Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'New MySpace' narrows focus to entertainment

MySpace, the online social hub that's been fighting to stay relevant in the age of Facebook and Twitter, is overhauling its image and its website into an entertainment destination for its mostly younger audience.
The social-networking pioneer, which was among the top Internet sites just a few years ago, now has its sights set decidedly lower. Starting Wednesday and over the next month, MySpace will be relaunching its site to focus on giving users more ways to consume music, videos and celebrity gossip.

Entertainment has long been central to the MySpace experience, but over the years the site was also pulled in different directions as it dabbled in classifieds, job ads and even user reviews in a partnership with Citysearch as it pushed to become a social portal for the Web. It didn't work out, and Facebook is now emerging as that portal.

MySpace CEO Mike Jones said the relaunch "pulls us out of the social networking category" to become a social entertainment destination. So instead of connecting with long-lost friends and sharing baby photos, MySpace wants to be the place where people go to find out about new bands, chat about TV shows and make movie recommendations.

"The vision has definitely gotten a lot smaller in this redesign," said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at research firm eMarketer. "When News Corp. bought MySpace it certainly didn't envision this. I don't think Rupert (Murdoch, News Corp.'s CEO) thought MySpace would be a small social entertainment website."
News Corp. bought MySpace for $580 million in 2005. For some perspective, that's the same year YouTube launched. After a promising start, the site's luster began to fade and advertisers, along with users, flocked to Facebook. EMarketer estimates that advertisers worldwide will spend about $347 million on MySpace this year, down from $470 million in 2009. The research firm estimates 2010 ad spending on Facebook to be around $1.3 billion, more than double $665 million a year earlier.

In the most recent quarter, the News Corp. segment responsible for MySpace lost $174 million, mostly due to lower search and advertising revenue. News Corp. reports fiscal first-quarter results on Nov. 1.

If the relaunch is successful, MySpace may still become the cultural powerhouse MTV was in the 1990s, when its decision to play a new music video could turn a band's fortunes overnight. Keeping with the age of the social Web, however, MySpace won't be the only one deciding what's cool. The site will also make its most loyal users the curators in a feature that's coming at a yet-unspecified date.

"The MTV influence is really obvious," Williamson said, adding that MySpace still has "pull with the audience it's trying to reach — young people."
There are big cosmetic changes too. Long criticized for cluttered, clunky home pages, MySpace is streamlining its design. It will show fewer ads, but place them more prominently. It also will have far fewer buttons and page templates. In a presentation, the company called it "cleaning up MySpace e-waste."

"If we are refurbishing a house, it's starting from the ground up," Jones said of the eight-month redesign process.

MySpace has long fallen behind Facebook in user numbers and estimated advertising revenue, in part because it never appealed to older users. Its roughly 130 million users are mostly under 35, while Facebook's fastest-growing user base is those over 35. MySpace now says it's not trying to compete with social networks like Facebook.

"We're working on refocusing the company (and) narrowing down what our product does," Jones said.

Jones is the last of a three-person executive team that joined the company in April 2009. His former co-president Jason Hirschhorn, left in June and former CEO Owen Van Natta, once chief revenue officer of Facebook, left in February.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

EBay 3Q profit rises 23 percent

EBay Inc. on Wednesday said its third-quarter profit climbed 23 percent, helped by its growing PayPal business.

The online marketplace operator also predicted results for the current quarter that were better than analysts had been expecting, sending its shares up more than 7 percent in after-hours trading.
EBay earned $432 million, or 33 cents per share, in the July-September period, compared with a profit of $350 million, or 27 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

When excluding one-time items, eBay earned 40 cents per share, beating the average expectation of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters by 3 cents.

Revenue rose 1 percent to $2.25 billion. Analysts were expecting revenue to dip slightly to $2.18 billion, in part because eBay sold its Skype Internet calling business late last year.

Excluding Skype, eBay said its revenue jumped 10 percent.
San Jose-based eBay's second-largest business, online payments, reported $838 million in revenue, up 22 percent from last year. The unit includes PayPal and short-term credit service Bill Me Later.

EBay said total payment volume jumped 26 percent to $22.37 billion.

This business has grown rapidly even as eBay's main business — its online marketplace — has faltered, as more merchants and consumers use PayPal to transfer money on and off eBay. EBay CEO John Donahoe believes that in the next few years that business' revenue will surpass that of eBay's marketplaces segment, which includes the flagship and other e-commerce sites.

Marketplace revenue rose 3 percent to $1.41 billion, as more people used eBay to buy and sell.

Gross merchandise volume, which is a measure of the value of everything sold on eBay, excluding vehicles, rose 3 percent to $12.59 billion. There were 93.2 million active eBay users at the end of the third quarter, up 4 percent from 89.2 million in the third quarter of 2009.
The company has been working to improve by cutting upfront listing fees and tweaking search results to make it to find the right merchandise.

For the current quarter, eBay expects a profit of 37 cents to 40 cents per share, or 45 cents to 48 cents per share when excluding one-time items, on $2.39 billion to $2.49 billion in revenue. This is more optimistic than the 44 cents per share in adjusted earnings and $2.40 billion in revenue analysts were looking for.

In an interview, Donahoe said the company is "cautiously optimistic" about the holiday season. He said he expects shoppers to use eBay's mobile applications more, especially for comparison shopping when at bricks-and-mortar stores.

EBay offers a slew of and PayPal apps for smart phones and Apple's iPad that allow people to shop online and transfer money. The company also owns RedLaser, a barcode-scanning app that it bought earlier this year, that lets you scan an actual product and see its price at online stores and on eBay.
EBay shares rose $1.92, or 7.5 percent, to $27.58 in after-hours trading. The stock had finished regular trading up 13 cents at $25.66.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Verizon to sell Samsung's iPad rival for $600

The first big-name competitor to the iPad in the U.S. won't be undercutting it in price.

Verizon Wireless says it will start selling Samsung Electronics Co.'s tablet computer, which is half the size of the iPad, for $600. That's more than the basic version of Apple Inc.'s tablet.
Verizon on Wednesday said it will start selling the Samsung Galaxy Tab on Nov. 11. It has a 7-inch screen and runs Google Inc.'s Android software. Access to Verizon's cellular data network will cost $20 per month for up to 1 gigabyte of traffic.

Verizon will start selling the iPad on Oct. 28, starting at $499. It can't access Verizon's network directly, but the carrier will sell an add-on gadget for about $130 that bridges the gap.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Intel earns up 59 pct; PC pain less than expected

Intel Corp.'s third-quarter results showed Wall Street something that many anxious investors were itching to see: a sign that economic edginess hasn't ruined consumers' appetite for new PCs as much as originally feared going into the critical holiday shopping season.
Intel said Tuesday that its net income leaped 59 percent and sales rose 18 percent, both topping analysts' expectations.

Those expectations had been tamped down in August when Intel cut its guidance, blaming weak consumer PC demand that has rippled across the computer industry. Thus, the jump that the technology-industry bellwether reported Tuesday would have been higher if the economy hadn't dampened back-to-school spending, one of the electronics world's most important shopping seasons.

Still, investors sent Intel shares up slightly in extended trading.

Intel said after the market closed Tuesday that it earned $2.96 billion, or 52 cents per share, compared with $1.86 billion, or 33 cents per share, a year ago. Analysts expected 50 cents per share, according to a Thomson Reuters survey.
Revenue rose 18 percent to $11.10 billion, from $9.39 billion. Analysts expected $10.99 billion.

Job-market jitters have caused shoppers to hang on to more of their money, turning back-to-school into a bust for many PC makers and their suppliers. The focus now is on the industry's other make-or-break moment: the holiday shopping season.

Many analysts are predicting this winter will be healthier than the fall. Intel's fourth-quarter forecast seems to support that. Intel is predicting revenue of $11.0 billion to $11.8 billion in the fourth quarter. Analysts were expecting $11.3 billion.

CEO Paul Otellini said Intel continues to see "healthy worldwide demand for computing products of all types." As the world's biggest maker of microprocessors, the "brains" of PCs, Intel is a proxy for the overall PC market. The company's chief financial officer, Stacy Smith, said in an interview that Intel expects the consumer PC market to continue growing in the fourth quarter, but at a slower pace than in the first half of the year.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Google tests cars that can steer without drivers

Google Inc. is road-testing cars that steer, stop and start without a human driver, the company says.
The goal is to "help prevent traffic accidents, free up people's time and reduce carbon emissions" through ride sharing and "the new 'highway trains of tomorrow,'" project leader Sebastian Thrun wrote Saturday on Google's corporate blog.

The cars are never unmanned, Thrun wrote. He said a backup driver is always behind the wheel to monitor the software.

It's not the first signal that Google wants to change how people get from place to place. In a speech Sept. 29 at the TechCrunch "Disrupt" conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said "your car should drive itself. It just makes sense."

"It's a bug that cars were invented before computers," Schmidt said.

The cars have traveled a total of 140,000 miles on major California roads without much human intervention, according to Google's corporate blog.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based technology giant has sent seven test cars a total of 1,000 miles without a human touching the controls at all, the New York Times reported. The newspaper published a report on the cars earlier Sunday.
The cars know speed limits, traffic patterns and road maps, Thrun's posting says. They use video cameras, radar sensors and lasers to detect other cars.

Driving between Northern California and Southern California, the cars have navigated San Francisco's curvy Lombard Street, Los Angeles' Hollywood Boulevard and the cliff-hugging Pacific Coast Highway, the blog says.

Engineers consider the cars safer because they react more quickly than humans, the New York Times said. It said Google has not revealed how it hopes to profit from the research.

The company is flush with cash, though, and pushing numerous projects such as the cars that are unrelated to its core business, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif.

"The word 'focus' is a word Google has never learned," Enderle said, pointing to projects involving electricity distribution, vehicle design and artificial intelligence. He said cars that can drive themselves would allow commuters more time to surf the web, something Google would encourage.

Still, Enderle said, industry leaders such as Volkswagen and Intel Corp. are working on similar technology. He said "driverless" vehicles will make computers more like the robots imagined in the 1920s, rather than the tabletop data processors we use today.

The blog says the technology is being developed by scientists who were involved in an earlier set of unmanned car races organized by the government's Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Five questions — and answers — about Facebook Groups

Another week, another Facebook controversy — this time, over the site’s just-relaunched "Groups" feature, which lets you create instant private or public spaces for your friends, co-workers, fellow hobbyists, you name it.
Personally, I think the idea behind the new Groups feature is an excellent one. By designating smaller circles of friends within your overall list of Facebook pals (which, for some online social butterflies, can easily run into the thousands), you can post updates, photos, videos, and URLs to your individual subsets without bothering everyone on Facebook with the minutiae of, say, your breakfast menu, or how quickly you crossed the finish line in your latest half-marathon.

Indeed, I might start actually posting to Facebook again now that I’ve created a tiny group of friends (three, to be exact) who (a) I trust, and (b) won’t be annoyed by any pointless musings that I'll be tacking onto our wall. (Uh, guys — you don’t mind, right?)

But it didn’t take long for a controversy to flare up: namely, the fact that your Facebook friends can add you to any group they so choose — as long as they’re already members of said group — without your permission.

Why did Facebook make Groups go the "opt-out" rather than "opt-in" way? "To make the product simple" is the official line. Another likely reason for the policy, I’m guesssing, is that it encourages the rapid growth of ... well, new groups. Without the necessity of waiting for invitees to accept an invite, Facebook’s groups are free to grow quickly and exponentially. The more — and bigger — groups there are, the more Facebook members will use them — and that’ll make groups more attractive to app developers and advertisers. Hey, that’s business, like it or not.

Of course, the downside is that you might find yourself suddenly signed up into a Facebook group (or groups) you hadn’t bargained for, such as the "Underwater Basket-weavers of America," with your inbox suddenly flooded with email notifications for each and every snapshot, comment, and update posted to the collective group wall.

That’s a side-effect I’d count as more of an annoyance than anything else, although there’s always the more worrisome possibility that one of your frenemies will add you to a group of a more, ah, unsavory nature.
So, here are five questions — and answers — for how to weather the current Facebook Groups storm (or tempest in a teapot, depending on how you look at it).

1. Who can add me to a Facebook group?
Not just anyone can add you to a group — in fact, only someone who’s already one of your Facebook friends can do so. Still, it’s a bit disturbing that any of your Facebook friends can add you to, say, the "Bald Eagle Hunters Club" without getting your permission.

Then again, your friend would already have to be a "BEHC" member before he or she could invite you to the group ... and besides, who is this so-called friend, anyway? Indeed, the story that sparked this whole debate about the Groups feature involves someone with more than 4,000 Facebook friends. I don’t think I’ve even met 4,000 people in my 41 years on Planet Earth, much less know 4,000 people whom I’d be willing to "friend" on Facebook.

Suggestion: If you’re seriously worried about people adding you to groups that you’d rather not be a member of, maybe it’s time to pare down your Facebook friends list, starting with anyone who added you to a group you didn’t want to be a member of. The "Remove from Friends" button can be, in fact, your friend.

2. How do I leave a group — and prevent someone from adding me again?
Wait — so, you didn’t want to be a member of the "Underwater Basket-weavers of America"? Just visit the group page, click on the "Leave Group" link under the list of members, and you’re outta there — simple. After that, no one will be able to re-add you to the group in question without your explicit permission.
3. But even if I remove myself from a group, won’t the fact that I got added in the first place pop up in my Facebook news feed, for all to see?
Yep, you’re right. You can always delete the notification from your wall, but that won’t stop your Facebook friends or other users (depending on your privacy settings) from seeing the update before you were able to delete it.

One proactive (if extreme) measure, is to deny the Groups app permission to publish stories to your wall; just click on Account on the top-right of the Facebook interface, then select Application Settings. Find the Groups app, click Edit Settings, then click the "Additional Permissions" tab (almost there), and, finally, uncheck the box that reads "publish content to my wall."

4. How do I cut down on all these email notifications from my groups?
Getting inundated with a flood of email messages every time someone posts a "Cute photo!" comment onto a group snapshot can quickly grow tiresome. If you’d like to keep your inbox as uncluttered as possible, just tweak your Groups notification settings: Visit the specific group page, click the "Edit Settings button" in the upper-left-hand corner of the page, and select the radio button next to the option you prefer (for example, you can get a notification each and every time a member posts or comments, only when a friend posts, or only when someone comments on one of your posts). You can also visit the email notification page in your privacy settings and turn off all notifications if you wish.

5. Can the other members in my new group see all my Facebook info?
So, the worst has happened: Your now ex-friend just added you to the "Bald Eagle Hunters Club," and all of a sudden you’re unwillingly mingling with a bunch of ... well, people you wouldn’t normally invite over for tea. Since you’re in a group with these guys, do they now have access to all your Facebook info?

Here’s the good news: not if you’ve limited access to your profile in Facebook’s privacy settings. If you’ve restricted your updates, photos, and personal data to "friends only," your fellow "Bald Eagle" members won’t be able to see anything about you except your publicly accessible profile info (which, again, you can customize in your privacy settings).

On the other hand, if your privacy settings allow anyone and everyone to see your Facebook info, other, non-friend members in your new Group will be able see your data too — then again, they already could, even before you (unwittingly or not) joined the group.

Bonus: What can I do to ensure my privacy is completely secure in a group — or on Facebook in general?
You probably already know all this, but it bears repeating in light of the new Groups controversy: Facebook isn’t about keeping your personal info safe. It’s a (for-profit) business that does everything it can to get people to share their personal information. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact.

If you’re really worried about your privacy on Facebook, please — don’t post your personal details, photos, videos, street addresses, or phone numbers on Facebook. Seriously! It might even be time to delete your account, or just don’t join at all. Trust me, you’ll still be able to make friends in the real world.

But if you still want to be on Facebook, you’ll have to accept the fact that you’re putting your personal information in Facebook’s hands. Don’t trust Facebook — or your friends on Facebook, for that matter? Then maybe Facebook isn’t for you.

Friday, October 08, 2010

With Twitter blocked, Chinese micro-blogging thrives

When a huge mudslide swamped a Chinese town in August, killing at least 1,500 people, word first reached the world thanks to a digital camera-wielding, 19-year-old micro-blogger who idolises Lady Gaga.
Wang Kai's reports on a Chinese Twitter-like service from the northwestern town of Zhouqu made him an online celebrity and underlined the potential impact of the fast-growing new medium in the world's largest online population.

Things looked grim last year when China's censors added Twitter to their list of blocked foreign services amid government accusations that social media were used to fan deadly ethnic unrest in northwestern China in July 2009.

But several Chinese clones soon sprung up, offering users a platform for sending 140-character messages via provider websites or mobile phones -- while exercising heavy self-censorship to keep authorities happy.

China's 420-million web users have seized on micro-blogging as a new avenue for mass expression in a tightly-controlled information landscape.

From almost nothing last year, there are an estimated tens of millions of micro-blogging, or "weibo", accounts in China. Active users will hit 65 million by year's end, the Data Center for the Chinese Internet (DCCI) predicts.

"Weibo's role is huge," Wang Kai, now an English student at university, told AFP when asked to explain its appeal.

"It provides you with your own platform for sending out really meaningful microblogs and opinions. I hope it can be used to help people solve problems."

Users say China's half-dozen providers offer services that are superior to those of Twitter, such as embedding of videos and photos.

They add that more can be expressed in 140 of the Chinese language's pictographic characters than in English.

But the real impact of "weibo" could lie in its ability to knit together -- through the rapid, mass sharing of links -- the countless Chinese blogs, forums and other websites that are the dominant outlet for public expression.

"The density of information they have created, their frequency of dissemination and the degree of connectivity they have enabled for web users far surpass any previous form of Internet use," Hu Yong, an author of several books on the Chinese Internet, wrote in a recent opinion piece.

The DCCI predicts active user accounts will exceed 400 million within three years as China's online population grows. Twitter said in early September it had 145 million users.

A recent poll found that about 90 percent of under-40s use a "weibo" service, engaging in lively discussions on entertainment, lifestyle, the job market or flogging a company's products.
But several cases also have highlighted its potential for rattling the government, which aggressively censors web content it views as a political threat.

In July, an investigative reporter who exposed alleged graft by a listed company in eastern China found himself on a most-wanted list for slander.

Qiu Ziming of the respected Economic Observer financial weekly went on the run, drawing thousands of "followers" with defiant blog posts declaring his innocence and alleging a cover-up.

Police eventually quashed his arrest order after public pressure in an episode that triggered a debate about abuse of official power.

Rumours of a split between President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were a hot recent topic after Wen made comments seen as urging political reform, and chatter on numerous graft cases and other scandals was widely credited with adding to online pressure that resulted in government action.

Micro-blogging services were briefly cut in July in what analysts said was a message from the government to users to toe the line, but authorities are beginning to use micro-blogging for their own ends as well.

A June government white paper on the Internet singled out micro-blogging as a useful communication tool and praised Internet users for "supervising" the government.

Local-level government agencies nationwide, such as Beijing's police, have set up accounts in a bid for openness -- or at least to guide public sentiment.

"The Chinese government learns very quickly and is very much at the forefront or ahead of the curve of what is on the Internet," said Bill Bishop, co-founder of the news site, who now blogs about the Internet in China.

"They are working very hard to effectively channel and manage public opinion. Weibo offer unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the government PR folks to deal with issues in near-real time."

Few experts however see microblogs as posing any imminent threat to the Communist government.

Beijing keeps firm control by restricting weibo services to top Chinese Internet firms well-versed at self-censorship, said Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of the China media website

"(Micro-blogging) adds to the pressure but it's not enough of a revolution to rewrite the rules of the game. The government can just hire more censors," he said.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Samsung 3Q earnings likely to fall from record

Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest seller of computer memory chips, forecast Thursday that third-quarter operating profit likely eased from the previous quarter's record high amid signs that growth in global demand is waning.
The Suwon, South Korea-based company expects consolidated operating profit of between 4.6 trillion won and 5 trillion won ($4.1 billion to $4.5 billion) for the three months ended Sept. 30, it said in a statement.

That would be higher than the 4.22 trillion won recorded in the third quarter last year but less than the 5.01 trillion won racked up in the second quarter of 2010.

Samsung shares fell 2.9 percent to close at 770,000 won amid declines in other Asian technology stocks.

The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday cut its forecast for U.S. growth this year and next amid stubbornly high unemployment that is expected to restrain consumer spending. Major economies in Europe are also growing at an anemic pace.

Aside from dominance in chips, Samsung Electronics Co. is the world's biggest seller of liquid crystal displays and flat-screen televisions and ranks No. 2 in mobile phone handsets after Finland's Nokia Corp.

Samsung estimated consolidated sales of between 39 trillion won and 41 trillion won for the third quarter. That compares with sales of 35.9 trillion won a year earlier.

The company gave no reason for the expected quarterly results and plans to release details when it formally announces third-quarter earnings at the end of this month, according to spokesman Nam Ki-yung.
Lee Min-hee, an analyst at Dongbu Securities in Seoul, said that Samsung's earnings outlook is deteriorating amid falling memory chip prices and slowing momentum in the global information technology industry.

"Quarterly earnings peaked out in the second quarter in terms of operating profit," said Lee, who predicted a sharp decrease in the final three months of this year to about 3 trillion won.

Samsung reported record net profit of 4.28 trillion won in the second quarter and Lee estimated that the company will report a similar result during the third as foreign exchange-related gains boost the bottom line. Net profit, however, will decline to 2.6 trillion won in the final three months of the year, he said.

Samsung does not release net profit forecasts. Operating profit is seen as a direct indicator of business performance before taxes, dividends, asset sales and other items that are figured into net profit or loss.

Samsung began issuing earnings estimates, or guidance, last year in hopes increased transparency would help minimize market speculation over its performance. The estimates include the performance of its overseas and domestic subsidiaries.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dogs can't talk but tag lets them trigger tweets

So your dog follows your every move around the house. Now, when you leave home, you can follow your dog.

Puppy Tweets is an electronic dog tag with a sensor that you attach to your dog's collar. It detects your pet's movements and sounds and sends a variety of tweets to a Twitter page you set up for your dog on a computer or smart phone. You can invite all your friends to be followers, too.
The new Mattel Inc. novelty is aimed at the pet-loving social network crowd, said spokeswoman Rachel Cooper.

There are 500 tweets programmed into the software that comes with the .05-ounce devices, available in blue and pink. The frequency of messages is directly related to the activity level of your dog, she said.

If a dog is very active, he could tweet: "Chasing everything that moves is definitely a full time job!" If he is sleeping, his inactivity might trigger the message: "Your comforter does just what its name says it does."

To guard against repetition, Mattel was adding 200 free tweets this week to the message library, Cooper said.

Bethenny Frankel, the star of "Bethenny Getting Married?" and one of "The Real Housewives of New York," and her dog Cookie hosted the official launch of Puppy Tweets in New York Thursday night.

A limited number of the tags went on sale earlier this year. Some buyers on complained about software problems, which Cooper said the company was working on and had mostly resolved.

The tags won't work on small dogs or cats, she said. And you can retweet messages as they come in, but you can't reply — at least not yet, Cooper said.