DSL Marketing Myrlte Beach

Friday, December 30, 2011

10 Things You Should Know About Facebook Timeline

After several weeks of delay, Facebook has finally made Timeline accessible to all users. It was originally unveiled in early September and was scheduled to be public by the end of that month.

Between September and now, it has been available to users who had a developer account, giving Facebook a beta period to let a self-selected group of users test it out and provide feedback. Anyone with a developer account, which is free, could sign up for Timeline and enable it; and they could also see other users who had enabled it with a developer account.

Due to Facebook's history of not being so forthcoming with users regarding new features and privacy concerns about those features, I put my hands on the new Timeline early, back in September, to learn as much as I could about it and to put together some answers and tips for people when Timeline became publicly available, as it is now.

Here's a summary of what I've learned. If you're not ready to turn on Timeline for yourself, you can take a tour of it in the slideshow below.

Q: What is Facebook Timeline?

A: Timeline is a new feature in Facebook that replaces the profile page. It shows the story of your life, as you choose to tell it or as Facebook has recorded it, in a visual, scrolling, ordered timeline. It's a cross between visual blog and online scrapbook. Fun fact: Facebook Timeline was accidentally released very briefly to the public back in December 2010 when it was called "Facebook Memories," but it was promptly removed.

Q: How can I get Facebook Timeline?

A: Go to the Facebook Timeline announcement page and look at the bottom of the page for a green button that says "Get Timeline."

Q: What appears on my Timeline?

A: Status updates, photos, friendships made, as well as job history, marital status changes, and other information that you've recorded in your profile.

Q: Is the Timeline replacing my Facebook wall?

A: Yes and no. Timeline will replace your profile page and wall, only after you opt into it and either publish it or seven days after you enable it.

When you log into Facebook and go to Facebook.com, that feed page of Recent Stories will still be the same. But, when you or visitors go to your unique Facebook URL, such as http://www.facebook.com/jillduffyNYC, they'll be able to see your Timeline instead of your old profile information and wall.

How to Edit Facebook Timeline

Q: I'm worry about privacy! Who can see my Facebook Timeline?

A: Everyone on Facebook will be able to see your Timeline in general, but not everyone will be able to see every post.

The seven day waiting period between when you sign up for Timeline and when it goes live gives you the opportunity to delete items or change the permission settings post by post, photo by photo, and so on.

Every Timeline entry has a pen icon in the upper right corner where you can edit the permissions. See the image above for an example.

Q: Can I restrict which people who can see certain pieces of information, photos, and other details of my Timeline?

A: Yes! In the same way that you can manage who can see a status update or photo, you can limit who sees all the entries of your Timeline. Each entry has a drop-down menu next to it that lets you filter who can see the item.

Q: Can I delete status updates, images, and other content from my Timeline?

A: Yes! Deleting is an option. Just click that pen icon to edit, and you'll see "delete."

Q: When is Facebook Timeline available?

A: Now!

Q: It sounds like you've tried out Facebook Timeline. How is it?

A: I must admit that I liked playing with it a lot more than I liked filling in standard profile information. I set up Timeline on a Facebook account that doesn't have too much data in it, so it didn't feel overwhelming, but I could see how an active Facebook user would feel totally bowled over the first time he or she opened the Timeline. Thankfully, the Timeline has a "publish" button (much like a blog), so you have an opportunity to spend some time teasing it into shape, adding the permissions you want, deleting or marking private images you don't want everyone to see, and so forth. If you don't press the publish button within seven days of setting up your Timeline, however, it will go live automatically!

Most Facebook users, I think, will want to dedicate some time to combing through their information before hitting publish, but it's by and large a one-time setup process. After the one-time setup, new Timeline entries will come from your Facebook activity, and you'll be adding permissions and making other adjustments as you go.

I also like how you can add life events, either current or back-dated. Some of the life events are pre-set in Facebook, like getting a new job and buying a home, but you can also create a custom life event or milestone.

Q: What are some of the cons?

A: The dimensions for display images is unconventional, and I found that I didn't like how most of my images looked when I uploaded them without manipulating their size and dimensions. You can drag an image around the viewer space, but you can't crop or resize from directly within Facebook. (I'm taking bets now on how soon Facebook will build an image editor, or acquire a company that already makes one.)

You can back-date new entries on your timeline with a nice calendar that lets you quickly jump to a year in the past, and optionally, you can add a month. If you want to add a memory from your childhood or back-date photos from your past, it's pretty easy to do so.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Six-Step Survival Guide for Search Engine Updates

Anyone who has suffered a sudden loss of website traffic understands the frustration of trying to adjust to search engine algorithm changes. This year alone, business owners have been scrambling to modify their sites following Google's Panda update and a more recent change that aims to provide users with "the most up-to-date results."

But what if, instead of struggling to restore traffic after algorithm updates, you stayed ahead of the game and effectively bulletproofed your site against an unexpected plunge in visitor traffic?

If you're ready to go on the offense, here are six steps for surviving whatever algorithm changes the search engines might concoct in the coming months.

1. Focus on quality, authoritative content.
The algorithms search engines use take hundreds of factors into consideration when determining which sites to rank first in query results. Among them are page quality, relevance to a search query, and the number and quality of inbound links. The relative importance of these factors fluctuates as search engine algorithms become more sophisticated, resulting in the changes that throw unsuspecting webmasters for a loop.

But remember what search engines value most: Providing high-quality results for their users. The "analysis of a site's perceived value to users" is the factor that will increase most in importance in ranking algorithms, according to the 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors, an annual survey of top search strategists from Seattle-based search engine optimization tools developer and online community SEOMoz.

Related: New Google Search Update Could Spell More Trouble for Business Websites

So before you publish any content to your site, make sure it's substantive and thoroughly researched to maximize its value in the eyes of your customers as well as the search engines.

2. Avoid "bad" backlinks.
A backlink is any link to your website from another website. It can be tempting to resort to easy-to-implement but low quality backlinks that drive traffic. But be aware that search engines are on the lookout for schemes such as the "10,000 backlinks for $10" packages you'll see advertised across the Internet, and could possibly penalize you in future algorithm updates.

Instead, publish authoritative content that people will want to share on their own sites and on social networks, which will naturally result in relevant backlinks to your site.

3. Invest in your social presence.
Last year, Google spokesman Matt Cutts confirmed that the search giant is using social signals, including links from Twitter and Facebook "shares," as a ranking factor influencing where sites fall on its results pages.

Related: How Apple's Siri Could Destroy Local SEO

That means if you aren't active on social networking sites, figure out where your readers like to hang out and set up profiles there. For best results, commit at least 20 minutes a day to sharing content and connecting with your followers on those sites.

4. Be mindful of site structure and navigation.
Although the definition of what good site design is has changed over time, the general principles behind proper structuring haven't.

Whether you're building a new site or improving an existing one, maintain a "shallow" navigation structure so all pages can be accessed in three or fewer clicks. This not only makes your content more accessible to customers, it helps search engines crawl them. Make sure to eliminate duplicate content across pages and add internal links between pages so users can easily move through your site.

5. Diversify web traffic sources.
The old saying "don't put all your eggs in one basket" counts double for your traffic generation strategies. If the bulk of your traffic comes from search engines, you're in a precarious position if algorithms change in a way that lowers your rankings. You can protect your business website from this by diversifying traffic sources.

Related: Ways to Build Online Traffic and Boost SEO

In addition to researching which keywords optimize your site for search engine ranking, build an email list, add social sharing buttons to your site and become more active on the social media sites where your readers live.

6. Stay current on SEO-related news.
This year, we've seen several Google Panda updates that aimed to reduce the presence of low-value "content farm" sites on search result pages, affecting an estimated 12 percent of all its search queries. Those changes occurred in addition to the hundreds of minor updates that search engines make every year to try to refine the quality of their results.

Consider following search engine optimization experts on social media sites. To get a better sense of how frequently search engine algorithms change and how often major updates build on the tweaks that come before them, take a look at SEOMoz's graphic depiction of Google Algorithm Changes. By studying these trends and making projections, you may be able to anticipate and prepare for future changes.

Following these steps can help keep your business website busy even if your search traffic is affected by a future algorithm adjustment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Google begins to put the Squeeze on Valuable Web Data from its own Analtyics

Google is now making those who are logged to Google search from a secure connection. As a result, Google Analytics data will suffer.

Google Begins Hiding Information in Google Analytics

OK, you read the title and are probably wondering is this for real? I am sorry to say that yes it is. If you are a non-technical person this topic might seem a tad complicated so I am going to try to simplify it as much as possible.

Google Now Using an Encrypted Connection when Logged In

If you are logged in to a Google account, you will now be pushed to a secure SSL connection when you are doing your searches from Google.com. So while previously you would have gone to http://www.google.com you will now be directed to https://www.google.com. By doing this, Google is now encrypting your search queries and the corresponding search results.

The Effect of the Encryption Protocol SSL

So what does this mean to you as an SEO or internet marketing expert? Well, in a nut shell it’s going to change your Google analytics data.google searches while logged in will not show in google analytics

According to Google, “When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query.”

So to clarify, when someone is logged into Google and performs a search from Google.com, clicks on a search result and then visits your website, you will no longer see the query that brought them in. Instead, you will see that they came from Google as a referring site.

Matt Cutts, head of WebSpam at Google has said that this should not have a massive impact on data, stating that less than 10% of search queries will be affected. Google does offer the alternative option of substituting for webmaster tools search data.

“They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools.” – Google Webmaster Blog

Although the webmaster tools search data is of course welcomed, it is nowhere near the quality of data that Google Analytics offers. This data is almost impossible to sort efficiently and is often unreliable, especially in the instance of average position of a page for a keyword – a slightly different subject of course but still worth mentioning.

Referrer Data Will be Blocked Too

Referrer data is based on the number of times one website sends a visitor to another website. According to Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land, “In Google’s new system, referrer data will be blocked. This means site owners will begin to lose valuable data that they depend on to understand how their sites are found through Google. They’ll still be able to tell that someone came from a Google search. They won’t, however, know what that search was.”


Overall, this seems like a step back for Google and the Google Analytics program. They are now intentionally hiding valuable data. What’s interesting is that none of these changes will affect the paid side of Google search. Those using AdWords will still be able to access all data as usual.

As a last point to consider, Google is working hard to generate the master login with Google +. The more people who login to Google + and perform searches, the more valuable search data we loose. So as a result, if the future is bright for Google + (which is debatable) then it is dark for Google Analytics organic search traffic data.

About The Author: John E Lincoln is Director of SEO Consulting and Social at SEO Inc., a 13 year old SEO company known as an innovator in online marketing working with a variety of notable online businesses. You can follow John on Twitter at: @johnelincoln.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why hotels should invest more in online marketing in 2012

Allocating the appropriate amount of your property’s overall marketing budget to online marketing can be more of an art, than science. Here’s why you need a significant investment in online marketing to increase direct bookings and key areas to focus your efforts on to realise the highest digital ROI.


There are more channels than ever to reach travel shoppers. The online channels travel shoppers use to research and book travel continues to grow. From the traditional channels such as direct websites with engaging search engine optimised (SEO) copy and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns, to the growing channels like social media and mobile websites, Internet marketing is complex – a maze of branding and promotional messages from properties mixed with user generated content and reviews from travellers. With a more fragmented way to reach consumers, more resources must be allocated to reach them.

The industry is seeing steady recovery. According to STR, during the week ending August 20, overall U.S. revenue per available room grew 7.6 percent from 2010 to 2011. Furthermore, PwC’s latest research shows 2011 is on pace to have a 4.6 percent growth in lodging demand over last year. No matter how bright the horizon though, you’re likely still working with a limited budget - but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work exponentially in your favour, especially in regards to online marketing.

Internet marketing produces the highest ROI with the most accountability. The Internet easily produces the highest ROI and best value in hotel marketing and is the only growth channel in hospitality. Unlike other areas, the results of marketing efforts are measurable and transparent. Smart hoteliers can use this information to their advantage to track, modify, and reinvest with confidence in revenue producing efforts.

This graph based on a recent International Econsultancy survey shows just how much of businesses’ marketing budgets are being devoted to online efforts:


Optimised Proprietary Website

Some may ask why if you also have a brand website. While brand websites can be a terrific asset, they are built to create an even playing field for their portfolio. This can be limiting when competing against other hotels in the brand’s portfolio, as well as competitive brands in your area. Having a proprietary website can fill gaps and help your hotel gain visibility for searches like “hotels near Mall of America” or “Bethesda hotel wedding.” Proprietary sites supplement brand efforts in a big way, giving you twice the amount of online real estate space. If you’re an independent hotel, a proprietary website is basically a necessity.

Some marketing strategies need to be covered with any website. It needs to have powerful SEO, including optimised content, link building and a local search distribution that make it easy to find in search engines. It should also have relevant, compelling copy. If your property has an independent website that is currently underperforming, you may need to increase the amount of budget directed to your site, or consider a new vendor.

Social Media

According to a TripAdvisor survey, most hotel owners embrace social media, as 57 percent plan to increase their social media marketing budgets. And with the popularity of social media as a channel consumers prefer to use, it’s a no brainer for properties to have a social media plan. From travel shoppers visiting hotels’ Facebook and Twitter profiles to read guest comments, to shoppers searching for videos on YouTube, social has become THE favorite channel of some. Take advantage by engaging with past and prospective guests and using custom tabs on Facebook to offer specials and the ability to book.


According to the same TripAdvisor survey, 99 percent of hotel owners plan to respond to guest reviews. TripAdvisor has over 50 million reviews… and travels shoppers read them. It’s crucial your staff monitors and responds to all negative reviews and many positive reviews. It helps generate loyalty and show potential future guests that you care about making their stay a first-class experience.


eMarketer reports 25 percent of leisure travellers use mobile devices to book rooms, and Google reports that 19 percent of all hotel searches happen on mobile devices. With that type of explosive growth, it’s imperative hotels have mobile friendly websites to reach travellers on-the-go and increase bookings. It’s yet another channel that many consumers prefer, which means your property should make it convenient for them to reach you there.

This graph shows specific digital channels where companies plan to increase spend:


The question of how much exactly a hotel should invest in Internet marketing is still up to the individual property, since each faces unique market segments and has unique goals and objectives for growth. For example, if you’re a select service brand with meeting space, you may need more budget allocated to creating or updating your proprietary website and SEO. If you’re an upscale independent resort, you may need to increase the amount allocated to PPC advertising.

A general rule of thumb focuses on proportional spending. If you have a goal that 30 percent of your total sales be Internet generated, roughly 30 percent of your budget should be Internet allocated. Now this is by no means an exact science (some brands have more marketing support than others, some independents rely more heavily on independent websites, etc.), but serves as a good starting point for most properties.

It’s crucial that online marketing is a priority when planning your 2012 marketing budget. The Internet and travel shopper buying process is far too complex, and your competitors are far too aggressive to put online marketing on the back burner.

(Contributed by hotel Internet marketing company Vizergy).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Follow Reuters Facebook Twitter RSS YouTube Read Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's enigmatic and elusive son 24 Oct 2011 1 F

(Reuters) - Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, said it will buy FriendFeed, netting a group of prized ex-Google engineers in the fast-growing Internet business.

FriendFeed, an up-and-coming social media startup, lets people share content online in real time across various social networks and blogs.

The service is similar to, though less popular than Twitter, the microblogging site that Facebook tried to buy for $500 million (303 million pounds) in 2008, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed on Monday, but Facebook said FriendFeed would operate as it has for the time being as the teams determine long-term plans.

Facebook's big gain in the acquisition is the engineering talent at FriendFeed, rather than the actual product, which has won critical praise, but lagged in popularity compared to Twitter, said Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang.

"These guys now how to build scalable, social applications," said Owyang.

In a statement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he admired the FriendFeed team for having created a service he described as simple and elegant.

"As this shows, our culture continues to make Facebook a place where the best engineers come to build things quickly that lots of people will use," said Zuckerberg.

FriendFeed's four founders are former Google employees who count well known products like Gmail and Google Maps among their accomplishments.

Facebook said the founders will hold senior roles on its engineering and product teams.

FriendFeed had talked with Facebook "casually" for a couple of months, and that it became clear that the teams were "cut from the same cloths," FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor told Reuters in an interview.

He declined to say whether FriendFeed had been in talks with other companies.

One bridge between Facebook and FriendFeed might have been Matt Cohler, Facebook's former management vice president. He joined FriendFeed backer Benchmark Capital last year.

Asked what role the connection played in the deal, FriendFeed's Taylor said the decision to be acquired by Facebook was made entirely by the team at FriendFeed.

Facebook has more than 250 million registered users. In May, the social networking company announced a $200 million investment from Russian investor Digital Sky Technologies that pegged the value of its preferred shares at $10 billion.

Facebook has said its revenue is on track to rise 70 percent this year, and board member Mark Andreessen has said the company will bring in more than $500 million in revenue in 2009.

But Forrester's Owyang said that Facebook must make the content generated within the site more accessible to the public instead of only to closed networks of Facebook friends, so that the company can sell more ads.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced changes to its privacy controls to allow people to make their status messages and posts viewable to a broader Internet audience.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing Bernard Orr and Robert MacMillan)

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Great Tech War Of 2012

Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon battle for the future of the innovation economy.

Awesome article from Fast Company. Read on.

Gilbert Wong, the mayor of Cupertino, California, calls his city council to order. "As you know, Cupertino is very famous for Apple Computer, and we're very honored to have Mr. Steve Jobs come here tonight to give a special presentation," the mayor says. "Mr. Jobs?" And there he is, in his black turtleneck and jeans, shuffling to the podium to the kind of uproarious applause absent from most city council meetings. It is a shock to see him here on ground level, a thin man amid other citizens, rather than on stage at San Francisco's Moscone Center with a larger-than-life projection screen behind him. He seems out of place, like a lion ambling through the mall.

"Apple is growing like a weed," Jobs begins, his voice quiet and sometimes shaky. But there's nothing timorous about his plan: Apple, he says, would like to build a gargantuan new campus on a 150-acre parcel of land that it acquired from Hewlett-Packard in 2010. The company has commissioned architects--"some of the best in the world"--to design something extraordinary, a single building that will house 12,000 Apple employees. "It's a pretty amazing building," Jobs says, as he unveils images of the futuristic edifice on the screen. The stunning glass-and-concrete circle looks "a little like a spaceship landed," he opines.

Nobody knew it at the time, but the Cupertino City Council meeting on June 7, 2011, was Jobs's last public appearance before his resignation as Apple's CEO in late August (and his passing in early October). It's a fitting way to go out. When completed in 2015, Apple's new campus will have a footprint slightly smaller than that of the Pentagon; its diameter will exceed the height of the Empire State Building. It will include its own natural-gas power plant and will use the grid only for backup power. This isn't just a new corporate campus but a statement: Apple--which now jockeys daily with ExxonMobil for the title of the world's most valuable company--plans to become a galactic force for the eons.

And as every sci-fi nerd knows, you totally need a tricked-out battleship if you're about to engage in serious battle.
"Our development is guided by the idea that every year, the amount that people want to add, share, and express is increasing," says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "We can look into the future--and it's going to be really, really good."

To state this as clearly as possible: The four American companies that have come to define 21st-century information technology and entertainment are on the verge of war. Over the next two years, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google will increasingly collide in the markets for mobile phones and tablets, mobile apps, social networking, and more. This competition will be intense. Each of the four has shown competitive excellence, strategic genius, and superb execution that have left the rest of the world in the dust. HP, for example, tried to take a run at Apple head-on, with its TouchPad, the product of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm. HP bailed out after an embarrassingly short 49-day run, and it cost CEO Léo Apotheker his job. Microsoft's every move must be viewed as a reaction to the initiatives of these smarter, nimbler, and now, in the case of Apple, richer companies. When a company like Hulu goes on the block, these four companies are immediately seen as possible acquirers, and why not? They have the best weapons--weapons that will now be turned on one another as they seek more room to grow.

There was a time, not long ago, when you could sum up each company quite neatly: Apple made consumer electronics, Google ran a search engine, Amazon was a web store, and Facebook was a social network. How quaint that assessment seems today.

Jeff Bezos, who was ahead of the curve in creating a cloud data service, is pushing Amazon into digital media, book publishing, and, with his highly buzzed-about new line of Kindle tablets, including the $199 Fire, a direct assault on the iPad. Amazon almost doubled in size from 2008 to 2010, when it hit $34 billion in annual revenue; analysts expect it to reach $100 billion in annual revenue by 2015, faster than any company ever.

Remember when Google's goal was to catalog all the world's information? Guess that task was too tiny. In just a few months at the helm, CEO Larry Page has launched a social network (Google+) to challenge Facebook, and acquired Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, in part to compete more ferociously against Apple. Google's YouTube video service is courting producers to make original programming. Page can afford these big swings (and others) in the years ahead, given the way his advertising business just keeps growing. It's on pace to bring in more than $30 billion this year, almost double 2007's revenue.

Why Apple Will Win
The iPhone, iPad, and iEverything else will keep it merrily rolling along.
Continue >>

Facebook, meanwhile, is now more than just the world's biggest social network; it is the world's most expansive enabler of human communication. It has changed the ways in which we interact (witness its new Timeline interface); it has redefined the way we share--personal info, pictures (more than 250 million a day), and now news, music, TV, and movies. With access to the "Likes" of more than 800 million people, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has an unequaled trove of data on individual consumer behavior that he can use to personalize both media and advertising.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google don't recognize any borders; they feel no qualms about marching beyond the walls of tech into retailing, advertising, publishing, movies, TV, communications, and even finance. Across the economy, these four companies are increasingly setting the agenda. Bezos, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Page look at the business world and justifiably imagine all of it funneling through their servers. Why not go for everything? And in their competition, each combatant is getting stronger, separating the quartet further from the rest of the pack.

Everyone reading this article is a customer of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google, and most probably count on all four. This passion for the Fab Four of business is reflected in the blogosphere's panting coverage of their every move. ExxonMobil may sometimes be the world's most valuable company, but can you name its CEO? Do you scour the Internet for rumors about its next product? As the four companies encroach further and further into one another's space, consumers look forward to cooler and cooler products. The coming years will be fascinating to watch because this is a competition that might reinvent our daily lives even more than the four have changed our habits in the past decade. And that, dear reader, is why you need a program guide to the battle ahead.

1| The Road Map

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google do not talk about their plans. Coca-Cola would tweet its secret formula before any of them would even hint at what's next. "That is a part of the magic of Apple," says new CEO Tim Cook.

That secrecy only fuels the zeal of those bent on sussing out their next moves. And it is certainly possible to decode the Fab Four's big-picture strategic ambitions: Over the next few years, each will infiltrate, digitize, and revolutionize every corner of your life, taking a slice out of each transaction that results. This is a vision shared by all four, and it hinges on three interrelated ideas.

First, each company has embraced what Jobs has branded the "post-PC world"--a vision of daily life that is enabled by, and comes to depend on, smartphones, tablets, and other small, mobile, easy-to-use computers. Each of these companies has already benefited more than others from this proliferation of mobile, a shift that underlies their extraordinary gains in revenue, cash reserves, and market cap.

The second idea is a function of the fact that these post-PC devices encourage and facilitate consumption, in just about every form. So each of these giants will deepen their efforts to serve up media--books, music, movies, TV shows, games, and anything else that might brighten your lonely hours (they're also socializing everything, so you can enjoy it with friends or meet new ones). But it's not just digital media; they will also make the consumption of everything easier. The new $79 Kindle, for example, isn't just a better reading device; it integrates Amazon's local-offers product. The Fire will be accompanied by a tablet-friendly redesign of Amazon.com that will make it easier for you to buy the physical goods that the company sells, from pet food to lawn mowers. Wherever and whenever you are online, they want to be there to assist you in your transaction.

All of our activity on these devices produces a wealth of data, which leads to the third big idea underpinning their vision. Data is like mother's milk for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Data not only fuels new and better advertising systems (which Google and Facebook depend on) but better insights into what you'd like to buy next (which Amazon and Apple want to know). Data also powers new inventions: Google's voice-recognition system, its traffic maps, and its spell-checker are all based on large-scale, anonymous customer tracking. These three ideas feed one another in a continuous (and often virtuous) loop. Post-PC devices are intimately connected to individual users. Think of this: You have a family desktop computer, but you probably don't have a family Kindle. E-books are tied to a single Amazon account and can be read by one person at a time. The same for phones and apps. For the Fab Four, this is a beautiful thing because it means that everything done on your phone, tablet, or e-reader can be associated with you. Your likes, dislikes, and preferences feed new products and creative ways to market them to you. Collectively, the Fab Four have all registered credit-card info on a vast cross-section of Americans. They collect payments (Apple through iTunes, Google with Checkout, Amazon with Amazon Payments, Facebook with in-house credits). Both Google and Amazon recently launched Groupon-like daily-deals services, and Facebook is pursuing deals through its check-in service (after publicly retreating from its own offers product).

It would be a mistake to see their ambitions as simply a grab for territory (and money). These four companies firmly believe that they possess the ability to enhance rather than merely replace our current products and services. They want to apply server power and software code to make every transaction more efficient for you and more profitable for them.

2| The Inevitable War

Hardware. Media. Data. With each company sharing a vision dependent on these three big ideas, conflict over pretty much every strategic move seems guaranteed. Amazon, for example, needs a better media tablet to drive more customers to its Kindle, MP3, and app stores. But how to avoid an HP-like disaster? The Kindle Fire has just a 7-inch screen, rolls up all of Amazon's streaming services, and retails for a mere $199, thus slotting into a price and feature niche just between an iPhone and an iPad. Who knew there even was a niche there? Apple doesn't believe that niche exists (see the next section), but you can bet it will if the Kindle Fire succeeds.

When Google introduced its new social network Google+, it was seen, rightly, as a challenge to Zuckerberg's Facebook. But at its core, Google+, along with +1, Google's version of the like button, should be understood as a product that will generate more data about what users like. Those data improve search algorithms and other existing services, and can even lead to new products. So Google's search for self-improvement is what has brought it into direct competition with Facebook.

Why did Zuckerberg flirt with a "Facebook phone" earlier this year? (HTC released a handset called the Status that included a built-in button that let users post to the social network with one click.) While Facebook is the most-downloaded app on the iPhone and acts as a central contacts repository for millions of Android, Windows, and BlackBerry devices, its rivals all have competing social networks that could siphon away users. Most strikingly, Apple has integrated Twitter throughout iOS 5, letting you tweet from any app, a feature clearly aimed at dulling Facebook's mobile growth. Page now has Google+. Amazon's Kindle has a social network that connects readers of the same book. Zuckerberg needs to maintain a direct line to the pockets of Facebook members, and that's why you can discount his repeated dismissal of rumors that he'll enter the hardware business.

The torrent of news and rumor surrounding these companies and their initiatives is already overwhelming, and it's only going to grow stronger. But viewing their moves through the lens of hardware, media, and data is the first step toward understanding their strategies.

3| The Profit Game

Late in 2010, Jobs made a surprise visit to Apple's quarterly earnings call. The purported reason was to celebrate Apple's first $20 billion quarter, but Jobs clearly had something else on his mind: Android. At the time, Google's free mobile operating system was beginning to eclipse the iPhone's market share, and Jobs was miffed. He launched into a prepared rant about Android's shortcomings. "This is going to be a mess for both users and developers," he said, citing the inevitable complications that arise from the fact that Android phones look and work differently from one another. As for the crop of 7-inch Android tablets being developed to take on the iPad? "DOA--dead on arrival," Jobs asserted. (Jeff Bezos, for one, has ignored Jobs's perspective.)

What Jobs didn't say in his outburst, though, was how little Android's market share matters to Apple. According to Nielsen, Android now powers about 40% of smartphones; 28% run Apple's iOS. But here's the twist: Android could command even 70% of the smartphone business without having a meaningful impact on Apple's finances. Why? Because Apple makes a profit on iOS devices, while Google and many Android handset makers do not. This is part of a major strategic difference between Apple and the other members of the Fab Four. Apple doesn't need a dominant market share to win. Everyone else does. The more people who use Google search or Facebook, the more revenue those companies can generate from ads. Amazon, too, depends on scale; retail is a low-margin business dependent on volume.

Apple, on the other hand, makes a significant profit on every device it sells. Some analysts estimate that it books $368 on each iPhone. You may pay $199 for the phone, but that's after a subsidy that the wireless carriers pay Apple. Google, in contrast, makes less than $10 annually per device for the ads it places on Android phones and tablets. That's because it gives away the OS to phone makers as part of its quest for market share. Google's revenue per phone won't go up after the Motorola purchase closes--Motorola Mobility's consumer-device division has lost money the past few quarters. So despite Google's market-share lead, Apple is making all the money. By some estimates, it's now sucking up half of all the profits in smartphones.

Making a lot of profit on every device has always been Apple's MO, but in recent years it has added something extra to this plan. In the past, Apple's profit margins were a function of higher prices--the company sold computers at luxury price points and booked luxury profits. But in smartphones and tablets, Apple has managed to match mass-market prices and still make luxury profits. This neat trick is the work of new CEO Cook, who, during his years as COO, mastered the global production cycle. He did so by aggressively using cash to bolster the power of Apple's considerable scale; several times over the past few years, he's dipped into the company's reserves to secure long-term contracts for important components like flash memory and touch screens. Buying up much of the world's supply of these commodities has one convenient added benefit: It makes them more expensive for everyone else.

One of Cook's great challenges will be to maintain this edge. While Amazon will continue to pursue audience at the expense of profit margins, Google (and eventually Facebook) will try to make like Apple and increase profits. When Google's only goal was to proliferate Android software, it could live with that sawbuck per phone, per year. But with Motorola, Google now has a direct stake in the profitability of Android devices. Developing, marketing, and distributing attractive phones and tablets requires a much more substantial investment than selling software. Google has pledged to run Motorola as a separate entity, but its shareholders won't stomach a series of money-losing quarters that could depress Google's earnings or stock. In short, now that Page is in the hardware business, he's going to have to start thinking about phones the way Cook does.

4| The Dangerous Decoys

For a onetime agricultural hub that's been turned into suburbia, Silicon Valley is home to an awful lot of talk about moats these days. Warren Buffett deserves credit for the metaphor, which describes the companies he's most interested in pursuing--ones with huge revenues (a castle of money) whose businesses are protected by unbeatable competitive advantages (or very wide moats). The Fab Four all have moats to rival those at Angkor Wat.

As a result of these wide moats, these companies generate so much money that they can spend freely on new ventures; and in some cases, they're willing to do so even if the business won't ever bring the kinds of gains they're used to. Look at Apple's efforts in e-books: Does the company really want to overthrow Amazon or is it simply trying to offer one more reason to buy iPhones and iPads and, thus, guard its cash cow? When Google invests billions to build smartphones and a new social network, is it really trying to topple Apple and Facebook--or is it simply building a wider moat to protect its core interest, search revenue? "We don't do things that we don't think will generate really big returns over time," says Larry Page. But if a possibly unprofitable social network beefs up search revenue? That's just fine.

These ventures are decoy threats that tax a rival's resources. Google+ will be hard-pressed to ever match Facebook's global reach, but it will certainly keep Zuckerberg and his engineers on their toes. Indeed, it already has. Facebook has clearly copied the most-lauded Google+ features, such as fine-grained privacy controls and smart groupings, and pushed new ideas such as Timeline and auto-sharing. Zuckerberg has to do this--he simply must eliminate any incentive for leaving Facebook. And Page knows that the more time Zuckerberg worries about Google+, the less time and fewer resources Facebook has to build a search engine that will threaten Google. Such is life in Silicon Valley, especially when companies have money to burn. Every offensive move is also a defensive move--and every move has potential. You never know what's going to hit big in tech. So if you can, why wouldn't you try everything?

5| The Living Room

In the spring of 2010, Rishi Chandra, a Google product manager, took to the stage at the company's developer conference to announce Google's next victim: the TV business. Chandra described television as the most important mass medium that hadn't yet been breached by the digital world. Four billion people watch TV; in the U.S. alone, the medium generates $70 billion a year in advertising revenue. Google, Chandra promised, was going to "change the future of television." He turned on a prototype of Google's new device, a set-top box called Google TV that would bring the web to the tube--and that's when things got awkward. His Bluetooth remote didn't work. Chandra and his team called for the guys backstage, who blamed the problem on all the phone signals floating about the room. Several minutes passed while engineers fiddled furiously with the device, the scene playing out like the worst Curb Your Enthusiasm episode ever. Engineers fixed the problem, but like a racehorse stumbling out of the starting gate, Google TV never recovered. Released a few months later, the product was panned and sold quite poorly.

Each of the Fab Four believes that it can somehow define the future of television, when that flat panel in your living room (and every other device you own) is connected to the web, pulling in the video you want at the moment you want it. With the universe of choice now available, the moribund channel grid will need to be revolutionized with a fresh interface for finding programs. Social signals--such as indications of what shows your friends are watching and hints as to what shows you might like given those friendships--will be part of the mix, as will live conversations with friends watching the same show. And the advertising will be more targeted and relevant. Each of the Fab Four wants a piece of this. The honey pot? Not only that $70 billion in domestic ad revenue but also $74 billion in cable-subscriber fees.

That's the idea anyway. So far the Fab Four is the Failed Four when it comes to TV. There are many reasons for this, starting with the fact that they are trying to unseat entrenched players who are fiercely protective of the business model they've relied on for decades. Network execs, for example, had no intention of handing Google the right to give Google TV customers access to the full-length shows that are currently available for streaming only on their own network websites. Not without a lot more money, anyway, given that their online ad revenue is a fraction of their TV take. Google approached its negotiations with the networks with arrogance, and the networks responded by blocking access.

Then there's the fact that none of the Fab Four want to think of itself as being in the TV business--rather, each sees television as a means to an end. For instance, Amazon offers free streaming movies and TV as an incentive to join Prime, a service that offers a year's worth of free two-day shipping (on most purchases) for $79. Bezos has recently made deals to bolster his video library. He paid CBS a reported $100 million to offer old Star Trek and Cheers episodes, among other things, for 18 months. And he made a similar partnership with Fox. "We're just getting started," Bezos said at the Kindle rollout event in late September. But on balance, Prime is not a way to give the people lots of great TV; TV is a way to get people to Prime.

And creating next-generation television hardware has proved difficult. Apple TV, a box that first and foremost connects your iTunes video library to your TV, has been remade several times since its 2007 debut and is still a product for early adopters. Even Jobs and Cook have dismissed it as "a hobby" for the company.

Still, the massive, old, and profitable business of television does seem ripe for disruption, perhaps through the invention of some magical device. Cook had barely erased "interim" from his CEO title before analyst and media speculation began that his first bravura move as CEO would be an honest-to-goodness Apple-branded television set, perhaps as early as Christmas 2012 (cue fanboy swooning). The dreamers note that Apple could create an Internet TV that would merge web services and standard broadcasts; it does, of course, already make the world's best remote controls in the iPhone and iPad.

But don't hold your breath for iTV. Of all four companies, Apple is the one that provokes the most rumors. That's been the case for years; iPhone whispers started around 1999, but the product didn't go on sale until 2007. And selling TV sets is almost a commodity venture, so Cook will either have to master a new supply chain or deliver so much magic that customers will pay a significant premium.

While Apple is the focus of all the next-gen TV rumors, the most interesting player in this space might be the most overlooked: Facebook. CEO Zuckerberg has made deals with several studios to release streaming movies and TV pilots on the site. But Facebook's real strength is in facilitating the conversation surrounding TV. Every show and star has a fan page, and Facebook knows exactly what each of its 800 million users like and don't like. Millions of people watch TV with a computer, tablet, or smartphone beside them, so they can chat with friends around the globe about the show they're watching. At Facebook's f8 developers conference in late September, it integrated Hulu and Netflix (the latter in 44 countries, though not in the U.S.) and made it seamless to share what you're watching. Sure, this will allow Facebook to create an even more engaging experience for its users, but this also taps a new gold mine of data that's invaluable to advertisers and the entertainment studios. Why not make it easy for Facebook users to click like during their favorite moments of a show, and monitor that activity? Nielsen, whose 61-year-old TV ratings are the linchpin of its $5 billion global research business, is built on extrapolating information from small samples, so what if advertisers and studios could pay to get actual data on actual individuals? With one trivial technological shift, Facebook could remake the TV business without even touching the remote.

6| The Next Steve Jobs

In 2005, Google bought Android, a tiny company led by Andy Rubin, who at his previous startup created a proto-smartphone that was marketed as the T-Mobile Sidekick. At that point, the Android team had spent two years working on what it thought would be the next killer mobile platform; it spent two more years building out its vision at Google. In 2007, a few images of Android hardware and software leaked online. They landed with a thud. Android's revolutionary phone smacked of a BlackBerry knock-off--hard buttons on the bottom, a small screen on top, ugly all over. There were no touch gestures; to point to something, you used a hardware direction button. There was nothing novel about the on-screen user interface--to choose something, you navigated through nested menus, a concept that harked back to Windows 95. Android circa 2007 is the nightmare vision of tech: It's what smartphones would look like if it weren't for Steve Jobs.
"A big piece of the story we tell ourselves about who we are is that we are willing to invent," says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "And, very importantly, we are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

Today's Android--the touch gesture, app-enabled operating system that's helped make smartphones the majority of all new phones sold in the United States--is testament to Google's engineering prowess and marketing acumen. But it is also, obviously, a direct descendant of the iPhone. After Rubin and his team saw what Jobs had cooked up, they remade Android in Apple's image. And they weren't alone: Almost every smartphone that's come along since borrows major and minor features from Apple. (Ironically, the most original mobile platform is the one developed by Microsoft, of all companies--Windows Phone.) Apple's brilliant reinvention of the cell phone, and its equally brilliant invention of the modern tablet, are the reasons Amazon built an app store, the reasons Facebook is rumored to be flirting with making a smartphone, the only reason that any company is competing in those particular hardware businesses. This is what has been amazing about Steve Jobs: Nurturing the next great thing in tech wasn't simply the most important thing for Apple. It has been the most important thing for the entire tech industry.

And that is why the industry's next Steve Jobs is . . . Steve Jobs. Thanks to its founder, Apple has a long-term product road map in place--keep making better iOS products, keep bringing innovations it discovered in the mobile world to the Mac--and you can bet that Cook and his rivals will follow Jobs's path for the foreseeable future. We know Cook is an operational genius. Anyone who claims to know if he is a visionary is lying.

Over the next two years, Bezos, Page, and Zuckerberg will gingerly start to vie for Jobs's innovator-in-chief mantle. (One way to consider this battle among the Fab Four is as a fight for this honor.) Of them, Bezos has the best record with new products. Amazon Web Services and the Kindle were true innovations that changed and inspired the rest of the industry. (According to some reports, even Apple relies in part on Amazon's cloud infrastructure for its iCloud service.) Bezos also seems the most temperamentally attuned to the creation of Next Big Things. "A big piece of the story we tell ourselves about who we are is that we are willing to invent," he told investors at Amazon's annual meeting this summer. "We are willing to think long-term. We start with the customer and work backward. And, very importantly, we are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

Page, too, has the "think different" gene, and his CEO stint has been characterized by swift, decisive action to reinvigorate the company. He has impressively bet on Android, YouTube, and Chrome, and "we have some new businesses--Google+, Commerce, and Local--that we are really excited about and are pretty early stage," Page told analysts over the summer. There is another way of looking at this, though--as an example of Page's reactive streak. In the past, when Google offered a new take on an old thing--see Gmail or Google Maps--the search company's version was so radically novel that it instantly rendered the incumbents obsolete. That's not true of Google+, for example. Google's social network has earned praise for an elegant interface and some innovative features, but it clearly mimics Facebook and Twitter, rather than offering something wholly new. Page has tied every Googler's bonus, even those not working on social, to Google's ability to beat Facebook. So while the Google CEO can be seen as making big, bold moves, he might also appear to be spending an awful lot of time fretting about beating something old.

As for Zuckerberg . . .
7| The Age Of Zuck

In some ways, it's unfair to compare Facebook to Amazon, Apple, and Google. While Facebook's growth is impressive, its actual numbers barely register next to the other three: Facebook is reported to have made $1.6 billion during the first half of 2011 (about double what it made in the first half of 2010), but Apple makes that much in nine days. Facebook's only direct competition with these companies is Google in the global $24 billion online display-advertising business, an arena that Google believes will be a $200-billion-a-year market in the next few years. As a private company, Facebook can shield itself from scrutiny (an advantage that Bezos, Cook, and Page would dearly love), but being private has also hampered Facebook. It lacks the capital the others have to make major strategic acquisitions, or to finance the production of factories that would make a Facebook device.

Zuckerberg's ambitions will only be fully realized after Facebook goes public. Its path will then likely mirror Google's post-IPO trajectory--it will evolve from a company with one product into a many-tentacled beast that uses its newfound capital to disrupt all of its rivals. Zuckerberg isn't given to Jobsian rants, but when he discusses how the web will shift over the next few years, he can sound like a hoodie-burning revolutionary. "Just like Intel with Moore's law, our development is guided by the idea that every year, the amount that people want to add, share, and express is increasing," he proclaimed at f8 in late September. "We can look into the future and we can see what might exist--and it's going to be really, really good." Zuckerberg is even maturing into a capable presenter. Compared to Bezos, Cook, and Page, he's most adept at mimicking Jobs's singular skills, and comes off as infectiously visionary when unveiling a new product.

From search to ads to phones to tablets to TV to games, Facebook aims to be in everything. In some cases, as with music or gaming, it will partner with others to serve its massive audience. But over time, look for Zuckerberg to build his own products. Search is the most provocative example. Facebook's partnership with Bing already shows off links that your friends liked; Facebook Search could go even deeper, sorting the web according to your social interactions. It would use everything it knows about you to decipher your queries in a way that Google can't muster. Type in "jobs" and FB Search would know you're looking for news on the Apple founder and not employment. (It knows you have a job; it even knows how often you goof off there.)

Zuckerberg's app strategy is also ambitious and intriguing. At f8, he debuted a new class of Facebook media apps that let Facebook users read, watch, and listen to content without ever leaving the site--and share it seamlessly. He's lured impressive media partners such as The Wall Street Journal, Spotify, and Netflix. If Zuckerberg can bring those apps to the social network's mobile product, he'll have a winner on his hands: an app ecosystem that works on every phone and tablet, rather than on just one company's devices, and one that captures the next generation of mobile developers (not to mention all those Facebook credits). Watch out, Apple: Zuck is coming for you.

8| The Phone Barrier

One industry stands directly between the Fab Four and global domination. It's an industry that frustrates you every day, one that consistently ranks at the bottom of consumer satisfaction surveys, that poster child for stifling innovation and creativity: your phone carrier. And your cable or DSL firm. For Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, the world's wireless and broadband companies are a blessing and a curse. By investing in the infrastructure that powers the Internet, they've made the four firms' services possible. But the telcos and cable companies are also gatekeepers to customers, and Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook would love to cut them out of the equation. In the long run, they actually stand a shot at doing so.

While Google has historically had a difficult relationship with the telcos, that will have to change as the company keeps pushing Android into the market. That leaves Apple as the thorn in the carriers' side. Before the iPhone, carriers routinely prevented smartphone users from installing their own apps, and they regularly disabled hardware features that competed with their revenue streams. (Verizon once crippled BlackBerry's GPS system because the carrier sold its own subscription location plan.) The iPhone forever changed this culture: It conditioned phone users to expect to download any apps they choose (actually, any app approved of by Apple). Carriers can no longer tell you that you can't run, say, Skype, or an app that gives you free text messages. Buy a smartphone, and you've earned that right. Apple's move to expand its carrier lineup in the U.S. is the next great front in the battle with communications companies. Now that you can get the iPhone on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, carriers will be forced to compete with one another on network speed, price, and customer service. This will be a first: Back in 2009, when Apple unveiled "iPhone tethering"--the ability to use your phone's network connection to surf the web on your computer--AT&T took a year to implement the service, while other carriers around the world launched it instantly. But if AT&T dithers now, you can go somewhere else.
The best tech companies stay at their peak for a decade at most. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have the potential to be exceptions.

That's small potatoes compared to some potential breakthroughs. All but Amazon have a videophone service: Apple's FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts, and Facebook's Skype integration. Apple's iMessage and Facebook's Messenger, which offer text, photo, video, and group messaging, intend to get people to route all of their communications through the Internet rather than the carriers. If either takes off--and, given that iMessage will be built into the next iPhone and Messenger will be available to every Facebook user on iPhone and Android, they both seem sure to be hits--they'll stand a good chance at replacing SMS, which is highly lucrative for carriers, as the standard for mobile conversations.

In a larger sense, all these companies have devalued the idea of talking on the phone; paying for minutes is passé when you can text, IM, and video chat instead. Now we all just pay for data, delivered via high-speed networks that might be built around and between what the carriers offer. (Of course, the Fab Four seems to assume retailers and municipalities will build those networks to enable their vision--anyone but them.) Verizon is a $100 billion company built on dumb pipes, and dumb pipes may not make for a smart business model for the long run.

9| The Bank Heist

The other outfit standing between you and the Fab Four is one that barely registers: your credit-card company. When you buy something through iTunes, the Android Market, Amazon, or Facebook, the credit-card company gets a small cut of your payment. To these giants, the cut represents a terrible inefficiency--why surrender all that cash to an interloper? And not just any interloper, but an inefficient, unfriendly one that rarely innovates for its consumers. These credit-card giants seem ripe for the picking.

While this attack is less mapped out than the one on your phone and cable company, here's how the scenario would play out. The first step is getting consumers used to the idea of paying by phone. The second step is to encourage consumers to link their bank accounts directly to their devices, thus eliminating the credit-card middleman. For example, Google just launched Wallet, a service that allows you to pay for purchases by waving your phone at a merchant paypad. Google is not billing the system as a credit-card killer; in fact, it's partnering with MasterCard and Citi on Wallet. But if customers embrace Wallet to make payments, Google could add services that make it the central repository of all our coupons and other special deals, taking a bite out of the likes of Groupon and LivingSocial (in which Amazon is a major investor). The move is so ambitious that it's already rattled the leader in online payments: PayPal sued Google just hours after the Wallet announcement, back in May, claiming that Google stole its intellectual property when it poached Osama Bedier, a former exec who now runs Google's payment project.

Both Amazon and Facebook could transform their online-payments services into similar walletlike mobile apps, while Facebook could create a significant PayPal rival in web commerce if it rolled out payments as part of Facebook Connect. Apple has a very different, but potentially more disruptive, shot at this market. The company has long been rumored to add near-field-communication chips--which allow for waving your phone to pay--into its phones. If it does, an Apple payments system would have two advantages over everyone else. First, the iTunes database of customers is huge. Second, there's the iPad, which is fast gaining traction as a next-gen cash register in small businesses around the country. This sets up Apple to own both sides of potentially millions of transactions: Go to your coffee shop, wave your iPhone against the cashier's iPad, and voilà, you're done. Multiply that by every hipster in America and you see the scale of Apple's ambition.

10| The Hit Men

So who could derail these best-laid plans? Well, let's start with the lawyers, of course. Over the past year, the tech industry has become an increasingly ugly place, with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and just about every handset maker joining a legal scrum over patents. Everyone is suing everyone else, while the government, spurred on by the likes of, yes, Microsoft, is considering an antitrust suit against Google. None of this bodes well. Over the summer, Apple succeeded in getting Samsung's Galaxy tablet (which runs Android) banned from release in Germany and delayed its launch in Australia. This is part of a global fight about design and Android, complicated by the fact that Samsung is Apple's largest component supplier.

The Samsung suits were also the most significant sign that Google may have a problem with the intellectual property underpinning Android, since its "free and open" operating system is forcing its device makers into expensive courtroom battles over their Android phones and tablets. This, in turn, has set off a buying frenzy of global patents that might have anything to do with transmitting mobile data. A coalition that included Apple and Microsoft spent $4.5 billion to outbid Google for a stash of 6,000 mobile-related patents from Nortel. Page responded by spending $12.5 billion for Motorola and its slug of 17,000 patents, and by then making two deals with IBM for more than 2,000 patents in all (the purchase price was not disclosed).

All these patent suits could stifle innovation. Most new devices are so complicated--touching on so many specialized areas, from intricate chip design to battery placement to touch-screen dynamics--that it's impossible for any company's devices to be wholly original. Tech companies used to let minor patent violations slide, but the rise of patent-hording trolls has changed this. Now everyone's instinct is to sue.

It's almost as if they'd never studied Microsoft's decline in relevance. The software giant never resumed its place as an agenda setter after its antitrust trial in the late 1990s. The suit consumed so much time and brainpower that the company fell behind on a decade's worth of trends. That's the risk in today's patent wars: The more time Page spends defending Android, the less effort he puts into making sure Google is actually inventing new stuff.

Tech companies are ephemeral enterprises, with a built-in obsolescence much like their products. The best firms stay at their peak for a decade tops; most get snuffed out before anyone even notices them. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have the potential to be exceptions to this rule. Their CEOs are driven, disciplined, and relatively young (Cook, the oldest, will be 51 in November). All but Cook are founders, and their personalities are such that they seem unlikely to get tired or bored by their empire building. Their market caps and strong revenue growth should allow them to neutralize other would-be rivals--witness Bezos acquiring Zappos and Quidisi (Diapers.com) before either could become a threat.

As our modern oligarchy, and as individual companies, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google will not last forever. But despite this oncoming war, in which attacking one another becomes standard operating practice, their inevitable slide into irrelevancy likely won't be at the hands of one of their fellow rivals. As always, the real future of tech belongs to some smart-ass kid in a Palo Alto garage.

What Will You Do When They Come For You?
Steve Job's Legacy - And The Next Tech War

A version of this article appears in the November 2011 issue of Fast Company.

Monday, October 10, 2011

NEW Google SSL search - What it Means for you

SSL Search

With Google search over SSL, you can have an end-to-end encrypted search solution between your computer and Google. This secured channel helps protect your search terms and your search results pages from being intercepted by a third party. This provides you with a more secure and private search experience.

To use search over SSL, visit https://encrypted.google.com New window icon each time you perform a search. Note that only Google Web Search and Google Images are available over SSL, so other products like Google News and Google Maps are not currently available over SSL. When you're searching over SSL, these properties may not appear in the left panel.

What is SSL?

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a protocol that helps provide secure Internet communications for services like web browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, and other data transfers. When you search over SSL, your search queries and search traffic are encrypted so they can't be read by any intermediary party such as employers and internet service providers (ISPs).

What can I expect from search over SSL?

Here's how searching over SSL is different from regular Google search:
  • SSL encrypts the communication channel between Google and a searcher's computer. When search traffic is encrypted, it can't be read by third parties trying to access the connection between a searcher's computer and Google's servers. Note that the SSL protocol does have some limitations — more details are below.
  • When you use SSL search, the browser typically does not send referrer New window icon information to any HTTP links you visit (but the browser will still send referrer information to any HTTPS links). By clicking on a search result that takes you to an HTTP site, you could disable any customizations that the website provides based on the referrer information.
  • At this time, search over SSL is supported only on Google Web Search and Google Images. We will continue to work to support other Google products. All features that are not supported have been removed from the left panel and the row of links at the top. You'll continue to see integrated results like maps, and clicking those results will take you out of encrypted search mode.
  • Your Google experience using SSL search might be slightly slower than you're used to because your computer needs to first establish a secure connection with Google.

Note that SSL search does not reduce the data that Google receives and logs when you search, or change the listing of these terms in your Web History New window icon.

Information for school network administrators

Does SSL provide complete security?

While SSL helps prevent intermediary parties, such as ISPs, from knowing the exact search that you typed, they could still know which websites you visit once you click on the search results. For example, when you search over SSL for [ flowers ], Google encrypts the query "flowers" and the results that Google returns. But when you click on a search result, including results like maps, you could be exiting the encrypted mode if the destination link is not on https://.

If your computer is infected with malware or a keylogger, a third party might still be able to see the queries that you typed. We recommend that everyone learns how to prevent and remove malware.

Remember that only Google Web Search and Google Images support search over SSL, so searching Google News, for example, will not be encrypted.

Technical discussion of SSL protocol-level limitations

How can I confirm whether I'm on a secure connection?

Check to see that the URL you're on starts with https:// instead of http://. Most browsers provide a visual confirmation (such as an icon of a lock) in the address bar or in the status bar at the bottom of the page. On Google SSL search, you'll also see a special Google SSL logo with a lock icon. In addition to this logo, be sure to also check the https:// text in the address bar and any browser lock icons.

When you perform a search on https://encrypted.google.com New window icon, you might see a warning if a page has some non-secure components: depending on your browser settings, you might see the lock icon turn into a warning sign, a pop-up message, or some other form of alert. This issue is often referred to as a "mixed mode error."

Since this is a beta feature, there might be some rare cases in search over SSL that generate a mixed mode error. We're working to prevent such errors, and you can help if you report any errors New window icon through our Help Forum.

The 1997 Video That Explains the Marketing Genius of Steve Jobs

The year was 1997. Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple as CEO and started culling unprofitable product lines such as printers and unloved devices such as Newton. The product pipeline was virtually empty. Mr. Jobs needed time, but he also needed to redefine Apple to the world and to itself. In short, he needed to raise the pirate flag again.

He canceled an agency review initiated under Gil Amelio and brought back Chiat/Day, his agency partner in the iconic "1984" campaign. The result was "Think Different" and the video below was taken when he first unveiled it to Apple staff. Most interesting here isn't the ad itself (which Mr. Jobs compares to "Got Milk?") but the preamble where he explains the purpose and role of marketing, what Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently called Mr. Jobs' "greatest strength."

"To me, marketing is about values," he said. "This is a very complicated world, a very noisy world and we're not going to get the chance to get people to remember us. No company is. So we have to be very clear about what we want people to know about us."

You can watch the rest here. It's as relevant today as 14 years ago.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Facebook’s New Advertising Strategy Is Brilliant and Unexpected

Article Courtesy of Mashable.

Facebook and Google get compared a lot these days, but with its new advertising strategy, Facebook is adapting Google’s ad strategy to its social media.

Improving advertising on the popular social network is not a new or particularly innovative idea. Still the transition from advertising as a message-delivering medium to a platform for social sharing is a radical departure for Facebook. It could be the Facebook advertising solution that turns advertising partners (brands) into better social media communicators and gets Facebook members to start recommending and sharing advertisers as much as they do they latest cat video.

As for the Google comparison. Recall that in the early days, Google had a choice: Take money from advertisers for higher search rankings or ignore such offers and focus on making its search engine the best it could be.

Google at first didn’t know how it would make money. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin figured that if they built a better mousetrap, the money would eventually flow. And it did.

Like Google, Facebook didn’t invent a category, it refined it. Friendster and MySpace predated Facebook just like Yahoo and Alta Vista came before Google. Like Google, Facebook figured that if it got enough people on board and continually improved its social network, eventually it would figure out a way to make money.

Facebook’s overtures at first were clumsy. Beacon, the advertising platform Facebook introduced in 2007, informed all your friends when you made potentially embarrassing purchases or rentals on Blockbuster and other retail partners — and was eventually shuttered. Since then, Facebook seems content cashing in on its huge user base via display advertising.

SEE ALSO: The History of Advertising on Facebook [INFOGRAPHIC]

Now, however, Facebook’s ad strategy is becoming clear. And it’s not only brilliant, it’s unexpected. Facebook’s strategy, like Google’s, is to not only improve its network and experience, but improve the advertising as well. Now, that’s not so clever, admittedly. The really interesting part is the way Facebook plans to improve it: by making brand Pages better.

Why? Facebook doesn’t make a dime on any of the Pages set up by advertisers. As a marketer, you could do quite well for yourself by running a brand Page and never buying a single ad. But you could only do so well. The reason you will have to buy ads on Facebook goes to the heart of why you need to advertise in the first place.

A few years ago, I wrote a story about the marketing for Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith the last movie (by release date, not chronologically) in the Star Wars franchise. I was genuinely baffled as to why Lucasfilm was putting such a heavy advertising push behind the movie. I mean, after all, didn’t everyone who cared already know that the movie was coming out?

Jim Ward, Lucasfilm’s vice president of marketing at the time, though, told me the stakes were huge for that movie. If the studio did absolutely no advertising, it would likely lose $110 million or so in box office returns. “What we need to do is go beyond the core audience, not only from a box office perspective but from a brand-management perspective,” he told me at the time.

In other words: You don’t need to let Star Wars fans know that a Star Wars movie is coming out, but you do need to target all those millions of people who are on the fence about Star Wars or are too young to remember it.

The same is true for any brand that really wants to grow. You will get only so far keeping your base happy. What you need to do is reach beyond them.

It turns out that approaching friends of that base may be the best way to do this. Why? Think back to the last time a friend convinced you to take a flyer on a new product or maybe made you think of an old brand in a new way. For instance, I have a friend who is a total Mac-head who surprised me last year when he said that Windows 7 was as good as the Mac OS. Movies are another good example. Have you ever written off a new movie only to be completely turned around when a friend told you it was actually really good? (Of course, this cuts the other way, too.)

That’s the thinking behind two new announcements Facebook is making this week. One is a new ad unit. The other is a set of metrics that will help administrators create better brand Pages.

The combination of the two reveals where Facebook’s thinking is going. Facebook is putting pressure on advertisers to create better content for their brand Pages. If they do, those brands will have a better chance of winning over friends of fans either by advertising or by creating something viral. It’s a cycle that has the potential to redefine the way we interact with brands. From now on, brands will be friends or friends of friends rather than spammers trying to bombard your consciousness.

Social media is still new, but so was search once. While figuring out how to make money off of search seems obvious in retrospect, it clearly wasn’t at the time. In the same way, someday we’ll look back at how Facebook invented social media advertising and wonder why no one thought of it sooner.

Measure Word of Mouth in Facebook

Article Courtesy of Fast Company.

Among the tools Facebook is releasing today in conjunction with New York's annual Advertising Week are a new dashboard to measure the reach of individual Page posts, an API to allow third-party agencies build their own tools on top of this new Facebook data, and a new ad unit that allows companies to create ads out of their Page posts.

Companies set up Facebook Pages to market themselves. But until now, they’ve only had fairly blunt instruments--like the number of Likes--to measure how well they’re doing. Now Facebook is releasing a new set of tools that the social network says will give marketers better insights into how well their Pages are reaching Facebook users--and ultimately make those Pages more useful to brands.

Among the tools Facebook is releasing today in conjunction with New York's annual Advertising Week are a new dashboard to measure the reach of individual Page posts, an API to allow third-party agencies build their own tools on top of this new Facebook data, and a new ad unit that allows companies to create ads out of their Page posts.

The tools reflect the company’s increasing emphasis on driving sharing among users--an area of focus CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this summer, saying that the company now views the amount that people share on Facebook as a stronger indication of the value of the network than the previous metric, which simply measured the total number of users.

“With the new Page Insights, Facebook is emphasizing the importance of sharing on Pages, because this increases a brand’s reach,” the company said in a press release.

The new dashboard, called Insights (pictured, right), appears as a tab on the company's Page and is only available to adminstrators of the Page. The Insights tab lists the Page’s total number of fans ("Total Likes") and the total number of other people reached via those fans ("Friends of Fans"). It also offers a ticker to show whether those numbers are going up or down.

With the Insights tab, Facebook is launching a new metric: “People Talking About This,” which doesn’t just measure how much people are talking about the Page in the conventional sense (such as a user commenting on a post on the brand’s Page). It also includes all the activities that Facebook considers a “conversation”--things that indicate a user is in some way engaged with the brand.

Among the activities that fall under that the umbrella of a “conversation” are: Liking the Page; posting to the Page’s Wall; liking, sharing, or commenting on a post; RSVP’ing to an event; photo-tagging the Page; checking in at the brand’s Place; and Liking or sharing a check-in deal.

Facebook says providing this data, particularly at the individual post level, will allow companies to measure the impact of their posts and, ultimately, help them create posts that do a better job of going viral. “Research shows that word-of-mouth conversations among friends are the most influential for getting a brand’s message across,” the company said in its press release.

Indeed, Facebook cited comScore research showing that fans and friends-of-fans of a Page are more likely to “visit a store, website, and even purchase a product or service.” Fans and friends-of-fans of Starbucks spend 8% more in stores than the average Starbucks customer and transact 11% more frequently, the company said.

The data supports Facebook’s overall premise: that the social network is a valuable place to market, because it allows companies to activate user word-of-mouth at a scale previously never possible. Indeed, the company has previously said that Sponsored Stories, a category of ads that show Facebook users which of their friends already Like a certain brand, perform twice as well in engaging users than do generic ads on the network.

To that end, Facebook is also today releasing a new premium ad unit that allows brands to turn their posts into ads. If the ad is put in front of a user who has a friend who is a fan of the brand, the ad will include that information in the ad (pictured at the top of the image, right)--thus, Facebook says, “combining the brand's voice in the ad with a friend’s voice.”

According to the social network, this kind of “social context” results in a 68% increase in people recalling the ad, and people who view these kinds of ads are four times more likely to make a purchase than people who see generic ads.

Also, today, Facebook is releasing a “Page Insights API” for outside agencies and developers at brands that have access to certain kinds of (anonymized) Facebook data. The agencies, including Context Optional, Wildfire, and Webtrends, are part of a growing ecosystem of third parties that are building powerful tools for marketers using Facebook data, further accelerating the value that brands get from running campaigns on the social network.

“The updates will enable marketers to discover which publishing and ad strategies on Facebook are creating the most engagement and growth,” Context Optional said in a press release.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Twelve Attributes of a Truly Great Place to Work

Where does your company measure up?

More than 100 studies have now found that the most engaged employees — those who report they're fully invested in their jobs and committed to their employers — are significantly more productive, drive higher customer satisfaction and outperform those who are less engaged.

But only 20 per cent of employees around the world report that they're fully engaged at work.

It's a disconnect that serves no one well. So what's the solution? Where is the win-win for employers and employees?

The answer is that great employers must shift the focus from trying to get more out of people, to investing more in them by addressing their four core needs — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual — so they're freed, fueled and inspired to bring the best of themselves to work every day.

It's common sense. Fuel people on a diet that lacks essential nutrients and it's no surprise that they'll end up undernourished, disengaged and unable to perform at their best.

Our first need is enough money to live decently, but even at that, we cannot live by bread alone.

Think for a moment about what would make you feel most excited to get to work in the morning, and most loyal to your employer. The sort of company I have in mind would:

Commit to paying every employee a living wage. To see examples of how much that is, depending on where you live, go to this site. Many companies do not meet that standard for many of their jobs. It's nothing short of obscene to pay a CEO millions of dollars a year while paying any employee a sum for full time work that falls below the poverty line.

Give all employees a stake in the company's success, in the form of profit sharing, or stock options, or bonuses tied to performance. If the company does well, all employees should share in the success, in meaningful ways.

Design working environments that are safe, comfortable and appealing to work in. In offices, include a range of physical spaces that allow for privacy, collaboration, and simply hanging out.
Provide healthy, high quality food, at the lowest possible prices, including in vending machines.

Create places for employees to rest and renew during the course of the working day and encourage them to take intermittent breaks. Ideally, leaders would permit afternoon naps, which fuel higher productivity in the several hours that follow.

Offer a well equipped gym and other facilities that encourage employees to move physically and stay fit. Provide incentives for employees to use the facilities, including during the work day as a source of renewal.

Define clear and specific expectations for what success looks like in any given job. Then, treat employees as adults by giving them as much autonomy as possible to choose when they work, where they do their work, and how best to get it accomplished.

Institute two-way performance reviews, so that employees not only receive regular feedback about how they're doing, in ways that support their growth, but are also given the opportunity to provide feedback to their supervisors, anonymously if they so choose, to avoid recrimination.

Hold leaders and managers accountable for treating all employees with respect and care, all of the time, and encourage them to regularly recognize those they supervise for the positive contributions they make.

Create policies that encourage employees to set aside time to focus without interruption on their most important priorities, including long-term projects and more strategic and creative thinking. Ideally, give them a designated amount of time to pursue projects they're especially passionate about and which have the potential to add value to the company.

Provide employees with ongoing opportunities and incentives to learn, develop and grow, both in establishing new job-specific hard skills, as well as softer skills that serve them well as individuals, and as managers and leaders.

Stand for something beyond simply increasing profits. Create products or provide services or serve causes that clearly add value in the world, making it possible for employees to derive a sense of meaning from their work, and to feel good about the companies for which they work.

In more than a decade of working with Fortune 500 companies, I've yet to come across a company that meets the full range of their people's needs in all the ways I've described above. The one that comes closest is Google. I'm convinced it's a key to their success.

How does your company measure up? What's the impact on your performance? Which needs would your company have to meet for you to be more fully engaged?