MediaFile

Microsoft goes social. Sort of.

Microsoft, which owns a small part of Facebook, dipped its own toe in the online social scene this week with a low-key unveiling of its So.cl (pronounced “social”) service.

The site, which is for students to share interesting discoveries online, looks like a curious blend of Facebook and Google +.

Microsoft's so.cl

Right now it’s restricted to certain universities, and is a blend of web browsing, search (Bing, of course) and networking — including what it calls “video party”.

Developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, it is “an experimental research project focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.”

In effect, Microsoft is trying to build on the fact that many students are looking for the same sorts of things online, and it gives them a way to put together and share their findings with other members interested in the same academic area.

Facebook is starting to lose its touch

By Kevin Kelleher
The opinions expressed are his own.

Facebook is steamrolling forward. It now boasts 800 million active users. The company is reportedly preparting for an initial public offering. It’s laying plans to sell a Facebook phone, strengthening its presence on the mobile web. But Facebook’s plans may be hampered by a new backlash against the company’s efforts to get its users to share more of their lives online.

In September, Facebook announced at its annual f8 developers conference that it was upgrading its Open Graph technology. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Open Graph in 2010 to let web sites and apps share information about users with Facebook. The revamped Open Graph takes sharing to a new level, allowing apps that automatically share what articles users are reading or what music they’re listening to.

Zuckerberg said the new feature would allow “frictionless experiences” and “real-time serendipity.” At the time, only a few observers found them to be scary. “They are seeking out information to report about you,” wrote developer and blogger Dave Winer. But suddenly, a critical mass of critics are speaking up about the changes, how they affect users and publishers alike.

In a twist, Zynga brings mobile game to Facebook

On Monday, Zynga said it would be bringing its most popular mobile game, “Words with Friends,” to Facebook. The social games maker said the game would be coming soon.

Players on Apple- or Android-powered devices will be able to carry over games from their phones or tablets onto Facebook. Zynga, in an attempt at bathroom humor, said this would allow “a seamless transition from your work computer to the bathroom… don’t lie, you know you do it.”

While it’s no surprise that Zynga would want to tap Facebook to attract more users to “Words with Friends” — a game you have to play with at least one other person — it’s a curious move for a company whose biggest IPO risk is its dependence on Facebook. Future investors are more likely to welcome an announcement in which Zynga distances itself from Facebook, like the recent one about Zynga entering mainland China through its partner Tencent.

What’s Happening, Twitter?

Twitter’s been making a lot of changes lately. They’ve introduced new technologies like lists — which is kind of like a friend filter on Facebook — and a new way to share one another’s Tweets.

Usage on the company’s website has taken off like a rocket, up 1,703 percent year-over-year in September, and that doesn’t even count people who access the service through text messaging or specialized applications on their smartphones or computers.

But today was perhaps the most radical change of all. Twitter changed its cosmically deep and evocative signature query, “What are you doing?”

MySpace: Be ready to read this story twice

MySpace, the online social network (can we still call it that now that it has ducked out of the Facebook/Twitter competition?), appears to be pursuing what I’ll call the “two-pronged news strategy.” You get used to it when you cover media and technology. For those of you who don’t enjoy this privilege, it goes like this:

    Pick a news outlet that you like and whisper things to them about what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be interesting, it just has to be exclusive. If you’re in public relations, you don’t even have to know that someone in your company is doing this. It works well for you. Let the rest of the press read the story and bombard your telephone and e-mail with messages demanding to know if it’s true. Score a big hit on the news cycle. Because you either decline to comment or only want to talk “on background,” it heightens the air of mystery — and newsworthiness. The official announcement of the news, which will always resemble 90 percent or more of what you read in the first round of anonymously sourced stories, will get just as much attention as that first round. It’s a 2-for-1 deal that is irresistible to many companies.

I don’t know that MySpace is doing this, and wouldn’t be able to confirm it if I asked. It could just be that the reporters who get the breaking news have great sources and the reporter asked smart questions that would yield good answers. I’ll let you judge.

The first example comes from Kara Swisher, tech blogger at AllThingsD, which is MySpace’s cousin in the News Corp family. She reports:

Twitter + Georgian blogger + South Ossetia = Hack Attack

If you were miffed at not being able to tweet your innermost thoughts and random musings to your followers yesterday, or post that smartypants comment on a friend’s Facebook status update, blame politics. Turns out the reason why Twitter was knocked down for hours, while Facebook users had trouble logging in and posting to their profiles on Thursday was a Georgian blogger who uses both services.

According to CNET, which cites Facebook’s chief security officer Max Kelly, the blogger also has accounts in LiveJournal and Google’s Blogger and YouTube platforms, and goes by the name of Cyxymu, which is the name of a town in Georgia. Kelly told CNET:

“It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard.”

A new social network — more than an electronic scrapbook?

No one needs another Facebook or Twitter so any social networking site had better have something new. Serial entrepreneur Vince Broady, who has experience in knowing what people like through his background with games and entertainment, is convinced he has one. It launched this week as thisMoment.com.

Broady’s idea is to let people create what he calls “moments,” which I would call electronic scrapbooks. ThisMoment is designed to work in lots of places — on the thisMoment website, within Facebook (some security issues are still being resolved, he says, but you can use your Facebook ID to sign up), or on an iPhone.

Content can come from anywhere so long as it’s digital: text, YouTube, a video camera, your digital camera, Flickr, Picassa or Facebook. OK, all that might be tough in your old high school scrapbook.

Swine flu: not so bad for CDC.gov

Too bad the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t charge for its information or make money off its website — they could have made a pile of cash on the swine flu scare. (You know, if it wasn’t a government site.)

Web traffic measurement firm comScore says traffic soared at CDC.gov last month, as people visited the website amid concerns over the H1N1, or swine, flu.

In April, CDC.gov saw a 142 percent increase in traffic, or 5.7 million visitors, making it the top audience gainer among websites, comScore said. “When news of the swine flu pandemic erupted, many Americans turned to the Internet as their primary source of information for how to keep themselves and their families safe,” said Jack Flanagan, executive vice president at comScore Media Metrix.

Facebook hotter than MySpace: Yahoo CEO Bartz

Facebook is hot, MySpace is not.  We didn’t say it, Yahoo’s new chief executive Carol Bartz did.

During Yahoo’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, one analysts asked Bartz what Yahoo’s strategy is for going after the younger demographic, i.e. the generation whose lives play out on social networks.

“That was one of the questions I asked the (Yahoo) board when I was speaking to them in November and December,” Bartz replied. “I have a 20-year-old and also two kids in their late 20s, so I’m very familiar with the Facebooks of the world and before that, MySpace, and see what the kids do. So I’m very curious about that demographic.”

Pint-sized Club Penguin habitues tapped for virtual charity

Is it really giving if the money you’re shelling out for charity isn’t real? The 6- to 14-year-olds that Disney is targeting in a Dec. 12-22 charity drive on its social networking Club Penguin Web site probably would answer an emphatic “Yes!” to that existential poser.

That’s because donating the make-believe coins they earn playing games on Club Penguin to charities like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund – two beneficiaries of past penguin largesse — means less “money” to spend in the snowy virtual world on rugs and armchairs for their igloos, or hairdos and clothes for their penguins. Talk about a painful choice!

Kids who donate will actually be voting on which of three real-world causes to support, and their giving will determine how the New Horizon Foundation, whose principals started Club Penguin, splits up a $1 million donation to charities that represent those causes. During last year’s 10-day campaign, 2.5 million kids ponied up more than 2 billion virtual coins to help other children around the world, New Horizon’s Lane Merrifield said.