Thursday, July 31, 2014

Amazon-style product ratings to hit Google Shopping modules

Amazon-style product ratings to hit Google Shopping modules

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How effective are product ratings in converting the casual googler into a buyer? Google is betting they are very effective, or so its latest move would seem to indicate.

Google intends to start displaying a 5-star rating below each product featured in the shopping module that frequently appears at the top of search results pages, according to a company blog post from July 29.

Never seen one of these modules? Here’s an example. That link takes you to a search results page that displays a five-product box entitled “Shop for nespresso pixie on Google.” Clicking the small “i” in the corner of the module reveals why you’re seeing it:

Based on your search query, we think you are trying to find a product. Clicking in this box will show you results from providers who can fulfill your request. Google may be compensated by some of these providers.
Prices do not include shipping costs. Additional shipping costs may apply. Prices shown include VAT and applicable fees.

Google’s adoption of a 5-star rating system — one that is identical to the system used by Amazon.com — is intended to “help differentiate products across google.com and google.com/shopping and will help merchants drive more qualified traffic through Product Listing Ads.”

If you’re one of Google’s merchant partners, this should seem like a no-brainer, right? Well, maybe.

Merchants don’t have to have a rating displayed against their products; they aren’t obliged to participate (for now). But do you really want your product to be the only one of five displayed in that module that doesn’t have a rating? Google is quick to remind partners who might be reticent that “In initial tests, product ratings also helped increase click-through-rates of Product Listing Ads.” Pow. How can you not participate knowing that?

But therein lies the catch: If you do want to participate, you’re going to have to add your site’s product review content to the list of data points that Google requires for each displayed product.

This means that all participating partners are effectively donating valuable ratings data to Google, without any additional compensation. Moreover, participating and sharing this data in no way guarantees that ratings will appear beneath your products, as the blog post somewhat ominously warns: “please note that just because a product has reviews does not mean that we’ll always show ratings.”

Why this caveat when a partner agrees to share its data? Presumably it’s Google’s way of covering its butt in the event that the merchant’s review data is the only data available and thus less likely to be a trusted assessment of product quality. According to Google, “the 5-star rating system represents aggregated rating and review data for the product, compiled from multiple sources including merchants, third-party aggregators, editorial sites and users.” By that definition, a single source of ratings data will not meet Google’s criteria for display purposes.

While there’s no question that Google is the ultimate beneficiary of this new ratings display scheme, there’s an upside for shoppers too. As merchants quickly figure out which of their products have a high aggregated rating score and which don’t, they’ll likely favor the highest-rated products for inclusion in Google’s Shopping module, in the hopes that the higher rating will offer the most converted clicks from shoppers.

Being shown the highest-rated products at the top of a search results page is a time-saver for shoppers.

For now, the ratings display system will be limited to merchants targeting U.S. consumers, but Google plans to roll it out to internationally targeted ads “soon.”

 


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Shazam now auto-detects songs right from your Mac

Shazam now auto-detects songs right from your Mac
Image Credit: Shazam

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Shazam, an app for identifying songs playing around you, today arrived on the Mac.

The new desktop app largely replicates the Shazam mobile app, which launched on smartphones in 2008, with the exception of one new feature: passive listening. Although the passive listening capabilities may scare off some privacy-conscious users, Shazam calls the feature “magic:”

The app you’ve come to rely on as your go-to music expert has been given a major upgrade for your Mac. Catch the music and TV playing around you without ever digging a phone out of your pocket. Go nuts, match it all.

Shazam for Mac appears to be a natural expansion of the Shazam service. Nothing about today’s launch is surprising, but given how useful the service can be on mobile, the app may thrive in the Mac App Store.

If your interest is piqued, you can give the free app a try here.

shazam_for_mac-83580441



Shazam Entertainment provides mobile music discovery services. It offers music recognition technology that enables consumers to experience and share music with others across mobile devices and Internet. The company offers ShazamiD to d... read more »










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‘Reddit Live’ tool pushes everyone’s favorite news sharing site in a bold new direction (exclusive interview)

‘Reddit Live’ tool pushes everyone’s favorite news sharing site in a bold new direction (exclusive interview)

NOTE: GrowthBeat -- VentureBeat's provocative new marketing-tech event -- is a week away! We've gathered the best and brightest to explore the data, apps, and science of successful marketing. Get the full scoop here, and grab your tickets while they last.

Community news sharing site Reddit is known for its simple user interface and the easy with which people can submit something for the community to judge and discuss. But that doesn’t mean the site isn’t willing to forge new ground, as evident with its latest feature addition.

A week after launching to the public, Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin tells VentureBeat the company’s new liveblogging tool Reddit Live is seeing plenty of traction.

Reddit Live is the news-sharing site’s solution for managing the specific type of reader submissions that require constant, continuous updates. And while it was initially prompted as a tool to help prevent the spread of misinformation via a regular Reddit submission, the Reddit team is now seeing people use it for multiple scenarios.

“We think of it as a tool to help streamline a chaotic torrent of information,” Martin said in an interview with VentureBeat. “Breaking news is a great example of such a situation, but so is a sporting event, a charity event, or even something like PAX tickets going on sale.

“We’re also already seeing people using it like a chat room or as group commentary during a TV show.”

Reddit told VentureBeat a day after launching, readers created 3,579 Reddit Live threads, with 66 of those seeing at least 100 concurrent viewers at their peak. The company also revealed that it’s seen a total of 155,907 updates posted from all threads, with 92 of those having 100 or more updates each.

“The most updated threads are almost all TPP related; with ‘Twitch Plays Pokémon Black 2 Updater’ being the [highest] at 23,547 updates,” Martin said. “The /r/UkrainianConflict thread just broke 10,000 updates in it so far during its five months of existence.”

We’ve included an interview with Martin below that covers the future plans for Reddit Live, how users are responding to it, and how the team sees the tool evolving in the future.

Erik Martin

Above: Reddit general manager Erik Martin enjoying a smoke after being named one of Time’s most influential people.

Image Credit: Time Magazine

VentureBeat: Why launch a tool like this that encourages people to live-update, and how is the Reddit Live tool equip to deal with misinformation? Does creating a tool specifically for live updates take care of some of the problems Reddit has observed with past live update posts?

Erik Martin: We saw huge demand from both readers and posters for all kinds of constantly updated text posts, whether breaking news or coverage of sporting events. We are just providing a more robust way for users as well as professional journalists to manage this type of dynamic content. We have mechanisms for readers to flag Reddit live streams for a variety of reasons.

VentureBeat: What’s the long-term plan for Reddit Live? I know it operates outside of the regular Reddit site, in some respects, but do you guys see it being a core part of the service if it proves popular?

Martin: It’s way too early to tell. When we first added the ability to make text posts we had no idea they’d quickly become over one-third of all the “links” on the site. Similarly, I don’t think anyone anticipated that a really simple and reliable image hosting service [Imgur] coming along would so dramatically increase the popularity of image-based subreddits. but it wouldn’t surprise me if certain elements of Reddit live make their way into the existing Reddit toolset.

VentureBeat: What other types of Reddit submissions has the team observed as distinct, and what’s the possibility that the team will build new tools for other distinct submission types?

Martin: We think of it as a tool to help streamline a chaotic torrent of information. Breaking news is a great example of such a situation, but so is a sporting event, a charity event, or even something like PAX tickets going on sale. We’re also already seeing people using it like a chat room or as group commentary during a TV show.

VentureBeat: In terms of the business, Reddit has done a lot over the last year to build its sales division and increase efforts around gift exchanges/meetups. How do you plan on monetizing Reddit Live content/submissions in a way that’s tasteful and generally acceptable to the Reddit community as is done with native/self-serve ads?

Martin: It’s still early but we have already seen Reddit live used in our sponsored headline ads. Bill Gates used it to highlight a variety of content to raise awareness in an advertising campaign he created around Malaria during Mosquito Week: http://ift.tt/1txSKvG

VentureBeat: What kind of traction — number of submissions, breakdown of topics being discussed, etc. — has Reddit Live seen while in beta over the last few months? Today? Is there anything you’ve observed thus far that’s been surprising to you or the team?

Martin: It was surprising that people used Reddit live in the beta in such an ongoing and continuous manner. For example, the Ukraine conflict live stream has been going on for four months and has never really dropped below 200 users at any given time. In hindsight, it makes sense, but we didn’t envision that a single Reddit live stream would be used continuously for that long.


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Reddit is a source for what's new and popular on the web. Users like you provide all of the content and decide, through voting, what's good () and what's junk (). Links that receive community approval bubble up towards #1, so the fro... read more »










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How Sledgehammer Games became the new Call of Duty studio (interview)

How Sledgehammer Games became the new Call of Duty studio (interview)

Above: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Image Credit: Activision

Sledgehammer Games is five years old, and it’s finally getting its turn in the limelight as the new studio working on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which debuts on Nov. 4. This is the latest in Activision’s Call of Duty first-person shooter series that has generated billions of dollars.

Created by Dead Space co-creators Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, Sledgehammer Games was born as a Call of Duty studio. It started working on a third-person combat game, but it left that project to work with Infinity Ward — mangled by the departure of its founders and a civil war with Activision — to build Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. After that game debuted to huge sales in 2011, Sledgehammer went to work on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

The team didn’t approach Advanced Warfare as one more Call of Duty. It took three years to build something new from the start, with a new subfranchise, a new setting 40 years in the future, and new technology worthy of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We got a rare tour of Sledgehammer Games in Foster City, Calif., and interviewed Condrey and Schofield about the making of their studio and the game.

“We’re really grateful because we had a chance to go after the next-generation experience and really innovate,” Condrey said. “It was time to give you a new experience.”

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Condrey and Schofield.

Slegehammer Games founders Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield.

Above: Slegehammer Games founders Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: What was the vision for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare?

Glen Schofield: We want to make sure that people realize it’s not a turn of the crank. The amount of research we put into this game is insane — the books, the articles, the scientists we talk to, the trips we’ve taken, the people we’ve brought in. We’ve painstakingly gone over everything. We hope that gets across in the craftsmanship and the personalization and everything we put into this. This is something brand new.

Michael Condrey: For us, we started this game three years ago. One of the first prototypes we came up with was the boost jump through the exoskeleton. The exo’s been the heart of this game for almost two years, long before it was popularized by Elysium and Age of Tomorrow. Nowadays it seems like it’s everywhere. But for us, it was the drive behind a lot of creative decisions in single-player and multiplayer.

For multiplayer in particular, it’s pretty transformational in how you play. It’s faster, with more movement. I wish you could see it. We have an amazing franchise with tremendous lore and fiction. We’re really grateful because we had a chance to go after the next-generation experience and really innovate. It was time to give you a new experience. We went after innovation across campaign, multiplayer, cooperative. We saw an opportunity to deliver a really amazing narrative. We were inspired by films like Black Hawk Down and games like what Naughty Dog with The Last of Us. We introduced the exoskeleton and the boost jump. New ways to play with the controller. It’s faster. There’s more things for the player to do. We want to make multiplayer the stickiest and most reward-based experience you’ve ever seen. That’s a bold statement. The narrative was a big opportunity.

Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Above: Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Image Credit: Activision

Schofield: With three years, we had a lot of time to come up with a good story and game design. The story was something we focused on a lot of time on. It was written by Sledgehammer Games. It’s not just a military story. It’s about friendship and working together with the guy in the fox hole. It’s personal stuff. Emotional times. It’s about life, family, pain, and loss. We made sure we didn’t have a nation-state as the enemy. Is it going to be China? Is it going to be North Korea? Who’s going to be fighting us? Ripped from the headlines, we saw the growth of the private military corporations in Iraq and Afghanistan. You play one guy through the game, Private Mitchell. He becomes a hardened veteran. He’s even narrating.

We saw this rise of great TV, with The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards. We wrote the story with Kevin Spacey in mind, not knowing we would get him. He’s one of the best actors in the world, and he really helped us deliver a great story.

Schofield: Instead of designing levels like you expect from a war game, we’re designing vertically. We’re designing for crawling and all these new things. Climbing on walls. Drones. The hover bike or the hover tank. It’s not only changing the way you play it. It changes the way we design a level. That’s going to be different for the player.

GamesBeat: You were making Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare at the same time you were building a new game studio. What was that like?

Condrey: We started in this building on a small corner and grew out this space. Now we have the whole floor. We fell in love with this space because of the open and collaborative nature of the space. The team is all here together. It’s transparent. We move fast.

Schofield: You see five or six guys gathered around a screen. Everyone around them wants to see it too. It kind of keeps everybody in touch. Ideas are thrown out. We hoped that would work, and it has.

Condrey: We build pods of cross-functional developers, with an engineer sitting with an artist sitting with an animator sitting with a level designer. It’s about empowering a group to do the best work of their careers. The old style of high walls and locked offices doesn’t work anymore. An artist doesn’t have to wait until a programmer frees up.

GamesBeat: Did you try to do this at Visceral Games?

Schofield: We started taking some cube walls down where we could.

Condrey: The culture was too ingrained. People were resistant to it. It required us starting our own studio to make it work. We developed Modern Warfare 3, and as we expanded, we knocked down a bunch of walls.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Above: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: How quickly did you start working on Call of Duty?

Schofield: That’s what we built this to do.

Condrey: We finished Dead Space. Five years ago, it was the two of us. Five years later, it’s 225 people. It’s crazy. It’s been a remarkable five years.

Schofield: We started work. Within six months, we had a prototype of a third-person action adventure game.

Condrey: We started as a Call of Duty studio. They wanted us to do Call of Duty meets third person. Take the best of the character action adventure space like Uncharted and the fictional world of Call of Duty. But life threw a different curve ball at us.

Schofield: When things went crazy with Infinity Ward, they needed help with Modern Warfare 3. We brought it up to the team. We thought about it for a week or so. We all made the decision, and unanimously decided to do it. We didn’t jump in the middle. We were there day one on Modern Warfare 3. We split the work with Infinity Ward.

GamesBeat: It took you in a very different direction?

Condrey: Obviously, Treyarch has awesome experience. Mark Lamia and his team are awesome collaborators. Modern Warfare 3 got action game of the year that year. That took up the first two years. It shipped in 2011. We had to re-establish that we could do great work. We ran hard that first two years. It was some of the hardest work we’ve ever done.

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Activision (Activision Blizzard) is an American video game developer and publisher headquartered in Santa Monica, CA, but now operating worldwide. It was the first independent developer and distributor of video games for gaming consol... read more »










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IBM buys CrossIdeas in struggle to meet cloud security demands

IBM buys CrossIdeas in struggle to meet cloud security demands
Image Credit: Photo Illustration: Eric Blattberg

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IBM has acquired Rome-based cyber security firm CrossIdeas, the company announced today.

IBM says it bought the privately-held company to further develop its security offerings and keep up with the ever changing space of enterprise data management.

As businesses increasingly move to the cloud, cyber security measures will have to evolve. The cloud can be incredibly difficult to secure, because many cyber security tools were created to deal with stationary data — meaning files that stay in one location, on one computer. Cloud computing changes all that with files that relocate regularly. Hackers are wise to this security flaw, making cloud compatible security software a hot item.

A lot of businesses are focusing on this area, and whole new security firms are emerging to take on enterprise cloud infrastructure. To this point, earlier this year Lookout Security hired a new CEO, Jim Dolce, who has a history of developing cloud security products; and small cloud security firm vArmour will come out of stealth this fall with $6 million in funding already lining its pockets.

CrossIdeas focuses on identity and access management, using analytics to verify a user’s identity, grant access to databases, and block backdoors. The platform also automates credential authorization management and gives managers and staff access to a dashboard for manual management.

“IBM can now provide enterprises with enhanced governance capabilities and transparency into risk from the factory floor to the board room, giving leaders the insight they need to protect their brand and customers,” says Brendan Hannigan, General Manager, IBM Security Systems.

IBM hasn’t released details on how much it paid for the company.

Expect to see other companies that focus on software for enterprise to be making similar moves. Right now, it’s a race to secure the cloud.


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