Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Facebook's $1B revenues: Now keep it up

Facebook may pull in an excess of US$1 billion in revenues, according to estimates and poking around on behalf of industry blog Inside Facebook. That's an increase from the same publication's estimate of US$700 million last year.

Facebook board member Marc Andreessen said last year that he projected the company would break US$500 million revenue in 2009, and that it had the potential to be a billion-dollar company already, but that it was acting conservatively.

(Naturally, Facebook says that as a privately held company it doesn't disclose its financials.)

What can Facebook credit this big jump in revenue to? It's all about the Social Ads program. Facebook ditched banner ads altogether> earlier this year when its longstanding ad partnership with Microsoft ran out and has chosen to focus on its edgier "engagement ads" program instead--and often these are sold by encouraging brands to promote their presence on Facebook with ad space.

However accurate these new estimates from Inside Facebook are, Facebook is certainly making money--and it's making money because the Facebook "fan page" and complementary ad space to promote it are the hottest ticket in brand marketing right now. They won't always be, and Facebook will have to maintain that front-runner status in plenty of advertising innovations down the road as the industry evolves faster than ever.

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Plus, it's well-known that some of the biggest buyers of Facebook advertisements are social games companies looking to pull in more players: how long can they, in turn, keep up their place in the sun? Critics have long since pointed out the number of third-party companies that are effectively dependent on Facebook for traction and revenue, but the reverse is likely true as well.

Facebook has a potentially lucrative new revenue stream emerging when its virtual currency system, Facebook Credits, launches in full--Facebook takes a 30 percent cut of all proceeds. But the developer world isn't totally sold, and the product has grown far more niche from the days when it was rumored to be a "PayPal killer." As Inside Facebook points out, advertising is still the core of the company's business model. And here, it has to stay ahead of the pack more than ever.

Source: ZDNetAsia

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Facebook shuts down malicious fake profiles

Facebook on Thursday fended off an attack in which multiple identical profiles were created to spread malware.

Antivirus provider AVG Technologies said users of its LinkScanner service detected numerous profiles that were identical except with different names and each included a link to what was represented as a home video but which instead displayed a fake antivirus alert when clicked. The scams are designed to trick people into paying for software they don't need, to get credit card information from victims for identity fraud purposes, and often to install spyware on the computer.

"Clearly, the Data Snatchers have found a way to automate the creation of Facebook accounts, which means they've found a way to bypass the Facebook Captcha," Roger Thompson, chief of research at AVG, wrote in a blog post. Successfully translating a Captcha, a hard-to-read image of letters supposed to ensure that a human is involved, is required for a new account.

The malicious link was blacklisted by the major Web browsers and Facebook was blocking the URL from being shared on its site, said Facebook spokesman Simon Axten. Meanwhile, the company was working to identify all the fake accounts and disable them, he added.

Axten disagreed with the AVG speculation that the Captcha system had been broken.

"We're looking into how these accounts were created, but it's very likely that the sign-up process was manual, or that the person behind the attack farmed out the Captchas to be solved by humans for a price," Axten wrote in an e-mail.

For its Captcha system Facebook uses ReCaptcha, "which was recently acquired by Google and is about as well-regarded a Captcha provider as there is," he said.

Source: ZDNetAsia

Downed Facebook accounts still haven't returned

Something is really odd here.

As a reporter covering Facebook, I do get the occasional cranky complaints from members who, for one reason or another, are experiencing errors when they try to access their accounts.

But it's never been anything like the past week, with a steady stream of e-mails continuing to come in from Facebook members who say they remain shut out of their accounts--despite assurance from Facebook that profiles have not been deleted and that the company is working on the problem.

"This is now seven days and counting," an e-mail sent on Saturday morning read. "It's beyond ridiculous and extremely frustrating."

"The experience completely reversed the Facebook opinion and experience for me," one reader complained. "I see many people bitch and complain, many more beg and a few threaten. To me, the route to take is fairly obvious. Mark Zuckerberg on his own page invites democratic input from Facebook users in one of his most recent videos. Given that statement especially, I find the way their user base is being treated with respect to their disabled account policy hypocritical at best."

"My account has now been held hostage for a week," another reader wrote. "Some of my friends think that I have deleted (my profile) or even blocked them... None of my friends or family can see my profile or even find it in search. It's as if I simply deleted my account or blocked all of them from seeing it without even a word."

Some users have started threads on Get Satisfaction and Yahoo Answers. A few others have pointed me to blogs and YouTube channels devoted to the subject.

The inaccessible accounts appear to be limited to a very small subset of Facebook's over 300 million active users, which means that it's not a large-scale issue for the health of the site.

Facebook is supported by neither subscription money or taxpayer dollars (though it wouldn't have advertising revenue without its users) so there's an argument to be made that users shouldn't be complaining about something they don't pay for. But that's an argument that many of the people who have come to rely on Facebook as a channel of communication simply don't buy.

Whether the string of complaints is warranted or not, Facebook hasn't disclosed exactly what's caused the "extended maintenance issue", and that's what I find puzzling.

Source: ZDNetAsia

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Motorola announces further job cuts

Motorola announced on Wednesday that it plans to cut another 4,000 jobs, or about six percent of its workforce, and warned that weaker-than-expected handset sales would lead to a fourth-quarter loss.

Motorola said 3,000 jobs would be eliminated from its handset unit, while another 1,000 jobs would be cut from the rest of the company. The cuts announced on Wednesday are in addition to 3,000 job cuts Motorola announced in October as part of a broader restructuring that also halted the launch of many upcoming phones.

"The actions we are taking today in our Mobile Devices business will allow us to further reduce our cost structure and positions us for improved financial performance in 2009," Sanjay Jha, co-chief executive officer of Motorola, said in a statement. "Together with these actions and the announcements made in the fourth quarter, the Mobile Devices business expects to recognize annual cost savings of approximately US$1.2 billion in 2009."

"Additionally, we are making good progress in developing important new smartphones for 2009 and are pleased with the positive response from our customers to these new devices," he said.

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Motorola expects the latest cost-cutting to result in US$700 million in new savings, which when combined with a previously announced plan for US$800 million in cuts, brings the total projected savings to US$1.5bn for 2009. The company also warned that its fourth-quarter revenue would come in between US$7 billion and US$7.2 billion, short of the US$7.5 billion analysts had been expecting.

Motorola, which has seen its global handset market share steadily decline, reported sales of 19 million phones, down from 25.4 million in the third quarter and 40.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Jha, who had been a top executive at Qualcomm, was hired last August to turn around the company's struggling handset business. But even with good leadership, Motorola's battle for survival is likely to be made more difficult by the current state of the world economy.

Motorola recently postponed the planned spin-off of the handset division into its own company.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Analysts: IE won't be easy to defeat

Alternative browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, may be aimed at toppling Microsoft's reign, but analysts say Internet Explorer's (IE) "overwhelming dominance" in the workplace will be difficult to defeat.

The main reason for the Microsoft browser's seemingly stranglehold position is the near ubiquity of Microsoft products used in enterprises today.

Ray Valdes, Gartner's research vice president, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia: "Due to longstanding accumulations of dependencies, most enterprises will find it difficult or unfeasible to switch from Internet Explorer to an alternative browser, such as Firefox, Opera or Safari."

Valdes said it would be "difficult, if not impossible" for the average organization to abandon IE in favor of these alternative browsers. He noted that many software systems and applications are dependent on IE's HTML rendering engine embedded into other Microsoft applications, such as e-mail client Microsoft Outlook.

Another driving aspect is IE's administrative functions that allow enterprises to centrally manage and administer the browser, Valdes added. "Unlike Firefox, Microsoft provides mechanisms that meet this requirement, such as group policy objects and the Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK).

"A key enterprise requirement is the ability to centrally manage and administer the browser... As a result, for many organizations, abandoning IE and replacing it with another browser is unrealistic," he said.

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Through these management tools, for example, companies can more efficiently control user access and better manage security policies related to Web browsing.

According to IDC, IE's dominance is also perpetuated by the rest of the IT industry, creating a cyclical relationship.

Because IE currently has the dominant marketshare, makers of Web sites, software applications and other components that are accessible via a Web browser, will place the highest priority on ensuring their products support IE, Mark Levitt, IDC's program vice president for collaboration and enterprise 2.0 strategies, told ZDNet Asia.

While new features offered in Firefox or Chrome could help propel either browser's position, if they showed "sufficient advantages over IE", Levitt said Microsoft would unlikely give the competition enough time to close the gap before it releases similar features for IE.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google's New Browser: Chrome

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - If Google’s new Chrome web browser succeeds, going online will be an all-Google experience.

“The web has evolved pretty dramatically, but the underlying browser architecture is still very similar to the original Netscape browser,” Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management, said at a press conference Tuesday at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

Google (GOOG) says Chrome was designed to be “streamlined and simple.” The browser is available for free download in 100 countries starting Tuesday. Initially it will only work on Windows computers, though versions for Mac and Linux operating systems are being developed.

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According to Pichai, Google’s intent is to “drive the whole web platform forward” and thus drive more people to the search giant.

At first glance, Chrome doesn’t look all that different from Mozilla’s Firefox, a competing web browser. But unlike Firefox, Chrome combined the address and search boxes to let people search for information and websites by entering keywords into the same bar.

“What we did is we smashed the two boxes together,” said Ben Goodger, a software engineer at Google and former Mozilla employee. “We call it the ‘Omni Box.’ “

The Omni Box lets users search for information and go to websites directly by typing into the same bar. Other Chrome features include movable “tabs” and an “incognito” window that lets people browse without saving their search history - a feature found on other browsers and which bloggers have nicknamed the “porn mode.”

Google also said its new web browser will be faster and more reliable than existing browsers. On Chrome, each tab operates separately, so if one crashes it won’t affect the main browser window.

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Chrome is being released as an open source project, meaning developers will have access to build new features for the browser. Google said its engineers worked on the new browser for about two years.

“It is a huge investment for us,” said Pichai, who added that many Googlers are already using Chrome - including the company’s co-founder Larry Page, who made an appearance at the press conference.

But Chrome is entering a competitive market which Microsoft (MSFT) has dominated for years. The company’s Internet Explorer, which comes pre-installed on computers, accounts for 72% of the browser market. Runner-up Firefox has a 20% share.

“The browser landscape is highly competitive,” Dean Hachamovitz, general manager of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, told Fortune. “But people will choose Internet Explorer 8 for the way it puts the services they want right at their fingertips, respects their personal choices about how they want to browse and, more than any other browsing technology, puts them in control of their personal data online.”

So is there room for another browser?

Yes, says Citi Investment Research analyst Mark Mahaney.

“There is market demand for a browser that is speedier, simpler, safer, and stabler than IE,” Mahaney wrote in a report Tuesday morning. “What is unknown is whether Chrome is that browser.”

Source: Fortune

Download Chrome Here

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Google's math == FAIL!

Google's calculator has some trouble handling math with some large numbers, an issue that's not unheard of in computing circles but that might not sit well at a supremely nerdy company that's named after a humongous number.

The errors appear, though not consistently, with some very large numbers. For example, 2,999,999,999,999,999 minus 2,999,999,999,999,998 should be 1, but Google calculator shows it as 0.

It's not a simple case of a cutoff where things fall apart, though. 1,999,999,999,999,999 minus 1,999,999,999,999,995 incorrectly equals 0, but 1,999,999,999,999,999 minus 1,999,999,999,999,993. And 400,000,000,000,002 minus 400,000,000,000,001 incorrectly equals 0, but 400,000,000,000,002 minus 400,000,000,000,000 correctly equals 2.

Perhaps most amusing for the schadenfreude crowd, Google botches some math involving a googol, which is 1 followed by 100 zeros. The quantity of a googol plus one, minus a googol, equals 0 rather than the correct result, 1.

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Cutting Google some slack

To be sure, math is difficult at this scale, where special methods for encoding numbers must be used if fine precision is to be maintained. Happily for those building calculators, though, it's a relatively unusual requirement in the real world: when measuring numbers on the magnitude of the distances between stars, it's rare that precision of a few centimeters can be obtained. And it's also rare that such precision actually is relevant.

Big numbers are often expressed with a two-part floating-point format, with some small number (the mantissa) multiplied by 10 to some power (the exponent). For example, Google's revenue in the second quarter was $1.25 billion, which also can be expressed as $1,250,000,000, or as $1.25 times 10 to the power of 9, or as $1.25 x 10^9. Floating-point math is good at spanning vast ranges of numbers, but typically the first component only keeps track of limited number of digits, so the small change falls by the wayside.

Precise math on computers is compounded by the fact that computers typically work in binary math, with digits of only 0 or 1, whereas people operate in decimal math, with digits running from 0 through 9. Accuracy is compromised when computers convert numbers into binary for processing, then back to base 10 to show us the results.

Indeed, even with decades of computing technology already under our belts, it wasn't until IBM's latest flagship Power6 processor that even Big Blue could do actual decimal math without converting into binary and back.

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Ordinary calculators quickly run out of steam when trying to deal with large numbers. Sure, Google may have some issues, but most handheld calculators don't even let you type the number 1,999,999,999,999,993 much less do some mathematical operation on it. And there's not a big market for software such as Wolfram Research's Mathematica that can get the math right.

Google acknowledged its math is imperfect. "We are aware that the calculator tool in Google Web search is not working properly for certain calculations, and we are looking into this problem further. We apologize for any problems that this causes our users," the company said in a statement.

So big math is deceptively difficult. Should Google be forgiven for shortchanging us a bit when it comes to significant digits?

No, Google should do better

Nah. Any company that named itself after a big number must be held to a higher standard.

It might slow down calculations fractionally if Google had to detect when a large but high-precision number was involved, then send that calculation to a different server equipped with a more advanced math algorithm. And Google is rightly focused on server response, since users search more when the search engine is faster. But this issue is part of Google's core culture and image. Google muffing the math is like a politician wrapping himself in a flag that's got an extra couple stars.

After all, this is the company that decided to raise $2,718,281,828 billion in its IPO, a reference to "e," the base of natural logarithms, and that invited job applicants who could solve a math puzzle.

Ideally, Google could fix the algorithm. That's what Microsoft did with a recent Excel math problem and Intel did -- at great expense -- with the notorious FDIV bug that afflicted some Pentium processors in the 1990s.

Others have found limits with Google's calculator. For example, 2.00135558564^1023 is interpreted by Google's calculator as 1.79769313 x 10^308. But increase that number by one eensy little amount to 2.00135558565^1023, and Google interprets it as a search, not a math problem.

Which leads me to my final thought. In that last example, Google punts on the math and shows a mere search result, which isn't likely to lead anyone astray. It's what's called a graceful failure mode. It's better to show no results than bad results. That's especially important given that the very calculations where people would use a calculator are the very ones where, unlike the examples above, people aren't going to notice an error.