Technology

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from the L.A. Times

Category: Twitter

Twitter blasts prominence of Google+ content in search results

Google search results emphasizing Google+ content

Twitter came out swinging after Google said Tuesday it would display content from Google+ more prominently in search results than content from rival social networks.

"As we've seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results," Twitter spokesman Matt Graves said in a statement. "We're concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that's bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users."

Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray, who used to work at Google, on -- where else? -- Twitter called the launch of the new search feature a "bad day for the Internet." He commented that search was "being warped."

Google responded on Google+: "We are a bit surprised by Twitter's comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer, and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions."

Google's new feature enables users to search for "personal results" that include posts, comments and photos from Google+ and photos from Picasa. But it will not promote results from rivals Facebook or Twitter.

Facebook declined to comment.

Google, which handles about two out of three Web searches in the U.S., is already under antitrust scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission. And lawmakers have questioned whether Google uses its dominant position in search to promote its own services at the expense of competitors and consumers.

Google and Twitter have history. Twitter gets traffic from Google, and Google used to pay Twitter for access to its "firehose" of tweets. It no longer does (although Microsoft's Bing still does). Google can still show tweets in search results because most of the 250 million of them a day are public.

Google has also tangled with Facebook, which does not let Google crawl its site. Facebook poses the biggest threat to Google in the battle for eyeballs and ad dollars. It's on the verge of a $100-billion initial public offering more highly anticipated than any tech offering since Google in 2004.

John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, took to Twitter to express his dismay.

“We are becoming helpless collateral casualties in the war between Google and Facebook,” Barlow wrote.

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Image: Screenshot of Google's new personalized search results. Credit: Google

Bratty tweets about Christmas gifts disturb parents

 

It's not easy being a kid today. Everywhere you turn it seems like adults are out to make you look like a spoiled, entitled brat.

The most recent example is comedian Jon Hendren's list of real tweets from kids who were angry that they didn't get an iPhone, or iPad, or a car for Christmas. Hendren assembled the tweets on Christmas Day and published them on his own Twitter feed.

Here is a G-rated sampling:

"No Iphone. I hate my dad."

"Just cried for like 2 hrs straight cause i didn't get a car." 

"Seems like I'm the only one who didn't get an Iphone for christmas."

"If you got an iphone i hate you."

Yikes!

Hendren's list of bratty re-tweets quickly made its way around the Internet, showing up in blogs and other Twitter feeds where adults expressed dismay at the entitlement of the youth today.

"This guy @fart  is retweeting all the spoiled brats that didn't get what they wanted. The entitled dregs of society. Nice work, parents." Jason Clarke tweeted.

"Twitter reveals the worst Christmas gift getters ever," Leslie Horn of PC Mag wrote.

The list even became the inspiration for a song by the singer Jonathan Mann. A YouTube video of the song featuring profanity-filled tweets went up Tuesday and got more than 117,000 views in less than 24 hours.

We agree that the tweets are super obnoxious, but we can't help but wonder whether kids today actually feel more entitled than ever before, or is it that thanks to sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, adults are just aware of how entitled kids have always been, and more likely to exploit that entitlement, which could just be called "childhood" and "adolescence."

Consider the popular YouTube challenges that late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel occasionally issues to parents to essentially prank their kids and record their reactions.

Kimmel's Christmas challenge -- in which he asked parents to give their kids terrible Christmas presents and then keep the camera rolling while the kids cry or patiently explain that they didn't want an onion for a present -- has had 14.25 million views on YouTube.

Kimmel's Halloween challenge, in which he asked parents to pretend to have eaten all their kid's Halloween candy, has been viewed a whopping 25.8 million times.

Yeah, it's funny ha-ha, but it's also kind of mean.

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 Video: Jimmy Kimmel's YouTube challenge: I gave my kid a terrible present. Credit: YouTube.

Saudi prince invests $300 million in Twitter

Dorsey
Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has scooped up a substantial stake in Twitter.

The multibillionaire has made a $300-million investment in the popular social media site that activists used during the Arab Spring uprisings. That's roughly a 3% stake in the San Francisco company.

Twitter confirmed the investment,  which was announced in a press release from Kingdom Holding Co. that touted Alwaleed's desire to invest in "promising, high-growth businesses with global impact."

A nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, Alwaleed owns 95% of Kingdom Holding, which has stakes in Apple, Citigroup and General Motors. He is one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of nearly $20 billion, according to Forbes magazine. For more on him, check out this Charlie Rose interview from last year.

Fortune is reporting that he bought his stake in Twitter from insiders, not the company. Twitter spokesman Matt Graves declined to provide any further details. The prince's investment in Twitter has been rumored since October.

The San Francisco company's worth was pegged at $8.4 billion in a funding round led by Digital Sky Technologies in October.

Twitter says it has 100 million active users who send 250 million tweets per day. 

One of an elite group of privately held social media companies sporting multibillion valuations, Twitter is taking its time before going public. Facebook, which has more than 800 million users, is planning a $10-billion initial public offering. Twitter is also seen as a major player in social media because of its popularity. The company is still working on its fledgling advertising business.

Twitter's advertising business is expected to generate about $140 million this year, up from $45 million last year, according to EMarketer. Twitter may generate $260 million in ad revenue in 2012, the research firm said. Twitter now has more than 700 employees.

 “We believe that social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years. Twitter will capture and monetize this positive trend,” Ahmed Reda Halawani, Kingdom Holdings executive director of private equity and international investments, said in a statement.

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Photo: Square and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in June at D9. Credit: Asa Mathat / All Things Digital

Charlie Sheen accidentally tweets his phone number publicly

Charlie sheen allen j schaben lat

That wasn't a winning move.

Charlie Sheen was apparently trying to send Justin Bieber a direct message with his phone number over Twitter, but accidentally sent the message -- "310-954-7277 Call me bro. C" -- to more than 5.5 million followers.

The actor's phone reportedly began ringing off the hook while he was at dinner in Las Vegas, and he humored some callers by answering with "Ray's Pizza" and "Winning!" according to the New York Post

By Monday afternoon, callers hoping to reach Sheen received an automated message: "The number you dialed is not a working number. Please check the number and dial again."

Still no word on why the former "Two and a Half Men" star wanted to get in touch with Bieber.

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Photo: Actor Charlie Sheen during his Comedy Central roast in September. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Twitter's Fly redesign looks to be faster, simpler and more personal

Twitter has redesigned its service to make it simpler, faster and more personalized in an effort to broaden its appeal.

The new version of Twitter, which will roll out to users by the end of the year, is geared toward getting people to use the service more frequently and for longer, and giving advertisers more reasons to spend their dollars there.

Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder and chairman of the board, summed it up as: “Less places to click, less stuff to learn.”

He added the upgrades to the service were just the beginning of a new push at Twitter -- and some of the first signs of things to come now that Dorsey has taken on such a major role at the company.

"These are just the first steps," said Dorsey as he demonstrated the new Twitter for the media, including the home icon (a birdhouse) and a quill icon to compose messages.

In a gesture to the foundation the company says it is laying with its product redesign, Twitter unveiled the redesign in its new headquarters still under construction in a historic Art Deco building on a blighted stretch of Market Street in San Francisco.

"We are setting the foundation so we can move quickly and most importantly innovate quickly," said Dorsey who divides his time between Twitter and mobile payments company Square.

Dorsey said Twitter is simplifying and personalizing its service to address one of its biggest challenges:  Even though many people know what Twitter is, they still don't know how or even why they should use it.

When people first alight on the site or sign up to use the service, Twitter will help them discover information most likely to interest them by registering signals such as their location. In the coming year, Dorsey said to expect an increased emphasis on that kind of "discovery" to "bubble up" the most relevant Tweets, messages of up to 140 characters in length that users broadcast.

The new look of Twitter tries to capture some of Apple's minimalist magic by stripping away unnecessary features and making the service simpler and more intuitive to use.

"We are going to offer simplicity in a world of complexity," Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo said.

The idea is to cut through the jargon such as hashtags (#) and @ handles to help casual users get the hang of the service as easily as its power users.

"Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those who don't," Dorsey said.

The new Twitter design extends to iOS and Android apps. More than half of Twitter's members reach the site through mobile devices, Costolo said in September.

The jury's still out on whether the design changes will lure new users, said Greg Sterling, founder of the consulting firm Sterling Market Intelligence.

"A lot of people still won't see the need," Sterling said.

Twitter significantly overhauled its website a year ago in a redesign it called #NewTwitter. Costolo fired off a tweet to his team Thursday, praising them for their work on #NewNewTwitter. Twitter's nickname for the redesign: #LetsFly.

Twitter says more than 100 million people actively use the service, with the majority of those accounts overseas.

Twitter is vying to become an online advertising powerhouse to rival Google and Facebook. Dorsey said on average, 3% to 5% of people engage with ads on Twitter, a higher percentage than other forms of online advertising. But Twitter must compete for advertising dollars with Google, which dominates search advertising and increasingly display advertising, and social networking giant Facebook, which has more than 850 million users.

Costolo said the company is rolling out its widely anticipated "self-serve" system that lets anyone buy ads on Twitter. It's also letting brands such as American Express and organizations such as the American Red Cross to customize their own Twitter pages.

Twitter's advertising business is expected to generate about $140 million this year, up from $45 million last year, according to EMarketer. Twitter may generate $260 million in ad revenue in 2012, the research firm said.

In August, its worth was pegged at more than $8 billion in its latest funding round. It now has more than 700 employees who will move into the new headquarters in mid-2012. The office space has room for thousands.

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Flipboard CEO's new media mission: 'crawl the social networks'

In a conference room at The Times last week, Mike McCue, the chief executive of Flipboard, got an email on his iPhone. It was Apple, telling him that his company's new Flipboard app for the iPhone had been officially approved. 

"OK!" he said. "This is good news."

That email meant Flipboard was on schedule for its next big launch. The company's social magazine app for the iPad has been one of the device's most popular apps, winning Apple's iPad app of the year award in 2010 and attracting about 4 million users, close to 1 in 4 iPad owners. Over the last year, McCue's Palo Alto company has doubled in size, to about 50 employees, and has locked down more than $60 million in funding.

In that time, the company has been slowly and deliberately focusing on the newly designed iPhone app.  The iPhone version of Flipboard is smaller and leaner -- not a shrunken version of the iPad app but a phone-sized social media digest, meant to be literally thumbed through while on the go. Its "Cover Stories" feature distills a custom selection of elegantly laid out social and real-world news that readers can get in screen-sized bites. 

We sat down with McCue to try out the newly released app (see above video), and to hear about the company's ambitious plans to move beyond its roots as a magazine app for the iPad and iPhone. Building on Flipboard's deep links to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, McCue wants to harness the huge amount of data being generated by users of these major services to build a kind of social media nerve center -- a digital brain that listens to all your social networks and picks the most important and interesting stories, presenting them to you in a simple and organized way.

Question: That sounds ambitious. Can you say what it is you'd be trying to do?

Answer: Well, the Web as we've known it for a long time has been pages linking and pointing to other pages. But there's a new Web that's being created -- some people are calling it the social Web.

People are posting a huge amount of data, and there are more social networks being created all the time -- Path, Google+, 500 Pixels and many others. 

And the raw amount of Web you see on this social Web is crazy. There are billions and billions of posts everyday just on Facebook, and the growth is phenomenal. Twitter is at probably 180 million tweets a day -- three years ago it was 10 million or less. Because of all this, the social Web has far more intricate and subtle links between the nodes than the more primitive Web we grew up with in the mid-1990s.

So you can think of it as a river -- imagine all this information rushing past you as a user, with more friends coming on, sharing more stuff more easily, and on more social networks. The river is getting faster and deeper and wider, and it never ends. 

If a friend of yours from college gets engaged, he might post about it, and it's going to go right down the river. If you're looking at the moment, you'll see it, otherwise it could go right by. So what we're trying to do is keep an eye on that river for you -- try to pick some important things as they go by and hold them for you.

Question: How do you do that?

Answer: Well, last year we bought a company called Ellerdale. It was run by Arthur Van Hoff, the co-creator of Java and a very smart guy. What he'd been doing was looking at the Twitter firehose [that's a feed of every single tweet that everyone on Twitter generates], and analyzing and figuring out what mattered to the individual user. [When Flipboard bought Ellerdale, it had already "indexed" 6 billion messages from around the social Web.]

It's really advanced technology that goes out and looks at effectively every social network. Kind of like Google crawls the Web, we crawl the social networks. Where Google analyzes links and Web pages, we look at the same thing with people. So we can tell, for example, who you interact with more frequently. Or if it's not frequency, maybe it's consistency. For instance, my mom. She doesn't post that often, but every time she does I'm going to see it because the software knows I'm interested. So we're trying to discern: What is the small group of people that you find most interesting, regardless of the network they're on.

Question: So news in the Flipboard world is both traditional media news and social news?

Answer: It's a mix of what's going on in the world and what's going on in your world, fused together. And it might seem weird that I'm looking at a picture of my daughters, and then the next flip I'm reading a story about Iran. But to me as a reader, when I'm standing in line waiting to get my coffee, those things are what I care about.

Question: But how often do our personal lives generate something that would be considered socially newsworthy?

Answer: It happens pretty frequently. Let's say you go to a friend's wedding, or Thanksgiving, or Halloween. It'd be great the next day to see what went on with your friends' Thanksgiving weekend, or all the costumes they wore on Halloween, and be able to look back and see what they wore the year before, and the year before that.

There are a lot of things that happen in your life that are front-page-worthy, especially when you pull them together with outside events or with other people, it adds even more gravitas to those events. It might even be something as simple as that you care about what's going on on "American Idol," or that you got a new dog. And everything in between. These are the kinds of things people share about on social networks every day, but the problem is that those signals are very weak, and treated equally, and not grouped with other people who are experiencing the same things. You're left to figure it all out yourself.

Question: You've got a lot of magazines and websites you work with now -- the New Yorker, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Flickr and a bunch more. Is Flipboard starting to make money for these publications?

Answer: We have about 60 publishing partners, and we just started working with them to sell ads. In particular, Condé Nast. We've only been selling ads for about three months, so it's too early to give you any insightful observation there. But readers love the full-page ads way more than banner ads. They're selling for 10 to 15 times the price of the banner ads because they're full screen. From a reader point of view, it just feels like you're flipping through a magazine.

Because we're still only on the iPad, we're only a tiny fraction of most publications' readership, much smaller than the Web. But as we start to scale to other platforms, we should become a broader part of their readership.

Question: When you say other platforms, do you mean other tablets? Like the Kindle Fire?

Answer: We think they're interesting, but we're concerned about not scaling to other devices too fast and watering ourselves down. 

The Kindle Fire is the first tablet I think has a shot at gaining critical mass beyond the iPad. And of course there are many other great Android smartphones out there too, as well as the Web itself -- so there's a lot for us to think through. 

Question: You're on Twitter's board of directors -- what can you say about the experience?

Answer: It's super interesting. As an entrepreneur, in many ways it's like looking into the crystal ball for what my company will hopefully go through as it starts to think about bigger challenges -- scaling internationally, getting ready to go public and all those different things. Not that Twitter is getting ready to go public.  But it's a company that I think is going to be quite valuable, and very meaningful in the world, and it's exciting to be part of that.

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Theaters set aside tweet seats for Twitter users

Tweet seats, seats in theaters that are set aside for people who want to tweet a performance, appear to be a growing trend

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about "tweet seats" is that they exist. Perhaps the second-most-unexpected thing about them is that they appear to be a growing trend.

A tweet seat is a seat in a theater that has been approved by the theater for use by someone who would like to tweet a performance. Whip out your cellphone and start tweeting at a rock show and nobody will notice -- the rest of audience is probably shooting cellphone pictures anyway. But try that at the opera and you'll be glared at, unless you are in a tweet seat.

Tweet seats first started surfacing at the end of the '00s. In 2009, the Lyric Opera in Kansas reserved 100 tweet seats for its final performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore." In those seats (and only those seats) audience members could use their phones to look at tweeted content sent by the theater's artistic director about the production, the scenery and whatever was happening on stage. Audience members were also encouraged to tweet questions in real time.

According to a recent article about tweet seats in USA Today, twitter-friendly seats have since been adopted by others, including the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, N.C., the Dayton Opera in Dayton, Ohio, and the historical Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn.

And soon tweet seats may be coming to Broadway. Jennifer Tepper, the director of promotions for "Godspell" on Broadway, told USA Today that the production definitely intends to use them.

"While we haven't done tweet seats, they are certainly in our plan for the future at 'Godspell,'" she said.

If you find the idea of tweet seats hard to swallow, don't despair. The next time you go to the symphony, the orchestra will almost certainly not be accompanied by your neighbor desperately tapping at her phone.

Tweet seats are generally reserved on one side of an auditorium to keep the cellphone glare from interfering with non-tweeting audience members' enjoyment of a performance. At the Dayton Opera, tweet seats are only available on certain nights of a show's run.

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Image: Empty seats at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. But are they tweet seats? Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

Mozilla releases Firefox 8 with built-in Twitter search

Mozilla Firefox 8 download page

Mozilla released Firefox 8, the latest version of its Web browser, with one feature that is sure to get notice by social media fans -- built-in Twitter search.

"Twitter is now included as a search option in Firefox for Windows, Mac and Linux," Mozilla said in a blog post Tuesday detailing updates found in Firefox 8, many of which are under the hood.

Firefox 8 users can search topics, hashtags and user names on Twitter from within the browser's search box (located just to the right of the URL box). The Twitter search feature is available in English, Japanese, Portuguese and Slovenian, and Mozilla is promising more languages to be added in the future.

With the update, Twitter joins Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon.com, eBay and Wikipedia as search options built-into Firefox.

Aside from Twitter search, Mozilla promises that Firefox 8 will be faster than previous versions with improved support for HTML5 and WebGL, "a new Web standard that allows websites and Web apps to display hardware-accelerated 3D graphics without third-party software."

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Image: A screen shot of Mozilla's Firefox 8 download page. Credit: Mozilla

Richard Branson invests in Square

Richard Branson has invested in Square

British business magnate Richard Branson has invested in Square, the mobile payments start-up run by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

Square declined to disclose exactly how much was invested by Branson, known for the Virgin Group of international companies that have taken him from a record-store owner to a billionaire, but did say that it was in the multimillion-dollar range.

Branson announced his investment in Square on Twitter on Tuesday, along with a blog post on Virgin's website in which he said: "I'm very passionate about helping people start and grow successful businesses, and Square is an incredible technology that inspires and empowers everyone to be an entrepreneur."

Square, founded last year, is known for its Square card reader, a small, white plastic cube that plugs into the headphone jack of smart phones and tablets and works with an app to handle credit and debit card payments.

The young firm has shipped more than 800,000 card readers to businesses and says it is on pace to process more than $2 billion in payments annually.

The San Francisco-based company, in which Visa is also an investor, is going up against heavyweights such as Google, MasterCard, PayPal and an alliance of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon in the quickly growing "mobile wallet" space that allows users to pay for things with smart-phone apps rather than credit cards.

Square's bid in that space is the Square Card Case app, which was recently updated for Apple's iOS 5 operating system to make use of geofencing and location-based technologies.

Branson's investment follows a $100-million investment by the venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which pushed Square past a $1-billion valuation.

That same month, Square named former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who is also one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, to its board of directors.

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Photo: Richard Branson, center, at the Indian Formula One Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Noida, India on Oct. 30. Credit: Saurabh Das / Associated Press

Twitter strikes partnership deals to tap growth in TV, media

Twittertv

Is it time for Twitter's close-up?

Twitter is already a big hit with TV shows such as Fox's "Glee" and NBC's "The Voice," which encourage viewers to broadcast tweets while watching the shows.

On Monday the San Francisco company said that two data analysis companies, Mass Relevance and Crimson Hexagon, now have access to the more than 250 million tweets sent out on Twitter each day so they can help media companies tap into them. 

Crimson Hexagon helps pinpoint Twitter users' thoughts, opinions and feelings about a brand, TV show, event or news story. It powered the Twitter analysis in CNN's 2010 election coverage, for example.

Mass Relevance displays relevant tweets on a website, on air or at a real-world venue. For instance, it handled the Twitter tie-in for "The Voice" so that the show could display the most relevant tweets on air and viewers could engage in conversation with the show's artists and celebrity coaches.

In a roundup of Twitter's business in September, its chief executive, Dick Costolo, encouraged third-party developers to focus on data mining.

"We see significant demand from brands, publishers, and TV networks who need help expanding their content to include compelling Twitter integrations," saidChloe Sladden, Twitter's director of content and programming, in a written statement.

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Photo credit: Jay Cuthrell

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