Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Why Amazon, Google and Facebook Will Drive More Online Sales for Businesses

A couple weeks ago, Amazon launched a new feature that lets users tap into their Facebook network. Users can find recommendations from friends, see upcoming birthdays and their friends' wishlists, find gift ideas based on Facebook profiles or get purchase ideas from profiles based on friends with similar interests. This has the potential to be very powerful, and might in fact be indicative of how social media will drive e-commerce going forward.

"Numerous studies have shown that a friend's recommendations have the most weight with shoppers, and the Amazon Facebook connection places the users friends right inside the buying cycle," notes HypeBot's Bruce Houghton.

The Amazon/Facebook integration itself is huge, simply because Amazon is an e-commerce giant. You might say it's THE e-commerce giant, but the implications of Facebook and social media in general on e-commerce will be broader than the enormous, but still limited network of Facebook users. Facebook may not always reign supreme in social media, but for now, it's the poster child with its half a billion users and counting. Amazon's integration will show the masses what is possible, and others will follow suit.

Recommendations can indeed be very powerful, but social media will continue to drive e-commerce for other reasons as well. "Social commerce is moving beyond just recommendations and reviews," says Jeff Bennett, CEO of Swaptree.com. "With the web now enabling social connections through Facebook, Twitter and other sites, a new movement of collaborative consumption is forming and is fostering personal connections in a way that has not previously occurred with traditional point and click transactions."

Facebook ironically (given all of the privacy concerns voiced throughout the media this year) may add a trust factor to e-commerce sites. "According to Facebook, three times more visitors will login to their Facebook account on an e-commerce site than would create an account/register. That’s significant," says SeeWhy Founder Charles Nicholls. "Visitors don't like creating accounts everywhere. They forget how to login and don't like sharing personal details unless they are willing to trust the site."

In the future, Facebook's own role in all of this may increase dramatically through advertising. It's already playing a huge role on Facebook's site. The more users share, the better Facebook can target ads to them. Facebook's ads already target you based on your activity, like what's in your profile. The "open graph" which lets you "like" stuff all over the web will only continue to fuel this.

One day, while the company will not acknowledge this, they could send these highly targeted ads to you all over the web with an AdSense-like platform. Facebook, to the best of my knowledge, has not indicated that they intend to do this, but it seems like such an obvious move. If user's are already logging into other sites using their Facebook accounts, bringing other Facebook information to them, why wouldn't they consider doing this? Such a scenario would obviously compete with Google's AdSense, and it's no secret that the competition between these two companies is already heating up. Whether Facebook goes that route or not, the competition is there.

Google has a lot of data about you too. In fact, the Wall Street Journal just published an article looking at a document the company compiled in 2008, which mentions some interesting things about what Google could do with some of that data.

The increased competition between Google and Facebook will also likely drive online purchasing. Leena Rao at TechCrunch speculates that Google Checkout could get a huge injection of usage from several elements, such as Google's newfound interest in social gaming (one of the major areas where the company appears to be going after Facebook). Another (while still theoretical at this point) concept she mentions would have Google letting businesses and customers engage in direct transactions from Place Pages, which Google has also been putting an increased amount of focus on lately.

It doesn't seem incredibly far-fetched does it? And let's not forget the Places API, which lets developers tap into Google's Places data for their own apps. On top of all of that, Google is reportedly acquiring Jambool, which owns Social Gold, a social payment product. Social Gold lets developers put payments into their apps.

It seems like the competition between Facebook and Google might be a big win for e-commerce as a whole. Kim-Mai Cutler at VentureBeat thinks a deep Amazon/Facebook partnership could "help corner Google in the e-commerce market." The e-commerce angle to this whole battle might be one that is widely overlooked. We're not talking just virtual goods here. We're talking the sales of merchandise.

Some consumers will continue to express concerns about privacy with regards to how businesses tap into their Faceboook or other social data, but that discussion really won't be much different than the basic discussion around Facebook's Open Graph as a whole. Facebook doesn't get your buying history. Sites don't get your Facebook info. Facebook provides your Facebook info while you're on other sites. That can add a lot of convenience to your shopping experience. That can help businesses drive sales.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Google Adds Page Load Time Metrics to Chrome

The Web Timing draft specification presents a standard set of metrics for measuring web page load time across browsers. We’re happy to announce that in Chrome 6, web developers can now access these new metrics under window.webkitPerformance.

Measuring web page load time is a notoriously tricky but important endeavor. One of the most common challenges is simply getting a true start time. Historically, the earliest a web page could reliably begin measurement is when the browser begins to parse an HTML document.

Unfortunately, that is too late to include a significant portion of the time web surfers spend waiting for the page: much of the time is spent fetching the page from the web server. To address this shortcoming, some clever web developers work around the problem by storing the navigation start time in a cookie during the previous page’s onbeforeunload handler. However, this doesn’t work for the critical first page load which likely has a cold cache.

Web Timing now gives developers the ability to measure the true page load time by including the time to request, generate, and receive the HTML document. The timeline below illustrates the metrics it provides. The vertical line labeled "Legacy navigation started" is the earliest time a web page can reliably measure without Web Timing. In this case, instead of a misleading 80ms load time, it is now possible to see that the user actually experienced a 274ms time. Including this missing phase will make your measurements appear to increase. It’s not because pages are getting slower – we’re just getting a better view on where the time is actually being spent.

Across other browsers: Web Timing metrics are under window.msPerformance in the third platform preview of Internet Explorer 9 and work is underway to add window.mozPerformance to Firefox. The specification is still being finalized, so expect slight changes before the browser prefixes are dropped.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

IT Team Confirms Facebook "Leak" Not Much of a Story

Facebook has put a lot of people on edge about privacy in recent months, and while some of it may be legitimate concern, a lot of the discussion is simply getting blown out of proportion.

You've probably read about the infamous "leaked" list of user names this week, that a security researcher shared in a torrent. A bunch of companies have reportedly been downloading the info leading to some unnecessary paranoia. Our own IT department took a look at that torrent, and there's really nothing to get freaked out about. It just contains data that's already public (170,879,858 URLs by our count), as the "leaker" Ron Bowes told BBC News.

The biggest file is called facebook-urls.txt. The top of the file looks like this (with "xxxxx" representing the unique number associated with the accounts):






Eventually, once you get past the dashes, they start looking like this (where the "xxxx" represents people's names):




"So you could figure out somebody's name from the profile URL, but that's really about it,” our IT manager says. "Anything else, you'd have to actually go to the URL and crawl it."

And of course, these people are already in the Facebook Directory anyway, as Bowes noted. There's no other information.

From the README file included in the torrent, here are the list of all the files:

Filname Description


facebook.rb The script used to generate these files (v1)

facebook.nse The script that will be used for the second pass (v2)

facebook-urls The full URLs to every profile

facebook-names-original All names, including duplicates

facebook-names-unique All names, no duplicates

facebook-names-withcount All names, no duplicates but with a count

facebook-firstnames-withcount All first names (with count)

facebook-lastnames-withcount All last names (with count)

facebook-f.last-withcount All first initial last name (with count)

facebook-first.l-withcount All first name last initial (with count)

Bowes said that collecting the data was in no way irresponsible and likened it to a telephone directory. On top of that, there's not any info to distinguish people with the same names apart from one another.

Facebook has also confirmed that the info in the list was already freely available online, and that "no private data is available or has been compromised."

This article from the Telegraph claims that the torrent contains info like profile pictures, lists of friends, etc. Our team says that's not true and that you'd have to re-crawl the profile URL in order to get that data.

The bottom line is that the info in the torrent is public info, just like any other personal info that is published publicly on the web that's out there for Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other crawler to index. Essentially, all that's really in the torrent is big list of URLs. Whoa!

The companies downloading the torrent for whatever purposes they have in mind, would probably be better served to just look at the directory. Facebook has a lot more users than 170,879,858.