TIME technology

Google Used to Be the Company That Did ‘Nothing But Search’

Google
Getty Images

Sixteen years ago today, Larry Page and Sergey Brin filed paperwork to officially create Google Inc.

Sixteen years ago today, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were feeling lucky.

On Sept. 4, 1998, the pair of Stanford University grads filed paperwork with the state of California to officially create Google Inc, hoping to turn their ideas about searching and indexing the World Wide Web into a profitable company. Armed with a $100,000 check from a co-founder of the since-acquired Sun Microsystems, Page and Brin went about creating the Google of yesteryear. Back then, this was the Google of Pure Search: There was no talk of giving users free email accounts with ludicrous amounts of storage, no discussion of digitally mapping the entire Earth and certainly not the faintest idea of using tiny aircraft to deliver packages to waiting customers.

It’s hard to remember a Google whose only mission was to make sure that if a Google user typed “Egg McMuffin” into the colorful but ultimately spartan Google.com homepage, that user got links to the best and most relevant Egg McMuffin content on the Web. But that’s exactly what Google’s original mission was — and that’s why, on Dec. 20, 1999, TIME included the search engine on as number seven on a top-ten list of the “Best Cybertech” of the year, behind such innovations as the MP3, Everquest and the latest Palm Pilot. Compared to its competitors, TIME wrote, Google succeeded by keeping it simple:

GOOGLE.COM: With sites such as Yahoo, Infoseek and Excite constantly beefing themselves up into the online equivalent of mega-malls, it’s refreshing to find a search engine that does nothing but search. And search well. Google’s award-winning, commonsense approach nearly always seems to come up with exactly what you’re looking for.

Search is still far and away Google’s core product, but by now that little search engine has grown up into much more. Turned out we were wrong about the website’s limits — but not about whether it would be worth watching.

Read the full list here in TIME’s archives: The Best Cybertech of 1999

TIME Fast Food

‘We’re a Movement Now': Fast Food Workers Strike in 150 Cities

Fast food workers are expected to strike in an estimated 150 cities on Thursday, pushing for a raise in hourly wages and the right to form a union

Fast food workers are expected to walk off the job in an estimated 150 cities on Thursday, with employees in many locations planning nonviolent civil disobedience.

Organizers say the strike—with potentially widespread arrests of workers—marks an intensification of a two-year campaign to raise hourly pay in the industry to $15 and to win workers’ right to form a union. On Thursday morning, organizers said dozens of workers had been arrested in Detroit and New York’s Times Square…

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME Media

An Ascendant Vice Media Nabs $500 Million in Investments

The transaction values the company at more than $2.5 billion

Vice Media is to receive two investments totaling $500 million, The New York Times reports.

The ascendant media empire — which has built a following for its gritty reporting from conflict zones and its unabashed probes of everything from drugs to gangs and sex — is collecting $250 million each from Technology Crossover Ventures (which has previously backed Facebook and Netflix), and television group A&E Networks. Those transactions value Vice at more than $2.5 billion, the New York Times said.

BuzzFeed, the assiduous stockpiler of all things viral, was in comparison valued at just $850 million when it received a recent $50 million investment, reports the Times.

Older media have been rattled by Vice’s ascendance from a off-kilter, Montreal-based punk magazine to a content giant with bureaus in 35 countries. Based in Brooklyn, its trendy target audience’s spiritual home, Vice has been criticized, but also much admired, for its unabashed courtship of young audiences and its willingness to report from the front line.

In a recent five-part Vice report, journalist Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks with ISIS fighters and recruits in Raqqa, Syria, the brutal terrorist group’s declared capital. But at the same time, the media group offers lighter fare, ranging from sports to food and contemporary music.

[NYT]

TIME deals

Carl Icahn Sells His Final Stake in Family Dollar: Reports

Billionaire activist-investor Carl Icahn gives an interview on FOX Business Network's Neil Cavuto show in New York
Brendan McDermid—Reuters Carl Icahn gives an interview on FOX Business Network's Neil Cavuto show in New York Feb. 11, 2014.

The billionaire was once Family Dollar’s largest shareholder but had recently criticized the company’s performance and leadership

Billionaire activist-investor Carl Icahn raked in $200 million by selling his last stake in discount-store chain Family Dollar, says Reuters, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The sale came in the midst of a bidding war for the company; Dollar Tree Inc. and Dollar General Corp. have offered $8.5 billion and $9.1 billion, respectively, according to reports.

Icahn was been vocal in his criticism of Family Dollar chief executive Howard Levine, who would have kept his position in an acquisition by Dollar Tree.

“This is a quintessential example and a reflection of what is wrong with corporate America,” Icahn told Reuters last month, encouraging the sale to Dollar General.

Icahn also highlighted the company’s weak showing at a regulatory filing in June, citing the company’s underperformance against both rival companies and the S&P 500 index over the past year and three-year periods.

Though it is unknown when Icahn sold his remaining stake, he had already reduced his shareholding position in the company from 9.4% in June to 3.61% at the end of July.

Reuters speculates that Icahn’s decision means he does not expect a substantial increase in Family Dollar’s share price following the bidding melee.

[Reuters]

TIME Companies

Michael Bloomberg Back as Head of Bloomberg LP

Michael Bloomberg Interview
Scott Eells—Bloomberg/Getty Images Michael Bloomberg during a Bloomberg Television interview with Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (not pictured) in New York City on June 3, 2014.

Current president and CEO Dan Doctoroff will step down at the end of 2014

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will once again take the helm of the company he founded when current president and CEO Dan Doctoroff steps down at the end of 2014.

Bloomberg called it a “sad day for me and my company” in the release. “I really wanted Dan to stay and continue in his leadership role. But I understand his decision. I never intended to come back to Bloomberg LP after twelve years as Mayor,” Bloomberg’s statement reads. “However, the more time I spent reacquainting myself with the company, the more exciting and interesting I found it — in large part, due to Dan’s efforts.”

Doctoroff announced his resignation via a press release on Wednesday. The 56-year-old has been the president of Bloomberg since 2008 and became the CEO three summers ago. In lieu of announcing a replacement for Doctoroff, the company said the former mayor would again take the reins.

In a heartfelt note posted on the Bloomberg website, Doctoroff called his time at the forefront of the leading financial company and news organization a “remarkable seven years.”

While Doctoroff was at the helm of Bloomberg, the company reportedly increased revenue from $5.4 billion in 2007 to over $9 billion in 2014 and substantially expanded its news organization, which now has over 500 reporters and editors.

TIME stocks

Apple Stock Slips Ahead of New iPhone Unveiling

Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Attendees gather at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

After Samsung rolled out new phones Wednesday

Apple stock dipped more than 4% on Wednesday, just a few days before a Sept. 9 event where the company is widely expected to unveil the iPhone 6. The tech giant’s shares closed at $98.94, finishing the day below $100 for the first time since August 18.

There could be a number of culprits for the Apple slide. The company’s iCloud service is at the center of a widely publicized hacking scandal in which nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were stolen from Apple accounts and posted on the Internet (Apple says the incident was a “very targeted attack” and its services were not compromised). Samsung also announced its latest set of large-screen smartphones Wednesday, including the newest iteration in the Galaxy Note Line and a new phone with a curved screen. The iPhone 6 is expected to have a much larger screen than older iPhone models as a response to the success of Samsung’s bigger phones.

Apple had been in the midst of a long rally in share price since it beat expectations in its July quarterly earnings report and announced a 7-to-1 stock split. In addition to the virtually assured iPhone 6 unveiling, the company is rumored to be debuting a smartwatch and a mobile payments system next week as well.

TIME Companies

Guinness Launching 2 New Beers to Crack Into Craft Beer Market

A man is pictured through the window of
Paul Ellis—AFP/Getty Images A man is pictured through the window of a bar drinking a pint of Guinness in The Temple Bar area of Dublin, Ireland on May 20, 2011.

'Sweet and smooth with malt and dark caramel notes'

Macrobrewer Guinness is taking aim at the microbrewing market with the launch of two new craft beers “inspired” by the painstaking brewing techniques from the 19th century, or as the company calls it, the “golden age of porters.”

The promotional materials lay a heavy emphasis on the historical lineage of the Dublin, Ireland-based company’s two newest beers, Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter, MSNBC reports. Dublin Porter, the company says, originated from a “1796 entry in Guinness brewers’ diaries” and tastes “sweet and smooth with malt and dark caramel notes,” while the slightly less dated West Indies Porter hails from an 1801 diary entry “for the first Guinness purposely brewed to maintain its freshness from one end of the world to another,” hinting at the mass production to come.

The resurgent interest in the scribblings of 19th century brewers may have something to do with the explosive growth in demand for craft beers that seem to be made with a smaller helping of machines and a bigger helping of painstaking labor, a la the 19th century, when brewers had little other choice.

[MSNBC]

TIME Video Games

Xbox One to Launch in 29 New Markets: Why It Matters

Until now, the Xbox One has been available in a fraction as many markets as Sony's PlayStation 4.

Today, Microsoft’s Xbox One lives in 13 markets worldwide, whereas you can officially buy Sony’s PlayStation 4 in 72.

That’s neither as vast a difference as simple subtraction makes it look, nor one as trivial as some seem to believe. It’s also a divide that’s about to get significantly smaller for the first time since the Xbox One debuted a little over nine months ago.

Xbox group honcho Phil Spencer said in an Xbox Wire brief that Microsoft will bring the Xbox One to 28 new countries (totaling 29 markets: Taiwan’s on the list) in September, with a 29th country — Argentina — in the offing near-term. When September goes, that’ll bring the Xbox One’s tally to 41 countries.

Sony moved much faster than Microsoft off both consoles’ November 2013 launches, deploying PlayStation 4s across the planet starting in Canada and the U.S. on November 15, then sweeping through Europe, the U.K., Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Central America, South America, the Middle East, South Africa, several Asian countries and Japan by February 2014. Microsoft’s 13, by contrast, include the U.S. and Canada, the U.K., a smattering of European countries (Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain), Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil.

The PlayStation 4 lays claim to over 10 million units sold worldwide, according to Sony. When last we heard from Microsoft way back in April, the Xbox One had shipped (as opposed to sold) 5 million units worldwide, the latter still a perfectly respectable figure: significantly higher than Xbox 360 sales for the same period, and contrasted against a runaway-popular system even Sony admits is selling way above its own wildest best-case estimates.

Since then, Microsoft has said Xbox One sales “doubled” off the console’s $100 price drop in early June, but we’re still in the dark on units shipped worldwide, suggesting Microsoft is unhappy enough with the Xbox One’s sales performance to play dumb (remember when it couldn’t help but brag monthly and precisely for years about Xbox 360 sales?), making direct sales comparisons impossible.

A word about unit sales comparisons, for those who find them tedious or silly: Console sales matter for the same reasons anything to do with volume matters in a market economy. Publishers and studios, indie to mega-corporate, are each and every one gambling with demographics each time they heap piles of cash into whatever company’s developmental framework. What we’re able to play and where thus depends heavily, if not exclusively, on publisher-studio projections about platform adoption and investment return.

The sales-crippled Wii U’s dearth of third-party games exemplifies what happens when you have a perfectly interesting and logistically competent piece of technology, but can’t secure publisher commitments to assure potential buyers they’ll be able to play multi-platform, mega-popular games like Tomb Raider, Borderlands 2, Grand Theft Auto V and the latest Battlefield or Call of Duty. Contrast with the inverse content deluge for the Wii during its halcyon years (and it had plenty of those before it fizzled), a system significantly less powerful than either the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, putting the lie to arguments that these things boil down to raw calculative potential.

The Xbox One’s 29-market expansion stands to shore up at least some of Microsoft’s sales disparity with Sony, putting Microsoft’s console in two more South American countries, Chile and Columbia (September 2), Japan (September 4), a slew of European and Middle Eastern countries (September 5), Israel (September 15), several Asian countries, China and South Africa (September 23), and Russia (September 26). The console will still be short of Sony’s total by several dozen markets, but for the first time in its lifecycle, it’ll be in places the PlayStation 4 isn’t yet, specifically Israel and China.

Israel accounts for a fraction of global gaming revenue (crazily, the Xbox 360, which launched worldwide in 2005, debuted in Israel just two years ago). But China is a behemoth, currently on the verge of surpassing the U.S. as the greatest source of annual gaming revenue in the world, according to a report published by researcher Newzoo in early June.

Predicting precisely how much money one new market or another’s going to add to Microsoft’s coffers is a fool’s errand, of course. Unless you’re pouring buckets of cash into statistical models fueled by troves of sufficiently accurate longitudinal per-market data, you might as well pull out a bow and lob arrows at the moon. Even the public version of Newzoo’s report is problematically diffuse for predictive purposes: a macro-level aggregation of game revenue that pulls everything into all-encompassing figures, without differentiation between platforms.

Newzoo says its figures tap “consumer revenues generated by companies in the global games industry and excludes hardware sales, tax, business-to-business services and online gambling and betting revenues.” So at least we’re not muddying the waters with online gambling and betting, which by itself has been estimated to draw in the tens of billions revenue-wise annually. But Newzoo’s figures also exclude “hardware sales,” thus physical platforms — including video game consoles — are off the books. We’re left with a general sense of overall game activity in these countries.

Considering other sources narrows the focus slightly: According to this GameSummit infographic culled from a global gaming report by research firm IDATE, in 2013 console sales, North America accounted for about 10 million units; Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for between 8 and 9 million units; the Asia-Pacific region tallied between 4 and 5 million units; and Latin America was somewhere between 1 and 2 million units.

Of all the Xbox One’s new markets, China’s is the most intriguing, mostly because it’s terra incognito, console-wise. China banned foreign console sales 14 years ago, claiming (ridiculously) that they were impacting the mental health of players (it lifted the ban in January). And so today, PC and mobile games are dominant in the country. Game consoles have been available through China’s gray market, but we don’t know what that slice of the pie amounts to, nor where demand for consoles versus PC games and mobile games is today, nor what impact the gray market may (or may not) have rolling forward with regard to demand for state-legitimized systems.

Price sounds like it’ll be a factor in the latter case, because what Microsoft’s asking for the Xbox One without Kinect in China sounds exorbitant: 3,699 yuan, or just over $600 (the Kinect-less Xbox One currently goes for $400 in the U.S.), though some of that’s down to China’s 17% tax on imported goods. But it stands to reason — given estimates that the average annual Chinese private-sector worker salary amounts to 28,752 yuan a year (about $4,682) — that a lot of would-be Chinese Xbox One buyers are going to balk, even with Microsoft’s pledge to sell games for less, from 99 yuan to 249 yuan ($16 to $41).

According to an online poll of more than 5,000 respondents conducted by Chinese news site Sina Tech (via Wall Street Journal) at the end of July, 59% said they wouldn’t buy a Chinese Xbox One, while just 22% indicated they would. If you’re making just 28,752 a yuan a year, would you spend roughly 13% of your annual take-home on a game system? If you could buy the same system for significantly less through back channels?

Sony plans to sell the PlayStation 4 in China as well, and announced a manufacturing partnership with a Shanghai-based company to do so back in May. But as of today, we have no idea when the console will launch, or where it’ll clock in price-wise.

The other market of interest is Japan, which has roughly one-third the population of the U.S., but relatively high per-capita console sales. Historically, Microsoft’s Xbox consoles have fared very poorly in Japan: a mere 1.6 million, compared with over 10 million PlayStation 3 units (and surpassed last February by Nintendo’s Wii U). The original Xbox, launched in 2001, couldn’t even muster half a million.

At least the Japan launch price for the Kinect-free Xbox One isn’t out of the ballpark: 39,980 yen, or about $381. That, and Sony’s had a tough time moving PS4s in Japan, totaling (as of mid-July) about 620,000 units since the console’s February launch. Sony chalks that up to poor Japanese developer support pre-launch (no one expected the PS4 to be so successful, says Sony, which actually sounds plausible given Sony’s own sales underestimates).

Assuming Sony’s claims are correct, the corollary, of course, is: Does Microsoft have Japanese developers lined up for the Xbox One? The company wants us to think so. In April it laid out 48 “regional” companies signed up to develop for the system (“regional” meaning a mix of native Japanese as well as Western developers with Japanese branches), then expanded that list by several dozen in June. But the 29 launch titles are decidedly Western-biased (Polygon has the full list here), and it’s hard to see any of those games — many of them already availably on the PS4 in the country — driving the system to stratospheric heights.

Microsoft’s greatest challenge selling Xbox Ones at this point is psychological. There’s the narrative about the Xbox One’s horsepower, given its inability early on to match the PS4’s output in multi-platform games pixel for pixel. There are presumptions about the console’s lackluster unit sales (fueled by Microsoft’s sudden reluctance to provide specifics). There’s the confusing Kinect-as-initially-pivotal-but-now-peripheral boondoggle, the system’s imposing physical footprint (it’s ginormous compared to the PS4, as big as an old-school desktop computer), and there’s the lingering miasma from a cavalcade of walked-back “features,” ranging from hypothetically intrusive Kinect-related activities to truly awkward, customer-unfriendly DRM policies.

At least two of those issues are behind the system at this point. The Xbox One has been at price parity with Sony’s PS4 since June, and the removal of Kinect ostensibly freed up horsepower to help developers wring a little more from the system. But the system’s biggest hurdle at this point is perceived momentum. And while the mainstream’s going to focus (not wrongly) on the system-sales-bolstering impact of exclusives like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 2 and maybe (make that an emphatic maybe) Sunset Overdrive in all the established markets this fall, it’ll be interesting to see the launch returns in the coming months.

Some of these new markets have enormous sales potential. The question is whether Microsoft in 2014 has the marketing savvy and catalog appeal to drive those sales home.

TIME Regulation

Verizon Settles for $7.4 Million After Failing to Notify Customers of Privacy Rights

The FCC said about 2 million new customers weren't given a notice about opting out of disclosing their personal info for marketing purposes

Verizon will pay $7.4 million to settle charges the company failed to give about 2 million new customers the choice to opt out of allowing their personal information to be used in marketing campaigns, government regulators announced Wednesday.

Federal regulators found Verizon failed to send privacy opt-out notices to some new customers as early as 2006. Verizon officials failed to discover the error until Sept. 2012, then waited 126 days before notifying the Federal Communications Commission about the lapse, federal regulators wrote in the statement.

Verizon’s settlement with the FCC marks the largest ever by a phone company over a privacy matter, according to the Washington Post.

“In today’s increasingly connected world, it is critical that every phone company honor its duty to inform customers of their privacy choices and then to respect those choices,” said Travis LeBlanc, Acting Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out.”

Verizon, which was scrutinized by the FCC last month for its “throttling policy,” said that the lack of opt-out notices issue has been resolved.

“The issue here was that a notice required by FCC rules inadvertently was not provided to certain of Verizon’s wireline customers before they received marketing materials from Verizon for other Verizon services that might be of interest to them,” the company said in a statement. “It did not involve a data breach or an unauthorized disclosure of customer information to third parties.”

Under the settlement’s terms, Verizon will be required to include opt-out notices on every bill—not just the first bill—and to be monitored to ensure that customers are receiving proper notices of their privacy rights, the FCC said.

TIME People

Bernie Madoff’s Only Surviving Son Dies

TODAY
Peter Kramer—NBC/NBC NewsWire TODAY -- Pictured: Andrew Madoff appears on NBC News' "Today" show -- Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire

Andrew Madoff had fought allegations that he knew about his father's infamous Ponzi scheme

Andrew Madoff, the last surviving son of jailed financier Bernie Madoff, died Wednesday, his lawyer said. He was 48 and had been suffering from lymphoma, CNBC reports.

Martin Flumenbaum, a long-time attorney to the Madoff sons, told CNBC that Andrew Madoff “died peacefully,” surrounded by family, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Flumenbaum defended Andrew and his brother Mark from allegations that they knew about their father’s infamous $60-billion Ponzi scheme while running part of his firm. The sons declared themselves to be “shocked” by their father’s crimes, and were the first to tip off federal investigators in 2008.

Mark Madoff hanged himself on the two-year anniversary of his father’s arrest, while his brother cut off all contact with his father. Bernie Madoff is currently serving a 150-year prison sentence.

[CNBC]

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