rule out the possibility of introducing new housing curbs after the property market rebounded in November and some regions saw “irrational exuberance,” China Securities Journal reported on Dec. 21, citing an unidentified person in the industry.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index slid 0.7 percent to 11,229.09 last week. The gauge has climbed 13 percent in 2012. The Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.7 percent to 2,153.31 from the highest level in four months, bringing its loss this year to 2.1 percent.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Child Web Privacy Law Gets Updated

originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal:

In a move to update rules governing children's privacy online to cover new areas like smartphones, U.S. regulators broadened decade-old policies, but amid pressure from the technology industry backed away from proposals that could have made companies like Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. more responsible for violations.

The Federal Trade Commission said it would change how it implements the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, or Coppa, to reflect the growth of social networks and smartphone apps among children.

The commission also expanded the types of information it considers personal under the law. Kids' apps and websites will now have to obtain parental consent before gathering photos, videos or geographic location, and before tracking kids' online behavior and passing along the data to other companies.

But in a departure from rule changes the government proposed in August, the FTC explicitly exempted app stores like those run by Apple and Google Inc. from responsibility for privacy violations by the games and other software that are sold there.

The updated rules, which go into effect July 1, also make clear that software such as Facebook's "Like" button and ads placed by advertising networks will only have to meet child online privacy regulations if companies have "actual knowledge" that they're collecting information through a website or app that targets kids.

The commission's move ended one chapter in the long-running Washington debate over how closely the government should regulate online privacy, but set the stage for new battles.

Consumer advocates said they would continue their push to make Apple and Google more responsible for the data-gathering practices of the apps they distribute, while several members of Congress are pushing legislation to further tighten limits on online tracking of children and teenagers.

Just last week, the FTC put a spotlight on gaps in kids' online privacy with a report that found hundreds of popular kids' apps were collecting data without parental consent.

Coppa governs how companies must proceed when collecting personal data from children under the age of 13. Enforcement falls to the FTC, which has been reviewing how it should approach the law in the age of smartphones and social media for two years. Kids' entertainment and Internet companies have lobbied heavily to blunt the impact of the update.

Apple, for example, met with FTC officials five times this fall, in particular contesting the possibility that the updated rules might hold it responsible for the data-collection practices of the third-party apps it distributes on the iPhone and iPad. Google made a similar point in a filing with the commission.

Google said it was evaluating the changes and would continue to work on effective ways to protect children's privacy and security. Facebook said it was pleased with the FTC's decision on so-called plug-ins, such as the "Like" button.

In several cases, the industry got what it wanted. Reversing a prior proposal, the commission agreed to continue to allow parental consent to be obtained by email as long as apps and websites only collect data for internal use.

The FTC's Chairman said the final rules strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children's online activities.

While Apple, Google and Facebook scored partial victories, some smaller developers were disappointed. The president of the Application Developers Alliance, said that the new regulations could prove so burdensome that talented and responsible developers will abandon the children's app marketplace.

One FTC commissioner voted against the updated rules. She argued the commission went too far with the update by holding websites responsible when third parties like advertising networks gather personal data from children.

But some government officials made clear Wednesday they would like to place additional regulations on technology companies. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D., W.Va.), a leading advocate on privacy issues, said he viewed the Coppa regulations as a step toward legislation that gives Americans more control of how they are tracked online.

The executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a consumer advocate who has been involved in the Coppa debate for years, said the FTC's decision was a step in the right direction but left loopholes for companies to mine kids' data inappropriately.

He said he would continue to push for more scrutiny of the role of the Internet giants that distribute kids' apps.

The FTC's chairman has made monitoring online privacy one of his priorities at the commission. At Wednesday's news conference announcing the revised rules, he repeatedly held up what he said was his 15-year-old daughter's white iPhone to illustrate how much technology has changed in the past decade.

It was enormously difficult for me to pry this away from my child today, he said.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Simple Tools Help Owners Sift Data for Eager Customers

originally appeared in The New York Times:

Velvet Palate sells artisanal wines that are made in small quantities around the world and typically not stocked in stores. Selling online, according to the co-founder, has allowed the company to zero in on a niche of geographically diverse customers.

Before helping to start Velvet Palate in New York in January, the owner worked for an online media company that analyzed how effectively subscription offers and other marketing tools attracted new customers.

We could see which Web sites people were coming from when they arrived on our Web pages, what they clicked, where they abandoned the process, she said. And that allowed us to constantly tweak and improve what we were offering and how we were communicating.

In her new venture, Velvet Palate's co-founder said her goal had been to use online data collection and Web analytics to cater to customers’ tastes.

There is nothing new, of course, about paying attention to customer needs and desires, but there is now far more data available — far less expensively — through Web analytics and customer-loyalty programs. Using basic e-commerce software along with free tools like Google Analytics and Bing Webmaster Tools, small businesses can perform sophisticated data collection and analysis that can help them compete with companies that have far greater resources.

Based on the experiences of business owners, this guide offers suggestions on how both Web-based businesses and traditional retailers can use data.

Velvet Palate offers highly rated wines along with information about how the wines are made and what foods they might best be paired with. Ms. Kooren asks customers who register with the site to fill out a questionnaire that helps her direct them to the right types of wines.

We can only offer a limited number of wines, she said. So we offer choices that are geared toward their preferences.

Velvet Palate’s e-commerce software, Magento Enterprise, tracks sales, but it also identifies tiers of customers, including those who have bought repeatedly, those who have bought once but not returned, and those who have visited the Web site but not made any purchases. This allows the co-founder to target each group in different ways.

To entice one-time buyers to come back, for example, she might offer free shipping for a limited time.  I try different ideas and see what kind of response I get, she said.

This kind of analysis can increase sales, according to a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and author of “Customer Centricity,” because it allows companies to adjust their offerings and even to design products to meet the needs of their customers. Businesses can more accurately predict which customers will visit again, what products will interest them and which special offers will appeal to them.

The founder of SimplySoles in Washington, sells women’s shoes both online and through a catalog. Like many retailers, she has found that some customers routinely go through the steps of browsing her site and putting an item in a virtual shopping cart — but then leave before completing the purchase. They may have gotten distracted, or they weren’t sure about buying the shoes, she said.

Those shoppers, she said, are more likely to make a purchase than a visitor who spends time on the site without selecting a product. To try to encourage them to complete a purchase, she has set up a proprietary system — created for her by a Web development company, the Richard Group — that automatically asks the customers by e-mail if they would like to complete the purchases they started. About 15 percent of them do so.

The SimplySoles founder, who has an agreement to sell her business this week, also uses a Google Analytics dashboard that reports Web traffic information, like where her visitors come from. Even before the social networking site Pinterest became popular, she saw that many of her customers were coming from the pinboard site. That data told us we needed to have a presence on Pinterest and start to monitor it, she said.

There are other tools that help small businesses generate and manage customer data.

Using Bing Webmaster search engine optimization tools, the SimplySoles founder gets advice on how to improve her ranking in search results, such as adding a descriptive image tag to an untagged photo. She can also watch what is happening live on her site by using an app called Chartbeat. When she noticed visitors viewing a Web page that described a wine that had recently sold out, she bought more.

The founder of Blogilates, which includes the oGorgeous shopping site and the Blogilates blog, offers exercise videos, healthy menus and advice. She also designs and sells a line of workout clothes and accessories. When the founder e-mails a newsletter to her 70,000 subscribers, she tracks how many click on links to view new offerings and products on sale.

Because fashion moves quickly, she said, getting immediate feedback helps keep her site fresh. The dashboard of her e-commerce software, Highwire, shows how many purchases have been made of, say, a recently offered neon hoodie and how many she has left in inventory.

Colors are very important, she said, and if we see one is selling very quickly, we can adapt right away and put in an additional order with our supplier.

Customer opinions that used to require formal market research to discern are now readily available through feedback forms and discussion forums. When a frequent customer posted a note to other Velvet Palate members that Spanish Rose was a great summer wine for entertaining, SimplySoles' founder used that idea in a marketing message.

Services like Sentiment Metrics or Radian6 can help a company track how it is being discussed online. SimplySoles' founder uses Sentiment Metrics and is alerted when Velvet Palate or any of her specified search terms are mentioned. She can view totals or drill down to individual mentions to see how influential a poster might be, as judged, for example, by how many Twitter followers the person has.

Even brick-and-mortar stores can use new data collection technology. The retailer who opened the Ben Franklin craft store 37 years ago in Monroe, Wash., added a customer-loyalty program to his point-of-sale software last year after an employee suggested that it was in keeping with the spirit of a country store that wanted to get to know its customers.

Store employees have signed up more than 20,000 customers since the BLoyal tracking and rewards system was installed. At first, the store owner used it to see which products and hobbies were popular, so he could adjust his orders. Then he started to reward frequent customers by e-mailing them sneak peeks at new merchandise, sales events and free classes. His tracking and rewards system identifies the store’s most valuable shoppers.

All types of businesses can benefit from utilizing a Google Analytics Consultant who can provide actionable information to help improve their online presence.

We used to have an idea who our best customers were because we’d see them often in the store, he said. But using BLoyal, we can identify people we may not have noticed and can make sure someone recognizes them when they visit to say thank you and point out new items they might be interested in.

In the past, combing through sales records and categorizing customers would have taken too much time, according to the owner, but now he cannot imagine doing business without that information.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Netflix, CEO Hastings get SEC warning for Facebook Post

originally appeared in USA Today:

The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a "Wells Notice" to online video streaming business Netflix and its CEO, the company said Thursday.

The move arises from regulators' determination that Netflix's CEO violated Regulation Fair Disclosure, a rule that requires companies to share material and non-public information with all investors. Netflix disclosed the receipt of the Wells Notice in a regulatory filing.

The Securities and Exchange Commission declined comment.

Netflix' CEO wrote in an regulatory filing the SEC's allegation stems from a posting he made on Facebook in early July. In that post, he told the 200,000 people who subscribe to his posts that Netflix members have viewed more than 1 billion hours of programming on the service in June. The company did not file an official regulatory filing disclosing that information.

He disputes the allegation, saying that having 200,000 followings on Facebook made the Facebook disclosure public. He says the fact regarding the 1 billion hours of viewing not only wasn't material, but had already been disclosed on a public blog.

He also says that while Netflix' stock rose the day he posted on Facebook, the stock's rise started before the mid-morning post as made and likely driven by a positive Citigroup research report.

Netflix' CEO wrote that he remains optimistic this can be cleared up quickly through the SEC's review process.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

South Korea Taking Efforts to Stop Youth Digital Addiction

story first appeared in

An 11-year-old South Korean, sleeps with her Android smartphone instead of a teddy bear. When the screen beams with a morning alarm, she wakes up, picks up her glasses and scrolls through tens of unread messages from friends, shaking off drowsiness.

Throughout the day, the gadget is in her hands whether she is in school, in the restroom or in the street as she constantly types messages to her friends. Every hour or so, she taps open an application in her phone to feed her digital hamster.

Fiddling with the palm-sized gadget, she says he gets nervous when the battery is low and finds it stressful when out of a wi-fi hotspot.

In South Korea, where the government provides counseling programs and psychological treatment for an estimated 2 million people who cannot wean themselves from playing online computer games, youngsters such as Park have previously not been considered as potential addicts.

Here and in other parts of Asia, online addiction has long been associated with hardcore gamers who play online games for days on end, isolated from their school, work or family life and blurring the line between the real and fantasy online worlds. In a shocking 2010 case in South Korea, a 3-month-old girl died after being fed just once a day by her parents who were consumed with marathon online game sessions.

She does not play computer games and in class, she confidently raises her hand to answer a question. She also gets along well with her friends and likes to cook as a hobby. And yet, she set off more than eight red flags on an addiction test, enough to be considered unhealthily dependent on her smartphone. Park is not unique and the government is concerned enough to make it mandatory for children as young as 3 to be schooled in controlling their device and Internet use.

Her obsession with being online is a byproduct of being reared in one of the world's most digitally connected societies where 98 percent of households have broadband Internet and nearly two thirds of people have a smartphone. Being wired is an icon of South Korea's pride in its state-directed transformation from economic backwater to one of Asia's most advanced and wealthy nations. Always seeking an edge, the government plans to digitize all textbooks from 2015 and base all schooling around tablet computers.

But some now fret about the effects that South Korea's digital utopia is having on its children, part of the first generation to play online games on smartphones, tablets and other devices even before they can read and write.

New mobile devices that instantly respond to a touch of a finger seem to make children more restless than before and lack empathy, said Kim Jun-hee, a kindergarten teacher who conducted an eight-month study on Internet safety and addiction education for pre-school children.

In Suwon city south of Seoul, students in teacher Han Jeoung-hee's classroom now turn in their smartphones when they arrive at school in the morning. After that, he said kids forgot to eat lunch, completely absorbed with smartphones and some stayed in the classroom during a PE class.

Han who teaches sixth grade students at Chilbo elementary school. Smartphones are put in a plastic basket and returned when kids leave for home after classes.

The National Information Society Agency, or NIA, estimates 160,000 South Korean children between age 5 and 9 are addicted to the Internet either through smartphones, tablet computers or personal computers. Such children appear animated when using gadgets but distracted and nervous when they are cut off from the devices and will forgo eating or going to the toilet so they can continue playing online, according to the agency.

Across the entire population, South Korea's government estimated 2.55 million people are addicted to smartphones, using the devices for 8 hours a day or more, in its first survey of smartphone addiction released earlier this year. Smartphone addicts find it difficult to live without their handsets and their constant use disrupts work and social life, according to NIA. Most of their personal interaction is carried out on the mobile handset. Overuse of smartphones may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as turtle neck syndrome caused by having the head in a constant forward position and a pain or numbness in fingers or wrists.

Though Internet addiction is not recognized as a mental illness, there is a growing call from medical practitioners and health officials worldwide to treat it as an illness rather than a social problem.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists Internet Use Disorder as meriting further study. It is unclear whether it will be recognized as a mental illness in a major revision of the standard-setting manual due out next year. But as the Internet becomes more pervasive and mobile, more societies are grappling with its downside. In Asia, countries that have experienced explosive growth in the Internet such as Taiwan, China and South Korea are most active in carrying out research into whether Internet addiction should be recognized as a mental illness, according to Lee Hae-kook, a psychiatry professor at Catholic University of Korea, College of Medicine.

South Korea already provides taxpayer-funded counselors for those who cannot control their online gaming or other Internet use. But the emergence of the smartphone as a mainstream, must-have device even for children is changing the government's focus to proactive measures from reactive.

South Korea's government is widening efforts to prevent Web and digital addiction in school-age children and preschoolers. Starting next year, South Korean children from the age 3 to 5 will be taught to protect themselves from overusing digital gadgets and the Internet.

Nearly 90 percent children from that age group will learn at kindergartens how to control their exposure to digital devices and the danger of staying online for long hours. The Ministry of Public Administration and Security is revising laws so that teaching the danger of Internet addiction becomes mandatory from pre-school institutions to high schools.

Kim, the kindergarten teacher, said educating children against digital and web addiction should start early because smartphones are their new toys.

From next year, her program for 3-year-olds will focus on introducing them to the positive activities they can do with the computers, such listening to music. Children aged 4 and 5, will learn the dangers of overuse and how to control their desire to use computers.

Programs also include making and learning the moves for "computer exercises" and singing songs with lyrics that instruct kids to close their eyes and stretch their bodies after playing computer games. They read fairy tales where a character falls prey to Internet addiction and learn alternative games they can play without computers or the Internet.

Kim said parents have to be involved in the education. Some of the children are even calling out parents to change lifestyles along with them.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Shoppers May be Influenced by Social Media

story first appeared in USA Today

Retailers may have hit record sales over the shopping weekend from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, but the impact of social media campaigns many of them invested in is less certain.

Offerpop, which helps retailers including Amazon, Sears and Walmart run social-marketing campaigns, says it saw a 40% increase in social-media campaigns by its clients for the Black Friday shopping weekend compared with last year.

Yet social media made up less than 1% of online traffic and sales on Black Friday, according to IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks sales for 500 of the top retail sites. And that's down from last year.

That's based on customers who were referred to a retailer's site through social media and made a purchase right then.

It may not necessarily be a bad thing though, given retailers were using social media more to raise brand awareness than to push sales this year, says Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce.

Target rewarded a number of customers that were tweeting about the company with electronic gift cards over the weekend, spokesman Joe Curry says. It also used an interactive Facebook app to reveal its Black Friday deals by pitting a series of items against each other and asking users to pick which product they thought would go on sale for Black Friday. The game had almost 1 million users in a four-day span, Curry says.

Twitter mentions for retailers also jumped. Mentions of the @DisneyStore handle increased 42% over the weekend, the company reports. And tweets with the hashtag #FairyGodmother, which customers included when they had a question or needed help with a product, were up 40% from last year.

While it may be hard to track how much this kind of social-media activity benefits retailers in terms of sales, Erin Robbins O'Brien, head of business intelligence at Viralheat, a data analytics company whose software helps companies track social-media sentiment, says that most of the retailers they've worked with have all agreed that people talking about their particular store or brand is always going to be better than not.

And social media's influence on purchases is stronger than the IBM numbers let on, she says.

Social media in some way, shape or form is oftentimes one of the first ways someone will hear about something, according to O'Brien.

That was the case for Alan Cavanna, who bought a Dell laptop after seeing a tweet sent out by Best Buy on Cyber Monday.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Marketing On The Web

Story first appeared on

Publishers and broadcasters have long tried to offer advertisers the right audience for their products. Want to sell pick-ups to people who like sports? Buy ads at halftime during a football game. Selling luggage or airline tickets? Buy ads in the travel section of a newspaper or Web site. 
In digital advertising, that formula is being increasingly tested by fast-paced, algorithmic bidding systems that target individual consumers rather than the aggregate audience publishers serve up. In the world of “programmatic buying” technologies, context matters less than tracking those consumers wherever they go. And that kind of buying is the reason that shoe ad follow you whether you’re on or on a local news blog.
That shift is punishing traditional online publishers, like newspaper, broadcast and magazine sites, who are receiving a much lower percentage of ad dollars as marketers use programmatic buying across a much broader canvas. Some sites, like, refuse to even accept advertising through programmatic buying because they do not want to cede control over what ads will appear.
About 10 percent of the display ads that consumers see online have been sold through programmatic bidding channels.
Advertisers like Nike, Comcast, Progressive and Procter & Gamble are now using the programmatic buying, and luxury advertisers are starting to follow. According to data from Forrester Research, all ads traded on exchanges, as programmatic ads are, increased more than 17.5 percent to about 629 billion impressions (the number of times an ad appears) in 2012, from 535 billion in 2011.
That growth is affecting publishers of all stripes, but few are willing to discuss their internal numbers.
When The New York Times Company announced its earnings last month, the company posted a profit, but said that digital advertising fell 2.2 percent. They attributed the dip, in part, on a shift toward ad exchanges, real-time bidding and other programmatic buying channels that allow advertisers to buy audience at scale.
Programmatic buying began as a way for advertisers to place lower-cost ads for products like teeth-whitening products and belly fat pills that filled up the back pages of Web sites. But the practice has gained in sophistication and breadth, with major advertisers and many of the world’s largest ad agencies creating private exchanges to automate the buying and selling of ads.
Programmatic buying includes a number of different technologies and strategies, but it essentially allows advertisers to bid, often in real time, on ad space largely based on the value they have assigned to the consumer on the other side of the screen. Say, for example, that Nike wants to sell running gear to a particular consumer who has a high likelihood of buying shoes based on the data it has collected, including the type of Web sites that consumer typically visits. Because the ad-buying is done through computer trading, the price for that space can change rapidly.
In the short run, the growth in programmatic buying has forced overall ad prices to fall. A media buyer who would have once spent $50,000 worth of advertising on a publisher’s site, at, say, an $8 cost-per-thousand, can now buy ad impressions on any Web site on which they happen to find their intended audience and pay less per ad, Mr. Ebbert said.
While the “halo effect” of buying an ad against premium content has not disappeared entirely — many advertisers still want front-page placement on popular Web sites — the shift is prompting publishers to rethink how they sell their ads.
And some publishers are jumping into the game themselves. During the most recent AOL earnings call, Tim Armstrong, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said it was pushing programmatic buying, despite being a publisher itself with properties that include TechCrunch and The Huffington Post. The company trades its ads through its own ad network,, and others like it.
Neal Mohan, the vice president for product management at Google, which sells advertising though its DoubleClick network, says that in the long run, publishers could see higher returns from programmatic advertising. In the last year, the number of advertisers and publishers using the DoubleClick platform has doubled, Mr. Mohan said, while the rates for those using the platform have increased 11 percent. But that means publishers will have to play by different rules.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Government Surveillance Revealed in Google Transparency Report

story first appeared on

Requests from governments around the globe to remove content from Google search results and its other services spiked more than 70% in the first half of the year, the Internet search giant said.

Google said there were 1,791 requests to remove 17,746 pieces of content through June. That's according to the company's Transparency Report, which breaks down requests by country to illustrate the rising pressures Google faces over what type of content it can show to its more than 1 billion users.

The government of Turkey made 501 requests to remove content, up dramatically from 45 in the previous six months. U.S. authorities followed with 273 requests, up from 187.

Google releases the data twice a year. It's the sixth time that Google has issued a Transparency Report since its tense 2010 standoff with Chinese government officials over online censorship.

Google is a frequent target of such requests because it has become an indispensable part of many people's digital lives. In addition to its ubiquitous search engine, Google also runs the world's largest video-sharing site, YouTube. Its report casts a light on take-down requests that largely take place beyond the public purview.

In Turkey, for instance, the company received requests to remove content considered critical of the government and the republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Google said.

Google also said government surveillance of digital citizens is surging, with demands for user data increasing in the first half of 2012. There were 20,938 requests for user data, up 15% from the second half of 2011, it said. The U.S. had the most requests for user data requests -- nearly 8,000, up 26% from the prior period.

Google gets more requests from the U.S. because it has such a large number of users and U.S. authorities are more familiar with the protocol of making the requests than officials from some other countries.

The rise in take-down requests has alarmed people in the technology community. Entrepreneur John Battelle questioned why other companies don't produce similar reports so that the public can get a much broader glimpse of online suppression.

Google noted its report only details "an isolated sliver" of government take-down requests, because it is unaware of what requests are being made of other technology companies.

How to Hijack Search Results in Google

story first appeared on Search Engine Land

Dan Petrovic has explained how he hijacked a few pages in Google to show his copied version over the original version of the page.

For example, he was able to confuse Google into thinking a page on MarketBizz should really show on instead of on

How did he do it? He simply copied the full page, source code and everything and put it on a new URL on his site. He linked to the page and gave it a +1 and the result worked days later. He is a picture of Google’s search results for the page using an info command and also searching for the title of the page:

He did the same thing on three other domains with varied levels of success.

We emailed Google last week for a comment but have yet to hear back.

In some cases, using a rel=canonical seemed to prevent it from hijacking the result fully but not in all cases. There also seems to be a case where using the authorship might be prevent this as well.

Dan Petrovic was even able to hijack the first result for Rand Fishkin’s name (with Rand’s permission):

The way this seems to work is that Google’s duplicate content system feels that the new URL is the more important page and thus replaces the original page with the more important page. It is how the competitive link trick seemed to have worked as well.

Postscript: Google has taken action against these attempts with a notification sent to the webmaster for “copied content.” Those pages were removed from the index.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Microsoft Switches IM to Skype

story first appeared on

NEW YORK -- Microsoft is scrapping its instant-messaging program and forcing most users to switch to Skype.

Maintaining Windows Live Messenger made less sense after Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion last year. A new version of Skype released a few weeks ago allows users to sign in with a Microsoft account. By merging the two services, people won't have to maintain two separate contact lists.

Microsoft says much has changed in how people communicate. There's more use of text messaging and social networking, for instance.

Microsoft said in Tuesday's announcement that Messenger users who switch to Skype will get benefits such as the ability to call land-line and mobile phones and better support on mobile devices.

Except for mainland China, Messenger will be discontinued worldwide after the first quarter of 2013.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Social Media News Blunders

story first appeared on

The story of Hurricane Sandy unfolded quickly on social media: a poignant photo of soldiers standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, a picture of a giant wave slamming into the Statue of Liberty and a TV report that 3 feet of water flooded the New York Stock Exchange.

None of it was true.

Social media served as a useful tool for family and friends to keep tabs on each other during the storm, but Hurricane Sandy exposed a dangerous underbelly of social media: False information can go viral.

"There were a lot of rumors going around," said Emily Rahimi, the social media strategist for the New York Fire Department, who writes and monitors its Twitter feed.

She said even though rumors spread on the fire department's social media, it was just as easy to use the site to debunk rumors. At one point, she posted a message that read, "There is much misinformation being spread about #Sandy's impact on #NYC," and pointed people to official city Twitter feeds for accurate information.

Several photos went viral. The photo of the soldiers at Arlington Cemetery was taken in September, not Monday. Others that showed ominous clouds over the New York City skyline were photoshopped, or were screen grabs from a movie, or were stock photos.

A post that the 109-year-old building that is home to the stock exchange was flooded with water became the subject of debate Tuesday after CNN reported it.

In an e-mail, CNN spokeswoman Bridget Leininger said the station's weather correspondent Chad Myers referenced a National Weather Service report that turned out to be incorrect.

The National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said the news came from several local New York City media outlets who had posted it on Twitter, though he didn't know which specifically.

The digital news website BuzzFeed identified the original source of the tweet as Twitter user @comfortablysmug, who identifies himself as a Mitt Romney supporter interested in finance and politics. His Twitter feed included other erroneous tweets, including one that all subways would be closed for the rest of the week and that major lines were flooded and another that Con Edison was shutting off all power to New York City. Con Edison corrected the tweet, saying it may shut down service in low-lying areas.

Twitter user @comfortablysmug did not reply to a request for comment. A message posted to the Twitter account late Tuesday apologized, saying, "I made a series of irresponsible and inaccurate tweets."

Without identifying himself by name, the message said he had resigned from the congressional campaign of Christopher Wight, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House in New York.. Wight's campaign website said the candidate had "accepted the resignation of campaign manager Shashank Tripathi."
Debra Jasper, a co-founder of the social media consulting company Mindset Digital, says fact-checking is as quick on Twitter as the spreading of misinformation.

Indeed, posters immediately began asking the source of the information on the flooding at the stock exchange.

Jasper's Mindset Digital partner, Betsy Hubbard, said the other phenomenon occurring more often after a big event is "newsjacking," when someone or a company try to use an event for their gain.

It happened with Hurricane Sandy, too, when American Apparel sent out an e-mail blast for a 20% off sale for people living in the affected states, with a tagline that read, "In case you're bored during the storm."

An immediate backlash followed on Twitter. "I don't care if it's 'relevant,' social media 'newsjacking' is gross and opportunistic," wrote one poster. Another wrote, "American Apparel showing how not to do it with a Hurricane Sandy sale."

"It's not a good idea to try to use these tragic events to your advantage," Hubbard says.

Rahimi, who monitored the department's Twitter account all day Monday and through the night and early morning Tuesday, said more good came out of using social media despite the bad information that circulated. At one point, she said, a rumor spread that the Fire Department headquarters was evacuated. So she set the record straight, sending messages directly to people who had posted the erroneous information.

For the record, the headquarters building wasn't evacuated.

iPhone Software Head Fired for Refusing to Apologize for Maps App

story first appeared on

The head of Apple's iPhone software development was asked to resign after he refused to sign a letter apologizing for the flaws in Apple's mapping application, according to a published report.

The Wall Street Journal says Scott Forstall's refusal was the latest clash between him and other executives, and it led to the company's announcement Monday that he is stepping down and leaving the company next year.

Forstall's unit was responsible for the Maps application, which was unfavorably compared to the Google Maps app it replaced.

Apple also announced the immediate departure of John Browett, a British retail executive who took over Apple's stores in April.

Forstall, the longtime head of Apple's iOS mobile software, will remain an adviser to Cook until next year.

Apple's lead designer Jony Ive and a few others will divide Forstall's responsibilities until a replacement is named, Apple said.

The departures, which come shortly before the critical holiday shopping season, might have long-term implications at Apple but are unlikely to impact its sales as Apple competitors such as Google and ramp up mobile offerings, says Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner.

Apple offered no explanation for the departures, but both executives oversaw major missteps in the past year.

Browett took over the retail job about six months ago. His predecessor, Ron Johnson, a major architect of the successful Apple stores, left to become CEO at JCPenney. One of Browett's first moves was to cut staff at the stores, a cost-cutting move the company has since reversed.

Forstall, who also was part of the team that created Mac OS X, oversaw the creation of the widely criticized Apple Maps that recently replaced Google Maps as the default map app for the iPhone. The company has apologized for the inadequacies of Apple Maps.

Since stock markets were closed Monday and will be again Tuesday because of Hurricane Sandy, it will be later in the week before any potential effect on Apple's stock is known.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Yahoo Exceeds Sales & Profit Estimates

Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO), the biggest U.S. Web portal, reported profit and sales that beat estimates as Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer benefited from advertising demand and cost cuts during her first three months on the job.

Third-quarter earnings, excluding some items, were 35 cents a share, the Sunnyvale, California-based company said in a statement. Sales, excluding revenue passed to partner sites, was $1.09 billion. Analysts on average had estimated profit of 26 cents on revenue of $1.08 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The fifth CEO in four years, Mayer is working to restore stability to management ranks and reverse three years of declining revenue as Web users ditched Yahoo in favor of competitors Google Inc. (GOOG) and Facebook Inc. (FB) Her turnaround effort is getting a boost from expense reductions as well as demand in the U.S., where the online advertising market is projected to grow 17 percent to $37.3 billion this year, according to researcher EMarketer Inc.

“The U.S. seems to be an area of strength, and Yahoo is bigger in the U.S.” than its competitors, said Herman Leung, an analyst at Susquehanna International Group who has a neutral rating on the shares.

Yahoo advanced in extended trading. The stock decreased less than 1 percent to $15.77 at the close in New York. The shares have dropped 2.2 percent this year.

Net income attributable to Yahoo rose to $3.16 billion, or $2.64 a share, from $293.3 million, or 23 cents, a year earlier. Income in the 2012 period included a net gain of $2.8 billion related to the sale of a stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Ad Revenue

Revenue for display advertising, minus sales passed to partner sites, was little changed at $451.6 million in the quarter, while search revenue increased 11 percent to $414.1 million.

In a departure from past practice, Yahoo didn’t provide an outlook for sales and operating income. Google, Mayer’s former employer, doesn’t issue earnings forecasts.

Mayer has kicked off her Yahoo comeback strategy by hiring several senior deputies. Earlier this month she named Henrique de Castro, previously Google’s vice president of global partner business solutions, as operating chief. Last month, she hired Ken Goldman away from network-security provider Fortinet Inc. to replace Tim Morse as chief financial officer. In August, Mayer added former American Eagle Outfitters Inc. executive Kathy Savitt to lead marketing efforts.

Yahoo’s share of display ads, including banners, will be 9.3 percent this year in the U.S., down from 11 percent last year, EMarketer estimates. Facebook’s portion of the market will be little changed at 14 percent, while Google’s stake will rise about 2 percentage points to 15 percent.

Mayer has taken steps to curtail operations outside the U.S. She completed Yahoo’s sale of half its stake in Chinese partner Alibaba in September, and last week said Yahoo will shut its South Korea business.

Yahoo said it will return $3 billion in proceeds from the Alibaba transaction to investors, after using $646 million for buybacks in recent months.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Ebay Website Design Launches

Story first appeared on

EBay is hurtling into the digital age with a new logo, major redesign and aggressive plans to wade deeper into daily deals, search and shipping.

The most striking change is the visual, Pinterest-like home page "Feed," which lists brands that users follow and makes suggestions based on their browsing history and past purchases.

Feed rolls out to U.S. customers over the next 100 days, with international launches beginning in early 2013.

EBay's decision to mothball its stodgy, stale old site in favor of larger photos and more white space is a reflection of the changing tastes of younger, mobile-savvy users. Some 105 million people actively use the site.

The moves underscore fundamental changes in eBay's business model. Today, more than 70% of 350 million items listed are new. "It's the evolution of our service and how customers use it," eBay President Devin Wenig said in a phone interview.

Industry watchers say the changes are necessary, as more consumers opt for smartphones and tablets instead of PCs. "We believe every online experience will become organized around individual users and their preferences," says Jon Ehrlich, co-founder of social-commerce company Copious.

The Feed announcement comes after eBay in August launched Lifestyle Deals, a Groupon-esque daily deals service in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and elsewhere.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled eBay Now, an app that offers "on-demand delivery service" of goods from local stores. The service is available only in San Francisco, but more cities are expected to be added soon.

Amazon offers "local express delivery" for some items in major cities.

EBay's search also underwent a makeover, with an autocomplete feature similar to Google's. Users can personalize their search results for particular items. Learn more about Google SEO.

The news sent eBay shares up 1.2%, to $46.76, in trading Wednesday.

Wenig hinted that more is to come. "We will continue to make shopping more intuitive, more convenient and more relevant," he said. "This is just the beginning."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Google Closer to Being Sued Over Internet Search Dominance

Story first appeared on

Federal regulators are moving closer to suing Google web giant over allegations the company abuses its dominance of Internet search to stifle competition and drive up online advertising prices, news reports said late Friday.

Several news outlets reported that staff members at the Federal Trade Commission are preparing to recommend that the agency file an antitrust lawsuit against Google (GOOG).

A majority of the five FTC commissioners would have to approve a suit before legal action could proceed.

Reports from The New York Times, Bloomberg News and Reuters news service cited unnamed people briefed on the FTC's probe. FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan declined to comment.

The agency has been investigating the business practices of Google, which is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif. The company's shares closed down $6.73, or 0.9%, to $744.75 Friday. The shares fell another $2.48 in after-hours trading. In a mostly down market, Google shares have fallen 3% the past week and are 9% below the stock's record high.

The probe was triggered by complaints that Google has been featuring its peripheral services closer to the top in search result displays and relegating offerings from rivals lower on result display pages.

The FTC also has been looking into whether Google rigs search results in a way that makes companies with websites pay higher fees to promote their services through Google's advertising network.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Mobile Tracking with Google Analytics

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in iMedia Connection

Using your smartphone to access the web is increasingly common. However, differences in the dimensions of the phone mean different experiences for users. Mobile traffic does not really represent new customers, but existing customers using an extra device or replacing their laptop with a smartphone. If your website doesn't suit mobile as well as it does computer then your conversion rate, and your bottom line, will fall. This is not yet an issue for most, but it will be one day for everyone. Unless a site happens to be suited to mobile traffic by luck, redesign and additional construction will be the only option to maintain current performance. This can require a considerable investment. Determining what will be needed to prepare your site for the smartphone revolution may be critical to the ongoing success of your business.

Many people I speak to are unwilling to face the issue of rising mobile traffic head-on. For them, it represents a threat: If it costs money and time, it's taking resources away from existing goals, for no additional benefit, merely to stand still. Others use the justification that people won't use mobile to visit their site, often comforting reasons, but rarely backed by research.

The thing to bear in mind is that no one really knows how far the rise of mobile will go, or how it will change things. If you scout the various projections, they all come out with mobile forming half of web traffic between 2013 and 2015.

Figures within specific industries can be very different. I have clients who get twice their national average, and others getting less than one-quarter. How closely your stats follow your national trends depends on the demographics of your market, and also how well your site suits mobile. Websites which perform badly on mobile tend to get a lower proportion of mobile traffic.

Don't assume you understand when people will use mobile or what they will use it for. I recently had a conversation with a design agency planning a B2B site for architects. Its assumption was that visitors to such sites would be unlikely to use mobiles for web access. The agency didn't have any reasons to back this up except that it thought mobile web access was mainly done by teenagers. However, it was forgetting about all the times architects get stuck in airports or taxis, and the chance of having a nice neat IT infrastructure on a construction site. Mobile web access is relatively new, so people's patterns of use are evolving just as people's use of the web did when it first started. At the same time, mobile infrastructure is undergoing rapid change, devices are evolving rapidly, and smartphone penetration is far from complete. All these factors mean it's still too early to have learned much about mobile web access. If you want to understand mobile usage of your sites, you're going to have to look for yourself. This means gathering your own metrics, establishing your own benchmarks, and watching for trends.

One thing to watch out for is the seemingly obvious, but incorrect, fact. There'll be plenty of these in the days to come. It seems intuitive that older people will use mobiles to surf the web less than younger people. While this is true, the difference is trivial: In 2011, 70 percent of people in the USA over the age of 65 used mobiles for internet access, compared with 76 percent of younger people. Sure there's a difference, but not enough of a difference to mean you can ignore older users.

The purpose of this article is to tell you how to track mobile activity, not how to design for mobile users, so I won't be going into detail about what makes a good mobile site versus what makes a good computer site. The key thing to take away at this point is that mobile internet is relatively new and that we have much to learn. You need to accept that some of your best ideas about how to do things online may need to change. What works on computer may not work on mobile. Your best designer for computer may make terrible mobile sites. The agency that knows web for the computer may simply be incapable of getting web for the mobile.

Tracking mobile with Google Analytics
There are two methods of tracking mobile visits to your website with Google Analytics. You can use the standard JavaScript tracking code, which will already be present in your site. However, you may prefer to use server-side code for mobiles: The JavaScript code makes several calls from the phone to Google, and may not work properly on slower mobile connections, or may get caught by anti-tracking or ad-blocking systems, or get blocked by the phone's security system. For this reason Google created a server-side code available here.

You need to be careful with the implementation of server-side tracking. Since the same script is called on every page, it can be one of the operations which places the heaviest load on the server. You need to ensure the server is correctly configured to anticipate this.

If you're building mobile apps, you can use the Google Analytics Mobile SDKs. There's one for Android and one for iOS. However, there's nothing for Windows Phone.

Developers need to be familiar with the traditional web-based tracking system which uses ga.js before they can implement the mobile app SDK. It needs to feed data into the existing GA system, which is designed for websites, not apps. This means hyperlinks clicked by people, different web pages with different URLs, and so on. The mobile widget tracking system needs to create "events" which can be described in such terms. So it is up to the developer to determine what constitutes a change of page -- or the clicking of a link -- and to pass that to Google Analytics. For this reason, if tracking is critical to the project, it's probably best to include it in the design process from the beginning. App tracking is more than just dumping some code in, it needs to be part of the application architecture.

In June, Google announced that it would be upgrading the mobile tracking SDK by the end of this summer (2012) to add tracking of features more relevant to mobile apps, such as in-app purchases and ad presentations. Right now Google is open to suggestions for additional features from existing app developers, so if you have an existing Android or iOS app, now's your chance to ask Google for features.
Getting reports from Google Analytics

Google provides a dedicated mobile section in the audience overview, but it is misleading and fairly useless. The main reason mobile traffic will react differently is that the screen on a smartphone is smaller and has very different height-width ratios. Some designs don't rearrange layout properly on such screens, and some graphics can't fit. However, Google Analytics treats tablets as mobile devices. Google Analytics used to treat iPod, iPad, and iPhone as different, but merged them into a single iOS at the end of May. The problem is that the screen dimensions for tablets are just like those of a computer -- iPads are typically running 768x1028, while the Samsung GT runs 1280x800. As a result, tablet users react to websites just like computer users.

The StatCounter data for growth of mobile traffic on the web is for smartphones, and does not include tablet devices. Smartphone, not tablet, activity is what will determine whether you need to upgrade your site. Including tablets in the same stats as smartphones renders such stats useless.

You need to bear this in mind all the time you are examining mobile in Google Analytics because every mobile figure it gives will include tablets. Some "mobile" reports will even include computer devices as well. If you want to use Google Analytics to track smartphone activity, you'll need to filter the results yourself every time.

For starters, don't be fooled into thinking the top-level graph of visits in the mobile report is actually about mobile visits -- it's not. It covers all visits, whether mobile or not. The same goes for the key numbers underneath (pages/visit, duration, bounce rate, etc.). All of these numbers, even though they're in the mobile report, actually cover all visits. You can see where the confusion comes from if you look at the first data table below these numbers. It lists stats for "Mobile=Yes" and "Mobile=No," which is everything. To limit the Mobile Overview Report to mobile devices, you need to add a filter of "yes" in the filter box:

Once this is done, you can use the secondary dimension to review things like search terms and originating site, but the mobile report isn't connected with essential data, like content, landing pages, conversion rate, revenue, or transactions. The mobile report is adequate for analyzing differences between different devices for some very basic stuff like bounce rate, but your best strategy is to forget the whole mobile report section and create a custom segment which you can use anywhere in Google Analytics.
Setting Google Analytics to report mobile

While there's a default segment for mobile visitors, there is no corresponding default segment for non-mobile visitors. If you want to compare mobile with non-mobile activity (and you do), you'll have to create a custom segment.

This is done by opening custom segments and selecting the include option, then selecting mobile, then adding "Containing No." If you don't want to make your own custom segment, you can use mine.

This will add my custom segment to your reports (but I won't see your data). If you've never picked up a shared segment like this before, clicking the link will take you to Google Analytics, where you'll see a message "An Advanced Segment configuration was shared with you." Simply click the profile you want to connect it with, and the segment will appear in your reporting interface:

Once you've done this, you can set your reports to process two segments -- "Mobile" from the default list, and "Non-mobile" from the custom segment list.

However, as we've seen, the default mobile segment in Google Analytics includes tablets. If you're OK with that, skip the next section. However, I recommend creating a segment which doesn't include iPad.

The difficulty is that you can't get at it directly. Stuff like iPhone versus iPad has been moved into a variable called "Mobile Devices Info" which you can't access via the API or segments. There has been much (unhappy) discussion about this in the Google Analytics forums. One participant, David Boyle, SVP consumer insight at EMI, reported that Google is aware of the problem, and is planning a fix, but there's been nothing official from Google.

David's come up with a neat workaround, which is to add a custom segment filtering iPad on the basis of screen resolution. The idea is to dump Google's default mobile segment, and make your own by combining "Include Mobile Containing Yes" with "Exclude Screen Resolution Containing 768x1028." While you can change the screen resolution on iPad, few people do, and this is the best solution I've seen so far.

Why filter iPad out of mobile?
iPad's performance is so different from other mobile devices that it makes it impossible to understand how your site works on smartphones. The bounce rate for mobile traffic on one of my client sites is 37 percent. If I filter iPad out, the bounce rate for mobile becomes 58 percent. iPad forms two-thirds of what Google Analytics reports as "mobile" traffic, and iPad performance on this site is identical to computer performance. Because of its volume, and the huge difference in performance, it totally masks what's going on with smartphones.

Download speed
Speed is a critical issue with mobile. Old timers on the web can remember the days when connection speed was an overriding design limitation. We had the "11-second rule" -- a page had to be completely rendered on the visitor's screen within 11 seconds or they would abandon the site. Design tools such as Dreamweaver constantly showed the total size of the page and its download time as an ever-present reminder to designers. As connection speeds improved, expectations rose, and the 11-second rule became the 8-second rule. Eventually broadband became so ubiquitous designers simply stopped worrying about anything so trivial as how long their masterpieces would take to render. The download time days are back with a vengeance. The 8-second rule becomes the 2-second rule: People will wait 2 seconds for your pages to render on a smartphone. If your pages take longer, people will start dropping out -- fast. Most shopping sites are so laden with graphics there is no way they can render on a mobile in 2 seconds.

The good folks at Google Analytics have added some additional metrics which directly addresses this issue by reporting download times. Rather than measure the download time of every page, Google Analytics samples a subset of your visitors. The average page download time is provided by the "AvgPageDownload" time metric, in "Content > Site Speed" section. Google Analytics also provides the sample size. It is important to recognize sample size is page views not people or visits. For example, 10 people viewing five pages each makes a sample size of 50 page views. This is a new feature, so you won't have much history, and it's possible you won't have information for many pages.
What do you want to know?

At this stage you only need to know two things: What percentage of your visits are mobile, and whether there is any performance difference between smartphone, tablet, and traditional visitors. Smartphone performance on some sites is appalling, while on others it's the same. If mobile performance is different on your site, you need to find out what the distinguishing characteristic is. It will most likely be screen resolution. If there is a difference, you need to track the growth of mobile on your site so you can determine when you will need to make changes to the site (or build a mobile site).

The impact of smartphones on the web will becoming significant and sites that ignore this significance will lose out. Start thinking mobile now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Google Fiber Roll-Out Zips Along in Kansas City

by Peak Positions

Story first reported from USA Today

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It doesn't take long to figure out Google's pitch for Fiber. The potentially disruptive broadband service that Google is making available to residents in certain Kansas City neighborhoods is all about speed —Usain Bolt fast.

The search giant recently opened the Google Fiber Space store that I visited here to explain the promise of Fiber to the public and show it in action. The main virtue is speeds of up to 1 "gigabit per second" (1,000 megabits per second, or Mbps), a whopping 100 times zippier than the typical Internet. The results of a speed test during my visit: download speeds of 800.54 Mbps and upload speeds of 945.29 Mbps.

It's one thing to look at a number. It's another to put it in perspective. Where it might take you more than 2 minutes to download a high-definition movie on what is considered a fast connection today, and a lot longer on a poky connection, Google Fiber promises to do so in seven seconds. Fetching 100 photos might take three seconds on Fiber vs. close to a minute on a setup today. The blurring and buffering delays you might experience before a Street View on a Google Map materializes or a painting in the Google Art Project comes into focus all but disappear. At the Fiber store, there was no visible lag as Google streamed games off the OnLive streaming platform. And Google says Fiber will be ready to handle televisions based on so-called 4K (4,000-plus pixels) supersharp video tech.

While residents of Kansas City, Kan., have first shot at Fiber — ahead of their Missouri neighbors — there are restrictions that could prevent some people who want it from getting it. Either way, it'll be a slow roll-out for the rest of the country. Google isn't specifying when Fiber comes to a town and city near you. But it's a long-term effort.

Those eligible for Fiber can preregister in person at the Fiber store in Kansas City or at and must do so by Sept. 9. The $10 to preregister is applied to your service. But to actually get Fiber, you may have to rally your neighbors. Google will start building out the network in a given community only if enough people in that neighborhood sign up. Google established thresholds based on size and density as well as speed and ease of Fiber construction. As the company explains it, houses that are spread out in the suburbs require more time, fiber and labor, and therefore are more difficult to connect than homes in a dense urban environment. There are 204 Fiberhoods (as Google calls them) so far; 64 have qualified. Fiberhoods with the most preregistrations get first dibs on Google starting construction.

Those who get the green light from Google have three plan options. The first provides free monthly Internet for a period of at least seven years, provided you pay a one-time $300 fee (or $25 a month for 12 months) covering the cost of construction. Under that plan, Google promises speeds only on par with today's Internet — up to 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. There are no data caps, and you can upgrade to superfast Fiber at any time. Google will supply a network box (with up to 4 gigabit ethernet ports, plus Wi-Fi).

If you want to cruise the Internet fast lane, you have to sign up for either a Gigabit Internet plan or Gigabit + TV plan. Under both plans the $300 construction fee is waived. The Gigabit Internet plan costs $70 a month and comes with a network box as well. Plus you get 1 terabyte of cloud storage backup on Google Drive. Optional add-on: a Google Chromebook for $299.

The Gigabit + TV plan delivers 18 local channels, plus more than 100 cable channels, with additional premium channels available for a fee. For now, some key channels are missing, including ESPN, Disney and HBO. You also get a 2 TB box to store up to 500 hours of high-definition television and record up to eight shows at the same time. Google is also throwing in its Nexus 7 tablet, which can double as a remote control and search vehicle for the TV.

At the very least, what Google is promising with Fiber should force broadband rivals to step up their game. Time Warner Cable is confident, says spokesman Justin Venech. "Kansas City has been a highly competitive market for some time now, and we take all competitors seriously."

The bottom line:

$300 construction fee for free plan (for at least seven years). Construction fee is waived for Gigabit Internet and Gigabit TV plans that are $70 and $120 month, respectively.

•Pro. Gigabit service is blazing fast and affordable. Option for free Internet (at slower speed) for seven years.

•Con. Only available in Kansas City for foreseeable future. Even there, folks who want it may not be able to get it. "Free" plan requires one-time $300 construction fee. Google TV lacks certain popular channels for now.

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HSBC Banker Sues Yahoo Singapore for Impostor’s Identity

by Peak Positions

Story first reported from Bloomberg News

Sandeep Sharma, a managing director at HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s private banking arm, claimed in a lawsuit he had been defamed by a Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) user impersonating him and making offensive remarks about Singaporeans.

Sharma asked Singapore’s High Court to order Yahoo! Asia Pacific Pte to reveal details including the identity of the person using the moniker “Sandeep” and claiming to be Sharma. A closed hearing is scheduled for today.

“Sandeep” made at least three posts in July on Yahoo’s websites disparaging Singaporeans including calling them “highly incompetent” and saying foreigners are Singapore’s future, according to a lawsuit filed on Aug. 8, the eve of the Southeast Asian city’s 47th National Day.

The complaint highlights tensions that have developed in Singapore between foreigners, who make up a third of the country’s 5.2 million population, and citizens whose anger over the influx contributed to the ruling party’s worst performance since independence in last year’s general election.

Yahoo hasn’t filed its response to the complaint. Yahoo’s Southeast Asia general counsel Siew Kum Hong referred questions to Madhavi Tumkur, the company’s spokeswoman, who didn’t respond to two e-mails and a phone call to her office.

Sharma, who filed a police report last month on the same matter, didn’t reply to two e-mails or return a call requesting comment. Gareth Hewett, a HSBC spokesman, declined to comment.

Foreign Talent

“The issue of foreign talent in Singapore is a touchy one,” Sharma, 44, said in court papers. “I believe these posts will lead to and excite continued ill-feeling and disaffection among Singaporeans to foreigners like me living and working in their midst.”

Sharma moved to Singapore from India in 2007 with his wife and two children and became a permanent resident the next year, he said in court papers. He joined HSBC as the head of Global South Asian Diaspora in March 2010 from Barclays Plc’s wealth management unit, where he was head of its South Asian business.

He doesn’t have a Yahoo account and has no suspects in mind, according to court papers.

At least one person has written to the London-based bank that he will not be a client because of the posts, according to court papers. HSBC’s requests to Yahoo to provide information about the user were rebuffed, according to the complaint.

User Data

“HSBC and Mr. Sharma are victims of this callous post by a person who evidently is happy to hide behind the screen of anonymity,” according to a July 6 e-mail to Yahoo from the bank’s legal adviser Jerome Robert cited in the complaint. “Yahoo can help in putting things right.”

Yahoo said it couldn’t reveal data related to its users unless there was a court or police order, the operator of the biggest U.S. Web portal said in a July 10 e-mail to HSBC and cited in the lawsuit.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced stricter immigration policies and trimmed ministerial pay after his ruling People’s Action Party won the general election last year with the smallest-ever margin of popular votes.

The case is Sandeep Sharma v Yahoo! Asia Pacific Pte. OS750/2012. Singapore High Court.

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Google Slices Motorola Mobility Staff

by Peak Positions

Story first reported from

Google Inc. said Monday that it will reduce Motorola Mobility's workforce by about 20% to help streamline the unprofitable wireless-phone maker.

The roughly 4,000 job cuts are the first large-scale layoffs in Google's 13-year history. They are aimed at returning Motorola's once-dominant mobile-devices unit to profitability after the business spent 14 of the past 16 quarters in the red, and come as analysts speculate about whether Google is considering a spinoff of its home-television business that provides set-top boxes and other equipment to cable providers.

Google expects severance-related charges of as much as $275 million, most of which will be booked in the third quarter. The remaining severance-related costs will be recognized by the end of 2012. Google also expects to record other, possibly "significant" charges tied to the restructuring effort largely in the current quarter.

The company warned Monday that "investors should expect to see significant revenue variability for Motorola for several quarters," adding that it will likely take longer for Motorola to trim expenses than it will for the company's revenue to feel the impact from the latest cuts.

Niki Christoff, a Google spokeswoman, declined to elaborate on the restructuring effort beyond the company's latest statement in a filing with U.S. regulators. She added in a written statement that Motorola has a "vibrant Home business with good market leadership and a strong strategy."

Google in May bought Motorola Mobility through a $12.5 billion deal that armed it with thousands of patents, which have become increasingly valuable as technology companies trade lawsuits over intellectual property.

All of Motorola's new handsets use Google's Android mobile software.

Google said it plans to cull Motorola's product portfolio, which includes 27 different mobile phone models, to emphasize a smaller set of smartphones.

Motorola, which contributed about 10% of Google's second-quarter revenue, recently posted a $41 million operating loss in its mobile segment. The home business eked out a $3 million profit.

Two-thirds of the cuts in Motorola's mobile business will take place outside the U.S. The company also plans to close or consolidate about 30 of its 90 facilities. Motorola last month agreed to move the company's Libertyville, Ill., headquarters to downtown Chicago's Merchandise Mart building.

Investors reacted positively to the restructuring plan, along with an analyst's upgrade of Google's stock and a separate deal to buy John Wiley & Sons Inc.'s Frommer's travel brand. Shares in Google rose 2.8% to $660.01 on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange Monday. The stock is up 17% over the past 12 months.

"They're taking steps to make what has been an unprofitable unit for some time right-sized," RBC Capital Markets analyst Sean Kim said.

Morningstar analyst Rick Summer called the moves "quick" and "decisive" signs Google is committed to making the handset maker profitable, though one goal for Motorola—to drive the popularity of Android-based smartphones with cutting-edge hardware—could be an uphill effort. "It's not clear what Google and Motorola can do to push that market forward more than Samsung [Electronics Co.] already has," he said.

Morgan Stanley on Monday upgraded Google's stock to "overweight," highlighting the company's stable revenue growth and attractive valuation.

Fears of a messy Motorola integration were overplayed, the bank said, adding that reports of a possible spinoff of Motorola's home-equipment unit "reinforces our view that Google is indeed interested in [Motorola's] patents and smartphone hardware expertise, but is not seeking to overextend itself."

Analysts said the latest move wasn't unexpected. Google this spring hired Marsh & McLennan Cos. Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Wittman, who previously oversaw restructuring efforts at Seattle-based 360networks, to work at Motorola.

Former Motorola Chief Executive Sanjay Jha left when the deal closed, as did top executives Christy Wyatt, Bill Ogle, John Bucher and Juergen Stark, among others. New leaders include Motorola unit head Dennis Woodside and former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency chief Regina Dugan, who joined Google in March and will lead an advanced technology group at Motorola.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

With Frommer's, Google Taps Gurus

by Peak Positions

Story first reported from

Google Inc. for years swore it wasn't interested in creating content, choosing instead to point people to information on the Web. Google also championed the vox populi, letting crowd-sourced opinions bubble to the top when users search for answers online.

Slowly, though, the experts have been moving up in Google's eyes, and its business.

On Monday, Google said it is acquiring the Frommer's travel-guide business in a bid to attract more advertising dollars tied to online-travel bookings and local-business information. Google is buying Frommer's from publisher John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Google paid around $25 million for Frommer's, according to a person briefed on the deal, which hasn't yet closed. But the deal is more significant for its strategy than its price tag.

By owning Frommer's travel-guide content and showing it in search results, Google could sell travel-related ads against it and provide more tools for people to book travel arrangements.

The Frommer's deal follows Google's 2011 acquisition of Zagat Survey, whose reviews and ratings of millions of businesses have since been incorporated into Google+ local-business listings. Google said Monday that the Frommer's brand would be melded with the Zagat brand. Frommer's data about local businesses around the world could boost the Google+ business listings—where both Zagat ratings and individual customer reviews are displayed—and Google Maps.

With Zagat and Frommer's, Google is betting it can become a trusted guide for travel and local-business information by using expert ratings and aggregating online comments from thousands of customers, the way and do.

Frommer's is more evidence that Google has grown fonder of professionally produced content. There are other examples: It recently took an equity stake in Machinima Inc., which creates video content mainly for Google's YouTube video site.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

In addition, Google is investing more than $350 million to help create and market professional-grade videos for YouTube, located on special "channels," as the site upgrades its offerings from the simple user-generated videos of its roots.

A separate content effort, though—Google's Knol online encyclopedia, which took contributions from experts—wound down this year as Google CEO Larry Page killed off some underperforming services.

In addition to owning content, Google also is trying to become "vertically integrated" in terms of mobile devices. Google's strategy for years was to allow manufacturers to use its free Android operating software, helping them compete with Apple Inc. gadgets and ensuring that its search engine would be built into the devices. But Google recently bought handset maker Motorola Mobility and has embarked on an effort to build its own mobile devices.

The Frommer's deal could put Google at odds with other website publishers. In recent years, Google has expanded its array of services that seek to directly answer users' queries, departing from its original strategy of sending them quickly to the most relevant site. For example, people who search for local-business information now often see links to Google+ business listings—and Zagat ratings—in the search-engine results above other sites like Yelp.

Google—and its ambitions to capture more online ads related to travel and local-business information—are under scrutiny by antitrust authorities, who are looking into allegations that the company directs its search-engine users to its Google+ business listings, undermining travel and online-review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. The Frommer's deal is too small to trigger an automatic review by antitrust authorities.

Google has denied any anticompetitive practices and has repeatedly said it creates its services to benefit users, rather than other websites. Some U.S. courts have agreed with Google's assertion that its search-engine results are a kind of opinion that is protected by free-speech rights.

Stephen Kaufer, the CEO of TripAdvisor Inc., said Monday, "It is puzzling to us that Google is going backwards to the opinion of one—a writer—when TripAdvisor is proof that travelers like the wisdom of crowds" and their social-network friends.

Mr. Kaufer, who has spoken out about Google's practice of pointing users to Google-owned sites, added: "I absolutely worry that Google will preference Frommer's content above organic search results to the detriment of the users' experience and the enrichment of Google."

Yelp Inc. declined to comment.

TripAdvisor shares fell 4.6% in Monday trading; Yelp's stock dropped 7.7%.

Google in 2010 made its first big foray into the travel industry by acquiring flight-data company ITA Software, which powers the flight-booking tools of numerous websites.

Last year Google launched its own flight-booking service.

Google generates about $2 billion to $3 billion per year from selling travel-related ads on its search engine and hotel- and flight-booking service, with travel sites Expedia Inc. E and Priceline Inc. being among the top advertisers, according to Herman Leung, a stock analyst at Susquehanna International Group LLP.

The U.S.-based leisure-travel industry spent $2.56 billion on online advertising last year, up 40.6% from a year earlier, according to research firm eMarketer Inc. Last year U.S.-based travelers spent more than $100 billion to book trips online, a figure that is expected to grow by around 10% annually, eMarketer said.

Google said Monday it hasn't yet decided whether the Frommer's guidebooks will continue to be published in print or whether they will eventually migrate entirely to online.

"Our commitment is to keep things as they are today and once we combine operations, we'll know better what the future looks like," said Bernardo Hernandez, a director of product management within Google's Zagat unit.

"Consumers need fresh, accurate information," Mr. Hernandez said. "When you add information you can trust to phone numbers and addresses as part of the Google search experience, it enables users to convert their intentions into actions," meaning to book travel online.

Wiley, which has owned Frommer's since 2001, said it intended to sell the brand in March as it no longer aligned with its long-term strategies. Frommer's dates back to 1957, when Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer's series, published "Europe on Five Dollars a Day."

Bill Newlin, publisher of Avalon Travel, an imprint of the Perseus Books Group that publishes travel expert Rick Steves and the Moon branded guides, said he wasn't worried about Frommer's titles getting an unfair advantage in Web search.

"There's only one way to spell Rick Steves," he said.

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