Facebook has unveiled improvements to its “friends” lists with a new feature dubbed “Smart Lists” that automatically generates friend groups so that users no longer need to manage their own lists.
The improvement — which follows the lead of popular Google+ features — is currently based on categories that create lists based on workplace, school, family and city. “For example, if a user lists their college on their profile, Smart Lists will automatically find all their friends that did the same, and group them together for easier sharing of content between them,” reports CNET.
While the social networker has previously made list creation available, the company explains that users complained about “how time-consuming it is to organize lists for different parts of your life and keep them up to date.” These improvements should address this concern. Facebook also points out that users can still manually add or remove friends from their lists.
Additionally, a new “Close Friends and Acquaintances Lists” component has been added. The option allows users to categorize friends into either their “Close Friends” list or mere “Acquaintances.” The distinction will help funnel updates through the news feeds; users will see all updates from close friends and just important updates from acquaintances.
Facebook’s revenues have doubled the first half of 2011 to $1.6 billion, putting the social network on course to possibly earn $4 billion this year.
“It’s simply too late for anyone, perhaps even Google, to create a social network that can compete with Facebook,” writes Robert Hof in a related story.
Reuters suggests this news underscores the social networker’s appeal to advertisers. “We really see Facebook as becoming like the operating system for delivering ads on the Internet,” said Dave Williams, CEO of Blinq Media.
Williams added that Facebook’s “like” feature, that now helps endorse products and companies, provides valuable data that other online services can’t match.
“Companies like Yahoo are relying on third party user behavioral data based on things like cookies. On Facebook that’s data that users have revealed about themselves,” he said.
“The price that companies pay for every consumer that clicks on a Facebook ad increased 62 percent between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2011, according to Efficient Frontier, another firm that helps companies deliver ad campaigns on Facebook,” reports Reuters.
Yahoo and other content aggregators are finding that the more content they have, the less value it has. Ad rates for Yahoo and AOL have plummeted. Meanwhile, services that find interesting content like Google are doing exceeding well.
Moreover, advertisers have a wider range of competitors to reach their target markets. And they are increasingly working with advertising exchanges that buy ad space inexpensively across multiple properties.
Even smaller publishers like Salon and Slate are not consistently profitable.
“It’s a simple rule of any market,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “The more information that is created, the more the value is reduced. And despite attempts to woo spending with bigger, bolder and more targeted ads, services that help consumers navigate that content, namely search, remain the big money makers online.”
“Most people make money pointing to content, not creating, curating or collecting content,” suggests Rishad Tobaccowala, chief strategy and innovation officer at Vivaki, the digital-media unit of Publicis Groupe SA.
Amazon has become “the most disruptive company in the media and technology industries,” suggests Wired.
Amazon’s rumored tablet has the potential to be the perfect machine to sell both digital goods delivered immediately or physical goods delivered in two days.
“Why not make an independent movie or television show and release it through Amazon?” asks the article. “Once the video is hosted on Amazon’s servers, it’s available for immediate digital download or streaming through Prime to desktops, tablets or set-top boxes. Both streaming and downloads promise a revenue share for content creators. Customers could buy a Blu-ray or DVD that Amazon burns and ships on demand — no storage, no overhead.”
While some of the content may not prove to be top quality, some of it could be the next Funny Or Die or Channel 101 while dramatically impacting distribution: “The breadth and independence of buying choices could easily differentiate Amazon from traditional studios — or even for those studios themselves, from competing services like Netflix.”
Amazon may also offer its forked Android-based OS as a platform to hardware partners providing a new platform with its own code, app and media stores, cloud services and revamped UI.
“In a year from now,” writes Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, “we could see a range of ‘Amazon tablets’ made by different hardware manufacturers.”
Jaguar Financial Corporation CEO Vic Alboini, an investor in struggling Research In Motion, is urging the BlackBerry maker to consider selling the company. He has recommended that RIM form a committee of independent executives to explore the proposal.
According to the article: “RIM is seeing its once commanding presence in the smartphone market eroded by the likes of Android and Apple’s iOS: where a year ago RIM accounted for 19 percent of the market, second-quarter figures from Gartner put the company’s current share at 12 percent.”
Alboini suggests that selling RIM would maximize the company’s value to investors, who have watched their investments in the Canadian company significantly decline during the last year.
“RIM has been hanging hopes for its future on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, as well as a new swath of smartphones expected to land in 2012 based on RIM’s recently-acquired QNX operating system — the same OS used in the PlayBook,” reports Digital Trends. “So far, industry response to the PlayBook has been muted, with many citing its reliance on a BlackBerry handset for email as a major impediment — and U.S. mobile carrier Sprint recently backed out of plans to offer a 4G version of the PlayBook, citing lack of customer interest.”
During his bleak forecast of the publishing industry at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, novelist Ewan Morrison suggested the rise of the e-book will mean the end of writers as a profession, as piracy and a demand for steep discounts take over the book industry as it has with music, newspapers, games, porn, photography, telecommunications and home video.
Publishers will no longer be able to provide advances to enable writers to make a decent living and writers will increasingly depend on the “long tail” which cannot support them. Morrison adds that only established writers will prosper.
In 10 to 15 years, he believes the largest “publishers” will be Google, Amazon and Apple.
“The writer will become an entrepreneur with a short shelf life, in a world without publishers or even shelves,” predicts Morrison.
As the bidding war for Hulu continues, Financial Times reports that Yahoo, Amazon and Dish Network are all expected to offer near 2 billion dollars for the company, its subscription service and the rights to exclusive content for at least two years.
However, Google is rumored to have proposed a significantly higher bid for an acquisition proposal on a larger scale. Details have not been released, but some speculate that Google may offer a couple billion dollars more in exchange for more content for a longer period of time. It is not clear if the Google proposal includes a longer deal for content or possibly something else — or if Hulu would even be interested in a new plan.
According to The Wall Street Journal: “Since that’s not what Hulu’s owners have put on the table, ‘normally we would have thrown people out if they’d said that,’ says an executive familiar with the sales process. But Google ‘indicated that there’s enough money’ involved so that Hulu’s owners are at least thinking about continuing the discussion.
The video site would fit nicely with Google’s YouTube, which has struggled in landing the type of long-form premium content that Hulu owns. And if rumors are accurate, Google is willing to pay.
But would the content owners agree to terms with Google, which is already the largest video website worldwide, when they were earlier holdouts on Google TV?
Rovi has announced DivX Plus Streaming that allows cloud-based movie services, such as Best Buy’s CinemaNow and other sites integrated with the Rovi Entertainment Store, to stream movies securely to DivX-compatible devices.
New features include being able to pause on one device and seamlessly resume on another, improved video quality, and support for multiple language tracks and subtitles.
“Other content-protection companies, such as Google’s Widevine subsidiary, offer some similar capabilities to service providers, so Rovi is playing catch-up to a degree. And not every Hollywood studio allows its movies to be distributed in the DivX format,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Rovi executives insist, however, that they’ve leapfrogged the competition with some features, including the near-Blu-ray-quality images and the ability to support multiple alternate-language soundtracks and subtitles in the same stream.”
Although integration into specific products has yet to be announced, Rovi explained the technology will be available to many existing devices through a firmware update.
Amazon is reportedly close to production on its long-rumored tablet device. TechCrunch provides a fascinating first-person report on the Android-based Kindle (but sorry, no pictures yet).
The device will initially feature a 7-inch color touchscreen with a 10-inch model coming next year. The interface is Amazon’s and the main screen resembles iTunes Cover Flow with a carousel of books, apps, movies. It is built on top of pre 2.2 Android. It will NOT be getting Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich.
It will be integrated with Amazon’s content store, which is one-click away. Apps will be available though Amazon’s Android App Store (and not Google’s Android Market). Additionally, the book reader is the Kindle app, the music player is Amazon’s Cloud Player and the movie player is Amazon’s Instant Video player. There is no camera.
The device is expected to include a free subscription to Amazon Prime, which will provide access to Amazon Instant Video.
TechCrunch anticipates an end of November launch at a cost of $250. There are many more details in the article…
In its first international venture, Hulu is launching its subscription service in Japan where it will offer hundreds of premium feature films and thousands of TV shows for $19.19/month.
The service will be accessible via select connected TVs and smartphones (Engadget reports that Panasonic Blu-ray players, Sony Blu-ray players and TVs, Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles and Android tablets are relegated to the “coming soon” list.)
Content will be provided from CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Additional local market content will be added including Japanese-produced and other Asian content.
Hulu is also announcing an exclusive mobile marketing partnership with NTT Docomo. Details will be forthcoming.
A follow-up post from GigaOM yesterday outlines the differences between Hulu’s current U.S. offerings and its plans for the Japanese market, “that could give a hint at what Hulu might look like in the future.” So is there a “no ads, higher fees and more content suppliers” future for Hulu outside of Japan? If so, watch out Netflix!
The HTC Jetstream tablet (formerly named Puccini), will be available through AT&T beginning this Sunday.
Notable features include: a Snapdragon 1.5 GHz dual core processor, front-facing camera, 8-megapixel rear camera, and HTC scribe stylus pen.
The Jetstream runs Android 3.1 Honeycomb on a 10.1-inch screen and will be AT&T’s first tablet with real 4G LTE.
According to the company press release: “HTC Jetstream is AT&T’s first tablet to showcase the Android 3.1 OS. The brand new operating system was designed from the ground up for devices with larger screens. It improves on Android favorites with new interactive and resizeable widgets plus improved multi-tasking, browsing, notifications, and customization.”
However, the $700 price tag, “discounted” with a 2-year contract (and $35/month data plan), may prove off-putting to some consumers.
Google remains “absolutely committed” to Google TV, according to executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
“Google TV, which allows viewers to mix Web and television content on TV screens via a browser, has received lukewarm reviews and been blocked by the major U.S. networks since its launch in the United States in October,” reports Reuters.
However, Schmidt told Edinburgh International Television Festival attendees that Sony and Logitech will remain partners for the next version and added, “I believe there are many more coming.” He also summed up three trends to watch most regarding the future of TV — Mobile, Local and Social.
Additionally, Schmidt explained there are “interesting ideas” how Motorola can help Google TV (last week Google announced its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility), but he would not provide details until the merger was completed.
“We’re intending to run Motorola, which would include the set top box business, as a completely separate business,” he said. “That does not mean that there won’t be communication between the two, and obviously sharing and knowledge sharing.”
Apple’s iTunes Match went live to developers for testing this week and music “streaming” from the cloud is reportedly already up and running.
If the hype is accurate, the TechCrunch article header from Dennis Kuba’s story submission may prove telling: “With iTunes In The Cloud, Apple Under-Promises And Over-Delivers.”
Apple enthusiasts are excited to see what shakes out this fall with iOS 5 and iCloud. Yesterday, TechCrunch reported: “Tonight brought perhaps the biggest surprise revelation yet: iTunes in the Cloud will support streaming as well as downloading of music.”
There is also speculation that this announcement may lead to a possible “cloud iPhone.” Rumors are making the rounds that Apple might unveil a low-cost iPhone 4 (with minimal on-board storage) alongside its new iPhone 5 release. If iTunes has streaming functionality, the low-cost version of the iPhone could rely on the cloud for content.
Be sure to check out the iTunes Match videos included in the post.
TechCrunch recently added an update: “There’s some debate going on right now about whether or not this is technically streaming. Even Apple is avoiding the term, as Peter Kafka points out. There are two reasons for this — reasons Google follows as well with their service.”
Facebook has already paid out $40,000 to hackers for identifying flaws in its website, just three weeks after the social networker launched its “Bug Bounty” program that offers compensation for finding vulnerabilities in the site’s code.
“Schemes such as Facebook’s illustrate the push towards greater disclosure of security weaknesses and hacking incidents, as the technology industry strives to pool its resources to protect itself better,” reports The Financial Times. “The approach has won praise from digital advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.”
“The program has also been great because it has made our site more secure — by surfacing issues large and small, introducing us to novel attack vectors, and helping us improve lots of corners in our code,” explained Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s chief security officer.
Facebook joins others such as Google, Mozilla and HP that have programs in place to offer payments to outsiders who identify vulnerabilities.
Sony Ericsson is adding Google Talk and video features this fall to its Xperia smartphone line.
The features will be available courtesy of an upgrade to the Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread platform.
The phone maker is also adding 3D camera features and increased social networking capabilities such as making Facebook access easier and quicker.
According to eWeek, key features include: “The ability to let users turn their Xperia smartphone into a mini PC by connecting mouse, keyboard or game controllers via USB to the Sony Ericsson LiveDock multimedia station, or to a TV via HDMI; Swipe text input (a competing technology to Swype on Android handsets); and screen capture from anywhere in the phone, a valuable tool for Web publishers.”
Expect the Xperia line to be available by October, possibly before the iPhone 5 fall launch.