Our weekly collection of the news in technology and digital media.
This week, changes at the top at Yahoo!, Virgin Media's platform embraces iPads, Google's chase for Hulu, Facebook's growth and developments, something to watch out for for Facebook Page publishers, Microsoft and Twitter, and Mobile shopping.
A mobile Christmas?
A reminder that Christmas is approaching. OK, its still over a quarter of a year away, and it isn't approaching any faster than it has been since last Christmas, so there is plenty of time left to get your shopping done. In fact, there may be more time than usual as for many, online shopping will make it quicker and easier than trawling the high street for that perfect present.
But that last minute shopping should be getting easier, as searching the web is playing an increasingly important role, alongside searching the high street. Google have published some figures based on trends from previous years. Google project that 15% of "Black Friday" searches will be from mobile devices. 44% of total searches for last minute gifts and store locator terms will be from mobile devices.
What we have seen in past years is a "double peak" pattern in traffic in December; the first peak as online shoppers look to get their orders through in time for pre-Christmas delivery, and a second as online searchers look to inform their last-minute offline shopping. As Google point out, these last-minute searches are effective drivers of in-store purchases.
Google have some recent research that investigates the role of mobile and search in shopping behaviours in some more depth – well worth a read if you still need convincing of the growing importance of mobile today.
The IAB also has some fresh research that backs up Google's findings (available online to members only), in a look at mobile commerce. Amongst their headline findings are an increase in the size of the average transaction to £17.49 (up £5 in the last year), with websites accounting for slightly larger purchases (on average) than mobile applications; with 40% of all respondents say that they would prefer to go directly to a website (and around 60% of non-m-commerce users), the main barriers at the moment appear to be mainly technical; the drivers of a more convenient experience and the opportunity to make impulse decisions are replacing the image of mobile shopping as either a last resort, or an area of experimentation for consumers.
As smartphone penetration continues to grow (passing 50% of all European handset sales, according to IDC this week) and tablets continue to see growth, PC sales are seeing the effect – analysts at Gartner have cut their forecasts for 2011 PC sales for the third time this year, from forecasting a 15.9% growth in January, to their latest prediction of 3.8% growth. With 60% of laptops selling for less than €499 (while the average tablet selling price is €445), IDC are saying that there is a direct "budget cannibalisation" happening.
Trouble at the top for Yahoo!
Carol Bartz, Yahoo!'s CEO, informed Yahoo!'s staff that she was fired over the phone last week via an all-staff email. As she explained in an interview with Fortune how the board "f—-ed me over", and how they are "trying to show that they are not the doofuses that they are", Bartz may have lived up to her reputation as a tough-talking CEO, with language that would be unfamiliar to anyone who has been following her career. But it may also have been one of her most expensive interviews, as she will probably have fallen foul of a $10m non-disparagement clause in her contract.
(As the Wall Street Journal pointed out back in June, the last Yahoo! "vote of confidence" didn't end well for their previous CEO either.)
Unsurprisingly, she subsequently resigned from the board of directors. Her interim replacement as CEO is Tim Morse, previously Chief Financial Officer.
The move has led to some interesting rumours – that Yahoo has put itself up for sale, and that it could be contemplating a merger with AOL (although analysts opinions are that this is unlikely, as it would stand to benefit AOL much more than Yahoo!)
Virgin Media launch iPad app for TiVo box
At the IBC Conference and exhibition in Amsterdam last week, Virgin Media announced a forthcoming iPad application that would work alongside their new TiVo-powered set-top box. The application will take the role of a remote control, allowing users to change channels, set recordings and browse the EPG, as well as use the iPad as a secondary TV screen to watch on-demand programmes (even if the TiVo box itself is showing something else at the same time.) Virgin Media already have iPhone and Android applications which allow EPG access, and to set remote recordings; presumably, some similar functionality to the iPad application will be added in a future revision.
At the conference, Virgin talked about the application being a part of a planned staggered roll-out of functionality for the platform, "so as not to overwhelm our customers."
Google wants Hulu… But what else?
AllThingsD reports that Hulu has been shopping around for prospective buyers, interested in taking on the US-based online TV platform.
Hulu's corporate owners are currently mulling bids from three would-be buyers: Amazon, Yahoo, and the Dish Network. And then there's Google. The search giant has also made an offer for the video site, but it seems to be playing a different sport than the rest of its peers: Rather than bid on what Hulu's owners have offered for sale, Google has proposed a different acquisition, on a larger scale, say people familiar with the sales process.
As the Financial Times reported this weekend, Yahoo, Amazon and Dish are all expected to offer between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for Hulu, in exchange for the free video site, its subscription service and the rights to exclusive content for at least two years. What the additional, larger scale acquisition could involve isn't clear (AllThingsD suggests more content, and/or exclusive access for longer.) Perhaps a clue might lie in what else the owners of the site – News Corp's Fox, Disney's ABC and ComCast's NBC – might have access to that they are able to sell.
One of the problems that Google TV has faced is certain content (including Hulu) being blocked from Google's platform. I would guess that Google's main interest in Hulu is less about the access to content that they could deliver online (for example, whether they could integrate Hulu's library with the YouTube platform) and more about the longer-term future of the Google TV platform.
Bing and Twitter
Around the time that Google was unveiling Google Plus, their "Realtime Search" function quietly disappeared as Google's agreement to use Twitter's data to feed its search results had expired, and the functionality has yet to resurface. This week, in a 'cute' exchange on Twitter Microsoft and Twitter announced that Microsoft had renewed their deal with Twitter.
I've already talked about the partnership between Facebook and Microsoft, and how it could present a threat to Google. While the lack of "realtime search" may not in itself be a big deal to most users, it seems likely that the real value of the data exchange will be about those sharing the news, rather than the realtime news itself.
The next US President is tweeting
Some more big numbers from Twitter, as they announce 100 million active users.
In a blog post, they explain that 35 global heads of state are using Twitter, along with every Cabinet agency in the US, 84% of state governors, and every major candidate for President – along with an impressive roster of athletes, entertainers, humanitarians and reporters. More than half of their active users log into Twitter every day –and 40% of them don't tweet themselves, simply signing in to follow other users.
Twitter CEO has added to these numbers at an informal meeting in New York, revealing that 55% of Twitterers are doing so via mobile devices, and that over 400 million unique users a month are visiting the Twitter.com website.
Facebook's revenue growing as fast as its user base
Reuters reports that Facebook's revenue is growing rapidly – more than doubling to $1.6 billion in the first half of 2011, with net income at $500 million.
As the company is still moving towards and IPO, this profit margin of around 30% puts them in a strong position, as the market tries to estimate the value of the company. But as it is still a private company, it is not obliged to provide public reporting of its finances – meaning that it isn't clear how much of the $1.6 billion in revenues is coming from advertising, and how much is coming from the 30% cut it takes from sales of virtual goods and Facebook Credits transactions.
Facebook Smart Lists
Facebook has been experimenting with some new ways of helping users to organise their friends, with "Smart Lists." These will help users' to categorise their different friends, into "coworkers", "classmates" and "local."
The fact that "Local" friends are anyone within 50 miles of your current location will probably be less useful to UK users than those in the US (although it seems like a reasonable assumption that Facebook will be refining distances for different markets.)
Although these have been compared to Google+'s "Circles", Friend Lists of Facebook have been around for some time – although it is likely that they aren't extensively used by many users. But as a starting point for users who have never got round to organising their Facebook contacts (or who were unaware of the functionality), this seems to be a good way of introducing the "lists" feature to users, and helping them to be more aware of updates or pictures that they only want to share with specific groups. As with the existing Friend Lists, users can share updates selectively with certain lists, or filter their news feeds to only see updates from them.
How these will affect brand engagement isn't currently clear though– if users choose to filter their updates (rather than everything going into a single news feed) then it seems likely that updates from brands will be shown less. On the other hand, an increased focus on particular friends' also means an increased visibility of their brand interactions – Likes, comments etc. We will be keeping a close eye on this as it rolls out.
Facebook publisher applications may be reducing engagement
A study from Applum (developer of the EdgeRankChecker tool) in levels of engagement on Facebook has revealed a considerable difference in levels of engagement for updates to Facebook Pages that are published through 3rd party applications, (such as HootSuite and TweetDeck.) On average, posts that are sent through these applications receive an average of 70% fewer Likes and Comments than those posted directly through the site.
The reasons for this were initially unclear. Applum suggested that content not being optimised for the Facebook platform may have been one reason – for example, posts being written with Twitter's 140 character limit in mind then being cross-posted to Facebook, or failing to take advantage of the ability to attach media such as photos to Facebook posts. (Presumably, users of these tools may also have been less likely to follow up with future engagement on the site.)
But InsideFacebook subsequently found that Facebook has a "whitelist" of companies whose applications are treated differently, protecting their content from being reduced in certain ways. (For example, a collection of posts being consolidated in a users' feed, displaying a "Show x more posts from [application]" link.) Developers on this whitelist are understood to be forbidden from discussing its existence, but InsideFacebook claims that Facebook have confirmed that "trusted partners" are having their posts treated differently. For brands who are keen on optimising their Facebook presence – particularly with a view to ongoing engagement beyond simply collecting "Likes" on a page should bear in mind that their choice of application could have a significant effect on engagement levels.
(They should also talk to us about our Return on Experience engagement evaluation.)
Finally, with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 last Sunday, the memorial service obviously attracted a lot of attention, with websites, newspapers and broadcasters covering the remembrance services, as well as a look back over the impact on the last decade. But as TheNextWeb points out, some publishers use of social media was seen as either pointless or tasteless, with The Guardian quickly reacting to negative feedback by pulling their "@911TenYearsAgo" feed early.
But what is perhaps more interesting to consider is the way that a very similar set of tweets by Jeff Jarvis (a US journalist and media commentator – who has previously written for the Guardian) to chronicle his 9/11 experience came across in a completely different way to the more formulated 'branded' efforts. (His collected tweets can be seen on Storify.com) Although the fundamental idea was the same, the fact that Jarvis' account was of a very personal, human experience (as opposed to a dry collection of stark facts that didn't offer any new news or insight) meant that they came across completely differently, with a much more personal thread running through the account.