MediaFile

Google sets Zagat free

This morning, Google took the wraps off  how it plans to use Zagat, the popular restaurant guide known for its burgundy pocket books. The Zagat restaurant  listings are now incorporated in Google + and its local service and, more to the point, are now free. People can access more than 35,000 summarized user reviews from Zagat for more than 90 cities across the globe using either Google +, its search function or through maps.

Google said it will continue to publish the guidebooks and expand to other cities like Dubai, Sydney and Melbourne.

Google picked up Zagat for $151 million last September in a move to broaden its offerings for local based content. Founded by Tim and Nina Zagat,  the 30-plus year old eponymous guide  takes customer surveys and compiles them into brief and snappy summaries . It was a pioneer of amassing local restaurant reviews by people but over the years it  faced stiff challenges from upstarts such as Yelp– especially when a majority of Zagat’s content was subscription based.

The Zagats put the company on the block in 2008 where it languished until Google swooped in and bought it to bolster its local and mobile offerings.

 

Google touts its ad metrics as Facebook confronts hurdles

Google just put out a study touting metrics as a way to sell more advertising.

But the most interesting part of the study is the timing. It comes on the heels of the Facebook advertising fiasco, when just days before its hotly anticipated IPO, General Motors said it would stop advertising on the social network, raising the question of the value of a Facebook ad.

The lure of online advertising has always been the promise of immediate and precise information (in theory at least) about how an ad worked. In industry speak, it is referred to as ROI– return on investment.

Google and Facebook are fierce rivals for online advertising and part of the reason for Facebook’s astronomical valuation (yes, even though its IPO was widely considered a flop)  is the promise of it sucking up more ad dollars down the line.

Kleiner’s Ellen Pao, the elephant in the room

Kleiner Perkins partner Ellen Pao has unleashed one of Silicon Valley’s juiciest lawsuits in recent memory, alleging discrimination, harassment, and even an out-of-the-box solution to her woes proposed by a colleague: marriage to her harasser.

 

But Pao didn’t let this awkward legal situation stop her from stepping out to a couple of parties in Palo Alto Thursday night, just days after news of her lawsuit leaked out.  That included one held by her employers at Palo Alto’s Reposado, a busy Mexican restaurant, for some of Kleiner’s start-up companies.

There, Pao held court on one side of the room, greeted with hugs and hearty handshakes by a number of start-up entrepreneurs she has worked with. Meanwhile, other Kleiner partners at the bash– including Matt Murphy and Ted Schlein– clutched their drinks and steered clear of their suddenly famous colleague.

Facebook, the most cynical tech giant ever

For all its vaunted idealism, Silicon Valley can be just as cynical as any other area of commerce. The tech companies set up to profit from spam and search-engine trickery are too numerous to count. But Facebook’s short history makes one thing clear: There has never been a tech company that built so much fortune from the exploitation of ordinary people while giving so little in return.

Yes, Microsoft was vilified – and rightly so – for crushing competitors and forcing customers into an inferior operating-system software, but its iron-fisted dominance helped shape an immature and inchoate computer-software industry into a single standard that made PCs everyday devices in offices and homes. Microsoft’s brutal strong-arm tactics were directed at rivals. Its sin against its customers was that its software, for decades, just wasn’t that good.

Facebook, by contrast, built the best social network of its time, so good it left rivals like MySpace in the dust. And that should have been enough to make Facebook a Silicon Valley success story. Once it came time to make money, Facebook exploited its users’ personal data to a degree that no company had ever achieved before.

Less TV? Go ahead. Make my day.

The other day Glenn Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, got on the wrong side of history. He stuck with the television networks. On Monday he spoke out against Dish Network’s “Auto Hop,” which allows viewers to avoid the lifeblood of the TV ecosystem: ads. As Brian Stelter of the New York Times reported (emphasis added):

Mr. Britt said that if such ad-skipping became more prevalent, the reduction in ad revenue would be made up through higher subscriber fees or a lower total amount of production of television.

It got me to thinking. Maybe scaling back should be a promise instead of a threat. Television doesn’t serve social and cultural needs as it did generations ago, but what we get from it should be much better. And we already know how it can be, from the Web- and cable-savvy people disrupting a medium that disrupted everything.

Comcast turns the landline into mobile phone

Comcast, the largest U.S cable operator, is pushing ahead with its drive to transform the way Americans live with a range of new communications and video services launched at this year’s Cable Show  in Boston.

The latest is a new service called Voice 2go, part of its Xfinity Voice landline phone service, which offers lots of the features customers have become used to with cellphones.

The new features are based within a new Xfinity Connect mobile app that works on iPhones, iPads and Android phones. It enables Xfinity Voice customers to make free calls within a WiFi network — which is even more useful now that the Comcast and several other operators have enabled a common WiFi network across major U.S. cities. It also allows customers to use the service on 3G and 4G phones without eating up valuable minutes. As part of this it also enables free text messaging.

ESPN’s John Skipper doesn’t see any benefits in new TV models – yet.

ESPN chief John Skipper is happy to talk to any of the so-called new over-the-top Web video players surfing around the fringes of the cable TV business. But he doesn’t see any major deals happening soon — if ever.

In a conversation with Reuters at this year’s cable show, Skipper was blunt about his skepticism over the idea his network –  the best paid in the business according to SNL Kagan data — could work with a new Web partner, a tie-up that may in some way threaten the cozy $100 billion a year cable programmer-distributor relationship which feeds the entire industry.

“We have a significant stake in maintaining the current model. There’s no advantage to us in new models that undercut what we have today,” said Skipper, speaking from the NCTA Cable Show in Boston.

Facebook’s passive-aggressive friendship

We are witnessing a fascinating changing-of-the-guard moment in tech. The old Internet, represented this week by once-mighty Yahoo, is fumbling with another leadership crisis it must solve before it can even think about restoring some semblance of relevance. The new Internet, Facebook, is ruled by a young man in a hoodie who is on the verge of creating a massive public company that, as was the nascent Yahoo back in the early ’90s, will be an Internet darling longer on potential than track record, but running hard on an open field.

The common thread might seem to be the “If it’s big, it’s gotta be BIG” illusion that got us all in trouble at the turn of the millennium, when Internet investment hysteria equated today’s eyeballs with tomorrow’s profits. But it’s always about the profits, and the people who promise them. This time that person is Mark Zuckerberg, who as the books on the Facebook IPO closed Tuesday, well in advance of Friday’s first trade, seems to have convinced Wall Street that his seven-year-old company could be worth more than $100 billion — the richest-ever launch in Silicon Valley.

When you value your company at 100 times revenues, investors are banking on the belief that Zuckerberg has perfected the unstable compound that is social abandon and advertiser hunger.

Instagram’s Facebook filter

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant’s forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

Wireless industry at annual convention bemoans lack of consumer trust

The wireless industry is one of the least trusted businesses among U.S. consumers ,and network operators need to improve their reputations as they look to provide sensitive services like mobile payments or health monitoring, according to the chief executive of the No. 3 U.S. mobile provider Sprint Nextel.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse cited statistics regarding the wireless industry from the Reputation Institute Pulse Index annual survey during his keynote at the CTIA — The Wireless Association annual U.S. wireless convention in New Orleans.

“Even cable and oil industries rate higher with consumers than we do,” Hesse said. “Its very troubling.”