Twitter is trying out a new way for its users to purchase digital music and other products through the social networking application, with the goal of making mobile shopping easier, the company said in a blog post.
A “small percentage” of U.S. Twitter users will soon begin to see tweets that will include a “buy” button from some of the company’s partners, group product manager Tarun Jain wrote in the blog post published Monday. The percentage of Twitter users seeing the marketing tweets will grow over time, Jain wrote.
“This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile phones convenient and easy, hopefully even fun,” Jain wrote.
Twitter’s partners in the e-commerce effort include digital marketing companies Musictoday, Gumroad, Fancy and Stripe, Jain said.
The e-commerce test will include products from several musicians, including Brad Paisley, Eminem, Keith Urban, Megadeth, Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden. Other organizations featured will including Burberry, the Home Depot, the Nature Conservancy and DonorsChoose.
As the company tries to revive MSN, the focus this time is also on top content from the Web instead of offering original content. For the relaunch, the company has signed up with over 1,300 publishers worldwide including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yomiuri, CNN and The Guardian.
A “Services Stripe” at the top of the MSN homepage gives users easy access to personal services including Outlook.com email, OneDrive, Office 365 and Skype, as well as popular third-party sites like Twitter and Facebook, according to an online preview launched by Microsoft on Sunday.
The new MSN also provides “actionable information” and content and personal productivity tools such as shopping lists, a savings calculator, a symptom checker, and a 3D body explorer. Readers will have access to content from 11 sections including sports, news, health and fitness, money, travel and video, wrote Frank Holland, corporate vice president of Microsoft Advertising, in a blog post.
The company said it has rebuilt MSN from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. The new MSN helps people complete their key digital tasks across all of their devices, wrote Brian MacDonald, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for information and content experiences, in a blog post.
“Information and personalized settings are roamed through the cloud to keep users in the know wherever they are,” MacDonald added. Users worldwide can try out the new MSN preview.
In the coming months, Microsoft plans to release MSN apps across iOS and Android to complement its corresponding Windows and Windows Phone apps. “You only need to set your favorites once, and your preferences will be connected across MSN, Cortana, Bing and other Microsoft experiences,” MacDonald wrote.
Microsoft claims an audience of more than 437 million people across 50 countries for MSN.
MSN.com ranks number 26 among the top sites in the U.S., behind Microsoft’s own Bing site, Google’s search site, YouTube, Facebook and Yahoo’s portal, according to traffic estimates by Alexa.
The Fire Phone, which originally sold for $649 minus a contract commitment and for $199 with a two-year deal with AT&T, was marked down to $449 without a contract and 99 cents with one.
Amazon spun the dramatic price cut in the best possible light. “Fire is another example of the value Amazon delivers to customers,” said Ian Freed, vice president of Amazon Devices, in a statement Monday.
In fact, by all accounts, the Fire has done poorly. According to data mining done a month ago by ad network Chitika, Fire Phone usage grew only “incrementally” in the device’s first two months. By Aug. 14, Amazon’s phone accounted for just 0.02% of all smartphone-based ad impressions.
Chitika’s number was not a measurement of the number of devices in use, but of the online activity of Fire Phone users: The calculation was best described as “usage share.”
StatCounter, another metrics vendor that also tracks usage share, did not even list Fire Phone in its operating system data for the month of August.
In June, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the Fire Phone, most analysts slammed the pricing, saying that the online retailer needed to do more than simply mimic the competition.
“If the $199 on 2yr contract is all there is to Fire Phone pricing it will be a tough sell,” Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, said on Twitter that day.
“Does the 99-cent price matter? Sure it does. But in the scheme of things, does it help? No, because you still have to have a contract,” Milanesi said in an interview today.
She pointed out that Apple, for example, gives away the iPhone 4S to customers who sign up for a two-year contract with a mobile carrier. The Fire Phone’s “unlocked” price of $449 is also identical to that of an off-contract iPhone 4S.
Amazon missed its chance to make a splash months ago, Milanesi argued. “This price then would have sent a different message,” she said. “It would have made a difference because at the time [mid-June] there was not a lot going on. But to do this the day before Apple announces its new iPhones, and right after Samsung showed off its Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge?”
The company said the new functionality makes using Bing more like “having a conversation.”
It lets you ask questions sequentially that build off each other, so you don’t have to keep repeating the topic you’re asking about.
For instance, if you ask Bing, ”Who wrote Dracula”? “Bram Stoker” pops up at the top of the screen. You can then ask, “Where was he born,” and it gives the answer “Dublin, Ireland.”
Microsoft said it answers the questions by combining “conversational understanding” with its database of knowledge about people, places and things.
It comes as Bing’s largest competitor, Google, is working to make its own search engine better at understanding queries in natural language.
Google also has a conversational search mode that works in a similar way, though currently it only works when doing voice searches in Chrome and in Google’s mobile search app.
Bing’s new feature works well, and you can take the questions far. After asking about Bram Stoker “Where was he born,” you can also ask, “When did he die?” Answer: April 20, 1912. Or, “How did he die?” Syphilis. (But, asking simply “how?” did not work as well.)
In Bing, the feature works on the desktop as well as on mobile devices.
Microsoft has worked to make Bing more useful over the years, partly by integrating a wider range of information from outside sources into results. Data from social sites like Twitter and Facebook plays a part in this, as well as data from services like IMDB and Netflix.
Earlier this year Bing expanded its index of the Web to include more information about professionals like doctors, lawyers and real estate.
With nearly 70 percent market share in the U.S., Google is still by far the dominant player in search, according to comScore. Microsoft’s Bing has just under 20 percent share.
But Bing’s new feature could give it a leg up against Google when it comes to search, at least for now.
Chrysler and Nissan said they are investigating claims by well-known cyber security experts that lists their vehicles among the three “most hackable” cars on the market, along with a General Motors model.
Computer security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek concluded in the report due to be released later this week that the most hackable models out of 20 reviewed were Chrysler Group’s 2014 Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s 2014 Infiniti Q50 and General Motors Co 2015 Cadillac Escalade.
The researchers discussed their findings at the Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas, where thousands are gathering to learn about emerging security threats. Safety of vehicles, medical devices and other equipment with embedded computers is a hot topic this year.
“Chrysler Group will endeavor to verify these claims and, if warranted, we will remediate them,” said company spokesman Eric Mayne.
Nissan said in a statement to Reuters that it was reviewing the findings, adding there is “no indication” that the authors tried to exploit any cyber vulnerabilities in the Q50.
General Motors did not respond to requests for comment.
Miller, a security engineer with Twitter, and Valasek, director of vehicle security research at the consulting firm IOActive, said they assessed car safety based on the potential for remote attacks.
They did not test the vehicles themselves but reviewed key criteria, including the number of remote access technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth that could allow hackers to gain control of systems to manipulate and cause physical damage to the car, the researchers said.
One model from Fiat SpA’s Chrysler Group made the list of the three “least hackable” cars: the 2014 Dodge Viper. It shared that distinction with Volkswagen AG’s 2014 Audi A8 and Honda Motor Corp’s 2014 Accord.
Miller and Valasek cautioned that since they had not actually attempted to hack the cars, the ones designated “most hackable” might actually be quite secure.
They released their assessments of “hackability” to create what they say they believe is the first general benchmarks that consumers could use to compare the cybersecurity of vehicles.
U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is urging Twitter to release its employee diversity information, which its Silicon Valley peers such as Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook have already done.
The Rainbow Push Coalition, founded by Jackson, has also asked Twitter to signal its commitment to inclusion by hosting a public community forum to address the company’s plan to recruit and retain more African American talent.
The coalition and black empowerment group, ColorOfChange.org, plans to launch a Twitter-based campaign to challenge the company, the coalition said in a statement late last week.
On Friday at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, ColorofChange will lead a “Black Twitter” plenary session where activists will push out the petition campaign over Twitter and other social media.
Tech companies have been under pressure to release employee diversity data since Jackson took up the campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of African-Americans in Silicon Valley companies, starting with a delegation to Hewlett-Packard’s annual meeting of shareholders.
“….Twitter has remained silent, resisting and refusing to publicly disclose its EEO-1 workforce diversity/inclusion data,” according to the joint petition by the coalition and ColorOfChange.org.
The diversity reports are typically filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and companies are not required to make the information public.
Twitter has not commented on the matter.
Google Inc is the more properly positioned than any company to benefit from the shift to mobile, increased local advertising and wearables, analysts said after the search giant posted its 18th straight quarter of 20 percent-plus revenue growth.
At least eight brokerages raised their price targets on the stock on Friday by as much as $75, to a high of $745.
The company, which is also set to benefit from the so-called “internet of things”, said that second-quarter revenue rose 22 percent to $15.96 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $15.61 billion.
Growth was driven by the company’s core search business, YouTube and product-listing ads, which combined to drive three times as much mobile traffic for merchants compared with last year, Jefferies analysts wrote in a note.
Brokerage Jefferies maintained its “buy” rating and $700 price target on the stock.
Of the 46 analysts covering Google, 36 have a “buy” or a higher rating on the stock and 10 have a “hold”. There are no “sell” ratings, according to StarMine data.
Google earns most of its revenue from advertising.
The number of “paid clicks” by consumers on ads serviced by Google increased 25 percent year-on-year in the quarter.
However, the average price of the ads declined 6 percent as ad rates on mobile phones are typically cheaper than traditional online ads because of their smaller screens.
“Google is successfully transitioning its business from PC to mobile, and is arguably in a more favorable position in mobile than it was in PC, which should eventually be reflected in a higher multiple,” Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler wrote in a client note.
Google also owns Android, the world’s most-used mobile software, and YouTube, the most popular video-streaming service.
Other online companies such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc are also revamping their advertising businesses to take advantage of the shift to mobile devices.
But Google has established unusually deep competitive “moats” around its business through scale, aggressive product innovation and substantial investment, RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote in a research note.
Google’s capital investment budget has topped $17 billion over the past five years, and the company has spent about $13 billion on research, according to analysts.
The company is also spending big to push into new markets with innovations such as wearable computers, ultra high-speed internet access and home automation – the “internet of things.”
Since its introduction, Google’s social network has required that people use their real names in Google+ profiles, as part of an effort to help other people find them through the service.
“You need to provide both your first and last name for your Google+ profile,” the guidelines said. One could be an initial, but not both.
While that may have been a good idea for some, Google conceded Tuesday that it has also excluded people who don’t want to use their real name.
Google’s policy of trying to tie YouTube users’ accounts to their Google+ accounts has also sparked criticism among people who want to leave YouTube comments, or otherwise use the service, more anonymously.
For those reasons and others, Google said Tuesday that on Google+ there were no longer restrictions on the names people could use.
“We know you’ve been calling for this change for a while,” the company said in a blog post. The names policy has led to “unnecessarily difficult experiences” for some users, Google said, adding, “for this we apologize.”
In online comments on the Google+ page, people applauded the change. Others said it was too little, too late, or questioned whether it would lead to more spamming or cyberbullying behind the cloak of a fake name.
“Translation: It’s safe to come out and play again comment trolls,” one person wrote.
To clean up YouTube comments, Google overhauled the commenting system last year, to push “better quality” comments higher up. But shortly after making the changes, Google reported an increase in spam.
After a test period, Twitter said that it was globally deploying its “mobile app installs” program, which allows companies to promote their mobile apps in users’ feeds.
Twitter began testing the program with a limited number of advertisers in the U.S. in April — tests that the company says went well. Participants in that program included mobile ride-hailing service Lyft and games publisher Electronic Arts.
The program lets companies publish links to download mobile apps. These ads are meant to appear like regular posts in users’ feeds.
Mobile app ads have become very successful for Facebook, helping to drive the download of roughly 60 percent of the top-grossing apps in Apple’s App Store, according to Facebook.
Twitter, for its part, is looking to better monetize its service amid sagging user growth. The company has yet to turn a profit.
Twitter already lets advertisers target their ads by users’ interests, keywords, favorite TV programs, language and other criteria.
Advertisers promoting their mobile apps will be able to leverage those capabilities too, Twitter said.
“We have decided to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps. All of our users will be refunded their last paid month,” wrote CEO Chet Kanojia in a letter to customers posted on Aereo’s home page.
Kanojia, who advised customers with questions to contact the company via email at email@example.com or via its @AereoSupport Twitter account, also encouraged them to stay involved with the company’s legal fight on the website ProtectMyAntenna.org. “Our journey is far from done,” he wrote.
Aereo rebroadcasts over-the-air television through antenna farms, but the Supreme Court ruled that the web-based video streaming service violates the copyrights of TV networks and sent the case back to the lower courts.
Aereo infringes on the performance right section of copyright law because it sells subscribers a service that lets them watch TV programs over the Internet at “about the same time” they’re broadcast over the air, wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the 6-3 majority.
Aereo, which was sued for copyright infringement by ABC, CBS and other broadcast TV networks, argued that it rents each subscriber an antenna and a DVR service, and that they individually choose which programs to watch. Unlike cable and satellite TV services, which pay royalties to some networks, Aereo does not give thousands of people access to the same TV show at the same time, Aereo had argued.
The Supreme Court reversed an April 2013 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which had determined that the Aereo service was legal because the company uses several legal technologies, including mini TV antennas, DVRs and a Slingbox-like streaming service.
In his letter, Kanojia called the Supreme Court’s decision “a massive setback for consumers.”
“The spectrum that the broadcasters use to transmit over the air programming belongs to the American public and we believe you should have a right to access that live programming whether your antenna sits on the roof of your home, on top of your television or in the cloud,” he wrote.
Cybercriminals have stolen data on more than 600,000 Dominos Pizza Inc customers in Belgium and France, the pizza delivery company said, and an anonymous Twitter user threatened to make the data public unless the company pays a cash ransom.
Customer names, delivery addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and passwords were taken from a server used in an online ordering system that the company is in the process of replacing, Dominos spokesman Chris Brandon said.
He said he did not know if the stolen passwords had been encrypted.
A Tweet directed at Domino’s customers through an account of somebody listed as “Rex Mundi” said hackers would publish the customer data on the Internet unless the company pays 30,000 euros ($40,800), according to an article in The Telegraph.
The Rex Mundi account was later suspended.
Brandon said he was not familiar with the ransom demands, but that the company would not be making any such payment.
Domino’s Vice President of Communications Tim McIntyre said the hacking was “isolated” to independent franchise markets of Belgium and France, where the company’s online ordering system did not collect credit card orders, so no financial data had been taken.
“This does not affect any market outside of France and Belgium,” he said via email. “The site has been secured.”
Domino’s has some 11,000 stores worldwide, including 229 in France, 24 in Belgium and about 5,000 in the United States.
Twitter users are expected to increase by 24.4% this year to over 227 million with double-digit growth expected to continue through 2018 when the number of users will be nearly 400 million, according to a report.
The US will continue to be the country with the largest number of individual Twitter users through 2018, according to an eMarketer report . But its share of users, currently at 20%, will drop over the years and give Twitter the opportunity to grow its advertising revenue from outside the U.S.
The Asia-Pacific region increased its share of the number of Twitter users to 30.5% in 2013 in comparison to 26% for second-place North America. High growth countries in Asia-Pacific were Indonesia and India with 76.3% and 68.8% growth, respectively.
The research firm said its estimates are based on how many individual users log in or access Twitter each month within the calendar year. It said its figure differs from Twitter’s reported figure for users because it uses consumer survey data to remove business accounts, multiple accounts for individual users and other sources of potential double-counting.
Twitter reported average monthly active users (MAUs) were 241 million as of Dec. 31, which increased to 255 million at the end of the first quarter.
The figure for Asia-Pacific does not include China which blocks Twitter, although users still access the social networking site using virtual private networks.
By 2018, the share of the Asia-Pacific region is forecast to reach 40.1%, eMarketer said.
India and Indonesia are forecast to have the third and fourth-largest base of Twitter users in the world in 2014, with about 18 million and 15 million users, respectively.
The popularity of Twitter and other social media in India was reflected in the extensive use of these tools during the recently concluded federal elections in the country. The new prime minister Narendra Modi uses Twitter and Facebook frequently to communicate to literate users and has over 4.4 million followers on Twitter.
In the Far Cry games, fire is a wonderful tool. It spreads dynamically, opening up a wealth of creative and strategic possibilities for players to achieve their goals. However, it also gets out of control in a hurry, potentially coming back to hurt the player in sometimes unpredictable ways.
It’s an appropriate metaphor for the series’ approach to controversial subject matter. Last week, Ubisoft announced the development of Far Cry 4, showing off some key art in the process. The picture depicts a blonde light-skinned man in a shiny pink suit against the backdrop of the Himalayas, smirking as he uses a defaced statue as a throne. His right hand rests on the head of a darker skinned man who is kneeling before him, clutching a grenade with the pin pulled. Though we know very little about the characters depicted, their backgrounds, or their motivations, the art got people talking (and tweeting). Some were concerned about racism. Others were worried about homophobia. Many saw neither. At the same time, details about the game are so scant that it’s entirely possible the problematic elements here are properly addressed within the context of the game itself.
But at the moment, we don’t have that context. It’s promotional art, so to a certain extent, it’s designed to exist out of context, to catch the eye of someone on a store shelf, even if they’ve never heard of the series before. And while we lack the context the actual game would provide, there’s no such thing as “without context.” Here, the context we have is that this is a Far Cry game, the latest entry in a series that has been earning a reputation for boldly storming into narrative territory where other games fear to tread (often with good reason).
Like the fire propagation mechanic, this narrative ambition was introduced to the series with Far Cry 2. What had previously been just another shooter (albeit one in a tropical setting more attractive than most) became a series that embedded its stories within thorny issues. Far Cry 2 cast players as a mercenary in a fictitious African country’s prolonged civil unrest, using blood diamonds, malaria, and Western imperialism as texture in a story emphasizing the moral vacuum of war. Far Cry 3 took things a step further, with players controlling a spoiled rich white kid on a tropical island vacation who suddenly must deal with nefariously swarthy pirates and intentionally stereotypical natives. And just in case that didn’t stir up any controversy, the story also weaves in rape, sex, drugs, and torture. In both cases, some critics and players felt the games offensively trivialized important or tragic subjects.
Given this history, it’s not surprising that Far Cry 4 would not universally receive the benefit of the doubt. Much more surprising (to me, at least) is that Ubisoft is continuing down this path with the franchise. Far Cry 3 sold a staggering 9 million units, putting it in the same class of blockbuster as Assassin’s Creed (last year’s version of which sold 11 million units). However, the publisher’s narrative approach to the two games could not be more different.
Assassin’s Creed is a fascinating case study for dealing with touchy subjects in AAA video games. It wasn’t long after the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq that work on the first Assassin’s Creed started. You know, the one set in the middle of a holy war between Christians and Muslims. Assassin’s Creed II had players attempt to assassinate the pope. Assassin’s Creed III put players in control of a Native American protagonist during the Revolutionary War. Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry saw the gamification of emancipation.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise draws some criticism from time to time for its handling of these subjects, but the series has rarely found itself at the flashpoint of controversy. Part of the reason for that is the Assassin’s Creed developers research their subjects thoroughly. They understand what the concerns surrounding the sensitive topics are, and by virtue of the games’ historical settings, they can point to factual evidence of certain people’s actions, or common situations of each era.
When it comes to dealing with controversy, Assassin’s Creed is much like its stealthy protagonists are imagined to be: quiet, cautious, and efficient. Far Cry, on the other hand, deals with these topics more like the way Assassin’s Creed protagonists behave when I play them: recklessly uncoordinated and endlessly destructive. Even when it’s clear Far Cry’s developers have put plenty of thought into what they’re saying, it’s not always clear they’ve put much thought into what people will hear them saying through their games.
It speaks volumes about how Ubisoft perceives the long-term value of the two series. Assassin’s Creed is the company’s biggest and most adaptable blockbuster, an annual gaming event based on a premise that can be mined and iterated on endlessly in almost any medium, a recurring revenue stream to be nurtured over time. Far Cry, this key art release suggests, is just another first-person shooter, a brand defined primarily by how hard it works to shock people, perhaps because the company doesn’t have faith that it can sell on its other merits. One of them is the kind of project you make a Michael Fassbender film around. The other might be more of an Uwe Boll joint.
I’m not saying that Far Cry should avoid these subjects. I actually love to see games of all sizes attempting to tackle topics and themes often ignored by the industry. But the right to explore those subjects should come with a responsibility to do so with care. These are legitimately painful subjects for many people. If developers want to force players to confront them, they should have a good reason for it that goes beyond pushing people’s buttons, exploiting tragedy for shock value and an early preorder campaign. In video games, we don’t push buttons for the sake of pushing buttons. We push them to do things.
Total revenue for the period ended March 31 was roughly $250 million, Twitter stated, more than double the $114 million recorded for the same period in 2013. Twitter’s sales topped analysts’ consensus estimate of $241 million, as polled by Thomson Reuters.
“We had a very strong first quarter,” said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in the company’s announcement. “Revenue growth accelerated on a year over year basis fueled by increased engagement and user growth.”
However, Twitter hasn’t managed to turn a profit since it became a public company. The company reported a net loss of more than $132 million for the quarter, nearly quintupling the loss of roughly $27 million reported for the year-ago period.
The company’s earnings per share loss was $0.23, a tad worse than a loss of $0.21 reported last year. On a pro forma basis, excluding share-based compensation and other adjustments, Twitter broke even, beating analysts’ expectations of a loss of $0.03 per share.
Twitter’s stock was down to $38.30 in after hours trading, down considerably from its $42.62 Tuesday close.
Twitter, like Google and Facebook, makes the bulk of its money from advertising — $226 million for the quarter, up 125 percent. The lion’s share of its advertising — 80 percent in the first quarter — comes from mobile.
To continue growing its ad revenue, Twitter needs to attract more users and increase the time they spend using the service. As a public company, Twitter is under pressure to make its service more accessible to a mainstream audience.
The company in recent months has tried to address this, partly through cosmetic changes like redesigning user profile pages and making photos more prominent in people’s streams.
Twitter is making progress in this area, but not very rapidly. Compared to the same period last year, Twitter grew its monthly active users by 25 percent, to 255 million. But compared to the fourth quarter of 2013, Twitter grew its monthly active users sequentially by less than 6 percent.
On mobile, Twitter now has 198 million monthly active users — a 31 percent increase, the company said.
Square Inc has been having discussions with several rivals for a possible sale as the mobile payments startup hopes to stem widening losses and dwindling cash, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The company spoke to Google Inc earlier this year about a possible sale, the Journal reported, adding that it wasn’t clear whether the talks are continuing.
Square, founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey, co-creator of Twitter Inc, will likely fetch billions of dollars in a sale. Square insiders sold shares earlier this year on the secondary market, valuing the company at roughly $5.2 billion, the Journal said.
The company recorded a loss of about $100 million in 2013, the Journal said, adding that the startup has consumed more than half of the roughly $340 million it raised from at least four rounds of equity financing since 2009.
Square makes credit card readers that slot into smartphones such as Apple Inc’s iPhone.
Square also had informal discussions about a deal with Apple
and eBay Inc’s PayPal in the past, but those conversations never developed into serious talks, the Journal said.
A spokesman for Square told the Journal that the company never had acquisition talks with Google. The report also quoted a PayPal spokesman as saying that the company did not have acquisition talks with Square.
Square, Google, Apple and eBay were not immediately available for comment.