Archive for August, 2015:

Google now displaying tweets in desktop search

The integration began earlier this year with mobile devices.

A partnership between Google and Twitter that has placed tweets in Google search results on mobile devices since earlier this year has now been expanded to the desktop.

Relevant tweets will appear in desktop results for queries performed in English. The search doesn’t need to include the term “twitter” or twitter hashtags — if there are tweets that Google thinks are relevant, it will surface them anyway.

On Friday, for instance, a search for “President Obama” returned recent tweets from Obama’s Twitter account near the top of the page, below a few news articles.

The tweets that appear will include photos and links that may have been contained in the tweet.

Google has provided links to tweets in its search results for a long time, but showing the actual tweets could potentially give a boost to Twitter at a time when it’s struggling to add new users.

Google noted the expansion on Friday in an update to its earlier announcement around the mobile rollout.

The company has said it will make the feature available in other languages besides English.


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Office 365 tops Salesforce as most popular enterprise service

A new report from Okta shows businesses picking up Microsoft’s office suite

Microsoft’s Office 365 has passed as the most popular service among companies that use Okta’s device and identity management products, according to a new report released Thursday.

From November 2013 to June 2015, Microsoft went from being the fourth most popular service to passing Google Apps, Box and recently to become the most-used app among the more than 2,500 companies that rely on Okta’s services. Those businesses range from large enterprises like Intel to smaller firms with fewer than 250 people.

Unsurprisingly, 74 percent of large businesses with more than 4,000 employees run only Office 365, while just 50 percent of businesses with fewer than 250 employees subscribe only to Microsoft’s office suite. It’s most popular in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe.
Office 365 vs. Google Apps

Percentage of businesses using Office 365 vs. Google Apps

The massive adoption of Microsoft’s new Office services has been driven by companies that want to use Exchange Online, according to Okta Chief Product Officer Eric Berg.

“I would say my street knowledge tells me that predominantly people are buying Office 365 for hosted Exchange,” he said.

In addition, Berg said that Microsoft has an advantage over other services like Google Apps because they don’t have to retrain employees who are already familiar with using Office for tasks like sending and receiving email through Outlook.

He went on to say that businesses implementing Office 365 will likely be rolling it out to many more users than something like Salesforce, since it includes applications and services like email that are applicable to most if not all of the users in an enterprise compared to something like Salesforce that’s tailored for one part of the organization.

While Office 365 is ascendant, those gains didn’t translate into user growth for Yammer, the enterprise social networking service that Microsoft bundles with many editions of its office suite. That service’s user growth flatlined over the past few months, even as other applications exploded in popularity.

Berg, a former director of product management at Microsoft, said that the company has added Yammer as a feature of many of its Office 365 plans to encourage adoption.

“I think what you see happening here in the data is that Yammer, as an entity, as a product, as a business has lost a lot of focus independently in pushing [itself],” Berg said. “And what they’ve been focused on is integrating into Office 365, and their bet is just as that hockey stick curve is going up on Office 365, that’s at least going to get everybody who buys that exposure to Yammer. Whether or not they actually use it, that’s another question.”

While Yammer isn’t showing massive gains, its quasi-competitor Slack has seen major adoption among Okta’s users, with its customer base growing 50 percent between April 2015 and June 2015 alone. Customers who want to use Okta’s tools with Slack have to pay for the service, to boot — there could be an even larger population of companies out there who are choosing to just use its free tier and not integrate it with Okta.

Overall, Berg said that the potential for new companies to come in and release a product that takes the business world by storm depends on what market they plan on entering. The enterprise collaboration world is still open to new entrants, but it’s going to be more difficult for other companies to shake Microsoft’s dominance with Office 365.

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FIVE things you need to know about Google and Alphabet

A look at what’s changing, what’s not and what it all means for Google and its research

With Google restructuring its business and moving under the umbrella of new parent company Alphabet, executives may be trying to get back some of their old start-up swagger.

The restructuring will bring a lot of changes to what is easily one of the world’s most well-known companies. But company officials haven’t offered any information about the move since co-founder Larry Page offered up a blog post Monday.

So what does all of this mean for users and for the industry?

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said Google’s move is akin to a “middle-aged facelift.” What’s unclear is just what that will entail.

With that in mind, here are the five things you should know about Google’s restructuring:
Don’t worry

Like Google search, Maps or your Android phone? That’s great. No need to worry about them for now.

“I don’t think there will be changes to product,” said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis. “All the road maps they have in place will continue. At least for the foreseeable future, which is about 18 months in this industry, all the plans Google has had in play will remain.”

It’s simple: Things like search and Android have been the money makers for Google. The company has no reason to shake them up.

“Companies periodically have to go through restructuring to position themselves for the future,” said Scott Strawn, an analyst with IDC. “This isn’t about product. This is just the way the business world works…. I don’t see any real product changes right now.”

Let Google be Google

Now that Google has been trimmed of research projects like autonomous cars, Google Glass, drones and smart contact lenses, the company will be far more focused on core Internet-related businesses.

Google executives will no longer be splitting their attention between search and high-altitude balloons, or between Android and funding startups. Instead, they can focus on the products and services that make money for the company — and that should mean more advances in those areas and more agility against competitors.

“It allows Google, the Internet property, to be more fiscally responsible and focused on what that company does,” said Shimmin. “Because they were pulled in so many different directions, [co-founders] Sergey [Brin] and Larry [Page] had a lot to contend with, in terms of prioritization and coordination. Leaving Google on its own should make the company more successful because executives won’t have to worry about so much else. They won’t have to worry about the success of Google Glass and how they might affect the whole business.”

The restructuring also means that Google’s research projects will get their own executives and their own singular attention.

Relieved of the hefty administrative chores related to managing the Google colossus, the company’s research arm can give more attention to things like Internet connectivity balloons, Google Fi and wearables.

“This new structure could help focus the founders’ attention, and resources, on all of the much smaller companies and technologies that Google has either purchased or developed over the past several years,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “We could also see these ancillary businesses receive more authority to make decisions on their own, which could drive quicker innovation and greater consumer impact.”

Shimmin agreed, adding that Alphabet companies like Google X, which has been behind projects like Glass and driverless cars, will have more freedom under the new business structure.

“They won’t have to worry about pulling resources away from their responsible revenue-making entities,” he said. “Research will have its own set of finances. This lets the big multinational company sit separately, while the small, start-up-like entrepreneurial parts are set free. If they’re going to have the focus to do more research, we’ll see some innovations that have greater vision to them.”

A happier Wall Street?

Wall Street’s big investors are hopeful that the restructuring means they’ll get a clearer look at how the company spends its money and where these different research projects are heading.

For some time, Wall Street has been pushing Google to be more transparent financially. How much is it spending on high-altitude balloons and drones? What is the expected revenue for Google Glass?

The company, despite Wall Street’s insistence, has been mum on the subject. Now, though, that could change.

All of the businesses underneath the Alphabet umbrella should provide more financial information. Alphabet is expected to segment out its financials by its fourth-quarter earnings report, which should make Wall Street happy and could boost Alphabet’s stock.

“This is Google becoming more transparent,” said Kagan. “They were never really transparent and that has been causing them to stumble…. Google is a Silicon Valley creation. Everyone in Silicon Valley loves the young. Google has been growing and getting older, less youthful. This will hopefully help Google look more youthful to investors, workers, users and partners.”

Google’s new chief

As part of the restructuring, Sundar Pichai, who had been a vice president at Google overseeing Android, Chrome and Google apps, has been named CEO of the new trimmer Google.

“This is the man,” said Shimmin. “This is the guy who brought us Android and the guy who has already basically been running their biggest cash cow. He’s very charismatic and he’s definitely [at the] CEO level of competence and swagger that you would expect to see from a company like Google. I think he’s the perfect choice.”

For a man who already has had so much success at Google, Pichai now can run Google’s core businesses without having to figure out how other projects fit in and how to relate them to the board of directors and stock holders.

“With Pichai at the helm, I am hoping to see a Google more focused on all things Google as we’ve known it,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “Pichai will need to make yet another run at being successful in social media, which has eluded Google so far.”

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Black Hat 2015: DHS deputy says ‘just trust us’

Security pros say they are reluctant to share security incidents with government because its networks keep getting breached

The deputy head of the Department of Homeland Security implored a group of skeptical security pros at Black Hat 2015 to share information about security incidents and to trust the government to keep it safe.

“We understand the trust deficit that exists in the [security] community,” says Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, encouraging attendees to participate in a government program where private businesses share information about cyber threats they encounter.

Part of the trust problem is that businesses lack confidence that government can secure information it receives, Mayorkas says, citing the massive breach at the Office of Personnel Management. (It didn’t help his cause that as the meeting broke up news also broke that unclassified emails for the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been hacked and the email system shut down for two weeks.)

But during his talk he described the OPM breach as an opportunity for government networks to be made safer. He pointed to a 30-day effort to improve security – “a 30-day sprint to be sure other agencies heightened network security to the extent possible in a sprint” – as a hopeful sign. He pointed out that each government agency has its own network with its own level of security, and that DHS is in the midst of a massive effort to improve its own.

Attendees said they were rightly wary of the ability of the government to protect digital data not just because of persistent news about breaches but because it refuses to let them – independent, third-party security experts – penetration-test the networks with a goal toward making them safer. “You need to give us more than, ‘Just trust us,’” one attendee said.

Mayorkas responded that trust is hard to build and you have to start small. Perhaps a business would suffer an attack and, because of its nature, would be reluctant to report it, and that would be fine. But perhaps it would be more willing to report a less worrisome incident. “Find a spot where you’re comfortable and build from there,” he said.

The push by some in government to have access to backdoors to unlock encryption used in communications is a factor in security professionals being wary, especially since there is no workable solution that all parties can agree upon. “That point has been made throughout my visit here,” Mayorkas said, and that he would bring that message back to the ongoing debate in Washington.

He said DHS uses audits by its own Inspector General and by the General Accounting Office for oversight of network security. Publicizing the results might be part of the answer, he said.

His audience questioned whether Homeland Security’s goal to support near-realtime, automated information sharing about cyber threat indicators was safe for their organizations. Commercial security experts are concerned that by sharing threat information they may be admitting their networks were vulnerable. That information could be used, they fear, to establish liability should their networks be broken into and cause harm to customers or business associates.

Mayorkas said the key was that the plan was not for realtime but near-realtime sharing, with the delay being used to determine whether privacy and civil liberty issues need to be addressed. He says DHS plans to announce in October a contract to create best practices for the proposed automated sharing system.

“Anonymity is a cornerstone of our information-sharing protocols,” he said, meaning that it wouldn’t be possible to learn from the shared threat indicators who reported them.

He was asked whether automated collection of indicators was in the cards, giving businesses no choice about submitting reports. “Monitoring is beyond the purview of what we are doing now,” he said.

He said that even threats uncovered through publicly disclosed hacks and leaks of stolen data like those from Edward Snowden would be shared if possible. “We will declassify and release everything we can,” he said.

Expediting security clearances for new government security employees and consultants is a DHS goal, he says, so qualified people don’t take other high-paying jobs before they are vetted. The government has already boosted the salaries of some jobs in order to draw more qualified candidates, he said.

DHS plans to open an office in Silicon Valley to be closer to likely candidates.

He said he hoped candidates would be driven by more than just money in deciding whether to work for the government.

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Will Facebook envy wreck Twitter?

Twitter has become so obsessed with the users it doesn’t have that it could lose the ones that it does.

There’s never been anything quite like Facebook. As a company, Facebook specializes in collecting, hoarding, keeping and engaging users. As a social network, it dominates the market with the largest user base. Facebook has a monopoly as the social network of choice for friends and families.

As the biggest social network, people often compare Facebook to MySpace. But at its peak in 2008, MySpace maxed out with fewer than 76 million unique monthly visits.

Facebook, we learned this week, boasts just under 1.5 billion monthly unique visitors. Facebook grows so fast in users that it adds more than two additional MySpaces a year to its user base.

Even more impressively, Facebook has 1.8 billion users outside of Facebook itself: 800 million users on WhatsApp, 700 million on Messenger and 300 million on Instagram.

Of course there is a huge and unknown overlap. Still, Facebook’s total active user number is 3.3 billion. That’s a higher number than all the other major social networks combined.

As Facebook proved in its earnings report this week, the opportunities for monetization are enormous. The company has demonstrated that it can make huge revenue in mobile and video ads, and the company is just getting started in those areas. It’s also investing heavily in keeping users glued to Facebook with music and video. They’re getting into commerce. If all that’s not enough, they own Oculus VR, and are likely to be a major force in the coming virtual reality revolution.

The trouble with Twitter
Twitter also announced earnings this week. After the call, the company’s share price dropped to a 52-week low. The reason is that interim CEO Jack Dorsey said the company is lousy at communicating to and thrilling “mainstream” users, and as result, struggles to gain new users. He added that fixing Twitter will take “considerable” time.

Twitter now has 316 million monthly users, up from 308 million in the first quarter. (Twitter is about the size of Instagram, the smallest social network in the Facebook fleet.)

Even more troubling is that Twitter Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto said during the call that “sustained, meaningful growth” can’t happen until Twitter reaches “the mass market.”

The “mass market” is just Twitter code for “Facebook users.”

Twitter has a serious and obvious case of Facebook envy and, perhaps, is suffering from identity crisis. They want what Facebook’s got, and they’re apparently planning to get it by re-creating Twitter in Facebook’s image.

And that might be a huge mistake.

Twitter was the best Twitter

Twitter gained fans by asserting itself as the hyper-minimalist alternative to all other social networks. It’s beauty and power was the 140-character limit on messages. While that’s hard for people trying to have conversations or express complex ideas, it’s great for followers. They could follow a large number of people and news sources without being overwhelmed.

Twitter is the peace-of-mind social network. You can trust Twitter — what you see is what you get. When you follow someone, you get all their tweets — you don’t have to wonder what you were missing. Facebook, on the other hand delivers by default only a tiny minority of the status updates posted by your friends.

When you’re away from Twitter for a few hours, no worries! There’s no anxiety to find out what you missed. Twitter is all about the now.

Every new tweet from every person you follow appears instantly and reliably at the top of your stream. When it appears, you know that “this is the most recent tweet from everyone I follow.” It feels honest. Users feel in control because there is no secret modifications to their streams. Twitter feels good.

Because of all these attributes, Twitter gained extremely influential users. Nearly every journalist, politician, singer, actor, scholar, scientist and public intellectual seems active on Twitter.

Sure, they’re only as big as Instagram. But the “quality” of the Twitter user base from a fame and influence perspective is second to none. And that’s what sets Twitter apart and makes it unique.

Twitter’s got a good thing. But it looks like they’re getting ready to ruin it.

Twitter will be the worst Facebook
The most unsettling comment during Twitter’s call was from Dorsey. He said that in order to appeal to “mainstream” users, Twitter needs to be more like Facebook and stop serving up tweets in reverse-chronological order. This, he said, would be part of a broader “questioning of our fundamentals” and would “balance recency with relevance.”

Twitter’s “Project Lightning” will use human editors and curators to cobble together cherry-picked content from Twitter accounts you’re not following.

Twitter has already started dabbling in the algorithmic arts. When you’re away for awhile, Twitter now serves up a software-determined subset of the tweets you missed based on a variety of invisible “signals.” The new homepage design went into widespread release Thursday and shows “greatest hits” like tweets from users you don’t follow.

They’re also emphasizing pictures, Vines and videos and even auto-playing videos. They’ve gotten rid of the 140-character limit for direct messages. They’ve packed streams with advertising, promotional design elements (for example, constantly suggesting new people to follow), and Periscope invitations.

The mobile version has a “card” interface, which Twitter copied from Facebook and Facebook copied from Google. It’s also got a new “Twitter ads” button for managing advertising. Many external articles now “auto-expand” to show pictures and part of the article right in your feed.

Twitter last month got a new Facebook-like “birthdays” feature, so you can tweet “Happy Birthday” to people without having known what their birthday was. And you’ll feel obligated to do so.

Both Dorsey and Noto spoke urgently about the need to satisfy investors with user growth and monetization, all based on the need to expand beyond the existing loyal user base.

And this expansion involves re-making Twitter in Facebook’s image.
Whether Twitter’s user base grows fast or not, the company intends to deliver better financials to Wall Street. That means each user will be increasingly bombarded with advertising, including video ads.

How Twitter could lose it all
Twitter used to be special. It had a unique purpose, look, feel and functionality. As a result, it gained a unique user base and became the default social network for public people like celebrities, politicians, journalists and activists. It’s been the network of choice for breaking news as well as important world and entertainment events and commentary.

These qualities are what made Twitter better than Facebook in powerful ways. By copying Facebook and abandoning minimalism in favor of Facebook-like clutter, Twitter risks losing both its uniqueness and its special audience.

If that happens, Twitter won’t be better than Facebook in any way. I fear that Twitter has been led astray by both the pressures of going public and by the winner-takes-all culture of Silicon Valley. Every company has to win every user, and at all costs.

The supreme irony in copying Facebook is that, well, it’s not what Facebook would do. If Facebook felt fear of missing users, it would build or buy an external service to gain those users. Facebook would never fundamentally change what it is to chase users.

If Twitter wants to copy Facebook, it should copy Facebook’s approach to defending itself against rivals. Instead of killing the Twitter that we know and love and re-making it in Facebook’s image, Twitter should launch or buy another service and build a separate Facebook.

By transforming Twitter into a Facebook clone, Twitter is essentially saying it doesn’t want to be Twitter anymore. All I can say is: Be careful what you wish for.

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