Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Twitter Now Censoring Tweets


CEO of Twitter Dick Costolo announced on Monday, January 30 at the “Dive Into Media” conference that was hosted by All Things D that Twitter’s ability to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis is not meant to be a way to proactively filter out content.

There has been a lot of backlash from Twitter users after the micro-blogging site announced that it now has the ability to block any tweets that go against the restrictions on speech that some countries have. Costolo went on to explain that this new policy will allow Twitter to handle government requests to remove certain contents from Twitter in a much more transparent manner.

"This is purely a reactive capability, we don't proactively go do anything," Costolo said.

So now, when Twitter is issued a legal takedown of certain content, the company will be able to hide that content from users in the specific country that requested the takedown, while everyone else not in that country will still be able to see the content.

"There has been no change in our stance or attitude or policy with respect to content on Twitter," Costolo said. He added that Twitter believes "this is the most honest, transparent, and forward-looking way for a company to deal with the myriad of complex issues around the world that you experience when you have to operate in these countries."

Costolo said that such a policy is necessary for Twitter to be able to operate in certain countries. However, he went on to explain that this policy is not an attempt for Twitter to expand into China, where Twitter is currently banned.

"I don't think the current environment in China is one in which we think we could operate," he said. "We would love for people in China to be able to use Twitter the way we want them to be able to use it, which is speaking freely and letting their voices be heard by as many people around the world as possible, we would love that."

While Costolo was being interviewed, he also discussed several other topics, including Twitter’s stance on the use of the social media site in the 2012 election.
"I really think 2012 is going to be the Twitter election," he said.

So far, almost all of the Republican presidential candidates have utilized Twitter.
"Candidates that don't participate on Twitter while the conversation is happening will be left behind," Costolo said. "Tomorrow morning will be too late to react to what was said the day before."

Costolo also made sure to mention that Twitter is not concerned with its competition. It is focusing only on itself. "We are going to be really patient about the way we build the business," he said. "We are trying to build a decades-long, lasting business."

Sources: All Things D - Twitter’s Dick Costolo on Ads, Censorship and Google (Video) and PCMag - Twitter CEO Talks Censoring Tweets, Politics, and IPOs



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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

McDonald's Kicks Off #LittleThings Twitter Campaign

Needless to say, McDonald's last foray into Twitter campaigns didn't exactly pan out. The campaign, themed #McDstories, garnered harsh criticism, but this hasn't stopped the restaurant giant from starting a brand new Twitter campaign on Wednesday. This new attempt is known as #LittleThings and was introduced with the following tweet on McDonald's official Twitter page, "No line at the bank, a large tax refund, & those extra fries at the bottom of the bag. What are some #LittleThings that bring you joy?"

Naturally, this campaign slogan, if you will, has a very wide berth for interpretation, which could prove devastating for McDonald's. However, very few people have used the campaign to openly bash the fast food giant or by going in different directions with the hashtag. Some of the responses to the campaign include "a good cup of coffee" and "a child's laugh."

These are drastically more positive than the stories of the $McDstories campaign, which produced wonderful mental images of "Fingernail in my Big Mac once" and "ordered a McDouble. Something in the damn thing chipped my molar." However, there may be another problem with this Twitter campaign aside from horror stories of the restaurant. DoublTree by Hilton also recently launched a campaign on Twitter with the same hashtag.

McDonald's currently has 300,000 followers on Twitter as well as 13.8 million fans on Facebook, numbers that can be attributed to strong brand recognition. However, McDonald's has also been largely tentative with its use of social media. This trend started to slowly change last year when the LivingSocial deal was launched, offering a booklet of five Big Mac vouchers and five vouchers for large fries for $13, or half of the original price. In addition to that, McDonald's ran a program in December crowdsourcing 10 mini-movies that promoted the newest addition to the McDonald's menu, McBites.

More information about McDonald's social media strategy is on the horizon according to the company's social media director Rick Winon, who also stated, "We are actually launching a larger-scale social effort for a new menu item that includes but goes far beyond Twitter soon."

Source: Mashable - McDonald's Follows Twitter Fiasco With Another Hashtag Campaign
Round Rocket Media - McDonald's Follows Twitter Fiasco With Another Hashtag Campaign

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Google and Gmail Users Required to Create a Google+ Account


It’s not a huge surprise, but just recently Google enabled users signing up for an account with Google to be automatically signed up for a Google+ account as well. Whether users are signing up for a Gmail account or simply a generic Google account, they will be given a Google+ account as well, whether they want it or not.

On Friday, January 20 a Google spokesperson stated that Google has been working on this new setup since November. He also discussed how there will now be just two main entry points for Google, Gmail and Google+.

"We're working to develop a consistent sign-up flow across our different products as part of our efforts to create an intuitive, beautifully simple, Google-wide user experience," the Google spokesman said. "Making it quick and easy to create a Google Account and a Google profile enables new users to take advantage of everything Google can offer."

In the past Google has worked to integrate its many services to provide users with the best possible experience. Users have been able to share Picasa pictures or YouTube videos via Google+; however, it seems as though Google is taking it to a whole different level of integration with these new steps.

"Your Google Account is more than just Search," Google said. "Talk, chat, share, schedule, store, organize, collaborate, discover and create. Use Google products from Gmail to Google+ to YouTube, view your search history, all with one username and password, all backed up all the time and easy to find at (you guessed it) Google.com."

As of right now, Google Wallet is not one of the services that is integrated into merely signing up for a Google or Gmail account; however, it is currently listed as being available “soon.”

I think that this is a pretty good ploy from Google to boost its Google+ numbers. The Google social networking site is about 800 million users behind Facebook, but numbers are definitely increasing. Google announced that on Thursday, January 19 Google+ currently has 90 million users. This is an increase of 50 million people since November 2011.

"Google+ total U.S. visits reached more than 49 million in December, a 55 percent increase from November 2011," Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence service, mentioned recently.

Sources: Google Operating System Blog - New Google Accounts Require Gmail and Google+ and PCMag - Signing Up for Gmail Now Means Signing Up for Google+


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Friday, January 20, 2012

Google AdSense, Panda Teams Out of Sync

Credit Suisse in its most recent report dated today January 20, 2012, believes that Google's Q1 algorithm change, code named Panda, was the cause of its 4.5% Google Network revenue growth forecast miss. 

The Google Network is a large group of websites and other products, such as email programs and blogs, who have partnered with Google to display Adsense ads. Panda is a change to the Google's search results ranking algorithm that was first released in February 2011.
The 4Q11 revenue performance was fueled primarily by Google Site revenues of $7.3 billion (up 29% year over year) vs. our  $7.7 billion estimate. Revenue from the Google Network totaled $2.9 billion, improving 15% year over year, but 4.5% under our $3.0 billion estimate. We believe that Google Network revenues was affected by the change (in 1Q11) to its algorithm to focus on sites with higher-quality content.  Credit Suisse
Panda aimed to lower the rank of "low-quality sites", and return higher-quality sites near the top of the search results. This change reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12 percent of all search results according to Steven Levy of Wired.com.

 
Image: (left) Google Adsense Support, This "heat map" illustrates the ideal placing on a sample page layout. Note the small area for primary content. (right) Google Panda Team suggests fewer ads and more content. 

The Adsense group at Google is separate from Google Search. The Google Search quality team put together the Panda update.  Website publishers receive mixed messages from Google.

The Adsense team advises users to 'put ads all over the site, while the Panda team is looking for quality websites with more high quality content rather than sites with little content and lots of ads.

It is logical that Adsense revenues would be adversely impacted by devaluing low quality sites that contain lots of ads and promoting sites with better content but lower ad quantity.

What doesn't make sense (coming from a shareholder point of view) is doing something that negatively impacts revenue without communicating the goal changes with the Google Adsense Team. Its like one hand doesn't know what the other is doing.

An example:

At the June 2011 SMX Search Marketing Expo in Seattle, Google Search Engineer Matt Cutts had this to say, "There's this mass perception outside the search industry that there's too much low quality stuff in the search results."

I guess Adsense, being outside the search marketing industry, didn't get the memo that they should be advising their publishers a better way to place their ads. 

As a Google stockholder, a customer and a vendor, it is essential that Google Network and Google Search get on the same page. For a better world, and a higher stock price, we need one consistent signal about content from Google, not two.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Summify is Acquired By Twitter


On Thursday, January 19 Twitter confirmed that it has acquired a company called Summify. Summify is a service that sorts through your social media profile to find some of the most relevant updates and statuses and sends them to either your inbox or an iPhone app.

Summify looks at all of the items that your friends have shared on Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader, monitors how often the items have been shared and then looks at how often they have been shared by all users of the network. This is how the service decides what is most relevant and interesting to you.

"We're excited that Summify has joined Twitter," a Twitter spokesperson said. "Cristian Strat and Mircea Pasoi have created a product that curates the best and most important stories in your Twitter timeline and Facebook newsfeed. Cristian, Mircea and their team of three engineers will join our Growth team and explore ways to help people connect and engage with relevant, timely news."

Summify also expressed their opinions about the deal in a blog post that was released on January 19.

"Our long-term vision at Summify has always been to connect people with the most relevant news for them, in the most time efficient manner," Summify wrote. "As hundreds of millions of people worldwide are signing up and consuming Twitter, we realized it's the best platform to execute our vision at a truly global scale. Since Twitter shared this vision with us, joining the company made perfect sense."

Summify went on to discuss that the service will be shutting down in the next few weeks, and it is no longer allowing new registrations. The company also said that it has already disabled some of the features that Summify users used to enjoy. The blog post stated, “We will keep the email summaries for a few more weeks, but at some point we will shut down the current Summify product. In the meantime, if you’re a user of Summify, you’ll still receive your summaries just like before.”

Summify was comprised of a five-person team that was located in Vancouver; however, the team will soon be relocating to San Francisco where they will be joining the Twitter Growth team. There they will “continue to explore ways to help people connect and engage with relevant, timely news.”

“It has been an incredible journey,” the company said.

Sources: Summify - Summify Joins The Flock At Twitter! and PCMag - Twitter Acquires News Aggregator Summify


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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Facebook Is a Good Information Source


Do you get tired of all of the whiny Facebook statuses that people post about their breakups and the constant sports-related updates about teams that you could care less about? Do you feel like every time that you get on Facebook and scroll through your news feed that you pretty much see the same basic things that you see every time that you get on? Although Facebook may seem like what PCMag refers to as an “echo chamber,” research was just released that says differently.

The newly released research states that Facebook actually provides its users with the opportunity for exposure to a variety of different viewpoints, instead of just being a constant stream of things that have nothing to do with you or your interests. That may be some of the things that you see, but it definitely isn’t all of it.

"We found that even though people are more likely to consume and share information that comes from close contacts that they interact with frequently (like discussing a photo from last night's party), the vast majority of information comes from contacts that they interact with infrequently," Facebook's Eytan Bakshy wrote in a blog post. "These distant contacts are also more likely to share novel information, demonstrating that social networks can act as a powerful medium for sharing new ideas, highlighting new products and discussing current events."

People within your social circle can be a very good source of information. Bakshy wrote, “Economic sociologist Mark Granovetter was one of the first to popularize the use of social networks in understanding the spread of information. In his seminal 1973 paper, The Strength of Weak Ties, Granovetter found that surprisingly, people are more likely to acquire jobs that they learned about through individuals they interact with infrequently rather than their close personal contacts.”

He goes on to discuss how restraining oneself to a small group of close personal contacts can really limit your prospects for discovering information. It is very likely that you will discover something that you never have seen and never would have thought of via mere acquaintances rather than close friends. This is because, most likely, your friends have very similar interests to you.

“We are exposed to and spread more information from our distant contacts than our close friends," Bakshy wrote. "Since these distant contacts tend to be different from us, the bulk of information we consume and share comes from people with different perspectives."

"This may provide some comfort to those who worry that social networks are simply an echo chamber where people are only exposed to those who share the same opinions," he stated in conclusion.

Sources: PCMag - Facebook Actually Useful, Not An Echo Chamber and Facebook Data - Rethinking Information Diversity in Networks



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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Facebook Tracking Its Users' Online Activity?


Two Congressmen have said that Facebook is dodging the question concerning whether or not the site tracks its member activities when online in order to provide advertising directly targeted at each individual user.

Edward Markey, Democratic representative for Massachusetts, and Joe Barton, Republican representative from Texas, are co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. They are currently stating that they are simply unsatisfied with the answers that Facebook has been providing to the questions that have been raised. In February there was a patent application that was filed by Facebook that suggested that the social media giant was tracking the websites that its users browse throughout the day. According to Facebook, this is not the case, and although the company has denied that it tracks its users, lawmakers are saying that Facebook seems to be “refusing” to explain why they filed the patent application.

“Facebook’s seems to be saying one thing and doing another,” Barton said in a statement. “In the company’s response, it talks a lot about how they don’t currently ‘track’ users online, but they just asked for a patent that would allow them to do just that. Why ask for something you don’t ever plan on using?”

In November Markey and Barton wrote to Facebook questioning the submission of the patent application. In response, Erin Egan, the chief privacy officer at Facebook, claimed that the company collected information about its members for “internal operations,” which included things like analysis, research and development.

“The practice of obtaining patents on inventions without launching products based on them is common in the technology industry, and no conclusions should be drawn about a company's practices, products or services from the patents it files, acquires or holds in its portfolio," Egan said in the Dec. 21 response letter, which was made public on Monday, January 9, 2011.

Markey and Barton have said that they still are not satisfied with the answers that Facebook has provided. They claim that the company is still not answering the questions concerning whether or not it is using third-party data tracking to target advertising at certain individuals. Markey said that he plans to question Facebook further and will also continue the investigation of why Facebook submitted the patent.

I think that this is a great idea because, according to the FCC, Facebook has "deceived customers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public," and that is something that would probably concern many Facebook users.

Sources: PCMag - Facebook Evading Privacy Questions, Lawmakers Say and MarkeyHouse.gov - Markey, Barton: Hard to Decipher Facebook’s Commitment to Consumer Privacy


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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Facebook Sticks Ads into Users' News Feeds, Disguises Them as "Featured Stories"

Facebook Sponsored Ads
It's official, Facebook has begun to add sponsored stories to user's news feeds, just like the social media giant had previously announced. Every sponsored story will have a little indication next to them that notes that this particular story is "featured" and that you do not need to worry about random ads spamming your news feed every day. In addition to that, the only sponsored stories you will see are from products, brands, companies etc... that you have already liked on Facebook.

In addition to ads from pages you liked, however, content from pages your friends have liked may also appear, though advertisers are unable to alter the messages included with that particular content. It has already been reported that Facebook will, at first, limit sponsored stories in the news feed to only one per day and that they will not operate when the social network is accessed on a mobile device.

A lot of people are taking issue with the specific verbage that Facebook is using. TechCrunch notes that the word "featured" does not denote that the content is paid advertising and that any post that has a "featured" label could very well be confused as popular content from other users. It has also been reported that Facebook joined forces with Which Which, a sandwich chain, to test the offering of coupons to users who have liked the restaurant's page.

As of Tuesday over 4,300 of the restaurant's 104,000+ Facebook fans had claimed a coupon for a free 22-ounce beverage with the purchase of a sandwich. It is wondered whether or not this type of coupon distribution will be an option for featured stories in the future. This could work very well for companies on the social media site and some users may even be excited about getting coupons off of Facebook. However, this could also very well turn Facebook from the pure social media and networking site that it is praised for into a social network of spam.

Source: All Facebook: The Unofficial Facebook Resource - Facebook Puts Sponsored Stories Into News Feed And Calls Them Featured Stories


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Monday, January 02, 2012

Occupy Techies Working on Their Own Social Network


According to Wired, an online magazine that publishes reports on new and developing technology that could affect either culture, the economy, or politics, some tech-savvy individuals involved with Occupy Wall Street (OWS) are currently working to build their own protest-focused version of Facebook.

"I don't want to say we're making our own Facebook. But we're making our own Facebook," said Ed Knutson, one of the developers that has joined other activists working to build the new social network.

It is understandable why the protestors would like to have a social network with which to communicate with other protestors. In both 2010 and 2011, the world saw how effective social media could be when it came to protesting. In Egypt the use of Twitter and Facebook to inform Egyptian citizens about protests was so successful that the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak shut down the Internet in the country.

Twitter was also able to turn a small OWS rally on September 17 into a national movement simply from the top-trending hashtags that were listed. Clearly, social media can raise mass awareness; however, Knutson does not want to use any of the current social media networks. "We don't trust Facebook with private messages among activists," he said.

Since most of the OWS camps that were spread across the country have been broken up, the activists working on the new social network hope that other fellow protestors will use it as a tool.

“A lot of what we are trying to do is build a better conversation so that this cacophonous discussion can be more coordinated,” said Sam Boyer, a developer and activist currently involved with the group of network developers.

Both Boyer and Knutson believe that the site should be able to be used by protestors across the United States, as well as around the world. However, it is important to note that not just anyone will be able to use this social network. In order to join the network, users must be invited by an existing member.

"You have to know someone in real life who sponsors you," Knutson said.

Activists realize how important it is that they have a secure network that they can communicate through, especially after the incident concerning Massachusetts district attorney slapping Twitter with a subpoena last week dealing with the viewing of information from the @OccupyBoston account.

Boyer also believes that it is important to make sure that someone is truly trustworthy before they are allowed to join the network. How exactly he plans to measure that, he didn’t really say, but I don’t think trustworthiness is the easiest thing to measure; however, it is very important if this network plans to be global. In other countries sometimes it means risking your life to be involved in a protest.

Although the group is working to create an incredibly secure network, Boyer said, "These networks will be perfectly fine—until they are not, and it will be a one-day-to-the-next thing."

Sources: Wired - Occupy Geeks Are Building a Facebook for the 99% and PCMag - Occupy Nerds Building Their Own Facebook Alternative



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