Tech wrap: Clash of tech titans looming?

Apple Inc’s increasingly effective patent war against rivals like Samsung Electronics may mask its real target: arch-foe Google Inc. Poornima Gupta writes: “Recent success in blocking sales of Samsung’s latest Galaxy tablet in most of Europe and Apple’s challenges to the Korean giant in Australia reflect an aggressive effort to defend its top position in the red-hot mobile market from the runaway success of Android.”

AOL said on Thursday it would buy back $250 million of its stock, a move presumably intended to boost confidence in the shares, which fell 32 percent in two days. AOL has been in a turnaround mode since it was spun off from Time Warner in December 2009 after one of the most disastrous mergers in recent times.

Zynga, which has filed for an initial public offering of up to $1 billion, revealed it draws fewer paid players than expected in a regulatory filing on Thursday.

Most communication experts say that politicians, businesses and governments need to learn to use social media to shape the narrative themselves. And they need to learn fast, reports Peter Apps.

For people suffering social media overload, the New York Times has an alarming stat: “…one in every four-and-a-half minutes spent on the Web is spent on a social networking site or blog.”

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.

My response to Bill Keller: Trivialization makes you stupid

By Zeynep Tufekci
The opinions expressed are her own.

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has recently kicked up a lot of discussion with his comments about social media. I hope to reply to some of the substantive questions he raised over time. But first, I think we need to discuss the discussion.

Keller’s first missive was a tweet which simply said: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” This was followed by a piece in the New York Times and an interview with Reuters where he seemed to compare anyone who objected to his views of social media to religious zealots, and declared his opponents to be “digital evangelists and cyber-puritans, who treat any hint of skepticism as heresy.” He then declared that he was misunderstood, as his view of social media is “that it is a set of tools, not a religion.”

A substantive discussion of how social media is changing dynamics in the public sphere, or even whether Twitter makes anyone stupid, is certainly worthwhile. However, can we first agree that trivialization of the topic and dismissal of opponents through strawmen certainly makes the discussion of this issue — or any issue — stupid? Yes, social media is a set of tools. And yes, all new technologies come with trade-offs. Yes, they should not be worshipped. That doesn’t move the conversation forward very much.

Social media and the Vancouver riots

Vancouver police arrested almost 100 people after a riot broke out Wednesday, and are looking to lock up more, with the help of YouTube.

The website of the Vancouver Police Department prominently features a special “Hockey Riot 2011″ section where visitors can watch and read a statement by Chief Constable Jim Chu.

Constable Chu has promised to “bring all our resources to bear,” committing “the full weight of the Criminal Justice System [sic] in swiftly apprehending those responsible.”

Is a Facebook iPad App finally coming?

In the nearly 15 months since Apple launched its iPad, there’s been one conspicuous absence for users of the tablet: a Facebook app.

That will change in the coming weeks, as Facebook, the world’s No.1 Internet social network, prepares to unveil an app specially-designed for the iPad, according to a report in the New York Times today.

In development for almost a year, the Facebook iPad app is now in its final stages of testing and has received close attention throughout the process from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Times reported, citing anonymous sources. The report said the app will have capabilities beyond what’s available on Facebook’s website, such as specialized video and photo features.

Tech wrap: LinkedIn shares skyrocket in debut

LinkedIn made its remarkable debut on the New York Stock Exchange, at times trading more than 171 percent above its IPO price of $45. The stampede to buy the stock had some remembering back to another time when investors also loved tech stock IPOs: the 1990s and the dotcom bubble.

Does the response to LinkedIn suggest investors are in for another bubble that bursts when the fundamentals overtake the hype? Or is it a sign that investors are hungry for any piece of the social media pie and LinkedIn’s happens to be first out of the oven? While Facebook, Groupon, Twitter and Zynga are still expected to go public, LinkedIn Chief Executive Jeff Weiner cautions that his company’s spectacular debut should not be seen as a proxy for them.

While American social media companies are testing the IPO waters, their European counterparts at Viadao, Mind Candy, Sulake and Telmap are expressing skepticism at the Reuters Global Technology Summit about the sky-high valuations of U.S. start-ups and the potential for another bubble.

Today In Music: MySpace’s entertainment focus to lead to job cuts. Tomorrow perhaps?

We’d previously heard that MySpace is on course to cut jobs soon and AllThingsD today put that number at around 550 to 600 jobs and promises the announcement will be coming tomorrow.

The way one person familiar with the company’s thinking puts it, MySpace will be restructuring to realign its staff better with its new focus as a social entertainment site targeting Generation Y. It would also give it an opportunity to resolve various legacy issues.  Being a social entertainment site would probably be an easier path than as a social networking site on a hiding to nothing versus the all mighty Facebook but there are probably still questions about how it will make its money beyond advertising. MySpace despite its troubles still remains a key venue for promoting established bands and thousands of aspiring musicians.

The other story from AllThingsD is that News Corp, as we’ve reported,  is also being considered for sale but ATD (which is also owned by News Corp) points out that the parent company is shopping MySpace primarily to private equity buyers though Yahoo is also being considered.

Aretha Franklin is alive, and Twitter is growing up.

USA/First Charlie Sheen died a tragic if imaginary death in a snowboarding accident. Now poor Aretha Franklin is being mourned on Twitter for a demise that has yet to happen.

It’s all such sad news – not so much for the celebrities in question (after all, no publicity is bad publicity, even if it’s a press release announcing you are alive). But for Twitter and its credibility as a 21st Century news platform.

Twitter, like any web technology, is a double-edged blade. Early on, it drew praise by allowing people to jointly cover breaking news such as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and violent protests in Iran in the summer of 2009.

Foursquare still struggling to become more than a niche app

USA/When was the last time you played Foursquare? Not the mobile app that lets you check in at a coffeeshop or store in hopes of becoming its “mayor”. But the original game involving a red rubber ball and a grid chalked onto asphalt.

For me, it’s been years since I played Foursquare, and I’m tempted to get a game going with some of my friends who live nearby. That is more than I can say for the mobile app Foursquare. It’s been months since I’ve check in anywhere – in fact, I’d forgotten entirely that I deleted it from my iPhone – and after reinstalling it and trying out its new features, I’m still not crazy about it. It still feels more like a chore than a game, an act of discovery or a way to connect with friends.

According to, I’m not alone. In a blog post entitled “I’m the mayor! So what?”, Karen Costa showed some figures suggesting that the number of unique visitors at Foursquare has dwindled from a peak of 1.8 million this summer to less than 1 million last month. Its rival Gowalla has seen its unique visitor count tread water at around 200,000 for several months.

What the rise of “HMU” says about Facebook’s success in 2010

Facebook had an extraordinary year in 2010, bringing in $2 billion in revenue, being named best place to work and seeing Mark Zuckerberg named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. One key strategy that drove that success, as Zuckerberg made clear when he announced Facebook Social Inbox, was that the company built a platform that adapted to its most active users.

For Facebook, the most active users are students in college and secondary school. Zuckerberg hit on Social Inbox after high school students told him email was too slow. So it’s no surprise that the top status trend for 2010 – that is, the term whose usage in status updates grew the most this year – was “HMU.”

If you didn’t know what HMU meant before this week, you’re probably not in Facebook’s most active demographic. It isn’t a big part of the vocabulary of most people past their 20s; if you do use it, the older you are the more you risk looking like you’re trying too hard to be cool. Here’s how the British newspaper the Independent spelled it out: