MONEY Tech

Why “Facebook at Work” Might Not Work

Facebook at work on tablet
Alamy

Enterprise software is indeed a very lucrative space, but the time, energy, and development resources that it would require for Facebook to meaningfully challenge are simply too high.

This isn’t the first time, and it might not be the last. Dominant social network Facebook FACEBOOK INC. FB 1.8878% is reportedly looking to challenge LinkedIn LINKEDIN CORP. LNKD 1.1948% in the enterprise segment, among others. The Financial Times reported that the social kingpin is developing a new “Facebook at Work” site geared toward corporate settings.

The service is said to feature ways to communicate with colleagues, connect with other professionals, and collaborate on documents. Personal profiles and professional profiles would be segregated for the sake of privacy, and would be free initially. Beyond LinkedIn, this service means Facebook would compete with other large enterprise software makers like Google GOOGLE INC. GOOG 1.0272% and Microsoft , as well as start-ups such as Slack.

Does Facebook have a chance? Let’s look at all of these areas where Facebook wants to make a dent.

Connecting people

Helping people make professional connections is LinkedIn’s claim to fame, and the company has established an incredibly strong business in connecting recruiters with job candidates. Before even considering monetization methods, Facebook is a much larger overall network, which means it has a shot at growing its position here.

At last count, Facebook boasted 1.35 billion monthly active users, or MAUs, worldwide. That’s over four times LinkedIn’s count of 331 million registered members. Of that total, 89.7 million members log in on a monthly basis. LinkedIn reports these as unique visiting members, but in practice they are the same as MAUs for the sake of comparison.

“Facebook at Work” is unlikely to tap into Facebook’s entire network, since its rollout is still speculative and would likely be on a small scale. Still, there’s definitely some long-term potential here if Facebook builds out the rumored service, and eventually integrates it with its broader network.

Communicating with colleagues

Microsoft Exchange is the dominant player in enterprise email, but a slew of popular chat applications are also used in the workplace. Slack has been skyrocketing in popularity recently, and is now one of the fastest-growing enterprise software applications ever.

The key to Slack’s success is the ability to integrate with a plethora of third-party services that are already popular within the enterprise segment, creating a platform out of the enterprise messaging service. Slack also has powerful search features to help workers find what they’re looking for. The start-up’s blistering growth has already attracted the attention of high-profile venture capitalists. Slack recently raised $120 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

In general, messaging is becoming an increasingly competitive arena. Facebook has both Messenger and WhatsApp under its blue belt, so the company undoubtedly has plenty of experience with developing messaging products and services. Facebook might have some strength in consumer-oriented messaging, but it seemingly lacks the deep integrations that rival services like Slack can offer.

Playing well with others

On the collaboration front, Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion. Yammer is a private social network that integrates with collaboration software and business applications, and is now part of Office 365. Yammer is a big part of Microsoft’s strategy with collaboration software as it transitions away from SharePoint.

Microsoft also recently partnered with Dropbox. By integrating the other’s services, Microsoft and Dropbox will bolster the collaborative features that are critical to each company’s enterprise customers. Google Apps for Business has also been winning customers from Microsoft for years, becoming a notable player in the collaboration space in the process.

This is easily the most important area of enterprise software, since employee collaboration is so critical to productivity. This is also where Facebook likely brings the least to the table. Current providers of collaborative tools offer comprehensive feature sets and have become very entrenched in the enterprise. Facebook will face a steep uphill battle in this area.

We don’t know what we don’t know

To be fair, not much is known about “Facebook at Work.” The company reportedly uses the product internally, and only began testing it at other companies within the past year or so.

Facebook’s current portfolio of consumer offerings might not be representative of what it hopes to offer the enterprise space. However, it’s hard to imagine the company could develop a full-featured offering that spans all of these areas in under a year when incumbents have spent many more years specializing and catering to these precise needs.

On top of that, Facebook is predominantly associated with personal social networking. The ability to separate personal and professional activity might be an attempt to blur the line, but consumer connotations aren’t easily shifted. Besides, aren’t Facebook’s privacy settings cumbersome enough already?

Shares of LinkedIn fell 5% of the news that Facebook could be developing a competing service, so it seems there is indeed some investor concern. However, history doesn’t inspire much confidence in Facebook’s professional abilities, which should downplay these fears.

Facebook acqui-hired job-search site Pursuit in 2011, but hasn’t done much in the job listing space that LinkedIn is disrupting. Third-party professional networking service BranchOut attempted to carve out a niche within Facebook as a free application (casually known as the “LinkedIn within Facebook”), but failed spectacularly and is now trying to sell itself.

The risk is that Facebook could become distracted by its pursuit of the enterprise segment, rather than focus on key business developments, notably building out the infrastructure for video ads or determining some type of monetization strategy for WhatsApp.

As an investor, I do like when Facebook takes calculated risks, such as Paper or Home, even if they fail. But those were inherently low risks with high potential rewards. Enterprise software is indeed a very lucrative space, but the time, energy, and development resources that it would require for Facebook to meaningfully challenge are simply too high.

TIME Social Media

You Asked: Can I Delete All My Old, Embarrassing Tweets?

Social Media Site Twitter Debuts On The New York Stock Exchange
In this photo illustration, The Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced it's initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Bethany Clarke—Getty Images

Twitter just made it easier than ever for anyone to find all your tweets

Twitter just made its search tool more powerful than ever. The social network has now made it easy to search any of the 500 billion public tweets that have been sent in Twitter’s eight-year history. Yes, that includes your tweets—even the drunk ones.

If you’re nervous about what an Internet sleuth might uncover if they searched for all your references to “weed” or a comprehensive listing of your embarrassing unanswered pleas directly to a celebrity, you might want to review your old tweets and delete the bad apples. And remember, if you ever become famous, someone will inevitably dig up all those racist tweets you sent in 2010.

Here’s how to head off your future PR nightmare at the pass:

Option 1: Request Your Twitter Archive

Before today, the best way to take stock of your Twitter past was to request your personal archive from the social network. Twitter will email you a zip file that includes all your tweets in an easily searchable database that mimics the Twitter.com interface. Just type in any questionable words you might have used in your younger days (“drunk,” “high,” “hella” ) and delete anything you wouldn’t want your Mom to read or embed on a public web page for the whole Internet to see.

To get the archive, go to your Settings and click “Request your archive.”

Option 2: Use Advanced Search

If you don’t want to wait around for Twitter to send you your archive, you can use the Advanced Search option (here) to quickly parse through your tweets. In the “From These Accounts” field, enter your username, and in the “Words” fields, enter whatever terms you’re trying to find that you previously tweeted.

Retweet the ones where you accurately predicted the future. Delete the incriminating ones.

Option 3: Scorch the Earth

You were a different person when you joined Twitter. If you were below the age of 20, it’s possible that you said so many cruel, vapid and ignorant things that there is simply no salvaging your younger digital self. You can wipe this person from Twitter’s record with a few clicks. Tweet Delete lets you automatically delete tweets more than a year old on an ongoing basis. Tweet Eraser allows you to delete everything you wrote before any given date. For more dire situations, you can download Tweeticide and erase your entire Twitter history.

Not sure whether you should delete or tweet? Consider this: Every public tweet is being archived for future generations to make judgments about our culture in the Library of Congress. Don’t make us look bad.

TIME privacy

Twitter Joins Partnership to Improve Handling of Harassment Claims

Nonprofit Women, Action & the Media will vet reports of abuse based on gender

Twitter is partnering with a nonprofit to make it easier for people to report harassment based on gender. The organization Women, Action & the Media will begin collecting reports of harassment via an online form and send the reports it deems valid to Twitter. The new tool is a pilot program, and the organization says it will monitor Twitter’s responses to harassment claims and help the social network improve how it handles complaints.

At least a quarter of female Internet users between 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed or stalked online, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In the past, Twitter has faced criticism for how it deals with harassment towards women on its site. There was an uproar last year when Twitter neutered the ability to block other users, and the social network was forced to quickly revert back to the original blocking feature. The site has also become a feverish battleground for the #GamerGate controversy, through which some women have faced harassment on the social network.

TIME facebook

Why Facebook Suddenly Wants to Handle Your Money

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg Hosts Internet.org Summit
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Internet.org summit in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Udit Kulshrestha—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It's quickly becoming the biggest battle zone in tech

Facebook already handles your social life; now it wants to handle your money. Hacked screenshots released this month show a hidden payment option inside Facebook’s popular Messenger app, which is used by 200 million people around the globe. The feature—discovered by a Stanford computer science student snooping around existing code—would potentially let users send money to one another in a message using debit card information. Facebook hasn’t commented on the hack or when, if ever, it might activate the feature.

But, for the moment, a far more interesting question is why would Facebook consider going down this road at all. Behind Facebook’s foray into payments is a thrilling possibility. Could the world’s largest social network be gearing up for a future showdown with the world’s largest credit card companies? At stake is a potentially massive jackpot: the $40 billion to $50 billion a year (in the U.S. alone) that credit card-issuing banks make off the so-called interchange rate, i.e. the hefty transaction fee that merchants have to cough up whenever customers use credit cards. The company announces earnings Oct. 28.

But do a few hacked screenshots really spell the upheaval of the entire payments industry? Maybe. For starters, Facebook hasn’t exactly been coy about its interest in payments. Back in June, the company poached PayPal president and payments guru David Marcus to head up Messenger, a move that now makes a lot of sense. Meanwhile, in a Q2 earnings call, as reported in TechCrunch, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quite explicit in saying that “over time there will be some overlap between [Messenger] and payments.” The groundwork for a Facebook payment service, in other words, has already been laid.

It’s important to note that, as leaked, Facebook Messenger’s payment feature would only allow peer-to-peer transactions, i.e. money transfers between the banks of ordinary users, not retailers or companies. Speculation is that a service like this might be especially popular among foreign workers sending money to relatives back home. Currently, the remittance industry charges notoriously high fees: By undercutting them, Facebook could find a healthy revenue source, should it choose to ultimately monetize the tool.

But—and here’s where things get really interesting—there’s nothing stopping Facebook from ultimately opening up the payment service to merchants, as well, allowing them to accept debit card payments from customers via Messenger. (Zuckerberg has hinted as much, noting that the planned tool will ultimately “help people share with each other and interact with businesses.”) For merchants, this would have some huge advantages. While credit cards, not to mention PayPal, Stripe, Square and other services, all charge interchange fees ranging from around 2- to 4-percent of total purchase price (an amount considered exorbitant by critics), debit card swipe fees in the U.S. are currently capped at a mere 21 cents.

With this kind of savings hanging in the balance, it’s not difficult to image millions of merchants and potentially hundreds of millions of consumers signing on. Consider that there are currently 79 million Mastercard credit card holders in the U.S.—a sizeable number. But there are nearly 200 million monthly active Facebook users in the country. Facebook, in other words, has the potential to create a payment network that rivals and, in some cases, dwarfs the major credit cards, virtually overnight.

Once merchants and consumers are hooked, Facebook may ultimately turn its focus to profits. Again, Zuckerberg has already signalled this aspiration, explaining to revenue-hungry investors in July that the company is planning “to take the time to do this in the way that is going to be right over multiple years.” With credit card interchange fees currently set so high, Facebook would have plenty of room to make money from merchants while still undercutting traditional credit cards by a wide margin. If the network were to eventually charge a $1 fee (as has been suggested) or even retain just a fraction of a percent of each transaction, the revenue stream could be enormous.

All of this might seem a bit far-fetched, if some of tech’s biggest players weren’t already pursuing similar strategies. In September, for instance, Apple unveiled Apple Pay, a mobile wallet app that lets users store credit card information and then “tap and pay” with their iPhones. For the moment, Apple is content to act as something of a middleman in this process, making it easier for customers to use their existing credit cards and collecting a tiny fee from the banks in the process. But with time, consumers and merchants may well get used to the idea of using Apple for their transactions, with credit cards playing an ever diminishing role and—maybe one day—slipping out of the picture entirely.

What’s clear from these efforts, as well as recent maneuvers by Square, Stripe and even online payment veteran PayPal, is that the stodgy old payments space, dominated for so long by traditional banks and their credit cards, is finally beginning to face some serious challengers. For consumers and merchants, there’s much to gain and little to lose aside from high fees. Meanwhile, for tech players like Facebook, payments may well represent the latest, greatest path to monetization.

And what about for social media users? Are we headed toward a future where social networks like Facebook are actually online, interactive malls where we happen to bump into friends and socialize as we shop? Both Facebook and Twitter are already beta-testing special “buy” buttons that pop up in users’ news streams with targeted offers based on demographic and psychographic information. This kind of one-click shopping – with limited-time deals flying by, meticulously targeted to users’ interests and shared virally among friends – hints at the dramatic changes in store. It’s an endgame that Zuckerberg likely never imagined but one that seems increasingly likely and lucrative: social network as advertiser, shopping mall and credit card – all rolled into one.

Ryan Holmes is CEO of Hootsuite. Follow him @invoker

TIME Parenting

This Is How to Stalk Your Teenage Children Online

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
Jennifer Garner plays an intenet snooping mother in Paramount's Men, Women & Children Dale Robinette—Paramount Pictures.

One mother comes clean

I knew I had to be very careful when choosing a fake online identity with which to stalk my kids. It needed to be somebody that my children would want to be friends with, but not close friends, somebody who might plausibly notice them, but they might not notice being noticed by.

That’s how I ended up becoming Clara Lemlich. She was a leader of a massive strike of female shirtwaist workers in New York City more than a century ago. Logically, a modern Clara would be interested in clothes and young women, exactly what both my teenagers are interested in.

It’s well-known that only loser teenagers befriend people who don’t already have friends so I rounded out Clara’s profile by prefriending a whole bunch of people I knew my kids (a 13 year old girl and 16 year old boy) would find cool. That noted labor organizer, Channing Tatum, for example.

Given Ms. Lemlich’s areas of expertise, it’s not weird or creepy or anything that my children might crop up on her radar. Well, perhaps it’s a little creepy. I mean, if I were their mother and I saw some random adult pretending to be a dead union activist looking at their photos on Instagram, I’d be alarmed. But I am their mother, so …..anyway, I digress.

My ruse made just enough sense that when Clara Lemlich started following my kids, she seemed both acceptable and ignorable; they took the bait. Online friends are after all, more desirable for their quantity than their quality. The only person my children do not want to add to their list of followers is me.

Surely, you’re saying, there’s some more upfront, reasonable, less sneaky way to do this. Experts recommend, for example, that you have all your children’s passwords and make sure that you have full access to all their social media sites. To which I say: bwahahahahaha. Good luck. You will never get ahead of your teenagers on nefarious uses of technology. I’ll wager young Rory Gates has already figured out at least one way to digitally outsmart his dad, Bill.

In the new movie Men, Women & Children, Jennifer Garner plays a mom trying to do exactly what those parenting gurus recommend. She has all her daughter’s passwords. She tracks her daughter on her iPhone. Her computer records every website the girl has visited, every text her phone receives and every person who texts her, just to make sure there are no predators. (Her daughter goes along with all of this, because her daughter is a completely fictional construct.)

I’m not worried about predators. I pity any poor perv who tries to get my kids off the couch. But like Garner’s character Patricia, I do worry that what the kids are posting might blow back on them later. As Patricia says: “our children will be the first generation whose lives have a searchable database.”

That’s why I felt I needed Clara Lemlich. The Internet is too vast and labyrinthine to be mapped. Parents can’t give their offspring a guidebook or a list of dangerous neighborhoods, even if they knew them. They can’t warn them ahead of time to avoid doing something that might later seem terrible. But this public vast world is also holdable in one hand; It’s as if their bus pass could allow them to time travel. And strip when they get there.

But once I had successfully Trojan horsed my way into my kids’s online lives, I found their cities somewhat lacking in drama. There were no fights to join. Their activities mostly consist of friends being excessively complimentary of each other and excessively unpleasant about strangers. It’s narcissistic but not dangerous. The biggest infraction my daughter seems to be guilty of is copyright infringement: she’s posting photos I took. Without attribution.

So I’m outing Clara Lemlich. Hi kids, it’s me. Isn’t this Instagram thing fun? Of course, they don’t follow me on social media, so they’ll never know.

TIME technology

Twitpic Is Shutting Down, and It’s Blaming Twitter

Twitter Illustrations Ahead of Earnings Figures
The Twitter Inc. application and logo are displayed on a laptop computer and Apple Inc. iPhone 5s in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, April 25, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

“We're sad to see Twitpic is shutting down,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

The photo-sharing website Twitpic is shutting down due to a trademark dispute with Twitter, Twitpic said Thursday. In a blog post, Twitpic founder Noah Everett announced that the company would shutter its operations on September 25.

Everett said that Twitter’s lawyers had contacted Twitpic’s legal team demanding the company abandon its trademark application or risk losing access to Twitter’s API, the code that lets Twitpic users share photos over Twitter. “Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours,” Everett wrote. “Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.”

Twitpic was a popular service in Twitter’s early days as a means of sharing photos on the social network. As Twitter gained more features, it eventually made embedding photos a part of the main Twitter website and mobile apps, lessening the need for Twitpic. Twitter has also steadily narrowed the number of companies to which it grants full access to its API over the years.

When asked whether the allegations by Twitpic were true, a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the social network has to protect its brand and trademarks. “We’re sad to see Twitpic is shutting down,” the spokesperson said. “We encourage developers to build on top of the Twitter service, as Twitpic has done for years, and we made it clear that they could operate using the Twitpic name. Of course, we also have to protect our brand, and that includes trademarks tied to the brand.”

Twitpic will launch a feature to let users export their photos and videos in the coming days.

 

TIME How-To

5 of the Biggest Facebook Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

Facebook
Andrew Harrer -- Bloomberg / Getty Images

The world’s biggest social network turned 10 this year. With 57% of the American population — and 73% of teenagers — among its user base, Facebook has morphed from a way for college undergrads to communicate to a multi-tentacled service that has become an integral part of our everyday lives, from connecting us with long-lost friends to serving as the Internet’s de facto photo-sharing service to doubling as a universal login to thousands of sites and apps across the Internet.

But with regular introductions of privacy-flouting new features and different sets of etiquette for connecting with colleagues, friends and family, it can be all too easy to make a Facebook misstep that sends the wrong message into the world.

Below are five of the most-common Facebook faux pas – and how to avoid them.

1. Not putting a professional face forward

If you haven’t been keeping an eye on your privacy settings, photos and posts intended for friends can end up on your boss’s newsfeed. A CareerBuilder study found that nearly 39% of employers use social media to screen job candidates, and a 2012 report from technology research company Gartner predicted that by 2015, 60% of employers will be monitoring employees on social networks.

If your boss is your Facebook friend, you can prevent them from seeing what you post by going to Settings > Privacy > “Who can see my future posts,” selecting “Custom” from the dropdown menu and adding their names. To keep them from seeing posts and photos you’re tagged in, go to Settings > Timeline and tagging > “Who can see things on my timeline,” select Custom from the dropdown menu and add their names.

If your boss or potential employer isn’t your Facebook friend, simply go to Settings > Privacy then select “Friends only” as the audience for “Who can see my future posts” and “Limit past posts.” On the same page, you can also edit who can look you up — public, friends of friends, or friends only — and disable Google and other search engines from linking to your Facebook profile.

Finally, you can create a Restricted list — anyone on this list can only see the information and posts you make public. This can be an effective way to avoid looking suspiciously absent from Facebook, without giving up too much information. Head to Settings > Blocking, and edit “Restricted List.”

In all cases, if you and your boss have mutual friends, he or she will still be able to view any posts or photos you may be tagged in with those friends.

2. Oversharing, oversharing, oversharing

We’ve all done it, but now there’s proof that oversharing is the easiest way to get unfriended on Facebook. A study by Christopher Sibona at the University of Colorado Denver found that the top four reasons people delete friends are because their posts are frequent or trivial posts, polarizing, inappropriate or too mundane.

“Share things that are meaningful, witty, newsy or interesting — and be discriminating in how often you post on Facebook,” recommends Jessica Kleiman, a communications specialist and co-author of the book Be Your Own Best Publicist.

Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for that polemic on national politics (or what you had for breakfast). If there are particular people you think would appreciate more controversial — or more mundane — statuses, you can customize the audience for individual posts. Below the status box, click the tab next to “Post” and select Custom to bring up options for “Who Should See This?”. You can then select a specific audience such as Close Friends, or a custom list (if you made one), say for your sports league. You can also select Custom and manually enter friends that can or can’t view the post. You can make this setting your default to avoid future oversharing.

However, Kleiman cautions, “Even if you use filters on Facebook to keep your posts only visible by ‘friends,’ one of your 850 closest friends online is probably friends with someone you wouldn’t want to see that post.”

3. Allowing Facebook apps to overshare for you

Along with posts about that ham and cheese toastie you were eating, oversharing may take the form of posts by apps you’ve linked to Facebook.

Privacy protection company Secure.me found that 63% of apps request the ability to post on the user’s behalf. While giving this permission may allow your info to be shared where it shouldn’t, more irking is the fact that, say, Spotify can post what ‘80s pop ballad you’re listening to, or Candy Crush Saga can update all your friends on your progress.

You can allow or disallow third-party apps to post to Facebook when signing up, but if you didn’t do that, you can edit all permissions from a single page. Select Activity Log from the top right dropdown menu on your profile or news feed, then All Apps (on the left) to view posts made by apps.

To prevent individual apps from posting, hit More (under All Apps), scroll to the offending app, then click the top-right arrow to customize where the app can post to on your behalf — certain friends, all friends, or not at all. You can also tweak the audience for each post by clicking its lock icon. Click the neighboring pen icon to remove the post from your Timeline, mark it as spam or delete the app from your Facebook profile entirely.

4. Allowing others to post content about you that you don’t like

A Pew Research Center survey found that one of the aspects users most disliked about Facebook was that friends can post personal content, such as photos, about a user without his or her permission.

If you’ve been tagged in an unflattering photo, you can remove the tag by clicking on the photo, hovering over its base, and selecting Options / Remove Tag, so that the picture will not turn up in “Photos of You.” To stop it from appearing on your profile page, you must separately toggle “Allow on Timeline” to “Hide from Timeline” in the top-right of the window. However, the photo can still be viewed in other people’s News Feeds and the poster’s albums page, so if you abhor the picture, contact your so-called friend and ask them to take it down.

You can also disable certain — or all — people from posting on your Timeline. Go to Settings > Timeline and Tagging > “Who can add things to my timeline” and select “Only Me.” *(Friends will still be able to view your Timeline.)

To block particular people, head to Settings > Blocking, and add the names to the Restricted list. Then go to Settings > Timeline and Tagging > “Who can add things to my Timeline,” and select “Friends.” Friends on the restricted list won’t be able to post on your Timeline, or view it unless you have set it to be public.

5. Being resigned to a boring news feed

Does it feel like you’re reading more and more posts from friends you don’t really care about? You’re probably not imagining it. In December, Facebook updated its News Feed algorithm to push up posts with links and push down memes. Links with more comments were also favored. Stories that show up are also influenced by which friends you interact with the most.

Meanwhile, a Stanford University study found that user posts that aren’t liked or commented on tend to be viewed by fewer people, so you may find that your college buddy’s engagement announcement floats to the top of your feed, while your best friend’s gripe about the cost of daycare is nowhere to be seen.

To get around this, head to your feed, click on “News Feed” in the top left, and toggle the option to show Most Recent instead of Top Stories. To ensure particular friends’ posts pop up on your feed, add them to your Close Friends list. On your news feed, scroll down the left-hand menu, hover over Friends and click More > Close friends, then add their names in the right-side text bar. Hit Manage List in the top right to select the particular types of updates you get — for example, photos and status updates, but not games or comments.

If someone’s status updates are getting on your nerves but you’re not quite ready to unfriend them, you can unsubscribe from their updates entirely by clicking in the top right of the offending status in your news feed, then selecting “Hide All.”

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Internet

Barry Diller Wants to Save the Web’s Most Controversial Social Network

Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer of IAC/InterActiveCorp, arrive for a morning session during the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho on July 11, 2014.
Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer of IAC/InterActiveCorp, arrive for a morning session during the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho on July 11, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

In purchasing Ask.fm, which is used by 120 million people worldwide, the Internet mogul is betting he can clean up a star-crossed site

How high is Barry Diller’s tolerance for the tawdry? The 72-year-old billionaire, who is the chairman and senior executive of Internet holding company IAC, has in recent years added Tinder—presently dogged by a high-profile sexual harassment case—and a host of other dating-related businesses to his portfolio. And Thursday the company announced that it had acquired a popular Latvia-based social network, Ask.fm, presently best known for its connection in media reports of more than a dozen teenager suicides over the past two years.

“We would not have done this deal,” says Doug Leeds, who will be supervising the site, “if we didn’t think we could make the company known for something else.” Leeds is the CEO of Ask.com, one of IAC’s sites, which began its life nearly two decades ago as Ask Jeeves. Leeds first became interested in Ask.fm, strangely enough, after the social network’s bad press made him fret for his own company’s reputation. He reached out to Ask.fm’s management team last year to insist that the site distinguish itself more from Ask.com. But in subsequent conversations, he began to learn a little bit about just how big the site had become. He began to see the kind of business challenge he says he wanted.

If you don’t know about the social network, find a teenager and, well, ask. The site has 120 million worldwide users, nearly half of whom are high school age, with more than 10 percent residing in the United States. Users sign up and open themselves to questions from anyone—classmates, peers, mysterious Internet trawlers—posed both anonymously and with names attached. Rarely do they urge suicide in a plain, literal fashion. Often they instead tackle the trivial business of high school (homework, crushes, the social pecking order). But the effect even then is of a virtual locker room, one filled with gossip and catcalls, one that follows you home, on the always-on smartphone stuffed in your pocket.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the site and its effect on the brawny yet brittle teenage brain, which according to mental-health experts chases immediate rewards without much regard for the long-term consequences. Teenagers get hooked on something before they figure out how, why and what it means.

That sense of excitement and uncertainty appears in Ask.fm’s origin story too. Two brothers, Ilja and Mark Terebin, ages 35 and 29, founded the site in 2010 only in search of a social network to make them a buck. It grew so big, and so quickly, that only later did they develop a philosophy to justify its existence. The site, they said in an interview in April, would aid in teenagers’ self-discovery through expanding freedom and opportunities for self-expression. And they said the media outlets that had criticized them over lax safety standards, not Ask.fm’s users, were the real bullies.

But it’s a common story in entrepreneurship—every young, scrappy company is one day forced to grow up. And sometimes a grown-up company has no need for the young people who built it: The Terebins will leave Ask.fm and have no further affiliation with it, although headquarters, and the site’s employees, will remain for the time being in their home city of Riga. Leeds says, “They’re smart and passionate people, but they had a philosophy for the company that was incorrect.”

When asked his plans for the future, Ilja replied in an e-mail, “Fruits and vegetables, books and a billion dollar idea. : ).” IAC declined to disclose how much the company paid for the site.

Ask.fm’s new owners insist they will be zealous about users’ safety. Before completing the deal, they partnered with two state attorneys general—New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Maryland’s Douglas Gansler—and produced a detailed agreement outlining new safety standards. The site has agreed to expand its content-monitoring team, work with suicide-prevention groups and will hire an outside safety consultant who will monitor the site’s compliance with the agreement and other safety standards. The site has also brought aboard Catherine Teitelbaum, Yahoo’s former director of global safety and product policy, as its chief trust and safety officer. She says she has an aggressive timetable for cleaning the site up.

Leeds, the new CEO, says the site has a great deal of untapped potential for genuine online self-expression and interaction, less inorganic and forced than Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (social networks alongside which he sees Ask.fm one day sitting). He says, “There’s no blank-box problem, where you have to think about what to say. People are already asking you questions.”

Set aside momentarily safety and user experience, the major areas Ask’s new bosses plan to address. The broader question—what effect endless access to the opinions of one’s peers has on vulnerable teenagers—persists. But maybe it, like over a billion others each month, will someday be answered by way of Ask.fm.

TIME facebook

Facebook’s New App Gives Free Internet Access in Developing World

So far, the app is only available in Zambia.

Facebook is taking another big step toward fulfilling its vision of bringing the Internet to the entire world.

 

On Thursday, the company launched its first app for Internet.org, a partnership among tech giants to beam wireless service to developing markets. The new app, which is debuting first in Zambia to subscribers of local wireless carrier Airtel, will allow users to access a select number of services without racking up data charges. The sites and apps include Facebook, Messenger, Google Search, Wikipedia, a weather service and an app promoting women’s rights.

“By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise,” Facebook said in a blog post announcing the app.

Facebook seems serious about using Internet.org to spread Internet connectivity. Earlier this year the company unveiled a plan to use drones, satellites and lasers to provide Internet access in remote places. So far, Facebook says it has brought 3 million people online who previously had no Internet access.

There are obvious reasons for the altruism — Facebook’s growth rate is slowing in Western markets, so the company sees developing countries as its biggest opportunity for new users. But the company has to get people in those countries online before it can convince them to join Facebook. Google is implementing a similar strategy through Project Loon, a plan to provide Internet access in remote areas via balloons.

Facebook says it plans to bring the Internet.org app to other parts of the world in the future.

TIME Earnings

Twitter Shocks Wall Street With Big Growth in Revenue, Users

Twitter Goes Public On The New York Stock Exchange
(L-R) Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone applaud as Twitter rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) while also celebrating the company's IPO on November 7, 2013 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Stock shoots up 25% in after-hours trading

Updated July 29 at 6:18 p.m.

Twitter shares leapt more than 25 percent in after-hours trading Tuesday following stellar results in the company’s latest quarterly earnings report.

The social network posted greater-than-expected growth in both revenue and monthly active users during the second quarter. Twitter added 16 million monthly active users to bring its total to 271 million, the biggest period of user growth since the first quarter of 2013. Revenue for the quarter was $312 million, blowing past analysts’ estimates of $283 million. Adjusted earnings for the company were 2 cents per share, beating expectations of a 1 cent per share loss. Overall, the company posted a net loss of $145 million for the quarter when including stock-based compensation expenses and other line items.

Pundits have been writing Twitter’s eulogy for months as its user growth slowed in the last year and the company has regularly posted losses. But the latest report shows that Twitter’s plan to make its platform more user-friendly may be paying off. Features such as a more Facebook-like profile pages and a mute button that lets users remove certain users’ tweets from their timelines are aimed at making Twitter novices feel less overwhelmed by the deluge of messages.

The World Cup, which became the most tweeted-about sporting event in Twitter history, was also likely a big boost for the social network during the quarter. Twitter organized conversations around individual matches, featured real-time score updates and attached countries’ flags to hashtags representing each team. “We made progress on multiple fronts across the business and our financial performance was truly exceptional,” CEO Dick Costolo said in a conference call with investors.

A negative point for the quarter were timeline views. At 640 per monthly active user, they were down 7% year-over-year. In the U.S., views are also down from the first quarter. Twitter regularly attributes these drops to changes in its interface that make it easier for users to see interesting tweets without scrolling through a deluge of messages. Also, some of the content on Twitter’s specially curated World Cup pages didn’t count toward the metric.

As Twitter works to differentiate itself from Facebook in the eyes of investors, Costolo spent a lot of time discussing the audiences Twitter serves outside of its monthly users. He said the total number of people who visit Twitter each month is two to three times its official user base when including those who don’t log in. He also touted what we called syndicated viewers, people who see tweets while reading news sites or watching television broadcasts.

Eventually, the company hopes to monetize these less dedicated users somehow, though Costolo said for now the company is just focused on improving the user experience of Twitter’s many casual visitors. He also wouldn’t rule out the idea of a version of the timeline that selected tweets based on an algorithm, like Facebook’s News Feed, rather than showing them in chronological order. “We’re not ruling any any kinds of changes that we might deliver in the product in service to bridging that gap to signing up for Twitter and receiving that value,” he said.

Challenges still remain for Twitter, which won’t have another World Cup to goose its metrics for another four years. But the company reversed some ominous trends this quarter and proved it can take advantage of global events tailor-made for the Web’s water cooler.

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