Twitter.com has been redesigned to make content posted to the site more accessible to people who do not have accounts with the service. Those people can visit the site, and as of Wednesday they will find 18 tabs leading to streams of content on various topics, whether it be country singers, general news, or travel guides.
There’s also dozens of other curated streams of content accessible from links on the home page, with the content organized around more granular topics like U.S. federal agencies, art museums and wedding guides.
Previously, visitors to Twitter.com who did not have accounts were greeted with a sign-up page.
The changes come as Twitter faces continuing pressure to grow the number of people who use its site, and find new ways to make money off people who see its tweets and interact with them. Twitter ended the last quarter of 2014 with 288 million users who log in monthly — a 20 percent increase from the previous year, but the smallest annual growth rate Twitter ever reported.
One of Twitter’s biggest problems is that many people still don’t understand what it’s for.
With the redesigned home page, the company is trying to address this, by highlighting the site’s value as a source of real-time information and news. The tweets Twitter has selected for its new streams, the company says, come from some of the most popular accounts posting on those topics.
People without accounts still can’t do much to interact with the content. To reply to, re-tweet or “favorite” one of the tweets, the visitor is prompted to create an account. But with the redesign, Twitter hopes it might give the uninitiated enough bait to sign up.
And even without a flood of new sign-ups, Twitter’s new home page is likely to get more tweets in front of more people. That could give rise to new advertising methods around those tweets.
The new home page is available first in the U.S. on the desktop, Twitter said on Wednesday, though it will be arriving “to more places over time.”
After less than two years at the helm of Zynga, Don Mattrick is on the move again. He’s picking up the best part of $20 million on his way out the revolving door, so don’t feel too bad for him, but after his catastrophic mis-management of the Xbox One’s development and launch, his failure to lift Zynga out of its post-IPO slump looks like yet another blot on the extremely expensive copybook of the former Microsoft executive.
There will be plenty of I-told-you-so’s over this news, but in truth, it wasn’t so predictable. Mattrick always looked like a better fit for Zynga than he was at Microsoft; the balls-up he made of the Xbox One could be attributed, if we’re feeling charitable, to having sensibilities far more in-tune with a broad mass-market than with the core audience a launching console needs to please. As such, the social- and (latterly) mobile-focused Zynga should have been a more suitable challenge for him; and indeed, while the company’s performance under his tenure hasn’t exactly been good, or even mediocre, there have been some important bright spots, most notably the (clever) acquisition of mobile specialists NaturalMotion, and the (achingly slow, but getting there) transition away from browser-based games to mobile platforms.
That the company’s performance in terms of finances and share price alike failed to pick up under Mattrick’s tenure, though, is something easily presented as an outright failure; and after the mess he made at Microsoft, it would be straightforward to roll our eyes at the spectacle of yet another overpaid exec with bugger all knowledge about games being given an enormous sack full of $100 bills with which to break his falls after a gentle defenestration from his latest failure. That’s not entirely an unfair characterisation, but not entirely fair either, I suspect, because no sooner was Mattrick out of the CEO’s chair than Zynga founder and former CEO Mark Pincus had his backside back in the seat – and that, to me, sets off all sorts of alarm bells.
For a CEO to depart and to be instantly replaced is not entirely unusual, but it does raise some eyebrows; for a CEO to depart after a short and unfruitful period, only to be replaced instantly by the company founder whom they replaced in the role, strongly suggests that the company founder never actually took their fingers out of the pie. The reasons for Pincus leaving the CEO’s role were pretty clear; he was broadly seen by investors as a millstone around the company’s neck, his dictatorial nature, inflexibility and tendency to make stupid, inflammatory statements in public being pretty damaging to a firm struggling to recover from an overheated IPO. That he’s been waiting in the wings for Mattrick to depart raises troubling questions over just who has actually been running Zynga for the past two years; it’s not hard to imagine Mattrick finding his hands tied by the presence of a highly opinionated and influential founder who never actually wanted to let go of the reins in the first place, something which might explain a good deal about the tardy pace of Zynga’s turnaround.
The markets, unsurprisingly, reacted to the news by dumping Zynga stock; the founder who was doing a miserable job of being CEO has stepped back up to replace the new guy who was also doing a poor (but better) job of being CEO? It’s a net negative, not merely because for all his faults Mattrick was broadly considered a better CEO than Pincus, but because it suggests that the upper echelons of Zynga’s management are in absolute disarray.
Still, though; even this latest dump of Zynga’s stock is only going to bring the company back to depths it already plumbed back in February… and in December… oh, and last October, too. Zynga is bumping along the bottom, and has been since mid-2012, in share price terms. It looked like it might climb off the floor around the start of 2014, but since the middle of last year it’s traded at around $3 and under; frankly, the depths to which it can fall off the back of this executive-revolving-door farce are severely limited by the fact that it’s already at rock bottom. That’s because Zynga’s real problems, although they may well start from its dysfunctional management, are much more deeply rooted. The company hasn’t had a hit in years – even more problematically, it has never had a bona fide, honest to god hit on a mobile platform. It bought some smaller developers with mobile hits, and then failed to grow or develop them (in some embarrassing cases, they flopped almost immediately after being purchased). FarmVille, a game franchise whose existence you had entirely forgotten until I just mentioned its name at the start of this sentence, remains the jewel in Zynga’s crown. The “Games” section on Zynga’s website reads embarrassingly like a blow-by-blow account of games everyone seemed to be into for a few months, years ago.
There might – might – be light at the end of the tunnel. It would be easy to dismiss Zynga’s new Great Hope, the action strategy title Dawn of Titans, as absolute folly; the “Clash of Clans” market, so utterly saturated that top games in the category have ended up spending millions on Superbowl commercials to try and soak up the last remaining dregs of the market, is a horrible place to be launching a new product. Dawn of Titans, though, is just branded and presented a little like Clash of Clans; the game itself looks quite different, and most of all, it’s from the genuinely brilliant NaturalMotion. If I were to pick the most likely source of a Zynga renewal, it would be NaturalMotion; one can only hope that, in a similar manner to the Activision / Blizard relationship, Zynga’s management has the good sense to let NaturalMotion do their jobs and keep their paws off to the greatest extent possible.
Still; the fate of a company is a big thing to rest on one development team, no matter how talented. What Zynga needs is a hit, undoubtedly. What it really, really needs is hits – plural. Once upon a time, there was a formula for social gaming success, based on just the right balance of compelling game design (yes, Farmville really was compelling in its own way), pulling the right social levers, monetising intelligently and with a light touch, and spreading through some fairly nakedly unpleasant viral approaches on Facebook. Mark Pincus got that formula down perfectly; that is, thus far, the only thing that Zynga has ever executed perfectly. That formula, of course, is part of the history books now; it doesn’t work any more and never will again.
The new formula that Zynga needs to discover is actually a much trickier one, one which game companies have struggled with for decades; the formula for making great games people actually want to play and actually want to recommend to their friends. The CEO who could potentially turn Zynga into a company where that happens would have to create an environment of intense creativity and freedom, utilising the short development cycles, rapid prototyping and start-up style Minimum Viable Product soft-launching strategies enabled by mobile platforms to let creators exercise their imaginations and try many different ideas in search of the hits; a CEO who truly valued creativity and understood how to let it thrive. Mark Pincus wasn’t that CEO first time around. He’s going to have to work hard to prove that Pincus 2.0 is any better.
The move is Facebook’s attempt to create a dedicated hub for chats on the web as it incorporates many new features into the Messenger mobile app and grows its use. Facebook users can still chat with others as they would normally do on Facebook.com. But the new web app, accessible at Messenger.com, is aimed solely at messaging, without other distractions like the news feed or profile pages.
To use Messenger.com, which went live on Wednesday, users must sign in with their Facebook credentials. It works largely the same as the mobile app, with support for voice calling, stickers and emoticons, and syncs chats across devices. It’s available to all English-speaking Facebook users globally. Facebook is working on making it available in other languages in the coming weeks, a spokeswoman said.
On mobile, Facebook has extended the functions of its Messenger app well beyond simple messaging. For example, users can now send each other money within the app. Third-party developers can also integrate their software into the app, giving users more ways to place digital content inside their chats. Facebook is also making Messenger a platform to let users interact with online retailers and receive updates on the status of their orders.
If someone has the new payments feature enabled in the Messenger mobile app, that function will be included in Messenger.com. Content from third-party mobile apps will be integrated into people’s chats on the web, but that content can’t be created from Messenger on the web.
Facebook’s Messenger app now has roughly 600 million users who log in monthly, which is almost half of Facebook’s total user base.
In a move that could produce even more automated suggestions and tips for LinkedIn users, the professional network has purchased California startup Refresh, the maker of an app that gathers news and insights about participants in meetings.
Launched three years ago, Refresh is designed to be a “digital briefing book” that can call up online information related to people that users are scheduled to meet. The information can be anything from blog posts, news articles or Facebook posts to personal notes or favorite sports teams.
The Refresh mobile and desktop app is aimed at helping people relate to one another more quickly, but it can also be used to refresh one’s memory when running into acquaintances unexpectedly.
The details of the deal were not disclosed. Refresh has stopped taking on new users and its app will shut down April 15.
“Refresh has surfaced insights associated with hundreds of millions of meetings, and has been central to countless connections and closed deals,” co-founder Bhavin Shah wrote on the Refresh blog in announcing the deal.
LinkedIn already has an app called Connected that was somewhat of a rival to Refresh. It can log the people users have met and offer updates and information about interests shared with “connections,” which are acquaintances in the LinkedIn lingo. It’s unclear whether Refresh features will be added to Connected or the LinkedIn website itself.
“Our team will focus its efforts on providing LinkedIn members with more insights to help them better do their jobs,” Shah wrote.
With the Apple Watch slated for release on April 24, third-party application developers are rushing to write extensions that can run on the device. Now Instagram is sharing some code it wrote for its own app to help others.
The Facebook-owned company has posted a set of Objective C code that provides a way for an application to use complex data structures, which could facilitate feature-rich apps for the tiny device.
“We’re really excited to be one of the first apps on the platform, and were able to build some solutions that we think will help other people build their apps more quickly and easily,” Instagram engineer Ryan Nystrom wrote in an emailed statement. “We’ve been able to build on open-source technology at Instagram, so it’s exciting for us to contribute, too.”
Instagram’s Watch app can display items from a user’s Instagram photo feed and lets the user “Like” other photos and leave emoji comments.
Apple has published a preliminary framework for programmatically manipulating the Watch, though the company warns that some commands may change before the final release.
The Instagram code is different from Apple’s standard software in how it deals with multi-dimensional data, or a single piece of data with multiple items within it. Instagram says it provides an easier way to do things like using that data to populate multiple choices in a hierarchical menu.
Instagram is not alone in rushing to build apps for the watch, many of which will probably serve as extensions of iPhone and iPad apps. Evernote, City Mapper, real estate listing service Redfin, Salesforce, and the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper all are preparing Watch apps.
Germany’s BMG music rights company announced that it has signed a music digital distribution deal with China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, as the world’s largest e-commerce giant firms up its bid to become a digital media empire.
The deal, one of the first in China made by a major music publisher rather than a label, will bring more than 2.5 million copyrights to Alibaba, whose music platforms already had many of the songs from artists including Kylie Minogue, the Rolling Stones and Jean-Michael Jarre, an Alibaba spokeswoman said.
Alibaba has set its eyes on becoming an online-media powerhouse, with music, film and television. The $210-billion firm has touted the potential for selling digital products as well as physical products in China, despite the country’s track record of users not paying for media content.
In the process, it is vying with Tencent Holdings Ltd, China’s biggest social networking and online entertainment firm, and search leader Baidu Inc and its online video unit, iQiyi.
For BMG, the tie-up is both a chance to boost earnings by its artists in China and part of its attempt to “grow the legitimate music market in China”, the company said.
BMG last November linked up with Chinese independent company Giant Jump to manage publishing and recording rights both at home and overseas.
Alibaba’s Digital Entertainment arm will “promote BMG writers and artists through channels such as its streaming apps Xiami and TTPod” and “monitor and take action against digital and mobile services who may infringe the rights of BMG clients,” the subsidiary of Bertelsmann AG, Europe’s largest media company, said in a statement.
“Internet and particular mobile media are quickly providing an answer to the music industry’s long-time challenge of how to monetize the vast untapped potential of the Chinese market,” BMG Chief Executive Hartwig Masuch said in Monday’s statement.
Facebook’s Messenger app mostly been used for keeping in touch with friends. Now people can also use it to send each other money. In the future, it could become a platform which other apps could use, if recent rumors prove true.
This Wednesday and Thursday at its F8 conference in San Francisco, Facebook will show off new tools to help third-party developers build apps, deploy them on Facebook and monetize them through Facebook advertising.
Among those tools might be a new service for developers to publish content or features of their own inside Messenger, according to a TechCrunch article. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
Such a service could make Messenger more useful, if the right developers sign on. Search features, photo tools or travel functions could be incorporated into Messenger and improve users’ chats around events or activities.
However, Messenger already lets users exchange money, and it also handles voice calls. Layer on more services and Messenger could become bloated and inconvenient to use.
In other words, making Messenger a platform would be a gamble.
A more versatile Messenger could generate new user data Facebook could leverage for advertising, helping it counter a user growth slowdown in recent quarters. It could also boost Facebook’s perennial efforts to increase participants in its developer platform and the number of users of its third-party apps.
Even if Facebook doesn’t turn Messenger into a platform at F8, it will likely do so in the future, said John Jackson, an IDC analyst focused on mobile business strategies. For the same reasons Facebook might turn Messenger into a platform, it could do the same for other apps like WhatsApp or Instagram, he said.
“The objective is to enrich and multiply the nature of interactions on the platform,” providing valuable data along the way, he said.
Users can tap or click a dollar icon in a new chat window to send money to their friends, after they link a Visa or MasterCard debit card issued by a U.S. bank to their accounts.
The free feature will roll out over the next few months for users in the United States who access Facebook Messenger through desktop computers or Google Inc’s Android and Apple Inc’s iOS operating systems on mobile devices.
Users can create a PIN or enable Touch ID if they have an iPhone to add a level of security to the payments.
Snapchat had launched a similar service last November, called Snapcash.
The mobile messaging company partnered with online payments company Square to allow Snapchat users to link their debit cards to their account and quickly send money to a contact by starting a chat on a smartphone.
Alibaba chairman Jack Ma showed the new feature while speaking at the Cebit trade fair in Hanover, Germany.
Using Alipay, Ma bought a souvenir stamp from Alibaba’s e-commerce site in China. But to confirm the purchase, Ma scanned his face using the front camera on his smartphone.
“Online payment to buy things is always a big headache,” he said. “You forget your password, you worry about your security. Today we show you a new technology.”
Alibaba, which reigns as China’s largest e-commerce player, said Monday that the facial recognition feature was still under development.
Other online payment services have also started using biometrics to confirm user purchases. Apple Pay, for instance, relies on an iPhone’s fingerprint scanner.
It’s unclear how secure Alibaba’s technology is. But the company’s affiliated Alipay service is already hugely popular in China, where it has more than 300 million registered users.
Just over a half of the transactions Alipay processes came from mobile devices last year. And although most of Alibaba’s business remains in China, the company has ambitions to expand globally.
Alipay, which was spun off from Alibaba in 2011, is also seeking to increase its international user base. Last October, Apple CEO Tim Cook also said he was exploring a possible partnership with Alibaba Group to bring Apple Pay to China.
The facial recognition feature, while still in a beta state, is called “Smile to Pay,” according to a social media post by Ant Financial Services Group, an Alibaba affiliated company which runs Alipay. The feature was developed in partnership with a Beijing company Megvii, which provides a cloud-based facial recognition service.
A federal judge said it will allow a nationwide class-action lawsuit against Facebook to proceed. The lawsuit is seeking to force the social media company to provide refunds when children spend their parents’ money on its website without permission.
U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose, California on Tuesday said a class of plaintiffs estimated in the hundreds of thousands may press their claim that Facebook should change how it handles online transactions by minors.
The judge also said the plaintiffs could not pursue refunds as a group under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, because any refunds would vary from case to case, but could still seek individual refunds. She set an Oct. 19 trial date.
Facebook said it believes the lawsuit lacks merit, and said it will defend itself vigorously.
The April 2012 lawsuit said Facebook let children use their parents’ credit and debit cards to buy the virtual currency Facebook Credits, and violated California law by refusing refunds under its “all sales are final” policy when the parents complained.
In opposing class certification, Facebook said the plaintiffs’ claims were too disparate, and an injunction would not address them.
But Freeman said state law protects parents and their children when those children “occasionally use their lack of judgment” and buy things they should not.
“Though some minors undoubtedly may wish to continue making purchases through credit or debit cards they do not have permission to use, such a desire cannot prevent the named plaintiffs from bringing suit to demand that Facebook’s policies comply with the law,” she wrote.
Facebook Credits were discontinued in 2013 and replaced with Facebook Payments.
The lawsuit was brought by two children and their parents.
While app makers are passionate about developing for the Apple Watch, some are skeptical about the prospects of coming up with a big idea for the little computer on a wrist that hits stores on April 24, said Markiyan Matsekh, product manager at software engineering firm Eleks.
A killer app that grabs consumers’ attention will be key to the success of the Apple Watch and could spawn new companies, as the iPhone did. The photo-sharing app Instagram grew into a $1 billion business bought by Facebook Inc, and Snapchat has gone from a mobile messaging app to a company valued at $19 billion.
Apple has blocked some features, such as the gyroscope and accelerometer, on the development kit, and the watch simulator cannot test all functions, developers said. Apple declined to comment on why developers cannot access certain features.
“The limitations are discouraging,” said Matsekh, who helped develop a Watch app to control a Tesla Model S without involvement from the electric carmaker.
App designer Mark Rabo believes Apple is spurring creativity though restraint.
The challenge he believes is “not trying to take a phone app and cram it into a Watch.”
Rabo is developing an app called “Revere,” that ties notes to calendars. The Watch will recognize the wearer is walking into a meeting and pull up previously dictated notes about the attendees, for instance.
Apple listed about 40 apps on its website as it unveiled its smartwatch on Monday with “thousands” more in the works, it said.
Virtual reality is being viewed as the next big thing, and not just for gaming. Facebook has talked about how VR headsets will let friends communicate as if they’re together in the same room.
A team of engineers at Google is building a version of Android for virtual reality applications, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing two people familiar with the project. “Tens of engineers” and other staff are said to be working on the project.
The OS would be freely distributed, the report said, mirroring the strategy that made Android the most popular OS for smartphones. The report didn’t provide any launch plans, and Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
With rivals investing heavily in VR, it would make sense for Google to build its own OS. Facebook has referred to VR as the next big platform after mobile, and it bought headset maker Oculus VR last year for US$2 billion.
They see VR as the future because it provides an immersive experience for gaming, entertainment, communications, and perhaps other applications not thought of yet. It’s still a way from mass adoption, though, and some people report getting nausea from VR systems, or just don’t want a big display strapped to their head.
Still, there are lots of players in the space. Samsung has Gear VR, Sony has Project Morpheus, and Microsoft has HoloLens.
Google, clearly, doesn’t want to be left behind.
Leading the Android VR effort are veterans Clay Bavor and Jeremy Doig, the Wall Street Journal said. Bavor helped to create Google Cardboard, the company’s low-tech virtual reality viewer that attracted attention at last year’s Google I/O conference.
Facebook Inc, United Continental Holdings Inc, BMW AG and others have spent weeks at Apple’s headquarters, working with the smartwatch to test and fine-tune apps that will debut alongside the device, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the process.
The watch, which will let consumers check their email, pay for goods at retail stores and monitor personal health information, will be Apple’s first major product launch since the iPad in 2010.
The company has scheduled a special event in San Fransisco on March 9 where it is expected to showcase Apple Watch, which will be launched in April.
Apple uses extreme measures to keep its work secret – Internet access is blocked inside the rooms and no outside materials can be brought in, Bloomberg reported, citing a person who attended the tests.
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller and Facebook spokeswoman Johanna Peace declined to comment. Reuters could not immediately reach United Continental and BMW for comment outside regular business hours.
German carmaker BMW said on Thursday its talks with Apple did not involve developing or building a car, denying a German magazine report.
Fake profiles are a real challenge for Facebook, especially in developing markets. For example, in India there is a significant problem with men creating profiles that impersonate real women, a violation of Facebook’s rules. This makes some women afraid of creating profiles.
It’s part of a larger problem in India, where more men are on the Internet than women in comparison to other parts of the world, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday.
Facebook, Zuckerberg said, is tackling this problem and trying to become faster at flagging fake profiles, in part by getting better feedback from its users.
“This is something we take very seriously,” said Zuckerberg, responding to a question about women’s online safety during a public Q&A session in Barcelona, Spain.
Facebook terms of service prohibit users from creating an account for anyone other than themselves, unless they have permission from the other person. Users also can’t create more than one personal account. Users can flag what they deem to be “imposter” accounts impersonating them from that person’s profile page, or by filling out this form, if they’re not on Facebook.
Still, Facebook has problems combating this. The user from India who submitted the question for the Q&A reported seeing more than 50 fake female accounts on the site.
Zuckerberg did not provide details about how exactly the company would be improving its processes and a company spokesman declined to comment further.
“We like big, ambitious goals at Facebook,” said Chris Daniels, head of Internet.org in a discussion with several reporters at Mobile World Congress (MWC).
Facebook and several partners founded Internet.org two years ago; it is already serving 7 million customers in Colombia, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, India and Zambia. Many of those who were originally connected for free are now paying some fee for more advanced data services.
Daniels, a vice president at Facebook in charge of Internet.org, said the conversion of free Internet users to paying customers is critical to the carriers who provide the Internet infrastructure that makes the service possible.
He sounded the same refrain that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered on Monday in a keynote presentation at MWC with three onstage carriers, including Airtel Africa, which has offered Internet.org in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Millicom, another partner, saw a 30% increase in data users when free data data was launched in Paraguay.
While the goal of 100 countries in a year is ambitious, Daniels said it is achievable, partly because Internet.org has figured out how to work with carriers to offer online services for free that don’t cannibalize the paid services that are the lifeblood of many carriers.
“It’s ambitious to say 100 countries, but our focus is less on the number and to focus more on spreading Internet.org to added companies,” he said. “We’ve had early partners and have brought more [users] online and more are paying for data and buying voice and SMS.”
Once more countries are on board, Daniels said the free basic service model should continue. “We’d like to see it ongoing. We’d like to see free basic services always available. Operators will leave it on only if it continues to benefit their business.”