Google searches for a way to avoid Microsoft’s fate

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Google searches for a way to avoid Microsoft’s fate” was written by John Naughton, for The Observer on Sunday 18th January 2015 07.00 UTC

The news that Google’s share of the web-search market in the US has suddenly dropped is interesting. According to an independent analytics firm, StatCounter, last month Google’s market share dropped to 75.2%, compared with 79.3% a year earlier. That is its lowest share since 2008, when StatCounter started tracking the data. Yahoo, by contrast, seems to be on the up: its December market share (10.4%) was the highest it has achieved since 2009.

This could be just a blip, of course, and it doesn’t change the fact that Google is still the dominant player in search or that its share of the European search market ranges between 90% and 96%, depending on which country you look at. So this is not the time to start selling your Google shares, but it does make one look at the company through a different lens. What if the dominance of its core business were beginning to wane?

Remember that Google is, despite the hoopla about self-driving cars, antisocial spectacles, YouTube, the “right to be forgotten”, stratospheric balloons and the other exotic stuff, primarily a company that makes its (colossal) revenues from search-driven advertising. (Advertising provided bn of the company’s bn revenues last year.) All the cool, PR-friendly stuff that the company does stems from two things: those vast revenues and the shareholding structure that enables the company’s co-founders to do as they damn well please rather than being hounded by quarterly earnings reports and Wall Street expectations.

Google’s existential challenge is therefore how to keep the search money-pump going. So far, the main strategy has been to do everything in its power to extend internet use. The more people who are connected to the net, the better it is for Google. (Which is why Project Loon, which aims to bring free internet connectivity to poor countries using balloons in the stratosphere, makes both philanthropic and commercial sense.) But since most new internet users in the next decade will access the network via mobile phones, that means Google has to be active in that space too. Hence its development of Android, the operating system that powers the overwhelming majority of smartphones.

So Google is doing all it can to keep its core product growing. But it’s also working on a Plan B just in case search declines or is displaced by some as-yet-unknown technology. Part of Plan B is trying to be spectacularly innovative (self-driving cars, say); another part is to acquire startup or young companies such as Deepmind or Boston Dynamics, just in case one of them has managed to find the secret of life, the universe and everything. This quest has probably turned the search giant into the largest and most active venture capitalist in the US. You could view this either as a quest for world domination or planning for life after search.

Bill Gates once said that the only technology company that reminded him of Microsoft in its early days was… Google. Thanks to one of those delicious ironies in which capitalism excels, guess which company Google now reminds people of? Answer: Microsoft in its current dotage. Gates’s creation was once even more dominant in the industry than Google is now. It had three core products – the Windows operating system, Office and Windows Server – which were licences to print money. Microsoft had huge revenues that just rolled in every quarter, just as Google’s advertising revenues do today, and on the back of them built a huge 128,000 employee company. But, cushioned by its money-pump, it failed to innovate and, in particular, failed to address the decline of the desktop PC and the rise of mobile computing.

Despite Google’s self-image of an ultra-agile, young company, in fact it’s become a 55,000-employee monster, which is what is leading some people to see parallels with Microsoft. The Bloomberg columnist Katie Benner is one. “Microsoft,” she writes, “was stymied by a huge headcount and, more importantly, legacy products that no one inside the company wanted to mess with for fear of killing the golden goose… Even when those commanding positions were eroded at the margins, it was hard to see a world in which Microsoft wouldn’t be the backbone of a PC-centric tech industry.”

By the same token, it has been impossible to envisage a networked world in which Google would no longer be a dominant player. But after last week’s revelations about market share, maybe it’s time to downgrade “impossible” to merely “difficult”.

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Time Warner internet outage affects millions of US broadband customers

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Time Warner Cable outage affects millions of US broadband customers” was written by Alex Hern and Jessica Glenza, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 27th August 2014 14.35 UTC

Internet service went down for millions of Americans on Wednesday morning after cable company Time Warner Cable suffered a major outage.

The company, which has almost 12m broadband subscribers nationwide, said it was investigating the cause of the outage, which apparently began around 4.30am ET. By 6am, it said “services were largely restored”, but an hour later, said it was still “working to restore services to all areas”. By 10am, the company was telling customers the outage had been resolved, but some social media users said access was still spotty.

twc outage
A Time Warner outage map as of 10:20am ET Photograph: /http:/downdetector.com/status/time-warner-cable/map

Affected users besieged the helplines and social media accounts of the firm, which declared an operating income of .1bn in the 2nd quarter of 2014.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Time Warner Cable paid .1m to resolve an investigation from the Federal Communications Commission that found the provider did not properly report multiple network outages.

“TWC (Time Warner Cable) failed to file a substantial number of reports with respect to a series of reportable wireline and Voice Over Internet Protocol network outages,” the FCC’s report read. “TWC admits that its failure to timely file the required network outage reports violated the commission’s rules.”

The FCC is currently reviewing a deal for company to be purchased by Comcast – a cable and internet giant.

The deal comes after Time Warner received a bn offer from smaller rival Charter Communications, but accepted Comcast’s offer of .2bn after Charter threatened to unseat the company’s board of directors.

Consumer groups have repeatedly warned that combining the two companies would be a disaster for consumers, and would further reduce competition in an already monopolized market. Several studies confirmed that services competing against Comcast, such as Netflix, have been throttled by the company, the delivery speed of media significantly slowed by the ISP.

Time Warner and other cable companies are facing increased competition from companies such as Google. The Silicon Valley giant installed fiber optic cables in several cities around America. It claims the internet speeds are up to 100 times faster than typical broadband.

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Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless and the making of Africa’s first cashless society

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless and the making of Africa’s first cashless society
” was written by Anna Leach, for theguardian.com on Monday 18th August 2014 16.11 UTC

Will Zimbabwe be Africa’s first cashless society? Telecommunications company, and now mobile banking service, Econet Wireless predicts that in less than 12 months notes and coins will be long-gone from this southern African country. “We do not expect anyone to still be using paper money in a year’s time,” the company’s CEO Douglas Mboweni recently said. “It will be just like Europe or America, where you no longer see people carrying bundles of cash.”

The collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy in 2002 paved the way for Econet Wireless’s mobile payment system. “Hyperinflation had destroyed people’s confidence in financial institutions,” said the Zimbabwe company’s founder, Strive Masiyiwa, at the Mastercard Foundation Symposium on Financial Inclusion in July.

“The lowest denomination circulating was ,” Masiyiwa said. “If you want to buy a packet of sweets for your child, you can’t get change.” The company set up a mobile payment system that handles small amounts and allows people to save as little as . “Today 43% of the GDP moves through Econet Wireless,” he concludes.

Masiyiwa was born in Zimbabawe (then Rhodesia) in 1961. He and his parents fled the country in the turmoil after prime minister Ian Smith declared independence in 1965, settling in Zambia. His parents, who ran their own business, could afford to send Masiyiwa to school in Scotland when he was 12. After school he studied electronic engineering at the University of Wales and worked briefly for a computer company in Cambridge before returning to Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.

Econet Wireless was established in 1998, but not before a fight. Masiyiwa waged a five-year legal battle with the government for a licence to deliver telephone services. The company now operates in 17 countries including Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and New Zealand. In 2000, while the UN filed a civil suit against Mugabe, Masiyiwa moved his family and company headquarters to South Africa.

Econet Wireless first developed mobile payments to help NGOs transfer money to refugees after the war in Burundi ended in 2005. “Donor agencies were trying to find ways to make cash disbursements to refugees,” says Masiyiwa. “So we built the payment system initially not as a business but as a way to help humanitarians get money to people in rural areas who were trying to re-establish their lives.”

That model was extended and now mobile money transfers are central to Econet Wireless’s business. Like M-Pesa before it, the company blurs the lines between telecomms and banking. Masiyiwa is passionate about this latter part of his business. He believes that extending saving and credit services to the poorest people gives them “extraordinary dignity and a sense that they are in control of their own lives”.

His next challenge is to create a product that allows people who are informally employed, such as smallholder farmers and casual workers, to access credit. “In Africa 70% of people are informally employed,” he says. “The big frontier for us is to create platforms where those people can access credit.” He says there’s no risk that they will get into unmanageable debt because the banks won’t extend excessive credit, calling the system “self-regulating”.

But Masiyiwa says that offering people the ability to save is even more important than credit. “We’re trying to build up a savings culture where people are encouraged to save, even if they only have a dollar – for children’s school fees, for transport, for the doctor. A savings and credit infrastructure builds resilience.”

In his speech to microfinance experts at the symposium in Turin, Masiyiwa recounted a story about the judge in Zimbabwe who granted Econet Wireless’s licence in 1998, saying that 70% of people in the country had never heard a telephone ring. “Today, 75% of people [in Zimbabwe] have a cell phone,” he said “And I want 75% of the people in Africa to have a bank account … on a mobile phone.”

And Masiyiwa has even found a solution to the energy problem that could prevent him from realising his dream. “We have developed solar charging stations where people can go into a kiosk and plug in their phone for free. Because our money is not made from someone charging the phone. It’s made from someone using the phone.”

By way of lessons learnt, Masiyiwa says that in order to reach the unbanked, financial institutions – and telecommunications companies – must design services that are practical, simple and affordable. “I’ve got a customer who has a dollar in his pocket and has got to decide to have some lunch, call his cousin or go to the doctor. We have to develop services with sensitivity to the fact that in Africa our customers don’t have the same disposable income as in New Zealand, for example.”

But the billionaire businessman cautions that it’s a mistake assume the poorest behave differently to other customers. “Their behaviour and aspirations are no different from those who have higher incomes,” he says. “They want to use Facebook. They want to use WhatsApp. We have to find ways for them to access those things with their very low income.”

Read more stories like this:

Using mobile money to buy water and solar power in east Africa

Cashing in: why mobile banking is good for people and profit

The mobile money infrastructure and the role of donors – video

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How apps could improve business performance for your SME

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How apps could improve business performance for your SME” was written by Sabuhi Gard, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th August 2014 08.26 UTC

Small businesses are increasingly turning to apps to improve business performance, generate sales leads, win new business, keep existing customers and promote their brand.

Rob Hodges, digital executive at Mobiles.co.uk, believes small businesses should rethink their strategy with mobile devices in mind. He believes with the rollout of 4G, small businesses can place greater reliance on smartphone and tablet applications to make decisions and streamline processes.

Hodges recommends Pocket, a productivity app which allows users to save media for later. He says: “One key benefit is the ability to store files offline, making it ideal for catching up on the work commute. As business leaders communicate across multiple devices during the day, the cloud-based nature of Pocket ensures content can be viewed at a more convenient time.”

Other small businesses are using social media apps to connect with customers and enhance sales. Mike Tomlinson, small business director at UK mobile network EE shares the example of street food seller Mark Gevaux using Twitter to share videos of his ribs being made in order to entice new customers to buy his product.

William Agush, founder and chief executive officer of app Shuttersong has been working with a number of small businesses to improve their social media campaigns. His app allows users to add 15 seconds of voice and sound or music to any digital photo. He recently worked with a fashion house, Leota Dresses in New York, to improve their publicity campaign. Agush says: “Leota used Shuttersong to promote their dresses – since using the app they have had several hundred plays for the images.”

Another example of a small business using an app to help their performance is Sailing Logic. The company was set up in 2003 by Allie Smith with the purpose of offering individuals without connections to the elite yachting industry the chance to experience yacht racing. After receiving feedback from its customers in 2012, Sailing Logic decided to look for an easier way for customers to book tickets for its events. The company has now teamed up with online ticketing platform web app Bookitbee. Currently, 25% of their Royal Yachting Association (RYA) course bookings are now received via Bookitbee, which has saved the company a huge amount of office administration and processing time – so by the end of 2014 they expect to roll this feature out to include their yacht racing events.

Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual workforce platform Time etc, uses a web app called SameWave – a tool that collects and reports data, like sales figures. He says: “Staff don’t have to sit through endless boring meetings [because of this app]. Instead everyone simply reports their performance via SameWave once a week.”

Lashbrooke also uses video conferencing: “We use it for everything: keeping in touch with clients, coordinating our remote workforce and staying in touch with each other in the office too. Its greatest appeal is that almost everyone knows it already and there is no training or learning required to use it.”

He adds: “We’ve also developed a Time etc mobile app, which helps business owners set tasks for their virtual workforce when they’re on the go. It means they can delegate all the jobs they don’t want to or can’t do to a team of trusted freelancers, who’ll get on the case straight away.”

These small business owners all use various apps to make their businesses more productive: from helping with administrative tasks, communicating quicker and more efficiently with staff globally and promoting themselves more directly via Twitter and Facebook.

Peter Chadha, founder of DrPete Inc, a strategic business and technology consultancy, says: “For a small business owner, apps also generally provide a richer and easier functionality than using web-based clients on a mobile handset or tablet. For instance, they can interact with mobile device functions such as the mic or camera, and they can control the user experience by touching and swiping, send data to and from the app provider, and they often work as well offline – as opposed to web-based solutions which are totally reliant on a reliable internet connection.”

Chadha adds: “There are a plethora of apps in the market to assist business owners and their staff. VOIP apps, for instance, can be used to dial in from local or even free phone numbers, which gives the perception to clients and prospects that the business is larger than it actually is. They can also use video conferencing and instant messaging to communicate remotely, use location apps to locate staff, and there are even apps for time recording or billing and project management.”

Although a lot of small businesses are using apps daily, only 22% of small businesses provide apps for their employees to use at work. Recent research (which questioned 1,083 small businesses) found that 37% of small business employees – equivalent to 5 million UK workers – believed they would be more productive if provided with apps tailored to their job role.

Read more …

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