November 21, 2017

Tumblr to End Storyboard

The company did not give much explanation for why it decided to close the site suddenly and dismiss a skeletal staff of three. When the blog opened, it garnered a lot of attention for its innovative approach to storytelling.

In a blog post, David Karp, the company’s co-founder, praised the site’s achievements and then said simply: “What we’ve accomplished with Storyboard has run its course for now, and our editorial team will be closing up shop and moving on.”

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with the research firm Altimeter, based in San Mateo, Calif., offered one common theory. “Tumblr has taken in a lot of money and is trying to get to profitability this year,” she said. “They are looking to cut anything that does not contribute to the bottom line. I think it may be as simple as that.”

The significance of the decision was being debated online Wednesday because Tumblr was not alone among social media sites in producing its own newslike content, often with experienced journalists.

In 2011, Flipboard hired the former Time executive Josh Quittner as editorial director. The same year the professional networking site LinkedIn hired Daniel Roth, the head of Fortune.com, to run its editorial operations.

But not all of the experiments have been successful. For example, in January 2012, Facebook hired a recent journalism school graduate, Dan Fletcher, to be its managing editor. Mr. Fletcher’s rather amorphous job seemed to be to write stories about trends on Facebook. Last month, he announced he was leaving. He said that Facebook did not need reporters and that articles detracted from activity on Facebook, which he said was inherently more interesting.

Where onlookers stood on the seriousness of the loss of Storyboard depended on whether they believed that it was a legitimate outlet in the first place or merely a failed marketing experiment.

While Storyboard’s staff insisted that they were doing high-quality feature journalism, they were not shy in admitting that it was in service of promoting Tumblr. In an interview last December, on the online news site Capital, which covers New York, Storyboard’s editor in chief, Chris Mohney, said, “What we’re doing is marketing as journalism.”

But marketing as journalism was not also seen as a fit for the social media site.

“Tumblr’s Storyboard and editorial operation never made any sense to me. Guess I am not the only one,” Charlie Warzel, deputy technology editor at Buzzfeed.com, an online news site that has its own reporters but also has content sponsored by advertisers, wrote in a Twitter post.

In a phone interview, he added, “It is always peculiar when a social network branches out into publishing, it just seems odd to bring on even excellent editorial talent to cover what is already going on organically.”

The demise of Storyboard seemed to be taken hardest by other online journalists. Tumblr had not hired marketing people but journalists from more traditional outlets to run Storyboard. Jessica Bennett, Storyboard’s executive editor, had previously been at Newsweek/ The Daily Beast.

Her social media posts indicate that she was outside New York when Tumbr made its decision and that she was surprised by it. Ms. Bennett declined to be interviewed for this article.

Ms. Etlinger said she appreciated that journalists were disappointed but said that online news was still in a very experimental stage.

“I think we are going to see a lot of failed experiments before we see a form of journalism that makes money online,” Ms. Etlinger said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/business/media/tumblr-to-end-storyboard.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Advertising: Bieber Promotes a Debit Card With High Fees

JUSTIN BIEBER earned $55 million in 2012, according to Forbes, but in new videos for the SpendSmart Payments Company, which offers a prepaid debit card for teenagers, the singer talks about his modest upbringing.

“You know when I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, so me and my family had to watch the money that we spent,” Mr. Bieber says in a video directed at his young fans. “I learned if you have $100 or $100 million — if you spend more than you have, you’re going to go broke.”

Mr. Bieber urges viewers to “have a talk with your family about money” in the video. “Managing your money is important,” he says, “and there’s a great company that can help you do that called SpendSmart.”

The video, by BrandFire in Manhattan, will be shared by Mr. Bieber beginning Thursday on his YouTube channel (more than two million subscribers), Facebook page (more than 52.4 million followers), and on Twitter (more than 37.3 million followers).

Subsequent videos, called “Real Talk,” also will feature Mr. Bieber discussing financial literacy and encouraging teenagers to share their videos.

Mr. Bieber is being paid $3.75 million for a 14-month contract, along with potential monthly royalties tied to the growth of active SpendSmart cards, according to documents the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The deal also, according to the filing, includes a stock option to buy two million shares of SpendSmart stock, which was trading at 38.8 cents a share Wednesday.

Noreen Jenney Laffey, president of Celebrity Endorsement Network, said she would have expected such a deal to earn Mr. Bieber closer to $2 million, but she lauded SpendSmart both for choosing the singer to reach teenagers and for focusing on social media rather than traditional advertising.

“The marketing strategy and the choice of talent for this is brilliant, as is merging it into his social media network,” Ms. Jenney Laffey said.

The SpendSmart card has a number of features intended to teach teenagers financial literacy while enabling parents to monitor them.

When teenagers use the card, which has a MasterCard logo, parents can be alerted instantly to the purchase through text messages and a smartphone app. Parents may pre-emptively block purchases from Web sites, and instantly lock the card after seeing anything objectionable. Real-time monitoring fosters what SpendSmart, in marketing materials, calls “teachable moments.”

Introduced in 2009 as BillMyParents, the card was first marketed mainly as a tool to let teenagers shop online with parental oversight. But for many the name BillMyParents equated parents with A.T.M.’s.

Thus, the company renamed the card and company SpendSmart to highlight its “mission of being a responsible teen spending company,” said Michael R. McCoy, who became chief executive of the company in 2011.

“Parents have an easier time talking about drugs and alcohol with their kids than the family budget and financial literacy,” said Mr. McCoy.

The average SpendSmart cardholder is 16, and the card is used most frequently to buy food (especially fast food), followed by gas, technology (like iTunes, electronics and games) and clothing.

A revamped SpendSmart Web site will be frequently updated with articles about financial literacy from Brafton, a content production agency.

There were seven million prepaid cards in circulation in 2012, more than double the number in 2009, according to CardHub.com, which monitors the industry.

A 2012 report by Consumer Reports criticized prepaid cards over exorbitant fees. Among 15 prepaid cards examined in the report, 13 charged monthly fees (from $2.95 to $9.95), 14 charged for A.T.M. withdrawals, 12 charged for checking balances at A.T.M.’s, and five charged for periods of inactivity.

SpendSmart fees include a monthly fee of $3.95; loading fees of $2.95 from a credit card or 75 cents from a checking account (a single scheduled monthly automatic payment from a checking account is free); $1.50 to withdraw from any A.T.M. (in addition to A.T.M. surcharges), and 50 cents for an A.T.M. balance inquiry; $7.95 for a replacement card; and $3 for 30 days of inactivity.

After reviewing the SpendSmart fee schedule, Michelle Jun, a lawyer with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, said SpendSmart fees were not as high or numerous as those for many prepaid cards, but she still advised against the card.

“We would not recommend that parents use prepaid cards for their teens,” Ms. Jun said. “It doesn’t help your teen establish a credit history or a relationship with a financial institution, so we recommend going the traditional route and opening up a checking account at your bank or credit union of choice.”

In an appearance on the Fox Business Network in January, John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, said that fees for the SpendSmart card were lower than those for many cards. But “that’s like saying my broken arm is not as bad as your broken arm” because it is “comparing two bad things and trying to say that one is actually better,” he said.

“If you just take the monthly fee and nothing else — meaning that you do nothing else punitive so they can hit you with the fees,” Mr. Ulzheimer said of SpendSmart on Fox, “you’re still paying a little over $47 a year as an annual fee to get access to your own money.”

Before joining SpendSmart, Mr. McCoy ran the consumer credit division for Wells Fargo, and he said that during the height of the recession many consumers “got in over their heads because they just flat out spent too much.”

SpendSmart could help teenagers avoid the same fate, he said.

“Instead of trying to teach adults better spending habits, I thought, ‘My goodness, there has to be a different way,’ ” said Mr. McCoy. “We’re helping families to teach youth better spending habits.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/business/media/bieber-promotes-a-debit-card-with-high-fees.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Facebook Is Expected to Introduce Its Phone

But it needs to find a way to play a bigger role in delivering what consumers want from their phones: ways to communicate, find answers to questions, shop and be entertained. The company would especially like to become that workhorse for the vast majority of its users who live outside the United States and from whom, so far, it barely profits.

The company will make its biggest leap yet in that direction Thursday, when it is expected to introduce a moderately priced phone, made by HTC, powered by Google’s Android operating system, and tweaked to showcase Facebook and its apps on the home screen.

The Facebook phone adheres to two crucial product announcements in the last three months: A new search tool that encourages users to use their Facebook friend network to seek out everything from restaurants to running trails, and a news feed remade for mobile devices.

The details of the would-be Facebook-centric phone are under wraps. But the motivation is certain.

“Facebook would like to be, literally and figuratively, as close to its users as its users are to their phones, within arm’s reach when they are searching for information, news, time wasting, shopping, communication,” said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with the Altimeter Group.

That can be especially attractive if the new phone is affordable to emerging market users: Brazil and India are home to the largest blocs of Facebook users after the United States, and their numbers are growing swiftly as smartphone penetration increases in those countries. Many Indian cellphone makers, for that reason, have Facebook already installed on their home pages.

But Facebook makes little money by advertising to those international users.

By partnering with HTC, a phone maker based in Taiwan, the social network is signaling that it is “making an international push,” says Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.

“The more people you get to use it on phones, the more ads you can deliver,” Mr. Pachter said.

Facebook made a little more than $4 a user in North America and $1.71 in Europe, but barely more than 50 cents in the rest of the world, including large markets like Brazil and India.

Ads are its principal moneymaker, and Facebook is under intense pressure to show Wall Street that it can make more money, and fast. Its stock market value is still far below its initial public offering price, and many analysts blame the company’s belated push into mobile devices.

Mr. Zuckerberg announced last year that Facebook was retooling itself as a mobile-first company. He has consistently said that it is not in the company’s interest to manufacture a phone.

“It’s not the right strategy for us,” he told market analysts in an earnings call in January. He wanted rather to see Facebook integrated into every device that its billion users hold in their hands.

Two-thirds of Facebook’s roughly one billion users worldwide log in to the social network on mobile devices.

A study commissioned by Facebook and carried out by the research firm IDC found that those users checked their Facebook pages an average of 14 times a day; in short, users checked in two-minute bursts adding up to about half an hour each day. Mostly, the users check their news feed.

The new Facebook-optimized phone will use a modified version of the Android software, The New York Times reported last week. When turned on, it will display the Facebook news feed.

Facebook already functions much like a phone, allowing users to chat, send group messages and even, in one experiment with users in Canada, to make free phone calls over the Internet. Its platform hosts a variety of applications that deliver things like music and news, and its newsfeed has been tweaked to showcase photos, which is what Facebook users post by the millions everyday.

There are fledgling experiments with commerce. Facebook users can buy online and offline gifts on Facebook with their credit cards. Equally important, Facebook’s insistence on real names means that Facebook can be something like an identity verification service. It is well-positioned to be a kind of mobile wallet, containing the equivalent of an identity card and seamless way to buy things.

“They want to have all the services that consumers want to use in the mobile world,” said Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC. “They want to be the major consumer Internet platform.”

The Thursday announcement, which Facebook has described as an opportunity to “come see our new home on Android,” illustrates a fundamental problem for the company. Facebook must accommodate itself to mobile operating systems controlled by Internet rivals, Apple and Google.

Mr. Weide described them as “frenemies, mutually dependent but competing.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/technology/facebook-is-expected-to-introduce-its-phone.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Syrian Newspapers Emerge to Fill Out War Reporting

The tall tales and outright misinformation that tainted so much reporting from Syria convinced him that more objective coverage was essential to bolster the effort to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Too often, he said, he could not believe what passed for news on popular satellite channels, like the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera and the Saudi-run Al Arabiya, both staunch opposition supporters. The two channels relied heavily on unfiltered reports from local activists hired as correspondents, or, failing that, grabbed whatever they found posted on Facebook to report as news, he said.

When Mr. Smesem’s hometown, Binnish, in northern Syria, was under siege by the Syrian Army, he said, one activist-cum-correspondent used the local expression “Dabahoona dbah,” which in Arabic literally means “We are being slaughtered” — but which the people of northern Syria use to mean “We cannot breathe.”

Within minutes, a breaking-news headline scrolled across the television screen saying Syrian government forces were committing a massacre in Binnish.

“There are no objective sources of information on either side, neither with the regime nor the rebels,” said Mr. Smesem, 46, a veteran reporter with graying hair and an easy laugh. He told the story over a late-night cup of tea in a cafe in this southern Turkish city, a nerve center for Syrians struggling to shape their future state even as the gory civil war drags into its third year.

“We need to get out of this Facebook phase, where all we do is whine and complain about the regime,” he said.

Mr. Smesem said he believed that the rampant exaggeration harmed the cause of the rebellion. “When the regime simply denied the news, and they were right, that gave the regime more credibility,” he said.

For media analysts, coverage of the Syrian war has seriously eroded the reputations of channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Where their newscasts once brought a measure of objectivity to a region dominated by servile state-run media, they are increasingly viewed as mouthpieces for the foreign policy objectives of Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“The major pan-Arab networks have lost a great deal of credibility on the Syria story,” said Marc Lynch, director of the Middle East studies program at George Washington University.

Mr. Lynch said the change was particularly striking for Al Jazeera, once considered must-see TV during any Middle East crisis. “Al Jazeera has lost its ability to be the neutral ground where Arabs who disagree about things can argue,” he said.

It was in the spirit of objectivity that Mr. Smesem’s newspaper, Sham, another name for Syria in Arabic, began publishing in February. It was one of several publications introduced at roughly the same time.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition group stronger in exile than it is domestically, just began publishing its newspaper, Al-Ahd, or The Vow. The initial edition took a “we told you so” attitude toward the level of violence fomented by the government; the Brotherhood was evidently trying to address its checkered reputation within Syria for being partly responsible for the mini-civil war that erupted around 1980.

Another weekly paper, Free Syria, published in nearby Gaziantep, Turkey, shares an ideological viewpoint with the Sham weekly by endorsing pluralism, moderate Islam and democracy. At least one large military brigade is publishing its own paper, called Brigades, which has been raising questions about the origins of extremist Muslim fighters.

Numerous Muslim extremist groups, including the Nusra Front, or Jabhet al-Nusra, tend to print short pamphlets to spread their ideas, like attacks on anything that smacks of a civil state.

“We as Muslims have rebelled against all values of the infidel Western society,” said one pamphlet, called The Caliphate, published in the small town of Al-Sahhara in northern Syria. “So how can we kick secularism out the door while opening the window to accept it under a new form and a new name, a civil state?”

Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Antakya, and Sebnem Arsu from Gaziantep, Turkey.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/world/middleeast/syrian-newspapers-emerge-to-fill-out-war-reporting.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: New Phone by Facebook to Showcase Its Network

Facebook has been putting increasing focus on its mobile products for over two years.Valentin Flauraud/Reuters Facebook has been putting increasing focus on its mobile products for over two years.

8:45 p.m. | Updated

Facebook users post more photos, write more status updates and hit the like button more often from mobile devices than they do from computers. So it was almost inevitable that Facebook would introduce a smartphone that put its social network front and center.

On Thursday, Facebook plans to unveil the first smartphone created to showcase its social network. The phone, made by HTC, uses a version of Google’s Android software, according to two people briefed on the announcement, which will be made at a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

The software is designed so that some of the core features of the phone, like the camera, will be built around Facebook’s services, according to one of the people, who is a Facebook employee. Both people briefed on Facebook’s plans spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the product before the formal announcement.

Derick Mains, a Facebook spokesman, declined to share details of the event. But he said it would be a “significant mobile-focused announcement.” The invitation sent to members of the news media says, “Come see our new home on Android.”

For Facebook and any other online business that is supported by ads, mobile is a tough puzzle to crack. It is difficult to get people to look at advertisements on smaller screens, where display space is limited, without becoming too intrusive.

Facebook’s business strategy is to persuade people to congregate around its social network as much as possible and eventually show them more ads. That is why, over the last year, Facebook has been revamping its organization to be “mobile first.” Every team at Facebook is involved somehow in its mobile products. And the company has recruited engineers who specialize in mobile phone development, including former Apple employees who worked on the development of the iPhone.

The Facebook employee familiar with the announcement said that when the Facebook phone is turned on, it will immediately display a Facebook user’s home screen. A phone with a strong Facebook focus would prompt customers to use Facebook more than competing apps and services. But the success of such a device would depend on how much support the handset received from wireless carriers, said Chetan Sharma, an independent telecommunications analyst who consults for carriers. The carriers can choose which devices are sold in their stores, as well as how prominently to promote them.

“Unless the phone is in front of the consumers in stores, it’s hard to see how it will gain traction,” Mr. Sharma said.

He said it was difficult to imagine that big carriers like ATT and Verizon Wireless would place a serious bet on a Facebook phone from HTC, because that manufacturer’s other phones have not been selling very well. HTC once made a phone called the Cha Cha that had a button for posting photos directly to Facebook, but it sold poorly.

The idea of a Facebook-powered Android phone is not new. In 2008, Inq, a phone maker based in London, released a phone called the Inq1 that integrated Facebook services into crucial areas of the device. In 2011, it said it would release an Android phone called the Inq Cloud Touch, which had some of Facebook’s services integrated into the home screen.

But early last year, Inq pulled the plug on theCloud Touch, saying it would instead focus on other products. Frank Meehan, the former chief executive of Inq, said in an e-mail interview that the Inq had felt too threatened by Samsung Electronics, now the biggest maker of phones in the world, so it abandoned its plans.

“Samsung was already on a path to crush everyone, and we decided to get out of hardware and turned the company into software only,” Mr. Meehan said.

Mr. Meehan said that if HTC released an Android phone with a focus on Facebook, it would still face the problem that Samsung is the dominant player on Android, Sony is gaining traction in mobile and Huawei, a Chinese handset maker, is dominant in Asia. He said it would be better for Facebook to create a special layer that consumers could install on Android devices so the social network would embed more deeply into Android apps and Google services.

“I would see this as a more radical way of providing the social layer functionality on mobile that would really bring the power of Facebook to Android,” he said.

The Facebook employee familiar with plans for the new phone said the stand-alone mobile apps it released over the last two and a half years were essentially experiments to see what worked on mobile devices before rolling them into a Facebook-focused Android phone. This year the company introduced Poke, a private messaging service, as a stand-alone app. Last year, it released a camera app that specialized in tagging and uploading photos to Facebook. In 2011, it introduced Messenger, an app for free text messaging, which was later expanded to include free voice calls.

Facebook has been exploring making its own smartphone for the last two years. But the project, which was at one time code-named “Buffy,” had stalled because the company could not decide whether to make its own hardware or team up with a phone maker.

Facebook’s approach to modifying Google’s Android software is similar to Amazon’s, said a former employee of Facebook who had been briefed on the product. For its Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon removed Google’s apps and promoted its own services, like the Kindle e-book store, Amazon’s video service and Amazon’s own app store. The tablet is essentially an Amazon-powered shopping console.

A smartphone that gives priority to Facebook services is good for Facebook, but it is unclear whether that is something consumers want. Jan Dawson, a telecommunications analyst at Ovum, said the concept was “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“There are lots of people who love Facebook, but I doubt if any of them feel like they need a more Facebook-centric experience on their phones,” he said. “There isn’t anything obviously missing.”

He agreed that it was unlikely that wireless companies would put much support behind such a device, because they are already worried about the way Google and Facebook are supplanting carriers in people’s minds as providers of content and communication services.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/facebook-to-introduce-its-own-flavor-of-android-for-smartphones/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: Greek Yogurt Touts Appeal of the ‘Real’ Thing

Chobani, the Greek yogurt brand that has enjoyed explosive growth, is opening wide its corporate wallet to rapidly expand a marketing initiative that began last month during the ABC broadcast of the Academy Awards.

The initiative, which carries the theme “Go real,” is expanding into realms that include print and digital advertisements; the brand’s Web site, chobani.com; and social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Chobani will spend about $30 million in the next eight to 10 weeks on the initiative, said Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani who is the company’s president and chief executive. One goal of the initiative is to promote Chobani as a “simple, pure food,” he added, and demonstrate that it is possible for a food maker to “leave food alone” and “keep it simple, keep it real.”

There is another goal, according to Mr. Ulukaya: to compare Chobani with the increasing number of Greek yogurt brands that are being introduced as Americans take to the product.

“A lot of people are coming into the category,” he said, “and we want consumers to understand what real Greek yogurt is” – i.e., Chobani.

By using the word “real” as a synonym for Chobani, the ads can go after the other Greek yogurts – as well as regular, non-Greek yogurts — without seeming too negative or like a political attack ad. Take, for instance, this headline: “Real is crafted, authentic and simple. Just like yogurt should be.”

Other examples include ads with headlines like these: “Real gives regular yogurts protein envy,” “Real is more filling, less filler” and “Real makes simple ingredients taste simply indulgent.”

In social media, consumers are invited to use a hashtag for posts on Twitter, #tastereal, and “share your first taste of real” with friends and family.

The social media aspects of the campaign are being handled by Big Spaceship, an agency in Brooklyn. Boathouse, an agency in Boston, recently became the creative agency for Chobani, replacing the New York office of Leo Burnett, part of the Publicis Groupe.

“Chobani is not a company that talks at the customer,” said John Connors, chief executive at Boathouse. “It’s a conversation.”

The conversation includes letters, posts in social media, e-mails, photographs and other such communication from customers, Mr. Connors said, adding that the “Go real” theme was inspired by those messages. To reinforce the theme, he said, actual Chobani customers are appearing in the ads.

When Mr. Ulukaya discussed the casting, he declared the ads feature “real people, all of them.”

“Real horses and real dogs,” he added, laughing.

Chobani is by far the No. 1 brand in the Greek yogurt subset of the yogurt market, with more than twice the market share of the No. 2 brand, Dannon Greek yogurt.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/greek-yogurt-touts-appeal-of-the-real-thing/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Disruptions: On Facebook, Sharing Can Come at a Cost

The way Facebook highlights or hides information on its site raises ethical questions.Paul Sakuma/Associated Press The way Facebook highlights or hides information on its site raises ethical questions.

7:23 p.m. | Updated

Something is puzzling on Facebook.

Early last year, soon after Facebook instituted a feature that let people subscribe to others’ feeds without being friends, I quickly amassed a healthy “subscriber” list of about 25,000 people.

Every Sunday morning, I started sharing my weekly column with this newfound entourage. Those posts garnered a good response. For example, a column about my 2012 New Year’s resolution to take a break from electronics gathered 535 “likes” and 53 “reshares.” Another, about Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, owing me $50 after the company’s public offering, quickly drew 323 likes and 88 reshares.

Since then, my subscribers have grown to number 400,000. Yet now, when I share my column, something different happens. Guess how many people like and reshare the links I post?

If your answer was over two digits, you’re wrong.

From the four columns I shared in January, I have averaged 30 likes and two shares a post. Some attract as few as 11 likes. Photo interaction has plummeted, too. A year ago, pictures would receive thousands of likes each; now, they average 100. I checked the feeds of other tech bloggers, including MG Siegler of TechCrunch and reporters from The New York Times, and the same drop has occurred.

What changed? I recently tried a little experiment. I paid Facebook $7 to promote my column to my friends using the company’s sponsored advertising tool.

To my surprise, I saw a 1,000 percent increase in the interaction on a link I posted, which had 130 likes and 30 reshares in just a few hours. It seems as if Facebook is not only promoting my links on news feeds when I pay for them, but also possibly suppressing the ones I do not pay for.

Facebook proudly informed me in a message that 5.2 times as many people had seen my post because I had paid the company to show it to them. Gee whiz. Thanks, Facebook.

This may be great news for advertisers, but I felt slightly duped. I’ve stayed on Facebook after its repeated privacy violations partly because I foolishly believed there was some sort of democratic approach to sharing freely with others. The company persuaded us to share under that premise and is now turning it inside out by requiring us to pay for people to see what we post.

Facebook takes a different view, saying that it is still finding the right balance for the algorithm that decides what people see in their news feeds.

“The two aren’t related; we don’t have an incentive to reduce the distribution that you send to your followers so that we can show you more ads,” said Will Cathcart, product manager for Facebook’s news feed.

“The impact ads are having on engagement is relatively low, and we’re really pleased with how low that is,” he said. “Over time, we’ve shipped a number of changes to our algorithm that may cause content to go up or down.”

Facebook said in a statement that “the median amount of feedback on posts (likes, comments, shares) from people who have more than 10,000 subscribers is up 34 percent from a year ago.” But Facebook has also said that there has been a 2 percent drop in interaction on the news feed, and is now replacing free content with paid content, which means a large number of free posts will disappear from people’s feeds as sponsored ads float to the top.

Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia who specializes in Internet law, said that although Facebook’s decisions to prioritize paid content could be seen as unethical, the company is not breaking any antitrust laws, yet.

“While the effort that is being characterized is problematic, no one has defined Facebook as dominant in a market,” he said, adding that the competition among social networks leaves it open to operate of its own devices.

In the past, lawmakers have gone after big companies that favor their own products and suppress others.

Microsoft in the late 1990s took advantage of its hold on PCs to force Internet Explorer onto people. Recently, Google has caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission and a number of European regulators for highlighting its own products in search results. But in both instances, the companies were monopolies. Although Facebook has one billion users, there are plenty of other social networks and billions of people still not on the site.

“Certainly Facebook has changed its policies and adjusted its products in order to squeeze as much revenue out of all of the openings of the business model in a way that they didn’t have to do before they went public,” said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research and author of the book “Digital Disruption.” “It’s very possible there’s now a giant pendulum swinging within Facebook, where every division is under pressure to find revenue and advertising solutions.”

But for those who use Facebook for business needs, like restaurants, news outlets and local mom-and-pop shops that rely on the site to update customers, the changes could be damaging.

“It’s not just that people will feel nickeled and dimed by this, it’s that ultimately the value of the product disappears as the stream of information in your social network, one that used to be rapid and friction-free, is no longer there and now consumed by advertising,” Mr. McQuivey said.

When I asked Avichal Garg, another product manager for Facebook’s news feed, why my interaction count dropped so sharply, he said the company clearly needed to improve its algorithm.

“It’s really not in our best interest to take out the most engaging stuff and replace it with ads,” he said. “We want to make sure we show the right content to the right people.” Facebook’s ability to control the algorithm puts it in a different position from its competitors.

Twitter has the same type of advertising module, the sponsored tweet, but although it might highlight the ad in a user’s stream, it does not suppress other people’s content in the process. Everything just falls into a time-based stream.

Facebook may become dominant enough that its actions vex regulators, then it may be forced to change what it highlights. Or, maybe its users will grow so tired of what seems like another bait-and-switch that they will decide to stop sharing, even if it seems to be free.

E-mail: bilton@nytimes.com

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/disruptions-when-sharing-on-facebook-comes-at-a-cost/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Campaign Spotlight: Houston, We Have an Opportunity (to Attract More Tourists)

The campaign, which got under way in February, comes on the heels of a campaign with the theme “My Houston,” which has run for the last five years. The “My Houston” campaign features famous sons and daughters of the city, among them George Foreman, Beyoncé Knowles, Carl Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Jim Parsons, the rock bank ZZ Top and Chandra Wilson.

The new campaign, which carries the theme “Houston is …,” presents groups of chefs, restaurateurs, artists, singers, dancers, museum curators, musicians, actors and designers. Each group appears in print and online ads with these headlines: “Houston is tasty,” “Houston is hip” and “Houston is inspired.”

The new effort, like its predecessor, is being created internally at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. And also like its predecessor, the new campaign is meant to sell the merits of visiting Houston to individual travelers as well as to planners of conventions and conferences.

The budget for the “Houston is …” campaign, which is to continue through May, is estimated at $440,000. The campaign is also being promoted in social media like Facebook and Twitter.

The new tack was prompted by the results of a research study, says Holly Clapham, vice president for marketing at the bureau, which is undertaken each year to help determine the effectiveness of the bureau’s initiatives.

The study, conducted by the research organization TNS, found that people visit Houston for two primary reasons: its culinary offerings and its arts and culture scene.

Leisure visitors are primarily women, Ms. Clapham says, and the bureau has created a profile of a prototypical visitor, Lisa, who is 46 years old and has an average annual household income of $86,000 to $120,000.

“She’s very active,” Ms. Clapham says of Lisa, and “likes ‘girlfriend getaways.’ ”

And she will “pay more for quality,” Ms. Clapham says, but also “likes to see value” in what she buys.

With all that in mind, the bureau decided that the next iteration of its image campaign — or, as Ms. Clapham puts it, “ ‘My Houston’ 2.0” — ought to celebrate the Houstonians who are the driving forces behind the restaurants, museums, galleries and other attractions that Lisa comes to visit rather than the stars who call, or once called, Houston home.

“It’s not about who everyone knows,” Ms. Clapham says. “It’s about who’s working to move Houston forward.”

And using the actual Houstonians who run or perform at the attractions provides the campaign with “that realness factor” that is so important to potential visitors, she adds.

“We had a lot of contenders” for the ads, Ms. Clapham says, and worked with organizations like the Houston Arts Alliance and the Houston Museum District Association to select people who would “represent the ethnic diversity of the city” as well as promote its more interesting attractions.

There are five ads in the campaign: two with the headline “Houston is tasty,” two with the headline “Houston is inspired” and one with the headline “Houston is hip.”

The “tasty” ads feature 15 chefs — eight in one ad, seven in the other — and urge would-be visitors to “sample cutting-edge menus inspired by our city’s ethnic flavors” and “experience the fresh ideas and local pride that unite our culinary community.”

The “tasty” ads, which replace the “y” at the end of “tasty” with a fork, were photographed at a bar named Mongoose Versus Cobra and at Eleanor Tinsley Park in downtown Houston.

The people whose endeavors are deemed “tasty” include Irma Galvan of Irma’s, Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ, Rebecca Masson of the Fluff Bake Bar, Paul Petronella of Paulie’s, Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar and Cookshop and Seth Siegel-Gardner of the Pass and Provisions.

Both “tasty” ads refer readers to a section of the bureau’s Web site, visithouston.com/tasty, where there is information about the chefs and where they cook.

The “inspired” ads also present 15 people — eight in one ad, seven in the other — and ask potential visitors to “experience a city where the arts take center stage” and “explore vibrant museums and galleries in a city where creativity has no limits.” The ads were photographed onstage at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and outside a museum named the Menil Collection. Both “inspired” ads refer readers to another section of the bureau’s Web site, visithouston.com/inspired, where they can learn more about the people pictured in the ads, among them Tamarie Cooper, associate director of the Catastrophic Theater; Barbara Davis of the Barbara Davis Gallery; Frank Huang, concertmaster at the Houston Symphony; Nao Kusuzaki, a soloist with the Houston Ballet; Rick Lowe, founder of the Project Row Houses; and Joel Orr, a puppeteer at the Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater. Finally, the “hip” ad features nine Houstonians and declares, “Discover why anything is possible in a city where culture and style collide.”

The ad, photographed at the Last Concert Café, provides an eclectic mix of “trendsetters,” including Bun B, a rapper; Connor Barwin, a linebacker with the Houston Texans football team; Chloe Dao, a fashion designer and boutique owner; Tally Hall, a goalkeeper for the Houston Dynamo soccer team; Asli Omar, a singer; and Mickey Rosmarin, founder of a boutique, Tootsies.

This ad, too, refers readers to a section of the bureau’s Web site, visithoustontexas.com/hip, to find out more about those featured in the ad.

The ads are running nationally in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and regionally in five magazines: Bloomberg Businessweek, Cooking Light, Forbes, Fortune and Texas Monthly.

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If you like In Advertising, be sure to read the Advertising column that runs Monday through Friday in the Business Day section of The New York Times print edition and on nytimes.com. And read coverage anytime of advertising, marketing, television, print, movies and new media on the Media Decoder blog at mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/business/media/houston-we-have-an-opportunity-to-attract-more-tourists.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Twitter Hacks Force Companies to Confront Security on Social Media

Burger King’s Twitter account had just been hacked. The company’s logo had been replaced by a McDonald’s logo, and rogue announcements began to appear. One was that Burger King had been sold to a competitor; other posts were unprintable.

“Every time this happens, our sales phone lines light up,” said Ryan Holmes, the chief executive of HootSuite, which provides management and security tools for Twitter accounts, including the ability to prevent someone from gaining access to an account. “For big brands, this is a huge liability,” he said, referring to the potential for being hacked.

What happened to Burger King — and, a day later, to Jeep — is every brand manager’s nightmare. While many social media platforms began as a way for ordinary users to share vacation photos and status updates, they have now evolved into major advertising vehicles for brands, which can set up accounts free but have to pay for more sophisticated advertising products.

Burger King and Jeep, owned by Chrysler, are not alone. Other prominent accounts have fallen victim to hacking, including those for NBC News, USA Today, Donald J. Trump, the Westboro Baptist Church and even the “hacktivist” group Anonymous.

Those episodes raised questions about the security of social media passwords and the ease of gaining access to brand-name accounts. Logging on to Twitter is the same process for a company as for a consumer, requiring just a user name and one password.

Twitter, like Facebook, has steadily introduced a number of paid advertising options, raising the stakes for advertisers. Brands that pay to advertise on Twitter are assigned a sales representative to help them manage their accounts, but they are not given any more layers of security than those for a typical user.

Ian Schafer, the founder and chief executive of Deep Focus, a digital advertising company that also fielded a few phone calls from clients concerned about the Burger King attack, argued that Twitter bore some responsibility.

“I think Twitter needs to step up its game in providing better security,” Mr. Schafer said. In a memo to his staff about such attacks, he called on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest “and anyone else serious about having brands on their platform” to “invest time in better understanding how brands operate day to day.”

“It’s also time for these platforms to use their influence to shape security standards on the Web,” he wrote.

The risk for Twitter is in offending potential business partners as the company tries to build its advertising dollars, which make up the bulk of its revenue. In 2012, the company grew more than 100 percent, earning $288.3 million in global advertising revenue, according to eMarketer.

On Wednesday, it introduced a product that would allow advertisers to create and manage ads through third parties like HootSuite, Adobe and Salesforce.com. Advertising is estimated to account for more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue.

“This is not something we take lightly,” said Jim Prosser, a Twitter spokesman, in an interview last month. (The company declined to comment on the Burger King hacking, saying it did not discuss specific accounts.) Mr. Prosser said Twitter had manual and automatic controls in place to identify malicious content and fake accounts, but acknowledged that the practice was more art than science.

Mr. Prosser said Twitter had taken an active role in combating the biggest sources of malicious content.

Last year, the company sued those responsible for five of the most-used spamming tools on the site. “With this suit, we’re going straight to the source,” it said in a statement. “We hope the suit acts as a deterrent to other spammers, demonstrating the strength of our commitment to keep them off Twitter.”

But security experts say, and the recent hacks of Burger King, Jeep and other brands have demonstrated, that Twitter could do more.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/technology/twitter-hacks-force-companies-to-confront-security-on-social-media.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Tool Kit: Protecting Your Privacy on the New Facebook

It can be scoured by police officers, partners and would-be employers. It can be mined by marketers to show tailored advertisements.

And now, with Facebook’s newfangled search tool, it can allow strangers, along with “friends” on Facebook, to discover who you are, what you like and where you go.

Facebook insists it is up to you to decide how much you want others to see. And that is true, to some extent. But you cannot entirely opt out of Facebook searches. Facebook, however, does let you fine-tune who can see your “likes” and pictures, and, to a lesser extent, how much of yourself to expose to marketers.

The latest of its frequent changes to the site’s privacy settings was made in December. Facebook is nudging each of its billion subscribers to review them.

The nudge could not have been more timely, said Sarah Downey, a lawyer with the Boston company Abine, which markets tools to help users control their visibility online. “It is more important than ever to lock down your Facebook privacy settings now that everything you post will be even easier to find,” she said.

That is to say, your settings will determine, to a large extent, who can find you when they search for women who buy dresses for toddlers or, more unsettling, women who jog a particular secluded trail.

What can you do? Ask yourself four simple questions.

QUESTION 1 How would you like to be found?

Go to “who can see my stuff” on the upper right side of your Facebook page. Click on “see more settings.” By default, search engines can link to your timeline. You can turn that off if you wish.

Go to “activity log.” Here you can review all your posts, pictures, “likes” and status updates. If you are concerned about who can see what, look at the original privacy setting of the original post.

In my case, I had been tagged eating a bowl of ricotta with my fingers at midnight near Arezzo. My friend who posted the picture enabled it to be seen by anyone, which means that it would show up in a stranger’s search for, I don’t know, people who eat ricotta with their fingers at midnight. I am tagged in other photos that are visible only to friends of the person who posted them.

The point is, you want to look carefully at what the original settings are for those photos and “likes,” and decide whether you would like to be associated with them “I don’t get this Facebook thing either,” said one woman whose friend request I had accepted in January 2008. “But everyone in our generation seems to be on it.”

If you are concerned about things that might embarrass or endanger you on Facebook — Syrians who endorse the opposition may not want to be discovered by government apparatchiks — comb through your timeline and get rid of them. The only way to ensure that a post or photo is not discovered is to “unlike” or “delete” it.

Make yourself a pot of tea. This may take a while. The nostalgia may just be amusing.

QUESTION 2 What do you want the world to know about you?

Go to your profile page and click “About me.” Decide if you would like your gender, or the name of your spouse, to be visible on your timeline. Think about whether you want your birthday to be seen on your timeline. Your date of birth is an important piece of personal information for hackers to exploit.

A tool created a couple of weeks ago by a team of college students offers to look for certain words and phrases that could embarrass other college students as they apply for internships and jobs. It is called Simplewash, formerly Facewash, and it looks for profanity, references to drugs and other faux pas that you do not necessarily want, say, a law school admissions officer to see.

Socioclean is another application that scours your Facebook posts. It is selling its service to college campuses to offer to students.

QUESTION 3 Do you mind being tracked by advertisers?

Facebook has eyes across the Web; one study found that its so-called widget — the innocuous blue letter “f” — is integrated into 20 percent of the 10,000 most popular Web sites.

This is how it works. I browsed an e-commerce site for girls’ dresses. When I logged back on to Facebook several days later, I was urged to buy dresses for “my darling daughter.”

Facebook says that this kind of “retargeting” is a lucrative source of revenue. If that is annoying, several tools can help you block trackers. Abine, DisconnectMe and Ghostery offer browser extensions. Once installed on your Web browser, these extensions will tell you how many trackers they have blocked.

If you see an ad on the right rail of your Facebook page based on your Web browsing history, you can also opt out directly on Facebook. Hover over the “X” next to the ad and choose from the drop-down menu: “Hide this ad,” you could say.

Or hide all ads from this brand. Facebook does not serve the ads itself, so to opt out of certain kinds of targeted ads, you must go to the third party that Facebook works with to show ads based on the Web sites you have browsed.

QUESTION 4 Whom do you want to befriend?

Now is the time to review whom you count among your Facebook friends. Your boss? Do you really want her to see pictures of you in Las Vegas? And the woman you met in Lamaze class: do you want the apps she has installed to know who you are? Privacyfix.com, a browser extension, shows you how to keep your friends’ Facebook applications from sucking you into their orbit. It is preparing to introduce a tool to control what it calls your “exposure” to the Facebook search engine.

Secure.me offers a similar feature. Depending on your privacy settings, that photo-sharing app that your Lamaze compatriot just installed could, in one click, know who you are and have access to all the photos that you thought you were sharing with “friends.”

One of Facebook’s cleverest heists is the word “friend.” It makes you think all your Facebook contacts are really your “friends.” They may not be.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/technology/personaltech/protecting-your-privacy-on-the-new-facebook.html?partner=rss&emc=rss