MediaFile

Google’s new approach to the social Web just may work

Picture of Eric SchmidtEric Schmidt is fond of saying that the web isn’t a zero-sum game – that there is plenty of room for two emerging rivals like Facebook and Google to innovate and compete with both growing their revenue.

That’s true enough, although it clearly will be a zero-sum game in a few years, and the winner is surely planning today for tomorrow’s confrontation. Google, for its part, seems to be basing its strategy on the assumption that not everyone will want to join the web platform Facebook is building, and that there is a lot of growth to be found in the web beyond Facebook – that is, the area of the web that Google pretty much controls.

It’s a risky bet, but it seems like the smart one for Google right now. The company has been building social network after social network – Orkut, Buzz, Wave – with mixed results at best. But now it looks like Google has decided to regard social networking as a feature for search. The latest evidence of that approach is in its Tuesday announcement of Hotpot.

Hotpot is a recommendation-driven search engine that relies on a user’s history and Google contacts to suggest restaurants or services intended to appeal to personal tastes. It’s hardly an original idea – it’s pretty clear now why Google badly wanted to buy Yelp. And it faces the same barriers Google has always stumbled over in social networks – there isn’t a critical mass of users at the ready to make it work.

But Hotpot is interesting for another reason: It suggests Google is taking a different approach to social networks. Rather than building an alternative to MySpace or Facebook inside its domain, Google is incorporating social networking into its existing search results, piece by piece.

Palm Chief promises “hits” for HP

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Six months after Hewlett-Packard announced it was buying smartphone pionners Palm  for $1 billion, technology watchers are still waiting to see just what emerges from the high-profile marriage.

Palm chief Jon Rubinstein still isn’t tipping his hand on any details around smartphones and tablets that are due next year from the new HP unit. But he certainly made no effort to manage expectations on Tuesday at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

“It’s absolutely a hits business…We have several products that will clearly be hits when they come out,” said Rubinstein, who predicted “tremendous growth” in devices based on webOS, the Palm platform that HP acquired when it bought the company this year for roughly $1 billion.

Researchers use Intel chips to build better football helmets

 Football players infamously take a serious amount of punishment. Now, Intel is offering up a way to measure the extent of that pootential physical damage.

footballIntel is currently working with universities and a sports equipment maker to build an intelligent football helmet.

Researchers and helmet-maker Riddell are using clusters of computers powered by Intel chips to rapidly compute the risks and ways that a football player could be injured as he slams into a 220 lb linebacker and other typical head impacts.

Yahoo jumps into the local deals game, partners with Groupon

YAHOO-MICROSOFT/Rumors continue to swirl that Yahoo would like to buy Groupon, the fast-growing group-buying service.

But Yahoo’s heart seems to be in partnerships these days, and the company announced on Tuesday that it had struck a deal to offer Groupon deals in its new local offers program.

Groupon is one of 20 partners in Yahoo’s local offers program, including Goldstar, ScoopSt and ValPak.

Meebo introduces Web site check-in service

A number of Web companies are fighting to become the primary service for people to “check in” to real world locations, like coffee shops and stores.  MeeboLogo

But Meebo believes there’s an equally important need for people to check in to Web sites that’s been overlooked.

Meebo hopes to fill in what it says is a missing piece of Today’s social Web, creating a social network based not just on friends and contacts, but on personal interests.

Sprint gets iPhone too? Well, not really

While the rumor mill has been heating to a frenzy over whether and when Verizon Wireless will get its hands on iPhone,  Sprint Nextel has quietly found its own way to associate its brand with Apple’s i-empire, in the form of a wireless case for the iPod Touch. ZTE_3200_PEEL_GL

On Sunday Sprint will start selling  Peel,  a ZTE-made  case for the iPod Touch, that will connect the device via Wi-Fi to its cellular network.

This means Sprint customers will be able to connect their iPod Touch to the Internet via Sprint’s cellular network rather than depending on Wi-Fi, a short-range wireless technology that is widely installed in places such as coffee shops or airports but more limited in coverage than cellular networks.

PayPal sees early promise from mobile experiment

jetpack2The “mobile wallet” concept has been bandied around for years as a promise that one day “soon” we’ll be able to leave our purses at home and pay for everything via the cellphone.
Of course we were also meant to to get to work using Jetpacks and have robots cleaning the house by now too.
However, with credit card companies and banks desperately looking at new avenues for growth, they’re starting to talk up mobile with a vengeance as they all battle  for a dominant place in the fledgling mobile payments industry.
And since they’re doing it, online payments provider PayPal has joined the fray because if consumers really want to move their lives to the cellphone, it can’t limit itself to the desktop.
Interestingly PayPal says it is seeing early signs of mobile success in an area where it looks to make an old fashioned bank service  – check cashing – more convenient.
The unit of eBay says it handled $100,000 in checks from its mobile customers in roughly a day and a half after it kicked off its mobile check cashing service, which allows you to add money to your PayPal account by just taking a cellphone photo of a physical check and using the PayPal mobile app.
Roughly a month later, PayPal says it processed over $1 million worth of checks.
This is a pittance in comparison with what banks handle — U.S. banks processed $30.6 billion of checks in 2006, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, implying $2.55 billion worth of checks every month.
Still PayPal is happy enough with the result that it is already looking for ways to improve the service, specifically by reducing the check-clearing window from six days, where it currently stands.
It  is also experimenting with other services aimed at expanding beyond eBay auctions and other online transactions where it is most popular.   One is allowing consumers to pay for goods in a store by using a mobile PayPal app on their phone, which would require the vendor as well as the consumer to open a PayPal account.
For this service PayPal says it has signed up 200 merchants in just a few weeks. In comparison the credit card industry has convinced retailers to install contactless payment terminals in all of 150,000 locations in about five years.
The idea with contactless payments is that you can wave your phone to pay instead of having to fumble in your wallet for a credit card. Paypal is also trying out this method for size via its partnership with a company called Bling Nation, which lets you spend from your PayPal account by slapping a “Bling” sticker to the outside of your phone and waving at the machine.
“We don’t know which will take off so we’re experimenting,” said Laura Chambers, a senior director for PayPa.l But she noted that “merchants aren’t excited about hardware upgrades.”
At a New York event where the company showcased their mobile services, a bunch of which were launched on October 6, Chambers said that this year would be a year of experiments for her company.
And since mobile operators have a direct relationship with their customers, Chambers said PayPal is also in talks with U.S. operators about how they can work together.  She would not disclose any details but said:  “There’s a great opportunity to replace the wallet and for the mobile phone to become the wallet.”

(Photo: Reuters – of American stuntman Eric Scott hovering over London using a Jetpack)

Google to speed up searches with visual Web site ‘previews’

Google’s search engine has a new feature that may cause Web surfers to do less…Web surfing.

The company’s new Instant Previews announced on Tuesday provides visual snapshots of Web pages directly within the list of search results, making it easier and quicker to home in on the Web page you’re looking for.

Instant Previews, which will be rolled out during the next few days, puts a small icon of a magnifying glass next to most of Google’s search results. Click on the magnifying glass and Google serves up a screenshot of the Web page, highlighting the section of the page that’s relevant to your search query.GOOGInstantPreview

RockMelt’s secret social Web browser makes debut

The Web has evolved drastically during the past two decades. But the Web browser remains much as it has since it was first created.RockMeltScreen

That’s the premise behind RockMelt, a new browser that bills itself as having been built from the ground-up for the realities of today’s Web 2.0 world, in which interacting across social networks is as important as viewing Web pages.

The new browser has been under development in “stealth” mode for two years and has been the subject of much speculation, particularly since one of the company’s main investors is Marc Andreessen, the man credited with creating the first mass-market graphical Web browser.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg on mobile ads: What’s the hurry?

Apple and Google may be battling for a piece of the nascent mobile ad market, but Facebook is happy to sit on the sidelines.FACEBOOK/

Despite the fact that more than one-third of Facebook’s 500 million users sometimes access the social networking service from a cell phone, Facebook does not currently show any ads to its mobile users.

And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’s not in any hurry to begin generating mobile advertising revenue.