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Since Friendster's founding in 2002, social networking sites have changed quite a bit. Through the rise and development of more and more networks--MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and beyond--we have seen time and time again that social media is a constantly evolving entity, one that's difficult to pin down easily. 2009 was no different. From the enormous valuations and market-changing acquisitions down to the small ways in which social networking is affecting our lives, 2009 rocked the social Web. Here we look at the ten biggest social media stories of the year.
1. Twitter valuation at $1 billion
In case you missed it, Twitter blew up this year. It was just a small sign of things to come when the site noted 5x normal tweets per second on Inauguration Day on January 20th. For the first half of the year, the micro-blogging service experienced a rocket-ship trajectory. Twitter received so much media attention that in June it was calculated that the site had received $48 million in free media coverage. Growth of the site reached such incredible heights in the first six months that CEO Evan Williams had to assure everybody that the growth plateau in the second half of 2009 was only temporary. The Twitter noise may have reached the peak of its crescendo in September, when, in anticipation of the startup's closing of a $100 million Series D funding round, rumors swirled that investors valued the company at $1 billion. On top of everything else, the Global Language Monitor named "Twitter" the top word of 2009:
"In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the
after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop
icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words," said a Global Language Monitor spokesperson.
2. Facebook buys FriendFeed
Facebook goes cash-flow positive (September). Facebook hits 300 million users (also September). Facebook shares rise 42% in four months (November). Facebook hits 350 million users (December). There were a lot of notable Facebook stories this year and most of them simply reiterated the same thing in different words: "Facebook is still growing. A lot." One story, however, underscores how Facebook is becoming a notable and viable acquirer. In August, Facebook made a combined $15 million cash and $32.5 million stock purchase of microblogging site FriendFeed. To the dismay of FriendFeed fans, Facebook was motivated simply to purchase the staff behind the technology at FriendFeed, leaving the service to see no future development. Though we have not yet seen any tangible results from FriendFeed developers moving over to Facebook, for now we can only assume that they are working on something awesome.
3. EA acquires Playfish for $275 million
As the Web continues to evolve, it seems like social media is changing the way we do just about everything. The video game industry, which for years has pushed towards the biggest, loudest, most powerful consoles yet, got a bit of a wake-up call in early November when Electronic Arts, one of the world's largest third-party game publishers, paid $275 million in cash for a little social gaming company called Playfish. If Playfish meets certain criteria by the end of 2011, Playfish's former owners could receive another $100 million. That's a lot of money for a company that designs poker and restaurant games, free games that collect revenue via the sale of virtual goods, solely for social networking sites like Facebook. EA foresees mobile and online games will continue to make up more and more of the gaming industry in 2010. In attracting one of the most well-known game publishers and in reaching nearly 60 million monthly active users worldwide, Playfish is proving that social games like Pet Society, Restaurant City, and Country Story are here to stay.
4. Zynga worth $1 billion
A couple of weeks after EA's acquisition of Playfish, speculation arose that Zynga - a Playfish competitor and the leading social gaming company today - was worth about $1 billion, since EA paid 3-4 times the revenue generated by Playfish. With incredibly popular games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille, Zynga sees 100 million monthly unique visitors and has registered over 200 million active users. FarmVille, the most popular social networking game ever with almost 75 million monthly active users, has been expanded by Zynga to a stand-alone site, where users sign in with Facebook Connect. Despite some controversy over scam offers made via advertising in Zynga games, which the company has since made efforts to diminish, Zynga is yet another example of social gaming on the rise. [Note: Zynga CEO Mark Pincus is presenting a keynote at Vator Splash on February, 4, 2010 in San Francisco. Mark your calendars.]
5. MySpace acquires iLike for $20 million
ILike's sale to MySpace underscores that it's a hit or miss world out there. While iLike had significant traffic of some 55 million users, and had grown to be one of the most popular social music discovery services with applications on Facebook, Orkut, hi5 and Bebo, it only fetched $20 million in a buyout by MySpace. The sales price puts iLike in a stark juxtaposition to Zynga - which is estimated to be worth $1 billion, and underscores the uncertainty of a startup's future and exit when there is no monetization plan in sight. While iLike appeared to be on the road to greatness with its 55 million users, its exit valuation clearly signaled that unless a company knows how to monetize its users, the market won't pay up.
6. MOL acquires Friendster
Friendster, the first mover and pioneer of social networks, made the last big social media news of the year (unless something else happens in the next two weeks) by being acquired by MOL Global, a Malaysian online payments company. Though financial details have not been disclosed, there are estimates that MOL paid up to $100 million in the deal. Though you may have forgotten all about Friendster, the 2002-founded social network is still huge in Asia, where it has 75 million registered users--90% of the entire site's membership. Having raised just over $45 million since its founding as the original social network, this Silicon Valley darling may have led us to expect more from its exit. Nevertheless, MOL, already having implemented various payment systems into Friendster, will certainly enjoy the benefits of owning the actual network.
7. Citizen Journalism
When that US airways plane crash landed into the Hudson River in January, Twitter was the first one to let us know. And in June, when masses of demonstrators took to the streets of Tehran to express anger at a questionable presidential election in Iran, we only heard the dissent's oft-censored voice because its community managed to find ways onto social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. We can only guess at how many people first heard about Michael Jackson's death through a status update. As social sites grow in popularity, they become more powerful hubs of communication, and so it is only natural that in 2009 we experienced the rise of a new era of citizen journalism. YouTube even launched a Reporters' Center to teach the basics on reporting the news. While there have been some less pretty side effects (like businesses jumping on trends for free advertising or uninformed "reporters" kindling false rumors), citizen journalism has the awesome potential to give a lot of power back to the people. Why else would censorship-heavy countries like China be so preoccupied with blocking social networking sites?
8. The Rise of Augmented Reality
Smartphones are very powerful devices. So powerful, in fact, that the tech industry has coined a phrase, "augmented reality," to refer to an emerging form of reality, made accessible, supplemented, and molded by mobile applications. Aloqa, for example, notifies you through your mobile device of nearby hotspots, Facebook friends, or interesting events. Gowalla, which raised $8.3 million this year, is another location-based social networking service all about sharing and discovering new and interesting places in the world. Similarly, Aha Mobile informs users about traffic conditions in real-time. Another app called HearPlanet lets you discover what's around you. Probably the most popular augmented reality app is Foursquare, an application available for iPhone, Android, and other devices that has slowly been building a dedicated community of users obsessed with finding and sharing the coolest locations within cities. These technologies, just now emerging, signal the start of a new era of mobile social media.
9. Google + Bing go real-time
If you still think Twitter and other social sharing sites are just noise, then you'll have to explain why Bing and Google are all about incorporating real-time in search results. Bing went there first, creating a branch off its main search engine called Bing Twitter, where users can search the Web via Twitter's real-time updates. But Google took it one step further when it announced last week that relevant real-time updates would be implemented directly into Google search results. Not only that, but while the page remains open, the stream will automatically update in real-time. Coupled with an October update which includes forum posts in search results, these updates show just important user-generated content has become.
10. US Government 2.0
Partisan politics aside, we can probably all agree that the current administration's ability to take full advantage of social media capabilities is a good thing. From Facebook to Twitter, President Obama's fleet of advisers and assistants have created profiles to keep the public constantly updated about the goings-on at the White House. Videos on YouTube and Vimeo of presidential speeches, photos of meetings between diplomats, and a constant stream of executive updates made available across multiple sites may have made this administration the most accessible that it has ever been. Similarly, the US Army has gone to great lengths setting up multiple accounts across all the most popular social networking sites in order to get the most direct access with possible recruits. On the other hand, troops have had to deal with mixed and confused orders over the use of social networking while serving, as policies teetered constantly between full access and an all-out ban. Still, the government's embrace of social media is just one more sign (as if we needed more) of the massively growing influence of online networking.
Feel free to comment on what you think is the most interesting social media story of the year.
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HearPlanet turns your cell phone into an audio guide to the world.
Get iPhone App Here: www.HearPlanet.com/appstore
Get Android App Here: http://bit.ly/hpandroidapp
We provide an immersive experience that connects you to your surroundings and delivers information in a way that doesn’t distract or slow you down.
HearPlanet organizes information from a multitude of sources and delivers it in audio format, making it easy to consume when active and mobile.
600,000 users have installed the HearPlanet iPhone/iPod Touch application and we cover 300,000 locations worldwide. We organize vast amounts of content from numerous sources and instantly deliver what’s most relevant to users. HearPlanet tells you what’s right around (using geolocation) and offers comprehensive search for everything else.
Apple has featured HearPlanet in national iPhone ads including full-page spreads in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
“Like having a tour guide in your pocket..." National Geographic Adventure
"The best kind of travel guide – one that requires no reading…” United Airlines
“If you like to go sight-seeing when you travel then you’ll love HearPlanet.” Salon.com
“Get the scoop on landmarks, historic sites and more - in countless cities worldwide - without taking your eyes off the sights.” Apple Ad Campaign
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Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from Twitter.com, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests.
Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.
Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes.
We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.
There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.
In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within Twitter.com, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet.
At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.
Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on Virginamerica.com that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.
What's next for Twitter?
We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users.
We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.
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Zynga is the largest social gaming company with 8.5 million daily users and 45 million monthly users. Zynga’s games are available on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Yahoo! and the iPhone, and include Texas Hold’Em Poker, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Vampires, Street Racing, Scramble and Word Twist. The company is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Pilot Group, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel. Zynga is headquartered at the Chip Factory in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.zynga.com.
Joined Vator oniLike is the Web's leading social music discovery service and the dominant music application on Facebook Platform®, Bebo, and Hi5. With over 20 million registered users, iLike helps consumers discover and share playlists, new music, and concerts that match their tastes. The iLike Sidebar for iTunes recommends new music, creates automatic playlists, and connects people through music. iLike's Artist Service Platform is a suite of services to help artists build viral fan communities. By leveraging iLike's "Artist-Fan Graph," a vast database of connections between consumers and their favorite artists, iLike's Artist Services Platform transforms the way artists cultivate and communicate with their fanbases on iLike and Facebook. iLike is privately funded by Ticketmaster (IAC), Khosla Ventures, Bob Pittman, and other private investors. Based in Seattle, WA, the company also operates indie music community GarageBand.com.
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Playfish is a social games company that creates games for people to play together.
Founded in October 2007 by casual and mobile games veterans and backed by $3M in seed funding, we believe games are more fun when played with friends and family. So we are working on combining the best elements of casual games, social networks, MMOGs and virtual worlds to create entirely new, more social ways of enjoying great games together.
Traditional computer games focus on standalone game play on consoles, your PC or on your mobile. Games that do allow you to play together with others online normally require you to buy the game, go online and try and find like-minded new friends who are also playing the game. This is something that usually only the most dedicated gamers are prepared to do.
Our social games are different. Social games allow you to play together with real-world friends and family using the infrastructure built by social networks. This is in some ways a return to the roots of games. You play with the same people you would play cards, board games or go bowling with in the real world. Sharing the game experience with friends makes it more compelling and fun.
At Playfish we believe social games are a big part of the future of the video games industry, and are working hard to be the leading company in this emerging sector.
Playfish is headquartered in London, UK with offices in Beijing, China and Tromsø, Norway.
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The Aha experience starts on your phone with the app. Easily access and organize your favorite content from the web into personalized, live, on-demand stations. Then take them with you wherever you go.
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Aloqa has solved two problems for mobile users: it takes away the need to type search terms into browsers or other mobile applications to find something, and also proactively recommends interesting local opportunities to users on the go. Wherever they are, users can simply glance at their phones and see which friends, favorite businesses, events like music concerts, local offers and other interesting places are close by, without having to launch a browser or search application. Aloqa takes into account the user’s location, preferences and social relationships to make these recommendations in real time.
“Aloqa makes mobile phones a lot more useful. As a user, it’s painful launching browsers and typing or speaking into apps. And even if doing searches becomes easier on mobile, it still doesn’t solve a bigger issue – every day all of us miss out on all kinds of opportunities we aren’t even aware of such as discovering friends who happen to be close by, or that there are concerts happening locally that we’d like, or sales and bargains all around us. Aloqa solves both the search and discovery issues by utilizing a user’s context – their location, time, preferences, and relationships – to notify them in real time of friends, places, events, and entertainment opportunities around them without delays” said Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of Aloqa.
Aloqa is the first company to provide mobile users with context relevant alerts and notifications. Based on their location, preferences and social relationships, Aloqa users see what’s close to them without having to type anything into a browser or search application: their favorite businesses and points of interest, deals / coupons nearby, music performances and events, and Facebook friends in proximity. As they move, Aloqa refreshes automatically, so users never miss a social opportunity, event, or bargain.
PLEASE NOTE: On July 16, Aloqa (www.aloqa.com) announced that it closed $1.5 million in series-A funding and opened a beta of its context-aware mobile application on Android handsets. Aloqa was also selected to demonstrate its application on stage at the MobileBeat Conference, hosted by VentureBeat in San Francisco, and was chosen as a "Winner of Tesla Award" -- The people's choice award at mobilebeat.
Aloqa has also received some glowing coverage and comments in TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, AndroidGuys and others. Seel: