David Gelles

Ever since Facebook first rolled out its own virtual currency, developers have wondered if, when, and how the company would start encouraging the use of Credits across its enormous platform.

The answer is becoming clear, and the time is now. Facebook wants developers to start using Credits in a big way as it works to build a system similar to Apple’s iTunes, where users make lots of small purchases with a credit card kept on file.

Developers are taking the cue. CrowdStar, one of the most successful social gaming companies, just announced it will use Credits as its exclusive in-game currency for at least the next five years. Read more

David Gelles

Facebook is tangling with regulators around the world these days, and the company’s porous privacy settings have not escaped the ire of officials in Washington, DC.

So in an effort to cope with what is sure to be more international scrutiny, Facebook has hired a White House official to work with its policy team inside the Beltway.

Marne Levine, currently chief of staff at the White House National Economic Council, will join the world’s largest social network as vice president of global public policy. In her new role, she will help build and manage policy teams in Asia, the Americas and Europe. Read more

David Gelles

EBay just bought the hottest e-commerce app in the App Store.

RedLaser, which lets users scan product barcodes with their iPhone camera and then compare prices online, has been downloaded more than 2m times.

With eBay’s acquisition for an undisclosed price, it will be folded into eBay’s robust mobile portfolio and become free (it was $1.99). RedLaser technology will be incorporated into eBay’s existing shopping apps, and eBay listings will show up in RedLaser results. Read more

David Gelles

CTIA – The Wireless Association is one of those industry groups that annually descend on a marquee city with a massive trade show, flooding the streets with badge-wearing conference-goers, and hotels and local businesses with dollars.

For five of the last seven years, CTIA’s show has been in San Francisco, as it will be this October. But this year’s show will be the last one in the City by the Bay for the foreseeable future.

The group is taking its show elsewhere (along with 68,000 attendees and $80m in economic activity according to CTIA), a response to the cellphone radiation law passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Read more

David Gelles

As is custom, Apple devotees are camping out in front of Apple stores around the country to get their hands on the latest product at the first possible moment. At San Francisco’s main store, one man brought an inflatable green couch.

Early reviews suggest that the iPhone 4 is worth the wait, with everyone from Engadget to the New York  Times calling it the best smartphone yet.

David Gelles

Is the low-level radiation emitted from cellphones bad for your health?

The scientific evidence is inconclusive, but the debate is nonetheless gaining steam as more and more smartphones fly off the shelves and into people’s front pockets.

The city of San Francisco is expected to pass a law today that will require retailers to display the amount of radiation emitted by the cellphones they sell. And an app that monitors the real-time radiation level of your phone is getting blocked from Apple’s App Store. Read more

David Gelles

AOL’s fire-sale of social networking site Bebo marks another ignominious end to an overpriced deal for the company saddled with dishonour of having engineered “the worst deal of the century,” its dot-com era merger with Time Warner. But the FT’s Lex column writes that “it is at least becoming clear what AOL thinks its purpose in life ought to be.”

It is now all about content for AOL, with its mix of hyperlocal news and more focused blogs such as TMZ and engadget. “Actually making the reorganisation work will be a mean feat,” writes Lex, “but falling technology and media costs as AOL taps a network of more than 30,000 freelancers will help.” Read more

David Gelles

Apple’s new phone already seems too popular for its own good. Since becoming available for pre-order this morning, the iPhone 4 appears to be in such high demand it has all but crashed the online ordering systems of Apple and AT&T.

Like many trying to pre-order the iPhone 4, I was able to get as far as the “check eligibility” stage on Apple’s online store before getting bounced. The screen read “Please wait while we access your AT&T account information”, then delivered a message saying “Your request couldn’t be processed” and instructed me to try again later.

(Update: I was able to reserve an iPhone 4 for in-store pickup using the Apple Store app on my current iPhone.) Read more

David Gelles

Among the many upgrades included in the iPhone 4, the most intriguing is FaceTime, Apple’s mobile video calling service.

But despite its promise, video calling may not catch on with the masses.  As the FT’s Lex column writes, “consumers have hitherto been reluctant to talk face to face, even as video calling became available with the advent of 3G.” Read more

David Gelles

Two days after Facebook unveiled simplified privacy controls, the furore over its perceived missteps is not dying down.

On Friday Congressman John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Facebook asking it to cooperate with federal regulators looking into its privacy policies. Mr Conyers also sent a similar letter to Google, which is facing scrutiny after it admitted collecting wifi data.

Mr Conyers’ letter followed a conference call on Thursday during which several privacy advocates who had given Facebook credit for their effort on Wednesday took a harder line against the company and called for federal regulation of social networking sites. Read more

David Gelles

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has just penned an editorial for the Washington Post, answering his critics and announcing that changes are on the way.

Mr Zuckerberg writes of two substantive changes coming soon — drastically simplified privacy settings, and an easy way to opt-out of third party services such as the recently launched Instant Personalisation feature. These changes are in line with what we reported on Saturday, when we revealed plans for Facebook’s “master control.”

Mr Zuckerberg, who has been criticised for not being more forthcoming in recent weeks, took responsibility for his company’s overreach. “The biggest message we have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information,” he wrote. “Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex. Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark.” Read more

David Gelles

Everyone is happy on the farm. That’s the message from Zynga and Facebook, which just announced a “five-year strategic relationship.”

For two companies attached at the hip, that may sound like stating the obvious. Zynga makes social games like Farmville that are played by hundreds of millions of users on Facebook’s platform, and in turn spends lots and lots of money advertising on Facebook.

But the announcement comes after weeks of speculation that Zynga was growing fed up with Facebook, and might even be considering leaving the platform. Read more

David Gelles

When it comes to the long-term success of stand-alone “check-in” services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Booyah, it’s all about incentives.

Sure, a few hundred-thousand early adopters might find social value in sharing their location with the world. But in order for checking-in to go mainstream, these companies will have to offer users a compelling answer to the question “Why?”

Foursquare is inching towards a meaningful response with a bevy of partnerships, including its latest promotion with StarbucksRead more

David Gelles

Want to find the best beret shop in Paris, or the finest crepes in Avignon? Now you can turn to Yelp for those answers. The popular user reviewed local directory just launched in France with its first non-English site.

The new site continues Yelp’s gradual international colonisation. The San Francisco company’s first cross border foray came more than a year and a half ago, when it launched in Canada. Early last year, Yelp came to the UK, and then opened shop in Ireland.

But the pace of new offerings looks set to pick up. “We will continue to roll out in Western Europe in the months ahead,” said Yelp chief operating officer Geoff Donaker. Read more

David Gelles

It was only in March that LivingSocial, the number two group buying site, took $25m in Series B funding. That, apparently, only tided the fast-growing company over for six weeks. Today the company is back with another $14m in funding, largely from the same investors.

That may seem like a lot of cash to take on in a few short months, and it is. But it pales in comparison to the $135m that Groupon, the leader of the pack, took from Digital Sky Technologies and friends a few weeks ago. Read more

David Gelles

Never mind that his campaign website is a virtual knock-off of Facebook.com.

Chris Kelly, Facebook’s former chief privacy officer who is now running for California Attorney General, is not taking it easy on his former employer.

Candidate Kelly today used strong language to distance himself from Facebook’s recent changes and said that if elected he would hold the company accountable if it violated state laws.

“Facebook’s recent changes to its privacy policy and practices with regard to data sharing occurred after I left the company,” Mr Kelly said in a statement. Read more

David Gelles

Calls to regulate social networks in the US are growing louder as Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) has called on the Federal Trade Commission to set guidelines for how companies including Facebook and Twitter handle user data.

In a letter to the FTC, Sen Schumer said he was concerned that users were unwittingly sharing data they assumed was private with the entire internet, and that the sites made it too difficult for users to opt out of new settings that make information public by default. “The opt-out procedure is unclear, confusing, and you might even say hidden,” he said during a press conference. Read more

David Gelles

At Chirp, Twitter’s first ever developer conference, co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone finally revealed some key statistics about the company.

  • 105,779,710 registered users. This is the number everyone was waiting for. Previous guestimates had put Twitter users in the range of 60m. But the revelation that Twitter now has more than 100m users is big news for a company founded just three years ago. Sceptics who doubted that Twitter was catching on can put those fears to rest. Twitter did not, however, disclose the number of active users it has. That number is likely much smaller.
  • 300,000 new users per day. That works out to about 10m new users a month, which could put Twitter on pace to double in size this year. It’s not quite as fast as Facebook is growing, but Twitter has escaped earth orbit.

 Read more

David Gelles

Twitter has unveiled its long-awaited monetisation plans. Through a programme called Promoted Tweets, the company will allow businesses to bid on keywords, similar to Google’s highly successful AdWords system.

Twitter gave details to the New York Times and AdAge, which posted their stories late on Monday night San Francisco time.

According to those reports, the system will allow advertisers to bid on keywords on a CPM basis. When a user searches for a term on search.twitter.com, one ad will show up at the top of the stream and be identified as a “promoted” tweet. Initial advertisers include Starbucks, Virgin America and Best Buy. Read more

David Gelles

venutre capital funds and dollars raised down nvcaThe tough times for venture capitalists in the US persist.

The first three months of this year marked the slowest opening quarter to any year since 1993. The $3.6bn raised for new funds was down 31 per cent from the same time last year, and the 32 funds marked a 44 per cent decline, according to Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association (pdf).

The sluggish opening to the year is probably the result of the stubbornly closed public markets. “Many firms have been waiting until the exit market improves before embarking upon their fundraising efforts,” said NVCA president Mark Heesen. “This wait has been considerably longer than many firms anticipated.” Read more