TIME technology

Everything You Need to Know About the Chinese Version of Twitter

CHINA-US-STOCKS-TECHNOLOGY-INTERNET
WANG ZHAO—AFP/Getty Images

The first of China’s big 2014 IPOs arrives on U.S. shores Thursday. Weibo, a Chinese social network that allows people to post real-time messages of up to 140 Chinese characters, will list on the Nasdaq with shares priced at $17. The company will be valued at $3.46 billion and raise around $285 million in the offering, figures at the low end of the company’s IPO pricing range and far below analyst expectations earlier this year. The performance of the Beijing-based startup could portend the trajectory of both Chinese stocks and the overall tech sector, which has seen a precipitous decline on Wall Street in the past month.

Weibo is a subsidiary of the Chinese Internet company Sina and is partially owned by the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Like Twitter, the website has become a digital water cooler where both ordinary people and celebrities gather to discuss events. It’s become a key resource for following news events in China, like the crash of an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco in July and the trial of former Chinese politician Xilai Bo in August. Weibo boasts 144 million monthly active users, making it more than half the size of Twitter.

Though initial reports indicated that Weibo would ride the coattails of Twitter’s successful November IPO to a valuation of as much as $7 billion, a confluence of factors have thrown some cold water on the company’s stock. The tech sector in general is has been on a slide for the last several weeks as investors abandon so-called momentum stocks, including Weibo’s parent company Sina. The first Chinese business to go public this year, an IT training firm called Tarena, has seen its share price drop more than 20 percent from its IPO price.

Weibo also faces its own, very specific set of challenges. The social network is heavily censored both by the Chinese government and the company itself to remove content that attempts to mobilize people toward political action. Such censorship could reduce user activity in the future. It also puts Weibo at a disadvantage against Tencent’s WeChat, a messaging service for smaller groups of people that allows people to more easily communicate away from the government’s prying eyes (though WeChat was hit with its own round of censorship last month). Weibo has also racked up more than $250 million in losses over the last three years, though it finally turned a small profit in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Still, it’s possible that with expectations now lowered, Weibo will shine. Investors have a keen interest in companies that target China’s quickly growing Internet population, which is expected to reach 800 million by 2015. The company is also linked to Alibaba, which is prepping a heavily anticipated IPO that could be be the largest for an Internet company since Facebook. Weibo will be a bellwether of the market’s appetite for both Chinese startups and tech stocks as a whole.

TIME Earnings

Google Shares Slump on Disappointing Earnings

The tech giant raked in $15.4 billion in revenue, a 19% jump from a year earlier, but missed analysts' revenue and profitability estimates because of declining cost-per-click rates for its search ads and increased costs to make sure it's used on multiple platforms

Google missed analyst expectations in its first quarterly earnings report of the year because of declining cost-per-click rates for its search ads and rising costs to ensure its search engine is used on various platforms. The tech giant brought in $15.4 billion in revenue, a 19% jump from a year earlier that still missed analyst expectations of $15.54 billion. Earnings per share were $6.27, off the mark from analyst expectations of $6.41 per share.

The cost-per-click rate that Google charges businesses to place ads in its search engine was down 9% year over year, though it was flat compared with the fourth quarter of 2013. The figure had been tumbling during 2013 as more users transition to mobile devices, where Google is not able to charge as much for its ads. The downward trend in cost-per-click rates has affected the search industry as a whole.

The company’s traffic-acquisition costs, the money it pays to ensure that its search engine is the default in places like Apple’s Safari browser, also increased significantly, from $2.96 billion in the first quarter of 2013 to $3.23 billion in the most recent quarter.

Google agreed to sell its unprofitable Motorola phone unit to Lenovo for $2.91 billion in January, which will ease overall losses for the company in the future. Google shares slumped more than 5% in after-hours trading on the disappointing earnings report. The company’s share price has fallen considerably in recent weeks as part of an overall decline in tech stocks.

TIME technology

The Cops Are Going to Absolutely Hate This New Graffiti-Spraying Drone

Now drones can be artists too. A graffiti artist named Katsu has equipped an unmanned vehicle with a spray-paint can so that he can remotely tag buildings in Silicon Valley. The drone moves through a combination of Katsu’s controls and autonomous maneuvers to avoid crashing into objects. That means the graffiti is a bit less nuanced than what you’d get from a human like, say, Banksy. But it does present opportunities to tag hard-to-reach locations.

“What does it mean that I’m able to be throwing these strokes up and across a canvas that is 30 feet wide and is suspended 25 feet in the air?” Katsu asked in an interview with the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. “Painting in these ways just wasn’t previously possible.”

Katus plans to make the development tools for the graffiti drones open source, so we may one day have a whole legion of robotic vandals tagging urban landscapes. Cops should love that.

TIME Earnings

Yahoo Still Stagnant, but Alibaba Shines in Earnings Report

Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., pauses during a panel session on day four of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.
Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 25, 2014 Jason Alden—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Marissa Mayer–led company’s shares leapt 8% on the strength of Alibaba, a fast-growing Chinese e-commerce company in which Yahoo owns a 24% stake. Yahoo has also eclipsed Google as the most trafficked set of websites for several months

Yahoo is continuing its turnaround inch by inch under Marissa Mayer, but it’s a different company that’s currently juicing the Internet giant’s stock price. Yahoo posted decent financial results for the first quarter Tuesday, but the company’s shares leapt 8% in after-hours trading, on the strength of Alibaba, a fast-growing Chinese e-commerce company in which Yahoo owns a 24% stake.

Yahoo pulled in $1.13 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2014, a drop of 1% from the same period last year that still beat analyst projections of $1.08 billion. Excluding traffic-acquisition costs, Yahoo revenue inched up a single percent year-over-year. Display-ad sales were flat, at $453 million, while search-ad sales increased 5% to $445 million year-over-year. The company’s operating income was $30 million, down 84% from $186 million in the same period last year. Earnings per share were 38¢, beating analyst estimates by a cent.

“I feel confident in the foundation we built in 2013,” Mayer said in a conference call with investors. “Our early but modest success in 2014 is evidence we are on the right course.”

Under Mayer, Yahoo has engaged in a flurry of acquisitions and product launches, from the $1.1 billion purchase of Tumblr to the rollout of a pair of digital magazines focused on food and technology earlier this year. The company is reportedly eyeing a move into the premium online video space currently occupied by Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Mayer indirectly addressed reports of Netflix-like content coming to Yahoo, saying, “We want to make fewer, more focused investments in the content space in terms of Yahoo originals.”

These moves have yet to translate into significantly more revenue for the company, though they have helped Yahoo eclipse Google as the most trafficked set of websites in several months over the past year. Mobile use is also up significantly, with 430 million people now using Yahoo’s mobile apps and websites each month.

Investors seem content to let Mayer continue tweaking Yahoo’s core formula because of the breakneck growth of Alibaba, Yahoo’s prized Chinese investment. Alibaba, which runs an online marketplace, a cloud computing service and several other businesses, posted $3 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2013, a 66% increase from the year before (it reports earnings a quarter behind Yahoo). The company’s net income was $1.6 billion for that quarter, more than double the year before. The growth largely came thanks to a Chinese holiday in November, when more than $5.7 billion worth of goods were sold on Alibaba’s websites.

Alibaba’s strong results will continue to buoy Yahoo’s stock price as the Chinese tech giant prepares for an IPO in the U.S. Analysts expect the offering will value Alibaba at up to $150 billion, generating a huge payday for Yahoo.

TIME Advertising

Watch Giant Construction Equipment Have an Epic Jenga Battle

Construction equipment is useful for digging through soil, erecting new buildings and … engaging in the largest Jenga competition known to man. Ok, it’s not technically Jenga—we’re guessing nobody wanted to to pay Hasbro for licensing rights—but construction company Caterpillar has released a new ad featuring much of its commonly seen construction equipment squaring off to stack giant wooden blocks into a tall but precariously balanced tower.

The ad features a variety of the vehicles you see on the side of the road every day, including excavators and a forklift-crane contraption called a telehandler, being used to precisely slide the wooden blocks around in what Caterpillar calls “the world’s largest board game.” The 27 blocks weigh 600 pounds each, and watching these giant machines gently poke and prod them has all the tension of the best Jenga matches. The final outcome of the game is, of course, inevitable.

According to Caterpillar’s website, the wooden-block-game-that-is-not-Jenga took 28 hours to complete in an arena larger than two NFL football fields. The blocks were sprinkled with shuffleboard wax so they could slide around more easily. Expect more machine stunts from Caterpillar soon. The company says “Stack” is the first in a series of short films that will put the company’s equipment through a series of unusual trials.

TIME Technology & Media

Twitter Has a Massive Plan to Conquer Your Data

Social Media Site Twitter Debuts On The New York Stock Exchange
Getty Images

Step 1: Buy data firm Gnip

Twitter is purchasing its long-time data partner Gnip in order to sell more sophisticated products built from the Twitter dataset. The social network has historically sold access to its so-called firehose—the never-ending stream of all public tweets—to a few select companies, who then license that data to businesses and academics.

By purchasing Gnip, Twitter will be able to directly cut deals with the companies that want to use its data. “We want to make our data even more accessible, and the best way to do that is to work directly with our customers to get a better understanding of their needs,” Twitter wrote in a blog post. “Together we plan to offer more sophisticated data sets and better data enrichments, so that even more developers and businesses big and small around the world can drive innovation using the unique content that is shared on Twitter.”

Gnip currently provides its customers with access to data from a variety of online platforms, including Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare. It’s not clear whether Twitter will renew contracts to access these companies’ datasets, or whether these companies will allow it. Gnip’s current customers, such as the Library of Congress, will continue have access to Twitter data, the company said in the announcement of the deal. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment; no deal price was disclosed.

Twitter made $70 million in 2013 selling access to tweets to Gnip and other data resellers, up from $47 million in 2012. Corporations like IBM and Oracle pay tens of thousands of dollars per month for access to the Twitter firehose, Gnip CEO Chris Moody told TIME last fall. LinkedIn, which directly offers businesses access to all of its users’ resumes through its Recruiter tool, has proven that licensing social data can be extremely lucrative. By bringing data sales in-house, Twitter may be hoping to imitate that success.

The company, which posted a small profit for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2013, has faced a slumping stock price in the last two months due to investor worries about slowing user growth and an overall decline in the tech sector.

TIME technology

Amazon Says It Won’t Accept Bitcoin

Amazon
Bloomberg / Getty Images

America’s largest online retailer has no plans to hop on the Bitcoin bandwagon. Amazon’s head of payments told Re/Code that the company has no current plans to accept the digital currency. “Obviously it gets a lot of press and we have considered it,” he said, “but we’re not hearing from customers that it’s right for them.”

Despite widespread media coverage, Bitcoin is not currently accepted by many traditional retailers. Overstock.com is one of the largest online stores to accept the currency. Several vendors of digital cift cards, such as Gyft and eGifter, do accept Bitcoin, so people can buy cards through those channels and then spend them at Wal-Mart, Target and other big stores.

The value of Bitcoins has fluctuated wildly in the last week on conflicting reports that Chinese government is planning to ban the country’s banks from working with Bitcoin-related businesses. The currency was valued at $495 early Tuesday.

TIME technology

Get Ready to Pay for Stuff Online With … Facebook

Facebook Inc. signage is displayed outside the company's new campus in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Facebook may be eyeing a significant move into the world of mobile payments. The company is close to receiving regulatory approval in Ireland to launch a service that would allow users to store money and make electronic payments through the social network, according to a report in the Financial Times. Such a service would put Facebook in direct competition with eBay’s PayPal division and Google’s Wallet app.

Facebook has long had an interest in online payments. The company launched the virtual currency Facebook Credits in 2011 as a way for users to pay for games on the social network, but shuttered the program the next year because it was overly complicated to convert Credits into international currencies. Early last year the company debuted Facebook Cards, reusable gift cards that can be loaded with credits, available in a variety of physical and digital stores. In the fall Facebook began a partnership with PayPal to allow users to tie their credit card info to their Facebook login to more quickly make online purchases around the Web.

A financial payments service that links directly to customers’ bank accounts would go a step further than past efforts. As people become more comfortable performing financial transactions online, there’s a growing demand for secure payment options, especially in emerging markets. The new Facebook service will reportedly target those markets, where the social network is focusing much of its energies these days. (For example: the $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp and the plan to beam affordable Internet to more parts of the world using drones.) A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

If successful, a payments service would be a huge boon for all parts of Facebook’s business. Though the company makes most if its money from advertising, it pulled in nearly $900 million last year by claiming a fee on transactions carried out via the social network, usually for in-app purchases in video games. However, the migration of casual gaming to mobile apps has caused these fees to decline significantly as an overall portion of Facebook’s revenue, from 18 percent at the beginning of 2012 to 9 percent at the end of 2013. Expanding the ways people can spend money on Facebook could reverse this trend.

The service would also make Facebook’s ad units more appealing. The social network already has a massive trove of personal data on its 1.2 billion users. More information about exactly when users spend money would only drive up the value of this data for crafting targeted ads. The company could even incorporate point-of-purchase sales directly into users’ News Feeds, a feature Twitter is currently considering.

Still, users have so far not latched onto Facebook’s previous attempts en masse. Meanwhile competitors like Google have lost money in the sector. But with other companies like Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent already attempting to merge social networking and commerce, this may be another example of Facebook staking a claim in an emerging sector to ensure the survival of its core business.

TIME

Meet the Guy Who Took the Most Famous Desktop Photo of All Time

Microsoft finally killed off support for Windows XP this week, but the company decided to wax nostalgic about one of the most memorable parts of the operating system—that serene, hilly landscape that serves as the default XP desktop background.

In a video released on the day the tech company officially ended support for the 13-year-old software, Microsoft interviewed the man who took the photograph, called “Bliss.” Charles O’Rear, a former National Geographic photographer, said he was driving through Napa Valley, just north of San Francisco, when he decided to stop and snap a photo of the idyllic countryside (on an old-school film camera, no less) in 1996. A few years later, Microsoft commissioned the photo for Windows XP. It was a stark departure from the typical abstract designs or monochrome color schemes that are typically used on desktop backgrounds. O’Rear said the company flew him to their offices to deliver the photo personally. “I had no idea where it was going to go,” ‘O’Rear said in the video.

The image went quite far. It was featured heavily in the initial promotional campaign for Windows XP and of course later ended up being seen on millions of computers around the world. Microsoft claims the image has been seen by more than a billion people, and O’Rear says he’s seen it pop up in videos of the White House and the Russian government. “Anybody now from age 15 to the rest of their life will remember this photograph.” he said. “I’m thrilled to know that people have had pleasure from looking at that, from looking that a photograph that I made.”

TIME Jobs

World’s Most Depressing Job Makes Just $2,500 a Year

clown
Getty Images

Being a part-time clown is just as sad as you think

Publicly disclosing one’s salary is still considered to be impolite in some circles, but the magazine Parade has rounded up a wide range of Americans who have allowed the rest of us a window into their financial worlds. In the company’s annual salary report, pay for every occupation from NASA engineer to small-town mayor is made known.

Some of the highest earners are to be expected, like the CEO of an air filter company who earns $249,500 per year and a business consultant that pulls in $114,000. Some are less expected though. Dan Nainan, a comedian in New York, earns $328,000, according to the survey. A bridal shop owner in Rhinebeck, New York, makes $250,000.

Many of the more fascinating jobs came in on the other end of the scale. A movie projector technician in St. Paul, Minnesota earns $40,000. A knife assembler in Olean, New York makes $48,000. And a part-time clown who goes by the name “JR Jugglges” in Topeka, Kansas makes just $2,500.

The data is hardly empirical, but it is interesting to get a peek into so many different people’s lives. See the full list on Parade’s website.

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