2010-09-27 Twitter upgrades site experience for users and, potentially, advertisers

Intelligence Report - 09/27/2010
By Mark Glaser & Corbin Hiar




Twitter upgrades site experience for users and, potentially, advertisers

Meet the "New Twitter," but is it the same as the old Twitter? Not by a mile. Twitter’s newest redesign borrows liberally from third-party services to improve the user experience, navigation and engagement. While the New Twitter maintains the simplicity of the original layout, the company has added a second pane that features a wealth of new options and information, as well as unlimited scroll. With the new two-pane design, you can choose a tweet in the left pane, bringing up bio information of the author as well as other recent tweets from her in the new pane. Thanks to partnerships Twitter has struck with 16 online content companies like Flickr, YouTube and Brightcove, users can also view photos and videos in the new pane. This move will encourage its 160 million users to spend more time on the site and could, according to Click Z’s Christopher Heine, “make the site more mobile-friendly” by allowing users to see photos and videos without navigating away. The company also assured paidContent’s Joseph Tartakoff that the redesigned site was built on a “more robust and stable platform,” than its capacity-challenged predecessor.

But will these changes help the popular micro-blogging service finally turn a profit? The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrat thinks the upgrade was “designed to attract more visitors and better compete for advertisers with Facebook.com.” Maybe so, but for now the company is downplaying the redesign’s profit potential. As Tartakoff notes, in a press conference announcing the changes, execs said they “did not have any immediate plans to ‘monetize’ the new pane.” Perhaps the relative success of the site’s current advertising features have given the company the breathing room it needs to keep its investors at bay. Twitter COO Dick Costolo told AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka that the engagement rates with some of the company’s “Promoted Tweets” have “pushed into the double digits...and single digits for most of them.” The site’s “Promoted Trends” have been even more popular: The advertising product “has been able to boost the conversation around given Twitter topics by as much as 600 percent,” Kafka reports.


NY Times' digital revenues up, but challenges remain

Recent third quarter projections from the New York Times Co.'s CEO Janet Robinson have reaffirmed an all-too-familiar trend: Online advertising revenue is up, but not enough to offset declines in print. Robinson told media watchers that the company expected digital ad revenues to rise 14 percent and print ads to lose 5 percent. Both of those figures are a significant improvement on Q3 of 2009, when digital ads dropped 7.2 percent and print ad revenue was down 31 percent. However, the markets were unimpressed, with the stock dropping more than 6% after the news came out.

There were a number of unique reasons for the disappointing projections. Employee buyouts and rising newsprint costs hurt the bottom line. The Wall Street Journal’s Martin Peers blames some of the decline in circulation and, more importantly, lucrative print advertising on the company’s decision to increase subscription prices in mid-2009: “A shrinking audience generally isn't good for ad sales,” he writes. The company also incurred costs related to building its long-anticipated pay wall and paid iPad app. While the company is saving money by doing the work in-house, it still needs to resolve the important question of how much to charge for access. As Peers warns, “figuring out a price that doesn't wallop demand won't be easy.” After parsing the numbers, BNET’s Marion Maneker suggests that the Times Company “seems to be slouching toward some sort of equilibrium where the paper looks forward to freeing itself from paper and becoming a multi-platform newsgathering organization.”

Publishers haggle with Apple over subscription split

When the music industry couldn’t figure out how to monetize its content on the internet, Apple set up the easy to use iTunes store. While the partnership succeeded in boosting sales of digital music, the music industry had ceded a tremendous amount of control to Apple. With that cautionary tale in mind, publishers are warily entering talks with Apple to set up iPad subscriptions, according to an account in the San Jose Mercury News. Publishers hope digital subscriptions can help make up for declining print sales of magazines and, especially, newspapers. The biggest unresolved questions in the negotiations revolve around the cut Apple will take out of subscription sales and whether or not publishers will have access to the valuable user information obtained in the process. The iTunes store currently takes a 30 percent sales commission and most observers believe Apple will demand a cut from publishers that is at least that big for both subscriptions and ad sales. On the question of the user information publishers rely on to market their products, the precedents are also not good: Bloomberg notes that “Amazon still doesn’t share information with publishers about their [Kindle] customers.”

So with Apple’s digital newsstand ready to launch as soon as December, should magazine and newspaper companies make a deal? Opinions vary widely. The Wall Street Journal reports that “some publishers say the ability to peddle their wares to the 160 million Apple account holders outweigh any loss of control in working with Apple.” PCWorld’s Paul Suarez, a newspaper industry veteran, supports that position: “I'd say sharing money is better than not making it at all.” BNET’s Erik Sherman is more wary. He thinks the digital newsstand could be a good deal for publishers if consumers are “able to opt in to share their personal information with the publishers and not just Apple.” But he is in favor of demanding more generous terms from Apple so that they don’t have to offer similar terms to the digital newsstand of every tablet-maker that comes to market. Publishers who rush into an agreement with Apple “could make themselves dependent and mortally wound their businesses until they become nothing more than a satellite function to the iOS hegemony,” Sherman warns.

Foursquare returns fire on Facebook with upgrade

With Facebook's launch of its geo-location service Places, many people wondered if Foursquare could survive such a big competitor in its space. It didn't take long for Foursquare to fire back with a new 2.0 version of its service. First, Foursquare split its Tips and To-Do option into two separate features. Tips on venues and nearby attractions, especially those from a user’s friends on Foursquare, are now prominently featured throughout the app. A separateTo-Do option makes it easier for users to create and access location-specific lists of places they want to check out in the future. This will help expand the app from a game-like digital scrapbook into a geo-targeted wish list, complete with reminders for users when they’re near a location listed under To-Do. Plus, Foursquare is offering publishers an “Add to my Foursquare” button, which will add the location referenced in a given story to a user’s To-Do section. As Mashable’s Jennifer Van Grove explains, this button can help users to “connect the dots between web discovery and mobile activity.” And it’s a good strategic feature for the plucky start up: “It's not exactly Facebook's ‘like’ button, but it could go a long way for branding and encouraging users to keep using Foursquare, as competition in this space grows,” observes Chris Crum of WebProNews.

In spite of the boost it is likely to receive from the launch of Foursquare 2.0, with only 3 million users the company will still face an uphill marketing battle once Facebook has rolled out Places to all of its half billion members. With that in mind, Foursquare and other geo-social companies are using their head start to build relationships with advertisers and attempt innovative campaigns. McDonalds and Lufthansa have recently teamed up with Foursquare to promote sales via paid check-ins and themed games. Foursquare and then Loopt have both forged a paid check-in deal with retailer the Sports Authority to drive traffic to its stores. The two geo-social companies and a Google-backed service SCVNGR have also set up competitive, informative location games encouraging college students to explore their campuses. All of these promotions and activity, coupled with the release of its new update, led Foursquare to register its busiest night ever recently. Clearly, it is far from ready to check-in to the digital graveyard.


Pew: Search, social driving growth in news consumption

Americans are spending more time consuming news today than they did at the turn of the century and all of that increase is coming online. When the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted its biennial survey of news consumption in 2000, it found that Americans spent 57 minutes a day accessing news on traditional platforms like newspapers and radio. Now Americans are spending an additional 13 minutes accessing news on the Internet, bringing their time spent consuming news to 70 minutes a day on average. "In short, instead of replacing traditional news platforms, Americans are increasingly integrating new technologies into their news consumption habits," Pew says. News derived from search or social tools is the fastest growing share of online consumption. Over a third of the 3,006-person sample interviewed for the survey used search engines to find news at least three days a week, compared with 19 percent in 2008. Social media was a news source for 19 percent of those surveyed, which is nearly double the number of people who used such sites for news gathering two years ago. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Vascellaro explains, “the results suggest that while search and social still only represent a tiny part of news consumption, growth in each category will be important to watch.” One shortcoming in the study was that it did not measure media consumed on mobile devices such as smartphones.


InMobi: Nokia is global leader in mobile ads

When Americans talk about smartphones, Nokia is often omitted from the list. Its handsets have had trouble catching on in the U.S. market, but that hasn’t stopped the firm from taking a commanding lead in the global mobile ad market. According to a study relased by InMobi, the world’s largest independent mobile ad network, Nokia and phones on Symbian OS carried 48 percent of its display ad impressions in July. That’s more than the 40 percent share of the global operating software market that Nokia controls via Symbian. Apple’s iOS has 14 percent of the operating system market worldwide, but only got 8 percent of InMobi ads during the same month. Google’s Android did even worse. With a 17 percent share of the operating system market, it still only managed to run 3 percent of InMobi’s impressions. According to Reuters, “the InMobi report said Nokia benefited from the fact that mobile advertising was taking off strongly in Europe,” where Nokia is the dominant handset maker.

Of Note

Nielsen Testing a New Web-Ad Metric (Wall Street Journal)
With the help of Facebook, the firm is planning to introduce a metric used in TV ratings, which could encourage more advertisers to move their marketing dollars online

Nielsen: Bing Passes Yahoo To Become #2 Search Engine (Search Engine Land)
Microsoft’s search engine has cannibalized the search traffic of Yahoo and AOL, but is still a long way away from catching Google

Verizon to Change Mobile Data Plans (Wall Street Journal)
Following in the footsteps of AT&T, Verizon’s decision could mean the end of unlimited mobile data plans

Is Facebook Building a Phone? Possibly, But It Won’t Be the “Facebook Phone” (Fast Company)
Facebook is definitely not building the hardware for a phone, but may be creating its own operating system to run on one

Verizon Won’t Sell Microsoft Windows Phone 7 at Start (Bloomberg Businessweek)
In a major setback for Microsoft’s new mobile OS, the largest US carrier has decided not to carry any phones built on Windows Phone 7 until at least 2011

'Sourcing Through Texting' Brings Public into Radio Investigations (PBS Idea Lab)
Collaborative public media project lets citizens report illegal truck routes through Detroit neighborhood, leading to week-long investigative report


openquoteThe fact of the matter remains that RSS is not a consumer-friendly technology. If I said ‘RSS’ to my mother, she would have absolutely no idea what I was talking about. If I said ‘Twitter’ or ‘Facebook’ to her, she knows who those are — she even uses themclosequote

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler

Saying “RSS Is Dead” Is Dead, Saying “RSS Is Not Dead” Is Not -- Today (TechCrunch)


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