We’ve been working on getting more details on a press event that Facebook is having this week. Earlier, we wrote it could launch a news-reading app, but we have since heard more details that point to something else entirely. On June 20, a source says Facebook will unveil that Instagram, its popular photo-sharing app, will begin to let people also take and share short videos. Call it the Vine effect.
We are still looking for more information because we understand that Facebook has not wanted the details of June 20 to leak out — so this could be an intentional blind alley. But if the Instagram video report is true, you could say the event invite itself — sent by snail mail, coffee cup stain charmingly in one corner — is a red herring of its own.
Earlier reports about Instagram getting video provide some indication, though, that this is not coming out of the blue. Most recently, about three weeks ago Matthew Keys broke a story noting that such a service was getting tested internally. At the time, there wasn’t any information on when it would be coming out, nor whether there would be filters, nor whether this would be in a separate app or part of an Instagram update. The videos would be between five and 10 seconds in length, he noted.
Getting video on Instagram is a move that would make sense. Specifically, it looks like a direct response to the rising popularity of video-sharing services, namely Twitter’s Vine. It, and others like Viddy, Cinemagram and Socialcam, sometimes get described as “Instragram for video” apps.
The Vine app — which lets users take six seconds of video footage on an iOS or Android handset and then share those clips to Vine’s own network, Twitter or Facebook — has shot up in popularity since going live in January. After Twitter debuted an Android version of Vine in the beginning of June, usage reached a tipping point: shares of Vines surpassed those of Instagram photos on Twitter — usage that has only diverged even more since then:
Of course, you could argue that part of the reason is because Twitter no longer shows inline views of Instagram photos — that may have affected how many Instagram photos have been shared to Twitter.
When those Instagram/Twitter cards disappeared, we noted that part of the reason for the move — taken by Facebook/Instagram, not Twitter — appeared to be to drive more direct traffic to Instagram itself, a popular social network in its own right, with over 100 million monthly active users, rising sharply since Facebook bought the company last year for $715 million.
Putting in a video service could serve to further that strategy even more, before new-but-already-popular services like Vine get more of a foothold. It will mean one less app and social network for users to build up, and, for those who like to take and share videos, another reason to visit Instagram. You can see how something like video could be a very sticky complement to its photo service.
There could be another reason for adding video to the service: it’s a very attractive medium for advertisers and marketers.
Of course, Instagram is not running any ads yet — in fact, Facebook and Instagram got a lot of heatover changes in their terms of service in December over how it could implement advertising services in the future — so much heat that they rolled back the ToS and apologized. And in Facebook’slast quarterly earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a point of noting that while big brands were interested in advertising on Instagram, for now there were no plans to implement this. (That’s not to say that Instagram is not already a substantial marketing platform for brands.)
And with 100 million+ users, you could argue that there may not be enough scale there yet to really monetize ads properly. Adding in video is laying the groundwork — and providing one more engine to grow that Instagrammer base.
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
After months of speculation, the fate of Waze, the social-mapping-location-data startup, is finally decided: Google is buying the company, giving the search giant a social boost to its already-strong mapping and mobile businesses. Although speculation has had it at $1 billion to $1.3 billion, but so far there is no price on the deal. In any event, it’s a doubly strategic move. Google’s purchase comes in the wake of what appeared to be failed negotiations between the Israel-based startup two big rivals of the search giant: Facebook, which waseyeing up the company but apparently faltered at the due dilligence phase; and Apple (neither company ever publicly confirmed interest in acquiring Waze).
The news comes after a particularly heated few days in which reports of Google’s interest in Wazereached new heights, after first surfacing two weeks ago. In the wildfire that is internet publishing, many even went so far as to report it as a done deal, making things even more confusing.
Waze had raised some $67 million in funding from Blue Run Ventures, Magma, Vertex, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, and Horizon Ventures. And it looks like the majority of the payout in the sale will go to these VCs. Globes, the Israeli business newspaper that first reported the latest interest from Google, estimated that payouts to co-founders — Ehud Shabtai, Amir and Gili Shinar, Uri Levine, Arie Gillon — and its CEO Noam Bardin, will be under $200 million in total.
There are at least a couple of places where you can see Google making use of Waze data.
Social. Under CEO Larry Page, Google has been especially bullish on where it positions itself on social, which it has been hinging on Google+ as a kind of web across all of its other properties to show you, the user, what those you know are doing, and also to let your connections see what you are looking at online. Taking a page from Facebook’s book, the thinking goes that this helps with discovery and engagement.
Waze, as a crowdsourced location platform, would give Google an additional, very mobile-based angle on this concept, letting users not just share places (i.e. sites) visited on the web, but actual places visited physically. As Bardim noted at the AllThingsD conference in April, “What search is for the web, maps are for mobile.” By this, he means that most of the searches you do on mobile have to do with location, and Waze is one of the few companies out there that is bringing that kind of search together with actual map data and a social layer. (The NYT ran an interesting piece yesterday with one mapping company describing how maps on mobile specifically become a “canvas” for all other apps.)
Competition. Waze could be a two-pronged fork for Google: On one hand, it gives the search giant nice, healthy wedge into the mass of consumers who are already using the app on iOS devices. But it also, if reports are to be believed, also gives Google a way of roadblocking how companies like Facebook could use Waze’s assets. As the startup likes to point out, it’s not a mapping company, but a big data player. Facebook, making its own big push on mobile, would have been a natural home for a socially-focused company like Waze, which also happens to be one of the few home-grown mapping databases around. This will mean that Facebook will need to have to continue to use third-party data for its own location-based searches and information, or less look to acquire elsewhere.
It’s interesting, in any case, that Google and Waze have now kissed and made up. It was only in April that Bardin jabbed at Google when talking about who the big players in mapping were and how Waze stacks up against them: Waze used to benchmark itself with Google, he noted at the AllThingsD conference, but after the search giant cut off access to its API, Waze started to benchmark to Navteq.
When the Facebook acquisition reports surfaced, we’d heard that one of the sticking points was that Waze wanted to keep its R&D in Israel, while Facebook was leaning to a Menlo Park relocation. Since then, others have told us that this was just smoke a mirrors and that there were other reasons the deal fell through (Mountain View’s most famous resident being one possible factor). Google, unlike Facebook, has a decent presence in the country, including a new hub for startups started inDecember 2012, Campus Tel Aviv.
Google today made it clear that it would keep Waze’s operations going in Israel — for now, at least. “The Waze product development team will remain in Israel and operate separately for now,” Brian McClendon, Google’s VP of Geo, noted in the blog post announcing the deal. “We’re excited about the prospect of enhancing Google Maps with some of the traffic update features provided by Waze and enhancing Waze with Google’s search capabilities.”
In any case, it makes sense that Waze might want to keep its Israel-based operations intact. Just about all of the company’s 110-or-so employees are there, with only around 10 in a very modest office in Palo Alto, just down the street from another big-data startup, Palantir. That small proportion, however, is mighty: regular workers there include CEO Noam Bardin and Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze’s VP of platform and partnerships.
The U.S. is currently Waze’s largest single market — in April, Bardin noted that 12 million of its (at the time) 44 million users are based there — and this is where the company is putting its growth efforts for now, too. In February of this year, Waze expanded its U.S. operations, and its monetization ambitions, by opening an office on Madison Avenue, the heart of the advertising world in New York City, and we’ve seen that members of the team have been visiting New York recently. There is still a lot of development to be done on the advertising front — and given Google’s pole position in online and mobile advertising, that would give Waze another obvious fit with its new owner.
Ironically, the news comes as Google continues to fight other kinds of fires on the mapping front. In the U.S. it is trying to get a ruling overturned that it violated federal wiretap laws with its StreetView services.
In Europe, Google recently offered up a settlement in a search antitrust suit, originally brought by travel and mapping companies, that claimed Google, the biggest search engine in Europe by a longshot, was giving its own mapping and travel results more preference in search results over those of its competitors, making business untenable for smaller players. In that ongoing case, the EU competition regulator Joachin Almunia said at the end of May that Google still needed to make more concessions.
Among mobile browsers, Safari continues to lead the pack by a wide margin according to this month’s data from NetMarketShare, but the real movement is happening within the Android segment, with Chrome growing fast as the stock Android browser lags behind. Android overall dipped slightly in May in terms of mobile OS share, hitting an eight month low according to NetMarketShare’s tracking.
Android’s stock browser lost over 2 percentage points of share between April and May, and Chrome mobile gained just under a full percentage point. Google has been pushing the mobile version of Chrome, shipping it on devices with Android pre-installed since last fall. That has resulted in a steady upwards movement of share, growing from 0.34 percent last July to 3.22 percent this past May. Stock Android browser share is actually flat over that eleven month period, however, indicating that Chrome’s share is all coming in new device sales, and not as a result of people switching from one to the other on their own devices.
According to OS share, Android is down slightly from last month, and inf fact hits a low point compared to many previous measuring periods. Apple’s iOS is up slightly from last month, but mostly flat, and Symbian, Java ME and BlackBerry actually all experienced small bumps, meaning Android’s nearly 2 percentage point fall didn’t result in a big win for pretty much any platform. Still, it’s interesting to see those numbers dip during a month when Android saw the launch of two big new flagship phones in the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
Overall, though, the most interesting story here is Chrome’s mobile growth. Google is making a big push for cross-platform compatibility and portability, and a lot of what it’s showing off on the Chrome side of things is designed to bring mobile and desktop together. To achieve that goal, it becomes instrumental that mobile Chrome achieve greater uptake, which is an uphill battle considering that it only arrived last year. Still, it seems to be gaining momentum, which is good for Google’s long-term goals.