December 8, 2023

DealBook: Alibaba Buys Stake in Sina Weibo, a Chinese Answer to Twitter

Alibaba is taking an 18 percent stake in Sina Corporation's Weibo, the most popular of China's microblogging services.Carlos Barria/ReutersAlibaba is taking an 18 percent stake in Sina Corporation‘s Weibo, the most popular of China’s microblogging services.

5:32 p.m. | Updated

The Internet giant Alibaba was once known as China’s answer to eBay. Now it is forging closer ties to the country’s counterpart to Twitter.

Alibaba agreed on Monday to buy an 18 percent stake in the Sina Corporation’s Weibo, the most popular of China’s microblogging services, for $586 million. It has the right to raise its stake to 30 percent in the future.

The deal values Weibo at about $3.3 billion — equivalent to Sina’s entire market value as of Friday.

Alibaba and Sina also agreed to cooperate in improving ways to marry social networking with e-commerce, as microblogging services like Sina’s continue to grow in popularity. Sina Weibo said that last year it had more than 46 million daily active users, an increase of 82 percent from the period a year earlier.

That remains a fraction of Twitter’s user base, however. And a recent study of about 30,000 Sina Weibo users found that about 57 percent of the sampled accounts had no measurable activity or posts.

Alibaba continues to grow, most recently being valued by analysts at more than $55 billion. It has reshuffled its management ranks ahead of a much-anticipated initial public offering that could come as soon as this year.

The growth of social networking and its close ties to the continuing boom in mobile Internet usage have prompted a natural response: how to make money from the phenomenon. Sina and Alibaba expect their efforts to yield about $380 million in advertising and commercial revenue for the Weibo service over the next three years.

“We believe that the cooperation of our two robust platforms will bring unique and valuable services to Weibo users, as well as making the mobile Internet a core part of Alibaba’s strategy,” Jack Ma, the Alibaba chairman, said in a statement.

Article source:

Media Decoder Blog: Robin Roberts Returns to ‘Good Morning America’

Robin Roberts, left, was back on “Good Morning America” Wednesday after taking a medical leave of absence so she could undergo a bone marrow transplant.ABC Robin Roberts, left, was back on “Good Morning America” Wednesday after taking a medical leave of absence so she could undergo a bone marrow transplant.

11:30 a.m. | Updated Nearly six months after signing off ABC’s “Good Morning America” to fight a life-threatening illness, Robin Roberts made her return on Wednesday to the top-rated morning show, describing herself as thankful and a bit relieved to be back.

“I keep pinching myself and I realize that this is real. This is really happening,” she said on the broadcast. “Faith, family and friends have brought me to this moment and I am so full of gratitude.”

The moment, promoted two weeks ahead of time by ABC, was celebrated by fans of the show, thousands of whom sent well-wishes on social networking Web sites. Many of them watch the show specifically for Ms. Roberts, who is, according to industry research, the most-liked host on any American morning news show by a wide margin.

“After 173 very long days, it’s beautiful to get back to business as usual with our full team and two more wonderful regulars,” said Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News, in an interview before Wednesday’s broadcast. The two regulars he mentioned were Elizabeth Vargas and Amy Robach, who took turns filling in while Ms. Roberts was away. They will continue to show up regularly on “G.M.A.,” he said.

But the “G.M.A.” co-host chair next to George Stephanopoulos is Ms. Roberts’s chair once again, as Mr. Sherwood pledged it would be when she signed off.

Her return on Wednesday defied the expectations of some television industry observers who predicted she’d be unwilling or unable to anchor ever again. It also gave ABC fresh optimism that “G.M.A.,” with Ms. Roberts back in her chair, can continue to beat NBC’s “Today” show, which last year was dislodged from the top spot in the morning ratings after 16 straight years.

Most of all, her return closed a chapter in a story that started almost exactly one year ago, when Ms. Roberts felt exhausted while covering the 2012 Academy Awards in Los Angeles for ABC. Subsequent tests by her doctors found that she had M.D.S., short for myelodysplastic syndromes, a rare and debilitating blood disorder, likely resulting from her treatment for breast cancer five years earlier.

Ms. Roberts was officially given the diagnosis on the same week in April that “G.M.A.” beat “Today” for the first time. She told “G.M.A.” viewers about the diagnosis two months later, in mid-June, and took a medical leave of absence at the end of August so she could undergo a bone-marrow transplant.

Ms. Roberts told viewers she’d be back on “G.M.A.” as soon as she could. But no one knew for sure how long she would be away, if she survived at all. Nor could anyone at ABC think of any precedents for a lengthy leave of absence like hers.

“It was completely uncharted territory,” Mr. Sherwood said. The closest things to it were weeks-long maternity leaves, and the one thing ABC was determined not to repeat: a departure like that of Peter Jennings, the longtime “World News Tonight” anchor who abruptly came onto his newscast one day in April 2005, announced he had lung cancer, said “I will continue to do the broadcast,” but never came back.

Mr. Jennings died four months after making the announcement, and the circumstances were traumatic for viewers as well as for ABC staff members. For that reason – as well as for the more obvious ones involving ratings and reputation – ABC decided to make Ms. Roberts a part of “G.M.A.” even while she was in the hospital recuperating from the transplant. Mr. Stephanopoulos and the other co-hosts mentioned her by name at least once every half-hour, and they shared her Twitter messages and photos on TV regularly.

ABC executives and producers emphasized that they were taking their cues from Ms. Roberts every step of the way, and she has said the same thing in interviews. She’s returning now, they said, only because her doctors say she is ready.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Roberts had a quiet dinner at home with her sisters, one of whom was her bone marrow donor. “We laughed and told old family stories,” she said in an early morning text message. “This is a wonderful new chapter for all of us.”

Nonetheless, morning TV is big business, and there have been grumblings that ABC has exploited her condition for ratings gains. Last July, two weeks after NBC removed Ann Curry from “Today,” spurring a big lift in the ratings for “G.M.A.,” the “Today” show executive producer Jim Bell wrote in an e-mail to senior producers that the competition was “using Robin’s illness and the accompanying public interest in her health as a new weapon in its arsenal.”

More recently, some media critics have censured “G.M.A.” for over-covering Ms. Roberts’s impending return; a steady stream of commercials featured a bevy of celebrities welcoming her back. But for the most part, viewers have been rooting for Ms. Roberts and for her television family, which remained No. 1 in the morning ratings race while she was away.

Among total viewers, “G.M.A.” celebrated six straight months of wins earlier this month and started to describe it as a streak, mimicking the way “Today” used to talk. Among the 25- to 54-year-old viewers that help the shows make money, “G.M.A.” stayed slightly ahead of “Today” while Ms. Roberts was absent. Within ABC, there is a quiet hope that her return will propel the show to a firmer victory among 25- to 54-year-olds.

Mr. Sherwood ducked questions about the ratings, but said, “This experience has reminded us to take nothing for granted – and, like Robin herself, in many ways we feel like we’re just getting started.”

Even the most cynical “G.M.A.” producers – interviewed on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized by the network to speak – pointed out that Ms. Roberts’s story could have ended very differently. “It doesn’t matter about ratings” on Wednesday, one such producer said in between emotional expletives. “She is alive!”

She came closer to death last year than ABC readily acknowledged at the time. For three months after the transplant, since her newly-booted immune system was like a newborn’s, she stayed in isolation, first in a New York hospital and then in her home.

Interviewed by People magazine, which put her on the cover last week, Ms. Roberts said she was warned that “at one point I would feel like dying.” Shortly after the transplant, that came true, she said: “I was in a pain I had never experienced before, physically and mentally. I was in a coma-like state. I truly felt like I was slipping away. Then I kept hearing, ‘Robin! Robin!’” The voice belonged to a nurse, who Ms. Roberts said was “pleading for me to stay here. And thankfully I did. I came back.”

In December, Ms. Roberts stepped out in public view, and a few weeks ago she started coming to the “G.M.A.” studio on so-called dry runs for her return to the co-host chair. She’ll re-emerge gradually, for a few days a week at first, depending on how she and her doctor feel about how it’s going, which partly explains why Ms. Vargas and Ms. Robach will remain regulars on the show.

On Tuesday afternoon, the “G.M.A.” staff were briefed by Tom Cibrowski, the show’s executive producer, about what one staff member called the “rules of Robin’s return,” which include health tips to ward off the transmission of the common cold and other illnesses. Among them: “elbow bumps instead of hugs and kisses,” the staffer said, and ample use of the hand sanitizer dispensers around the studio.

There was long and sustained applause for Mr. Stephanopoulos during the meeting. “George is really the unsung hero,” said another staff member. “He kept the team together.”

Ms. Roberts’s return was even cause for a temporary cessation of hostilities between “Today” and “G.M.A.” “Today” sent a gift basket to the “G.M.A.” studio and welcomed Ms. Roberts back to the morning beat during the show’s 8 a.m. hour. Don Nash, who succeeded Mr. Bell as executive producer of “Today” two months ago, said in an e- mail on Tuesday night, “Robin is an outstanding broadcaster, a great colleague and friend to so many. All of us at ‘Today’ wish her continued good health and years of hitting the 3 a.m. snooze button!”

Article source:

Hubert Burda Media Blazes a Digital Trail

The German publisher of the magazine, Hubert Burda Media, takes a similarly practical approach to its own business. While there is plenty of fashionable talk in the publishing industry about the digital future, Burda has already stitched together a strong Internet arm.

Burda, which publishes more than 250 magazines worldwide, including the German editions of Elle, InStyle and Playboy, reported last week that its sales had surged 12.6 percent last year. And while the company is still best known for print publications like the German newsweekly Focus and the celebrity magazine Bunte, digital sources account for fully half its revenue.

Unlike many publishers that have tried to build digital units on the back of existing brands, Burda has looked to new businesses, many which were started from scratch or added through acquisitions, and some of which are far removed from the company’s traditional line of work. Those include social networking, Internet dating, travel reviews and even cat food — sold online, of course.

“We think differently about our value proposition,” Paul-Bernhard Kallen, chief executive of Burda, said during an interview at a technology conference the company convened in Munich last week. “You can’t take your existing properties online, but you can take a way of thinking online.”

That way of thinking was set out by the company’s namesake, who ran Burda from the late 1980s, when he prevailed in a power struggle against two brothers, until 2010, when he retired at the age of 69. Hubert Burda has handed over day-to-day control to Mr. Kallen, a former McKinsey Co. consultant and chief financial officer, and has handed stakes in the business to two of his children, who are in their 20s, but keeps a watchful eye over the business.

Mr. Burda is a regular at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was trained as an art historian and is married to one of the best-known actresses in Germany, Maria Furtwängler. He brought his eclectic interests and cosmopolitan flair to a family-owned printing business that was long based in the provincial town of Offenburg, in southwestern Germany.

Offenburg is far from the catwalks of Milan or Paris, and magazines like Burda Style, formerly known in Germany as Burda Moden, are steeped in the stolid, thrifty values of small-town Germany. Burda may have its roots in knitting, but Hubert Burda did not stick to it. He was an early believer in the Internet, investing in Europe Online, a European version of America Online, in the early 1990s. That venture failed, but subsequent Burda Internet investments have done better.

“They created business models and did pioneering stuff that others didn’t think of,” said Steffen Burkhardt, a media researcher at the University of Hamburg. “They understood that in order to generate revenue for their journalism, they needed to have something to sell.”

Like other publishers, Burda operates Web sites linked to its print titles. But in Burda’s portfolio, those play a secondary role. The real money is in new sites that often do, indeed, have something to sell.

Take Zooplus, a Web site about pets. Zooplus lets people post pictures of their puppies or seek advice about a vet. It also lets them buy dog food or cat litter — and Germans have been doing so in droves. In 2011, Zooplus generated €245 million in sales, a sizable chunk of Burda’s €2.2 billion in total revenue.

“We are not shy about e-commerce,” Mr. Kallen said. “Our theory is, follow the consumer to the point of sale.”

Other Burda Internet businesses have a similarly commercial orientation. They include HolidayCheck, a competitor to TripAdvisor; Chip, a German gadget review site; and ElitePartner, an online dating service. Last year, Burda took a majority interest in Xing, a social network for professionals that has more members than LinkedIn does in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Article source:

DealBook: I.B.M. Snaps Up Kenexa

Kenexa is a Web-based maker of recruitment software.Kenexa is a Web-based maker of recruitment software.

For enterprise software businesses with a social spin, valuations are rising.

I.B.M. announced on Monday that it had agreed to acquire Kenexa, a maker of recruitment software, for $1.3 billion in cash. I.B.M. is paying Kenexa shareholders $46 a share, 42 percent above the closing stock price on Friday.

Kenexa is a Web-based service that is part of the so-called social business vertical. Its software is intended to help companies recruit and manage talent through online social networking, collaboration and consulting tools.

“Every company, across every business operation, is looking to tap into the power of social networking to transform the way they work, collaborate and out innovate their competitors,” Alistair Rennie, general manager of I.B.M.’s social business division said in a statement. “I.B.M. is uniquely positioned to help clients generate real returns from their social business investments, while helping them gain intelligence into the data being generated in these networks to be more competitive in their markets.”

Shares of Kenexa rose nearly 42 percent during the first hour of trading, while I.B.M. shares were down less than 1 percent.

Technology giants are paying hefty premiums to rapidly expand their social footprint. The Kenexa deal, for instance, comes on the heels of Microsoft’s billion-dollar deal for Yammer, the enterprise social network. That $1.2 billion acquisition, announced in June, was seen as Microsoft’s first big push into the market. And recently purchased Buddy Media, the social media advertising business, for $698 million.

The flurry of acquisitions underscores the increasing importance of social media in the workplace.

The boom of social applications on the Web, led by companies like Facebook and Twitter, has also influenced business managers, who are now trying to figure out how to best leverage the connectedness of the Web to manage projects and employees. According to a recent study by I.B.M., about 57 percent of chief executives interviewed indicated that social business was a top priority, and the vast majority of this group planned to make “significant investments” in this area.

Kenexa will help the company bolster its current suite of social enterprise tools, a group that includes social networking and instant messaging solutions. Kenexa, based in Wayne, Pa., has 2,800 employees and about 8,900 customers. The company reported a profit of $1.9 million in 2011 on revenue of $282.9 million. Revenue was up 44 percent from the previous year.

The Kenexa acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

Article source:

The Bay Citizen: The Luxury Market Is Robust Despite Troubles in Lower Income Brackets

“These people have essentially infinite money,” said Mr. Buljan, who has been a Realtor on the Peninsula for more than 30 years. He pointed at a sloping four-acre property that included a large redwood grove with a private creek.

“If someone falls in love with a property like this,” he said, “the price doesn’t matter.”

Everywhere Mr. Buljan turned, a historic transition was under way. A generation ago, many of these properties were second homes for San Francisco’s elite families. These days, most are being bought, for cash, by international tycoons or the youthful leaders of local technology companies.

While the wider Bay Area has suffered, along with the rest of the country, with falling property values and rising foreclosures, the luxury housing market has remained robust, analysts said. That is especially true in Silicon Valley, where an arms race for talent among emerging social networking companies has raised salaries for executives and engineers, and a resurgent market for initial public stock offerings is creating hundreds of new millionaires.

Some of the sales are eye-popping. In March, the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, an investor in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, bought a French-style chateau in Los Altos Hills for a reported $100 million. Some buyers have hidden their identities behind companies.

In September, an Atherton estate formerly owned by the great-grandniece of Levi Strauss sold for $53 million, while the home of Sue Burns, a major investor in the San Francisco Giants, was sold for $20 million by her estate.

“It’s going to take a while for the wider economy to recover, but there are enough people to make a difference at the high end of the housing market,” keeping demand high, said Steve Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, a think tank in Palo Alto, where the median single-family home price last week was $1,838,750.

Across the Peninsula, a small-scale building boom is under way as developers and wealthy property owners buy million-dollar homes, tear them down and build larger ones. Stroll down Waverley Street in Old Palo Alto, home to many Google executives and the late Steve Jobs, and you’ll see the ultramodern 6,000-square-foot house that Google’s co-founder Larry Page is building, rising from its foundation. Mr. Page’s mansion will also include a 3,500-square-foot basement that has been called a “bat cave” by neighbors. Analysts and builders said such high-end construction had been largely recession-proof.

“While the large number of foreclosures have created a significant inventory of homes at the middle and lower end and kept prices down, that hasn’t happened at the top end,” said Eduardo Martinez, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics.

The high unemployment rate in the Bay Area’s construction sector has driven down wages and therefore the overall cost of building, said Leonard Mezhvinsky, a principal at Sieger Property Development. Meanwhile, the number of potential buyers for top-tier homes continues to grow.

“We are expecting Facebook and Zynga to go public,” Mr. Mezhvinsky said recently, “and that will create an instant number of multimillionaires.” Indeed, Zynga went public on Friday with a $1 billion stock offering. Facebook is widely expected to file a $10 billion offering early next year.

In anticipation of the onslaught of new multimillionaires, Mr. Mezhvinsky bought a single-family home on Ralston Avenue in Hillsborough in 2009 and demolished it. “When we’re done, there will be a 10,000-square-foot main house, and a loge,” he said. “There will be a six-bedroom house, seven full bathrooms and two powder rooms. There is a swimming pool with a Jacuzzi. There is a sauna and steam room,” and five fireplaces.

The new house will not be finished until July or August, Mr. Mezhvinsky said, but it is already on the market for $13 million, nearly four times what he paid for it. The buyer will probably pay extra to finish it to his or her taste, he said.

“What you’re witnessing,” said Mr. Buljan, the real estate agent, “is the next generation of superwealth.”

Article source:

F.T.C. Said to Be Near Facebook Privacy Deal

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are nearing a settlement over deceptive practices related to several Facebook features, including its privacy settings, according to two people briefed on the settlement.

Under the agreement, Facebook would agree to privacy audits for 20 years, one of the people said. It would also prohibit Facebook from making public a piece of information that a user had originally shared privately on the site without express permission, the person said. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because the F.T.C. commissioners have not yet approved the settlement.

But Facebook would not be required to ask users if they would like to participate in all sharing features on the site, including tools that it builds in the future.

A Facebook spokesman, Andrew Noyes, and an F.T.C. spokeswoman, Claudia Farrell, declined to comment. The settlement is part of the F.T.C.’s effort to protect consumer privacy online.

In March, Google and the F.T.C. agreed to 20 years of privacy audits and other measures after an investigation into deceptive privacy practices related to Buzz, its ill-fated social networking tool. It was the first time the F.T.C. had charged a company with such violations and imposed such regulations. Last year, after an F.T.C. investigation into two security breaches, Twitter agreed to establish a privacy program.

For Facebook, which has said it has voluntarily made its privacy settings simpler in the last 18 months, the settlement is occurring as it tries to smooth the path toward an initial public offering.

“This is part of the balancing act Facebook has to do,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It also needs to settle the privacy complaints in the United States and Europe before its I.P.O.”

But Mr. Chester expressed doubts that the settlement would appease critics of Facebook’s data-collection practices.

“The real test of the F.T.C.’s Facebook deal will be whether a user actually has control over their own information, or will this be a tiny digital bump on the road that does nothing to derail Mark Zuckerberg’s voracious appetite to swallow up our data,” he said.

Users, privacy specialists and politicians have attacked Facebook for automatically signing people up for new features on the site, instead of asking them first.

For a year and a half, the F.T.C. has pushed Facebook to offer granular privacy controls so people can choose to share or make private specific information they post on the site, according to a person involved in the talks.

Facebook has since added tools, like one for sharing with small groups of Facebook friends.

The settlement addresses several complaints that the F.T.C. has received from organizations like the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

It focuses on privacy changes that Facebook made in December 2009. Although the company said at the time that the changes would simplify settings users found confusing, they exposed information that could previously be made private, including profile photos, gender, friend lists and current city. Facebook also removed the ability to opt out of some features.

After a public outcry, Facebook in May 2010 limited the amount of information users were required to make public, and restored the ability to opt out of certain tools.

The settlement also addresses other Facebook features that the F.T.C. said were deceptive, including a program for giving applications from outside programmers the Facebook seal of approval that ended in December 2009, one of the people said.

Several people briefed on the settlement, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, said it was unclear how long it would take to complete the deal.

Nick Bilton contributed reporting from San Francisco, and Steve Lohr from New York.

Article source:

Twitter and TV Get Close to Help Each Other Grow

By the next day, the surly producer Simon Cowell will have read them — the good, the bad and especially his specialty, the ugly. And by the next week, he will have made changes to his show accordingly.

“It’s like having millions of producers working with you,” said Mr. Cowell, who once dismissed Twitter as a lightweight list of strangers’ lunch plans but who is now a convert to the social networking Web site.

Next week, for the first time, the user-producers who speak up will have another way to be heard. As an alternative to calling or texting in a vote for a singer on “The X Factor,” Twitter will make it possible to vote with a message to the show’s account.

The voting option is the result of a new technological investment by Twitter and is a reflection of the company’s symbiotic relationship with the television industry. TV producers like Mr. Cowell, who crave the immediate feedback they can get from Twitter, have given the Web site free promotion, helping it to gain more users who will give even more feedback. Over time, the theory goes, having more users will help the five-year-old Twitter turn a steady profit.

“Benefits will accrue to us,” said Dick Costolo, the chief executive of Twitter, as a result of the service’s “engaging with these other media platforms and providing benefits to them.”

The company is privately held, and Mr. Costolo has declined to say whether it is profitable. In an interview on Tuesday, he said he did not seek a specific financial return for projects like the one with “The X Factor,” but he expressed confidence that projects like it “are going to result in financial benefits down the road.”

To that end, the proliferation of Twitter logos and language on news and talk shows and now “The X Factor” is not an accident; it is the product of a strategy that started nearly three years ago with the hiring of Chloe Sladden, a former vice president at Current TV, who put Twitter messages on screen during the 2008 presidential election.

“I was brought on board to be the bridge” between Twitter and TV, Ms. Sladden said in an interview this week. Now she oversees a team of seven in Twitter’s content and programming unit. Two started work this week, one to work with music labels and one to work with news organizations. She expects to hire four more in the next three months.

Evangelizing for the Web site, her unit proffers free advice and data to producers, politicians, celebrities, and other people who are effectively content creators for Twitter. “We work with them and think carefully about how to help them create the best possible content,” Ms. Sladden said.

The unit has worked closely with The New York Times, among other media companies; Ms. Sladden spent part of the 2010 midterm election night at a desk in the Times newsroom.

New media partnerships are announced with regularity these days; in August, for instance, Twitter announced a pact with The Weather Channel that adds weather-related tweets to TV segments and to

Twitter executives say they don’t pay for such placement. But for “The X Factor” voting, they spent an undisclosed amount to set up the voting infrastructure. For voting security, only votes that are sent via direct message to the show will be counted; public comments will not be.

Voting will start on “The X Factor” on Nov. 2. Along with votes via Twitter direct messages, the show will count votes via a Verizon mobile phone app.

The option to vote via Twitter, Ms. Sladden said, signifies her unit’s shift “from focusing just on engagement” — getting users to talk about TV — “to getting into the creative fabric of shows and letting the audience help change the outcomes.”

The combination of TV and social media, often labeled social TV, has steadily gained attention as the television industry seeks ways to retain viewers, particularly for live events that people can react to in real time. Facebook, too, is working hard to showcase conversations about TV and media, allowing for viewing of some shows directly from its Web site. For now, it seems, Twitter user names and hashtags are more visible on TV than Facebook names.

Mr. Cowell, formerly of “American Idol,” said he appreciated that social media sites made live TV feel even livelier. That is likely to be an important element for “The X Factor,” which has drawn an average of 12.5 million viewers for its taped audition episodes — higher than Fox’s previous average on Wednesdays and Thursdays but lower than Mr. Cowell’s expectations.

“When we go live,” he said, with performances and votes on Nov. 2, “I do think we’re going to see a real difference.”

Mr. Cowell said he did not post on Twitter — “I am the slowest typer in the world,” he claimed — but would post in the future.

“The only powerful people now on TV,” he declared, “are the people on Twitter and Facebook.”

Article source:

Social Media Offer View Into U.A.W.’s Contract Talks

But like so much in the American auto industry, the old rules of bargaining no longer apply. In recent weeks, the U.A.W.’s Web site crashed in the hours after new contracts were unveiled with General Motors and the Ford Motor Company because so many workers were downloading them.

And how did many workers learn about the deals? Through Facebook pages and Twitter feeds kept up to date, often late into the night, by union staff members stationed in the halls outside the bargaining rooms. For the first time, the union also worked with each company to set up secure Web sites that allowed workers to receive e-mail updates.

“We may have gotten a lot more done in the past, and things would have gone smoother provided we had tools like this,” said General Holiefield, the U.A.W. vice president in charge of negotiations with Chrysler, who explained his approach to the talks in a four-minute video posted on YouTube and Facebook last week. “I couldn’t see going forward without using these.”

Talks with Chrysler have not concluded, though plant leaders from across the country have been summoned to Detroit for a meeting on Monday, signaling that discussions are in the final stages.

Some labor specialists say the wave of social networking this year has provided a bigger window than before into the negotiating process in Detroit, even though the talks still occur in private. Not only is communication more instant and accurate, but it has been extended to people previously left on the sidelines, including retirees.

“There is unprecedented openness about this process,” said Kristin Dziczek, labor analyst for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “You’re not getting the blow-by-blow, but they’re being much more open and transparent in communicating with their members and with the public, who, quite frankly, made a major investment in saving these companies.”

Through Facebook, autoworkers at plants in Kansas City, Mo., or Kokomo, Ind., have been able to voice concerns and ask questions directly to the bargaining teams, something they could not do in past years. Facebook helped workers at a Chrysler factory in Dundee, Mich., gather support before voting last month to join the national contract; they had previously been covered by a separate agreement that provided less job security.

While the U.A.W. worked to repair its Web site last week, it posted a summary of the Ford contract on Facebook, and received more than 500 comments in response. Since ratification meetings started, the moderators of the U.A.W.’s page for Ford workers have been busy answering requests to clarify sections of the contract language, sometimes responding within minutes.

In several instances, the union used Facebook to rebut rumors being disseminated on plant floors or in the news media, rather than allowing them to spread unchallenged. Shortly after a Detroit television station reported that workers would get a signing bonus of $7,500, a message posted on Facebook from Jimmy Settles, the union’s vice president in charge of Ford negotiations, described the report as inaccurate and “designed to intentionally create false expectations.” The finished deal included a bonus of $6,000 for most workers, some of whom had begun posting on Facebook that they would vote against any contract with a bonus of less than $15,000.

“It allowed us to get to the membership quickly,” Mr. Settles said in an interview. “The one thing we always had to combat was the expectations of our members. Historically, we didn’t have the apparatus to get that information out.”

The Chrysler team reacted similarly last week to quell speculation that the talks were headed to arbitration. Chrysler workers agreed in 2009, as part of the company’s government-aided bankruptcy, to give up their right to strike and that any impasse would be sent to binding arbitration, a result that both parties have said they want to avoid.

Art Reyes, the president of U.A.W. Local 651 in Flint, Mich., said Facebook had gone a long way toward “demystifying” the complex negotiations.

Article source:

DealBook: Groupon Back on Track for Its I.P.O.

Andrew Mason, Groupon's chief executive.Seongjoon Cho/Bloomberg NewsA memo from Andrew Mason, Groupon’s chief executive, contributed to a delay in the company’s initial public offering.

Groupon is planning to put its initial public offering back on track even as markets remain rocky.

After postponing presentations to potential investors early this month, the online coupon giant is now aiming to go public in late October or early November, according to people briefed on the matter. That would mean that Groupon could embark on its investor roadshow by the middle of next month, these people said.

The restart on the I.P.O. process is being driven in part by a resolution between the company and the Securities and Exchange Commission over a memo from Groupon’s chief executive to employees that promoted the company’s business performance, the people said. The memo soon became public, raising concerns that the company had violated S.E.C. rules restricting corporate information before an offering to its prospectus.

But the biggest reason for the changes in Groupon’s timing has been the volatility in stocks in recent weeks. While the company now appears to feel more confident about going forward with an offering, another round of market gyrations could again delay its roadshow and stock sale, said the people briefed on the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Already a number of companies have chosen to delay their offerings given the current market, including the International Automotive Components Group, a car parts maker controlled by the billionaire investor Wilbur L. Ross.

Other companies’ plans remain in flux. Facebook, the social networking giant, whose potential for a public offering is the stuff of breathless speculation, has yet to nail down a plan. The company is still planning to go public in the first half of next year, people close to the matter said on Wednesday, even as The Financial Times reported that the offering will most likely be pushed to late 2012.

Swings in the market endanger the stable pricing that companies and their bankers look for to reap the highest proceeds from their stock sales. Coupled with a broader slump in the market — the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index has fallen 7.7 percent over the past three months — the landscape has become much tougher for equity offerings.

Already this year, companies that began their newly public lives buoyed by investor interest have since seen their stock gains fade. Shares of Renren, a Chinese social networking company, have fallen 52 percent below their $14 offer price. And shares of Demand Media, a big online content producer, have slipped 55 percent below their $17 offer price.

Of the 97 companies that have gone public in the United States this year, 64 percent of them now trade below their offer price, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

Still, Groupon has overcome one potential hurdle to its I.P.O. The leaked memo from its chief executive, Andrew Mason, had threatened to complicate the company’s discussions with the S.E.C. over its prospectus.

The questions about the leaked internal memo arose during the S.E.C.’s review of the Groupon prospectus. The agency regularly oversees the filings of companies seeking to go public, seeking to prevent improper stock promoting. The S.E.C. had previously expressed concerns about a pro forma accounting measure Groupon had presented in an earlier version of its prospectus. After questions about whether the metric misleadingly showed Groupon to be profitable, the company removed references to it in a revised securities filing.

The incident over the leaked memo was somewhat similar to one in 2004 involving Google, which appeared to violate S.E.C. quiet-period rules before its I.P.O. when its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, gave an interview to Playboy magazine. And the possible solution may be similar as well: Groupon could file another revision to its prospectus, which would include at least parts of Mr. Mason’s memo and additional details that support its assertions. Those could include some August performance figures. (Google was required to amend its prospectus to include the magazine interview.)

Less than three years old, Groupon has become one of the darlings of the new generation of Internet companies, and its initial offering is almost as eagerly awaited as that of Facebook. The company, which signs up local merchants to offer daily deals, has reported eye-popping growth in its revenue and subscriber rolls.

That has pushed its valuation ever higher, with some people close to the company estimating that it could fetch $25 billion to $30 billion in the I.P.O.

At the same time, the company has come under fire from some retailers and analysts who are skeptical about its ability to sustain its growth rate. Groupon’s growth has slowed in recent months as the company has gotten bigger,

But Groupon still reported enviable results in its second quarter, including a 36 percent gain in net revenue, to $878 million.

Article source:

Quick Action Helps Google Win Friends in Japan

It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country.

Google was also quick in the early hours of the disaster to assemble a Person Finder site that helped people learn of the status of friends and relatives affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Analysts say it is too soon to tell whether Google’s efforts have translated into a larger share of search or online advertising since the quake. But in a country with the world’s second-largest online advertising market, after the United States, and where in the past the company has made serious blunders and raised privacy concerns in trying to unseat the local leader, Yahoo Japan, Google is finally winning new friends.

“I know we’d have nothing to worry about with these people,” said Shigeru Sugawara, the mayor of this northeastern city, which was ravaged by the tsunami.

“I’d like them to record Kesennuma’s streets now,” Mr. Sugawara said. “Then I’d like them to come back, when the city is like new again, and show the world the new Kesennuma.”

Another convert is Sachiko Kobayashi. She lives in Sendai, a city at the heart of the tsunami zone, and was in Kesennuma looking for a friend, a fellow student in the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument. After Ms. Kobayashi posted a query on a separate Web site, a stranger directed her to Person Finder. There, she learned that her friend was alive.

“Thank you!” Ms. Kobayashi posted. “Now I can look forward to practicing together again.”

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Japan’s northeast coast on March 11 was immediately evident to Japanese Google employees, who were jolted in their 26th floor Tokyo office. Engineers suspended their usual projects, and within minutes, a small group started work on what would become the first of various disaster-related services that Google has initiated in Japan.

Person Finder was originally developed after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In Japan, Google went live with its online Person Finder service less than two hours after the quake.

“Everyone started coming by with their laptops and ideas of what we could do,” said Brad Ellis, an American member of the Tokyo team that worked on the initial response.

One engineer raised the idea of making Person Finder compatible with conventional Japanese cellphones. Another suggested visual representations of train suspensions and delays, as well as data on traffic and damage to roads, on Google Maps. All these ideas were put into practice.

On Person Finder, users with information about a missing person can create an entry that other users can search. Conversely, people looking for a missing person can also create an entry in the hope that someone who has information will see it and post an update.

It is difficult to gauge just how many people found information about loved ones on Person Finder. One obvious drawback: without access to the Internet from the hundreds of evacuation centers, victims had no way to input their whereabouts on the Web site.

Much of the information on missing people was instead taking the form of handwritten posters at evacuation centers. So Google began asking users to take photos of the posters and upload them on Google’s Picasa online photo sharing service. The company put its sales team of about 100 to work transcribing names from the photos onto Person Finder.

Soon, almost 1,000 photos of names had been uploaded onto Picasa, and Google employees could not keep up. Then, in a development Google had not expected, anonymous users voluntarily started to transcribe the names on the photos, using Picasa’s interactive feature. In the weeks after the tsunami, more than 10,000 photos were transcribed by some 5,000 anonymous volunteers, adding more than 140,000 entries to Person Finder.

Article source: