Opinion

John C. Abell

Facebook is facing the music — is Google calling the tune?

Aug 26, 2011 15:16 UTC

Pssssst — wanna know a secret? Facebook is feeling the heat from the surprisingly successful launch of Google+. There is vigorous competition from the search-and-advertising giant many assumed couldn’t shoot straight when it came to social media.

Some caveats: For one thing, I say “surprising” only because Google was arguably a three-time loser in the space. For another, it’s actually no secret that Facebook is, shall we say, finding it necessary to adapt to what might be a new world order. Third: Facebook still reigns supreme in membership and impact and pretty much every metric you (or they) would choose to use. Google+ hasn’t been with us even two months yet, for heaven’s sake, and while it’s amassed tens of millions of users there are no guarantees.

What I am talking about here is trajectory, and meme. You will pardon the pun, and excuse the mixed metaphor, but Google has finally caught a wave, and Facebook is hearing footsteps.

Facebook’s biggest concession to the new landscape came the other day, in the sincerest form of flattery: it copied Google+ features that were key differentiators, designed precisely to hammer a stake in Facebook’s perceived weak spots. The world’s biggest social network makes earnest-sounding public expressions of concern for member privacy, and has made changes against type. But the truth is that Facebook depends on members sharing with abandon. So a lack of clarity about the consequences of sharing, and a certain complexity when it comes to altering and even understanding privacy settings are, shall we say, good for business.

On Tuesday Facebook went as far as it has ever gone to simplify how we know what, and with whom, we are sharing, and to empower us to stop others from sharing things about us we’d rather they did not. The last time Facebook did something resembling this was early last year. That was a mild change in comparison, and in the face of a media-darling treatment of a quixotic project by some NYU students to build the anti-Facebook, called Diaspora. (For anyone who doubts the significance of that emotionally-charged name, by all means look up “diaspora“).

A world without Steve Jobs

Aug 25, 2011 14:59 UTC

By John Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

In a way, Steve Jobs might have saved the best “One Last Thing” for last: The legendary and now former Apple CEO has left his company in fine hands and on a path of prospects as great as his final years at the helm have provided.

There is no question that the Man of the Hour is now Tim Cook — Apple’s man of the future. He and Jony Ive have been Jobs’ two right hands for ages. While Jobs himself is irreplaceable, nobody is indispensable. The lines of succession and responsibility have been carefully crafted and are as sleek as any piece of hardware Apple has ever designed.

Cook is no showman in the mold of Jobs, but that doesn’t matter. Jobs’ prime days were well behind him before his last two public appearances this year, at the WWDC and, serendipitously, at the Cupertino town council to pitch for Apple’s new headquarters.

Google dials it up by pocketing Motorola

Aug 15, 2011 23:15 UTC

For a company that is all about world domination via the hardware-agnostic cloud, Google sure seems fascinated with being in the computer game these days.

There are those Chromebook laptops, a partnership with Samsung and Acer that is primarily a means to extend the reach of Google’s cloud-based services courtesy of a delivery system of inexpensive computers that don’t do much of anything else. But that’s a play against Microsoft and its office software suite, not the world’s top computer makers.

And it makes core sense: Google still makes nearly 100 percent of its roughly $30 billion annual revenue from small text ads on web pages, and, to a much lesser extent, its cloud-based services. Anything that drives traffic to those pages is money in Google’s bank.

Please — let’s not call these the ‘BlackBerry riots’

Aug 9, 2011 18:30 UTC

Here we go again: Young people, rioting in the streets, railing against leadership, using their mobile phones to outsmart law enforcement caught off guard by the nimbleness of cool kids in what would be a B-movie script if it wasn’t unfolding in real time.

But this time it isn’t happening in some far off, ambiguously backward Middle Eastern place. No, this is happening in the homeland of Sir Thomas Moore, Winston Churchill and Kate Middleton.

And, for a pleasant change, the technology being blamed/credited for fueling the fire is neither Facebook nor Twitter, but BlackBerry Message Service — one of the oldest means of mobile-to-mobile text communication, better known among aficionados simply as BBM.

The Apple of Grand Central’s eye

Aug 3, 2011 18:16 UTC
The Big Apple is getting another … big apple. 

Just what Grand Central needs: more people. And it’s a sure thing that there will be many, many more people making their way through the main concourse when an Apple store opens up in a place that is already synonymous with large, bustling crowds.

A 23,000 square feet Apple store in Grand Central on the mezzanine level, which is currently occupied by a restaurant, would be the company’s fifth in New York City. Apple has opened more than 300 retail locations since it launched its first one in Virginia a decade ago.

Apple’s decision to open stores was distinctly against the tide by going all bricks and mortar as the world was beating a path to the virtual door of such e-tailers as Amazon.com. It was especially gutsy, too, as it came during the early stages of the dotcom bust and before Apple had become a mainstream high-tech company. This was months before the iPod was released, when Apple was still a niche player with a respectably large fan base but no clear way to capture the hearts and minds of the 97% or thereabouts general public which lived the Windows universe.

A new-found app-etite for the web

Jul 27, 2011 21:06 UTC
A funny thing happened on the way to the Apple Store … Apps were supposed to be the salvation for publishers when the iPad morphed from unicorn status to the real thing last April. Plenty of publishers — newspapers, magazines and books — have built apps. Apple’s newest rules on subscriptions are placating many more.

But there is already a bit of a backlash, and a new awareness that the world wide (open) web may compare favorably to the walled gardens available on the iPad and other tablets.

Why are publishers already starting to re-think the future of media again? For one thing, there is that kickback to Apple —30% off the top — for selling through the iTunes store. Then there are those rules that seem to favor the functionality of Apple apps, like in-app purchasing. And, most ironically, there is the “Aha!” moment that the iPad itself has provided by highlighting what the optimized, mobile web can really be like.

The Financial Times blazed the back-to-the-web movement, abandoning the iTunes store in lieu of an HTML5 site that is still behind their paywall. Apple primed the pump by forbidding in-app sales. Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble moved their stores from their iOS apps to the web.

Murdoch vs. parliament: No curtain call yet

Jul 19, 2011 19:17 UTC


Near the end of his dramatic testimony, at the end of what he called his most humbling day, a prankster tried to tag Rupert Murdoch with a pie in the face. He missed.

It may be the defining moment in the whole sordid ordeal of the cell phone hacking scandal which has beset News Corp: try as many MPs might have, it would appear at first blush that Murdoch father and son delivered the finessed performance of contrition, cooperation and combativeness that could change the tempo of the outcry against the media empire, now under fire on two continents — and possibly a third.

Murdoch’s answers will be picked apart for days — why was this the most humbling day of his career, and not his life? — but for the sake of appearances, which matter most because they will frame the meme, Rupert and James Murdoch did themselves every possible favor in an arena that could have resulted in unmitigated disaster.

Arthur Andersen. Anthony Weiner. News Corp?

Jul 13, 2011 15:59 UTC

Arthur Andersen. Anthony Weiner. News Corp?

Sure, it’s too early to “go there.” News Corp is an immense, diversified multi-national media conglomerate that has been widely reviled by many for more than a generation. For all of his detractors there are plenty of readers, viewers and shareholders who are just fine with Rupert Murdoch’s tabloidization and opinionization of the news business.

The New York Post may chronically lose money but such things are hardly news in the newspaper business. Yet the Post is a metaphor for the Murdoch empire. When Rupert amped up the sleepy New York tabloid to take on the New York Daily News, he started a media revolution with the newspaper that had been founded by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

It all seems so quaint now, with cable news talk show hosts having no qualm about taking sides in the style set by Fox News, and with newspapers still struggling to re-establish their relevance as a medium.

Casey Anthony is OJ’d in the first sensational Twitter era case

Jul 6, 2011 15:24 UTC
Casey Anthony has been acquitted of the most serious charges she faced in the death of her toddler, Caylee. For many, the outcome of the digital age’s equivalent of the OJ Simpson trial in 1995 was just as cringe-inducingly unexpected. 

Word of the verdict spread like wildfire, of course, making a return to a normal life for newly-famous Anthony as unlikely as it was for already-famous Simpson 16 years ago. Simpson was subsequently convicted on unrelated kidnapping and theft charges after essentially dropping out of society as best he could.

Just as some greeted the Simpson verdict with tears and disbelief, there was much the same reaction about the Anthony verdict, including other mothers and daughters who railed against the verdict on the courthouse steps.

Google+ — Don’t call it the Facebook killer (for now)

Jun 28, 2011 19:21 UTC

Is four the charm for Google?

The search giant has had little luck breaking into the social network game, and most of it has been bad. Buzz got as many yawns as boos, and Wave was inexplicable — so much so that the company killed it last summer.

Orkut is maybe the most successful social network you’ve never heard of — unless you live in India or Brazil.

Indeed, only this month former Google CEO Eric Schmdt described his failure to fully appreciate Facebook’s thunder as his biggest regret. “I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” Schmidt told AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher. “CEOs need to take responsibility. I screwed up.”

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