A weekly round up of the biggest news in technology and digital media. This week, new features for Facebook, Google launch their mobile Wallet, Twitter talk Analytics, we get a closer look at Windows 8, the EU's developing Smartphone landscape, and more…
Last week it was "Smart Lists." The week before it was music. three weeks ago it was sharing settings. And the week before that, it was "news" stories. Facebook have been making a number of small but significant changes to the way users can organise their friends and share content with them, but this week is a more fundamental shift in the nature of Facebook relationships, with the launch of the "subscribe" button.
Unlike being someone's "friend" (which requires both "friends" to confirm the relationship), you can now keep track of a Facebook users' public posts without needing their permission with the new "subscribe" button. Once users have allowed it (which they must explicitly do by visiting the subscriptions page), they can then choose to follow "status updates", "life events", "photos & videos", "games", "comments & likes" or "other activity." In addition, users can use the same Subscribe button to choose what sort of content they want to see from their friends.
For most users — especially those who don't like to post in public — the change won't affect the way that they share content (although it may help them to maintain Facebook friendships with particularly noisy friends; for example, by unsubscribing to updates from games, but keeping subscribed to photos and videos.) But for those who Facebook call "interesting people you're not friends with" (like journalists, artists and political figures), this allows a way to let others "follow" them without having to set up a seperate Facebook Page for their 'public' persona.
Its hard to describe without falling into the "follow" language used by sites like Twitter and Tumblr; other sites (including social networking sites like Google+, and blog networks like Blogger and Wordpress) have allowed these kinds of asymmetrical relationships, and some will inevitably see this as a reaction to Google+. The fact is, despite being realtively unheard of just 5 or 6 years ago, Facebook is now the incumbent in the social media marketplace, and it will be difficult for them to innovate without drawing comparisons to other sites.
A test of whether they can will come this Thursday, as they host their annual f8 developer conference, with the motto of "Read. Watch. Listen." It is expected that they will announce a new set of buttons to go alongside the "Like" button, labelled "Read", "Listened", "Watched" — which sound very interesting to online publishers of text, music and video — as well as a "Want" button which will undoubtedly be of interest to anyone wanting to generate interest in a product.
Facebook's VP of Engineering has set high expectations, claiming that this years' conference will be bigger than last year (when they launched the Open Graph and plugins for 3rd party websites— including the now ubiquitous "Like" button), and possibly the biggest ever.
Social stats tools on their way
To put the importance of social sharing into some context, a recent study by BrightEdge found that more than half of the top 10,000 websites now have a Facebook share button on their homepage, with sites featuring Twitter buttons generating seven times as many mentions on the site as those who don't feature them. Although Facebook mentions are harder to analyse (as many of them appear in private conversations with limited visibility) and aren't specifically referenced by the study, it seems reasonable to assume a similar correlation for Facebook buttons.
For anyone trying to understand (let alone manage) these kinds of conversations, reliable tools to access relevant data in real time are essential — so its good news that we can expect to be seeing more, and soon.
At a recent event in London, Facebook's director of product marketing told attendees that Facebook "will be passing a lot of data [to agencies and brands] very, very soon, just not personal data [of Facebook users]."
Meanwhile, Twitter have announced an analytics tool which is currently in a limited trial, which will help to analyse the impact of Twitter on website traffic (presumably using the recent changes to the way links are posted), and the effectiveness of integrated Tweet buttons. Expect to see more in the next few weeks.
Yesterday, Google officially unveiled "Google Wallet" - their move to integrate mobile even deeper into day to day life.
Using NFC technology (similar to that used in Oyster cards, electronic keycards, and currently being rolled out into new credit cards), this allows mobile phones to replace the cards you probably carry around in your wallet; credit cards, debit cards and loyalty cards — and probably more.
As Google describe their vision;
Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.
Currently only availble with the Citi Mastercard and Google's "Prepaid card" (which can be paid into with other credit cards) and on the Nexus S 4G handset on the Sprint network, this is a limited launch in the US— but with NFC payment terminals starting to appear around the US (and with a few being spotted around London), expect to see this technology becoming more visible very quickly. With Google, mobile networks and credit card companies all wanting to get involved in quick and easy low-value payments (there are currently limits on the maximum transactions that can be made over NFC), expect to see a push to raise consumer awareness and drive adoption.
"The Daily" launches in the UK… Very quietly. The Guardian spotted that News Corporation's iPad-only 'newspaper' has quietly launched in the UK.
Launched in February in the US, the UK version of the application offers access for either £0.69 a day or £27.99 as an annual subscription.
So far, neither the content or advertising has been localised for a UK audience — it seems that the 'launch' is simply a case of making the US-focussed app accessible to UK-based ex-pats. With 100 dedicated journalists working on the title, $30m invested in the launch and an estimated cost of $500k a week, an expansion into a dedicated UK edition would presumably carry some further investment, and more of a marketing splash. (At the very least, we would expect to hear about the advertising opportunities first!
In a bid to challenge Google's share of the online display market, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have reportedly entered into an agreement to sell one anothers' advertising inventory. With plans to extend their offering to other web publishers, this is a bid to make the most of the value the kind of spaces that don't get sold directly by the publishers, and tend to be sold through display advertising networks (at low cost, and with little benefit to the publishers in terms of data collection and understanding of performance.) The deal is understood to currently be for the US market only, but presumably (if successful) will be rolled out to other markets.
Exactly how this inventory-sharing will work is currently unclear — in particular, it raises questions about how the inventory could be targeted, how advertising data would be managed — ultimately, how it would be more valuable to them than simply selling it on to a third party agency/network.
First look at Windows 8
Over the last few months, we have seen a few glimpses of what Microsoft have planned for the next version of Windows. But at the recent BUILD developer conference, a number of new features have been unveiled, along with the first developer preview.
One of the most notable technical developments is that Windows 8 will be able to run on both x86 processors (the sort of machines which can run current versions of Windows) and ARM processors — the type used in mobile phones and tablets. Similarly, the user interface has been redesigned, using Microsoft's "Metro-style" (similar to the design style of Windows Phone 7), which is optimised for touch screens. This means that manufacturers will be able to build tablets that will be able to run Windows 8.
However, the transition to the same operating system running on PCs, laptops and tablets isn't quite as clear-cut as Microsoft's ambitions might make out, with some considerable confusion over whether all applications will be able to run in the Metro environment on ARM (ie. mobile) devices. Although "Metro" is a feature of Windows 8, it will also feature the familiar Windows Desktop. So, two technical environments (x86 and ARM processors), two user interface environments (Desktop and Metro), and legacy versus new Windows 8 applications. All that is clear that at least one combination won't work…
The transition that computers are making from the familiar "PC" form-factor to a range of dektop, laptop, mobile and tablet (not to mention Connected TVs and other embedded devices) is going to be a difficult one, but it is interesting to see a number of different approaches being taken from different players in the market. Whatever Microsoft do, the sheer scale of their Windows platform means that it is going to have a signficant effect on the way we see "computers" over the next few years.
Speaking of mobile computers, the latest smartphone market statistics from comScore for the major 5 European markets have been released.
In the last year (July 2010-July 2011), the smartphone market across the EU has grown by 44%. The big changes have been Google's Android platform, which has grown from 6% (of a 61m subscriber market) to 22.3% (of an 88.4m subscriber market.) Nokia's Symbian platform, on the other hand, has seen a considerable drop from 53.9% to 37.8% of the market. With Nokia having announced their partnership with Microsoft (and expected to launch their first Windows Mobile phone soon), they must be concerned that the only other platform losing share is Microsoft's (down from 11.5% to 6.7% of the market.)
RIM and Apple have remained fairly stable in comparison, growing 1.5% and 1.2% respectively (although in a fast growing market, it should be remembered that even Symbian's loss of share comes from a growth in actual user figures.)
Further figures looking at the difference between the 5 markets reveal that mobile users in the UK are more likely than the other markets to use a smartphone, send text messages, install and use applications, use a mobile web browser, access news, social networking sites or blogs, or play games. (It seems we are quite an active bunch...)
Interestingly, the one thing we were less likely to do with our phones is to listen to music, which the Spanish are most likely to be doing.
More stats over at the comScore blog.