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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Today’s Scuttlebot: Hullabaloo Over the ‘Hyperloop’

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Our Daily Cup of Facebook

Checking Facebook has become almost as embedded in the lives of Americans as getting a cup of coffee.

The social network disclosed on Tuesday that on any given day, more than 40 percent of Americans â€" 128 million people â€" visit Facebook. Of those daily visitors, about 79 percent, or 101 million, use a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet to access the service. (Globally, the company had 699 million users a day in June.)

That is impressive reach, especially on mobile, and the company distributed the figures as part of its effort to convince advertisers that it is one of the few online platforms that can reach a mass audience like television while also offering precision targeting of specific slices of the audience â€" like mothers of young children, for example, or regular soda drinkers who haven’t made a recent purchase.

“We have intimacy at scale,” Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing, said in a recent interview. “There’s never been a platform that has been able to offer both things.”

Typically, the ad industry and analysts have focused on monthly active users, which counts the number of people who visit at least once a month. But Facebook says that daily use is a better measure of its value to advertisers.

“Advertisers should be thinking about how they can combine this kind of scale and targeting with flexible, creative campaigns that drive results,” the company said in a statement announcing the figures. “Understanding who comes back at least once a month is only part of the picture. Instead, businesses should focus on people who come back online every single day, because that is how they live their lives.”

Facebook’s strong second-quarter revenue and profits suggested that advertisers were getting the message.

The company said it would also be releasing data about use in other countries. On Tuesday, it said that 24 million people in Britain visit Facebook each day, with 20 million of those using mobile devices.

Still, Facebook has a ways to go before it catches up to coffee, which is consumed daily by half of American adults, according to the National Coffee Association. If only the company’s engineers could figure out how to deliver caffeine through the news feed.

Norwegian Leader’s Not-So-Candid Camera

What at first appeared to be a daring political stunt â€" having the prime minister of Norway pose as a cab driver, ferrying unsuspecting passengers around Oslo to eavesdrop on the national conversation â€" turns out to have been at least partly staged, as five of the citizens whose shocked reactions were caught on hidden cameras had been cast in the roles, the Norwegian tabloid VG revealed on Monday.

Video posted to YouTube on Sunday by Norway’s Labor Party showed Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg posing as a taxi driver in June.

In the introduction to the video, which has been viewed more than a million times since it was posted on the governing Labor Party’s YouTube channel on Sunday, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg explained that he was going undercover to listen to citizens, “because in taxis, people really say what they mean.”

On Monday, though, his party’s communications director, Pia Gulbrandsen, admitted that the video, in which only mild disagreements with the prime minister were voiced, obeyed the conventions of staged reality television rather than those of observational documentary. To ensure a diversity of age, gender and background, Ms. Gulbrandsen said, some participants were recruited in advance through “street-casting” by the ad agency that produced the video. “They’re five ordinary people who were asked if they wanted to take part in a video for the Labor Party and who knew nothing else, except that they were going to be picked up in a taxi,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Stoltenberg, who told VG that he did not know until later that those five participants had been paid to take part, stressed that “no one who came into the taxi knew that I was the driver. And that was the whole point.”

In a post on the party’s Web site that includes more footage of the encounters, Ms. Gulbrandsen wrote that she had been assured by the advertising firm that a majority of the passengers shown in the edited video had been picked up at random and had no idea that they were taking part in a political ad.

Mr. Stoltenberg, who trails in the polls ahead of next month’s election, is perhaps best known outside Norway for his moving pledge in 2011 to respond to domestic terrorist attacks by a right-wing extremist with “more democracy, more openness and more humanity.” Most of the victims of those attacks, in Oslo and Utoya, were young Labor Party activists hunted down by a nationalist gunman, Anders Behring Breivik, who deplored their embrace of multiculturalism.

Atlanta Teenager Denied Heart Transplant

The mother of a 15-year-old boy from the Atlanta area said hospital officials were denying her son a heart transplant because, they said, he had failed to comply with past medical instructions, including properly taking his medication.

Melencia Hamilton told WSB-TV in Atlanta that hospital officials had decided that her son, Anthony Stokes, would not be a good candidate for a transplant even though he has only six months to live. “They said they don’t have any evidence that he would take his medicine or that he would go to his follow-ups,” she said.

But Ms. Hamilton, whose son is being treated for an enlarged heart at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, told reporters that she was concerned he was being denied because of his poor grades and past brushes with the law. “He’s a young boy,” she said. “He’s going to make mistakes, but I still think he deserves a second chance.”

Anthony arrived in the hospital’s emergency room with an ankle monitoring bracelet, according to KSDK-TV. Family members said that a judge had sentenced him to house arrest for being involved in a few fights at school.

Doctors have told Ms. Hamilton and her family that without a heart transplant, Anthony has about six months to live. He has been hospitalized since mid-July.

News of his case swirled around the Internet this week, with people starting online petitions asking Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to put him on the transplant list.

Patty Gregory, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said in a statement that the hospital followed “very specific criteria in determining eligibility for a transplant of any kind.” She added:

The well-being of our patients is always our first priority. We are continuing to work with this family and looking at all options regarding this patient’s health care. We follow very specific criteria in determining eligibility for a transplant of any kind. We never stop working to help our sick patients. In all transplant cases, we work closely with the family and their support network to coordinate the best possible result for the patient, and continue to find solutions. In this particular case, we are continuing to partner with the family.

Tips, sources, story ideas? Please leave a comment or find me on Twitter @jenniferpreston.

The Developing World Gets Unlimited Digital Storage

You may have thought it was just everyone you knew. In fact, at least one company is hoping that about 200 million more people worldwide are leading digitally swamped lives, in need of organizing.

On Tuesday Telefonica Digital, the London-based international business division of the Spanish telecommunications company, announced a global partnership with Evernote, an online archive for things like notes, photos, Web pages, and digitized voice recordings. In Brazil, where the business is starting, Evernote Premium accounts normally costing $45 a year will be free to customers of Telefonica’s local mobile brand, Vivo.

Twenty-two other countries, in both South America and Europe, are expected to get the deal in the near future. Telefonica has 247 million mobile customers, but won’t be offering the same package in Germany because of contractual conflicts.

“We’re trying to build long term relationships with users all over the world,” said Phil Libin, Evernote’s chief executive. “We are good with technophiles in most countries; Telefonica has a much bigger audience.” Evernote already has 2 million users in Brazil, he said, but this agreement was a way to accelerate growth.

It might seem that digital overload â€" or at least the way people store stuff â€" would differ from one country to another, but Mr. Libin said his product was generally used the same way everywhere. “We’re all knowledge professionals now, educated, mobile, professional people,” he said. “The thing people have in common everywhere is that they have too much information.”

What remains to be seen is whether a $45 value in the United States, where Evernote still has 30 percent of its 66 million customers, is worth it to people in the less-developed countries that Telefonica serves.

According to the company, the longer people use the service, the more likely they are to upgrade to the Premium offering. Sixty-five percent of people who initially sign up don’t really use Evernote. Of those who stay, initially only one percent pay for Premium, which offers additional storage and the ability to search for documents, among other things. After three years, however, 22 percent of customers are paying.

Wayne Thorsen, vice president of global products at Telefonica, argued that it may seem like an even better deal in Brazil. Telefonica has more than 80 million subscribers in Brazil, he said, “and for many of them this connectivity is all they have. Forty percent of them don’t have a financial relationship outside of their mobile phone provider.”

On the other hand, people without access to banking or credit cards might have other priorities than storing their photos online. Many of them may also move over to Evernote’s basic account, which is free.

“We’re looking to have a long term relationship with the customers,” Mr. Libin said. “We want to be their lifetime external brain.”

Daily Report: BlackBerry Considers Alternatives to Oblivion

After enduring years of dwindling sales, BlackBerry, a giant of the pre-iPhone era, said on Monday that it was exploring “strategic options” â€" business code for searching for a savior, Ian Austen reports.

For the moment, few seem to want to buy BlackBerry or, for that matter, its newest products. Unless a suitor emerges, BlackBerry risks joining the ranks of technology has-beens like Palm, Gateway and Commodore.

The abrupt decline of BlackBerry illustrates how consumers and investors demand almost instant change these days, especially from tech companies. And the window for redemption for a tech company that misses a step can be tiny indeed.

Four years ago, BlackBerry had 51 percent of the North American smartphone market, according to the research firm Gartner. And Mike Lazaridis, BlackBerry’s co-founder who was then its co-chief executive and co-chairman, was promising an even brighter future.

But then the company responded slowly to new iPhone and Android devices and the company’s sales evaporated. Now, the company has 3.4 percent of the market and Mr. Lazaridis is gone from BlackBerry.

BlackBerry’s board and its current chief executive, Thorsten Heins, portrayed the announcement on Monday as part of a new beginning, but few analysts and little of the tech community were buying that idea. Instead, BlackBerry is often grouped with other once-powerful tech companies, like Nokia and Dell, that are now struggling and appear to have hard roads back to growth, if any at all.