Thursday, August 23, 2012

Changing SEO Strategies Post-Google Penguin

The Google Penguin algorithm update is the latest spam-fighting wave to crash against the shore of search and it has heralded something of a new dawn for SEO, especially in terms of offsite strategy.

In 2011, Google ran an algorithm update, known as the Panda update. It may sound cute and cuddly, but the Panda update was the first major algorithm update to focus on the quality on of onsite content -- pushing sites with rich content and a great user experience to the top of its search rankings, and relegating low-quality sites to the bottom.

Whilst the Panda algorithm, which is still refreshing 18 months on, is arguably more concerned with onsite factors, its not-too-distant relative, Google Penguin, was designed to focus on the other significant realm of SEO: offsite.

The Google Penguin update has led to the ice cracking under many websites tried and tested offsite strategies, which until now have involved the use of a high quantity of low-quality links.

Google has long advised web users to make sure their content adheres to the "Google Webmaster Guidelines," and the presence of the heavily referred to "Web Spam team" has contributed to the common consensus the days of low-level linkbuilding were numbered. Indeed, with the rise of personalized search and social signals seeming to be an increasing factor in ranking, it could be argued those SEO-ers who have not started to adapt their strategy could be left out in the cold.

It was around mid-March 2012 that webmasters began to receive messages warning of detected unnatural links pointing to domains, and gave advice on how to spot them:

"...artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site which could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass Page Rank or participating in link schemes."

Search personalities such as Google's Matt Cutts and SEOmoz's Rand Fishkin have long spoken against using the black hat techniques of high volume, low-quality linkbuilding, but this was a first from Google, in the sense of the volume of sites contacted.

Over 700,000 messages were sent by the end of Q1 -- more than the whole of 2011 and for many, this represented the beginning of the end for many SEOers current offsite strategies. And if it didn't, the ranking drops and the subsequent Webmaster Tools messages should have.

"We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you've made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google's search results."

Now, Google's initial messages sent in March 2012 were the equivalent of an organic visibility death sentence, but their hard-lined message was blurred when a new wave of messages were sent in July, only this time sites which hadn't been participating in shady link schemes were receiving them too.

How could a site which had never built any links be receiving such messages?

Matt Cutts was quick on the scene and cleared things up via his Google+ account, insisting the latest batch of messages were not to induce panic, but were sent as a transparency exercise to allow greater clarity as to what Google likes and doesn't like. Another round of Webmaster messages were sent insisting Google would only take action against specific links which contravened their guidelines, and not on the domain as a whole (as they previously did back in March).


Whichever way you look at it, the future is NOT in low-level link building, so start planning and move one step ahead with a new offsite strategy immediately.

Most SEOers reacted by balancing the following two strategies:

1) Identifying possible links that may contravene the Google Webmaster Guidelines, contacting the sites and requesting that these links be removed. Google has de-indexed a substantial portion of "spammy" sites, so removing these links from your site should become a top priority before a site could/should be submitted for a reconsideration request.

Since so many historical links pointing to a site had been de-valued or de-indexed, all previous link equity would have been removed, thus weakening the authority and trust of your site.

How could a severely weakened offsite profile be strong again?

2) Agreeing and implementing a new content-focused strategy built around engagement with relevant communities.

The ideal way of obtaining natural links is by creating content that is so useful/informative/entertaining that it begs to be shared, retweeted, '+1'd, and embedded on blogs that attract the same demographic of users that visit your site. This might also mean some actual natural traffic from your offsite efforts (something low-level linkbuilding does not provide!).

Creating content to be shared is a longer-term strategy than the quick fix of buying low-level links. But a natural strategy should engage the right audience along the way, moving SEO into the realm of more creative marketing. It also means that the great content which has been produced can take on a life of its own and be shared and linked to long after its inception.

Guest blogging, too, is a natural way of building brand recognition. Partnership with popular blogs in your industry means that more people will read your content, and the potential for natural back links, and natural traffic as a result of this, should not be underestimated.

So, Google Penguin has arrived and ruffled the feathers of SEO and offsite strategies. With so much great, unique content being shared such as infographics, widgets and videos, Google deemed now the perfect time to rid its index of low quality sites with low quality content, destabilising many offsite strategies, and penalizing those who implemented them.

For SEO offsite strategy, it means adopting a longer term strategy revolving around unique, high-quality content and utilizing social platforms to drive engagement and exposure. Creativity should be at the heart of offsite strategies moving forward, and if it isn't you may well be left out in the cold... like a Penguin.

Source: Huff Post

Friday, August 3, 2012

Google Cloud vs. Amazon Cloud: How They Stack up

Google's new IaaS cloud boasts strong compute performance but lacks the breadth of features in Amazon Web Services' 4-year-old Elastic Compute Cloud, according to one industry analyst's side-by-side comparison of the services.

Neither company provides details of the silicon chips within its servers, but analyst Chris Gaun from Ideas International (recently acquired by Gartner) has used information in public statements to determine the hardware behind each vendor's cloud. Google has said it uses Intel Sandy Bridge processors and that each unit of its Compute Engine delivers performance matching that of at least a 1.0- to 1.2-GHz 2007 Opteron chip. Other media have reported that Google uses 2.6-GHz processors, which leads Gaun to believe the company has Xeon E5-2670 chips, the only ones on the market at the time of Google's announcement that deliver that level of raw compute power.

Gaun believes Google is running the high-capacity chip across its cloud infrastructure, while Amazon makes it available in certain instance types for Elastic Compute Cloud customers, including in its recently announced high I/O extra large cluster compute offering. "Google seems to be running only the latest and greatest chips on the market, while Amazon has a wide variety of chips for customers to use," Gaun says.

Amazon isn't standing pat either. AWS on Wednesday, for example, announced the ability to set the input/output operations per second (IOPS) in Elastic Block Storage.

There are other differences between Google Compute Engine, which is still in limited preview mode, and Amazon cloud services. AWS has 11 different sizes of compute instances, ranging from small virtual machines with 1.7GB of memory, to extra-large compute clusters with 60.5GB of memory, whereas Google has only four. Google also makes the fiber-optic links between its own data centers available to cloud customers. AWS has a variety of accommodating features in its cloud though, such as the EBS volumes, relational database services, load balancers and others.

The two companies are appealing to different customers, Gaun says. While AWS is targeting technology-reliant businesses that are turning to the cloud to host their websites, databases and storage, Google is focused initially on research and development teams that may have a need for high-performance computing to complete a project, for example. The strategy is seen in the pricing models: AWS offers reserved instance pricing discounts, in which customers agree to use a compute instance for months or even years. Google's cloud is priced by smaller time chunks and therefore aimed at shorter-lived projects.

Gaun says if Google wants to compete in a broader market with Amazon, it will likely have to offer a discounted pricing option for long-term use. That may come in time, Gaun predicts, given that the company's cloud computing offering isn't even generally available yet.

Source: PCW

Google debuts super fast broadband service in Kansas City

Google has kept its long-stated promise of super high-speed Internet access by debuting a new fiber-based Internet service in Kansas City with speeds more than 100 times faster than most U.S. Internet systems.

Google Fiber TV service is priced at $120 a month for a package that includes television channels, one gigabyte per second Internet speeds and one terabyte of cloud storage. For $70 a month, the service is available without the television channels.

Advanced level subscriptions offers the ability to record eight TV shows at one time and store up to 500 hours of high-definition programming on the cloud. The subscriber can use a tablet or smart phone as a voice-activated remote control if desired. The service comes with router and a Nexus 7 tablet that can act as the system’s remote control.

The TV service allows subscribers to search live channels, Netflix, YouTube, recorded shows and tens of thousands of hours of on-demand programming.

“The Internet is a huge positive force, and yet we are at a crossroad,” said Patrick Pichette, Google’s chief financial officer. Internet speeds, he said, have leveled out for broadband since around 2000 and Google will be making it 100 times faster with the new service.

“We will make Kansas City a place where bandwidth flows like water,” Milo Medin, vice president of access services at Google, told the Los Angeles Times.

Google invested in building out fiber in Kansas City, Missouri in 2011 after earlier inviting cities to help identify communities that would be interested taking part in the project. For months, the company has been laying a network of fiber optic cable in the city.

Ron Josey, an analyst at ThinkEquity, told the newspaper that Google has long been frustrated by Internet speeds offered by other providers. A faster online infrastructure, he said, would let Google create more products.

“This is their way of showing, if we offer a better pipeline, look at what we can do on the Web in terms of innovation,” Josey said.

Sameet Sinha, an analyst at B. Riley & Co., said the project hopes to stimulate others to follow Google’s lead. “They want to get the government to notice that higher broadband should be a strategic priority,” he told the newspaper. “Second, it could force cable companies to start offering higher-speed Internet.”

Source: BroadcastEngineering

Google Play Grows Up: New Developer Policies Will Clean Up Google's App Store

Google Play, Google's Android app store, is close to eclipsing Apple's App Store in pure numbers, but there's one area in which it's lacking. The former Android Market has a ton of rogue apps -- including copycat games, spam, and malware.

And now, Google is looking to clean up its act.

The difference between Google's and Apple's app stores is that Apple polices every app submitted to the store, often with a draconian approval process. Google's market, on the other hand, is a free-for-all: anyone can submit apps, and there's virtually no screening process. Google has been keeping an eye on its store, and removing known malicious apps, but now we're looking at a potential crackdown.

In a letter to developers Wednesday, Google outlined a new set of rules, which it hopes will eliminate some of the spammy apps in the Google Play store. Developers have 30 days to comply with the new policies, or risk their app being removed from the store.

The new rules are quite comprehensive. All Google Play apps must use Google's own payment system for downloads or in-app purchases (except for physical goods and goods consumed outside the app). To reduce copycat apps, Google says app developers shouldn't "pretend to be someone else" and may not "represent that [their] app is authorized by or produced by another company or organization if that is not the case." Apps also should not have names or icons too similar to apps that ship with Android.

Google also gets specific in the new rules about not transmitting viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and malware, as well as about misleading product descriptions, repetitive content, ratings gaming, and apps that send automated SMS and email messages. There are also new rules regarding suspicious ad practices in apps: developers can no longer make ads look like system notifications or collect personal user data.

Google's new developer policies for the Google Play store show that the company is finally looking to mature its app marketplace. This makes sense, since Google Play is now similar in size to Apple's App Store, with 600,000 apps to Apple's 650,000. Even though studies indicate that a majority of Apple App Store apps are never downloaded, Apple undoubtedly has the upper hand when it comes to app quality. With its latest move, Google could be closing in soon.

Source: PCW

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 things Marissa Mayer will change about Yahoo

Now we know why Yahoo chose not to appoint interim CEO Ross Levinsohn as its full-time leader: the company got Marissa Mayer instead. Mayer, the head of the Google Search group and the 20th employee at the search company, will start immediately at Yahoo.

Google and Yahoo started as similar companies. Both were search giants, but at different points in their respective histories they diverged. The subsequent tale of the tape shows that Google's direction -- guided by strong leaders -- was the more successful path.

Here's what we can expect Mayer will bring to Yahoo.

The engineering culture that Mayer helped build at Google. Google has historically been run with an engineering mindset. The best Google services are fast, functional, and continually tested and improved as time goes on. Mayer herself was proud of talking about how even a tiny change in the position of an item on the Google Search page would be tested and evaluated over and over again. The company's main products were driven by data, not art.

Over time this has changed (see the Nexus Q, for example), but for its main products, Google is still driven by the numbers.

Mayer will likely bring this same rigor to Yahoo's products, in particular, the home page, Yahoo's portal to the Web. Her expertise in relentlessly tweaking products to extract maximum utility out of them could also extend to Yahoo Mail, still one of the largest e-mail providers. Yahoo applies a lot of data tricks in delivering its home page to its vast audience, but the key will be extracting more dollar value from the billions of Yahoo pages viewed.

Mayer has not run an entire company, though, so it may be a challenge for her to adjust the culture of Yahoo.

And it is the organizational culture at Yahoo that needs to most help. "Yahoo takes too long to make decisions," says Salim Ismael, who ran the Brickhouse project at Yahoo -- a group set up outside the standard reporting structure at the company so it could innovate more quickly. "On the Internet you need speed, and you need to take risk. Yahoo accidentally adopted a matrix organization structure that's antithetical to both," he says.

Yahoo could also use some of Google's ruthlessness in killing projects. The company gleefully reported on its 2012 spring cleaning project (which, for all we know, is ongoing). In a large, interlinked structure, which Yahoo apparently has, it's difficult to make the right decisions about killing products.

Google, though, maintains an optimism about its direction even as it chops down its underperformers. That's due, in part, to its capability to learn from its mistakes and not punish people involved in them. Even though Google killed social experiments like Buzz and Wave, it forged ahead with Google+. Even though its structured knowledge product Knol died, Google Search inherited a lot from the project.

And this points to another big strength of Google: the company is very good at working on long-term visions. Social has become key to the company's growth despite early failures. Google is also becoming a media company, throwing big money into hardware initiatives like Google TV and the Nexus Q media streamer, products that, in their initial incarnations, are not going to be remembered as successes. Google is also pushing to take a few market share points from Apple and Amazon in the media sales market.

It's much easier for a company that has resources like Google to play the long game, but a new CEO with Mayer's background and energy should be able to divert some funds to play some long-range bets and recruit some top talent back into the Yahoo fold.

Finally, there's the engineering-friendly culture of experimentation, or to put it in more shareholder-friendly terms, an R&D focus. Google is doing original research in areas that appear to be orthogonal to its mission -- self-driving cars, augmented-reality eyeglasses, and even energy. But these projects can pay off in numerous ways and their value can (but not always) feed back to the mainline business. On the other hand, Yahoo doesn't have the resources today to focus much beyond fixing what is broken at the company.

Can a media company be successfully run as an engineering company? Google, it needs to be said, actually is a media operation. It makes its money selling media advertising, and gathers 72 hours a minute of video on YouTube. Can the same discipline work at Yahoo? There's probably no one better to give it a shot than Marissa Mayer.

Source: CNET

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Google+ Hangouts Host Olympic Athletes

Google’s Hangout feature is once again giving Google+ users a chance to get closer to the stars, this time with a Olympic twist.

The New York Times-sponsored series started on Wednesday with basketball stars Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Both are members of the 2012 USA Basketball team. The hangouts will run through next Tuesday.

Google Hangouts have been a favorite stop of politicians, celebrities, and friends. President Obama used the feature to connect with voters back in January, and musical artists the Black Eyed Peas participated in a hangout last October to chat with fans shortly before they took the stage at a concert in New York City.

But with the Olympics coming up in short order, it makes sense for these hangouts to feature some of America’s top athletes, doesn’t it?

That said, the list of athletes participating is heavy in the marathoner department, with three runners. Friday’s chat featured Shalane Flanagan, a long distance runner planning to participate in the Olympic Marathon.

Monday's Olympic Games Hangout will also feature another runner, male marathoner Ryan Hall, who is expected to contend for a medal in London. His Google Plus hangout begins at 2 p.m. ET. Hall will be followed by brothers Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, the second ranked men’s doubles team in the world and widely expected to earn a medal in the Olympic tennis tournament. Their chat occurs at 5 p.m. ET Monday.

The Hangout series ends on Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET, with yet another marathoner, Kara Goucher. All chats occur from The New York Times’ Google+ page. If you would like to ask a question, either comment on the post announcing the Hangout or post the question to your own Google+ wall with the hashtag #London2012Hangout.

Those with the best questions will get the chance to ask them live of the athletes during the event, the paper says.

Source: PC World

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Android, iOS Called Dominant Smartphones

Google's Android and Apple's iOS account run 86 percent of the U.S. smartphones, leaving RIM's Blackberry and other mobile platforms -- we're looking at you, Windows Phone -- in the dust.

That's the latest word from research firm Nielsen, which reports that Android's lead in the U.S. smartphone market continues its steady rise. In fact, nearly 52 percent of U.S. smartphone owners use Android devices. Second-place iOS has a healthy 34.3 percent of the market.

Third-place RIM has just 8.1 percent, and other operating systems take the final 5.9 percent of the pie.

Obviously, the Nielsen numbers are very good news for Android and iOS. And the gulf between the two frontrunners and the rest of the mobile OS appears to be widening.

Among smartphone owners who purchased a handset in June 2012, 54.6 percent chose an Android device, and 36.2 percent bought an iPhone.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Windows Phone platform continues to languish. That's despite positive reviews, a slick "live tile" interface, abundant advertising, and support from major phone manufacturers including Nokia, HTC, and Samsung.

Windows Phone 7 has a meager 1.3 percent of the U.S. smartphone manufacturer share, Nielsen says. That's less than half the 3 percent share of Windows Mobile Phone -- the OS that Windows Phone replaced.

In terms of hardware sales, Apple has a commanding lead. More than a third (34.3 percent) of smartphone owners use an iPhone. Samsung is a distant second with 17 percent, followed by HTC (14 percent) and Motorola (11 percent).

As expected, consumers are steadily replacing their older cell phones with smartphones. In fact, two-thirds of new mobile buyers chose a smartphone, Nielsen reports.

Source: PC World

Amazing Alex (for Android)

Rovio, the maker of app "drug" Angry Birds, has actually managed to follow up with an even better game, Amazing Alex (Free or $0.99 for premium). Even though Rovio acquired the game from an indie developer, it's been given the addictive Rovio treatment: lots of short, fast, physics-based challenges that make it difficult to put down. Apple iOS users are already sucked in. According to Apple, Amazing Alex became the number one paid iPhone app in the U.S. on its first day.

But while testing this on Android, I felt the gravitational force too. There's no flinging or violence against animals in this game. In the terribly-named Amazing Alex, you rearrange toys and household items to create a Rube Goldberg machine. As an item drops on your design, it sets off a chain reaction that sends existing objects richoceting off each other; your goal is to collect the three stars located in every challenge board by hitting them with these objects. For $0.99, you get loads of game time and a good mix-up of challenges to keep your noodle flexed.

Fortunately for most of the world's smartphone users, Rovio launched iOS and Android versions of the app at the same time. Sorry, nothing for the less than two percent of you out there using Windows Phone. I tested Amazing Alex on a Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.0, but with all the objects on screen it'd be more fun playing this on a larger screen.

Dull Storyline But Fun Gameplay
It doesn't really detract from gameplay but I wasn't excited about the storyline or simplistic graphics. Amazing Alex puts you in the role of a generic-looking kid named Alex, a "whiz kid with a boundless imagination and a houseful of fun toys" which is far less creative (and controversial) than the violent birds in Angry Birds.

Every new challenge board presents you with a few items: three point-amassing stars, random objects to build your Rube Goldberg device, and a trigger object?like a balloon or magic eight ball?that starts off the chain reaction. Drag objects around your screen to rearrange re-orient them. When you hit the "play" button, the trigger object starts your Domino effect. Unlike in Angry Birds, you can take as many turns as you need to pass each challenge board. It'd be more fun to limit this, however.

What keeps this game interesting is that every level presents different objects with different levels of kinetic energy. ?Furthermore, a dollar buys you more than 100 challenge boards, spread across four levels?classroom, backyard, bedroom, and tree house. But even after you've completed them all, you're not done yet.

After you pass the classroom level (containing 16 challenges), the app unlocks a fifth level, My Levels, where you can create your own challenge boards and share them with the Amazing Alex community.

Once you've created a level, which can take anywhere from 30 seconds to hours depending on how difficult you make it, you can share a download URL for other Amazing Alex players.

Angry Birds was like a comfort-food app and something I could play on a train without straining my eyes. Amazing Alex, not so much. But if your Angry Birds addiction is wearing off, Amazing Alex is a fun, much more challenging alternative.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Flipboard Finally Invades Android!

Flipboard has emerged out of beta testing and is now available on Google Play. The app, which had been exclusively for Samsung Galaxy S III users for some time, may now be downloaded by those whose Android-based devices are compatible with the app.

Flipboard is a news reading app dubbed as a social magazine that has proven itself popular with users of iOS devices. It collects content from various sources such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, BBC, The Verge, National Geographic, Oprah, and USA Today and arranges them in a magazine format.

Its aim basically is to help users simplify their life since it has all they need on one app, and no longer have to sign in to multiple sites or visit them. A feature called Content Guide offers more content hand-picked by Flipboard’s editors. To make things easier, the app comes with an accompanying widget that acts as a shortcut to Flipboard.

The award-winning app furthermore integrates with read-later apps like Pocket, Instapaper, and Readbility. Users on shared devices may create their own account to bar others from reading their personal content. The app is available in localized versions like the UK, Canada, China, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Taiwan, and the US, enabling users to enjoy local content like news.

Flipboard cautions that it is best viewed on smartphones, which implies that its resolution is not excellent on tablets. To be more specific, Flipboard retains it small size even while opened on a large tablet screen.

This app is a nice addition to all those which promise to help users manage their online subscriptions and social networks. Its many awards, including TIME Magazine 50 Best Inventions of 2010, WIRED magazine Essential App of 2011, and TechCrunch Cruchies Best Touch Interface 2011, likewise make it an attractive offer.

The best part about this app, however, is that it is completely free of charge, which means that if it does not do what it promises, users can simply hit uninstall. The app has a minimum requirement of Android OS 2.2 Froyo.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Google's impossibly clever Alan Turing doodle

Normally, when Google creates doodles, it uses its brains to create art that everyone can grasp and feel.

For tomorrow in the U.S. (and today in places like New Zealand), however, the company has decided to offer no such creative mercies.

June 23, 2012 would have been the 100th birthday of Alan Turing. And you can hardly celebrate his memory with something fluffy and brightly colored.

Instead, there are a series of 1s and 0s and arrows pointing to left and right.

Turing was an exceptionally gifted mathematician, computer scientist and code breaker, whose Turing Machine (which this doodle commemorates) was the basis for so much in computing.

In an act of utter disgrace, for which the British government only apologized in 2009, Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952. He was chemically castrated and died in 1954 (aged 41) after biting into an apple laced with cyanide. At the time, an inquest declared this to be suicide. However, some believe his death was an accident.

This was the man who had helped crack the German Enigma code, a great step toward bringing a successful end to World War II. In return, he was prosecuted for gross indecency and given the choice of prison or experimental chemical castration.

He chose the latter. His conviction meant he could no longer work for the British government. (He was one of around 100,000 gay men convicted at the time.)

Then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in his 2009 apology:

While Mr. Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him.

His conviction was never overturned, this despite efforts in 2011. The British government declared that he was legally convicted at the time, and therefore wouldn't make an exception.

It did, however, make an exception for 300 World War I deserters in 2006. The reason for many of their desertions had been given as shell shock. British Member of Parliament John Leech has long tried to get the same kind of pardon for Turing.

How Alan Turing ushered in modern computing (photos)

Turing's work was so widespread that his influence infused so much of modern thinking. In 1950, for example, he created a test -- now known as the Turing Test -- that measured the intelligence of a machine.

He is credited with having designed the circuitry for early computers by himself. Turing's Pilot Ace computer was the one that, in 1954, worked out the cause of a mid-air explosion aboard a Comet jet.

London's Science Museum is this week opening a year-long exhibition called "Codebreaker: Alan Turing's Life and Legacy" (see video above). It includes a German Engima coding machine on loan from Mick Jagger.

As for Google's commemorative doodle, I have embedded a video showing how to solve it. Just so that you can be a codebreaker for a day.

Credit: CNET

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The new mobile platform wars: It’s time to look beyond iOS vs. Android

It is shaping up to be a critical year for mobile tech.

If you’re tired of the endless iOS versus Android market share reports, take heart: There are new issues, and new challengers, making 2012′s mobile landscape more complex and more important than ever before.

Windows 8 is emerging as a viable threat to the iPad, while Android tablets continue to struggle. Google and Facebook are continuing to square off for domination of social interactions on your phone. And several mobile payments services, including Google Wallet, Isis, and PayPal’s offerings, are hoping to replace your credit card. More than ever, platforms are fighting to get and maintain a share of what you carry with you every day.

Meanwhile, the years-long iPhone versus Android battle has reached a bit of a standstill. Android continues to dominate in terms of overall smartphones sold (though Apple had a particularly great fiscal first quarter), and Apple remains triumphant in terms of actually making money from its devices.

We’re going to be discussing all of the above, and more, at our second Mobile Summit next month in Sausalito, California. If you haven’t yet scored one of the 180 invitations to this exclusive event, here’s a glimpse of what we’re expecting for the next year in mobile platform wars.

Tablet wars: Episode 3

We’re now three years into the post-iPad tablet generation, and it seems like the competition is finally beginning to get interesting. After suffering through mostly lackluster Android tablets over the last few years, Microsoft has emerged as a surprisingly refreshing tablet competitor with Windows 8. (Check out our in-depth preview with an early Windows 8 tablet.)

As I’ve written before, Microsoft is taking its approach to tablets a step beyond Apple with Windows 8, something that the company made abundantly clear during its unveiling for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in Barcelona. Unlike Android or iOS, Windows 8 is a full-fledged desktop operating system, not just a souped-up mobile OS on a bigger screen. Microsoft is positioning Windows 8 as its OS approach for all computers in the next decade, not just tablets.

Indeed, Microsoft can show Android tablets a thing or two. Google has said that it’s going to be focusing even more on tablets this year, but I think the bigger problem for the search giant is its fundamental misunderstanding of tablets. They’re not just bigger mobile devices, as Android tablets initially were. Instead, tablets are more akin to PCs, thanks to their bigger screens and support for peripherals like keyboards.

The confusingly named new iPad will likely continue to dominate the tablet market (and the now-cheaper iPad 2 won’t do Android tablets any favors either). But Microsoft has a good shot at snagging the second-place spot this year — if it can keep Windows 8 tablets cheap and keep computer makers from ruining its shiny new OS with bloatware.

Facebook and Google battle for your smartphone

One of the biggest reveals from Facebook’s S-1 filing (its first step towards an IPO) was the huge risk that mobile represented for the social networking giant. Facebook said it had an impressive 425 million users accessing through mobile, but at the time it didn’t have a way to monetize them. To address that problem, Facebook recently revealed its mobile ad plan, and it looks a lot like Twitter’s: sponsored posts within your friend stream (see the screenshot to the left).

Google, meanwhile, is still trying to coax consumers into Google+, but it will likely have less trouble making a buck from them. I expect to see sponsored posts from Google+ as well, but knowing Google’s ad mastery, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some surprises up its sleeves.

There’s no doubt that mobile is the next big goal for social networking dominance. You can look to the rise of other mobile-only social networks, like Instagram and Foursquare, as one major indicator. And unless you’re Google, you’d be crazy to take on Facebook head-on when it comes to launching a mainstream social network (LinkedIn and Twitter have been successful by focusing on things completely different from Facebook).

Last year, Facebook launched its innovative Timeline feature, and Google officially launched Google+. With the initial ground laying already done on the desktop side, expect both social networks to spend more time and energy perfecting their mobile experience.

Battle for your mobile wallet

After years of hype, we’ll finally begin to see mobile payments become a reality in 2012. PayPal is expanding its payments program to all Home Depot stores, and it’s gearing up to show off its long-awaited mobile wallet app at South-by-Southwest in a few days. Google Wallet will make its way to even more Android phones, and the carrier-backed Isis will continue to piece together its mobile payments platform.

2012 will also mark the first time most consumers get their hands on mobile payments offerings. Many have dabbled in mobile payments with Starbucks’ uber popular mobile app, but that’s a relatively simple solution. It’ll be interested to see if complete mobile wallets — which will not only handle payments, but also keep track of your purchases, loyalty cards, and wrangle special offers — actually take off with mainstream consumers.

More so than the other platform battles, there’s a ton of money at stake in mobile payments. Juniper, for example, predicts mobile payments to hit a whopping $670 billion by 2015 (with about $74 billion of that being NFC payments).

Since we’re at such a nascent stage, any mobile payment success helps to legitimize the field, according to Isis CEO Michael Abbott. In an interview with VentureBeat at the Mobile World Congress, Abbott said he didn’t think the mobile wallet war actually existed, since all mobile payments solutions are fighting against payment options consumers are already used to.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (Wi-Fi)

Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 is a 10-inch Android tablet which includes the pressure-sensitive Wacom stylus technology from the Galaxy Note 5-inch "phablet," ($299.99, 3 stars) but with a large-enough display to actually use it well.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 is a plastic-backed, 10-inch tablet that's thin at 8.9mm, but isn't on the cutting edge. The way the Note 10.1 stands out from other Android tablets is by being built specifically to draw or write on.

The pressure-sensitive "S Pen" is one of the best things about the Galaxy Note, but it's knocked out by a lack of supporting apps and by the Note's generally odd shape. On the Note 10.1, the new S Pen—a little thicker, more solid, and able to detect harder pressure on the screen—compels. The Galaxy Note also lacked software that showed off the S Pen. The 10.1, on the other hand, will come with special pen-friendly versions of Adobe Photoshop Touch and Adobe Ideas (which is like Illustrator) and will ship with available drawing apps: Zen Brush and Omni Sketch for adults, and Hello Crayon for kids.

The tablet has good pressure sensitivity, and it's responsive. There's none of the lag that so frustrated me when I was trying to test styli on Android tablets recently. The Galaxy Note 10.1 will also probably work with any other Wacom-compatible stylus, Samsung says. That makes it a potential killer tablets for artists who are already in the Wacom ecosystem.

Another new trick: the Note 10.1 has a split-screen option so you can run two apps side by side, in limited cases.

As we saw before on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus ($399, 3.5 stars), Samsung's U.S. Apps store will highlight apps in the Android Market designed for the tablet, helping to work around the lack of a good list of tablet apps in Google's store.

Spec-wise the Galaxy Note 10.1 keeps pace. It will come in Wi-Fi-only and AT&T-compatible HSPA+ models (although the company didn't confirm any U.S. carriers). It has a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, a 3-megapixel camera on the back, and a 2-megapixel camera on the front. There's an IR emitter so it can work as a TV remote. It runs Android 4.0 and will come in 16, 32, and 64GB models, all with an extra memory card slot. The 7,000-mAh battery will likely run the tablet for long periods.

Interestingly, the 1280-by-800 screen is the same resolution as the much smaller Galaxy Note's screen, but it's a lot more usable. Square inches matter. The built-in S Note program spawns a window to the right of your Web browser, so you can take notes while still surfing, for instance.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 will appear in the second quarter of this year, Samsung says. It'll cost more than the standard Galaxy Tab 10.1 ($499, 3.5 stars), so I'm expecting around $600 for the Wi-Fi-only model.

At hacking contest, Google Chrome falls to third zero-day attack (Updated)

Google's Chrome browser on Friday fell to a zero-day attack that pierced its vaunted security sandbox, the third such attack in as many days at a contest designed to test its resistance to real-world threats.

A teenage hacker who identified himself only as PinkiePie said he spent the past week and half working on the attack. It combined three previously unknown vulnerabilities to gain full system access to a Dell Inspiron laptop that ran a fully patched version of Chrome on top of the most up-to-date version of Windows 7. He spent the past three days holed up in hotel rooms and conference areas refining the attack so it would break out of the sandbox, which was designed to prevent code-execution attacks like his, even when security bugs are identified.

"These kinds of things are finicky" PinkiePie told reporters as he finished a blueberry yogurt just minutes after making his booby-trapped website display a picture of a pink pony wielding a medieval axe. He said he "got lucky" because he found a way to break out of Google's sandbox relatively early and then spent the rest of the time identifying vulnerabilities that allowed him to remotely funnel code through the system.

PinkiePie said all three of the vulnerabilities resided in code that's native to Chrome. That meant it qualified for a $60,000 prize, the top reward for the Pwnium contest Google sponsored at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver. Members of the Chrome security team started analyzing the exploit and vulnerability details within minutes of the hack. Less than 24 hours later, Google put a fix into its distribution pipeline.

"Congratulations to PinkiePie (aka PwniePie) for a beautiful piece of work to close out the Pwnium competition!" an advisory accompanying the update for Windows, Mac, and Linux versions of Chrome stated. Referring to an exploit unleashed on Wednesday, it continued: "We also believe that both submissions are works of art and deserve wider sharing and recognition."

Additional details will be published once other WebKit packages that might also be vulnerable are patched.

Google is offering prizes of $60,000, $40,000 and $20,000 under the competition in an attempt to learn new strategies for fortifying Chrome against attacks that expose sensitive user data or take control of user machines. PinkiePie is only the second contestant to enter the contest. Both have demonstrated attacks that allowed them to take control of Chrome users' machines when they do nothing more than browse to an attack site.

On Wednesday, a Russian researcher named Sergey Glaznov bundled two vulnerabilities into his own remote code-execution attack. Less than 24 hours later, Google shipped an update fixing the holes. At the separate Pwn2Own contest a few feet away, a team of researchers successfully exploited Chrome on Wednesday.It's now almost certain that attack relied on Adobe Flash to break out of the safety perimeter.

The five vulnerabilities exposed during the third and final day of the contest are miniscule compared to the overall number of bugs Chrome's security team fixes each year. A member of the team said the value of Pwnium isn't in the number of bugs that come to light, but rather in the insights that come from watching how a reliable exploit is able to slip through carefully crafted defenses.

Updated to add official comment about $60,000 prize and the release of a patch.

Google Remains King in Searches, Hearts and Minds

The bad press Google received about changes in its privacy policy hasn't hurt the search giant's popularity among Net ferrets, according to reports released Friday by comScore and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

During February, when the hysteria level about the privacy changes were at their height, Google still garnered 66.4 percent of all searches made on the Web, a slight increase over the previous month's 66.2 percent share, according to comScore.

In a distant second place was Microsoft's Bing, with 15.3 percent, compared to 15.2 percent in the previous month.

Yahoo, which uses Bing's search engine, slipped during the period, to 13.8 percent from 14.1 percent.

The Yahoo-Microsoft combined share also dropped during the month, to 29.1 percent from 29.3 percent in January.

Bringing up the rear of the standings were Ask, with a share that remained unchanged during the period at three percent, and AOL which fell to 1.5 percent from 1.6 percent.
Don't Search Me, Users Say

Pew's survey on search engines explains why Google remains the top dog in the market. It found that 83 percent of the more than 2200 people it surveyed used Google for their search needs.

Finishing behind Google in the poll was Yahoo, with 6 percent of the respondents. That's a far cry, Pew noted, from 2004 when 26 percent of those surveyed said they used Yahoo, compared to 47 percent for Google. Yahoo ditched its search engine for Bing in 2009.

Pew's survey uncovered strong negative feelings by searchers about engines collecting data about them. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the survey sample frowned on engines using data collected from them to rank future search results.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the respondents did not want engines tracking their searches to personalize them in the future and 68 percent opposed targeted advertising because they did not want their online behavior scrutinized by a search engine.

As opposed as those surveyed were to those behaviors by search engines, however, only 38 percent of them had a clue on how to limit the data collected about them on the Net.

On the plus side for search engines, confidence in search results remain relatively high. For example, 91 percent of the respondents said they found or mostly found what they were looking for with the search engine that they used.

In addition, nearly three quarters (73 percent) believed search results were accurate and trustworthy, almost two-thirds (66 percent) thought results were fair and unbiased, and more than half believed that over time the quality of search results had improved (55 percent) and that they had improved in relevance and usefulness (52 percent), too.

While the reports from comScore and Pew suggest that Google's privacy changes and the heated discussion over search engine tracking that surrounded it haven't tarnished the image of search engines among their users, the Pew survey does indicate that searchers don't want their activity on the Internet tracked nor do they want their search results tampered with based on past behaviors.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Twitter is selling your data

witter users are about to become major marketing fodder, as two research companies get set to release information to clients who will pay for the privilege of mining the data.

Boulder, Colorado-based Gnip Inc and DataSift Inc, based in the U.K. and San Francisco, are licensed by Twitter to analyze archived tweets and basic information about users, like geographic location. DataSift announced this week that it will release Twitter data in packages that will encompass the last two years of activity for its customers to mine, while Gnip can go back only 30 days.

"Harvesting what someone said a year or more ago is game-changing," said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. As details emerge on the kind of information being mined, he and other privacy rights experts are concerned about the implications of user information being released to businesses waiting to pore through it with a fine-tooth comb.

"As we see Twitter grow and social media evolve, this will become a bigger and bigger issue," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for British-based Internet security company Sophos Ltd. "Online companies know which websites we click on, which adverts catch our eye, and what we buy ... increasingly, they're also learning what we're thinking. And that's quite a spooky thought."

Twitter opted not to comment on the sale and deferred questions to DataSift. In 2010, Twitter agreed to share all of its tweets with the U.S. Library of Congress. Details of how that information will be shared publicly are still in development, but there are some stated restrictions, including a six-month delay and a prohibition against using the information for commercial purposes.

That's where DataSift comes in. More than 700 companies are on a waiting list to try out its offering, DataSift CEO Rob Bailey said in an interview with Reuters. Those who buy the data will be able to see tweets on specific topics and even isolate those views based on geography. Bailey, who is based in San Francisco, said the effect is something like holding a huge number of sporadic focus groups on brands or products.

For instance, Coca-Cola Co could look at what people in Massachusetts are saying about its Coke Zero, or Starbucks Corp could find out what people in Florida are saying about caramel lattes. Companies can also look at how they have responded to consumer complaints.

Gnip, which offers the short-term data package, said the information collected -- which involves real-time viewing -- can also be used during natural disasters to help rescuers, to monitor illnesses such as a flu outbreak and to analyze stock market sentiment.

No private conversations or deleted tweets can be accessed, Bailey said. Companies want aggregated data, not to try to figure out who said what to whom. "The only information that we make available is what's public," Bailey added. "We do not sell data for targeted advertising. I don't even know how that would work."

A digital analytics expert said the biggest impact will be for marketers. "The only privacy risk is marketers being able to do more with the data, faster," said Thomas Bosilevac, director of analytics for the digital marketing company Digitaria.

That doesn't mean everyone has to be happy about this. "It's frustrating, and telling, that now marketers have greater access to my old tweets than I do," said Rebecca Jeschke, digital rights analyst and spokeswoman for the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. "However, this is perfectly legal, if creepy. If you publish your tweets publicly, that allows all sorts of folks to do all sorts of things with them."

For people concerned that something they said will come back to haunt them, it's not too late to go back and delete old tweets. DataSift is required to regularly update its files to remove comments that have since been deleted. Unlike when you're looking for someone else's tweets, users can always see their own simply by clicking on the word "tweets."

Windows 8 could leapfrog Android to be the true iPad competitor

Samsung executive Hankii Yoon said at Mobile World Congress, "The best thing to survive in the market is to kill your products."

He was referring to new Samsung Android tablets cannibalizing older ones, but let's take that comment even further. The first tablet demonstrating Windows 8 at Mobile World Congress was a Samsung one. Sure, Samsung is playing the field, and it's made Windows tablets before. However, it only goes to show that if you're not the one vertically integrating software and hardware, it's a free-for-all as far as where tablet hardware might evolve next.

The iPad isn't going anywhere: it has huge popularity, a massive app catalog, and dominating market share going for it. However, that spot at No. 2 seems wide open. Android tablets have been far from compelling thus far, leaving the doorway open for Windows 8 tablets to stake a claim that no other Windows tablets have previously been able to capture. However, for Windows 8 to succeed as a true iPad competitor and bury Android tablets, the battle will have to be fought on several fronts:

Apps. Android has a boatload of apps, but a less-than-ideal centralized storefront and way of monetizing them. Microsoft's currently middling collection of Windows 8 apps can't compete yet, but in time, with enough development effort, Microsoft could showcase those apps and sell them in a more polished way than Android does.

Enterprise and corporate. iPads are candy to the corporate landscape for two reasons: they're sexy, and they're secure and stable. They're not perfectly geared to productivity, but they're close enough. Android tablets have come in so many varieties and so many operating system variants that it numbs any corporate adoption. If Microsoft can settle on a few tablet designs from OEMs and a unified, stable OS (promising security features to boot), it could be seriously attractive to business.

Backward compatibility. The ability to run older Windows applications (for x86 tablets, not ARM) is huge. I remember sitting through tons of meetings with vendors who explained why their ugly Windows tablet of old was used by businesses that ran older software and enjoyed the cross-compatibility. Running Microsoft Office, in its real-deal form, is bigger than most people realize. OnLive Desktop is a cloud-based service on the iPad and Android that runs Windows 7 remotely...chiefly for its Microsoft Office applications, and its retention of features like red-line edits. A Windows 8 tablet could do that.

True keyboard/mouse compatibility. The iPad can't use a mouse. Android tablets can, but to a limited degree. Stand up a Windows 8 tablet and pair a keyboard and mouse, and a true mobile computer could be set up. We've seen that before on Windows 7 tablets, so what's the big deal now? Well, back then, those Windows 7 tablets excelled at keyboard/mouse connectivity but were lousy with UI, battery life, and touch-based apps. Windows 8 aims to address those problems this time around, though it remains to be seen how Intel's tablet processors will perform.

For all these reasons--especially the business market--I can't help but imagine Windows tablets rising up to finally overtake Android, and creating a Microsoft-Apple battleground for the next decade. On the consumer side, I expect Android tablets to get squeezed by cheaper and more brand-friendly "super e-readers" like the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Google's Andy Rubin may plan to double down on tablets, but Microsoft seems ready to do the same. Android phones may own half of the smartphone landscape, but there have been only 12 million Android tablets sold, compared with more than 48 million iPads in 2011 alone. Opportunity is there for the taking to be No. 2. And, if Microsoft swoops in and takes that market away from Android, Google will have no one but itself to blame.

Remember Netbooks? Those used to all run Linux.

Facebook Launches New Ad Platform

The world’s largest social network platform, Facebook Inc., launched a new strategy of advertising on Feb. 29, engaging leading brand names such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Starbucks Corp.

Messages from businesses will feed into users’ Facebook page when they hit the “Like” button, and news feeds will be activated and offers and notices will be available direct to consumers.

This new product is called “Premium,” and marks the first possibility for ads to appear on mobile phones as well as on the log-out screen, and changes will be visible from April onward.

There are more than 400 million users who utilize their mobile devices to access the social networking site, according to Facebook estimates.

The timing of this advertising initiative is strategic, as it is prior to the company’s initial public offering (IPO) of stock, which is predicted to occur in the next quarter. Reports have indicated that the IPO could value the company at around $100 billion, and likely to raise at least $5 billion. As such, this strategy could allow potential investors to see Facebook’s advertising potential.

One of the key distinguishing features of Facebook’s new advertising methodology is an emphasis on integration into the conversation of the user’s network. There are still permanent advertisements placed on pages that have their own role in promoting products and services, and this format will remain.

According to Facebook’s vice president of product, Chris Cox, “The definition of the word ‘advertise’ is to draw attention to. … The definition of a story is narration, which you’d think is what people prefer.”

Facebook’s latest advertising technique also can be considered more measurable and is designed to provide more insight into consumer behavior and generate results when it comes to action-orientated or response-driven campaigns. Premium is said to enhance user engagement by five to ten times more than traditional ad space on the website.

The majority of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook’s income is sourced from advertising sales, which contributed to around 85 percent of its total revenues of $37 billion in fiscal year 2011.

Chinese users occupy President Obama's Google+ page

Summary: Chinese users have taken to flooding President Barack Obama’s Google+ page with requests for aid, thoughts on current events, and flattery.

Apparently taking advantage of loosening security in the country’s comprehensive Great Firewall of censorship, Chinese citizens have flocked to President Barack Obama’s Google+ page to leave a veritable flood of comments, most flattering.

It’s not exactly clear why or when the Chinese government opened Google+ to citizens, or why these new users have chosen President Obama’s official reelection campaign page as their rallying point. But the comments come in waves, and most posts to the page quickly hit the maximum limit of 500 comments. And as you may expect, most of these comments have been left under what appear to be pseudonyms.

English-language website ChinaSMACK translated several of the comments, but due to high traffic, the site’s availability has been sporadic. Fortunately, the Washington Post rounded up several of the most representative comments left by Chinese users:

“Dear President Obama, when will you send troops to liberate China?”
“Mr. President, we long for America’s freedom.”
“Hello Mr. President, I am Chinese. I hope that when you are dealing with the Chinese government that you won’t only focus on economic interests. The people here also need freedom and democracy. We need a free internet and a safeguarded life that is not too hard. Hope you can do your best to help us, thank you.”
“Obama, you do not contribute to world peace, but earlier get the Nobel peace prize, do not you feel ridiculous?”

As you can see, the comments range from fawning to mischievous to thoughtful. More than a few ask for a Green Card or American citizenship. And, of course, there are a few Americans who resent these Chinese users posting in their native language as opposed to English - or who simply use it as an opportunity for sarcasm.
The Chinese news media has been tracking these Google+ occupiers, and it doesn’t appear that the flood is going to level off any time soon. Facebook may have more of the social networking market than Google+, but apparently China sees a lot of value in the platform as a means of communication with the world outside the Great Firewall.

Mozilla Introduces Browser Add-on To Fight Google's New Spying Policy

Most people don't like reading long privacy policy descriptions online. Understandable. But if you were one of the few individuals who actually clicked that annoying little pop-up link that Google has been throwing in everyone's face for the last few weeks, then you got a glimpse at the future of corporate espionage.

Clearly the folks at Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox web browser, clicked that link.

Here's what we know: Google brings in about $28 billion in advertising revenue. The new changes to its privacy policy are designed to push that figure even higher by providing corporate advertisers with increased access to your web browsing habits. The bold move comes amidst widespread concern that corporate data harvesting has gotten way out of hand and may even be illegal in some countries.

In response to Google's latest spying (some would say "tracking") efforts, Mozilla has unveiled a new add-on that provides web surfers the ability to see which companies are recording their browsing history.

The new add-on is called Collusion and allows users to fight back, in a sense. Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs says the software is designed to "pull back the curtain" on advertising firms and companies that track the public's online activity.

While Collusion won't stop the spying, it will at least give users a view of who is watching their clicks across the Internet.

"Collusion is an experimental add-on for Firefox and allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web," said Mozilla in an official press release. "It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers."

Mozilla has stated that its long-term goal is to construct a database of the worst spying offenders. That database would then be available to the public and could be used to shape buying habits and mount potential boycotts.

Collusion's debut was well-timed to coincide with increased international pushback against Google's plans to stream consumer data from web browsers and smart phones straight to corporate Adsense clients. A coalition of consumer groups from across Europe and the U.S. sent a letter to the web giant this week asking that it rethink the controversial new policy that the coalition described as "unfair and unwise."

Google responded to the criticism in a blog post saying, "Our privacy policies have always allowed us to combine information from different products with your account - effectively using your data to provide you with better service. However, we've been restricted in our ability to combine your YouTube and Search histories with other information in your account."

However the clash of the internet titans ultimately plays out, it seems clear now that Google may be in danger of violating their self-imposed first commandment to "Never be evil." If public perception turns on them, Mozilla is well positioned to don the mantle of consumer advocate and become the premiere defender of web privacy.

Update AdSense Ad Unit Code Or Miss Out

Update your AdSense ad unit code if you don’t want to miss out on some key features. That’s the message Google is trying to get across with a new video it uploaded to its Inside AdSense Channel.

If you’re not using the updated code, there are certain tools you won’t be able to use, Google explains.

“Click into the ‘My Ads’ tab,” Google says in the video. “If you don’t see any data listed for one or more of your sites in the ‘Ad Unit’ section, you’re using the old ad code. This means you’re missing out on some key features in the ‘Performance Reports’ tab, such as ad units, which shows performance for your individual customized units and ad sizes reports, which show which ad sizes perform best on your site.”

“Additionally, anytime you want to change the style of your ad, you also need to change the code on your page,” Google says. “With the new code, the settings of your ad units are saved within your AdSense account by name and unique ad ID, so you can apply the same code to multiple pages across your site, and make changes just once.”

To update your code, click the “import old ad code” link under the “My Ads” tab, paste your old ad code into the box, give it a descriptive name, and click import to create a new unit with the same settings, then replace the code on your new pages, and save.

Both Mormon church, anti-Mormon group buy Google ads targeting Romney

Both the Mormon Church and an anti-Mormon group have purchased advertisements on Google targeting Internet users searching for information about Mitt Romney.

A search for videos on Google using the search term "Romney" brings up keyword-targeted ads promoting, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

Another ad sends users to, a website controlled by Witnesses for Jesus, Inc. That group deems neither Mormons nor Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christians and works to expose what it calls deception by those religious groups.

"We offer our research into the history and doctrines of Mormonism as a loving attempt to alert unsuspecting Mormons and potential converts to this deception so they can be liberated from the seduction of evil spirits," reads the group's website.

Google’s AdSense service allows advertisers to place ads alongside the results of specific search terms. The ads are purchased through an auction, which determines the price to target any given keyword.

The church's decision to advertise alongside Romney-related search terms is striking because of its previous attempts to steer clear of political issues, especially as they pertain to Romney, who has avoided emphasizing his Mormon faith out of concern it could alienate some voters.

Romney's faith has come up time and again on the campaign trail, usually when controversial comments by those supporting Romney's rivals have attracted widespread attention. A prominent pastor called Mormonism a cult while endorsing Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who dropped out of the race in January. And Newt Gingrich's Iowa political director had to step aside after making pejorative comments about Romney and Mormonism.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Study: Facebook users getting less friendly

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about the social network's new messaging service at a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday.


Women are much more likely than men to restrict their profiles. Pew found that 67 percent of women set their profiles so that only their “friends” can see it. Only 48 percent of men did the same.

Think all that time in school taught you something? People with the highest levels of education reported having the most difficulty figuring out their privacy settings. That said, only 2 percent of social media users described privacy controls as “very difficult to manage.”

The report found no significant differences in people’s basic privacy controls by age. In other words, younger people were just as likely to use privacy controls as older people. Sixty-two percent of teens and 58 percent of adults restricted access to their profiles to friends only.

Young adults were more likely than older people to delete unwanted comments. Fifty-six percent of social media users aged 18 to 29 said they have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with 40 percent of those aged 30 to 49 and 34 percent of people aged 50 to 64.

Men are more likely to post something they later regret. Fifteen percent of male respondents said they posted something regrettable, compared with 8 percent of female respondents.

Possibly proving that with age comes wisdom, young adults were more likely to post something regrettable than their older counterparts. Fifteen percent of social network users aged 18 to 29 said they have posted something regrettable. Only 5 percent of people over 50 said the same thing.

Pew’s phone survey of 2,277 adults was conducted in April and May 2011. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The data about teens came from a separate phone survey Pew conducted with teenagers and their parents.

Whether it’s pruning friends lists, removing unwanted comments or restricting access to their profiles, Americans are getting more privacy-savvy on social networks, a new report found.

The report released Friday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that people are managing their privacy settings and their online reputation more often than they did two years earlier. For example, 44 percent of respondents said in 2011 that they deleted comments from their profile on a social networking site. Only 36 percent said the same thing in 2009.

The findings come a day after the Obama administration called for stronger privacy protections for people who use the Internet, mobile devices and other technologies with increasingly sophisticated ways of tracking them. Pew’s findings suggest that people not only care about their privacy online but that, given the tools, they will also try to manage it.

Along those lines is “profile pruning,” which Pew reports is on the rise. Nearly two-thirds of people on social networks said last year that they had deleted friends, up from 56 percent in 2009. And more people are removing their names from photos than two years ago. This practice is especially common on Facebook, where users can add names of their friends to photos they upload.

Nokia, Google Ventures And Others Put $10.7M In ‘AdSense For Images,’ Luminate

Luminate, a photo tagging service that has been called an “AdSense for Images,” has raised $10.7 million in Series C funding led by Nokia Growth Partners with participation from existing investors August Capital, CMEA Capital, Google Ventures and Shasta Ventures. With this new round of financing, Nokia Growth Partners, Managing Partner Paul Asel will join Luminate’s Board of Directors.

Luminate, which rebranded from Pixazza last year, allows publishers to identify, tag and match products found within online images on their sites and then link them back to the inventories of Luminate’s network of advertisers. The service, which can be integrated in a site by adding a single line of code, allows consumers to browse the photos featured on a site and mouse over it to reveal information and pricing about similar products, and if desired, click to purchase.

Last year, Luminate debuted in-image applications, which allowed publishers to make images even more interactive and engaging. So when a consumer sees the Luminate icon in the corner of an image, it indicates that the image is interactive. Consumers can mouse into the image and choose from a variety of image apps. These could include the ability to share an image or link to Twitter, discover statistics about their favorite athletes, see where to purchase similar products to those featured in a photo, access more information about a particular event, read more content about the people or places featured in an image, listen to music or see a movie trailer related to an image.

Today, Luminate is debuting an Image App Store to provide a central location for publishers to browse and choose the specific image apps they wish to leverage for their sites. Luminate also released eleven new image apps, including those for Causes, Netflix, and Wikipedia, designed specifically for interacting with the trillions of images across the web.

The Image App Store runs on the Luminate platform, which allows consumers to launch applications within individual images on their favorite websites. The apps available on the Luminate platform allow consumers to conduct their everyday online activities such as shopping, sharing, commenting and navigating directly from images, as well as to facilitate entirely new services made possible by the development of apps specifically for images.

Through the company’s network of publishers, Luminate now reaches more than 150 million unique users per month, and is seeing a rate of 30 billion image views per year. Luminate currently works with over 7,000 publishers, including Us Weekly, Hearst Digital Media and Access Hollywood.

“The most successful technologies are ultimately platforms,” explains Luminate CEO, Bob Lisbonne. “We were the first to introduce interactive image apps, and the image app store is the logical next step. He tells us that this year, Luminate will expand its platform to third-party developers with an API.

Lisbonne adds the new funding will be used for product development, to expand the startup’s publisher network and broaden its relationships with brand advertisers.

Google Kills Hosted AdSense for Domains on Undeveloped Sites

Google sent out a message today to publishers using Adsense for Domains. After nearly 4 years of running the program, the company has decided to discontinue their hosted Adsense for Domains on undeveloped domain names. The company is recommending migrating your domain names to a parking company.

Domainers relished the release of the Adsense for Domains program as a possible way to “cut out the middle man” and bypass the parking companies, but most domainers who spoke with DNN have found that the program provided no additional benefits.

One part of the announcement that seems puzzling, Google claims that the “benefits to our partner network” don’t make sense to continue, yet Google recommends switching to parking domains through a parking company that uses a Google feed. Google is in essence including the middle-man in this scenario. The parking companies may be adding the benefit of aggregation, optimization and fraud screening that Google does not handle, but it would seem that this skill-set is in Google’s “wheelhouse” . After 4 years they could have easily handled these tasks if not great improved upon the optimization and screening already being done by smaller players.

See the full message from Google after the jump.

We’re contacting you because you’re using AdSense for Domains to monetize your undeveloped domains. After evaluating the benefits of our partner network, we’ve decided to retire the Hosted domains product within AdSense. Going forward, undeveloped domains will only be served through our existing AdSense for Domains distribution network.

Our records show that XXX of your Hosted domains will be affected by this upcoming change, which will follow the schedule below:

March 21: You’ll no longer be able to create new Hosted domains

April 18: Hosted domains will become inactive and it’ll no longer be possible to earn from them

June 27: Hosted domains will no longer be available in AdSense accounts

To continue monetizing your undeveloped domains, you can migrate your domain portfolio to any domain parking provider. Find out how in our Migration Guide:

Please note that this upcoming change won’t affect any other AdSense products you’re currently using or the availability of other products to you. In addition, reporting on your Hosted domains will remain available throughout the schedule above and for a period following the retirement.

For more information see the Help Center. We appreciate your understanding and thank you for your patience as we continue to develop new features and offerings within AdSense.


The Google AdSense Team

Google Shutting Down Hosted AdSense For Domains Program

Google is emailing participants in its hosted AdSense for Domains (AFD) today to inform them that the sometimes-controversial program is headed for closure in mid-April. The change will only affect domains that Google hosted.

“After evaluating the benefits of our partner network, we’ve decided to retire the Hosted domains product within AdSense,” Google wrote in the email. “Going forward, undeveloped domains will only be served through our existing AdSense for Domains distribution network.”

Google linked to a migration guide on its site (some links from which are not currently functioning), which advises that hosted domain AdSense participants move their sites to other third-party domain parking providers, such as DomainSponsor or Sedo, which already have relationships with Google to serve ads.

After April 18, Hosted domains will become inactive and owners will no longer be able to earn from them. On July 27, AdSense users will no longer be able to see the Hosted domains in their accounts. Account holders will not be able to create new Hosted after March 21.

It’s not clear what is happening, if anything, to AdSense for Domain participants who do not have their domains hosted by Google. We’ve reached out to Google for some clarification and will update when we hear back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Yandex, Google’s Russian Rival, Is Twitter’s New Real-Time Search Partner

A significant step for Twitter in its international growth: Yandex, Russia’s search giant, today announced that it will carry Twitter data in all of its search results.

The news also underscores one possible route to revenue generation for Twitter: Yandex describes this as a licensing deal. The terms of it were not disclosed but Microsoft reportedly paid Twitter $30 million for a similar search agreement.

The agreement with Yandex will see Twitter’s data firehose appear both in Yandex’s blog search, as well as through a dedicated URL,

The Yandex agreement is similar to the real-time Twitter search that used to be offered by Google — a partnership that ended last year around the time that Google was launching its own Google+ service.

Yandex says it has licensed the “full feed of all public tweets,” covering all languages — but seems to highlight specifically those tweets that are in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian or Kazakh, covering tweets from more than two million users. People will be able to search by usernames and hashtags, too. In total, Twitter has around 100 million active users, covering some 250 million tweets per day.

This looks like Twitter’s first big deal with a Russian portal, and could point to more local partnerships of its kind — useful for Twitter extending its coverage and usefulness beyond its home market and English.

For Yandex, the Twitter deal gives the search giant — which currently has around 60 percent of the market in Russia — a leg up in its own strategy to do more in social networking: Yandex already offers people Google-like features to share news and other content and this will enhance that.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Google AdSense In Your City Goes International: Coming to Europe, Australia and more

Back in mid-2010, Google announced the AdSense in Your City program. This is a series of events, which brings Google to various cities to work closely with publishers on best practices, give tips, and whatnot.

The initiative began in Mountain View, then expanded into places like Santa Monica, Chicago, New York and Boston.

About a month ago, Google announced that it was kicking off its North American tour for the series, with dates in Portland, Victoria, New Orleans, and Albuquerque.

Today, Google announced a more global initiative for the series. Events will be coming to Amsterdam, Bogota, Melbourne and Vienna.

“There’s plenty more to come in 2012 as well, when we’ll be visiting Auckland, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, Mexico City, Paris, and Sydney, just to name a few,” says Arlene Lee of Google’s Inside AdSense team. “Members of the AdSense team will share the latest product updates and offer 1-to-1 optimization consultations, and you’ll hear from experts on areas such as DFP Small Business, Mobile, YouTube, and Webmaster Tools. You’ll also have the chance to meet other local publishers during the day to share your experiences.”

If you need an invite to an event, Google has a form here you can fill out to request one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Google Defends Privacy Policy Consolidation

Responding to concerns expressed by members of Congress about its forthcoming privacy policy consolidation, Google on on Monday sent a 13-page letter to eight members of the House of Representatives. Pablo Chavez, Google's director of public policy, characterized the letter in a blog post as an attempt to clear up confusion about what the company is trying to do by combining more than 60 separate privacy policies into a single policy and similarly unifying multiple terms of service documents.

When Google last week announced its intent to clean up its privacy policies on March 1, Google privacy director for products and engineering Alma Whitten explained that the company "may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services." This will allow service personalization in one Google service to be informed by data from a different Google service, and hopefully provide a better user experience across products.

As an example, Google in its letter notes that its current privacy policies would not allow it to recommend cooking videos on YouTube to a signed-in user who had previously been searching for cooking recipes.

Harmless though that may sound, Google's plan has elicited concern from government officials, in part because Google is under the microscope at the moment. Regulators in the U.S. and Europe are presently investigating whether the company is conducting its search business in an anti-competitive manner. Google has also invited such scrutiny through the introduction of a search feature called Search plus Your World, which mixes Google+ posts and images in Google search results, to the potential detriment of competitors like Facebook and Twitter.

Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), among others, issued a statement last week questioning how much control Google users have over their personal information and asserting that users must be able to decide whether they want their information shared across Google services.

Google's letter assures lawmakers that its commitment to protecting the privacy of its users has not changed and that the upcoming changes will lead to a better experience for users. At the same time, the letter confirms that users will not be able to opt-out of the forthcoming change.

"If people continue to use Google services after March 1, they'll be doing so under the updated privacy policy," the letter states in response to a question about the possibility of opting out. "The use of a primary privacy policy that covers many products and enables the sharing of data between them is an industry standard approach adopted by companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Apple."

But the letter goes on to point out that more than 30 Google services, such as Google Search and YouTube, can be used without signing in to a Google Account, thereby precluding the collection of personal data beyond the user's IP address.

It also points out some of the tools Google provides to help users control how their personal information is stored and used, like Google's Dashboard and Ad Preferences Manager, the privacy features supported in Chrome and Gmail, and the company's Data Liberation service, which provides a way to export most Google data.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Google to Korea: Show Yourself on the Web

It’s hard to believe that anybody with a Web site would not want use a global search engine to attract attention to it. But then, the South Korean government isn’t anybody.

One of the strange hangovers of the let’s-block-competitors-and-do-everything-ourselves mentality that is thankfully declining in South Korea is that when government agencies were building Web sites in the 1990s and early 2000s, they blocked access to global search engines.

Part of the thinking, no doubt, was that this would cause South Koreans to favor local search engines rather than the global players like Google and Yahoo. South Korea-based Naver and Daum do dominate the nation’s Web search market and control its online advertising market.

South Korean companies, driven by the commercial imperative of trying to snag as many eyeballs and users to their Web offerings as possible, long ago made sure their Web sites could be seen, indexed and prioritized by global search engines. And when there’s a big news story in either of the Koreas, we’ve noticed that some South Korean media organizations have become skilled at optimizing their headlines and story placement to draw attention to themselves on the news pages of Google, Yahoo and Bing.

In recent months, Google has stepped up its effort to persuade holdout South Korean Web sites to let its search robot crawl their sites, index their pages and present them to users of the Google search engine.

On Monday night, one of Google’s top engineers, Matt Cutts, gave a presentation to about 80 government officials, attorneys, webmasters and journalists to illustrate the problem. “If a country turns away from the open Web, it risks turning into an island,” Mr. Cutts said.

A South Korean newspaper last month carried a story with a list that showed near half of the government’s web sites blocked access to search engines. Among the quickest to change after that article was the presidential web site, although the Blue House web gurus still haven’t figured out how to maximize their exposure as a search for “President Lee Myung-bak” on Google, Yahoo and Bing still returns his Wikipedia biography first.

Mr. Cutts dismissed concerns that hackers might find their way to Korean Web sites via Google’s search engine. He noted that hackers tend to target Web sites by using IP address numbers rather than domain names.

And when a reporter suggested Korea’s search engines do a better job of protecting privacy than Google, Mr. Cutts replied that Google has developed many tools to help webmasters identify whether private information is appearing on their site.

One of those in the audience was Kang Min-koo, a senior judge in the Seoul High Court. When he saw the court’s Web site was on Mr. Cutts’ list of government sites that couldn’t be indexed by Google – and thus couldn’t be found on a Google search – he sent a text message by phone to the court’s webmaster ordering it to be changed.

Since the change can be made by altering just a few lines of software code, the webmaster had it done in no time. When it came time for questions, Mr. Kang asked Mr. Cutts to check if the High Court’s site showed up on Google – and it did.

“That’s amazing,” Mr. Cutts said, calling it an example of South Korea’s “balli balli,” or hurry-up, culture and promising to use the experience in future speeches.

When an attorney from one of the country’s most prominent firms asked if other countries also blocked Google from listing their Web sites, Mr. Cutts said South Korea was unique among the developed, prominent countries of the world as “one of the few that has done more blocking.”

Of course, the issue is a competitive one for Google. If it can’t deliver prominent Korean web sites in its search engine, Koreans or people who are interested in Korean content are less likely to use Google.

Mr. Cutts appealed to the vanity and pride of those in his audience in his appeal. “If Korea opens up a little bit more, more people will realize how important it is,” he said.

That’s true on so many levels of society and in so many facets of business that it’s just part of the conventional wisdom among foreigners who live and work in South Korea – and just another example of why Korea wasn’t called the Hermit Kingdom for nothing.

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