World leaders to get their own closed social network

Tibco Software is expected to announce the launch of TopCom, a hyper-secure private club online, serving the role as a social network and video-messaging service that will be made accessible only to the top 200 members of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The idea is to create a “Facebook for global leaders,” allowing the world’s movers and shakers to respond rapidly and assist one another in times of crisis.

TopCom is being officially launched in late January at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. It is basically a customized, ridiculously secure version of tibbr, a platform developed by Tibco as a kind of combination Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texting, and Skype.

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Is Facebook killing company websites?

The popularity of Facebook is echoing through the entire internet ecosystem and changing the way we communicate with each other and brands. While Facebook is becoming a dominant relationship marketing tool for brands, it seems that instead of increasing traffic to the company website, signs are appearing that Facebook has started to absorb it. Marketers across the globe are wondering whether their brand’s owned websites will become less important. In the future, will users still visit company websites or will they only use Facebook and connected apps to engage with the content of brands?

For many US companies, particularly those with non-transactional websites, visitor figures are in decline, while their Facebook visitors are growing. This is the core of a study by US web analytics agency Webtrends.

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Will Facebook start to close the supply and demand gap in digital music?

Many say they would pay for digital content, but don’t, as services as Spotify aren’t rich and compelling enough. Will Facebook’s coming music service finally start to provide the right musical experience to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the digital music market?

Facebook intends to launch its long-rumored music service in a few days with Spotify, MOG and Rdio as three of the company’s launch partners. The music and media platform will be announced at Facebook’s f8 developer conference on Sept. 22 and will allow users to listen to music from within Facebook.com.

Facebook will probably not directly host or stream any music or media. Instead, it will rely on partners to provide the content. This is in contrast to Apple, Google and Amazon’s strategy of hosting music content on their servers. Facebook’s plan is to become a platform for media content in the same way it is a platform for applications and games.

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Somehow Facebook’s looking old-school

Almost inexplicably, Google have actually created something really cool in the social space and for the first time in about 7 years Facebook is not the most exciting social network in town. Google+ is.

Facebook’s announcement about being able to video chat to your grandad on Facebook seemed to leave the tech world feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Techies quickly went back to coo-ing over Google+’s as yet hardly discovered features – multi-person video (hangouts), circles and built-in photo editing, to mention just a few. There’s a lot to play with in Google+.

Though Facebook’s new chat will have a big uptake among Facebook users, and probably greater impact in terms of numbers of users than Google+, with its currently limited expert/techie user base. But that techie user base is an important one, because they talk so much.

Considering things, it could be Twitter that’ll see a punch from Google. With sharing and following being highly customisable, you can have Twitter-like functionality, allowing you to see the updates from people that are interesting to you, such as celebrities, politicians, photographers, and so on. Though Google+ may be just a tad too complicated to get the average celebrity on board… But it might just be a matter of time!

Research shows that we enjoy being in tighter networks, or tribes if you’d like, on average not more than 150 people in total (which is quite a lot less than the number of “friends” people have on Facebook, for example). So if Google+  lets us interact with select tribes with more ease  and customise to whom we want to share what with, I think Google+ really could be a winner – with time, that is.

Google+ is still missing quite a bit of Facebook’s magic. Continue reading

Facebook is worth $50bn – Is a tech bubble building up?

It may be only a few days into 2011, but tech investors seem to be partying like it’s 1999.

Financiers and investors alike are casting their gaze back to Silicon Valley, in what may be shaping up as an echo of the dot-com craze that minted millionaires on both coasts over a decade ago. As a reminder of those euphoric times, the technology-oriented Nasdaq-100 index on Monday rose to its highest point since February 2001, the waning days of the dot-com bubble.

You have all heard about the latest 50 billion dollar valuation of Facebook based on an investment by some Russian oligarchs and Goldman Sachs through the secondary market. Most probably positioning for an inevitable initial public offering, some are saying that Facebook might be valued at up to $100bn once it is listed on the stock exchange, most likely at some point in 2012.

With 550 million users, and having 15-25% of all page views in US and Europe, Facebook is indeed a very successful company. The number of people using Twitter and Facebook is expected to hit one billion this year, with two trillion adverts set to be delivered via the websites. The vast crowd of consumers flocking to the networks has been hailed as a goldmine for advertisers, but new research from the Deloitte consultancy suggests ad revenues from social networking sites will stall in 2011.

Turning all these users into advertising cash, one of the key attractions for investors in social networks, is likely to prove more difficult than anticipated, the research found. Revenues from the websites are predicted to stall at $5 billion (£3.2 billion), equivalent to only $4 per user, according to Deloitte.

The Facebook deal gives the company an implied value of $50 billion – more than Tesco and Sainsbury’s put together, more than Time Warner and News Corp. Facebook is worth five times its valuation in mid-2009 and 25 times revenue, which is probably $2 million. Google, by contrast, trades at a little over seven times revenue. Companies that have high profit margins tend to get higher valuations from the market. But Google has a profit margin of a 29%, which is already very high. Facebook might have very low expenses, but is Facebook three times a profitable as Google?

The only explanation of this gap between current revenue and the current valuation lies in the potential of Facebook. Investors must be seeing vast prospects and anticipating the profits to double many times in the future, in contrast to what Deloitte seems to think.

Some commentators believe we are witnessing an Internet bubble building up. For the first time since 2000, internet and technology entrepreneurs can raise seed capital with little more than a half-formed idea and a dozen PowerPoint slides. “There is probably a bubble in the number of start-ups,” says Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist, though he is not yet convinced that there is irrational exuberance in later-stage valuations.

Although it’s leading the charge, Facebook isn’t the only company generating interest in tech stocks that have yet to go public. Both Skype and LinkedIn is working towards a public debut this year. Zynga has been pouring gasoline on that fire as well, with investments by Mail.ru, formerly known as Digital Sky Technologies (also an investor in Facebook, including in the latest round with Goldman) and others. Groupon is also a player in this growing frenzy, raising money privately after turning down a reported $6 billion acquisition offer from Google. And Twitter is another star of the private investment market, with funds set up specifically to invest in shares of it and other tech startups via the secondary market for its privately held shares.

If there is a tech bubble building it might be quite different from the one that popped so spectacularly in the late 1990s. Then it was initial public offerings that were overpriced. Today, although the IPO market is reviving, it remains a shadow of its former self. Instead, money is raised from so-called “sophisticated investors” (as in the Goldman deal) via the secondary market. Another main way for the owners of a start-up to cash out is to sell their firm to a bigger one, such as Cisco, Google, Facebook or even Groupon. These tech-savvy firms ought to be less gullible than the stockmarket investors of 1999. But their owners may now be so wealthy that they care less about value for money than the coolness of owning the Next Big Thing.

Nic Flides, The Times; Stephen Gandel, Time; No author, The Economist

Techies as Person of the Year Are Rare

At just 26, Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, is joining a select group of presidents, kings, Popes, dictators, freedom fighters and other influential people selected by Time magazine as Person of the Year.

But Mr. Zuckerberg is only the third technology mogul to be chosen by Time, following Andy Grove, the former Intel chairman and chief executive, in 1997, and Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, in 1999, at the height of the dot-com bubble.

Bill Gates was named by Time in 2005 (along with his wife Melinda Gates and the musician Bono) for his philanthropic activities, not his role as Microsoft founder. And technology itself made appearances in 1982, when Time named the computer as Machine of the Year, and in 2006, when the magazine declared that You, as represented by the individual content creator on the Web, was its Person of the Year. Neither Steve Jobs, the founder and chief executive of Apple, nor the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have received the honor.

As Time has become less influential, so has its Person of the Year designation. Nevertheless, it highlights a powerful influence on our lives. Time said it picked Mr. Zuckerberg “for connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives.”

Not everyone agrees with the choice, however. WikiLeaks founder and owner Julian Assange was also a likely candidate, and many people in the comments over on Time think his accomplishments are far more important that Zuckerberg’s.

Some commentators view the award as not only an acknowledgement of Facebook, but of Web 2.0 in general. McKinsey Quarterley reported yesterday that for the first time it is decisively proved that companies using Web 2.0 technologies intensively gain greater market share and higher margins. The immense efficiency gains are largely on the back of employing these technologies to increase the connectedness and the amount of information shared amongst the people in a firm and its environment. In this sense, the award to Zuckerberg may seem more timely and appropriate.

Mr Zuckerberg, estimated to be worth $6.9bn (£4.4bn), is the youngest billionaire in the world, one of the richest people in the US, and earlier this month he became one of the latest billionaires to pledge to give away the majority of his wealth. He is one of 17 new people to support a group, founded by Bill Gates and his wife along with Warren Buffett, which encourages America’s wealthiest to publicly promise to donate to charity.

New York Times, 15.12.2010, BBC, 15.12.2010