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.

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