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Archive for the ‘stats’ Category

Microsoft and Yahoo! have been struggling ,as we all know, to monetize the real estate of the Internet World, i.e the Page Views. Where Microsoft lost about 250M$ in the online business last quarter, Yahoo also suffered a 23% drop in their net earnings in the same quarter. It’s not that these giants don’t know the business, they just seem helpless especially since they have no share in the strongest online business value chain, i.e. the Search. No wonder google still raked in a kewl 17% increase in their annual revenue.

While Microsoft was busy writing petitions against a possible buyout of double click by Google, Yahoo was busy firing its employees and trying to lower the opex to show healthy earnings to its investors

But Investors are smart and they can clearly see the Armageddon. They know that Dinosaurs did extinct and so can Yahoo.

But was Yahoo sleeping the whole time? No

Jerry Yang,Mr Yahoo, tried to reinvigorate life back in Yahoo management by calling a 100 day management review last year in July. Here’s a presentation

Irony is that do u really need a 100 days to identify a disease that has such visible side effects. When you don’t have a share in the Search market, no matter if your clicking Trillion page views you just cant make money. For the four weeks ending in January 2008, Google accounted for 65.98% of U.S. searches, while Yahoo! and Microsoft combined amounted to just 27.84% of searches.

The second big question for Yahoo has been how to enter the SNS market. But Can you really sell the concept of making money by doing SNS now to Investors, NO? You could have 2 yrs back,but you wont have the back of your investors to invest into the SNS space especially When Google’s struggling to monetize their Myspace inventory

So does this mean the quest to make money on Social networking sites is never ending?

Well Microsoft seems to think otherwise, especially since they’ve been acting happy about their investment and the advertising deal with Facebook. Hmmmmm……

Does all this hint that Google is the Achilles with out the week heel ?

O Sorry, not yet the Giants are trying their Last move…..lets wait until then…

Here’s more stuff for you to munch on the deal: Cnet

Social networking is one of the biggest and fastest-evolving phenomena on the Web, and Microsoft’s proposed takeover of Yahoo will undoubtedly send it in new directions. More than anything, a MSFT-YHOO acquisition will shake up the debate over just how you can make money off a Facebook or MySpace.com–because they’re running out of time to figure that out.

Should the Microsoft-Yahoo acquisition go through, expect them to try to corner the social-network advertising market.

The common wisdom is that neither Microsoft nor Yahoo is a real force in social networking. Both companies own multiple social media properties, and the only resounding success among them is Yahoo’s Flickr. (Sorry, Microsoft, I’m not counting the Zune’s “song-squirting.”) “They’re very interested in the space,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said in an interview with CNET News.com. “They haven’t been able to get traction in it. They look at it very longingly.”

Social networking, in addition, will be a tasty slice of the Web for a hypothetical Microsoft-Yahoo because it’s also one of the few niches of the Web on which Google doesn’t already have a stranglehold. Its OpenSocial developer initiative isn’t ready yet, its Orkut social network has only gained traction in a few regions of the globe, and the company admitted in its recent quarterly earnings call that social advertising (specifically on News Corp.’s MySpace) isn’t bringing home the bacon.

Taking the reins on the advertising market is probably the best way for Microsoft-Yahoo to make waves in social networking without actually launching a big social-media initiative–and I certainly hope they don’t try to, because there are way too many networks out there already. Microsoft already has a foot in the door with its $240 million stake in Facebook. (Yahoo tried to acquire it outright in 2006 and was promptly spurned.) And Facebook’s own Social Ads were met with high-profile opposition and plenty of bad press.

With Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s resources pooled, the two companies could devise a more effective social advertising strategy (if such a thing is even possible). Even if it’s dubious in its effectiveness, expect it to be very high profile. Think about it: Microsoft-Yahoo could claim they’re doing what Google couldn’t do. How’s that for instilling confidence?

“A potential acquisition, if it actually goes through, could be a much, much more interesting player for Facebook to want to do business with,” Li said, noting that Facebook’s current deal with Microsoft only covers display advertisements, not search ads. “If Microsoft and Yahoo can actually make a play in search, that makes Facebook a lot more comfortable going with an all-Microsoft deal and maybe even be acquired by it. Who knows?”

But beyond advertising, a combined Microsoft-Yahoo has a massive social-networking tool at its fingertips, Li continued. “Yahoo and Microsoft both have this wonderful asset called e-mail address books and instant-messaging buddy lists, which are essentially a social graph,” she said. “A lot of people are using those services, much more so than Gmail, for example, and so that’s an instant social graph.”

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How much Facebook earned last year? 50 million?, 100 million?

The actual figure is $150 million which Facebook’s 23-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed in a company wide open call. Obviously Mr Zuckerberg didn’t think that these details could be leaked.

The Times carried an article on how the leaked figures look like.
Overall, the details are pretty interesting and show how the company is bracing up for the future. They say that they are going to invest $200 million of expenditure which looks like to be mostly on storage capacity. With millions of photos on facebook, that’s sure going to be a good investment.

What obviously doesn’t come up here is whether Facebook would be making any acquisitions ? I myself would think that if they had a cash pile, then an overture(which was acquired by yahoo) like acquisition would be the best investment for them given that all of their earnings come from serving ads.

Its true that Microsoft handles it for them now but given that Facebook’s revenues are all from ads – I won’t keep something as important as that disassociated from the company.

Let’s see how’s facebook performing in the context of SNS advertising market

Here’s a presentation on SNS(facebook) market valuation …to help you understand where facebook stands today in the over all SNS advertising market…..

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Facebook is no stranger to the complaints of privacy activists. First, it was the site’s News Feed feature back in 2006. Most recently, the company’s Beacon service drew widespread criticism. This blog post will outline yet another major privacy issue, in which Facebook recklessly exposes user data.

Facebook launched its widely popular application developer program back in May 2007. As of press time, there were more than 14,000 applications. Some, including most of the popular apps, are made by companies, while a few of the popular apps, and a significant number of the long tail of the less popular applications are made by individual developers.

But a new study suggests there may be a bigger problem with the applications. Many are given access to far more personal data than they need to in order to run, including data on users who never even signed up for the application. Not only does Facebook enable this, but it does little to warn users that it is even happening, and of the risk that a rogue application developer can pose.

Privacy problems for the user

In order to install an application, a Facebook user must first agree to “allow this application to…know who I am and access my information.” Users not willing to permit the application access to all kinds of data from their profile cannot install it onto their Facebook page.

Screenshot of adding an application

(Credit: Facebook)

What kind of information does Facebook give the application developer access to? Practically everything. According to the Application Terms of Service,

“Facebook may…provide developers access to…your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location…your current location…your political view, your activities, your interests…your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history,…copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums…a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends.”

The applications don’t actually run on Facebook’s servers, but on servers owned and operated by the application developers. Whenever a Facebook user’s profile is displayed, the application servers contact Facebook, request the user’s private data, process it, and send back whatever content will be displayed to the user. As part of its terms of service, Facebook makes the developers promise to throw away any data they received from Facebook after the application content has been sent back for display to the user.

Researchers blast Facebook

Some applications may make use of all this data, but as researchers from the University of Virginia have detailed in a recent report, Facebook provides applications with access to far more private user information than they need to function. Adrienne Felt, a student and lead researcher on the project, told me that of the top 150 applications they examined in October 2007, “8.7 percent didn’t need any information; 82 percent used public data (name, network, list of friends); and only 9.3 percent needed private information (e.g., birthday). Since all of the applications are given full access to private data, this means that 90.7 percent of applications are being given more privileges than they need.”

(Credit: Adrienne Felt, with permission.)

Felt condemned this practice, and said that it violated the the idea of least authority, an important security design principle that states that an actor should only be given the privileges needed to perform a job. In other words, she said, an application that doesn’t need private information shouldn’t be given any.

“Regardless of the click-through disclaimer that Facebook makes users accept, I don’t think people understand what’s happening to their data behind the scenes. If applications don’t appear to use private data–but then they all have this same standard click-through screen–how can users differentiate between applications that really need access to data and all the rest?”

More than your own data–selling out your friends

Facebook’s Web site and lengthy application terms of service curiously fail to mention something rather important. In addition to providing the application developer access to most of your private profile data, you also agree to allow the developer to see private data on all of your friends too.

Many Facebook users set their profiles to private, which stops anyone but their friends from seeing their profile details. This is a great privacy feature that can protect users from cyberstalkers and is completely gutted by the application system. To restate things–if you set your profile to private, and one of your friends adds an application, most of your profile information that is visible to your friend is also available to the application developer–even if you yourself have not installed the application.

The good news is that Facebook lets you configure the amount of your own private data that your friend’s applications can see. The bad news is that it’s hidden away, requiring several clicks through menus to find a page listing specific privacy settings (Privacy -> Applications -> Other Applications). Furthermore, the default values are extremely lax, such that a user who has yet to discover the preference page is essentially sharing her entire profile by default.

This friend data-sharing “feature,” and the ability to protect against it, isn’t mentioned anywhere else on Facebook’s site, nor are users informed about it when they install an application.

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. During our conversation, he dismissed claims that Facebook does nothing to inform users that applications have access to data on user’s friends, stating that “we have made things very clear to users, and they understand it very well.” However, by press time, he had yet to send me a link to anywhere on the site where this information was “clearly” explained.

I also spoke with George Washington University Law professor and privacy expert Daniel Solove to get his thoughts on the issue. Regarding Facebook’s claims that it makes its privacy policy clear to users, he said that “they seem to be going on the assumption that if someone uses Facebook, they really have no privacy concerns.” Furthermore, “a kind of vague notice in a privacy policy that no one reads suddenly permits Facebook to do whatever they want with minimal to no privacy protections.”

As for actually getting user permission before using their data in new and creepy ways, Solove said that the company “seem to have a very cavalier attitude to their users consent.”

Rogue developers

Ok. So in order to give your friends virtual naughty gifts, play scrabble online, or see your daily horoscope, a user has to hand over all their private profile data to some unknown company or developer. No need to worry though, because Facebook has safeguards in place, right?

“Before providing any information to any Developer through the Facebook Platform, Facebook requires each Developer to enter into an agreement…which…strictly limits their collection, use, and storage of Facebook Site Information.” (Facebook application terms of service)

Ah, good. Facebook requires that each developer protect the privacy of the user information and requires that they not store a local copy. I’m sure Facebook enforces this vigorously, audits developers, and throws the book at anyone who violates this rule, right?

“[each application] has not been approved, endorsed, or reviewed in any manner by Facebook…we are not responsible for…the privacy practices or other policies of the Developer. YOU USE SUCH DEVELOPER APPLICATIONS AT YOUR OWN RISK.” (Facebook application terms of service)

I asked Facebook’s Kelly what his company is doing to ensure that application developers do not violate the rules by saving a copy of user data that passes through their servers. He cited “extensive security mechanisms operating behind the scenes,” although, he refused to expand on this, due to “security reasons.” He wasn’t too happy when I accused him of practicing security though obscurity, a concept widely mocked in security circles. He dismissed my charge as a mischaracterization.

Kelly claimed that his company “has a variety of techniques to determine if [developers are saving user data.]” As a PhD student in Information Security, I can quite confidently say that from a technical perspective, this is impossible. Simply put, once the data leaves Facebook’s servers, the company has no way of knowing what happens to it. Thus, giving Mr. Kelly the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume that Facebook has a team of trained psychics on staff who use their mysterious powers to ferret out rogue developers.

Who are the application developers

Kelly said that users can determine a developer’s trustworthiness by looking at their profile page, and that somehow, users can combine to form some kind of intelligent hive mind. “One of the factors is what applications your friends are installing. Untrusted applications don’t get added very often as the collective mind is choosing what is trusted in real time.” He further added that it is “up to your friends to make that determination in real time. If an application is going to give them some utility, they’ll know that the applications have to obey the rules.”

Call me a cynic–but I fail to see how thousands of 18-year-olds can collectively assess the data protection practices of some random developer in a foreign land. Remember, these are the same 18-year-olds who post photos of themselves passed out drunk on their public profile pages.

Would I trust the hive mind of Indiana University students to tell me which bar in town has the cheapest beer? Sure. But to expect them to evaluate a company’s privacy practices? No way.

A public outcry

Unfortunately, as alarming as this issue is to privacy activists, there is a good chance that it may fail to gain the attention of the millions of Facebook users necessary to actually force the company to fix its policies. While both the newsfeeds and Beacon scandals were “in your face,” most users have no way of knowing what, if any, data is being transmitted to application developers by Facebook, and thus are unlikely to be motivated to complain.

Furthermore, even users who are aware of the privacy risks of Facebook applications may still end up installing them. To not do so is to isolate yourself, to cut off communication channels, and in some cases, to cause insult your friends.

In what can only be a great example of life imitating art (see below), I asked security researcher Adrienne Felt which, if any, applications she used. She told me that in spite of the fact that she had spent significant time investigating the privacy risks, she still ended up installing an application because her friends wanted to send her some virtual Christmas presents. Not wanting to offend them, she put aside her privacy concerns, and installed the app. As she told me, due to the peer pressure, “I had a hard time saying no.”

The Joy Of Tech on Facebook
(Credit: Nitrozac and Snaggy, used with permission.)
reported on webware.com

MySpace’s growth may have peaked. Annual page views for the social network fell 7 percent from December of 2006 to the same month in 2007, according to the latest site rankings from comScore — the first time the site’s page views have declined year-over-year. And MySpace saw a 9 percent decline in page views from November to December as well. Facebook’s star, on the other hand, appears to still be rising as its year-over-year growth came in at 43 percent, despite a 12 percent decline from the prior month.

In terms of the number of unique visitors to each social network, however, MySpace is still in the lead, with almost twice the unique visitors as Facebook in December, but only a 12 percent year-over-year rise. Facebook didn’t make the top 10 sites when measured by unique visitors, but comScore data shows that the number of unique visitors to Facebook grew 81 percent from the same month last year.

While page views were down overall by 2.8 percent from the month prior, some sites, such as Google and Craigslist, experienced year-over-year gains that blew those of other top sites out of the water. Google’s page views were up 76 percent while Craiglist’s soared 119 percent over the year before. Google’s notable annual growth in page views is more proof of the search giant’s impressive 2007.

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