Category Archives: Facebook

Facebook puts Twitter into crosshair

FacebookFacebook has reported healthy growth in advertising revenues over the last quarter, and also outlined its ambitions to take on Twitter and traditional search engine, reports

Speaking on the company’s quarterly earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighted his intentions to expand the boundaries of Facebook, mounting a challenge to conversation platform Twitter, building search capabilities for businesses on the social network, as well as directing notable investment into video capabilities. Advertising revenues across the period increased 63% year-on-year to $6.2 billion, with mobile accounting for 84%, though the team are seemingly not satisfied as it prepares to venture into new markets.

“We have a saying at Facebook that our journey is only 1% done,” said Zuckerberg. “And while I’m happy with our progress, we have a lot more work to do to grow our community and connect the whole world. That means making big investments and taking risks, focusing not just on what Facebook is but on what it can be.”

While Twitter was not mentioned specifically during the call, Zuckerberg outlined his intentions to make Facebook the platform where users search for and express their views on current affairs. Most users would currently search for and post updates to their immediate circle of contacts, though this is an aspect which Zuckerberg wants to change. When looking at keyword searches, the team claim there are now 2 billion searches per day of its 2.5 trillion posts, growing 33% over the last nine months. The challenges towards Twitter was not implicitly mentioned by the Facebook chief, though the team are seemingly on a mission to create a conversation platform which extends beyond an users immediate circle, a space which has been dominated by Twitter in recent years.

Another area of potential growth for Facebook is commercial search. According to Zuckerberg, over a third of small and medium businesses in the states do not have a website, though Facebook could provide an alternative. Setting up and managing a website can be challenging, as well as for those who are less technically able, the team are promoting the use of the platform to create company pages and build the online presence of these organizations through Facebook. Although this is a long-term ambition, and the team are not in a stage where notable revenues are realistic, it would appear to be a move to provide an alternative to traditional search engines.

“This is why Facebook pages are the mobile solutions for many of the 60 million businesses using our products each month in the U.S. and around the world,” said Zuckerberg. “We’ve made it easy for business owners to manage their Facebook page from their mobile device. Over 85% of active business pages use mobile, and 40% of active advertisers have created a Facebook ad on their mobile device.

“So when we talk about our strategy (commercial search), I often talk about how when we develop new products we think about it in three phases. First, building a consumer use case; then, second, making it so that people can organically interact with businesses; and then third, on top of that, once there’s a large volume of people interacting with businesses. Give businesses tools to reach more people and pay, and that’s ultimately the business opportunity.

“I’d say, we’re around the second phase of that in search now.”

Artificial intelligence is another area which ties into the commercial capabilities of search, as once AI is perfected by the team, it does offer the opportunity to dramatically increase the relevance of ads put in front of the consumer. While most adverts are placed on historical data and previous customer behaviour, the potential of AI is intuition, the ability to make human decisions on what a potential customer would be interested it. This quarter, Facebook announced the development of DeepText, a deep learning based engine that can understand the context of several thousand posts per second across 20 different languages. It’s the beginning of the move towards AI, but a promising start.

As with other social media brands, video has been outlined as a priority for the team, building on the theme of consumer trends towards mobile. Most recently Facebook has been focused on the implementation of live video, though Zuckerberg highlighted the team will continue to invest in video platforms, to capitalize on the growing role of video in social media.

“We’re also working on new tools to help people express themselves and understand what’s going on with the people they care about. Ten years ago, most of what we shared and consumed online was text. Now its photos, and soon most of it will be video. We see a world that is video first with video at the heart of all of our apps and service.”

The shift towards mobile is fast changing the way customers consume and interact with media, most notably video. Before the phenomena of video can be capitalized on, the right capabilities need to be in place, and firstly this means investment.

All-in-all, most people would comment this has been a successful quarter for the social media giant. Total revenues are up to $6.4 billion, a 59% increase, daily active users standing at 1.13 billion on average for June 2016, an increase of 17% year-over-year, and monthly active users at 1.71 billion as of June 30, 2016, an increase of 15% year-over-year. Facebook has arguably been the most successful company at capitalizing on its captured audience, and should it effectively build capabilities in the conversation and search segments, it will be a worrying sign for Twitter and more traditional search engines.

Facebook launches 30 made-for-VR games at E3

FacebookFacebook, Bethesda Softworks and Sony are among the names to have announced new made-for-VR games at E3, reports

Facebook has launched 30 made-for-VR games for the Oculus Touch as it continues efforts to diversify its portfolio. Aside from those being released in the coming months, the Oculus team have also stated it has ‘hundreds’ more titles in the pipeline, though it hasn’t established when the Touch motion controllers might ship. The announcement also included the launch of Oculus Ready PCs, made by Alienware, Lenovo, and HP.

Bethesda Softworks also claims its Fallout 4 will become first big open-world game to get an official, studio-released virtual reality mode, as well as Sony announcing its Resident Evil title will receive the ‘full VR experience’.

While the shift towards VR and AR offers healthy potential for brands and gaming companies alike, it could present the same challenges for network players as the rise of mobile. VR could provide similar stress on the network as smartphone mass-adoption and the subsequent reduction in the price of data did. Deloitte estimates 2.5 million VR headsets and 10 million game copies could be sold in 2016 alone.

From a VR perspective, the gaming industry represents a healthy opportunity for brands such as Oculus. Research from intelligence firm Newzoo estimates gamers worldwide could generate a total of $99.6 billion in revenues in 2016, up 8.5% compared to 2015. Mobile will account for $36.9 billion, exceeding PC revenues for the first time, and growth is expected to continue at a healthy 6.6% CAGR through to 2019, potentially reaching $118.6 billion in total.

One of the main challenges for the VR industry currently is the levels of adoption and normalization of the technology itself. Currently the hardware is generally perceived as a luxury item and VR revenues will remain marginal for the short- to mid-term future until uptake has moved into the mainstream market. Newzoo expect the majority of revenues to be generated by hardware sales, spectator content, and live viewing formats, though this is likely to be the platform where consumers communicate with each other and interact with content in the long run.

Elsewhere in the industry, Sony has confirmed its first steps into the world of high-end VR, by announcing the release of PlayStation VR. The headset will be available later this year; October 13th and will be priced at $499 when bundled with the camera and Move controllers it needs to be fully functional.

While Sony is slightly later to the market than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, should the team be able to capitalise on strong performance in recent months the move could prove to be a successful venture. During the final quarter of 2015, Sony’s gaming division reported a 10.5% year-on-year increase revenue brought on by strong PlayStation hardware and software sales totalling $4.89 billion. Operating income for the gaming unit was 45.5% higher owing partly to the fact the company sold more than sold over 35 million PlayStation 4 consoles.

Facebook outlines user experience objectives for AI

FacebookFacebook has outlined its ambitions for artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to enhance user experience.

The recent introduction of bots through the Facebook platform is one of first steps on the journey to artificial intelligence, which the team believe can evolve into an AI platform which can learn and automate specific activities. The Facebook team ultimately want to build computer services that have better perception than people, whether this is predicting what content would be relevant to a user or products would be of interest, which it believes is possible within the next 5-10 years.

“We’re focused not on what Facebook is, but on what it can be and on what it needs to be, and that means doing bold things,” said Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg. “A lot of what we’re building today in areas like connectivity, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality may not pay off for years, but they’re important to our mission of connecting the world. And I’m committed to seeing this mission through and to leading Facebook there over the long term.”

While true artificial intelligence could be perceived as a long-term ambition of the tech industry, Facebook has incorporated various AI and machine learning capabilities into its services over recent months. The Moments app is using face recognition to help users share pictures with friends, while also using AI to drive relevant content through a user’s news feed and filter spam. One of the more advanced applications of the technology is helping blind people comprehend what is in a photo by reading explanations of them aloud.

In terms of long-term ambitions for AI and machine learning capabilities will be to enhance the user experience and continue to drive more relevant content through their Facebook accounts. The team believe the future of AI will be able to understand the content of articles or videos in a more complex manner, linking the specific content with a user’s defined interests and previous use of the platform.

Currently, AI can potentially list what content is within an article, picture or video, but it doesn’t fundamentally understand what this content is, and thus cannot draw conclusions as to which users it would be relevant for. This intuition and perception would appear to be the next step in Facebook’s AI journey.

“One obvious thing I think over time is if you just look at the way that we rank News Feed, today we use some basic signals like who you’re friends with and what pages you like as some of the most important things for figuring out what – out of all of the millions and millions of pieces of content that are on Facebook, what we’re going to show and what are going to be the most interesting things to you,” said Zuckerberg.

“That’s because today our systems can’t actually understand what the content means. We don’t actually look at the photo and deeply understand what’s in it or look at the videos and understand what’s in it or read the links that people share and understand what’s in them, but in the future we’ll be able to, I think in a five or 10-year period.”

From a financial perspective, revenues for the quarter grew by 52% year on year to $5.4 billion, and advertising revenue grew by 57% to $5.2 billion. Mobile advertising revenue reached $4.2 billion, up 75% year over year, and is now approximately 82% of total advertising revenues for the business. The company now claims to have 3 million active advertisers on Facebook and over 200,000 on Instagram.

AI forms backbone of Facebook’s 10 year plan

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook has seemingly positioned artificial intelligence as one of the catalysts for innovation for the company over the next 10 years.

Outlining its technology roadmap for the next 10 years, the company highlighted artificial intelligence, as well as virtual and augmented reality, as technologies to drive new features and user experience. New features highlighted include translation, photo image searches, ‘talking pictures’ and real-time video classification.

“Artificial Intelligence will power all kinds of different services with better than human level perception and we’ll see the emergence of the next major computing platform in virtual and augmented reality,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during his opening keynote at F8. “These are all elements of our 10 year roadmap to connect the world and each of these elements is in service of our mission. It’s about bringing people together, that’s what we do here.”

The company has been making efforts in recent months to bolster its position in the artificial intelligence space. Recently, the company announced a string of new hires for its artificial intelligence research team, including a number of acquisitions from Microsoft’s R&D team, another company who have been making strides to perfect AI. The new staff members bring experience to the team in the fields of causal inference in learning systems, computer vision, cost-sensitive learning, speech recognition and syntactic parsing with approximate inference.

Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning at Facebook

Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning at Facebook

On the company blog, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning at Facebook outlined a number of use cases which are a reality today. “We built an AI backbone that powers much of the Facebook experience and is used actively by more than 25 percent of all engineers across the company. Powered by a massive 40 PFLOPS GPU cluster that teams are using to train really large models with billions of parameters on huge data sets of trillions of examples, teams across the company ae running 50x more AI experiments per day than a year ago, which means that research is going into production faster than ever.”

The company has already applied an AI-based automatic translation system, claiming that an off-the-shelf translation program would not be adequate as they trained on a general corpus like appliance manuals. As language on Facebook is far more colloquial, the systems would not be effective. The company claims that its AI capabilities have the ability to learn and recognize new expressions, regional differences and the various uses of emojis.

In terms of pictures, Facebook claim its AI can understand the content of the image at a pixel level to make classification and searching of image simpler. “This is called image segmentation, and it allows us to recognize individual objects in the image as well as their relation,” said Candela. “Using image segmentation we will be able to build more immersive experiences for the visually impaired with “talking images” you can read with your fingertips, as well as more powerful ways to search images. In one case here, we have the ability to search for ‘a photo of us five on skis on the snow, with a lake in the background and trees on both sides’.

“AI is central to today’s Facebook experience, and, with our research pushing the state of the art, we’re just getting started on this journey. I’m excited to see where it takes us next.”

Salesforce and Dropbox launch on Facebook’s messenger platform

facebook botSalesforce and Dropbox are two of the first to launch service offerings on Facebook’s new messenger platform.

According to Facebook, Messenger is one of the industry’s fastest growing apps, increasing user rates from 500 million in 2014 to 900 million today. The company have now introduced a number of bot services on the app, allowing businesses to communicate with their customers providing anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages.

“Using Salesforce, businesses are now able to engage with their customers on Facebook Messenger in a whole new way – in fact, Salesforce enables each Messenger interaction to be specifically tailored, based on the context of the entire customer relationship,” said Paul Smith, GM of Salesforce Marketing Cloud in EMEA. “When you remember that most companies are now competing primarily on the customer experience they can deliver, you can begin to see the massive impact of opening up this new channel to businesses: brands will be able to create deeper, more personal 1-to-1 customer journeys within chat. It’s another way in which we’re helping companies to succeed in the Age of the Customer.”

Powered by Salesforce Lightning, the platform will enable customers to deliver personalized engagement at scale with CRM data. The company claims that each message can be linked directly to a customer’s history in the Salesforce CRM platform, enabling brands to deliver personalized messages to customers. The news builds on trends within the industry as vendors aim to create increasingly personalized experiences for customers as a means of meeting the expectations of increasing demanding consumers.

“Now with Messenger, Facebook is inviting companies to engage their customers in new ways on its platform at scale,” said Alex Dayon, Chief Product Officer at Salesforce. “With Salesforce for Messenger companies will be able to easily connect their businesses to Messenger, creating deeper, more personalized and 1-to-1 customer journeys within the chat experience.”

Dropbox has also taken advantage of Facebook’s new platform to increase its own offering. As part of the proposition, users can share files stored on Dropbox’s cloud-storage service directly through Facebook’s messenger app.

“We want people to communicate just the way they want to on Messenger, with everyone they care about,” said Stan Chudnovsky, Head of Product for Messenger at Dropbox on the company’s blog. “Giving our users the ability to share their Dropbox videos and images in Messenger threads with just a few taps will help them bring more style and personality to those conversations.”

While the news has grabbed headlines in a very effective manner, it remains to be seen whether Facebook can police the platform in a way that satisfies consumers. The platform could essentially be seen as an upgrade on SMS advertising which was received coldly by consumers after the initial enthusiasm declined.

Cloud industry shaken by European Safe Harbour ruling

Europe US court of justiceThe Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled the Safe Harbour agreement between Europe and the US, which provides blanket permission for data transfer between the two, is invalid.

Companies looking to move data from Europe to the US will now need to negotiate specific rules of engagement with each country, which is likely to have a significant impact on all businesses, but especially those heavily reliant on the cloud.

The ruling came about after Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems asked to find out what data Facebook was passing on to US intelligence agencies in the wake of the Snowden revelations. When his request was declined on the grounds that the safe harbour agreement guaranteed his protection he contested the decision and it was referred to the Court of Justice.

This decision had been anticipated, and on top of any legal contingencies already made large players such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are offered some protection by the fact that they have datacentres within Europe. However the legal and logistical strain will be felt by all, especially smaller companies that rely on US-based cloud players.

“The ability to transfer data easily and securely between Europe and the US is critical for businesses in our modern data-driven digital economy,” said Matthew Fell, CBI Director for Competitive Markets. “Businesses will want to see clarity on the immediate implications of the ECJ’s decision, together with fast action from the Commission to agree a new framework. Getting this right will be important to the future of Europe’s digital agenda, as well as doing business with our largest trading partner.”

“The ruling invalidating Safe Harbour is seismic,” said Andy Hardy, EMEA MD at Code42, which recently secured $85 million in Series B funding. “This decision will affect big businesses as well as small ones. But it need not be the end of business as we know it, in terms of data handling. What businesses need to do now is safeguard data. They need to find solutions that keep their, and their customer’s, data private – even when backed up into public cloud.”

“Symantec respects the decision of the EU Court of Justice,” said Ilias Chantzos, Senior Director of Government Affairs EMEA at Symantec. “However, we encourage further discussion in order to create a strengthened agreement with the safeguards expected by the EU Court of Justice. We believe that the recent ruling will create considerable disruption and uncertainty for those companies that have relied solely on Safe Harbour as a means of transferring data to the United States.”

“The issues are highly complex, and there are real tensions between the need for international trade, and ensuring European citizen data is treated safely and in accordance with data protection law,” said Nicky Stewart, commercial director of Skyscape Cloud Services. “We would urge potential cloud consumers not to use this ruling as a reason not to adopt cloud. There are very many European cloud providers which operate solely within the bounds of the European Union, or even within a single jurisdiction within Europe, therefore the complex challenges of the Safe Harbor agreement simply don’t apply.”

These were just some of the views offered to BCN as soon as the ruling was announced and the public hand-wringing is likely to continue for some time. From a business cloud perspective one man’s problem is another’s opportunity and companies will be queuing up to offer localised cloud services, encryption solutions, etc. In announcing a couple of new European datacentres today Netsuite was already making reference to the ruling. This seems like a positive step for privacy but only time will tell what it means for the cloud industry.

Quanta intros Intel RSA Open Compute proof of concept

Quanta is mashing up Intel's RSA and Open Compute designs

Quanta is mashing up Intel’s RSA and Open Compute designs

Taiwanese datacentre vendor Quanta has introduced an Intel Rack Scale Architecture (Intel RSA) proof of concept rack solution based on Open Compute specifications which the company is pitching at hyperscale datacentre operators and cloud providers.

Intel RSA is the chip vendor’s own modular architecture design that disaggregates compute, storage and networking and weaves them together in a fabric it claims makes resources easier to pool and pod.

Now Quanta has developed a proof of concept for a server that blends Intel’s RSA specs and Open Compute designs.

The hardware vendor, which already offers hardware based on Open Compute designs, claims will significantly reduce datacentre energy consumption and costs, reduce vendor lock-in and ease management and maintenance.

“Datacentres face significant challenges to efficiency, flexibility and agility,” said Mike Yang, general manager of QCT. “Working with Intel on the Intel RSA program, we have developed our product lineup based on Open Compute to give customers the utmost in efficiency and performance, supported by open standards.”

“In addition, we provide manageability from the chassis level and rack level, up to pod level, so customers can easily pool resources across these levels to support dynamic workloads,” Yang said.

ODMs like Quanta have gained strong share in the hyperscale datacentre space because of their cost competitiveness, and at the same time the Open Compute project, an open source hardware project founded by Facebook a few years back, seems to be gaining favour among large cloud providers. Facebook, IBM, HP and Rackspace are among some of the larger providers building out Open Compute-based services at reasonable scale.

Facebook to build Open Compute datacentre in Ireland

Facebook plans to build a datacentre in Ireland, its second in Europe

Facebook plans to build a datacentre in Ireland, its second in Europe

Facebook this week revealed plans to build an Open Compute datacentre in a bid to support its growth ambitions in Europe.

The proposed location of the new datacentre in County Meath will enable the company to make use of local renewable energy sources and talent, and would be the social media giant’s second in Europe. The first, in Lulea, Sweden, uses 100 per cent hydroelectricity to power its servers.

Facebook said the datacentre could generate hundreds of millions of euros in economic benefits for the region. The project is being supported by the by the Department of Jobs through IDA Ireland. Martin Shanahan, the organisation’s chief executive said: “Facebook’s existing relationship with Ireland is extremely strong and extensive in scope, but the news that the company wants to build its second European data centre in a regional location such as Meath will cement the relationship even further.”

“Ireland has been a home for Facebook since 2007 and today’s planning application demonstrates our continued interest to invest in Ireland,” said Facebook’s datacentre strategy head Rachel Peterson.

“We hope to build an innovative, environmentally friendly data centre that will help us continue to connect people in Ireland and around the world – while supporting local job creation and Ireland’s successful technology economy. We look forward to continuing our conversations with the Clonee community in coming weeks,” she said.

Facebook has less than a handful of datacentres globally but the data volumes it generates – and the infrastructure it needs to support its services – is significant. The company adds 300 million new photos every day, has a data warehouse of over 300 petabytes and processes hundreds of terabytes of data daily. And given nearly three quarters of Facebook users are outside the US, its build-out in Europe and other key strategic regions (India for instance) outside North America will likely continue.

Hedvig bags $18m for software-defined storage

Hedvig secured $18m this week which will help fuel expansion of its software-defined storage offering

Hedvig secured $18m this week which will help fuel expansion of its software-defined storage offering

Distributed storage platform provider Hedvig has secured $18m in a round of funding the company said will be used to double down on development and expansion.

In the cloud space storage heterogeneity can cause big performance bottlenecks – particularly in tightly integrated systems, which many applications and services are quite clearly becoming – and legacy datacentres are struggling to keep pace.

Hedvig, which came out of stealth earlier this year and was founded by former Facebook and Amazon NoSQL and storage specialist Avinash Lakshman (also the brains behind Cassandra), offers a highly scalable storage platform (block, file and object) that the company says provides fully programmable, highly granular storage provisioning – software-defined storage in other words.

The platform supports pretty much every hypervisor or Linux container service above it, and uses REST-based APIs so cloud users can tap into the platform in a fairly straightforward way.

The investment round, which brings the total amount raised by the firm to just over $30m, was led by Vertex Ventures with participation from existing investors True Ventures and Atlantic Bridge. As part of the deal Vertex Ventures General Partner In Sik Rhee will be joining Hedvig’s board of directors.

“We’ve identified the potential in a broken and fragmented storage market, and are not only looking to bring software-defined storage mainstream, but fundamentally change how companies store and manage data,” Lakshman said.

“Riding the wave of momentum from our recent company launch, this new investment round further validates our technology and approach, and will fuel our unwavering commitment to be the leading force of innovation in software-defined storage.”

Hedvig’s success comes at a time of rising popularity of the concept of the software-defined datacentre, which sees the orchestration of almost everything – storage, compute, networking – through software.

IBM, Facebook ink data-sharing marketing partnership

IBM and Facebook are teaming up on marketing cloud services

IBM and Facebook are teaming up on marketing cloud services

IBM and Facebook have inked a deal that will see IBM marketing cloud customers gain access to Facebook advertising data and capabilities.

The deal will see IBM offer access to Facebook data as part of its marketing cloud analytics services and combine IBM’s marketing cloud data with anonymised user data from Facebook’s 1.44 billion users in a bid to enable IBM clients to gain a more accurate profile of their potential customers.

“Our partnership with IBM will help top brands achieve personalisation at scale by using IBM’s marketing cloud to find and engage their target audiences on Facebook, as well as solve their vexing challenges by consulting with IBM Commerce THINKLab, ” said Blake Chandlee, vice president of partnerships for Facebook.  “We will also be working closely with IBM Commerce THINKLab to help deliver people-based marketing that’s optimized to achieve each brand’s business goals.”

The two companies also announced that Facebook will be the first company to join the recently announced IBM Commerce THINKLab, a research and collaboration environment where companies can work directly with brands to customise the user experience of their services.

Neither company has commented on the financial terms of the deal, but the move could give both companies a serious boost in their respective strategic initiatives – Facebook’s bid to monetise its data, and IBM’s to offer marketers among others compelling reasons to use its cloud services over Oracle’s or other competitors combining analytics and access to social media-born data.

“Brands understand the increasing need to provide customers with powerful and personalized experiences to nurture loyalty,” said Deepak Advani, general manager, IBM Commerce. “Through this collaboration, consumer product companies and retailers will be able to quickly and easily gain deeper insight into what their customers expect and provide them with compelling experiences that bridge the physical and virtual divide.”