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Google’s latest Internet revolution this week saw the web giant modify its search algorithm to favour mobile-friendly sites, in a bid to upstage Apple that US media branded a “mobilegeddon”.
US technology website WIRED described Tuesday’s algorithm switch as “likely the biggest change of the past three years.

“And it’s reminder of the wonderfully magnanimous yet deeply selfish way that Google uses its market power to accelerate changes across the rest of the Internet,” it added.

The change comes in the same week as a Google announcement it will launch its own US mobile wireless service, with considerable potential savings for customers using their devices at home and for international travel.

Google argues its algorithm revolution is good for users.

“We want to make sure they can find content that’s not only relevant and timely, but also easy to read and interact with on smaller mobile screens,” Google said in a statement to WIRED.

More than half of Internet searches worldwide are made on mobile phones, a trend that is driven by figures out of developing countries where smartphone penetration is higher than computers.

In 2011, a change to Google’s search algorithm affected 10 percent of English-language websites, while the 2012 change impacted some four percent, according to WIRED.

But the recent change, the extent of whose impact cannot yet be fully measured, has also sent shockwaves among brand owners and marketers, for whom online visibility is hugely important.

“Google has the power of life or death over some websites. A drop in Google ranking can mean a 60 to 80 percent loss in turnover,” e-marketing firm JVWEB’s president Jonathan Vidor told AFP.

Even if mobile phones bring in only a small proportion of revenues, “everyone is scared Google might do something drastic”, Vidor added.

Contested impact
While it threatens to throw websites that have not been adapted to smartphone technology to the bottom of search rankings, the change introduced Tuesday has yet to cause the major impact experts had predicted.

“I observed absolutely no impact” on Tuesday said Benoit Sillard, director of leading French publisher CCM Benchmark, 40 percent of whose finance, women’s and news magazines online visits are via mobile.

“It will take at least a week before we see an initial impact, as the algorithm is going through a learning phase,” said Paul Amsellem, who heads a marketing, technology and mobile phone advertising firm, the Mobile Network Group.

Amsellem believes “Google has just lost its mobile search bet” by placing unrealistic and ultimately unfulfilled hopes in websites shifting over to mobile platforms en masse.

Mobile phone applications pioneered by Apple are still coming out on top in the race for the Internet throne.

Apple had placed its bets very early in the game on mobile phone downloads, Amsellem said, giving the technology icon the lead by taking control of applications, content and graphics, making users’ experience “the best it can be”.

Google’s Android apps are also hugely popular, but they tend to be less user-friendly than their Apple competitors.

Google risks losing users if its search results are not adequately adapted. It may even lose out in revenues from advertising and sponsored links the company’s main source of money.

And Google earns less anyway if users go straight to apps, rather than use the search engine to get where they want to go.

Ultimately, Google’s drastic move may mean users simply cannot find the site they’re looking for.

According to US magazine Techcrunch, 44 percent of Fortune 500 websites failed the search test, and another four percent of sites did not produce a result.

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Twitter on Thursday rolled out a new feature aimed at helping users sift through the large number of tweets on their feed each day.
The new feature called “Highlights” offers a twice-daily summary “of the best tweets for you, delivered via rich push notification,” Twitter’s Gordon Luk said in a blog post.

“We want to help you get the most out of Twitter, no matter how much time you spend with it. While your home timeline is a great place to browse through and engage with tweets, we know it can be challenging to find the time to get through everything.”

The move is the latest by Twitter to boost engagement for its members amid growth which is slower than some rival social networks, in a disappointment since its high-profile stock offering in 2013.

Twitter develops Highlights personalized for each user:

“We look at things like the accounts and conversations that are popular among people you follow, tweets from people you’re closely tied to, topics and events that are trending in your area or within your network, and people that are popular or trending among people you follow,” Luk said.

Highlights is being rolled out first in English for people using Android-powered devices, which can be activated in user settings.

“We’re refining the experience on Android first and will consider bringing Highlights to other platforms in the future,” Luk added.

In its last quarterly update, Twitter said the number of active monthly users of the San Francisco-based one-to-many messaging service monthly grew to 288 million just four million more than in the previous quarter.

Twitter reports its results for the first quarter next week.

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Microsoft Corp on Thursday reported revenue and profit above Wall Street expectations, as sales of its hardware and cloud-computing services helped to offset a decline in the company’s core Windows business.
Shares rose 3.1 percent to $44.70 in after-hours trading.

“The company beat across the board,” said FBR Capital markets analyst Daniel Ives. “The Street will cheer these results as it appears Microsoft is back on the right track after a head-scratching performance last quarter.”

Sales of Windows to computer manufacturers to install on new PCs fell 19 percent in the quarter, reflecting a sharp dip from a year ago when Windows got a brief boost from consumers rushing to buy new machines after Microsoft stopped support for the 14-year-old XP operating system.

That decline was offset by higher revenue from its Surface tablet, back-end server software and cloud-related offerings such as its online Office 365 suite of applications.

The company said its commercial cloud-related revenue for the quarter more than doubled, and was now running at $6.3 billion a year. Amazon said on Thursday its quarterly cloud revenue rose almost 50 percent to $1.57 billion, suggesting a similar annual number.

Microsoft’s overall revenue rose 6 percent to $21.7 billion, above Wall Street’s average forecast of $21.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Taking out the effects of the strong U.S. dollar on currency rates, Microsoft said revenue would have risen 9 percent.

Earnings per share declined to 61 cents per share from 68 cents in the year-ago quarter. Analysts had expected 51 cents, on average.

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Google Inc reported higher quarterly revenue and profit as rising online ad volume offset a hit from the strong dollar, sending the Internet company’s shares higher in after-hours trading.
Shares of the world’s No. 1 Internet search engine rose after the results were released, climbing 3.5 percent on Thursday to $577.

While revenue and profit missed the forecasts of Wall Street analysts, many investors had been bracing for a weaker report, said BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis.

The company has faced challenges in mobile advertising and is running up more expenses as it invests in new businesses.

“The concern was that the first quarter results could have been much worse,” Gillis said. “There’s a certain degree of relief rally happening.”

Revenue for the quarter that ended in March rose 12 percent to $17.26 billion, from $15.42 billion a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $17.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The rising dollar took a toll on results at Google, which generates about half of its revenue overseas.

“Excluding the net impact of foreign currency headwinds, revenue grew a healthy 17 percent year on year,” Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette said in a statement.

The number of ads, or paid clicks, rose 13 percent, while the average price of online ads, or “cost per click,” declined 7 percent.

Google’s ad revenue has been pressured as more consumers access its online services on mobiles devices such as smartphones and tablets, where ad rates are typically lower.

In a conference call, Pichette highlighted mobile ads as a key source of revenue growth during the quarter. “We are experiencing real strength in mobile search,” he said.

The contribution of ad revenue from video platform YouTube “continues to grow at a strong rate year-over year,” he added. Brands are embracing YouTube’s TrueView service, where advertisers pay only when users opt not to skip an ad, he said.

Google’s advertising sales in the first quarter rose 11 percent to $15.51 billion.

The company, under increasing competition for mobile ad dollars from rivals such as Facebook Inc, tweaked its algorithm for mobile searches on Tuesday to favour sites that look good on smartphone screens.

Earlier this month, the European Union accused Google of abusing its dominance of Internet searches to push its own products.

Net income rose to $3.59 billion, or $5.20 per share, from $3.45 billion, or $5.04 per share.

Excluding items, the company earned $6.57 per share, just missing analysts’ forecast of $6.60.

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OnePlus earlier this week halted the Cyanogen OS 12 rollout in order to include the missing ‘Ok OnePlus’ feature. Users now report the update has begun rolling out again with the feature, as promised by the OnePlus Co-Founder Pei on Monday.

While the firm is yet to announce the seeding of CM12S with the new feature, according to some users, the update with build number YNG1TAS17L is already reaching out to OnePlus One handsets. The update is 584MB in size.

The OnePlus forum member named makhil2008 on Thursday posted two images stating the build number and that the CM12S now comes with ‘Ok OnePlus’ feature. While the first image shows the ‘Update Available’ page, the second image shows a section named ‘Train Your Voice’. The Train Your Voice section, as per the image will train the OnePlus One handset to recognize the user’s voice. It adds that to train, users would need a quiet place for the process. It adds that to train, users would need a quiet place for the process. The user has also provided a link to the signed-OTA update.

Notably, the ‘Ok OnePlus’ was due to be released as far back as June last year. The ‘Ok OnePlus’ feature is meant to work the same as the ‘Ok Google’ hotword detection feature, however, also brings lock screen or off-screen detection of the hotword. The ‘Ok Google’ off-screen hotword detection feature has been promised by Cyanogen for a while, and was expected to be made available with CM12S – but wasn’t, much to the chagrin of users.

Cyanogen is speculated to be working on another update for CM12S to fix a Google Play services ‘wakelock’ issue causing battery drain.

The company on Monday also announced that the ‘2014 flagship killer’ smartphone, the OnePlus One, would now be available without invites ‘forever’.

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On Wednesday, Facebook launched a new app called Hello, which acts as a dialler as well as a caller ID app, letting users know who is calling even if they do not have the number saved on their handsets. Notably, the same team that created Facebook’s standalone Messenger app has created Hello – Facebook’s Creative Labs.

As you would expect, Facebook Hello syncs with the user’s contact list saved on the handset and the Facebook account from where it pulls the contact details and other info of Facebook users who are calling. Other features offered by Facebook Hello besides dialling and caller ID are adding and editing contacts, and sending messages via Facebook Messenger. Users can also access the caller’s profile or page (a restaurant for instance) within the app, revealing further information.

It is worth mentioning that Facebook Hello app users would only see the number and name of callers only if the callers have chosen to share those details publicly. If they have only chosen to share the number with friends, only others in their friend list will see the number through the Hello app. The settings can however be changed anytime from the account’s Privacy Settings page, or from within the app.

Facebook Hello will also enable users to block unwanted calls that have previously been blocked by other users. However, the calls aren’t completely blocked and go straight to voicemail, as announced by Facebook Product Manager, Andrea Vaccari.

“Hello makes it easy to block unwanted calls. From your settings, you can block specific numbers and adjust whether you want to automatically blocks calls from commonly blocked numbers. Blocked calls go straight to voicemail and can be reviewed in your recent calls,” said Vaccari.

The Hello app is especially useful for those who regularly switch phones, are using disposable phones, or have limited minutes, Vaccari revealed to Re/code.

The Facebook Hello app, though still in testing, is listed on Google Play, but is not available to download outside of the US, Brazil, and Nigeria.

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The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that would make it easier for private companies to share information about cyber-security threats with each other and the government without fear of lawsuits.
The vote was 307-116 in favour of the “Protecting Cyber Networks Act.” There were 202 votes in favour from Republicans and 105 from Democrats.

Several previous bills addressing the issue had failed, partly because of concerns that they might lead to more of the surveillance exposed two years ago by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

But a series of high-profile cyber-attacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment, Target and other US corporations added urgency to the push for legislation.

“At some point, we need to stop talking about the next Sony, the next Anthem, the next Target, the next JP Morgan Chase and the next State Department hack, and actually pass a bill that will help ensure that there will be no next cyber-attack,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Corporations have been clamoring for Congress to act. The US Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to every member of the House earlier on Wednesday urging support of the bill.

The legislation must be approved by the Senate before it can be sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law. A similar measure passed by a 14-1 vote in the Senate Intelligence Committee, and supporters say they expect strong bipartisan support in the full Senate as well when it considers the bill later this spring.

The Obama administration said on Tuesday it had some concerns about the bill but supported its passage and believed it could be fixed as the legislation is finalised in Congress.

Privacy advocates blasted the legislation.

“These bills do little to protect the Internet, but rather reward companies who undermine the privacy of their customers,” said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at the advocacy group Access Now, in a statement.

The House is due to debate a second cyber-security bill, the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act of 2015, on Thursday. That bill would use the US Department of Homeland Security as an intermediary for sharing the electronic information.

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Facebook said Wednesday that profit in the first quarter plunged 20 percent from a year ago but revenues got a lift from robust growth in mobile advertising.
The world’s biggest social network also boosted the number of users to 1.44 billion, up 13 percent from a year earlier, including 1.25 billion people who access Facebook on mobile devices.

Net profit in the quarter for shareholders dropped to $509 million, amid hefty increases in spending on research and share-based compensation.

Overall revenues jumped 42 percent to $3.5 billion, led by advertising gains, slightly below Wall Street forecasts, as Facebook felt the impact of a strong dollar.

Excluding the impact of foreign exchange rates, revenue would have increased by 49 percent, the company said.

“This was a strong start to the year,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and chief executive.

“We continue to focus on serving our community and connecting the world.”

Zuckerberg noted that Facebook was seeing “strong growth in engagement around the world,” suggesting that users are not turning away from the platform.

Facebook has been investing heavily in research and new projects, including a drone air fleet to deliver the Internet to remote areas of the world.

Earlier Wednesday, Facebook unveiled a new mobile application called Hello, which allows its users to see who is calling by searching the social network’s vast base of members.

It also allows users to search for people and businesses on Facebook and call them using the app.

In its quarterly report, Facebook reported the bulk of its revenues came from advertising inserted in user feeds, especially on mobile devices.

Revenue from advertising was $3.32 billion, a 46 percent surge from a year ago. Mobile accounted for 73 percent of this, up from 59 percent a year earlier.

But spending grew 83 percent from a year ago to $2.61 billion, in line with guidance from the company. That included more than $1.0 billion on research on items such as new ad products and virtual reality, which is being integrated into Facebook offerings.

‘Family of apps’
Zuckerberg said Facebook was making progress in evolving from a single social network to a “family of apps,” which include the photo-sharing service Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, along with its own Facebook Messenger.

WhatsApp has some 800 million users worldwide, Messenger is used by 600 million and Instagram by 300 million.

“We want people to share whatever they want with all the sets of people they care about,” Zuckerberg said in the Facebook earnings call.

“We want to continue to develop new and better tools.”

Debra Aho Williamson, analyst at eMarketer, said the latest news from Facebook reveals its strategy for various services.

“The Facebook family is starting to gel, and we’re getting a better idea of how the company’s various properties are coming together,” she said.

“However, we’re still waiting for indications of how much ad revenue Facebook is getting from Instagram, and it will be important in coming quarters for the company to start to show how much momentum it’s gaining in video advertising and off-Facebook ad targeting.”

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Google Inc on Wednesday launched a new U.S. wireless service that switches between Wi-Fi and cellular networks to curb data use and keep phone bills low.
The service, Google’s first entry into the wireless industry, will work only on the company’s Nexus 6 phones and be hosted through Sprint Corp and T-Mobile’s networks, Google said in a statement.

The service, called Project Fi, will automatically switch between the two networks and more than 1 million open, free Wi-Fi spots, depending on which signal is strongest.

The service will cost $20 a month plus $10 per gigabyte of data used. Customers will get money back for unused data.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products, said at a Barcelona conference last month the company was preparing to experiment with a mobile network, but that it did not intend to disrupt the wireless industry.

The service will be available on only one device and has limited carrier coverage, so it will not make Google a major wireless industry player, said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.

If successful, however, Google’s service could pressure wireless providers to further lower prices and better adapt to the rise of tablets and wearable devices, Blau added. Though some carriers, such as T-Mobile and AT&T Inc, allow unused data to roll over, most mobile plans require customers to pay for a set amount of data each month.

But Google first has to “test out features they think are going to differentiate themselves,” Blau said, such as being able to transition from network connectivity to Wi-Fi.

If Google is able to provide those features, “it’s very possible they could become a major wireless player in the future,” Blau said.

Phone numbers will live in the cloud so that consumers can talk and text on any connected tablet, Google said.

The company already has a strong presence in the mobile market through its Android operating system, which hosts some of the most popular apps, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Google shares rose 1.27 percent to $549.81 at mid-afternoon.

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English Premier League football fans can now check if their clubs are the most followed on Twitter. The social network unveiled an interactive map that shows the density of supporters of EPL clubs by country. Of course this map isn’t representative of the total fan base of any club, but only the percentage of supporters who follow their clubs on Twitter.

In a blog post, Twitter wrote, “The map was created by looking at the official Twitter accounts for each team, using their followers as an indicator of allegiance (as opposed to, say, instances in which people mention a team while watching an interesting matchup or talking about a team’s rival).”

This means that a large number of fans who aren’t on Twitter or don’t follow the club’s official Twitter account, get excluded. The interactive map also shows you the three most supported clubs on Twitter in any country. The map uses colour blocks to highlight the number of supporters across the world, but the colour cues may not always be accurate.

For example, the map shows that India is dominated by Manchester United supporters but hovering your mouse over the region will show that 26.6 percent of football fans in India support the club. The number doesn’t seem so big when you see that Arsenal (23.02 percent) and Liverpool (20.04 percent) are the next most followed clubs in the country.

The map doesn’t tell which clubs have the widest following on a global scale but a casual glance hints that Arsenal and Chelsea are the most widely supported clubs on Twitter. The map lets you compare any two clubs’ following on the social network so you can go ahead and see if your favourite Premier League team has a global fan following.

United Kingdom, being the home of the English Premier League, gets a feature that no other region does. You can zoom in to the country and see the most supported club on a district by district basis. That reveals an overwhelming majority of Liverpool supporters. Twitter’s blog post also attempts to explore why clubs are popular in certain regions and the reasons range from it being from a region to certain high-profile players belonging to the region. You can check out the map here.

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