Articles for September 2011

'Like' Button Follows Web Users

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
September 26th, 2011

Internet users tap Facebook Inc.'s "Like" and Twitter Inc.'s "Tweet" buttons to share content with friends. But these tools also let their makers collect data about the websites people are visiting.

These so-called social widgets, which appear atop stories on news sites or alongside products on retail sites, notify Facebook and Twitter that a person visited those sites even when users don't click on the buttons, according to a study done for The Wall Street Journal.

These widgets are prolific. They have been added to millions of web pages in the past year. Facebook's buttons appear on a third of the world's 1,000 most-visited websites, according to the study. Buttons from Twitter and Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG - News) appear on 20% and 25% of those sites, respectively.

The widgets, which were created to make it easy to share content with friends and to help websites attract visitors, are a potentially powerful way to track Internet users. They could link users' browsing habits to their social-networking profile, which often contains their name.

For example, Facebook or Twitter know when one of their members reads an article about filing for bankruptcy on or goes to a blog about depression called Fighting the Darkness, even if the user doesn't click the "Like" or "Tweet" buttons on those sites.

For this to work, a person only needs to have logged into Facebook or Twitter once in the past month. The sites will continue to collect browsing data, even if the person closes their browser or turns off their computers, until that person explicitly logs out of their Facebook or Twitter accounts, the study found.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and other widget-makers say they don't use browsing data generated by the widgets to track users; Facebook says it only uses the data for advertising purposes when a user clicks on a widget to share content with friends.

Facebook and Google, which has a widget for its "Buzz" social-networking service, say they "anonymize" browsing data so the information is not traced to a particular user. Facebook says the data are deleted within 90 days, while Google says data are deleted within two weeks.

Facebook and Google say they use the information to measure the widgets' effectiveness and help other websites attract visitors.

Twitter says it doesn't use such browsing data and deletes it "quickly." A spokesman says the company could in theory use the data to "surface better content" for users in the future.

Revelations about the social widgets come amid growing concern about the privacy of Internet and smartphone users. Members of Congress have introduced at least five privacy-related bills this year, including three that aim to create a mechanism that would let users disable tracking.

Some privacy advocates express concerns, citing prior Facebook and Google stumbles over privacy issues.

"Our reading habits online encompass everything we're thinking about, political and religious views, health and relationship problems," said Peter Eckersley, a senior technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-advocacy group. "Do you want to have an invisible person peering over your shoulder as you walk through the library?"

Widget makers say the collection of users' Web-browsing activity is an unintended side effect of how the tools work. In order to show a user which of their online friends "liked" a particular article, for example, the widget must know who the user is.

To determine the prevalence of widgets and how they collect information, the Journal asked Brian Kennish, a former Google engineer, to examine the 1,000 most-popular websites, as ranked by Google's advertising network. Mr. Kennish last year launched Disconnect Inc., which offers software to block data collection by widgets.


Mr. Kennish's study examined more than 200,000 Web pages on the top 1,000 sites. He found Facebook obtained browsing data from 331 sites, and Google obtained data from 250 sites, some of it from its Buzz widget. Twitter got browsing information from about 200 sites.

Social-sharing widgets first appeared about five years ago, when online services such as Digg Inc. allowed users to share news articles. At the time, widgets did not cause browsing data to be collected by social sites. Widgets are installed by website owners, who like them because they can help generate more Web traffic.

Last year, Facebook introduced the "Like" button and other "smart" widgets. The widgets work with cookies that Facebook places in a Web browser when a user creates an account or logs in to its site. Together, they allow Facebook to recognize its users on any site with Facebook widgets.

Bret Taylor, Facebook's chief technology officer, says the technology lets websites show visitors what articles their friends liked, for example. "We don't use them for tracking and they're not intended for tracking," he says.

But Facebook says it still places a cookie on the computer of anyone who visits the home page, even if the user isn't a member. Mr. Taylor says Facebook uses such cookies to protect the site from cyberattacks by people who try to break in to users' accounts, among other things.

Until recently, some Facebook widgets also obtained browsing data about Internet users who had never visited, though Facebook wouldn't know their identity. The company says it discontinued that practice, which it described as a "bug," earlier this year after it was disclosed by a researcher in the Netherlands.


By: Amir Efrati

Older Facebook Users Catching On to ‘Liking’ Brands

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
September 19th, 2011

Users ages 55 and up increasingly likely to connect with companies


It took older web users a few years to begin social networking after it had been popularized by the younger set, but they soon became the fastest-growing segment of users on sites like Facebook. Now it appears they are also growing into a specific social media habit that had been more popular among younger adults: connecting with brands.

As recently as September 2010, based on research from Wedbush Securities, it seemed as if Facebook engagement with brands just might not interest users over age 55. At that point, only about one in four of Facebook’s oldest users had “liked” a brand on the site, compared with 60% of those ages 18 to 34.

By November 2010, over-55s had begun to close the gap, however, and by April 2011, nearly half were connecting with brands. Engagement had also risen among 18- to 34-year-olds as well as the 35-to-54 age group over the period. Overall, 59% of adult Facebook users had “liked” a brand as of April, up from 47% the previous September. Uptake among the oldest users appears to have been a major factor in this rise.


US Facebook Users Who "Like" Brands on Facebook, by Age, 2010 & 2011 (% of respondents)


Increased engagement among older boomers and seniors suggests that Facebook users of all ages have some interest in connecting with brand pages, rather than appealing only to young adults. Since most older Facebook users still have not “liked” a brand, there could still be room to grow in this demographic. The climbing level of activity among the middle age group indicates that younger boomers could have just as much potential social engagement with brands as millennials and Gen Xers.

Typically, social media users report connecting with brands to get deals and discounts, as well as information about products and special offers. But what brand fans expect can vary. For example, affluent social media users tended to follow brands because of a preexisting affinity for them, and a desire to be kept informed. Many older users will fall into this group, due to the point they have reached in their careers and their longer opportunity to build up net worth.



Canada Edges Out US in Smartphone Penetration

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
September 12th, 2011

More advanced devices means more access to mobile coupons, barcodes


The rise of the smartphone has accelerated mobile marketing around the world. Though that rise has happened at different paces from country to country, the pace in Canada has picked up, with smartphones currently in the hands of a third of mobile users. For the many brands that manage their mobile presence in both the US and Canada, it pays to know how usage is developing north of the border.

According to comScore, there were 6.6 million smartphone owners in Canada as of March 2011, or 33% of the total mobile subscriber base. This places Canada among the world’s leaders in smartphone adoption, narrowly edging out the US, where eMarketer estimates 31% of mobile owners have a smart device. A March survey conducted by Quorus Consulting for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Associationmirrors that figure, also finding that 33% of Canada’s mobile phone users have a smartphone.


Traditional Mobile Phone vs. Smartphone Users in Canada, by Age, March 2011 (% of respondents)


Meanwhile, related research by Ipsos Reid expands the smartphone base to nearly a third of all internet users in Canada, a figure which has grown more than 50% since early 2010.

Younger generations are leading the shift, as 46% of internet users ages 18 to 34 have already made the switch to smartphones, according to Ipsos. The CWTA found that penetration spikes at 55% among mobile phone users ages 18 to 24.

Usage is likewise growing more sophisticated. Talking is now a secondary consideration, with the Ipsos survey finding that 54% of all smartphone usage is for something other than voice calls. One-fifth of Canada’s smartphone owners access the internet on their devices more than 5 hours per week.

Smartphones are also helping to spread awareness of QR codes and other barcode formats. According to the CWTA, 65% of smartphone users are aware of 2-D barcodes, while 28% have scanned one with their phone.

For marketers, the smartphone’s emergence means that Canada’s mobile base grows more viable as an advertising channel with each passing month. The CWTA survey found that 19% of smartphone users would be interested in receiving mobile coupons in exchange for viewing ads, compared to only 9% of feature phone users. When asked about interest in location-based mobile offers, the figure jumped to 44% of smartphone users.


Interest in Select Mobile Ad Offers According to Mobile Phone Users in Canada, by Gender, March 2011 (% of respondents in each group)


“[Smartphone growth] is transforming the way Canadians interact with each other and with brands, offering businesses new and innovative ways to connect with their customers,” said Steve Mossop, president of Ipsos Reid’s Western Canada practice, in a statement. “Marketers need to consider how mobile fits in to their overall plans of how to reach consumers if they are going to succeed in the digital marketplace.”




Where the Jobs Aren't: 10 Doomed Industries

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
September 5th, 2011

The recovery may be rocky at the moment, but when it picks up steam, confidence will increase, jobs will return and the Great Recession will become an unpleasant memory (and perhaps a useful subject from which to draw policy lessons).

Even so, some industries will never recover because they're destined to go the way of milkmen and carriage makers. Which ones? Market research firm IBISWorld Inc. recently combed through a trove of data to determine the answer to this question.

The result: A list of the 10 worst industries in America, ones that had a steep decline in revenue in the last decade and are forecasted to further contract even more in the next one. Some of the industries on this list will not shock you, but others will be surprising.

Extinction is a hard word, but unfortunately that's what all these sectors are facing, due to external competition, technological change and lack of innovation. If you're looking for work in one of these doomed fields, you may want to consider a career transition, and quickly.


Courtesy: vancouverfilmschool/flickr


Calling Cut on Video Postproduction Services

One of the least publicized industries in terminal decline is video postproduction services. This field encompasses everything needed to prepare a film for distribution after the cameras have stopped rolling (or in the current age, after that little red recording light goes dark on the video camera).

Why the decline: Consolidation in the entertainment business is to blame. Movie studios are moving post-production in house. Meanwhile, technological advances have boosted efficiency -- as anyone who has seen the controlled chaos of a traditional celluloid cutting room versus the neat efficiency of digital editing software can attest. The results:

• Decline in revenue last decade: -24.9 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -10.7 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -37.8 percent.


Courtesy: Anthony L. Solis/flickr


Extra! Extra! Newspaper Publishing on Its Last Legs

While book publishers avoided making the list this time around, another often discussed casualty of our all-conquering obsession with everything digital is on it: newspaper publishing.

Why the decline: The move to online news and the competition from a plethora of new media information sources are obvious culprits. Will paywalls, iPad apps and frantic innovating online save the traditional newsroom even if it doesn't save old-style inky paper? Maybe, but don't hold your breath. The numbers facing the newspaper biz are stark:

• Decline in revenue last decade: -35.9 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -18.8 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -17.6 percent.


Courtesy: Kheel Center, Cornell University/flickr


Apparel Manufacturing Unraveling Fast

People certainly buy plenty of clothes these days, but with the price they're willing to pay for them, the chances of finding a "Made in the USA" tag is increasingly slim. So it's no wonder domestic apparel manufacturing is on the list of soon-to-be-extinct fields.

Why the decline: Cheap labor costs overseas, combined with consumers' expectation for a bargain at home, have put this U.S. industry in its death throes. Consider this:

• Decline in revenue last decade: -77.1 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -8.5 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -11.3 percent.


Courtesy: Vibrant Spirit/flickr


Textile Mills Still in Existence ... Barely

No New Englander would be surprised to see American textile mills on this list. In New England, "mill town" is practically synonymous with industrial decay, conjuring images of boarded up factories, sky-high unemployment and the generalized gloom of inevitable decay.

Why the decline: Cheap competition from abroad, which has halved revenue in the last decade alone. That rattling sound? It's the last gasps of an industry:

• Decline in revenue last decade: -50.2 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -10.0 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -12.8 percent.


Courtesy: Mr. T in DC/flickr


Formal Wear and Costume Rental Can't Disguise Decline

The formal wear and costume rental business is a surprise entry on the list. After all, high school kids continue to need fancy outfits for prom and Halloween rolls around every year.

Why the decline: An influx of cheap alternatives from abroad is the culprit again, with more cost-conscious Americans opting for disposable options each year. Purchasing, rather than renting formal wear is apparently also on the rise, but there is one tiny bright spot for the sector. "The tuxedo rental segment will keep the industry afloat," predicts IBISWorld, "because consumers are still likely to prefer the tuxedo rental service."

• Decline in revenue last decade: -35.0 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -14.6 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -17.2 percent.


Courtesy: aechempati/flickr


Digital Killed the Record Store

DJs, collectors and hipster enthusiasts may argue, but the numbers don't lie. Record stores are on their last legs.

Why the decline: No mystery here. Consumers have been happily downloading and getting their occasional CD purchase from big box discounters like Walmart. IBISWorld argues that a recovery will slow the industry's decline, but those record stores that fail to get with the modern world and adapt to the new realities of music distribution will continue their downward slide no matter how buoyant the economy gets.

• Decline in revenue last decade: -24.9 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -10.7 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -38.8 percent.


Courtesy: yapsnaps/flickr


R.I.P. Video Rental

The advance of technology and the internet isn't just a death sentence for the bricks and mortar music stores; it's pretty much the nail in the coffin for video rental business as well.

Why the decline: Why head to the local Blockbuster when NetFlix will deliver or offer for download any film you want? -- and that's not even mentioning the hundreds of movies available on cable TV. The industry's decline has been swift and irrevocable:

• Decline in revenue last decade: -35.7 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -19.3 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -11.2 percent.


Courtesy: NYCgal/flickr


Death of the Local Photoshop

Another business destroyed by advances in technology: photofinishing shops.

Why the decline: Digital cameras and online image sharing make your local photo developer obsolete. Consumers also no longer need to pay to develop 20 pictures of squinting relatives to get one decent image. Check out the grim revenue figures:

• Decline in revenue last decade: -69.1 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -39.1 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -33.3 percent.


Courtesy: haven't the slightest/flickr


Homes on the Move ... Downward

Manufactured home dealers prefabricate homes offsite and deliver them ready for installation. You might think they'd be an appealing option for consumers looking for inexpensive alternatives to the usual site-built home, but this is a case where the industry made some very bad strategic decisions and destroyed its market (as well as having the misfortune to suffer plummeting demand due to the housing crisis).

Why the decline: The industry has been squeezed between more innovative competitors and a drop in the price of traditional homes. Attempts to cut costs meant a less appealing product but not prices low enough to lure customers. The result: "Some of the steepest declines in revenue and establishments over the past decade," IBISWorld says.

• Decline in revenue last decade: -73.7 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -62.0 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -58.7 percent.


Courtesy: Trace Meek/flickr


Unplugging Wired Telecommunications Carriers

When the whole world is buzzing about wireless and mobile communications, it's got to be depressing to be the traditional wired communications carriers. Who wants to be pinned down to an actual physical cord anymore when you can use Skype?

But this is one sector where IBISWorld thinks companies may be able to evolve rather than go completely extinct. There won't be too many traditional telephone companies in the future, but that's because the major players will "close their traditional wired services and direct funds to segments with growth potential, like VoIP and broadband internet."

• Decline in revenue last decade: -54.9 percent.

• Forecasted decline in revenue in the next decade: -37.1 percent.

• Forecasted decline in the number of establishments next decade: -15.9 percent.


By:Jessica Stillman

How ICANN’s Approval of New Domains Will Change the Web

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
September 1st, 2011

The final barrier to a new era for the Internet was lifted Monday morning, when the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted 13 to 3 in favor of introducing new top-level domains (TLDs) to compete with .com, .net, .org and country codes like .ca and .mx.

The vote, held in Singapore before a thousand-strong audience of tech insiders and broadcast live online, was met with a standing ovation. A core deliverable of ICANN since its inception, new TLDs have been the subject of six years of intense debate contributing to ICANN’s bottom-up approach to policy making. As one board member put it, “every imaginable aspect has been examined six ways from Sunday.”

A hundred potential applicants have gone public over those years with their ambitions to acquire new top level domains. These range from cities like .paris and .nyc, to brands like .canon and .hitachi, to verticals like .gay and .ski. Hundreds more have kept their plans secret, particularly due to the uncertainty that previously clouded the topic.

Why the need for these new TLDs? ICANN’s mission includes introducing more consumer choice — a blessing for everyone frustrated with finding that the ideal domain name for their new project is unavailable at the existing extensions.

For trademark owners, acquiring their own TLD creates a completely brand-safe online zone free from phishing, domain spoofing, knock-off sites, counterfeiting, and the gamut of other damaging activities that plague the Internet. Plus, a .brand TLD gives marketers the choice of any domain they want ending with their trademark. No matter what name you come up with for your new product or promotion, with your own .brand, the domain is available.

A More Equitable Internet

On a global scale, the need for new TLDs derives from the drive for an altogether greater good — a more equitable Internet. Regional communities such as the Galicians in Spain, the Venetians in Italy and the Kurds in Iraq have been active in asserting their need for domains that reflect their languages and cultures.

Moreover, recent developments will permit new TLDs to be in characters other than ASCII text (the letters and numbers on English-language keyboards). These new top level domains will usher in a true globalization of the Internet, with URL support in Chinese, Japanese, Cyrillic, Arabic, and dozens of other scripts.

Supporting the view that the public wants new top level domains are the recent successes of “repurposed country codes” like .co (officially the TLD for Colombia, but sold as an abbreviation for “company”) and .me (officially for Montenegro, sold for “unique personal brands”) as well as new SLDs (second level domains) like in the United States and, about to be launched in Germany.


There are of course opponents to new TLDs. Complaints about the cost (an $185,000 application fee plus the cost of producing a 200-odd page application, plus the set-up and running costs) have been responded to by ICANN with the announcement of a $2 million grant program designated for applicants from developing countries. But the main objections actually come from major brands that already spend hundreds of thousands of dollars registering domains “defensively” to prevent others from using them, and which are concerned that a proliferation of new domains will cause these costs to escalate vastly with no added benefits.

ICANN has sought to mitigate this risk by introducing far more stringent protections for trademark owners than those that exist under the current generic TLDs, including a system that allows the rapid takedown of domains that abuse trademarks.

The Process

The timetable announced for the introduction of the new top level domains starts immediately with the preparation of complex application documents. As running a TLD involves taking responsibility for core infrastructure of the Internet, specialist technical providers are required to support each new TLD, and the applications must include comprehensive and fully-funded business plans and detailed policy documents governing the rules for usage of the new domains. The application window is between January and April 2012, and the applications are scrutinized by ICANN and then made public, so that objections from any quarter may be heard before the domain is granted.

The earliest we are likely to see one of these new TLDs in our search engine results is early 2013.

For new TLDs that are contested — for instance where multiple applicants apply for the same or similar domains — assuming all applications are of equal merit, the domain will be auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. As premium dot com domains occasionally sell for millions of dollars, we can expect these bidding wars to reach tens of millions of dollars. Toys ‘R’ Us paid $5.1 million for the domain in 2009. What does that mean for the value of .toys?


By:Ben Crawford