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Reddit Going After More Users, Advertisers With New Feature

April 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Reddit, a website with a retro-’90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As, is trying to attract even more followers, and advertising, by allowing members of its passionate community to post their own news more quickly and easily.

Reddit, majority owned by Conde Nast parent Advanced Publications, last month unveiled a new feature that lets users of the nine-year-old site post live updates, allowing them to report in real time.

The live updates allow selected users, dubbed “reporters” by Reddit, to instantly stream unlimited posts during the course of an event such as the conflict in the Ukraine, an earthquake in Los Angeles, or a game played in real time, without having to refresh the page.

The capability is still in testing mode. So far only users selected on a case-by-case basis can create a live thread. The feature has attracted attention. For example, live threads linked to “Twitch plays Pokemon,” in which users of the Twitch website played an old Nintendo game, garnered 2 million page views in 30 days.

“Reddit members are doing amazing things with very minimal tools and were hitting some barriers,” said Erik Martin, general manager.

Martin, who said the site is not yet profitable and declined to give specific revenue figures, added: “We want to give people a more powerful way to make updates.”

Reddit’s move toward enabling users to fluidly update is the latest move in a battle between social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to use news to engage users, and attract more ad dollars.

Before, Reddit users could not update in real time. The new feature is similar to how people instantly send tweets but keeps the updates together through one thread or “subreddit.”

Reddit, which also gets revenue through e-commerce, has ramped up efforts of late to attract more advertisers. Next week, it plans to unveil city and country targeting capabilities that allow advertisers to address users by geographic market.

One recent ad, specific to Reddit, featured the actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, stars of the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” as individual threads.

Some 62 percent of Reddit users get their news through the platform while about half of all Facebook and Twitter users do the same, according to a recent report on the State of the News Media from the Pew Research Center.

“Reddit is all about the community, that is the value they brought to the site as they created it,” said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, who has been following Reddit since it was founded.

“News has always been really important to Reddit,” she said.

Reddit has more than 114 million unique visitors worldwide and has doubled its traffic in 12 months, said Martin. Facebook has more than 1 billion users and Twitter has more than 240 million.


Twitter Unveils Redesign Of User Profile Pages

April 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc has revealed a redesign of its user profile pages, the latest in a series of steps promised by the company to bring new users to the seven-year-old service.

In response to an all-time low in user growth figures during the recent quarter, Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo informed worried Wall Street analysts that the company would make a number of changes to freshen up the service.

The redesign, while mostly cosmetic, hinted at what Costolo described in February as a willingness to experiment with new ways to organize content. Users can now “pin” a tweet to stay at the top of their feed, a rare instance of Twitter departing from the continuously rolling format that has defined the service.

Tweets that have received more re-tweets or replies will also appear slightly larger to spur more user engagement.

The new layout, which will be available to a small group of users initially, will be widely deployed to Twitter’s 241 million users in the coming weeks, the company said.

Twitter reported higher-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue on February 6, but investors focused on user growth of just 3.8 percent, the lowest rate of quarter-on-quarter growth since Twitter began disclosing user figures. The San Francisco-based company went public in November.

In recent weeks, Twitter has also reportedly been testing a number of new advertising units, such as ads that include download links for mobile apps.

As part of Tuesday’s refresh, Twitter said users will also be allowed to select a large banner picture to display across the top of their profile page, as well as a much larger profile picture, two features that resemble another social network familiar to most of the world’s Internet users: Facebook.


Chicago Sun-Times To Accept Bitcoins For Subscription Payments

April 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The Chicago Sun-Times has agreed to accept bitcoins as payment for subscription, becoming the first major U.S. newspaper to take the digital currency.

The paper’s goal is to keep evolving with changing technology, and accepting bitcoin payments is one way it is trying to stay digitally focused, Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk said in a release.

The Sun-Times has a “digital-first” strategy that led it to experiment with a bitcoin paywall for a one-day period in February.

It had partnered with San Francisco-based micropayments startup Bitwall so readers could donate bitcoin or tweets on Twitter to benefit an organization called the Taproot Foundation, which pairs professionals with nonprofit groups for pro bono work.

“We were encouraged by our paywall experiment in February,” Kirk said in an interview over Twitter. “We believe there is an opportunity here to expand our readership with Bitcoin.”

The Chicago Sun-Times claims 6 million unique monthly online readers. It was the eighth-largest U.S. newspaper by total average circulation in March 2013, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, an advertising and content provider industry group.

For its print and digital subscriptions, the newspaper is working with Coinbase, a bitcoin wallet service also based in San Francisco. In a blog post, Coinbase said that content providers such as the Sun-Times are one of the early leaders in getting merchants to adopt the cryptocurrency.

In January, Bitcoin-related news sites reported that Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad was planning to accept bitcoin as a payment method for individual articles. A Reddit poster, claiming to be a webmaster for the paper, said the new payment method was being implemented step by step.

Although Bitcoin has been overshadowed by allegations of fraud and hacker attacks such as in the collapse of Japan-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, content providers and bloggers are turning to the digital currency in part because it’s a cheaper means of moving payments around, with transaction fees which can be lower than 1 percent.


Americans Concerned About Personal Privacy Erosion, Says Survey

April 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The personal data gathering abilities of Google,Facebook and other technology giants has sparked growing unease among Americans, with a majority worried that Internet companies are encroaching too much upon their lives, a new poll showed.

Google and Facebook generally topped lists of Americans’ concerns about the ability to track physical locations and monitor spending habits and personal communications, according to a poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos from March 11 to March 26.

The survey highlights a growing ambivalence towards Internet companies whose popular online services, such as social networking, e-commerce and search, have blossomed into some of the world’s largest businesses.

Now, as the boundaries between Web products and real world services begin to blur, many of the top Internet companies are racing to put their stamp on everything from homeappliances to drones and automobiles.

With billions of dollars in cash, high stock prices, and an appetite for more user data, Google, Facebook, Amazon and others are acquiring a diverse set of companies and launching ambitious technology projects.

But their grand ambitions are inciting concern, according to the poll of nearly 5,000 Americans. Of 4,781 respondents, 51 percent replied “yes” when asked if those three companies, plus Apple, Microsoft and Twitter, were pushing too far and expanding into too many areas of people’s lives.

This poll measures accuracy using a credibility interval and is accurate to plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

“It’s very accurate to say that many people have love-hate relationships with some of their technology providers,” said Nuala O’Connor, the President of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet public policy group which has received funding from companies including Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

“As technology moves forward, as new technologies are in use and in people’s lives, they should question ‘Is this a fair deal between me and the device?’”

Fears about the expanding abilities of tech companies crystallized when Google acknowledged in 2010 that its fleet of StreetView cars, which criss-cross the globe taking panoramic photos for Google’s online mapping service, had inadvertently collected emails and other personal information transmitted over unencrypted home wireless networks.

Yet many Americans remain ignorant of the extent to which Internet companies are trying to extend their reach.

Google is one of the most aggressively ambitious, investing in the connected home through its $3.2 billion acquisition of smart thermostat maker Nest. Google is also investing in self-driving cars, augmented-reality glasses, robots and drones.

Almost a third of Americans say they know nothing about plans by Google and its rivals to get into real-world products such as phones, cars and appliances. Still, roughly two thirds of respondents are already worried about what Internet companies will do with the personal information they collect, or how securely they store the data.


GameStop Boots Spawn Labs

April 1, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

In April of 2011, GameStop acquired streaming tech firm Spawn Labs because cloud gaming was the future. Today, the retailer announced it had closed Spawn Labs because cloud gaming is still the future.

Speaking with GameSpot today, the retailer’s vice president of investor relations Matt Hodges said cloud gaming isn’t a good fit for today’s consumers.

“While cloud-based delivery of video games is innovative and potentially revolutionary, the gaming consumer has not yet demonstrated that it is ready to adopt this type of service to the level that a sustainable business can be created around it,” Hodges said.

For the time being, GameStop’s cloud gaming business will be focused on selling subscription cards for programs like PlayStation Now through its retail locations.

Beyond the closure, the specialty retailer also reported its fourth quarter and full-year financial results this morning. The launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 reinvigorated the console market, helping to drive sales and profits growth.

For the year ended February 1, total revenues were up nearly 2 percent to $9.04 billion. At the same time, the company returned to the black, turning the previous year’s $269.7 million net loss into a $354.2 million net profit. The company also underlined the growth of its digital and mobile business, which brought in more than $1 billion for the year.

The fourth quarter saw sales rise more than 3 percent to $3.68 billion, with net income slipping nearly 16 percent to $220.5 million. Those figures include goodwill and asset impairment charges of $28.7 million, “primarily due to the closure of Spawn Labs and store asset impairments.”

GameStop also released its first outlook for the current fiscal year and its first quarter. For the full year, the retailer is expecting total sales to be up 8 to 14 percent, with a net income between $398 million and $433 million. For the current quarter, it has projected year-over-year sales growth between 7 and 10 percent, with profits between $64 million and $70 million.

Fashion Apps Using Image Recognition Technology To Aid Shoppers

March 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Shoppers envious of clothing, shoes and accessories worn by strangers or seen on websites can turn to new apps for hassle-free buying to locate similar items.

Like the music app Shazam, which identifies songs based on sound clips, new fashion apps use photos and image recognition technology to find similar clothing.

“People see items they like on the street but can’t really go up to the person wearing them and ask where they got them,” said Daniela Cecilio, the chief executive of London-based startup Asap54.

“Or they might see items they like on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter, but can’t really click through to buy them,” she added, referring to the social media websites.

With the Asap54 app for iPhone, which was launched last month, users take a photo of an item, or upload an existing one, and describe what it is to help the app identify it. The app recommends something similar from more than 150 retail partners across the United State, Europe and other countries.

The Style Eyes app for iPhone and Android also uses a photo to find the desired or a similar item, which can be purchased from its catalog of 600 retailers in Britain and 300 in the United States.

Mark Elfenbein, chief digital officer of Toronto-based start-up company Slyce, said its image recognition technology integrates with retail brands so shoppers can find things by taking a photo with their iPhone or scanning an image from their desktop.

“The way brands are trying to communicate with customers is changing. Historically, they would lure customers to their stores or websites, but now we’re seeing that brands want to create transactions in other places too,” Elfenbein said.

The technology recognizes information such as how far apart buttons are, and fabric and stitching to help power visual searches.

But image recognition is still inexact and depends on the quality of the photo and other factors, such as lighting. To overcome the drawbacks Elfenbein said, Slyce uses a mix of technology and crowdsourcing to improve its search results.

Other apps making shopping easier include Pounce for Ios, created by Tel Aviv-based company BuyCode Inc. It allows consumers to buy items directly from retail advertisements from stores such as Lord & Taylor and office supply company Staples, Inc by hovering their smartphone camera over an image.

With the eBay Fashion iPhone app users in the United States and Britain can upload an image to find similar items available for sale on eBay.

For consumers more interested in renting than buying, Rent the Runway’s iPhone app uses a photo of an item seen in a store to find something similar that customers can rent instead.


GoDaddy Considering An IPO Again

March 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Web hosting company The GoDaddy Group Inc is gearing up for a second attempt at an initial public offering, according to two people familiar with the matter, as the 2014 tech IPO pipeline continues to grow.

GoDaddy, the Internet domain registrar and web host known for its racy ads, would join a number of high-profile tech names expected to go public this year in the wake of Twitter Inc’s successful debut. They include “Candy Crush” developer King Digital and cloud services providers Box and Dropbox.

The company is in the process of selecting underwriters for its IPO, one of the two sources said on condition of anonymity.

GoDaddy was not immediately available for comment.

GoDaddy had filed to go public in 2006 but was told at the time that it would be required to take a 50 percent haircut — a percentage that is subtracted from the par value of assets that are being used as collateral — on its initial public offering.

The company instead decided to pull its filing, citing unfavorable market conditions.

The company, founded in 1997, was eventually acquired by a private equity consortium led by KKR & Co and Silver Lake in 2011 for $2.25 billion. Silver Lake declined to comment while KKR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other private equity buyers included Technology Crossover Ventures.

GoDaddy, which provides website domain names, is famous for airing bawdy commercials with scantily clad women for the past decade during the Super Bowl.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the plans.


Will Google’s Chrome Anti-Hijacking API Work?

March 14, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has targeted web browser settings hijacking in its latest update to Chrome for Windows.

On the Chromium blog, Google engineering director Erik Kay announced an extension settings API designed to ensure that users have notice and control over any settings changes made to their web browsers.

As a result, the only way extensions will be able to make changes to browser settings such as the default search engine and start page will be through this API.

Bargain hungry consumers are often unaware that freeware programs often bundle add-on programs for which developers receive payment but can create irritating, rather than malicious, changes to user settings.

Although there is usually consent sought at installation, quite often it is ignored or not understood, and the people who miss the warnings are generally the same ones who find it hard to change the settings back.

Kay said that the API is available in the Chromium developer channel, with a rollout to the stable channel set for May.

The Chromium stable channel has been updated to version 33.0.1750.149. The main change is an update to the embedded Flash Player for Windows, which is now version

There are seven new security fixes, most of which were user submitted via the open source Fast Memory Detector Address Sanitizer.

Although the user community and Chrome team continue to proactively protect the Chromium project, third party extensions can still cause problems, with several already having been removed from the Chrome Store this year.


Google Gearing Up To Release SDK For Wearable Devices

March 12, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Google is gearing up to release a software development kit that will aid developers in building apps for wearable computers on the Android platform.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of product management, told an audience at the SXSW conference on Sunday that Google will release an SDK for wearable tech in the next few weeks.

The SDK should make it easier for third parties to build wearable devices, including computerized eyeglasses, smartwatches or even smart bracelets, to run on the Android platform.

Pichai noted that Google sees a strong connection between the ecosystems for smartphones and wearable devices.

“We want to develop a set of common protocols by which they can work together,” Pichai said, according to a report in The Verge. “They need a mesh layer and they need a data layer by which they can all come together… When we say wearables, we are thinking much more broadly.”

Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Google has its own hand in the wearable computer category with its upcoming Google Glass project.

Last year, Google began selling prototypes of its computerized eye glasses to about 8,000 early adopters and developers. Glass, which is expected to be released sometime this year, enables users to take photos and video and share them on Facebook and Twitter. Users also can use the eyewear to read and send emails, scan the news and see maps.

There’s also speculation that Google will release its own smartwatch at its annual Google I/O developer conference being held in San Francisco in June.


Mozilla Abandons Work on Single Sign-on Project “Persona”

March 12, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla last week announced it was halting in-house development of the single sign-on “Persona,” a failed alternative to website passwords, and will offer it up to volunteers who wish to develop it further.

The open-source company will continue to support Persona with security updates and will also continue to host the log-on service, but new features won’t be coming.

“For a variety of reasons, Persona has received less adoption than we were hoping for by this point,” Mozilla said in a Friday blog. “Reducing the scope of Persona and stabilizing its core APIs over the last quarter has shown us that adding more features was not the way forward.”

Instead, Mozilla will turn over Persona to volunteer developers.

Persona, which harks back to 2011 — when it was called “Browser ID” — was designed to be used by website and Web application developers as an alternative to their own log-on solutions or those they borrowed from larger companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. With a single email address and password, the former verified by Mozilla, the open-source Persona was touted as secure, cross-platform, and easy to implement by developers.

The idea was that users would able to use that one email address and password to access multiple websites and apps.

Mozilla has already re-assigned the paid engineers who worked on Persona to other projects, including Firefox Sync and Firefox Accounts, the infrastructure used to access that service and others. Sync and Accounts are crucial services to Mozilla’s success with Firefox OS, its low-end mobile device operating system, and important to Firefox on the desktop, and on Android and Windows 8.1 devices.

A Firefox account will be similar to the authentication services created by Apple, Google and Microsoft for their customers, who can use an email address and password to access each company’s services, such as iCloud, Gmail and Windows 8.1.

Persona wasn’t the only casualty of Firefox OS: Mozilla cited its development costs as one of the reasons why the nonprofit company was searching for new revenue sources that included plans to add advertising to the Firefox browser.

Nor was Persona the first Mozilla project to get the hook.

Six years ago, Mozilla cut loose its Thunderbird email client, spinning off the program and its team to a separate firm, Mozilla Messaging. That didn’t work out, and in 2011 Thunderbird rejoined Mozilla proper. Then in July 2012, Mozilla announced it had stopped all paid development of the emailer and that the “community” — read volunteers — were now responsible for new features.

“Much of Mozilla’s leadership — including that of the Thunderbird team - has come to the conclusion that on-going stability is the most important thing, and that continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla’s product efforts,” said Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation.

Since then, Mozilla has continued to ship security fixes for Thunderbird but has not introduced new features or major enhancements.


MS Maps New York Complaints With Bing?

March 12, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has decided to map the opinions on New Yorkers and pin their gripes to their locations.

The Redmond firm’s researchers have developed Herehere, a complaint cataloguer, and launched it on the hardboiled streets of New York, New York. The firm reckoned that over time it will build up a view of the community.

Microsoft said that “hyperlocal engagement” would “encourage civic response”. We think that it might put people off certain areas and funnel others to other locations. Microsoft has provided an image to suggest how this manifests itself. We learn that somewhere has “no asbestos issues” somewhere else does not feel safe, and another location has bad traffic.

“Herehere NYC introduces daily neighbourhood engagement with a light touch,” said Kati London, head of the Herehere project.

“It takes neighborhood-specific public data, and it enables the neighbourhoods to communicate how they’re doing-expressed through text and cartoonlike icons.

“People can receive the information via a daily email digest, neighborhood-specific Twitter feeds, or status updates on an online map. We want to understand how it changes or impacts the way people relate to their community when they can interact with data in this way.

“Think of it as a meta-status update for the day – a simplification of issues in your neighbourhood compressed into a text that you might get from a friend,” added London.

There are 42 New York City locations covered, and the firm thinks that it will boil down the mood of the city into a digestible format with a friendly, occasionally ratlike, face. The data is culled from the 311 phone number in New York City, which is the state’s contact number for non-emergency communications.

“The idea is that we are inundated with all kinds of data in our lives, and it’s overwhelming. Characterisation helps bring immediacy and a human scale to information,” said London.

“When the Lower East Side says it’s totally cool with a few vermin complaints, we’re giving a human voice to the neighborhood which, hopefully, will stimulate conversations about issues.”


LinkedIn Launches New Chinese Language Site

February 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Professional social networking website LinkedIn Corp rolled out a Chinese language version of its website on Monday, a move that could further spur its expansion into the world’s largest Internet market even as the company acknowledged it will have to patrol what some of them say on its website.

LinkedIn Chief Executive Jeff Weiner acknowledged in a blog post on Monday that the company would have to censor some of the content that users post on its website in order to comply with Chinese rules.

But Weiner said the benefits of providing its online service to people in China outweighed those concerns. He vowed that the company would be “transparent” about its practices as it builds its presence in a country it said is home to one in five of the “knowledge workers” that are LinkedIn’s core audience.

“Extending our service in China raises difficult questions, but it is clear to us that the decision to proceed is the right one,” Weiner said.

Foreign Internet companies face difficulties operating in China. Beijing censors sensitive terms from the Internet and blocks social networks Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc, a widespread effort that analysts say is geared towards maintaining the Communist Party’s hold on power and preserving social stability.

LinkedIn’s arguments about trade-offs for the greater good are reminiscent of Google’s justification for its controversial 2006 decision to launch a self-censored version of its search service in China.

Four years later, Google reversed course and relocated its search engine to Hong Kong from mainland China, following a dispute with the Chinese government over what Google said was increasingly onerous censorship and cyber-attacks it said originated in China.

The Chinese language website that will be available on Monday is a “beta,” or test, version of the site. LinkedIn is still in the process of getting a license to operate the Chinese language site, which will require that the company maintain server computers in China that will store data about its Chinese users, according to a source familiar with the matter.

LinkedIn already has more than 4 million users in China who use its English language website, but the company has signaled that it is interested in making a broader expansion in the country.

Weiner said the Chinese language site would help LinkedIn reach 140 million professionals in China, providing the potential for the company to significantly expand its current audience of 277 million members.

The company’s expansion into China comes as LinkedIn is trying to transform itself from a social network used primarily by job seekers and by recruiters into a more full-fledged online hub for professional workers.

LinkedIn has recently begun encouraging its members to write career-related articles and post them on the website, a move the company hopes will boost the amount of time users spend on its site.

Weiner said that China’s restrictions on content would be implemented “only when and to the extent required.”

“LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship,” Weiner said.


Will King’s (Candy Krush Saga) IPO Be A Success?

February 24, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Over 90 million people play Candy Crush Saga every day. Say whatever you like about London- based social game developer King, but its headline game is an unquestionable success. Like many games (most games, perhaps) it iterates upon previously existing formulae rather than being a breakthrough, unseen innovation. Like many games, the real DNA of its success can only be analysed honestly if we first admit that one of the dominant genes involved was luck. Still; 90 million players. About 1.3 per cent of the entire population of the planet try to clear candies and jellies at least once a day. Whether you consider that to be a depressing reflection of the state of humanity or not is entirely subjective; whether you consider it to be a remarkable business success is not. King’s got a touch of magic in its sweet jar.

Now King wants to convert that magic into cold, hard cash, so it’s going to float on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s proposing an initial public offering valued at $500 million, but given that its net income last year was $568 million (on revenues of $1.9 billion), everyone involved will clearly be hoping to make a killing off an early spike in share value.

When any company announces an IPO, it’s reasonable to ask why it’s happening. There are two ways for an entrepreneur to “exit”, cashing in his or her chips on the company that’s been built. One is by being acquired by a bigger firm (like the recent purchase of a major stake in Supercell by Puzzle & Dragons publisher GungHo). The other is an IPO. In both cases, there are two clear reasons for cashing in – the first one, which everyone always claims to be pursuing, is to raise more money to facilitate further growth and make your company bigger and better. The second is shadier but not uncommon. You reckon you’ve taken the business as far as you can – organic growth is looking rocky from here, maybe you sense a change in the market or an oncoming headwind, and you want to grab as much cash as you can while the going is good, before your valuation starts to heavily decline.

“Take the money and run” isn’t an uncommon reason for a sale or an IPO, although none of the parties involved would ever be so gauche as to admit to such a thing. Still, the logic underwriting such a thing is cold and undeniable. If you can sense that your company is facing rocky ground and its valuation has likely peaked, you want to make sure you get as much of a return on your holdings as possible before they become devalued. Laws and rules force lots of disclosure of financial data, of course, so you can’t hide a decline that’s already started – but if your instinct says next year won’t be as good as last year, now’s the right time to sell, and “instinct” doesn’t appear on SEC-mandated documents.

Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are. I think this IPO is actually a little late – it’s going to occur just as King is on a downslope – but it’s far better timed than the easiest comparison, Zynga. Zynga launched on the stock exchange far too late, after it had already become obvious that the company was completely hobbled by the rapid transition from Facebook to smartphones in social gaming. Its IPO was a flop from an investor’s perspective, although plenty of people still made a lot of money from it – it certainly made more money than it would have if they’d waited around until the depths of the company’s troubles became apparent. On its current timeline, King will be IPOing while it’s still within touching distance of Candy Crush Saga’s peak.

“Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are”

I foresee two problems, both of which ought to ring huge alarm bells for investors interested in the company. The first is that Candy Crush Saga’s peak is just that – a monolithic, dramatic peak climbing up out of a landscape of foothills and gentle valleys. There are no other peaks in sight. King’s other games do “okay”, but nearly 80% of its revenue comes from Candy Crush Saga, whose 90 million daily users figure is six times greater than the daily users figure for the firm’s second-place game, Pet Rescue Saga. There is nothing on the horizon which might replace Candy Crush Saga; once you start descending from that peak, the danger is that you end up back in the foothills with no more peaks to ascend. There’s simply no evidence, let alone proof, that King is capable of recreating the lightning-strike success of Candy Crush Saga. Bluntly, I don’t think King believes it can manage that either – because if the firm and its investors genuinely believed that they could repeat the success of Candy Crush, they would IPO after doing so, knowing that a company with a proven ability to turn out enormous hits is vastly, vastly more valuable than a company with one lucky strike and a string of also-rans to its name.

The second problem is Zynga itself. The stock market has already had one market-leading social game company perform absolutely dismally after flotation. Investors now know that this sector, while it’s exciting and interesting and extremely profitable, is also insanely volatile, completely hit- driven and largely subject to the rapidly changing whims of technology. On the surface, the F2P model is far more investor-friendly than the old-fashioned boxed game model, since you actually get a steady revenue stream from your products rather than a single burst of revenue after a couple of years of expensive development. In practice, though, you still need to keep turning out hit titles in order to ensure revenue growth (which is all the stock market gives a damn about). Few studios have shown any capacity for doing that – there are laudable exceptions like Supercell and Nimblebit, but most mobile gaming studios are still dining out on single successes. King has Candy Crush Saga; Rovio has Angry Birds; GungHo has Puzzle & Dragons. None of these companies have managed to create another game as popular as the one that made them famous – lacking a track record, each of them can fairly be considered a one-hit wonder until proven otherwise.

What about recent controversies around King? The company’s aggressive approach to trademarks, its reputed cloning of games and so on have done nothing to endear it to the gaming world and cultivated an atmosphere of negativity around the company. I would caution against reading too much into the likely impact of such stories on an IPO, though. Investors, bluntly, don’t really care if a company stands accused of not being terribly innovative, as long as the results are good. They certainly couldn’t care less about trademark spats with independent developers, I fear. Such issues are important and relevant to those directly involved, but of no consequence to the IPO prospects of a company like King.

What they do, however, is set mood music around the firm. Being seen as a bit ruthless is no bad thing, but I suspect that investors burned by Zynga will be quick to note the parallels between the sort of behaviour of which King stands accused, and the sort of behaviour in which Zynga engaged. The two companies are, in my mind, very similar both in culture and in approach. Neither was founded out of any attachment to games as a medium, a culture or an artform; both are simply entrepreneurial vehicles to exploit a potential market, and as such, it’s to be expected that both would struggle to adapt and succeed at points where they encounter obstacles that can only be surmounted by creativity rather than by management bullet points or business model refinement.

That’s not entirely a criticism, by the way; in a capitalist economy, there’s no sin to creating a business just to exploit a gap in the market. If the market in question happens to be a creative medium, one has to expect significant blowback to this approach. Moreover, there’s a limited lifespan to such a strategy – a company in a creative sector which is not founded on creative principles cannot expect to significantly outlive the market conditions it was originally designed to exploit.

In summary, I find it hard to view King’s IPO as anything more than Zynga 2.0. It is better-timed, certainly, but the companies involved are similar enterprises facing similar challenges – and thus far, demonstrating a similar lack of capacity to overcome them. Zynga is much, much further down the slope from its peak than King, so of course there remains a reasonable possibility that King can surprise us all with a second title on the scale of Candy Crush – and by doing so, establish itself as a genuine leading light of this new market. For all the negativity poured upon the company of late, I honestly hope King can make lightning strike twice for itself. I don’t like Candy Crush Saga personally, but that’s a subjective view – objectively, I cannot find a trace of the supposed immorality, grasping and nastiness of which the game regularly stands accused, and can’t help but recall all the awful stuff of which Flappy Bird also stood wrongly accused when it dared to be a break-out mobile gaming success. King faces problems down the line and I question whether it represents a good investment opportunity for anyone – but should it overcome those issues and prove itself capable of the creativity required to replicate its Candy Crush success, it would be churlish to call that anything other than a fresh triumph for UK game development. Fingers crossed that it happens.

BlackBerry Not Happy With T-Mobile’s Latest Promo

February 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

BlackBerry Ltd Chief Executive John Chen directed pointed words at T-Mobile US Inc earlier this week, calling ill-conceived a promotion run by the company that encourages customers using BlackBerry smartphones to upgrade to iPhones.

T-Mobile US, which is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom AG, sent out emails to some of its customers last week, pitching free iPhone 5s and touting the promotion as a, “great offer for BlackBerry customers.”

That sparked a brouhaha in social media forums after some of the telecommunications company’s loyal BlackBerry customers reacted angrily to the offer, which they perceived as a slight.

The backlash prompted T-Mobile US Chief Executive John Legere to respond publicly. In a Twitter posting on Sunday, Legere said T-Mobile would continue to support BlackBerry smartphones and he assured BlackBerry users they do not have to give up their devices or “loyalty.”

In a blog post on Tuesday, BlackBerry CEO Chen slammed the T-Mobile US offer as a, “clearly inappropriate and ill-conceived marketing promotion,” and he thanked BlackBerry users for their loyalty to the company.

“Your partnership with our brand is appreciated by all of us at BlackBerry, and draws a sharp contrast with the behavior of our longtime business partner,” Chen said in the posting, noting that T-Mobile had not discussed its promotion with BlackBerry.

T-Mobile US later said it is happy to work with BlackBerry and will by Friday offer speedy and free shipping of BlackBerry devices to T-Mobile customers who order them.

BlackBerry, a one-time pioneer in the smartphone industry, has been struggling to claw back market share lost to Apple Inc’s iPhone, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Galaxy devices, and other smartphones powered by Google Inc’s Android operating system.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company’s new line of BlackBerry 10 devices has so far failed to win back market share, and Chen is attempting to reshape the company and focus less on the handset segment, and more on the company’s services business.

Chen has stressed, however, that the handset business remains a core component for BlackBerry as the company attempts to engineer a turnaround.

Chen called on T-Mobile US to “find a way forward that allows us to serve our shared customers once again.”


Samsung Hints At New User Interface For Galaxy 5

February 14, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung has been dropping hints that its coming Galaxy S5 smartphone will have a re-tooled user interface, possibly featuring simpler, flatter icons.

In a SamsungTomorrow blog post, Samsung showed icons for Speed, Outdoor, Curiosity, Fun, Social, Style, Privacy, Fitness and Life that could be part of the Galaxy S5 Samsung is expected to unveil on Feb. 24 in Barcelona at its Unpacked5 event.

The minimalistic-looking icons are each labeled with a superscript 5, hinting at the updated phone. The blog and the icons are part of an updated invitation to Samsung’s Unpacked5 event, which was first announced Feb. 4.

Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone line has long included the custom TouchWiz interface. The new, simpler-looking icons could be part of a back-to-basics approach by Samsung.

While the coming Galaxy phone will surely run Android, there’s been a lot of speculation at how far it will move away from pure Android. Some analysts predict the TouchWiz interface in the Galaxy phone line could be replaced by the Magazine UX seen in Samsung’s new Pro tablets. The Magazine UX has reportedly dismayed Google as it moves to reduce Android fragmentation in the market. In January, the well-known and usually spot-on news site evleaks tweeted photos of three smartphone UI screens that some analysts believe could be used with the Galaxy S5. Two of the three break the screen into panels along the lines of what Magazine UX does on Pro tablets, with square elements or tiles as seen in the Windows Phone UI.

Perhaps the icons in Samsung’s latest blog could adorn a Magazine UX-like interface on the Galaxy S5, but it’s not really clear what Samsung intends to do.

To some, it might not seem to matter much at all what Samsung does with the coming interface, but when Apple updated a new UI for iOS 7 last year, the tech world stood up and took notice. Reader comments on the new Samsung blog noted that Samsung’s new icons seem to imitate the flat design of Apple’s iOS 7.

What might matter more than the graphic design of the Samsung icons is the inclusion of icons labeled fitness and outdoor. Samsung may be prepping a direct link to smartphone apps for fitness and health monitoring that link over Bluetooth to its wearable devices, such as the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which could be updated on Feb. 24 as well.

Samsung appears to be looking to create a wireless ecosystem of devices, probably with its smartphones as a hub reaching to wearables.

“It’s safe to assume that Samsung is looking at the next Galaxy smartphone device as the hub for peripheral function devices like Gear and FitGear,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “It makes sense to put hooks [in the form of icons] into the system that Samsung will ultimately need.”

Gold said it will interesting to see if Google adds similar icons to its own pure Android future releases “so as not to fork Android even further.”

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel, said that Samsung still faces a choice on peripherals and wearables like Gear or rumored Samsung smart glasses, to keep them compatible with only Samsung smartphones and tablets or to make them compatible with Android products from various manufacturers. Either approach has merits, but each requires a different strategy.