In this week's round-up of the big news in technology and digital media, we look at Google+ Pages for brands, Google's efforts to encourage online brands to be mobile-friendly, The Guardian's streamlined ad platform for print and online, and superfast broadband and on-demand films. And more…
Amazon announced a lending system for free ebooks, Nokia are trialling a scheme that may bring free WiFi in central London, and there are even stories about free laptops being dropped by helicopters. (Really!)
The Huffington Post – famous for taking free content from its blogger/journalists – is moving from being a US website to a global network, but some questions are being asked about the investment behind the Post's expansion as parent company AOL continues to lose money.
As expected, Google have announced Google+ pages for brands. So far, they appear to work in much the same way as the user version of Google+ accounts, enabling brands to make the most of Google+ features, such as video hangouts.
Perhaps more importantly, a feature called "Direct Connect" will enable users to link to brands' Google+ Pages directly from Google Search results;
Just go to Google and search for [+], followed by the page you're interested in (like +Angry Birds). We'll take you to their Google+ page, and if you want, we’ll add them to your circles.
The move has caused some disruption, as the "+" had previously been used as an advanced search operator (forcing certain words to appear in the pages returned in the search results.)
Meanwhile, new browser plug-ins for Chrome and Internet Explorer will make it easier for users to +1 links and interact with Google+ services from anywhere on the web.
Google have also unveiled a scheme to encourage businesses to develop mobile-friendly websites. The "GoMo" website includes a tool to evaluate website performance for smartphones and explains how optimising it for mobile users can provide improvements.
Google have already posted a case study from TicketsNow, who saw conversion rates increase by 50% and mobile sales double after investing in a mobile-optimised site. Another case study from Ryland Homes shows how they achieved a 30% cost-per-conversion saving for AdWords.
The Guardian's new Operative.one platform will be introduced in the first half of 2012, replacing its print-based legacy system, consolidating its print and online advertising and integrate with Salesforce.com's cloud-based platform.
Superfast broadband in the UK
In a speech today about superfast broadband, Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards laid out the regulators approach for developing super-fast broadband in the UK, and how the regulatory framework will help the government's objective of the UK having "the best broadband network in Europe by 2015." An interesting note in the speech is the point that currently, the 'killer app' for a next-generation broadband network is currently unclear.
But as an approach to promoting superfast broadband take up, ‘having more teenage children’ seems a little long term, and a little distant from reality.
Mentioning recently published figures showing that residential fixed broadband customers are using 17GB of data each month, while traffic over the London Internet Exchange network routers has increased seven fold in the past five years.
It seems quite likely that the next generation of broadband is not going to be driven by a new 'killer app', but simply by increased usage of the same applications we are using today.
The prediction this week from DisplaySearch that, by 2015, most TVs shipped will be 'connectable TV' hints at one way this kind of network use will increase internet traffic to households (with Western Europe showing significantly higher levels of penetration than anywhere other than Japan.) As online video increasingly moves from the more personal environment of the PC to the shared experience of the big TV screen (not to mention the need for higher quality video streams to create acceptable picture quality on the larger, HD screens in most living rooms.)
New UK films on demand services in 2012
But for that transition to happen, there also needs to be the range of quality on-demand content available as an appealing alternative to TV to move online, on-demand programming up the ranks of the consumer hierarchy of content. Along with Google's investment into original content for YouTube (which we mentioned last week), a couple of stories this week hint at what sort of long-form services might fulfil that role.
Blockbuster are planning to launch an online film streaming service in the UK next year. The Dish Network (Blockbuster's parent company) is the second largest pay-TV provider in the US, and is apparently within weeks of launching a similar service in the US.
Blockbuster's commercial director Gerry Butler told New Media Age that it was too early to discuss Blockbuster's planned pricing model (either subscription-based, like Lovefilm and Netflix, or the pay-per-rental model of iTunes and Blinkbox.)
Meanwhile, Netflix have announced an exclusive deal with MGM for the UK and Ireland, which will give Netflix exclusive access to new release films from MGM. It has also been reported that Netflix are in talks with ITV over access to their archive TV content, with rumours also circulating about talks with Lionsgate, Momentum Pictures and Warner Bros.