Sunday, August 22, 2010
Great compilation. Social is increasingly becoming Google's achilles heel and hence the talk about numerous initiatives in the offing ! Google's significant flame-outs in the recent past in the recent past on this front have been Buzz, Wave and Orkut.
Yes, the company is still growing at rates that would be the envy of the rest of the Fortune 500. But its core business is slowing, its stock is down, its Android mobile platform generates scant revenue, and competition (hello, Facebook) is fierce. Can Google find its footing in this brave new world?
Stroll across the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., and you are confronted by a world that sparkles a bit more than whatever slightly dreary one you just left. Massive stone busts of ocean explorers like Jacques Cousteau fix their gaze on the cobbled paths that flow into the main Google buildings. At sunny tables outside, Google employees -- the coolest, most confident techies you'll meet -- eat their free food and chat animatedly about who-knows-what arcane computer algorithms, or the latest must-do pastime of the young and affluent Silicon Valley set, like kite-boarding or indoor skydiving.
It looks a lot like the midday break at some elite college campus. But almost 12 years after it was launched by precocious Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google and its founders are grappling with a very grownup set of problems. Google's core business, online search, is slowing. That is partly due to Google's own success; it's hard to keep posting record growth rates when you dominate a business so thoroughly -- Google sites lead the U.S. market with 64% of all searches conducted. But more crucially, the web has changed significantly since Google became a verb. There is (at long last) fresh competition from Microsoft's Bing, and also a new wave of sites and services that offer alternatives for consumers' time and attention -- and the advertisers that follow them.
The Googlers certainly know this, but in classic Innovator's Dilemma fashion, the company seems unsure about how to move beyond the core search business that has brought it such massive success. Google has placed expensive bets on acquisitions, chief among them its $1.6 billion purchase of YouTube, a $3.1 billion wager on ad network DoubleClick, and more recently its $750 million purchase of mobile advertising platform AdMob. But none of those deals have yet significantly diversified Google's $23-billion-a-year revenue stream: Google's main focus continues to be driving people back to the search box and the ad dollars that Google collects for helping marketers reach highly targeted consumers. Even Google's most successful new product, the Android operating system for smartphones, generates scant revenue for the company: Google gives the licenses free to mobile-phone operators to facilitate, you guessed it, searches and use of other Google services on mobile phones. And while it lets its whip-smart engineers dedicate a portion of their workdays to dreaming up the coolest products for the web, all that Googley experimentation hasn't had a huge impact on the bottom line.
That was fine when the search business was expanding at 30% or 40% a year, and Google's revenue was growing at twice that. Long-term projections for growth in the search business are more in the 15% to 17% range. Yet analysts estimate that 91% of Google's revenue still comes from the AdWords and AdSense business model that Google built around Page and Brin's breakthrough PageRank algorithm. Even more telling, an estimated 99% of its profit does too. This year's projected earnings growth of 18% is a third of what Google averaged over the past five years. A lot of companies would kill for that growth, but for technology companies, and Google in particular, those numbers don't impress. Google is rounding a corner that all the fruit smoothies at its Silicon Valley campus make it hard to pull back from. This year Google (GOOG) has joined the ranks of just about every great technology company before it, including IBM (IBM), eBay (EBAY), Cisco (CSCO), Microsoft (MSFT), and Oracle (ORCL). Google, against its will, and defying its massive cash hoard, is transitioning from a growth company to -- and there is no kind way to put it -- a cash cow. That ranks right up there with being a former supermodel, but it is a taint Google can't seem to shake right now, at least not on Wall Street. It's a big part of the reason that Google shares are down 21% since Jan. 4, underperforming theNasdaq (up 1%).
Up against the ever-changing web
Some investors also worry about Google's ability to keep pace with consumers' evolving use of the web. Say you want to buy running shoes to train for a marathon. Five years ago you would have simply Googled it, looked at the list of results, weighed your options, and made the purchase, perhaps by clicking on one of the sponsored links that accompanied your search. Today you might still do that, but increasingly you might pose the question "What running shoes should I buy?" to your friends on Facebook, or maybe write "Who knows about training for marathons?" on Twitter. By the time shopping service Groupon sends you (and 25 of your friends) an offer for the perfect shoes and registration for a race, you'll probably just pounce on it.
And what if you don't even have a question to pose? What if you just need help? Consider the case of American graduate student James Buck. Egyptian police detained Buck for taking photographs of a protest in a city outside Cairo. Using his cellphone and his Twitter account, Buck broadcast a single word, "arrested." Buck's network alerted officials at the University of California at Berkeley, who ultimately got the U.S. State Department and a local lawyer involved. Buck was out of jail in 24 hours. Try that with a keyword search.
This is the phenomenon Google is up against. In the decade-plus since Page and Brin came up with PageRank, the web and the way we use it have changed dramatically. As Buck's example shows, the web experience is increasingly mobile and social. We take it everywhere, and are connected almost all the time. Google needs to find real success in this new world -- or invent the next major evolution of the web. It isn't easy to create new multibillion-dollar businesses, but the rewards are great for the companies that do: Consider former Google ally Apple, which has dominated add-on businesses (music players, retail) that are more profitable than the one that brought it prominence (computers). Apple is just killing it, and it is now the most valuable technology company in the world, with a market cap of $236 billion vs. Google's $156 billion. Thus far Google has been tight-lipped about plans for a world beyond search. Marissa Mayer, head of search at Google, says the company doesn't provide financial guidance, but contends that Google doesn't need a huge second act, a collection of smaller businesses will suffice. The original search business will always dwarf any subsequent new units. And Page, Brin, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt simply haven't articulated a vision for Google's future. "That is what is scaring investors," says Sameet Sinha, a senior analyst with JMP Securities in San Francisco. "There is no clear path toward what Google is doing, or wants to do."
There are good reasons why companies, and tech companies in particular, want to maintain the mantle of Growth Enterprise. For starters, Wall Street values you differently. A growth company stock commands a premium price/earnings multiple based on its future potential that, in turn, helps it lure employees with stock options. Just as important, being a growth company affords employees and founders (and even shareholders) a huge psychological boost: You're driving the economy, you're changing the world. Facebook and Twitter are packed with engineers who've left formerly hot tech companies. As soon as early adopters smell a whiff of last year's technology, they are on to something new.
That particular odor has never attached itself to Google since it launched in 1998, crushing all comers. You may recall AltaVista, Infoseek, Lycos, and HotBot. Google's edge was better technology, so it must be somewhat worrisome in Mountain View that Bing is gaining in popularity -- Microsoft sites had about a 12.7% share of searches in June, according to comScore, up from 12.1% in May -- partly due to its interface and other features. Indeed, Google has dispatched Ben Ling, a former YouTube wizard, to help improve the quality of its mainstay business.
"Google is not the hot company anymore," says Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com (CRM). "Their stock has been mostly flat for five or six years now. How can you claim to be a leader with equity performance like that? That's starting to look like Microsoft or Yahoo. They have to get into some other place, and quickly."
Microsoft is an apt comparison, except the software company found a second engine of growth to supplement its Windows computer operating system business eight years after MS-DOS hit the market. That business would become Office, the world's most profitable application software, which today accounts for roughly 40% of Microsoft's earnings. Of course, Microsoft has been struggling since to find its next big winner. Its server business chugs along. Its gaming console, Xbox, could still be an engine of growth, but it hasn't moved the needle yet. Once Office saturated the workplace and then some, Microsoft lost its growth-company status.
So what is Google's best shot? It won't be international growth. Google dominates search in developed countries, and it will be a long slog in other parts of the world, such as Russia and China. (In China, where Google recently renewed its license despite strained relations with the government, Google's 30% share trails China's homegrown search king, Baidu (BIDU).) Google has plenty of real estate on the web to which it can attach more advertising, such as Google Maps and Google Images. And indeed, during the recession Google boosted its ad revenues by opening up inventory on its sites to marketers. But those are incremental gains, not a big new source of revenue.
The company's recent acquisitions and product launches fall into four main avenues of business: the mobile Internet (Android, AdMob), display advertising (splashier, graphics-heavy ads with DoubleClick), YouTube and video, and applications. A fifth area, social networking, is likely to be a big push for Google and holds the most potential. The company is widely rumored to be pursuing a "Google Me" project to do battle with Facebook.
Google does not report specific financials of businesses outside of search, but Sandeep Aggarwal, an Internet and software analyst with Caris & Co., estimates that mobile, display, YouTube, and apps generated about $1.5 billion in revenue in 2009, and this year should bring in about $2.1 billion in sales. On a bottom-line basis, that translates to about $1.44 in earnings per share this year. That's peanuts today -- Google is expected to earn $27 per share in 2010 -- but those are areas that are already outpacing traditional search in their rates of growth.
Amazingly, Google's biggest and most promising opportunity to date, its successful Android operating platform for mobile phones, doesn't produce much revenue or profit for Google -- by design. The company in 2007 made the technology available to all comers in a bid to make the web more accessible on smartphones and in turn to encourage consumers to do more Google searches on their mobile devices. The strategy worked. Encouraged by this easy access to Android, handset makers began churning out multimedia phones, and the Android platform has been a consumer success: Google says some 160,000 new Android devices are activated each day, and device makers from Motorola (MOT) to HTC have all released popular phones on the Android platform. But Google doesn't make gobs of money on those devices. (Google dabbled in phones but discontinued its Nexus One after only six months.) Apple, on the other hand, also stoked the smartphone market with its iOS, but with very different financial results: Last year the company posted an estimated $15 billion in iPhone sales, a benefit of making the hardware and the software.
So where will Google's next $20 billion come from? It may not come from one blockbuster new business but rather from a handful of smaller opportunities. Google insiders are optimistic about YouTube, which accounts for 10% of all the time spent online worldwide, according to comScore. (The only greater time-suck on the web is Facebook, at 17%. We'll get back to social networking.) Four years after buying the money-losing video site for $1.6 billion, Google seems to have figured out a way to eke out operating profits by selling video and display ads against a growing pool of professionally produced programming, including infomercials and other content created by marketers. Likewise, Google's $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, the ad exchange that's been folded into Google's display network, will help expand Google's ability to place multimedia and display ads on websites, including its own properties: It essentially hopes to do for online display what it has done with text ads. But few analysts see those businesses, in the short term at least, becoming Google's next huge follow-on business -- its Office equivalent, to use the Microsoft analogy.
Could its Office equivalent be, well, an Office equivalent? It's a long shot, but one of the more profitable efforts at Google, and one that doesn't have a thing to do with advertising, is its nascent business-software operation, Google Apps. For an annual licensing fee of $50 per head, Google provides corporate customers with Gmail, collaboration tools, and other services that are delivered via the Internet. Some companies have started ditching traditional software vendors (including Microsoft) for the Google Apps' cheapness and flexibility (adding or dropping a new account takes just a few clicks). In June, Google announced that more than 2 million businesses were using Google Apps for Enterprise. That sounds like a big number, but analysts peg revenue from Apps this year at about $350 million, or just $175 per business. Nikesh Arora, Google's president of global sales operations and business development, told analysts at a technology conference in June that he expects the number of apps customers to double in the next few years.
The net effect of all these efforts? Analyst Aggarwal pegs revenue from Google's nonsearch businesses at $5 billion to $8 billion in 2013. For any other company, that might be enough, but Aggarwal estimates that the company's search revenue will be about $40 billion three years down the road. In that context, nonsearch revenue still isn't enough to make a huge difference in how Google is valued. For the foreseeable future Google will remain a search company.
The real shift going on within the Internet
Mike McCue has had a front-row seat watching the web grow up, and as far as he is concerned, the search box is all about the past. McCue was an early Netscape guy, and he recently launchedtablet software company Flipboard, which takes all your Facebook updates, your Twitter feeds, all the news sites you like and subscribe to, and in a very elegant way publishes a constantly updated magazine of text, photos, and video. "There is no need to do a search," McCue says. "We almost view it as a bug if we have the user search for something."
At Google, where every problem is waiting to be solved by some form of search query, that is tantamount to blasphemy. But Flipboard sums up the shift going on within the Internet, one that is arguably the biggest change to the web and the way we use it since Google came on the scene. Your network simply provides you with answers, stories to read, bargains to buy -- and you often don't even need to ask a question.
In this new phase of the web, one of the largest threats to Google and its core search business is the expanding Facebook footprint around the world. Not only because social networks (and those used for work like LinkedIn fall into that same category) offer a substitute for search for consumers, but also because they offer a substitute for advertisers as well. In display advertising, for example, Facebook has a 16% share of the roughly $9 billion market, according to comScore (Google sites have 2.4% of the market), and advertisers say they're looking for more ways to plug into Facebook.
"Facebook has got Google in its sights," says Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst with eMarketer. "Advertisers get the best of both worlds -- a mass audience but also the ability to target more than anyone else. Who are the advertisers? In a lot of cases, they're Google's advertisers."
Most alarming to Google is that much of this new social and real-time world is closed off to Google's core search business, and its index of the world's information. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are essentially "closed" platforms. "It's a growing chink in their armor," says a former Googler now working at a popular social network. "They know that. The question is, What can they do about it?"
Google's Mayer believes the answer lies in delivering better-quality -- almost intuitive -- search results. Mayer calls this implicit or passive search. It's the sort of thing that makes connections between, say, a friend who is an amateur expert on travel in Australia and your upcoming trip Down Under. A keyword search could not only flag hotels and tourist hot spots but also find blog posts, e-mails, messages, and even pose questions to your friend about where to go shopping or dining in Sydney -- without bothering the rest of your network. "Who you are, your context, what you are doing, who your friends are -- if all of that comes in as the search input," she says, "what is the right output?" (The key word in her quote? "Friends.")
Mayer won't say what Google is building (perhaps the rumored "Google Me" service?), but clearly she is pushing the company in a more social direction, which means changing users' perceptions of Google. "You need to create a place where it's okay to be social," Mayer says. Google doesn't have that yet, and in fact, its efforts so far have been widely panned: Remember Google Buzz, which drew the ire of consumers for automatically sharing Gmail users' lists of friends? If would-be rivals are worried, they aren't letting on. "Google is smart to figure out how to make its stuff social," says Chris Cox, head of product at Facebook.
But critics question whether Google can make the leap. "They are just not that good at it," says Tom Coates, until recently the head of product at Yahoo's defunct Brickhouse lab. "Google is very good at building these utility-type products -- search, e-mail, and messaging. They are sort of like the power company of the Internet. But what they lack is a sense of how people share and collaborate."
Coates's point is that you don't have friends on Google, you have contacts and tasks. These services reflect an engineering culture that's all about utility, but one that makes it hard for the company to create something that's friendly and social. But if Google can change its utilitarian ways, the company stands a real chance of tapping into that next growth engine. Imagine if it added that social layer to its core search business and to Android, and blew it out on YouTube, giving people a reason to hang out on Google sites for long periods. Advertisers would come flocking. If it can get that right, as the former Googler now working in social media sees it, "Google would be unstoppable." Just like it used to be
No comments on grounds of professional propriety
|Arunima Mishra, Business Standard|
August 16, 2010
US-based Apple made millions by selling mobile apps — applications like games, productivity tools, location-based utilities, etc. But it is yet to make a dent in India, a country where mobile handset penetration is in the hundreds of millions. Realising that a bulk of the country’s mobile user-base is still unable to access the internet from mobile devices, Arun Menon, CEO of Onward Mobility, thought of an app store that could service these users.
Onward Mobility, a homespun start-up mobile solutions company, chose the FMCG route to reach the retail market with its mobile apps. These apps are available across 10,000 retail points in 186 Indian cities. Shrenik Kirtilal Seth, Ahmedabad-based retailer who has sold 250 apps for Onward Mobility, says: “At my shop, about two apps are sold every day. It’s a coupon-like product with a code and has to be uploaded on to the mobile through the USB chord or via Bluetooth.” Since its inception, Onward Mobility has sold over 300,000 apps and is expanding its reach to 25,000 outlets by March next year.
Since Onward Mobility is the only company in India setting up a direct-to-consumer business model of retailing mobile applications, against other mobile applications companies that are looking at selling their products online through channels like applications stores, Menon is leaving nothing to chance. The company is also evaluating selling its apps through operators, bundling with handset manufacturers and corporate sales.
Apps from Onward Mobility are compatible with handsets that cost '2,000 onwards and on such formats as Symbian, Java and Windows. “We are seeing a growing demand from traders and business men in Tier-II and -III cities,” he adds. While Onward Mobility has just two apps functional in the market — MobiSecret and MobiCop — it is adding eight new apps.
The demand has been encouraging so far. Retailers reckon that, if the company appoints more executives across stores, it could help sales rise to 20-25 apps per day. Dinesh Harjaj, a retailer in Rohtak, says: “In the 18-27 years age group, MobiSecret Premium is a hit. And even though MobiRecord app is yet to come to the market, we know it will be a hit as customers are already enquiring for apps that can provide recording options,” Harjaj lists.
A new way for people to share that information in an engaging way - Its definitely more than that ! :-)
Walt Mossberg, Wall Street Journal
August 19, 2010
The 800-pound gorilla of social networks, Facebook, is jumping into the location game.
On Wednesday, it announced a new, optional service for its 500 million members called Places, which allows you to check in to various places you go, and share that information with your Facebook friends, complete with maps and comments and the Facebook thumbs-up "like" feature.
Walt Mossberg tests a new location-based network from Facebook that he says is well-designed and has privacy controls that will make it appeal to many of the social network's users.
I've been testing the new service, and found it easy to use and reliable, with mostly logical privacy controls, an issue on which Facebook has been bruised in the past.
Companies began to build location-based social networks shortly after smartphones began to include social-networking apps and the ability to pinpoint your location.
These services let you and your network "friends" know if you were in the same area, so you could get together. They also let merchants entice you with coupons or ads.
All you had to do was use your smartphone to "check in" an establishment.
These location-based networks, notably Foursquare, have grown fast. Especially in a recession, many users appreciate offers to save money. There also is money to be made by the merchants.
But these networks are controversial. Though most have privacy controls, they are accused of eroding privacy by allowing others to know exactly where you are at any time. They also raise issues about giving such information to merchants.
Fourquare also has turned off some potential users with a big overlay of game-like features, like earning points and badges for visiting places, and even the ability to become the "mayor" of, say, a bar you frequent.
On the Facebook app, you initially can check in to Places only if you have Apple's iPhone, though you can use a site at touch.facebook.com via your browser on other phones and laptops that can track your location and support HTML 5 technology.
In the past week or so, my colleague Katherine Boehret and I have used Facebook Places to check in with iPhones around our home base of Washington, D.C., at stores, bars, restaurants and even our office. I also was able to check in, or "tag," other Facebook members with me, like my visiting son and daughter-in-law. All of these tests went well, but I was surprised by one odd thing: I could check myself into nearby places even if I wasn't there.
At each location, Places lets you see your friends and other Facebook members (even if they're not your friends), who are nearby, a feature called "People Here Now."
Minors are excluded from seeing anyone except their friends. We couldn't test this "Here Now" feature because, in the pre-release stage, there weren't enough people with the new service to be nearby.
These check-ins were posted on our Facebook pages (though, for this test, they could only be seen by the handful of others with pre-release access to the service), and people could comment.
One reason Facebook has launched Places, surely, is to compete with location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla. Those services already can link up with Facebook and tap its huge member base, a potential threat to the larger social network.
Facebook says it is adding Places merely to enrich the social experience it already provides. The company says its users already post status messages that say things like: "at Starbucks in Harvard Square with Susan and Jeff." Now, they can tap a new Places icon in the Facebook app on their iPhones and do this more easily, complete with a map. "We're just building a new way for people to share that information in an engaging way," says one Facebook official.
Facebook says it isn't monetizing the service, at least not at first, but may consider ways for companies to make use of the data "down the line."
Users won't receive ads or offers, at least initially. But if a merchant already has a Facebook page, some will be able to display your check-ins from the start, though visible only to your friends. Facebook says it has no plans to add game-like features to Places, though third-party developers might.
In addition to testing Places around town, I paid close attention to its privacy features, to judge how much control Facebook is offering users over who gets to see where they are. My conclusion is that the controls are decent, but could be a bit better. You can control how public your Places information is on Facebook's privacy settings screen, in the Sharing section. The default for Places is "Friends Only," unless you expressed a preference to share things with everyone. That's a good thing, in my view. You can change this to broaden it to, say, friends of friends, or even everyone. Or, you can limit it, so that, for instance, only certain people can see your location, or certain people can't.
Facebook also allows you to bar others from checking you in, and lets you hide yourself from others' "Here Now" listings, though you can't customize this latter setting by, say, allowing only some people to know you're nearby.
In my tests, these settings worked fine. But I wished a couple of other settings were available. For example, you can't keep check-in notices off your Facebook page, unless you broadly block other kinds of status updates. And you can't block merchants from including your check-ins at their establishments on their Facebook pages. Also, while Places omits some annoying aspects of its competitors, like the game features, it's more stripped down and leaves out some attractive features others include. Foursquare has a feature that lets you leave suggestions about a location. And Gowalla has a "trips" feature that lets users string together places they've been into recommended tours.
Overall, I found Places a good enhancement to Facebook and one that will likely make the booming social network even more attractive to some.
The great race for local biz ad dollars enters a new phase !
By AMIR EFRATI, The Wall Street Journal
Google Inc. has warily watched the rise of social-networking site Facebook Inc. Now the Internet companies are bringing their rivalry to a new area: the race for local business-ad dollars.
On Wednesday, Facebook announced an initiative called Facebook Places, which allows its users to share their physical locations online. It paves the way for the start-up to become a player in the growing Web business of supplying local information and advertising.
The rollout of Facebook Places follows the launch of Google Places in April. Google Places, building on prior Google business listings, offers up Web pages dedicated to individual businesses, showing where they are located, street-level images, and customer reviews of services or products, be it Joe's Pizza or the dry cleaner. Businesses can also advertise through their Google Place pages.
With these services, both Google and Facebook are attempting to organize and provide information about any location, including schools, parks, and tens of millions of local businesses. And both want businesses to advertise online and potentially target ads in real-time to users of mobile devices, right where they are.
The launch of Facebook Places ratchets up the competition between Google and Facebook. Google, which thrived by selling relevant ads alongside its Internet-search results, faces challenges from Facebook as more Web users could rely on their Facebook friends—not just Google—to discover content or available products. Much of the content generated by Facebook's 500 million users is also invisible to Google's search engine.
Google has been scrambling to develop a social-networking-type service to rival Facebook's, people familiar with the matter have said.
Now they are both after local-ad dollars. So far, only a fraction of local businesses advertise online. But in an interview Wednesday, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg called the local market a "big space."
Overall, small and medium-sized businesses with 100 or fewer employees spent $35 billion to $40 billion in all forms of local advertising in the U.S. in 2009, estimates BIA/Kelsey, a local-media advisory firm. Matthew Booth, a senior vice president at BIA/Kelsey, estimates that about 1.2 million small businesses in the U.S. already pay Google to appear in text ads alongside Internet search results.
Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook and Google "will compete a little bit."
Google struck a polite tone about Facebook Places. "We always welcome additional tools that help put people in touch with information about the world around them," said John Hanke, a Google vice president of product management.
Google and Facebook aren't the only ones fixated on places. Twitter Inc., the microblogging service, earlier this year launched Twitter Places, which allows users to broadcast, or "tweet," their location, including at businesses, to followers of their messages. Over time, the company is expected to try to line up local businesses to offer deals to users in connection with the feature.
Google last September began creating Place pages for millions of public places, including businesses. Businesses that contact Google can lay claim to a Place page, gaining more control over the content on the page. They also can see the origin of Google users who visit their page and sign up to advertise their services to users of Google's search and maps.
Google, which for years has been amassing business listings, says more than four million businesses have a Place page and "thousands" have paid to have their listing highlighted in search queries and maps for about $1 a day, according to Mr. Hanke. He added that about 20% of Google search queries focused on local places. More than 10 billion search queries were executed through Google last month, according to comScore Inc.
Now Facebook is asking businesses to create a Place page on its site and is encouraging them to advertise their products to users. In addition, Facebook is letting users "check in" at public places using their mobile phones, which can pinpoint their location through GPS and other means. Checking in allows people to notify friends in their social network that they are at a bar, for example.
A host of companies have built mobile-device applications centered around the check-in concept, including Foursquare Labs Inc. and Booyah Inc. For instance, users of Booyah's popular iPhone check-in game, MyTown, are able to check in almost anywhere. The applications sometimes show their users ads from local businesses based on their location.
“Google and Facebook are like the red and white dragons of Arthurian legend, two great Internet forces begin to grapple.” - Craig Silver
Google lets app makers such as Booyah tap into its database of 50 million places around the world. Booyah is using that Google data to expand MyTown into foreign countries. At the same time, Google is starting to serve MyTown users with offers from local businesses, said Booyah CEO Keith Lee.
Following suit, Facebook aims to amass a database of local businesses and give app developers access to that data.
Booyah has already jumped in: When Facebook told Booyah about its forthcoming Places product three weeks ago, the company built a new iPhone check-in game, InCrowd, in time for the launch on Wednes
Quite a feat
by MG Siegler on Aug 20, 2010
by MG Siegler on Aug 20, 2010
As we noted a couple days ago, the video Facebook made to explain their new Places feature was a bit Apple-esque. But something else they pulled off recently was even more Apple-esque: the secrecy surrounding their location launch.
Sure, we spotted the code for it months ago when an overzealous engineer likely pushed the code (but not the actual feature) to the touch.facebook.com version of the site a bit early. And everyone generally knew that something in the space was coming from them. But what’s odd is that we hadn’t heard from anyone who was actually using it out in the wild in the past several months. The best we got was all the way back in March when someone saw a very early beta of it. As we noted at the time:
One person who has seen it notes that the icon for the location feature has a pushpin on a map. This was apparently a beta version of an app, but the functionality, if Facebook chooses to go with it, would likely be built into the massively popular Facebook iPhone app.
That person also told us the feature was built so that it could bring in check-ins from Foursquare and Gowalla. Obviously, all of that ended up being very close to what actually launched — but that was five months ago! Not a peep since.
With a company the size of Facebook, that kind of secrecy is rare — well, outside of that company at One Infinite Loop, of course.
During their event, Facebook revealed that they had been working on Places in earnest forabout 8 months. And if you look at the Facebook HQ Places page on Facebook, you’ll see that there have been something around 7,000 check-ins from various employees over those past several months.
For some context, on Foursquare, AT&T Park in San Francisco is a place of massive activity. So how many total check-ins have there been there? 20,000 — and that’s over 18 months. Facebook HQ got 7,000+ check-ins through Places in just a few months. Clearly, a lot of employees were using it.
And yet, we saw no actual leaks in all that time from any of the nearly 1,500 employees. Not about the app, and not even about the Facebook Place pages.
Yes, plenty of us knew what was likely to come (like me, for example), but besides that one source five months ago (well, and that code), it was all from second-hand whispers and straight-up good guesses. I had no knowledge of the product from anyone who was actually using it in these past five months. And I don’t know of anyone who did outside of Facebook. That’s fairly amazing. And it would seem to speak to a company that is in control and has a healthy (or at least fear-inspiring) relationship with their employees.
(As a side note: it looks as if Facebook may be doing some data scrubbing on these previous check-ins as the numbers are hopping around and sometimes check-ins before a few weeks ago don’t show up at all.)
Long awaited & this is likely to have a substantial impact in infusing location into social. Location and Social are mandatory ingredients to all consumer services today !