Google Develops a Facebook Rival
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googleGoogle Inc. is in talks with several makers of popular online games as it seeks to develop a broader social-networking service that could compete with Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

Google has been in discussions with top developers to offer their games on a new service it is building, these people said. Those developers include Playdom Inc., Electronic Arts Inc.'s Playfish and Zynga Game Network Inc.—a company in which Google recently took a financial stake, these people said.




It is unclear when Google may launch the new gaming offering and the plans aren't finalized, but people briefed on the matter said the games would be part of broader social-networking initiative that is under development by the Mountain View, Calif., company.

In an interview this week, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt declined to confirm the development of a social-networking service that would incorporate social games, rumored to be called "Google Me." When asked if Google's service might resemble Facebook's, Mr. Schmidt said "the world doesn't need a copy of the same thing."

Google's push into social games represents the latest attempt by the Web-search leader to capture users and advertising dollars that are increasingly flowing to social networking, an area dominated by Facebook, Twitter Inc. and others.

For social-game developers, a successful Google offering would mean they wouldn't be so heavily dependent on Facebook, where the vast majority of users access the games. Consumers' appetite for social games is booming— Zynga's "Farmville" game has more than 60 million active monthly users—and that is attracting bigger players looking to tap new sources of growth. On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co. acquired Playdom for $563.2 million plus up to $200 million more if performance targets are reached. And retailer GameStop Corp. agreed to buy online game distributor Kongregate Inc. for an undisclosed amount.

Disney CEO Robert Iger said Tuesday in an interview that his company views social games as a way to reach consumers in a fragmented media landscape. "People are consuming product in new destinations, on new devices," Mr. Iger said. "You've got to put your product on those devices."

Social games are less complex than those played on consoles like Microsoft's Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3. Individuals use the games to interact with online friends in their networks. The developers make money through advertising and by offering users a way to pay for virtual goods in their games that could, for example, help them manage a virtual farm or defeat rival mobsters.

Game developers pay Facebook 30% of the earnings from virtual-good purchases in their games. Google already has an online payment mechanism called Checkout that, in theory, it could use to collect payments for social games on its platform.

A Facebook spokesman said the company wouldn't speculate about Google's initiative but said the company expected new social-networking efforts by others and "looks forward to seeing what others have to offer."

In countries such as China and Japan, social games generate billions of dollars in revenue. In the U.S., social gaming was a $700 million market in 2009, according to estimates by ThinkEquity LLC, a research firm. That figure is supposed to triple by 2012, the firm said.

Google in February made a foray into social networking with its Buzz product, which brings social updates such as photos and Web links into Gmail, though the launch was marred by privacy concerns. The social-networking service being considered would incorporate and go beyond Buzz, according to one person familiar with the matter.

When asked about Google's partnership with Zynga, Mr. Schmidt said "we haven't announced it" but "you can expect a partnership with Zynga" in the future. Google's partnership with Zynga was reported earlier by the blog TechCrunch.

Google also owns Orkut, a social network service that is popular in some countries.

The growth of Facebook and its potential threat to Google is one of the hottest topics being discussed by technology executives and venture capitalists in the Bay Area.

Many users now rely on their friends on Facebook—not just Google—to discover content and products they can purchase on the Internet. And much of the content generated by users on Facebook is generally kept out of view of Google's search engine.

Over the past year, several former Google executives who ran the company's core advertising business left to work for Facebook. Facebook, now with over 500 million users, sells advertising on its own site. But speculation is growing that it could launch an advertising network across other sites, rivaling Google's ad network AdSense.
Google's Mr. Schmidt argued in an interview that Facebook is good for Google because it brings more users to the Internet, and "Facebook users use more Google products than any other users."

Google for years has allowed developers to create basic social games for a service called iGoogle, which allows users to customize and add features to their Google.com home page. But the games haven't been widely promoted and few have gained a large following.

Some media companies are increasingly targeting developers for acquisition. Last November, Electronic Arts paid $400 million for Playfish.

For Disney, the purchase of Playdom is its second foray into social games. Disney earlier this month acquired Tapulous Inc., a maker of music-related social games for mobile devices including iPhones.
WSJ Article.
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New Vonage App Means Free Calls For Facebook Friends
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vonage-talk-freeIf your Facebook friends have smart phones, a new app launched by Vonage today means you can call them for free. The Vonage Mobile application for Facebook lets you call your Facebook friends for free anywhere in the world, as long as they also have the app.



Unlike with services such as Skype, the integration with Facebook means there’s no need to dial or remember a separate screen name – users can just click on a friend within Facebook and start talking. When placing a call, the friend’s profile picture and status update display on the screen. The phone rings for an incoming call, even if the app is closed.


The downloadable app is available for Android phones in 48 countries and for iPhone or iPod Touch (iPad version coming soon) in 87 countries. It’s available at the Vonage fan page on Facebook or vonage.com/talkfree, as well as the iTunes store and Android market, and is free to get and use. The service works over Wi-Fi and 3G /4G networks in most countries.


Vonage chief executive Marc Lefar said the company planned to expand the service in the future. “This is just the start,” he said. ” In the future we will expand on this service to include a wide range of integrated voice and messaging services that change the way people communicate.”


It seems paying for phone calls could soon be a thing of the past. However, if you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you’d best check with your carrier to see if any charges apply.


Vonage has a video demonstrating how the app works, which we’ve embedded below.




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Facebook Brings Privacy Settings To Mobile Devices
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Mobile Privacy IconFacebook’s privacy settings are one of the most discussed features of Facebook and today the company has announced that those settings can now be controlled on mobile devices. While I believe those privacy settings were still previously implemented when users posted from mobile devices, users can now control their privacy on mobile devices. This should not be confused with a new set of privacy settings however, despite the large official announcement from Facebook.



The reality is that an increasing number of Facebook users only access the site on their mobile devices which means any of the site functionality which wasn’t previously available on those devices will gradually become available. For those who are wondering, it doesn’t appear that the privacy settings are available on Facebook’s iPhone and Android applications yet, although I’d assume it will be added in the near future.


You can view the settings immediately by viewing the mobile version of the site here.


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Obama Thanks Facebook Fans for Birthday Card, Thousands Respond In Minutes
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It appears a glitch on Facebook temporarily removed President Obama’s status update from earlier today. Either that or a member of Obama’s staff got a little trigger-happy and posted the news prematurely on Facebook. The update, which first appeared at 1:10 p.m. EST, stated, “Thank you for the birthday card and the well-wishes. It means so much to receive kind words from so many people.”



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Within the first 12 minutes of being live, the update was averaging 1,000 interactions per minute - putting it on a blistering pace to likely be the most popular status update on Facebook for today. Checking back an hour later revealed the status update has been removed without explanation. Instead of the cheerful thank you from earlier, the most recent status update was a call-to-action for voters in November.


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Fast forward another ten minutes, and the status update has now reappeared with over 31,000 interactions in approximately one hour. It remains to be seen as to why the status update temporarily disappeared and we’ll continue to keep an eye on it throughout the day.


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Facebook Testing Larger Album Layout
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Want to view 100 photos on a single page? Not sure why you would, however Facebook is currently testing a new format for albums which does exactly that. It’s part of a number of upgrades that the Facebook Photos team is testing since recently acquiring Divvyshot back in April.



Early last month Facebook began pushing out a facial recognition feature and since then we’ve been receiving more reports about the feature from users. All of these features are part of a continuous improvement of the Photos application which single-handedly accounts for a large percentage of the time users spend on the site. The other area where users are spending time is within Games, which would explain why the company is pushing so hard for expansion of the Facebook Credits product.


Additionally, when a user views an album in this larger format, additional photos are automatically displayed as the user scrolls down the page. It’s a small change however it has a dramatic impact on the layout of Facebook Photos. Are you seeing this new layout?



Large Album Screenshot


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YouTube Facebook Page Gets 10 Million “Likes”, Thanks Fans
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-YouTube Like Icon-Last night YouTube’s Facebook page got its 10 millionth “like”. That means that YouTube is more popular than Christiano Ronaldo, Music, Coca-Cola and even Justin Bieber, who currently holds the most-viewed video on YouTube. YouTube’s staff is thanking the Facebook users that “Like” them with a resounding, “We like you, too!” which you can see in the video after the jump.


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Facebook Now Displays Notification Count In Browser Tabs
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Tab Counter IconHave you ever noticed how Gmail displays the number of messages you have unread in your inbox within the browser tab? Facebook has begun doing something similar. Facebook will display the combined number of friend requests, inbox messages, and notifications within the browser tab, in order to keep the user up to date on any changes. It’s also a subtle change which ends up driving the user back to the tab.



Facebook is well known for making small changes to the site and this is no different. Given that most active internet users have multiple tabs open at a single time, it’s difficult to know when or if it’s necessary to go back to Facebook. While many people are addicted to Facebook and want to view continuous updates, the most important aspect is notifications, requests, and messages, all of which engage the user directly.


Now that the count is displayed you don’t need to check back regularly. Instead, you can simply navigate over to the page each time the counter is updated. Are you a fan of the new feature?

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Facebook Statistics
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statisticsPeople on Facebook
More than 500 million active users
50% of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day
Average user has 130 friends
People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook



Activity on Facebook
There are over 900 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups, events and community pages)
Average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events
Average user creates 90 pieces of content each month
More than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) shared each month.
Global Reach
More than 70 translations available on the site
About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States
Over 300,000 users helped translate the site through the translations application
Platform
More than one million developers and entrepreneurs from more than 180 countries
Every month, more than 70% of Facebook users engage with Platform applications
More than 550,000 active applications currently on Facebook Platform
More than one million websites have integrated with Facebook Platform
More than 150 million people engage with Facebook on external websites every month
Two-thirds of comScore’s U.S. Top 100 websites and half of comScore’s Global Top 100 websites have integrated with Facebook
Mobile
There are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.
People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice more active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
There are more than 200 mobile operators in 60 countries working to deploy and promote Facebook mobile products
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Facebook Dominates U.S. Web Usage
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The internet is often vaunted as a productivity booster but it seems U.S. web users spend nearly a quarter of their online time on blogs and social networks such as Facebook.


A Nielsen study found that social networking takes up 23% of American’s online time, with Facebook accounting for 85% of that. The next biggest categories were games at 10% and email at 8%.



Web users are spending more time than ever on social networks - at the expense of other activities. This time a year ago, the same Nielsen study found social networking accounted for 16% of U.S. web users time, while email, then the second most popular online activity, took a 12% share. In total Americans spend more than a third of their online time (36%) communicating and networking across social networks, blogs, personal email and instant messaging.


Videos and movies was the other sector to experience significant growth - its share of activity grew from 3.5% to 3.9% over the past year, a 12% rise based on the raw numbers. In June 2010 the number of videos streamed passed the 10 billion mark.


It’s a different story in the mobile internet world, where email remains the dominant activity with a 42% share of online time, up from 37% a year ago. Portals are second at 12%, down from 14%, and social networking is third at 11%, up from 8%.


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Facebook Testing New Reviews Ad Format
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Review Ad ScreenshotA few weeks ago, we unveiled Facebook ad techniques to leverage the endorsements of your fans– to share their likes with their friends. And we demonstrated that the CTR on an ad showing your friends liking it is a multiple of one without a like. The next logical step is to show your friend’s review in the ad, such as this new format that Facebook started testing over the weekend.



Notice that it not only has your friend’s name linked, but also includes their review and the number of stars. We predict that including the star ratings will significantly increase the ad CTR by another order of magnitude, provided that the rating is 4 stars and above. The same we’ve seen true when users see an application’s average rating on the install screen.


This is a smart move by Facebook, as it makes ads less scammy (hard to cheat the system), emphasizes the core value proposition of Facebook ads (help multiply the love your fans already– among their friends), increases the value of their inventory, and increases Facebook’s ability to monetize.


If you’re a cosmetic surgeon with 500 fans of your page, what would you pay to be able to tell all the friends of those 500 people about the positive experience? What if you’re a terrible doctor? Then this type of advertising might not be effective– nor should any type of advertising be effective if your underlying service isn’t stellar.


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