Google+ seems to have gotten Facebook's attention. Facebook has been busy over the past few months, and is now evolving in ways it never has before. "The last five years of social networking have been about getting people signed up, and getting people connected with their lives," Mark Zuckerberg explained at f8. "The next five years are going to be defined by the apps and depth of engagement." The company announced a slew of updates to its site at the f8 conference, including Timeline, a redesign of people's profile pages to help share life stories with friends. Plus, it unleashed a new class of social apps under its Open Graph so users can see and hear the music or movies their friends like. The company also announced partnerships with news publishers, including Yahoo News, the Washington Post, Gizmodo and the Guardian, which have built apps so that their content can be read within the social networking site. Other recent updates include new privacy settings, a redesigned news feed, and smarter lists of friends.
Many believe the transformation of the platform, which was a long time coming, was accelerated by Google's entry into the social-networking space. "Do I think most of these changes would have happened if Google+ never arrived on the scene? Sure," wrote ZDNet's Emil Protalinski. "I also strongly believe Facebook would have taken much longer to roll out new products, kill existing features, and would have taken a lot fewer risks." Just two days before Facebook's announcement at f8, Google announced that Google+ is now open to the public. The search giant also announced new improvements including mobile group chat and search in Google+. Is that enough to make Facebook worried? "It really doesn't have to be: it has 750 million users and is probably the site that is most intertwined with our online lives today," wrote PC Magazine's Peter Pachal. But the problem with Facebook accelerating its changes, particularly on the news feed, is that people can respond negatively, he pointed out. So does that mean users are going to quit and head to Google+? Not likely, he said. "Google+, for all its cleanliness and interesting features, suffers from the lack of a central theme, and many new users aren't quite sure what to make of it."
Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, longtime enemies in the online space, are now
coming together on friendly terms in an effort to take a swipe at Facebook and
Google in advertising. A new pact allows the three companies to sell ad
inventory on each others' sites. The premium ad exchange is designed to help
them snatch back some of the ad spending that's gone to ad networks in recent
years, according to AllThingsD's Peter Kafka. In addition, Yahoo, AOL and
Microsoft are aiming to convince big web properties to share some of their ad
inventory, and to get big ad holding companies to funnel some of their purchases
through the consortium, Kafka wrote. But the New York Times' Tanzina Vega
believes the three companies will need to leap over several hurdles in order for
the plan to work. The technologies they use to sell and place ads on their sites
aren't yet compatible, she explained. "Yahoo has an ad exchange called Right
Media, and AOL has Advertising.com, which makes much of its revenue from selling
remnant ads. Other problems could include coordinating sales efforts and
figuring out which sales team sells which ad space.
And some believe the plan is nothing new. "This is essentially more of the
same thing that they have been doing for years, selling the same ad space the
same way," wrote BNET's Erik Sherman. "Why should it start suddenly working
now?" Other industry watchers believe the deal smacks of desperation. "In doing
this it seems like they felt it was the only way they could combat the
combination of Google’s display and the big ad network industry that's out
there," Adam Kasper, EVP of digital investments for Havas Media, told Adweek's
Ki Mae Heussner. "But from an ad buying perspective, it seems like you’re just
slicing the same thing a different way." Search Engine Watch's Miranda Miller
agreed, noting that Google and Facebook are clearly already ahead in the game.
"What value do Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have to offer users by pooling together
second-class ads -- the ones classified that way because they couldn’t get rid
of them to begin with?"
Is the Wall Street Journal trying to think like a startup? Recent changes to
its live video unit and a Facebook app seem to be hinting at that. What began as
a twice-a-day video update in the Wall Street Journal's old-fashioned newsroom
has blossomed into a full-blown app and three-and-a-half hours of live
programming every weekday. WSJ Live is a video app for iPads and
Internet-connected TVs and set-top boxes that brings live and on-demand
programming from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network directly to users of
those platforms. Neiman Journalism Lab's Ken Doctor was quick to hail it as a
"model for the news industry." Newspapers can "talk the talk of becoming
multimedia companies, but most are still text-bound," he wrote. WSJ Live "does a
great job of leveraging the new technologies of the day and converging them to
create an easy-on-the-eyes, easy-to-use new consumer product." The New York
Times' Brian Stelter noted that the Journal already produces far more live video
than other newspapers in the United States do. So why push that even further?
It's "acting on the idea that video is fast becoming a critical part of news
websites, even for the entities that have historically profited from words, not
moving pictures," he explained.
Meanwhile, the Journal also recently announced the advent of WSJ Social, a
Facebook app that filters the newspaper's content through a social graph within
the social networking site. Forbes' Jeff Bercovici pointed out that the Journal
has finally come to grips with the fact that it can't escape from how much time
web users are spending on Facebook and other social networking sites. "The more
of their time consumers spend on Facebook and other social networking hubs, the
less they have left over for news sites," Bercovici wrote. But it's also about
thinking about newspaper reading in a social way, he added. "Users choose whose
streams they want to follow -- the official ones produced by the paper's, and
each others -- and that determines what stories they see." So what happens to
the Journal's pay wall on WSJ Social? That will remain in place, although a
one-month sponsorship by Dell will temporarily make it free. There's an "obvious
tension between providing articles on a public network like Facebook while still
having a pay wall," noted GigaOm's Mathew Ingram. "It feels like the paper wants
to have its cake and eat it too, and it could wind up with neither."
Coupon hotshot Groupon has inspired plenty of daily-deals wannabes -- and now
newspapers want in on the action. The Associated Press has partnered with 40
newspapers to offer coupons and other promotions in a special section within
papers' iPhone apps. The feature, dubbed iCircular, brings merchandise and
product offers from multiple retailers to one program. paidContent's David
Kaplan calls it a "play on two of the industry’s last advertising strengths:
digital and pre-print circulars." iCircular is HTML5-based, which means it will
be available on both a paper's app and its mobile site and on other formats
later on. The AP said it will be in a test phase until the end of the year.
"We’re going to be looking closely at several things in particular," Mary Junck,
chairman of AP's board of directors' revenue committee, told Kaplan. "We’re
going to be interested in seeing the audience numbers for iCircular and how
often the deals are used. The newspaper partners have all agreed to do heavy
promotion for this."
But the real test could be whether anyone actually uses deals in iCircular.
"Will customers stand up and cheer? Or yawn that their geo-specific couponing
needs are pretty well taken care of already by the stores' own sites and other
earlier-to-market competitors?" asked Poynter's Rick Edmonds. He noted that
iCircular is making a late entry into the market. First movers like Groupon and
LinkedIn, and even retail sites such as Target and Best Buy, could have the
advantage. But as newspapers face declining circulation -- and as more consumers
replace traditional offline news with online content – they're finding
themselves in a tough spot, and an effort to step into the mobile coupon space
might have more benefits than drawbacks. As Edmonds wrote, "A significant
presence in smartphone commerce would count as an important business win for an
industry that hasn’t had many lately."
It's no surprise that Americans fritter away most of their online time on
social media sites. And as that usage is growing, marketers are looking to offer
up more data on those consumers' Internet habits. To that end, Nielsen recently
released its "State of the Media: The Social Media Report," which takes a
big-picture look at social media and Internet behavior. The research firm found
that social media use accounts for 22.5 percent of the time that U.S. consumers
spend online, compared with 9.8 percent for online games and 7.6 percent for
email. "Social media is becoming increasingly mainstream," Nielsen's Radha
Subramanyam told the New York Times' Stuart Elliot. As a result, "there’s a need
for companies to engage even more strategically in the space" than they already
do, she added.
The social media site that users spent the most time on was Facebook, whose
users chalked up a total of 53.5 billion minutes on the site in May, up 6
percent from the previous year. Blogger.com came in second with 723 million
minutes; Tumblr saw 623 million minutes; Twitter, 565 million and LinkedIn, 325
million. But ClickZ's Susan Kuchinskas said the numbers don't mean that
traditional media is losing its mindshare. "Traditional content creators have
found themselves increasingly mediated by social media," she explained. "While
word of mouth has always played a role in media recommendations, social media,
whether fixed web or mobile, allows one person's mouth to have global reach."
It's pretty widely acknowledged that as the economy becomes shaky, ad
spending goes with it. In a sobering study, Kantar Media found that while
advertising spending is still increasing, the rate of growth has slowed again.
U.S. ad spending increased only 2.8 percent in the second quarter from the same
period a year ago. But digital remains a bright spot. The numbers "are painting
a mixed picture," Jon Swallen, senior VP for research at the Kantar Media's
North America unit, said in a statement. Display ad spending rose nearly 13
percent in the first half of 2011, according to the study. For Q2 alone, online
display ad spending grew 12.9 percent while search ad spending -- or at least
search at Google -- increased 8.6 percent, both bolstered by travel, local
service and insurance advertisers. In all, Internet media spending was up 10.4
percent. Despite the gains in digital, Business Insider's Noah Davis said the
industry is "smartly adopting" a wait-and-see attitude. "If the economy tanks,
ad spending will follow. If it recovers, however, the media industry should see
a seventh straight quarter of growth."
The OPA Intelligence Report is a bi-weekly email summarizing and commenting on important news and research for the online publishing industry. As always, feedback is welcome at email@example.com.