Google takes on Facebook’s Like Button and gets a little more sociable

Google social

“The web’s a big place so sometimes it helps to have a tour guide”.

This is how Google describe their +1 technology, a recommendation system that allows you to  flag interesting or relevant pages within search results, sharing these recommendations with people you’re connected to through Google.  As Facebook carries on it’s relentless expansion this is another move from our friends at the search giant to make their results and services ever more “social”.    It’s simple, elegant, easy to execute from a users perspective and in time will give a deeper more human feel to search results.   What’s not to love about this.

A Google account’s required to use this new feature and allows users to share their recommendations through Gmail, Google Chat, Google Reader and Buzz. Currently, the button is only available on the search results page, but in the future Google has plans to provide this button to companies so users can +1 their site without ever having to leave the page.    You’ll also be able to +1 Google Ads that you find beneficial.

In Google’s own words:

“Say, for example, you’re planning a winter trip to Tahoe, Calif. When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pastarecipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.”

And here’s where things get interesting from an SEO perspective; look again at the last line “And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop”.

Matt Cutts recently went on record saying that one of the best things you can do to improve your ranking is to get “social”.  So, together with this statement we can see just how vital a carefully executed social media strategy is to search optimisation going forward. Getting people to +1 your content is going to deliver more organic traffic and better results.  We’re also hoping that’ll deliver cheaper paid traffic too if +1 ranking is incorporated into their data.

So all in all this seems like a great move all round.  An elegant and useful service for the user and a simple way to improve Google’s results based on the service and reputation of the sites it’s indexed.

We’re now sitting back and waiting for the multitude of “Get more +1’s at low low prices” emails from every black hat spammer out there!

To read the original Google post to go:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/1s-right-recommendations-right-when-you.html

Google to launch payment system on Android phones with Mastercard

Mobile phone payment systemHave you ever wanted to pay for your coffee with your mobile phone?  No, we don’t mean pawning your phone for a Starbucks (!); rather letting your Android phone do the work.

We at The Levels believed it was only a matter of time before Google moved into the mobile payment market and it looks as if the time is nigh, at least for our American cousins.   Google have partnered up with CitiBank and Mastercard to embed technology in Android mobile devices that would allow consumers to make purchases by waving their smartphones in front of a small reader at the checkout counter.

It’s been reported that Google won’t be taking a cut of the transactions, rather that this is being done to boost the effectiveness of their advertising platform to local businesses and retailers.

Imagine if you will.  You’re walking down the street in a city you’re visiting on business, you’re feeling a bit hungry so you grab your phone and search Google for nearby lunch deals.  In the results a deal pops up with a voucher code and you take your phone + the voucher into the store.  You pay for your sandwich by waving your mobile in front of the scanner, activating the discount as you do.   Clever hey!

So Google helps you find a deal and lets you pay for it too, you’re a happy consumer.  The retailer wins as he/she gains a new customer and see the effectiveness of their Google ads in action.

But, as with all “free” Google products there is a downside and that downside is your privacy.  Google are doing this to make their ads more efffective and demonstrate their worth to retailers.  How do they do this?  By mining your data of course!

In addition to getting new customers through the doors the system will allow retailers access to data about customers so they would be able to market future offers to their devices, it’s claimed.  Google, is also getting a massive insight into just how we all spend our money, a gold mine of information when you sell advertising.

This technology is being developed with the people over at VeriFone Systems who already have a mobile micro payment system developed and it looks like it could be ready to roll out to the US later this year.

So, will we use Google Payments when they hit the UK?  Of course we will, at least for novelty value if nothing else.  This is a smart application of search technology and one that might just be a game changer in terms of electronic payment.

 

 

Amazon launch their Android Appstore with rumour of exclusive Call of Duty app.

Angry birds at Amazon imageIt would appear that Amazon are using all of their normal market busting tricks as they launch their Android Appstore.   Loss leaders and exclusive releases are being used by the retail giant to secure their position as top of the pops in the Android marketplace.

The store opens next month but news of their proposed pricing and exclusive products were leaked by Androidnews.de  yesterday who picked up on a prematurely published page at the Amazon website.

The page was briefly seen at amazon.com/apps but as expected it’s since disappeared whence it came.  Our friends at Androidnews.de did manage to take a few screen shots first though!

 

We’re all aware that they’ve already secured the exclusive launch of  Angry Birds Rio. But news is that our favourite megastore has secured four other exclusive titles, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Force Recon to celebrate the launch.  Angry birds and angry boys; what more could we Levellers want!

It’s no surprise that Amazon are going to be offering some amazing deals, but it would appear that they’re pulling their normal tricks of undercutting the competition by offering a selection of loss leaders on popular apps, in essence offering them for less than the developers are selling them for.   The developers have no need to worry though as Amazon will still reward them with the commission set at the non discounted price.

There’s still no official launch date for the Appstore but we can’t wait to see what they’ll have on offer for us.  Anything that opens up the app market and helps chip away at the power of Apple’s impenetrable walled garden is good, good thing!

To read the original article go to; http://www.androidnews.de/amazon-appstore-apps-prices-leak

Is the Facebook v Google battle about to get interesting?

Google vs Facebook imageThis weekend the rumour mill went into overdrive at SxSW as Google once again refused to comment on their plans to take on Facebook with a social product. A Google spokesperson told The Next Web blog “We do not speculate on rumor and speculation”.

But despite the lack of any firm information it’s looking more and more likely that a big announcement will happen this year’s I/O developers’ conference in May.  Back in September Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed that a “social layer” was coming to all of their products  and we’ve seen this start to materialise as search results become more social and location based reviews are added to Google Maps.

We at the Levels are very excited by the possibility to this launch if the rumours are correct.  It’s thought that the product will be called Google Circles and that it is being developed in line with the thoughts of the ex-Google social technology researcher Paul Adams.

In a number of essays and presentations Adams says that what’s wrong with Facebook and many of the other social networks is that there’s no context given to your contacts and the information you publish.  We all operate in life with many different personas; work, friends,parent etc but when it comes to social networking all of our friends are lumped into one bucket making it impossible to target messages and communication to different social groups.   If Google find a solution to this, letting us publish and share with our different Circles of friends it will be a major step forward both in terms of use but also the privacy of information held within social environments.

After the failure of Buzz and Wave Google must be hoping that this will be third time lucky for them.  They need to crack the nut primarily in order to maintain their advertising revenues but we at The Levels would like to see an alternative to Facebook that’s driven by respect for privacy and a greater understanding of the complexity of human relationships.

What has been Facebook’s response to this? Well Mr Adams now works for them!

To read the article at The Next Web http://thenextweb.com/google/2011/03/11/google-reportedly-to-launch-google-me-in-may/

For Paul Adams presentation The Real Life Social Network go to http://www.slideshare.net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2

Google recruit us to help in their battle against the content bandits

Google versus the content farms imageGoogle have taken yet another step forward in their war against the content farms who fill up their ( & our) results with spammy nastiness. Writing on the official company blog last night Amay Champaneria and Beverly Yang, Search Quality Engineers for the search giant revealed new functionality that allows you to block the sites you don’t want to see.

This functionality isn’t aimed at sites that don’t quite meet your expectations in terms of the search you’ve made, but rather at the sites that you find offensive, pornographic or in their words “generally low quality” ie the content farms chasing traffic by writing about subjects purely because they’re popular search terms.

You’ll need to be signed into your Google account to use the new features, but once you have and you click on a result and return immediately to Google you’ll be asked if you want to block all results coming from that domain.  Click yes and you’ll receive a confirmation message as well as the option to undo your block.  Once you make a new search these results will magically disappear!  You’ll be notified by a message either at the top or bottom of your results that pages have been blocked.

So, back to Farmer and the content bandits.  At the bottom of the blog post Amay and Beverly write “while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.” In other words they’re recruiting us to help them get rid of the spammers.

As marketeers how do we respond to this?  Well the good news is that you don’t need to hire the editorial team from The Times!  But you should be producing original and high quality copy that’s rich and useful to your readers, subscribers and visitors.  If you’d like to know more about Farmer and how to craft website content that actually benefits from this update then give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com and we’ll get back to you.

To read the original Google post go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/hide-sites-to-find-more-of-what-you.html

 

Foursquare gets a make over but will it make a difference?

Foursquare imageIt’s been 2 years since Foursquare was launched and after obsessively checking in where ever we went & “making life a game” we Levellers pretty much lost interest in this social media service that asked for a lot yet seemed to give little in return, especially here in the UK.

Now, according to a company blog post of late last night, Foursquare is finally getting a make over and a whole lot more functionality. The aim of the game is to drive engagement and loyalty and stop the churn that’s been a big problem for the service in the past.

So, what are the new features?

1. Discovery – The new “Explore” tab aims to deliver recommendations to you based on your past behaviour, the behaviour of your friends and your loyalty to certain places.  The recommendations also include a bit of sophistication around time of day & day of week targeting. This information is driven by check ins, so arguably the more the check in the better the recommendations will become.

2. Encouragement – The concept of “Life as a game” has always been central to the Foursquare concept and this makeover sees a dramatic change in the leaderboard functionality to encourage us all to play a little harder.

The old leaderboard (and its simple points system and Sunday night reset) is replaced with a sliding 7-day barometer of you and your friends. Check-ins now trigger points for dozens of different types of actions – everything from discovering new places, trying new types of restaurants, visiting new cities, getting groups together, hanging out with old friends, and a few things you might not expect.

In their own words “From the early days, we’ve heard stories of foursquare’s game mechanics being a subtle motivator for trying a new restaurant or venturing a little further away from your local haunts. We’re excited to see how some of the new elements we’ve added will encourage people to actively explore the world around them.”

3. Loyalty – To self centred and materialistic folks like us, what we get back from a service that asks for as much input as Foursquare does is pretty important in getting us to use it.   So, Foursquare have introduced a whole lot more functionality aimed at merchants and businesses that are looking to reward our loyalty.  They’ll now be able to offer Specials to groups of friends, regulars, new customers, Mayors or simply anyone and everyone.  As users we’ll also be able to see Specials nearby, so it’s easier to find places that reward foursquare users.

So, in short a whole load of new stuff that aims to get us playing more but importantly rewarding us for doing so.  Will it get us back in the game?  Well, in our case, if the rewards are good enough, then the short answer is yes.  But will this be enough to drive global expansion of the service and compete with the likes of Facebook Places?  We’re not so sure it is.  To our minds Foursquare remains the domain of the hipster urbanites who can actually get value from the service but it’s difficult to see this rolling out to a more general population.  But good luck Foursquare, any social media service that tries to take a little bit back from Facebook is a good thing.

The new functionality rolled out on Android and iPhone last night, so get updating!

To read the blog post in full http://blog.foursquare.com/2011/03/08/foursquare-3/

The future looks bright for Google as US kids opt for Android

iphone v. android imageGoogle the guys we love to hate have delivered another set of bad news for the mighty Apple.

New research from Nielsen suggests that the future is looking very good for them as they make even further strides in the battle of the Smartphones.  In the US 18-24 year olds were significantly more likely to purchase a phone with an Android operating system than iOS or Blackberry.  27% of all active phones in the US are still iPhones but it’s the change in taste of the youth market that’s very telling.

This is great news for the publishers who’re  still facing the imposition of the 30% Apple tax and also for the techno-liberals (like us Levellers) who object to the closed wall garden approach taken by Apple and Blackberry.

We think that this is only Round 1 of an epic battle and we’re looking forward to the benefits delivered to the consumer as these mighty Krakens of the technology world go head to head in the mobile wars.

An app to please the music moguls. Welcome to FanTrail.

Fantrail logoSome may argue that the music industry only has itself to blame for it’s current ill health and lack of sustainable revenues. Clinging on to a past of the Sunday night Top 40 and the promise of wealth from the sale of singles to adoring teenage fans did nothing to future proof this industry that is now almost extinct on the high street at least.

Social networking sites have played a huge part in the discovery of new talent and the promotion of signed artists but the majority of labels still feel very uncomfortable about an environment that they can’t control and can’t directly commoditize.  So, when news of the launch of FanTrail (www.fantrail.com) hit our screens we knew that this would make a lot of moguls very happy indeed.

FanTrail is an iPhone app that allows artists / bands and their fans to connect but crucially provides a space their management to track and understand fans behaviour, purchase patterns and demographic profiles.  It’s free for both the artist / band and their fans.

FanTrail’s being launched at US music & entertainment gathering SXSW in Austin Texas next week and is a lovely piece of work.  It allows bands and artists to control and better still, start making money from their social networking space.  There are loads of cute innovations inside the app, but in short bands and their management can start of segment their fans by location, dedication and activism.

So what does this mean?  If an artist is up and running on FanTrail and they have some new material to test out they can send out an invite for a private gig to only their most active fans (the ones that buy the most music say) in a specific location, rewarding these guys with a money can’t buy opportunity.

The app also has the ability to release short sound bites, interview, samples of tracks etc to fans and once again this can be targeted by activism or location.   Fans score points by buying music through the app (& iTunes) and by checking in at gigs and concerts.

We think that there’s a rosy future for FanTrail.  The labels will love it as it has the ability to make them money, the management will love it because it makes their life just a little bit easier and the artists themselves will love it as it’s a lovely little app that allows them creativity.

So all you wannabe rock stars get yourself over to FanTrail and tell us what you think. (www.fantrail.com)

“This time it’s different” say Facebook as they acquire Beluga

Beluga corporate logoNormally when Faceboook acquire a start up they make you can offer you can’t refuse, shut you down and strip you of all your intellectual assets.  Highly effective but just a tad on the brutal side.

So, when news of their acquisition of Beluga (belugapods.com) was broken by the boys over at TechCrunch we assumed it would be just another slash and burn job.  But we were wrong.  Facebook have explicitly stated that this won’t be the case and in an open letter on the Belgua website state. “Beluga and Facebook are committed to create new and better ways to communicate and share group experiences.”

Beluga is a free mobile group messaging service so a little bit like Foursquare in that you can share your location, but just (& only) with your friends.   You can also share photos, updates etc with the group but again, completely privately.  It’s made up of a team of three bright young things who learnt their craft at Google and created a bit of a feeding frenzy when they went out into the market looking for angel funding but as we now know Facebook got there first.

So, what’s the future for Beluga?   The privacy of their users, which is so closely guarded seems a little at odds with the Facebook mantra of give us your data and we’ll sell it, but other than that this seems like a perfect fit.

Could it be that this is Facebook tacitly admitting that there are some users out there who aren’t prepared to share their life with the world?  Could this be their first move in building an alternative service where privacy is key?  We’ll wait to find out.

To read the original TechCrunch article http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/01/facebook-beluga/

Is Apple’s design Genius about to quit?

Image of jony iveWith today’s news being dominated by the mixed success of The Social Network at the Oscars we’d be forgiven for thinking that there was much else going on in the world of digital technology. But wait, hidden amongst pictures of Justin Timberlake  modelling a divine Tom Ford ensemble there’s rumour and speculation that Jony Ive the Brit responsible for the iconic iPhone design is on the verge of quitting.

Reports say that Ive is desperate for his children to be raised and educated back home in our fair isle but that his bosses at Apple say that a move back to the UK would make his position in the company untenable.  He’s also just cashed in his share options and with it boosted his personal wealth to over $120 million.  Company insiders say that Ive and the Apple board are at loggerheads with neither side willing to back down.

All of this wouldn’t be too much of a problem if there was a clear succession plan in place as it becomes increasingly likely that Steve Jobs won’t return.  With over 1/3 of shareholders voting for a proposal to force the board to disclose their plans, more turmoil at the top of the tree comes at a bad moment for the board and shareholders alike.

What we do know for sure is that for Ive it’s never really been about the money and with Apple becoming the new frenemy is he feeling uncomfortable with an organisation that seems to be shifting away from it’s founding philosophies?

What ever Ive’s decision his work and achievements at Apple will remain legend.