MediaFile

Tech wrap: Facebook zooms into video age

Starting today, Facebook users will have the option of holding one-on-one video calls with their friends directly from their account on the social network. The new Skype-powered video service marks a renewed effort by Facebook to cement itself as the go-to communications hub on the Web and serves as a response to Google’s recently launched Hangouts app, a similar video chatting feature that lets users on its Google+ social network chat with up to 10 people at once.

Facebook’s video chat will be embedded directly into the site’s messaging platform and won’t require users to sign up for Skype separately to use it. Skype stands to see a big boost from the partnership seeing as it could open it up to a whole new set of users.  So how does Facebook’s video chat compare to Google’s? TechCrunch finds there’s little overlap at this point between the two services, arguing the former is well-designed for one-on-one pow-wows whereas the latter is better suited to group chats. In addition, Facebook unveiled a new group-messaging feature that lets users take part in text chats with multiple friends.

Remember that man who was accused early this year of hacking into AT&T’s servers and stealing personal data from 120,000 Apple iPad customers? Well, he was indicted on Wednesday by a Newark, New Jersey grand jury with one count of conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computers and one count of identity theft. The charges come two weeks after a co-defendant in the case pleaded guilty.

Twitter sent another message to investors that it plans to stay private for atleast a little while longer. People familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that the microblogging service was looking to raise “hundreds of millions of dollars” in a new round of funding. That puts the company’s value at as high as $7 billion now. The Journal also has a digit-by-digit breakdown of the new valuation.

It’s early July and that means it’s time for media and tech moguls from all over to converge on Sun Valley, Idaho for the annual Allen & Co conference. Reuters correspondent Yinka Adegoke is on location and reports that attendees at this year’s conference will go beyond experimenting with digital services such as mobile TV and begin the work of figuring out ways to make them profitable by rethinking outdated business models. All eyes will also be on Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch, whose company now faces a public inquiry into allegations that its UK tabloid newspaper News of the World was involved in phone hacking.

Tech wrap: Want a Google+ invite? You may have to wait

Social media junkies pining for an invite to try out Google+ will have to wait a little bit longer. Google decided to temporarily stop inviting users to join its new social network less than two days after it launched the service. What gives? “Insane demand. We want to do this carefully, and in a controlled way,” a Google engineering executive said in a Google+ post on Wednesday night. A company spokeswoman contacted by Reuters declined to say whether the company had resumed invites on Thursday.

Reviews of Google+ are starting to filter in from those who’ve been lucky enough to get an invite. The general consensus seems to be that it’s a lot like Facebook and that it is an improvement over Google’s past social media efforts, Buzz and Wave.  ZDNet rounds up five things it loves about the new service. The Guardian pans the desktop version, but gives the mobile platform a thumbs up. PCWorld says it’s no Facebook. Wired calls its approach to privacy a “pretty good start”. And CNN explores one of its most distinctive features: video conferencing.

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters on Thursday his company is planning to unveil an “awesome” new feature next week.  Details were scant, but tech blogs have speculated in recent weeks about new mobile products in development at Facebook. Could it be the long-awaited iPad app? Or a dedicated photo-sharing app? Or, as tech blog GigaOm founder Om Malik joked on Twitter, is it just an attempt by Zuckerberg to divert attention away from Google+?

Why the exodus from Facebook?

By Vera Gibbons

Any opinions expressed are the author’s own.

According to the Inside Facebook data service, Facebook lost about 6 million users in the U.S. in May (a claim the company disputes), dropping from 155.2 million to 149.4 million. That’s the first time U.S. numbers have dropped in more than a year.

Why the exodus from the world’s most popular social networking platform? While Daniel Sieberg, author of The Digital Diet, says it’s due to any number of reasons – from “Facebook Fatigue” to privacy issues to our inability to get the same benefits or rewards that we initially did when we first signed on – here are some of more personal, intimate reasons, according to those who have pulled the plug:

Don’t like what we’re seeing
Ashley Hebert, 26, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, had seen one too many photos of her ex-boyfriend – whom she was hoping to get back together with – looking all too pleased with his new girlfriend. Painful as it was, she couldn’t stop looking and was even having her friends spy on her behalf.  “I had to get off Facebook to stay sane.”

Is Google+ serving advertisers, users, or Google execs? Yes.

By Marco Arment
The opinions expressed are his own.

Breaking news: a huge advertising company would like you to give them as much of your personal information as possible and encourages you to use their services more frequently, for more reasons, and for longer durations each time so they can show you more ads and make more money from the advertisers.

I like Dave Winer’s take.

It’s not difficult for a company of Google’s size to make a social network. The challenge is getting enough people to use it, and quickly enough, that the early adopters will stick around after the first few days and start habitually using it.

This is an extremely high barrier to entry, even for Google. As with most social phenomena, social-network success tends to happen more organically and unpredictably than anyone is able to artificially create by throwing money at it.

Tech wrap: Microsoft reaches for the cloud

Everyone seems to be gabbing about the “cloud” these days. Whether it’s Apple’s much-hyped iCloud service or the Amazon Cloud, the now-popular euphemism for web-based software services has become one of the tech world’s biggest buzz words. Microsoft joined in on the action today by unveiling a revamped web-based version of its popular Office suite of business software. But Microsoft’s main target here is not Apple or Amazon, but Google, which has stolen some of the software maker’s corporate customers in recent years with cheap, web-only alternatives.

With Office 365, customers will be able to access familiar applications such as Outlook email, Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint collaboration tools beyond the desktop on a variety of different devices wherever there is an Internet connection. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer touted the service’s online format and built-in conferencing tools as especially good for small and medium-sized businesses looking to save money. Microsoft has offered online versions of some of Outlook and some other applications to corporate clients for years, but increased competition seems to have spurred Microsoft’s latest push into the cloud.

Google is praised for doing many things right, but social networking is not widely regarded as one of them. Co-founder and CEO Larry Page, who took over the helm from now-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in April, has made it clear that he hopes to change that. The Web giant trotted out its latest and most extensive foray into social networking with Google+, a new social service that aims to compete with Facebook by bundling together all of its its online properties into one platform. Google+ is an attempt to move past former flops such as Google Wave and Google Buzz.

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

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.”

First Look at the Google+ social network: The Top Secret Demo

One thing that’s clear about Google is that they’ve mastered the art of subterfuge.

At a time when leaks about product launches, acquisitions and potential hires are rife, Google resorted to extraordinary measures to ensure that word of its new social network, Google+, did not slip out ahead of Tuesday’s official announcement.

The company reached out to Reuters late on Friday about a special briefing related to some undisclosed YouTube news, even tasking a YouTube PR-man with a curious sartorial style to coordinate the meeting, to complete the red-herring.

Tech wrap: Google probed

U.S. antitrust regulators started a formal investigation into whether Google abuses its market power by favoring its own services over those of rivals in online searches and through other practices. The company has been accused of anticompetitive practices by other companies doing business online. “It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are, but we’re clear about where we stand,” Google said on its official blog. “Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that if we focus on the user all else will follow.”

“Typically less than one out of every 10 investigations lead to enforcement. This investigation faces daunting odds,” said David Balto, a former FTC policy director.”The complaints presented to the FTC are from disgruntled advertisers, not consumers. That is not a strong foundation to an antitrust case.”

Private equity firms KKR and Silver Lake are in talks to buy Internet domain site GoDaddy.com and a deal could be more than $2 billion, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Tech wrap: FTC seen deepening Google probe

Google will receive the civil equivalent of a subpoena from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as part of a probe into the Web giant’s Internet search business, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The FTC plans to send the civil investigative demand with a request for more information, the civil equivalent of a subpoena, within five days, according to the report. U.S. antitrust regulators have been concerned about Google’s dominance of the Web search industry, and the giant Internet company has been under investigation by the European Commission since last November.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop showed images of his company’s first phone running on the Windows phone OS. Codenamed “Sea Ray”, the phone appeared to be a near copy of Nokia’s N9 smartphone, unveiled earlier in the week.

The chairman of Yahoo voiced support for Chief Executive Carol Bartz, who has become a lightning rod for criticism as the company struggles with stagnant revenue growth and a rift with its Chinese partner. Yahoo’s efforts to mount a turnaround remain a work in progress, said Chairman Roy Bostock at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. But he said he was confident that the company was headed in the right direction and that Bartz had put Yahoo on a “clear path forward to accelerated revenue growth.”

Tech wrap: Panasonic profits shaken by quake

Japan’s Panasonic Corp forecast on Monday its full-year operating profit would drop 11 percent to 270 billion yen ($3.4 billion) in the year to March 2012, after the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan hit production and sales. Like many of its rivals, Panasonic delayed its profit forecast due to lack of clarity about the effects of the quake.

Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue will total roughly $2.2 billion in 2011, displacing Yahoo Inc to collect the biggest slice of online display advertising dollars, according to a new study. Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue will give it a 17.7 percent share of the market for graphical display ads that appear on websites, according to a report released on Monday by research firm eMarketer.

The Internet body that oversees domain names voted on Monday to end restricting them to suffixes like .com or .gov and will receive applications for new names from January 12 next year with the first approvals likely by the end of 2012. Experts say corporations should be among the first to register, resulting in domain names ending in brands like .toyota, .apple or .coke. Besides the $185,000 to apply, individuals or organizations will have to show a legitimate claim to the names they are buying.