Why Social Media is Cooking in Emerging Markets


The Arab Spring, the Slavic Spring and the Iranian Twitter revolution all proved how deeply engrained the use of social media is in emerging market countries. But did you know that their rate of engagement with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is growing a whole lot faster than that of developed markets?

This post first appeared on Memeburn and was written by Michelle Atagana. Memeburn is an award-winning site based in South Africa that tracks emerging technologies primarily in emerging markets, including the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. SiliconFilter occasionally features relevant posts from MemeBurn.

Social media penetration is on the rise in emerging markets. A recent report from research and analysis site,, looking at three studies from Pew Research Center, TNSDigitallife and Brazilian-based F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi on social media usage and how it is aiding brand awareness in emerging market territories.

Pew research social media

Last year eMarketer estimated worldwide social network ad revenues would surpass US$8-billion by the end of 2012, allocating just under half of that figure to the United States. “Non-US revenues were expected to grow faster, as marketers attempt to increase brand awareness, market share, and profits in fast-growth countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) and beyond,” says the research and analysis site.

Social media penetration in large emerging market regions such as the BRIC territories and countries Mexico and Indonesia, currently ranges from 56% to 86% of internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s “Global Digital Communication: Texting, Social Networking Popular Worldwide”. The highest figures go to Indonesia and Russia, at 86% for each in May 2011, up from 63% and 76%, respectively in 2010 — though F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi research reveals Brazil’s internet penetration reached 93% as of August 2011.

Brazil social network

Pew’s research further finds that in some markets, especially those with relatively low overall internet penetration, social network usage is higher than the US’s 60% of internet users. Notably in the past year, social media usage in Egypt has grown from 18% in 2010 to 28% in 2011.

A key point revealed by these studies is the way social media is being used in these regions and what it means for the emerging world. Last year’s social media revolutions may have woken the world up to the role social media can play in times of unrest, but also showed how important social media can be when it comes to consumer behaviour.

According to the TNS “Digital Life 2011″ study, social media marketing is more effective in emerging markets than more established ones. The study shows that users in “BRIC, Indonesia and Mexico were more likely to view social networks as a good place to learn about and buy brands and products than users in developed markets like Canada, the UK and the US”.

eMarketer explains the difference in growth between emerging markets and developed markets using an “experienced consumer” analogy. According to eMarketer, developed market users “are accustomed to third-party eCommerce sites and payment methods, and look to social networks mainly for keeping up with friends. In emerging markets, eCommerce is untested and new; and knowing the person or brand, even virtually, can engender more trust among users.”

The report speculates that the reason emerging market users engage more with brands on social media is due to “higher levels of trust” in these regions, which allows social networks to play a bigger role in the purchase cycle. Online shopping is still a relatively new idea in most emerging markets, being able to engage with brands on social media platforms helps build user confidence.

In the TNS report, Larry Bruck, senior vice president of global media and marketing operations at Kellogg Company, says “Digital is a business enabler, not just a marketing enabler.” Using the emerging world as example, Bruck explains that social media, not just online media, provides an opportunity to foster new business for savvy brands.

10:17 am

As More Cars Get Connected, Are the Days of Radio Coming to an End?


For better or worse, our cars are slowly turning into Internet-connected gadgets. Chances are that by the time the 2015 models arrive, virtually every new car except for the most basic models will be able to connect to the Internet in some form. Unless the carriers decide to cap our downloads a 200MB, it's a safe bet that streaming media will take a good chunk of market share from good old radio and the days of the morning zoo drive time shows may (thankfully) be coming to an end. Today, quite a few drivers use their phones to stream music to their cars already, but overall, this is still a minority.

Connected Cars are Going Mainstream

As CES this week, one trend has clearly been towards brining more entertainment content to the car over the Internet.

Here are just the announcements from yesterday: NPR and Ford announced a partnership yesterday. HARMAN's Aha platform is being adopted by Honda and Subaru and also features content from partners like NPR, MOG, Slacker and others. Pioneer's Zypr platform will power Scion's BeSpoke connected infotainment audio system (PDF).

Today, Ford is also announcing that mobile streaming app TuneIn is now compatible with its SYNC AppLink platform. This will give drivers with compatible cars and phones the ability to choose between 50,000 AM, FM, HD and Internet-based radio stations and close to a million on-demand programs ready for streaming. All of this, of course, can be controlled by your voice or with the buttons on your steering wheel.

Also announced at CES: streaming radio service Slacker just turned on its long-announced (but somewhat delayed) partnership with ESPN. Slacker also lets you play news programs at the top of the hour, so if you use this service in your car, you won't even miss the news. Given that the car itself can probably pull in traffic data anyway (maybe with the help of the newly announced service), chances are you won't even miss the old-fashioned traffic reports as your car will route you around traffic jams automatically.

Some forms of radio will probably be around for a while, especially talk radio, but it's hard to imagine that too many drivers will still be tuning their radios to any channel in a few years from now – but you will tune in by clicking on your car's or your phone's touchscreen. No dial needed.

Image credit: Flickr user Night_Owl

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12:00 pm

Just Ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, Google Launches its U.S. Election Site


Even though the presidential elections are still nine months away, the political circus in the U.S. is in full swing already (and has been for months), thanks to the impending start of the Republican primaries tomorrow. As usual, Google will offer its own set of tools for keeping track of all the developments during these upcoming months. Today, the company launched, which provides votes and journalists with up-to-date news about the campaigns, as well as easy access to Google’s own tools for those directly involved in the political process (Google+, YouTube, AdWords, for example).

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the site is the real-time dashboard, which displays recent search trends, Google News mentions and YouTube video views for all the candidates. The recent surge of Rick Santorum’s campaign, for example, is nicely illustrated by this tool.

Unsurprisingly, Google today also launched a Google+ page for its elections site.

In 2008, Google also offered an election website. That site, however, only launched a few days before the start of the political conventions in August instead of at the start of the primary season. At the time, Google allowed the campaigns and a select group of reporters to highlight specific news stories on the site. It doesn’t look like this feature will make a return this year.

Google Politics  Elections

4:17 pm

YouTube in 2011: Over 1,000,000,000,000 Playbacks, 140 Views for Every Person on Earth


We'll leave it up to the cultural anthropologists of the future to unravel the significance of the fact that Rebecca Black's "Friday" was the most watched video on YouTube in 2011. Just a brief look at the basic statistics of YouTube's viewership this year, however, clearly shows how much of a force Google's video sharing site has become. According to YouTube's own data, the site saw more than one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) playbacks this year. That's an astonishing 140 views for every person on earth, or, as Google puts it, "more than twice as many stars as in the Milky Way."

Last year, the "Bed Intruder Song" took the top billing in YouTube's annual top 10 list. This year, it was Rebecca Black's "Friday." While there wasn't a single cat video in last year's top 10, this year saw two of them make the list ("Nyan Cat" and "cat mom hugs baby kitten"). Sadly, my favorite cat video of the year didn't make the list, though.

Here is the complete top 10:


2:04 pm

Marissa Mayer at LeWeb: Google+ Was a Pleasant Surprise


Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for local, as well as maps and location services, was interviewed by Crunchfund’s MG Siegler on stage at the LeWeb conference in Paris this morning. This wide-ranging interview touched upon everything from Google+ check-ins, Latitude, mobile maps, Android and Mayer’s own role at Google.

Mayer’s Role at Google Today

Mayer has long been one of the most visible faces of Google’s executive team (and a regular guest at LeWeb), though last year, her role shifted from being in charge of search products to a focus on location products. Asked about this title switch by Siegler, Mayer noted that titles don’t matter much to her but that she cares more about what the focuses on. While this is obviously a very political answer, quite a few pundits at the time wondered whether Mayer wasn’t actually demoted in this move.

Google+: A Pleasant Surprise

Google+, said Mayer, was a “pleasant surprise.” She stressed that Google learned a lot from its first failed social products like Wave and Buzz. She also noted that Google tried not to over-hype Google+ and launch it slowly (though one could argue that a product with millions of users isn’t really in a “field test”).  To her, the fact that the company placed a stronger emphasis on design with Google+ is also a major factor in the product’s success.

Google+ Check-In Deals Coming Next Week

Asked about Google’s recently leaked Google+ check-in deals, Mayer argued that check-ins are a useful feature for the company’s users. “We think there are interesting ways we can monetize this, but also ways to help our users safe money.” The check-in feature is now slated for launch next week.

According to Mayer, Google is also still working on its other location features outside of Google+, too, including Latitude. New features for Latitude are currently still in the works, so chances are this tool won’t be the next victim of Google’s spring cleaning campaign.

Google’s View of the Location Space as a Whole

As for the location space as a whole, Mayer noted that she thinks there is still a lot of competition in local, even as Facebook and Gowalla have now bowed out of some aspects of it. To her, it’s natural that there will be some long-term winners and losers and that it’s inevitable that some companies will drop of the radar.

To Google, maps are among the most-used features on phones. Since June 2011, Google has been seeing more maps usage on mobile devices than on the web every day (until then, mobile usage only surpassed the desktop on weekends sometimes).

11:17 am

Google Maps Goes Indoors (on Android)


Google Maps for Android now features indoor maps for a select number of malls, airports and train stations around the U.S. and Japan. Until now, indoor mapping was the domain of specialized apps and Micorosoft’s Bing Maps. Starting today, Google Maps for Android users will be able to see detailed indoor maps of places like San Francisco International Airport, the Mall of America in Minnesota and Japan Rail’s train stations.

Google Maps indoors

To see these maps, Android users just have to zoom in to a building and the indoor maps will automatically appear. For buildings with multiple floors, users will also have the option to change to the floor they are on.

After launching its indoor Street View initiative, this is Google’s second major foray into indoor mapping. It’s not clear that Google would try to actively monetize these new features, but it’s easy to imagine an indoor map that highlights deals or discounts in a mall, for example.

Google is actively recruiting business owners who would like their location’s floor plans included in Google Maps.

It’s not clear when Google plans to bring this feature to other platforms as well. Indeed, it’s somewhat surprising that Google isn’t exposing these maps on the Web already.

Here is a partial list of some of the buildings where the new indoor maps have already been enable: [list]

  • Mall of America, IKEA, The Home Depot, select Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, Daimaru, Taskashimaya and Mitsukoshi locations and more. Watch an IKEA demo here.
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Narita International (NRT), among others.
  • JR and Tokyu Corporation [/list]

5:51 pm

Study: Tablet Users Love to Read the News, Still Reluctant to Pay for It


Consuming news ranks, according to a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, among the most popular things adults in the U.S. do with their tablets. Reading news sites and watching news-related video is about as popular as sending and receiving email, for example, and more popular than using social networking services. As the news industry struggles to find viable business models in this new world, though, one number that stands out is the fact that only 14% of U.S. adults have paid for news directly on their tablets.

According to this report, though, 23% of users also have “a subscription to a print newspaper or magazine that they say includes digital access.” This brings the total number of those who have paid access to news on their tablets to over 30% (assuming there is some overlap here, too). Only 21% of respondents were willing to pay $5 for news access, though, and 10% would pay $10.

Apps vs Browsers | Project for Excellence in Journalism  PEJ

It’s worth noting, though, that this data was gathered before the launch of iOS5. Some early data suggests that the Newsstand feature Apple built into its new operating system could boost sales for news-related apps. It remains to be seen if this is a real trend or just driven by curiosity as users try out this new feature, though.

More Data About Tablet Users

According to the Pew study, about 11% of all U.S. adults now own “some kind of tablet.” More than 80% of those who owned tablets said they owned an iPad, by the way. 2% didn’t know the brand of their tablet.

Other interesting data points: [list]

  • tablet users tend to be more highly educated and have a higher household income than U.S. adults overall
  • tablet users consume more news than the average U.S. adult and prefers reading news over watching it
  • only 21% of users mostly use apps to consume news.
  • those who download a specific news app mostly do so because they like the brand of the news organization (84%) and aren’t deterred by negative reviews [/list]

The Pew team put together a handy infographic with all the main data points from this study:


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4:36 pm

Smoke Signal: Smart Gmail Hack Lets Your Contacts Know How Full Your Inbox Is Right Now


Email can be a blessing and a curse. For those of us who get a lot of messages every day, it’s often the latter, as keeping up with the constant stream of things that need our attention can be hard. There are lots of systems for managing your inbox, but what if you could easily let people know how full your inbox is and maybe keep them from sending you that unnecessary message when you’re already busy? Smoke Signal does exactly that. Thanks to a smart hack, the service automatically updates your email signature in other peoples’ inboxes throughout the day and lets them know whether your inbox is pleasant, tolerable or unbearable.


Smart Hack

Typically, adding this kind of information to an email and having it update automatically throughout the day isn’t really possible, as virtually all email providers don’t allow dynamic content in emails (Microsoft has been working on this problem with a few select partners lately, though).

What Smoke Signal does to get around is, is to append an image to your email signature that reflects the current status of your inbox. You simply add an image with a URL the service gives you to your signature and Smoke Signal will automatically pick the right image to display every time somebody opens your email, no matter which email client they use.

The status message that’s added to your email signature depends on how many unread emails you have in your inbox (0-10: pleasant; 11-19: tolerable; 20+: unbearable).


Smoke Signal is similar to, a service we looked at a while back., however, doesn’t automatically update your signature and instead asks those who want to email you to click on a link instead. Unlike Smoke Signal, though, features some smarter algorithms to figure out what your regular email load is and adapts its message accordingly.


Whether you want to use this service, of course, is another question. Some people may prefer to keep their inbox status private. Others will feel queasy about giving a startup access to their inbox and others will simply doubt the value of this service (at least, that’s the reactions the folks over at Hacker News have exhibited so far).

For the team behind Smoke Signal, this is just a first test of a bigger idea. The team wants to figure out how to combine email and the idea of availability in smarter ways.

8:56 pm

Amazon Announces $199 Kindle Fire Tablet, $149 Kindle touch 3G, $99 Kindle touch and $79 Kindle


Amazon today unveiled its long-rumored tablet: the Kindle Fire. Based on Android, but with a custom-designed user interface, the Kindle tablet will cost $199 and go on sale on November 15. It’s available for pre-order now. The company’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also announced a new version of the Kindle eReader: the Kindle Touch. This device uses the same E-Ink display as the regular Kindle, but uses some basic multi-touch capabilities instead of the regular Kindle’s keyboard and buttons.  Pricing for the Kindle touch will start at $99 with support for Amazon’s Special Offers. If you don’t want to see Amazon’s ads on the device, you will have to pay $139. The version with support for 3G will set you back $149 with Special Offers and $189 without. Finally, Amazon is also launching a very basic Kindle model without touch or keyboard for $79 with special offers and $109 without.

As far as we can see, the current Kindle models with keyboard will remain on the market for the time being.

Kindle Fire

kindle_fireAmazon’s tablet doesn’t quite rival the iPad in terms of basic features. There is no 3G, no camera and no microphone, for example. It does, however, come with a 7” multi-touch capable 1024×600 glass display, a dual-core processor and 8GB of built-in storage.

Amazon promises about  8 hours of battery life of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback (assuming the wireless is off). It should take about 4 hours to fully charge the device.

Amazon, of course, is also using its current library of books, magazines and videos to market the device. The Kindle Fire will have easy access to all of Amazon’s products. The company is also expecting to see special interactive editions of numerous magazines (including Vanity Fair, Wired, and GQ) for the Kindle Fire.

As far as standard Android apps go, the Kindle Fire will support Amazon’s own Android App Store, which currently has about 10,000 apps in it.

As far as the specs go, the Kindle Fire is comparable to the Nook Color in most respects (the screen size, weight and battery life are virtually identical, though the Nook only has a single-core processor). The $199 price point sets it apart from its competition, though. The Nook Color costs $249.

Browsing with Amazon Silk

silk_browserOne surprising feature of the Kindle Fire is the new built-in Silk browser. With Silk, Amazon is rethinking how a browser should work in the age of cloud computing (though one could argue that Opera Turbo already pioneered some of its technologies). Silk uses Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing network to offload a lot of the computing necessary to render a page. Amazon will also pre-load pages it feels sure you will visit next. The browser also keeps a persistent connection to the EC2 network open so that it can respond to new requests faster.

The New Kindle Lineup:

(click on image to see a larger version)


3:45 pm

Google Brings the Dead Sea Scrolls Online


Between 1947 and 1956, after a chance discovery by a Bedouin shepherd, archaeologist found hundreds of ancient texts written between the third and first century BC in caves near an old settlement not too far away from the Dead Sea. These so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls” feature, among other texts, some of the oldest surviving copies of numerous biblical texts. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, they are preserved in a highly secure building in Jerusalem where only a few of the scrolls are ever exhibited at the same time. Now, however, Google, in cooperation with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, is putting some of the rolls online.

This new project is similar to Google’s work in getting the Yad Vashem Holocaust photo collection and collections at the Prado Museum in Madrid online. One interesting twist here is that Google is also making these texts searchable. If you search for phrases in the scrolls (Google’s example is: Dead Sea Scrolls “In the day of thy planting thou didst make it to grow”), a link to the scrolls may appear in your search results.


The scrolls were scanned with a resolution of up to  1,200 megapixels by Ardon Bar-Hama, who also worked on digitizing documents from the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the New York Public Library and is currently working with Google on digitizing the journals and archival documents of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

5:18 pm

Microsoft Talks Windows 8 at BUILD: Here’s What’s New


Microsoft today provided developers (and users) with a first detailed look at Windows 8 during its BUILD conference. Steven Sinofsky, who is in charge of the Windows 8 development for Microsoft, provided both consumers and developers with a first look at many of the new features in Windows 8, as well as some of the new hardware devices that will soon run Windows 8.

Windows 8: It’s All About Metro and Touch

So what is Windows 8 all about? “First, everything that makes Windows 7 great, but made better,” said Sinofsky. “Second,” he noted, “it reimagines Windows from the chipset to experience with a new range of capabilities, scenarios and form factors.” Even though the new Windows will have plenty of new features, he assured the developers in the audience that Windows 8 will use less memory and processing power than Windows 7.

build_sinofsky_logoWindows 8, says Microsoft, will become “a new opportunity for developers.” As Sinofsky rightly pointed out, the arrival of new form factors – including ARM- and Intel-based tablets – means developers will get access to new markets and potential customers.” Touch, Sinofsky thinks, isn’t just for tablets but also for desktop PCs. He thinks that once users start seeing how Windows 8 works on tablets, they will inevitably want to also use touch on their desktops and laptops.

Sinfosky also shared a few other interesting statistics. Windows 7 usage, for example, is now finally greater than Windows XP usage and 542 million people use Windows Live.


So What’s New in Windows 8?

Here are the most important new features in Windows 8: [list]

  • the Metro-style UI: we had already seen some demos of this before, but Microsoft today showed a few more details of the new touch-optimized user interface. What’s probably the most interesting aspect of this new UI is that it works in tandem with the old Windows 7-style interface. While Sinofsky continues to say that this is a “no compromise” experience, I can’t help but think that having two highly different interfaces just doesn’t make a lot of sense and isn’t something I can really see users do on a regular basis.
  • Internet Explorer 10: this is a chromeless, minimalist version of Internet Explorer that, according to Microsoft puts “sites at the center on new Windows 8 devices.”
  • Windows Store: every vendor today has a store, so Microsoft will also launch an app store for Windows 8.
  • Syncing: thanks to Windows Live, users will be able to sync all of their documents, emails and other files and data between different Windows 8 machines (no word on whether this feature will also be extended to Windows 7 through an  update or additional software).[/list]

For developers, of course, Microsoft is also adding plenty of new features, including the ability to basically use web apps as fully-featured desktop apps. Developers will be able to get more information about this at the soon-to-launch Windows Dev Center.

One Windows Everywhere

For Microsoft, one of the main tenants behind its Windows 8 development philosophy is that it can run on any device – no matter the size, shape and underlying chipset (ARM or Intel).

Microsoft will release the developer preview of Windows 8 tonight. Assuming our PCs here are compatible, we will install it as soon as possible and provide you with some more hands-on impressions of what it looks like on the desktop.

4:42 pm

Bing: What’s More Evil Than Satan Himself? 10^100


Not too long ago, hiybbprqag wasn’t much of a word, but as Google employee Andy Arnt noticed today, if you search Bing for it these days, you will find that it is an “orcish” word meaning “whiner.” Unless you’ve been closely following the search engine competition between Microsoft and Google, this probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but this little easter egg is actually quite funny.

Update: Looks like Microsoft has removed these search results now.

Here is why: Earlier this year, Google alleged that Microsoft’s Bing search engine was copying its search results. To prove this, Google inserted fake search results for nonsense words like hiybbprqagindoswiftjobinproductionand mbzrxpgjys into its index and, indeed, the fake search results later appeared on Bing.

Google then went public with the findings of its sting operation and publicly accused Microsoft of piggybacking on its search results. Microsoft argued that there is perfectly good reason for this: users who opt-in to sharing anonymous data with the company (including the fake Google users who searched for these terms), will share this data with Bing and the search engine will hence use it. Hiybbprqag  Bing

What’s More Evil Than Satan?

Besides the new definition for “hiybbprqag,” Arnt also found that Bing now defines the search for “more evil than satan himself” as 10^100 – a Googol, the word the Google founders used as the basis of their company’s name. The story behind this actually goes back all the way to 1999, when one of the first successful Google bombing campaigns (the great-grandfather of today’s catapulted Microsoft’s homepage to be the top search result for this query on Google. The big difference between a Google bombing and these results, though, is that these definitions were obviously chosen by the Bing team and not the result of an errant algorithm. Bing evil google

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9:33 pm

About Time: Gmail, Google Calendar and Docs Get Offline Access


Google just announced that it is finally launching offline access to Gmail, Google Calendar and Docs. Once upon a time, Google allowed users to access their data offline through Gears, but the company shelved this effort in 2010 and never replaced it. Now, Chrome users can install a new pluginfrom Google that will give them offline access to Gmail offline. Docs and Calendar users will be able to download the respective plugins over the next few weeks.


One caveat, though, is that you can’t edit documents in the offline mode. That’s probably a deal-breaker for some, but it’s definitely better than having no access to your documents on that non-WiFi equipped plane. Google hopes to offer offline editing in the future, though.

Gmail and Calendar, on the other hand, will allow you to perform virtually all your regular activities offline as well.

Getting Started with Offline Gmail

To access Gmail offline, you can’t just unplug your computer and keep using Gmail. Instead, you have to open a new tab and launch the Gmail offline app from there. Interestingly, the offline interface is pretty much the same as the Gmail tablet interface.

Chrome-Only For Now

For the time being, of course, this new functionality is only available in Chrome and ChromeOS. Google says that it hopes to bring this functionality to other browsers in the future. In a slight jab against its competitors in the browser arena, Google notes that those will get these features once they “support advanced functionality.”

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4:24 pm

The +1 Button Just Got Useful: Now Lets You Share Content on Google+


When Google first began rolling out its +1 button, it wasn’t very interesting. Even after Google+ launched, it still wasn’t fully integrated with Google’s new social network. Starting today, though, the +1 button will finally become useful. Over the next few days, Google will roll out an updated version of the button that will allow users to use it to share content with their circles on Google+.  The button will also automatically add text snippets and images from any page you want to share, similar to the feature Google introduced on Google Books earlier this month.

Getting Started

It will take a bit before these new features will be available for all users. If you are the impatient type, though, you can also join the Google+ Platform Preview and get immediate access to this new functionality.

Once enabled, you will see a “share on Google+” link whenever you +1 a post. In addition, the buttons now also show you if any of your friends have also +1’ed a given page.

This is what the new interface looks like:

Finally a Reason to Click +1

With this update, Google finally gives users a good reason to click the +1 button. Many publishers already added Google’s buttons to their sites over the last few months (mostly because clicks on it also influence search engine placement) and quite a few users actually click it regularly, even though there was no real benefit to using it until now. All of that is changing today, though, as the +1 button becomes more like the Facebook “like” widget.

If you are a developer or publisher, by the way, Google recommends that you add a few lines of code to every page to ensure that the new snippets work as advertised.

5:37 pm

Browser Version Numbers Are Now Irrelevant – And That’s a Good Thing


Mozilla is getting ready to officially launch Firefox 6 tomorrow. That’s less than two months after the release of Firefox 5 and not even half a year since the launch of Firefox 4. Indeed, there is now some talk in the Firefox community to get rid of version numbersin the user interface altogether. That’s not a bad idea. Users really shouldn’t have to worry about which version of a given browser they are running and those version numbers have now become mostly irrelevant anyway.

Google Chrome is now at versions 13, 14 and 15, depending which channel you are using (stable, beta, dev). I’m currently running Chrome version 14.0.825.0 dev and the Nightly version of Firefox (8.0a1). To be honest, even though I follow this business pretty closely, I have no idea how those versions are different from Chrome 13 and FF 7.

Both Mozilla and Google are using a rapid release cycle schedule to push out new versions on a set schedule. Instead of waiting for every major feature to be ready, new features are pushed out whenever they are ready. Opera and Microsoft are still using a more traditional release schedules, but even Opera now features a developer channel (Opera Next) to push out betas quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Microsoft would switch to a more agile release schedule after Internet Explorer 10 (though its strong presence in the enterprise may make this impossible).

You Shouldn’t Have to Care About Browser Versions

At this point, there is no good reason why an average user should have to worry about keeping a browser up to date and given the current version number inflation, these numbers have completely lost their meaning anyway.

While large enterprises may hate this, as they like to have exact control over what runs on their users’ desktops, users can only profit from the rapid advancement in browser technology. There really isn’t any good reason why your average mainstream user should have to worry about which browser version is  installed on a given machine. Both Chrome and Firefox already push out updates as needed – though Firefox still pops up a dialog when a new version is ready while Google just installs it in the background.

I can’t remember a new browser version really breaking anything on the Internet these days – though I gather the moment I type this, I will get some email about banking sites that still won’t run unless you use Internet Explorer 7. New version tend to add more stuff but rarely deprecate an old feature. Except for developers, users don’t have to really worry about that. If a website makes use of these new features, that’s a good thing – and it can only help developers if more users are able to make use of these advanced features.

One Exception: Major Interface Changes

From a user’s perspective, all those changes that happen behind the scene and keep them secure on the net or speed up the browser are mostly irrelevant anyway. The only time most mainstream users care about a major update is when the user interface changes. For the large segment of users who actually have to invest time into learning how to use a browser, that is indeed an issue developers have to think about and that would call for a pause in the automatic update procedure.


11:29 pm