It looks like 2012 will be Pinterest's year to shine. Even if it's not your cup of tea, you can't ignore that fact that it is one of the fastest growing startups ever. According to the latest data from online sharing tool Shareaholic, Pinterest has now reached the point where it drives more referral traffic to other sites than Twitter. This puts it right behind Google, Facebook, Yahoo and StumbleUpon with regards to referral and search traffic. Just a month ago, Twitter still beat Pinterest by a very thin margin.
Shareaholic's data is based upon analytics from 200,000 publishers in its catalog which reach about 270 million unique visitors per month.
Pinterest, of course, is meant to be a site that gets people to click through to third-party sites, but it's interesting that this small startup is already leaving Twitter far behind at this point. What remains interesting, too, is how StumbleUpon continues to quietly dominate these statistics.
Shareaholic doesn't specify what types of sites these services are referring traffic to, but chances are that Pinterest and Twitter are aiming for slightly different audiences.
Google+ is Doing About as Well as Yahoo Answers…
Besides Pinterest and Twitter, the report also takes a look at how Google+ is doing with regard to how much referral traffic it generates. The numbers there are not very encouraging. According to Shareaholic's data, "referral traffic from Google Plus held steady at .05% of all traffic from January to February. For context, that’s the same percentage of traffic referred by Yahoo Answers."
Last week, the Wall Street Journalreported that things aren't looking so great for Google+. According to data from comScore, Google+'s users spend just about 3 minutes per month on the site. On Facebook, that number is closer to six or seven hours per month. Google itself, however, has never provided anybody with any useful data about the service and – at worst – is just using deliberately misleading information to provide the press with big numbers that look good but are absolutely meaningless.
100 Million "Active" Users?
In January, for example the company's CEO Larry Page said that the site had 90 million users at that time and that "+users are very engaged with our products — over 60% of them engage daily, and over 80% weekly." That, however, was a pretty misleading statement. While it may sound that Page was saying that 60% of Google+ users come back to Google+ every day, his argument was simply that 60% of those users who signed up for Google+ also use any other Google+ service on a daily basis. Those numbers said absolutely nothing about the engagement Google+ is seeing from its users.
Today, Google's VP for engineering Vic Gundotra – in what is clearly a reaction to the WSJ piece – talked to the New York Times' Nick Bilton and once again used the same kind of tactic. "On a daily basis, 50 million people who have created a Google Plus account actively use the company’s Google Plus-enhanced products, Mr. Gundotra said. Over a 30-day period, he said, that number is 100 million active users." Google+, of course, is now part of virtually every other Google product, including search, which most of the company's users probably use on a daily basis without ever trying to actively engage with the company's social network.
Nice, Meaningless Numbers
Google is obviously trying to paint a nice picture here by using large numbers that, at the end of the day, say nothing about Google+ and how engaged its users are. Maybe things are great at Google+ and it has a huge, highly active community (though most of us aren't seeing it in our own accounts). The problem with this is that unless Google provides us with any concrete data, it just looks as if the company has something to hide.
During a special lunch-time event at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Facebook's CTO Bret Taylor introduced a number of new industry-wide initiatives for the mobile web. Facebook is also working with a number of other vendors to define better web standards that can be implemented across devices to ensure that users can get a consistent mobile web app experience across devices. The Core Mobile Web Platform, as this new group is called, will work to ensure that there are very specific mobile web standards that developers can expect to be available across devices and mobile browers.
As a part of this initiative, Facebook is also launching a test suite called Ringmark that will measure how well mobile browsers handle these new standards.
Mobile Web Payments
In addition, Facebook is also working with a number of large telecom companies to make payments on the mobile web easier. This, said Taylor, will give developers new ways to monetize their apps and hopefully drive innovation in the mobile web space. Instead of having to go through carrier billing and SMS-based confirmations, developers will be able to tap into Facebook's payment system and quickly confirm purchases.
More from Bret Taylor at MWC
Taylor, who was the co-creator of Google Maps and co-founder of FriendFeed prior to joining Facebook, noted that "Facebook and mobile phones were made for each other." As Taylor also noted, the features in your phone are interesting specs, but their real goal is to connect people. For Facebook then, mobile is a natural platform to be on. Taylor today argued that Mark Zuckerberg would probably have developed the mobile app first if he were starting Facebook today.
Taylor also announced that Facebook now has over 425 million users, many of which don't use smartphones, but still use feature phones. What's especially important to Facebook is that its OpenGraph API enables "anyone to share from any platform," no matter what phone they use. This also means, says Facebook, that its becoming easier to find interesting apps. Today, Facebook drives 60 million users to mobile apps and Taylor specifically noted how Facebook drives millions of people to Pinterest every day.
The first time I looked at Bottlenose, a web app that bills itself as “the smartest social media dashboard,” it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. It just looked like a slightly overcomplicated Twitter client at the time, but things have really changed now that the team has released its second beta version. It’s now my go-to client for checking up on what’s happening in my network on Twitter and Facebook. Support for RSS feeds is also planned in a later version.
I'm not really sure what changed (that's how little of an impression the first version left on me), but this new version feels miles ahead of the first beta. Maybe it’s the new three-pane layout that providesmore information at a glance, maybe it’s the fact that media and even web previews are now embedded in your stream, or maybe it’s just that nagging feeling that Twitter itself has simplified its own tools like TweetDeck to the point where they aren’t very useful for power-users anymore and where it feels the company is taking more steps backwards than forwards.
At its core, Bottlenose is a social networking client and its multi-column layout is quite reminiscent of TweetDeck and Seesmic. Its core mission, however, is a bit different. The service wants to help you cope with the massive amount of information that comes at you from your social media sources. Instead of just presenting you with long lists of unfiltered tweets (though Bottlenose will also do that for you if you ask it nicely), the service is more about letting you find the most important stuff. A lot of other apps obviously also promise to do this, but somehow Bottlenose makes it all feel rather natural.
Your Friendly Bottlenose Assistants
Here is how this works in practice. Bottlenose features a tab called “Assistants,” for example, where you can easily create filtered lists of tweets. If you just want to see tweets about news that were posted by users who have more than 10,000 followers, building that list takes just a few clicks. Bottlenose’s algorithms will decide when a tweet is about news for you. In the same way, you can create a column that just shows gossip stories that also include videos and that were retweeted at least twice.
Maybe the most interesting feature of the service, though, is its “Sonar” tool. Here, you get a tree-diagram view of what the people in your network are talking about. The view changes, depending on which one of your columns you are looking at. This, more than any other Twitter tools I have recently seen, makes it easy to get a quick glance at what the most important topics of the moment are. You can, of course, click on any keyword in the sonar view and see who talked about it and what exactly is being said about it.
Bottlenose is still in private beta, but you can use the code “getsonar” to get in right now. If you have a Klout score over 30, you can also get access right away.
Google may have Google+, but Bing has a close relationship to an ever bigger and more important social network: Facebook. While Google now highlights your Google+ profile when people search for you, Bing has been showing Facebook profiles in its search results for quite a while now. With its new “linked pages” tool, however, Bing is now taking this concept a bit further. Bing now also lets you choose which of your social networking profiles and websites will be featured in a special box at the top of its search results pages when people search for your name. According to Bing, appropriate sites would also include your city, school or employer, for example. This feature is only available in the U.S. so far.
Given that Google has been widely criticized for putting too much emphasis on links to its own social network, it is worth noting that Bing uses your Facebook profile as its main result and then highlights the other pages you curate underneath that. Your Google+ profile, of course, can be one of these links, too.
Link to Me
Thanks to its close relationship with Facebook, it’s no surprise that Bing uses the social network as the basis for this tool. You use it to log in to Bing to customize your links, for example, and you can also post newly linked sites to your Facebook profile as well. To prevent you from spamming your friends with new links, only the first link of the day will be posted in your Facebook timeline.
The Bing team has decided to go one step further, though, and also allows others to make suggestions for sites you could be connected to. This linking isn’t automatic, though, and Bing will always ask you for permission first.
You can, of course, always remove a link as well.
Here is how all of this works in practice:
You first log in to Bing’s Linked Pages tool (using your Facebook credentials). Then, Bing will display all the pages it found about you and then lets you choose which of those links are really about you (and not about somebody you share a name with).
Similarly, you can search for your friends (assuming you are also their friend on Facebook) and then suggest sites that are linked to them.
You can see the feature in action below (narrated by an oddly infomercial-sounding Stefan Weitz):
The title really says it all. Last year, Twitter started giving its users the option to use HTTPS to keep their connections safe over unsecured Internet connections. Today, the company announced that it is now making secure SSL connections the default for all users.
HTTPS ensures that the traffic between the server and your browser is encrypted and can't easily be intercepted over unencrypted wireless networks, for example. This is essentially the same protocol you use when you access your online bank accounts, for example.
With this move, Twitter is following in the footsteps of other companies like Google, which made HTTPS the default for all Gmail users in January 2010 and for all signed-in Google Search users in late 2011. Facebook, too, users HTTPS whenever a password is sent to the service, but users have to manually activate secure connections for all of their other activity on the service.
In addition to adding these secure connections to Twitter.com, the company also announced that it plans to improve HTTPS support on its web and mobile clients in the future.
When it comes to social networks, one argument that is often raised against them is that they encapsulate their users in a safe network of friends that keeps out information that may go against the users’ belief system. Social networking users, after all, tend to friend like-minded users. The reality, though, say Facebook own researchers, isn’t quite as dramatic. Indeed, they argue, we tend to get more information on Facebook from distant friends than close friends and are actually more likely to see information that comes from distant friends than from our inner circle of close friends. The researchers conclude that “online social networks actually increase the spread of novel information and diverse viewpoints.”
Looking at a Facebook dataset from 2010, the research team noticed that the social network’s users do, as expected, are more likely to share links and post from people they have strong ties with. That’s pretty much what one would expect, given that the people we are close friends with are likely to share at least a large subset of our interests and believes. Facebook’s research also shows that people with strong ties tend to visit the same websites, for example, while those we aren’t that close to tend to visit different sites and hence get their news and other items they share on Facebook from different sites as well.
Here is where things diverge from the standard echo chamber thinking, though. When it comes to people we have weak ties to, we are actually a good bit more likely to re-share their content with our own group of friends. Given that most people also have significantly more distant friends than close friends (the researchers assume about a 10-1 ratio), we actually tend to get more information on Facebook from our distant friends than our close friends. “Weak ties,” the researchers argue, “have the greatest potential to expose their friends to information that they would not have otherwise discovered.”
Online metrics company comScore just released its monthly rankings of U.S. video properties. As usual, Google's YouTube remains far ahead of the competition with 157 million unique visitors who spent an average of 471.9 minutes on the site and watched 21 billion videos. The music-focused network VEVO came in second, but while Facebook was in third place in November with about 50 million uniques, it has now been overtaken by Yahoo's properties and fallen to fifth place with just about 42 million uniques. The length of the average number of minutes watch on the social network per user was up a bit, though, (23.9 minutes vs. 19.1)
While there is always some volatility in comScore's rankings, this slip by Facebook is pretty remarkable. The change may have been due to the holidays, where college students spent more time offline than usual. This is probably only part of the reason, though, as Facebook had 60 million uniques in October. It'll be interesting to see if this downward trend continues in January.
While Facebook had a bad month with regard to video then, Amazon did quite well. While Facebook may have suffered from the holidays, Amazon may have profited from the fact that more people were looking to watch long-form videos online. The site's viewership didn't even rank in comScore's top 10 in November, but came in as #9 with 28 million viewers and 95 million video views.
Facebook, Twitter and even MySpace allow you to sign up for their respective services if you're 13 and up, so why can't Google live a little? Back in June of 2011, the internet was ablaze with reviews, commentaries, and first-hand tutorials of the seemingly stellar service, and quite a few focused on how Google+ grabbed such a stupendous size of users in a short time. Google has decided to keep one group of users off the service and is doing so at its own peril: teens.
This guest post was written by Alexander Burger. He is a teen himself and would love to join Google+, if only Google let him. Alexander usually blogs at Phone-Fritz.com.
Smartphones have spread like wildfire in the past few years and more and more adults, children, and especially teens, have them. With Internet-capable devices in hand, teens can do more than just text or tweet… the revolution of what one has on them now has grabbed hold and is sticking pretty hard. Teens are probably the most sought-after group of consumers. Television ads, billboards and websites all trying to grab their attention… and teenagers being teenagers – they soak it all up. One day it's Sperry Topsiders [editors note: don't feel bad, I had to look that one up, too…], the next it's Nikon cameras, all based on who wears what, what shows where, and who speaks in such a way. Let's just say, if Jersey Shore moved to Connecticut, our tourist business would go through the roof.
But Google doesn't buy that. It doesn't see how you need to snatch up the socialites and get within the walls of schools and football fields. Does the G-Giant think Farmville flourished because of my mother's addiction to the game? No. Did Words with Friends get big because the scholars in our society decided to spend their time unscrambling letters to hit that triple word tile? No. Teens rule this terrain, teens decide whether you win, or lose, and if Google wants its social venture to come out golden, they have to play the game, they have to let them in.
So where does this leave our lack-luster social network, the one that Google keeps trying to back up with ideas like "Search Plus Your World?" It leaves them with questions about when they will open the gates and let the sea of younger students surge in and get a hold of all that popularity and more importantly, profitability.
Google+, to its credit, is a slick take on social, and one that could really be preferred over Facebook, but at the moment… it's a vacant wasteland collecting dust, pictures of cats, and absolutely no kind of human activity.
Facebook today rolled out its new Timeline feature, the highly visual replacement for its previous profile pages, to all of its user worldwide. For the first seven days after they activate this feature, users will be able to make changes to their timelines (hide stories, promote others etc.) before others can see their new profile pages. Typically, Facebook's users tend to dislike any change to the service, especially those that are as invasive as completely changing their profile changes. Oddly enough, though, the initial reaction to this update is relatively positive – at least when compared to some of the company's other recent releases.
In between theusualgriping and grammatically challenged posts on the Facebook blog, there is a surprisingly large contingent of users who are defending the change. Sure there are the typical negative comments we have come to expect (some favorite: "Seriously, STOP CHANGING SHIT!" "This is sooo confusing," "THis stupid crap shouldn't count…… Timelines? really that reminds of history class… Just keep it as it is…. I'm sorry this change is alot of CRAP! You should have never invented it.") and calls to remove the feature, there is a surprisingly large number of users who actually like the Timeline.
As German Blogger Marcel Weißpointed out to me earlier today, maybe the reason for this relatively positive reaction is the fact that this feature doesn't affect people's daily use of Facebook as much as the much-hated ticker, for example.
Another factor here could be the fact that it took Facebook quite a while between announcing the feature and actually rolling it out to all of its users. With close to three months in between the announcement and launch, quite a few users were obviously prepared for this shift and some were even looking forward to it. Now if Facebook only finally launched that disklike button its users are also clamoring for…
If you run a website or web service – no matter whether it’s small or large – chances are you are constantly tracking numerous metrics to see how things are going: visits and pageviews, Twitter mentions, Facebook likes, how fast your pages are loading and numerous other statistics, all while managing customer support tickets and internal communication with your team. It doesn’t take much for this information to become overwhelming and close to unmanageable.
What if you could see all this info on just one page, though, with information that updates in real time? That’s exactly what Ducksboard does. The service provides you with a highly customizable dashboard that allows you to plug in about 45 data points (with more coming soon) and monitor them on just one screen.
If you are publisher, for example, you can monitor your Google Analytics data, your page load times from Chartbeat (or your real-time visitor numbers), the results of your latest email campaign on MailChimp and reactions to your latest story on Twitter all on one page.
Among the other supported services are Zendesk, Prefinery, GoSquared, Highrise, Lighhouse, Feedburner, Foursquare and Facebook (just showing likes on pages right now). Ducksboard also allows you to have multiple dashboards. This should be especially useful for those who manage multiple sites or services.
Setting up your dashboard shouldn’t take more than five minutes and given that most services now allow you to authenticate without providing your credentials to Ducksboard, your data should remain safe.
Sadly, Ducksboard is still in private beta. You can sign up for an invite on the service’s homepage or take a look at the real-time demo here.
Ever since the launch of Google+, businesses have been wondering when they could finally open up their own outposts on Google+. After a long delay, Google finally pulled back the curtains from its product for brands today. These new so-called Google+ Pages look pretty much exactly like regular Google+ profiles, but with a ‘page’ icon next to the page’s name, a +1 button and the ability to share a page with your friends. While Google isn’t ready to just let any brand onto the service yet, it is launching a number of pages with well-known brands like H&M, Toyota and Pepsi.
While you can’t create a brand page yourself yet, Google notes that it wants local businesses, brands, products, companies, arts and entertainment organizations and sports teams to set up their own pages on the service.
Update (1:15pm PT): Google just announced that the rollout is now complete and that anybody who wants to can now sign up for a Google+ Page.
What Took Them So Long?
The Google+ Pages themselves aren’t really that exciting. Indeed, looking at them now really makes you wonder why it took Google so long to release this feature. The Google+ team regularly noted that it wanted to get this feature right and hence wasn’t ready to release it yet. I gather designing a ‘page’ icon and putting a +1 on a page doesn’t quite account for the long delay.
The only major difference between regular profile pages and Google+ pages is that they feature a cumulative +1 count that adds up all the +1s on a given site.
Direct Connect: More Interesting than the Pages it Powers
More interesting than the pages themselves, then, is the second new feature Google announced today: Direct Connect from Google search. The idea here is that you can now search for [+], followed by a page and Google will immediately take you to that brand’s page. This doesn’t work when searching for regular people, but it does work for Angry Birds.
According to Google, a page’s eligibility for being included in the Direct Connect program “is determined algorithmically, based on certain signals we use to help understand your page’s relevancy and popularity.” Publishers should also ensure that their content is linked to their Google+ pages.
This project – which is currently looking for funding through Kickstarter – argues that simplified privacy policies will allow cloud services to build user trust. This is definitely an ambitious project. Given their importance as legal documents, there are reasons why they are so complex and why a search for “readable privacy policies” returns more results for machine-readable than human-readable ones.
Privacy Should Not Be a Complicated Issue
As the project’s founder Tyler Baird told me by email earlier this week, “Privacy should not be a complicated issue.” Right now, understanding a company’s privacy policies, however, is too complicated for most users. Hopefully this project – and others like it – will help propel the movement toward human-readable privacy policies forward.
Sadly, though, for many users, things are not quite as easy as just filling out this web form and waiting for the response. Not only do you need to know what law to cite in your request (something Facebook could easily figure out itself if it wanted to make things easy for its users), but as Schrems himself found out, even a meticulously prepared request doesn’t necessarily lead to an immediate response. As Germany news weekly Die Zeit reports, Facebook still didn’t want to give him his data. Only after an official complaint to the Irish data protection agency did the social network finally relent.
All Your Data Belongs to Us – Even the Deleted Kind…
Once Facebook sends the data over, it comes in the form of a CD with an unencrypted PDF document on it. Depending on your Facebook usage, that document can be between a few dozen and thousands of pages long (you canfind some examples here).
What’s in these documents? Mostly, it’s the kind of data you would expect (when you logged in, what’s in your “about me” section, credit card information if you use Facebook Credits, phone numbers, your likes and connections, what browser you used, location data, the messages you have sent and comments you have left, etc.). One interesting kink here is that quite a few users who requested this data also found some of their deleted posts in these documents.
How to Get Your Data
If you are in Europe, Schrems compiled a step-by-step guide for getting Facebook to give you your data. Just follow these instructions and be ready to respond to Facebook’s attempts to make you go away (chances are, says Schrem, Facebook will just tell you to log in to your account and see you data there – which, of course, doesn’t include all the metadata and deleted posts it also archives).
When I opened Spotify on my desktop this morning, a pop-up informed me that “Spotify Loves Social” and that I should discover “great music with [my] friends.” To get started doing just that, all I had to do was click “Get Started.” Spotify also conveniently pre-checked the opt-in to Facebook’s new Open Graph feature. I’m not sure most mainstream users will understand that opting in to the pre-checked Open Graph option means that all their listening data will not just be forwarded to Facebook, but that their friends will likely see everything they play on the Facebook ticker as well. As Spotify now forces its users to have a Facebook account, chances are quite a few people will sign up for this “service” unwittingly.
No matter what you think about this, though, it’s clear that the future of music is social. Facebook has partnered with everybody who is anything in this business, including Spotify, Slacker, turntable.fm, iHeartRadio, MOG, SoundCloud and Rhapsody. The one exception: Apple.
As Cult of Mac’s Mark Elgan rightly points out, Facebook – at least in the music world – “has become not just a competitor to Apple, but the Mother of All Apple Competitors.” Apple, of course, has Ping, its own music-focused social network. Ping, however, is not a huge hit and whereas Apple couldn’t even get Facebook to agree to let its users export their contacts to its own social network, though, the world’s largest social network was more than happy to work with all of these other streaming music services.
If Ping were a huge hit, this wouldn’t be a problem for Apple, but Apple’s social network is neither very social nor very active these days. Indeed, one has to wonder if Apple itself is still thinking about it much, as it hasn’t seen any major updates since its launch.
Two Trends that Could Hurt Apple: Social Music and On-Demand Streaming
Two trends are converging on Apple here that could unsettle it as the leading online music provider in the long run: social music and on-demand streaming. As on-demand services like Spotify, MOG and Rdio slowly gain traction (both with their paid and free tiers), users may just decide that they don’t want to buy music but prefer a monthly flat-fee that costs less than the price of a single album instead. Couple that with Apple losing out in social, and it’s clear that some people over in Cupertino must be starting to get worried. So far, Apple hasn’t been able (or willing) to offer a flat-fee plan and its social initiatives haven’t caught on, either.
Elgan argues that Apple needs its own social network for its music and entertainment business to succeed in the long run. Maybe that’s true, but I would think that a closer partnership with the existing networks – be that Facebook or Google+ – could help the company to get into the social music game. Users have pretty much reached the saturation level when it comes to new social networks. At this point, partnering is a smarter move than building your own, especially if social networking isn’t part of your core competencies.