Shakeup at Google! Bradley Horowitz reportedly now running Google+

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Bradley Horowitz, the vice president of product for Google+ since 2008, has reportedly been named the head of Google’s social network.

Bradley Horowitz updated his LinkedIn profile.

According to TechCrunch, Horowitz has replaced David Besbris, who has been in charge of Google+ for less than a year.

It’s not clear what Google’s plans are — the company did not immediately respond to a VentureBeat request for comment — but if recent signals are correct, it could be that Google+ will be losing some of its features.

In an interview with Forbes, Google product czar Sundar Pichai suggested that Google+ could be broken up over time. Many people think the search giant has all but lost the social networking battle to Facebook.







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Facebook’s ‘active’ users aren’t so active anymore, says survey data

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Although headline writers like nothing more than proclaiming Facebook’s demise, the simple truth is that it remains at the very core of social networking – having more members and active users than any of its rivals.

But while Facebook’s global dominance is beyond doubt, some key questions remain. Is Facebook still growing, for example? And how many people are really using it? Facebook continues to announce quarter-on-quarter increases in “active user” numbers, but we know that the social media landscape is more competitive than ever and that Facebook no longer has the type of all-encompassing appeal it once commanded. Why aren’t these factors impacting the company’s self-published figures? Is it a question of definitions?

My company, GlobalWebIndex, tracks active usage across all of the world’s major social platforms, surveying 200,000 Internet users annually about their networking behaviors, and our data tells a very different story. If we look at the top 10 social networks and compare our Q4 2013 results against those from Q4 2014, Facebook is the only one that saw a decline in active user numbers (dropping 6 points). Meanwhile, Twitter and Google+ held steady, and all of the rest saw increases – with Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Badoo posting particularly healthy rises.

So, what’s going on here? First, Facebook’s definition of an active user is now so broad that you can do very little on the site and still be counted within its figures. Secondly, and just as importantly, GlobalWebIndex’s data shows that, while Facebook’s active user numbers are undergoing consistent declines, its member and visitor numbers are either holding steady or increasing. Clearly, we have a large group of Facebookers who are checking the site but not actually contributing to it – to such an extent that they don’t even consider themselves to be “active users.” It’s not that the site is losing active users per se, then, it’s that users are evolving into passive users – individuals who still visit Facebook but who use alternative networks or apps for activities such as photo-sharing and direct messaging.

To find evidence for this, we need look no further than the U.S. and U.K. (which, as Facebook’s oldest two markets, are typically seen as bellwethers for wider trends). Of the 15,000 people we surveyed in these two countries, half of Facebook’s members said they were using it less than before (rising to two thirds among teens). The main reasons for this were pretty revealing: A fifth said they were just not as interested in the site as they used to be. A similar number said they were simply bored of the network. That’s hardly surprising for a site that’s been around for over a decade, but it’s an issue the service itself has been (understandably) reticent to acknowledge.

According to our data, over a quarter of Facebook members are now “logging in to see what’s happening without posting/commenting on anything.” Tellingly, these Facebook “browsers” are more likely to be using chat apps, more likely to be on smaller networks such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and more likely to be 16-24. All of these individuals will be counted as active by Facebook but, in reality, an active user in 2015 is quite different from an active user earlier in the decade.

To keep investors and commentators happy, it’s inevitable that Facebook will continue to announce quarter-on-quarter increases in active user numbers; it is simply too perilous to unveil any decline. But it’s now having to look to fast-growth markets – where Internet populations continue to expand rapidly each year – to add new members in any meaningful quantities. Examine year-on-year behaviors and like-for-like user numbers in mature markets like the US and UK, and it’s abundantly clear that active usage on Facebook is declining. Little wonder, then, that it’s experimenting with services like Facebook at Work as well as a dedicated Tor browser version; both are designed to increase engagement among existing audiences rather than win new users. In the face of so much competition, Facebook knows that it needs ways to energize, and re-energize, its easily distracted user base.

Of course, perspective is essential here; Facebook might have become the site that it’s no longer terribly cool to say you use or like, but it’s still the number one global service (and by quite some distance). What’s more, Facebook’s Atlas platform is underpinned by the proposition of reaching specific audiences; that means people don’t need to be actively engaging with Facebook for ads to be targeted accurately. They just need to be visiting the site or have the app installed. So, as long as membership and visitation rates remain strong – as they are – profits will follow.

Jason ManderJason Mander is Head of Trends at GlobalWebIndex.


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What color is #TheDress? Facebook is analyzing your answers to this question, too, of course

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The question of the color of the now famous dress has been debated ad nauseam. But now data from Facebook suggests whether you were on Team Blue and Black or Team Gold and White depends on how old you are, and whether you were on a computer or a mobile device, and even whether you’re male or female.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you might need to hop on over to BuzzFeed and join the more than 31 million people that have viewed their now record-breaking post that looks at whether a striped dress that went viral on Tumblr is actually blue and black or gold and white.

The debate got so heated yesterday that it nearly took BuzzFeed down, not to mention swamping Thursday’s other huge meme, the escaped llamas. “Last night saw one of those beautiful moments made possible by the interconnected age we live in,” Facebook wrote. “Someone posted a picture of a dress, and the Internet lost its collective mind.”

Facebook, of course, is the kind of place where countless people were weighing in on the topic, so it is a natural place to investigate the demographics of who saw the dress one way and who saw it the other.

“The younger a person was, the more likely they were to believe the dress was black and blue,” the Facebook data science team wrote in a post analyzing yesterday’s dress madness. “All other things being equal, a whopping 10 percent more of 13-17 year old users were on team Black and Blue, compared to 55-64 year old users.”

Is that because of changes in people’s eyes as they age? Facebook’s data doesn’t address that, unfortunately, but that would be one obvious conclusion. Unless it has something to do with the kinds of color schemes that different age groups identify with.

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At the same time, there appeared to be differences in how people viewed the colors of the dress depending on whether they were looking at pictures of it on a computer or on a mobile device.

“We wondered if the interface used by the person might have something to do with the percentage,” Facebook wrote. “After all, the same image might visually look very different depending on the light signature of the device used to view it. Making the assumption that people posted to Facebook on the same device they used to view the image, this was indeed the case: relative to people posting from a computer, 6 percent more iPhone users said that the dress was white and gold, while this number was 7 percent for Android users!”

This, too might have to do with location, since as the post notes, those on mobile devices are more likely to be outside, where there would be glare on the screen that might affect how colors on a screen are interpreted.

There are other demographic factors, too, that might have affected what dress team you were on, according to Facebook. Men, for example, were found to be 6 percent more likely to be on Team Black and Blue than women, likely because more men than women are color blind.

But in the end, judging by Facebook’s data, it sure looks like the dress was gold and white. “In all, 42 percent of Facebook users choosing a side were on team Black and Blue, while 58 percent were on team White and Gold.”


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Flow Kana brings social to the medical pot economy

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This is how much the world has changed in the last few years: Flow Kana, an on-demand medical marijuana delivery platform, has created a system that enables buyers to communicate with growers via social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Flow Kana talk

Flow Kana, which launched today, makes it easy to get convenient deliveries of organic, sustainably grown pot. For now, it is only serving the San Francisco Bay Area, but it says it is hoping to quickly expand to other parts of California and potentially to other states where medical pot is legal.

The company is hardly the only one making discreet marijuana deliver possible. Competitors include The Green Cross, Foggy Daze Delivery, and others. But Flow Kana thinks it’s different because it is specifically making it possible for buyers to communicate directly with the farmers growing their pot.

While that might seem weird, the company thinks some buyers will want to ask the growers what kind of pot will help them with a particular malady, say back pain, or about growing methods so they can feel confident they aren’t going to get any mold in their weed. Other buyers may just want to know a bit about the people who enabled their high, asking, for example, what being a cannabis farmer means to them.

Buyers can use Twitter, Facebook, or email to connect with the growers.

The company hopes that letting buyers talk to their growers will bring a bit of a farm-to-table feel to the pot economy. Especially in places like San Francisco, discerning consumers want the freshest, healthiest produce, and they want to know things about the people growing their eggs, vegetables, and more. Flow Kana clearly believes marijuana fits right into this new dynamic.

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Facebook is patenting a tool that could change the way you schedule meetings

From the Facebook patent application entitled "Systems and methods for scheduling a meeting."

While startups have come up with new ways to find times for people to hold meetings, Facebook has cooked up a system of its own.

Facebook in 2013 submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office an application for a patent called “System and methods for scheduling a meeting.” Today the patent was formally published.

The patent application includes an interesting concept called scoring to identify ideal meeting times and places. And of course, once the meeting organizer has determined the best possible time and place for the meeting, the system can invite send out calendar invitations.

The technology could have some major implications. It could help Facebook employees plan their meetings efficiently. But it could also become a part of the Facebook experience that hundreds of millions of people use.

It’s good timing for Facebook, which in the past few months has proven its interest in business software, with the release of the Facebook at Work app for web and mobile devices and the development of an internal customer-relationship management tool.

And Facebook seems to get that its tool could be useful outside of Facebook. Patent authors John David Egan, Scott MacVicar, and Eric Sumner state:

Calendaring systems may be especially useful for organizations. Organizations can include businesses, schools, non-profits, and other entities. An organization often requires meetings among its members to conduct important business or otherwise advance its objectives through collaboration. However, despite the use of calendaring systems, the ability to schedule and conduct meetings is often complicated by the size and complexity of the organization.

Depending on how widely the system is implemented — if it is ever implemented — it could pose a challenge to existing calendar services, including Google Calendar. Indeed, Facebook has thought about how to make it accessible to lots of people. Potential data sources “may include Microsoft Outlook with Exchange Server or other calendar tool, for instance,” the patent authors wrote.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to VentureBeat’s request for comment on the patent application.

The system from Facebook takes into consideration where exactly people have to go for an in-person meeting and how long it will take to get there. And “a social networking system” — like Facebook, for example — could be integrated, such that people on the social networks can share their calendars and schedule meetings.

The system looks at people’s status — like the dreaded out-of-office (OOF) — to see if meeting times would be convenient. It checks to see if people are free five minutes before a given meeting time — which presumably means it’s aware of any back-to-back meetings, which could cause people to be late. The system also takes into consideration if people are free five minutes after the meeting. It could rule out rooms that might be too small for a proposed meeting. If proposed meetings fall on weekends or holidays, or before or after certain times, the system can change its score.

It could even acknowledge meeting participants’ tendencies — like “whether an attendee tends to miss or attend meetings on specific days or times in the day,” as the patent authors put it.

Oh, and yes, it’s mobile-friendly.

Here are some more images from the patent application:

From the Facebook patent application entitled "Systems and methods for scheduling a meeting."

Above: From the Facebook patent application entitled “Systems and methods for scheduling a meeting.”

Image Credit: Screen shot
From the Facebook patent application entitled "Systems and methods for scheduling a meeting."

Above: From the Facebook patent application entitled “Systems and methods for scheduling a meeting.”

Image Credit: Screen shot

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Facebook introduces new features to report and support users who seem suicidal

Facebook suicide

In a significant expansion of its personal crisis features, Facebook announced today that it would be rolling out new services that allow the company to more directly intervene when users post messages that indicate troubled or depressed feelings.

“Today, at our fifth Compassion Research Day, we announced updated tools that provide more resources, advice and support to people who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts and their concerned friends and family members,” the company wrote in a post.

Suicide prevention has been a big issue for Facebook, raising questions of just how far the social media giant should go in monitoring and responding to content that indicates a person may be in distress.

More than three years ago, Facebook created a suicide reporting system that allowed users to fill out a form to report troubling messages. Through a partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Facebook would then send an email to the person who posted the message to suggest they get help if necessary.

In 2012, Facebook also promised it would create more tools to support people who seemed troubled.

To expand those suicide prevention services, Facebook said it worked with a number of mental health organizations, including, Forefront, Now Matters Now, and and the Lifeline.

With the new tools, Facebook plans to move beyond just referring people to other organizations. If someone’s post has been reported as possibly indicating suicidal thoughts, they will now receive a direct message from Facebook asking them if they need help.

The recipient can then click a button indicating they want support, and the message will then ask if they want to connect directly with a friend to talk, or get tips directly from someone at Facebook. The person will still also be encouraged to connect with someone at Lifeline to talk.

Likewise, for the person who reported the messages, Facebook is adding a new feature that lets them call or message the distressed friend. Also, if necessary, that person can also ask for support.

Facebook said the new tools will appear in the next couple of months in the U.S. and Canada. And the company said it is looking to expand similar services around the world.

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WhatsApp’s Web client now works on Firefox and Opera too

WhatsApp on the Web

WhatsApp has announced that the Web-based version of its service is now available to users of the Firefox and Opera browsers.

The Facebook-owned messaging platform had been rumored to be working on a Web-based version of its messaging service for a while, a rumor that subsequently proved true with its eventual launch last month. However, it was only available on Google Chrome.

The Web version is pretty much just an extension of the core mobile WhatsApp application. It mirrors discussions from your phone, with all messages remaining stored on the mobile device itself. You scan a QR code on your screen with your phone, and you’ll be able to read and reply to your messages from your computer, as well as set up desktop notifications.

WhatsApp Web

Though WhatsApp has apps across all the major mobile platforms, including Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry, iOS isn’t catered for here due to “Apple platform limitations,” WhatsApp says.

We’re seeing a huge convergence of features across the mobile messaging realm, with the likes of Viber, Line, Kakao Talk, and WeChat all now offering a desktop client or Web-based app. WhatsApp is also now in the process of rolling out voice calls, which again brings it into line with its competitors.

With Facebook forking out what’s believed to be around $22 billion for the popular messaging service, which now claims north of 700 million users, it’s clear that the plan is for WhatsApp to be everything to everyone. All we need now is for Facebook to introduce games to the messaging mix, as Viber has now done, and the set will be complete.

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Facebook’s Parse could ‘gobble up’ a bigger role in Oculus app development

Parse founder and CEO Ilya Sukhar, speaking on stage Tuesday at Mobile Summit in Sausalito, Calif.

SAUSALITO, Calif. — Parse, the app development platform that Facebook bought in 2013, has already been used to help create more than half a million apps. In the future, Parse wants to grow those numbers by potentially being a platform of choice for Oculus app developers.

During an on-stage interview at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit here today, CEO Ilya Sukhar said that Parse “will try to gobble up more and more of” the kind of functionality for virtual reality (VR) apps that developers already turn to the platform in droves for with two-dimensional apps: commoditizing much of the apps’ mobile backend tools. The goal, Sukhar said, would be that “people don’t need to think about this stuff as they (build) for VR.”

Facebook bought Oculus last year for $2 billion. Recently, the company acknowledged for the first time that it plans on developing apps for the VR platform. But there has been no previous public talk of using Parse to help develop those VR apps.

Oculus VR booth at CES 2015.

Above: Oculus VR booth at CES 2015.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Interviewed by VentureBeat’s Jordan Novet, Sukhar said that there’s already a strong integration between Parse and Unity, a 3D development tool used to make experiences for Oculus and other VR platforms. Because of that, he said, “you can already build an Oculus game or app on Parse.”

Parse could be very useful, Sukhar suggested, for figuring out how to solve some of the backend elements that go into building VR apps. Developers will have to think about networking issues, as well as ensuring their servers are strong and fast. Those are similar problems as the ones faced by developers of standard 2D apps. “We showed people how to build that stuff on Parse,” he said. “You can do that same thing with a standard template for VR apps.”

Athough Sukhar hinted at how Parse could play an important role in Oculus apps’ development, he didn’t offer any specifics.

Given that the Oculus team is still building its consumer headset, and still figuring out content for the system, “it’s going to be awhile,” he said, before we see Facebook — meaning Parse — getting deep into the development of apps for the VR platform.

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Passing 2M advertisers, Facebook launches Ads Manager for iOS

facebook mobile app ads

Facebook today made two major announcements related to ads. The company has passed the 2 million advertisers milestone and has launched an Ads Manager mobile app.

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Facebook quietly built an in-house CRM to deal with advertisers

Facebook office Jakob Steinschaden Flickr

Sure, Facebook has picked up new technology through acquisitions, but the social networking company also has a long history of building its own tools. A Facebook executive has revealed another product the company’s engineers have hacked together on their own: custom software for tracking leads.

“We have our own internal [customer relationship management] software,” Facebook chief information officer Timothy Campos told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published yesterday.

In addition to deploying data center equipment built for its needs, Facebook has built and used a wide variety of custom software, including the Hive data-warehousing tool (which has since become available under an open-source license), the Presto querying engine (also now available under an open-source license), the Scuba analytics tool, and an Android code debugging tool, Stetho, among others.

But this latest customization initiative could be a wakeup call to enterprise software powerhouse Salesforce, a vendor of the popular CRM software, Sales Cloud. A customer case study on Salesforce’s website suggests that Facebook is a current Sales Cloud customer. There’s even a blurb from Campos. “Salesforce helps us make the world more open and connected,” he’s quoted as saying.

The page says, “Facebook uses Sales Cloud to manage ad sales and keep track of advertisers’ contact and account information.”

The Facebook-built software appears to have a related purpose. Here’s Campos describing its function in the Wall Street Journal article:

When an advertiser reaches out to Facebook to say they are having trouble with an ad, we have all the information about this company. We can see what other issues they have. For example, if someone’s credit card is about to expire, we know we are going to have another issue next week. We can inform the customer and deal with the issue right away.

So which is it — Facebook’s internal CRM or Sales Cloud? Both, basically. Facebook has no plans to stop using Salesforce at this time, a Facebook spokeswoman told VentureBeat in an email.

Meanwhile, Facebook has quietly also built finance and human resources software on its own, the spokeswoman told VentureBeat.

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