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Gartner Says by 2014, 80 Percent of Current Gamified Applications Will Fail to Meet Business Objectives Primarily Due to Poor Design

November 28th, 2012 No comments

STAMFORD, Conn., November 27, 2012— Article re-published from Gartner

As gamification moves from the leading edge to more widespread use by early adopters, now is the time to understand and evaluate this important trend, according to Gartner, Inc.

Gamification is currently being driven by novelty and hype. Gartner predicts that by 2014, 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily because of poor design.

“The challenge facing project managers and sponsors responsible for gamification initiatives is the lack of game design talent to apply to gamification projects,” said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. “Poor game design is one of the key failings of many gamified applications today.”

“The focus is on the obvious game mechanics, such as points, badges and leader boards, rather than the more subtle and more important game design elements, such as balancing competition and collaboration, or defining a meaningful game economy,” Mr. Burke said. “As a result, in many cases, organizations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience. Some organizations are already beginning to cast off poorly designed gamified applications.”

Gamification is the use of game design and game mechanics to engage a target audience to change behaviors, learn new skills or engage in innovation. The target audience may be customers, employees or the general public, but first and foremost, they are people with needs and desires who will respond to stimuli. It is important to think of the people in these target audiences as “players” in gamified applications.

While game mechanics such as points and badges are the hallmarks of gamification, the real challenge is to design player-centric applications that focus on the motivations and rewards that truly engage players more fully. Game mechanics like points, badges and leader boards are simply the tools that implement the underlying engagement models.

Gamification describes the use of the same design techniques and game mechanics found in all games, but it applies them in non-game contexts including: customer engagement, employee performance, training and education, innovation management, personal development, sustainability and health. Virtually all areas of business could benefit from gamification as it can help to achieve three broad business objectives 1) to change behavior; 2) to develop skills; or 3) to enable innovation. While these objectives are very broad, more opportunities may emerge as the trend matures.

Changing Behaviors - The most common use of gamification is to engage a specific audience and encourage them to change a target set of behaviors. By turning the desired behavior change into a game, people become engaged and encouraged to adopt new habits. For example:

  • Brands can leverage gamification to engage consumers to better understand their products, and become advocates for the brand to provide product endorsements, and drive customer loyalty.
  • Companies can use gamification to improve employee performance and to motivate adoption of new business processes.

Developing Skills - Gamification is increasingly being used in both formal education and in corporate training programs to engage students in a more immersive learning experience. While many approaches are being used, they can generally be divided into two categories:

  • Building a game layer on top of the lesson material, where competition and/or collaboration between students is encouraged with game mechanics such as points for actions, badges for rewards and leader boards for competition.
  • Turning the lesson into a game, where in addition to the game layer of points and badges, simulation and animation is used to immerse the studentS in the environment and allow them to practice new skills in a safe, virtual environment that provides immediate feedback.

Enabling Innovation - Innovation games are typically structured quite differently than games designed to change behavior or develop skills. Innovation games use emergent game structures that provide the goals, rules, tools and play space for the players to explore, experiment, collaborate and solve problems. Innovation games generally use game mechanics to create a more engaging experience, but the key is to engage lots of players, solving problems through crowdsourcing.

“As gamification moves from being leveraged by a limited number of leading-edge innovators to becoming more broadly adopted by early adopters, it is important that CIOs and IT leaders understand the underlying principle of gamification and how to apply it within the IT organization,” said Mr. Burke.

Additional information is available in the Gartner Special Report “Gamification: Engagement Strategies for Business and IT”. The Special Report can be viewed at, and includes links to reports and video commentary that examine the impact of gamification on enterprises.

Mr. Burke will provide additional analysis during the Gartner webinar, “Gamification Trends and Strategies to Help Prepare for the Future” on November 28 at 8 a.m. and 11. a.m. EST. To register for this complimentary webinar, please visit



Christy Pettey
+1 408 468 8312

Rob van der Meulen
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About Gartner:
Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company. Gartner delivers the technology-related insight necessary for its clients to make the right decisions, every day. From CIOs and senior IT leaders in corporations and government agencies, to business leaders in high-tech and telecom enterprises and professional services firms, to technology investors, Gartner is the valuable partner to clients in 12,000 distinct organizations. Through the resources of Gartner Research, Gartner Executive Programs, Gartner Consulting and Gartner Events, Gartner works with every client to research, analyze and interpret the business of IT within the context of their individual role. Founded in 1979, Gartner is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.A., and has 5,000 associates, including 1,280 research analysts and consultants, and clients in 85 countries. For more information,

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Twitter Adds Ability to Email Tweets From the Web

November 18th, 2012 No comments
Facebook may have more users, but in the arena of social media no platform has become more important in communicating public messages than Twitter. Now the company has decided to expand its reach by adding the ability to email tweets from its website.

The company also provided a boost to its iPhone and Android apps, and enhanced its search results.

Many Twitter apps (including Twitter’s own) already allow you to email a tweet to anyone not using the service, but this new option will be embedded directly into the website as a standard option. The feature will appear in a new “More” icon next to the current “Favorite” option (similar to the interface on the current Twitter mobile app), and will instantly open an email window.

When you email a tweet from your mobile device, the “From” address is typically your device’s default email address (i.e. your own email address). But with this new feature, based on the currently available details, it appears that the emails will be sent directly from Twitter. It is as yet unclear as to whether or not an option to add your own email as the “Sender” will be available.

“You can email a Tweet to anyone, whether they use Twitter or not, right from your Twitter stream or from the details view of any Tweet,” a Twitter engineer wrote in a blog post. “You can add your own comment, and we’ll send an email with your comment and the Tweet together. Just like that.”

Currently, Twitter boasts roughly 500 million users, an impressive number but still far behind Facebook’s one billion users worldwide. This new email option could help Twitter significantly increase its user base.

On the mobile front, Twitter’s update to its apps provides easier access to headlines and photos from shared articles, a “view all tweets” section that pulls in tweets that were shared by people in your network, and photo results in search.

Categories: Social Media, twitter Tags:

Pinterest for Business is here!!!

November 16th, 2012 No comments

Pinterest, the online virtual dream board, has officially opened the doors for business.  Up to now the brands represented on Pinterest had been making due with the same user accounts as everyone else on the pin board site.  On Wednesday Pinterest showed its love for business with a way to convert existing accounts to the new business accounts, tools, tips, and new terms of service.  ”We want to help more businesses provide great content on Pinterest and make it easy to pin from their websites,” says Cat Lee, Pinterest Product Manager.

In her blog for Pinterest, Cat goes on to explain some of the new features:

New business terms

We now have two sets of terms—one for people and one for businesses. The business terms help guide businesses on how to use Pinterest. They also enable us to separate the provisions meant for businesses from those meant for regular people. As a result, we updated our user terms to be half as long.

Signing up on our business site allows you to specify your business name (instead of first name and last name) and get access to new tools:

  • Verify your website. The verification badge helps people identify high-quality sources of content and more easily find the business they want in search results.
  • Add new buttons and widgets. Integrate the Pin It buttonFollow buttonProfile widget, or Board widget to get more engagement from pinners and traffic back your site.
  • Access to upcoming features. Receive updates on future products and services that will provide more powerful ways of reaching and understanding your audience on Pinterest.
  • Case Studies.Jetsetter, Allrecipes, Etsy, Organized Interiors, and Petplan Insuranceshare metrics and describe how they successfully used Pinterest to increase customer reach, drive traffic to their sites, and engage their strongest advocates.
  • What Works. We published a set of best practices with several examples for you to follow.
  • Guides and Documentation. Check out new guides and documentation for the Pin It and Follow buttons and how to use the Pinterest brand in marketing materials.

Brands have already benefited from a pin presence. Pew Research estimates that 12 percent of all Internet users use Pinterest, including 19 percent of all female internet users. Recently, Pinterest hit the ComScore Top 50 Websites in the US with just over 25.3 million visitors in the month of September.  For many users, Pinterest has become THE place to post, share, and shop for the Christmas Wish List.

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Data jam threat to UK mobile networks

November 16th, 2012 No comments

Steps need to be taken now to head off a looming “capacity crunch” on the UK’s mobile networks, says regulator Ofcom.

As more people use broadband-connected smartphones and tablets, the amount of data Britons consume on the move each month has hit 20 million gigabytes.

The main reason for the data explosion is users’ love of video, TV and films while on the move.

Without swift action, mobile networks will gradually grind to a halt, warned the agency.

If current trends play out, said Ofcom, demand for mobile data would grow by 80 times by 2030.

To cope with the data tsunami Ofcom has drawn up plans to release more radio spectrum and make the industry’s use of existing spectrum more efficient.

The 700MHz frequency band, currently used by digital terrestrial television, will be opened up to mobile services by 2018 as part of a global plan to harmonise frequencies for mobile users.

Digital television will eventually migrate to the 600MHz frequency under Ofcom’s plans.


Consumers worried that this will mean new set-top box equipment and yet more upheaval need not be alarmed, said Ofcom.

“This will not be a new digital switch over; all it will need is a simple retune,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive. “It’s a migration.”

Initial industry concerns about the migration plans had “substantially diminished”, he added.

By making better use of the UK’s existing 16,000 wi-fi hotspots, which are significantly underused at the moment, and introducing new transmission and compression technologies, Ofcom believes there will be plenty of new capacity to cope with the expected increase in mobile data usage.

The mobile industry is currently collaborating on a new wi-fi protocol called PassPoint which will allow consumers to use one sign-in to join any public wi-fi network, wherever they happen to be.

Ofcom hopes this will encourage more mobile users to make use of the existing public wi-fi network and help lighten the load on mobile networks.

“The overall outcome for the UK, the economy, and consumers is a positive one,” said Mr Richards. “The public cost of this will be utterly marginal, but there will be a massive benefit to the public.”

Categories: mobile Tags:

Mobile is second tech priority for CIOs according to Gartner.

October 24th, 2012 1 comment

Orlando, Fla.–Mobile technology was identified as the number two tech priority for chief information officers, ahead of cloud computing, according to a survey of 2,336 CIOs conducted by Gartner.

The number one priority was analytics and business intelligence, followed by mobile technology, cloud computing, collaboration technologies, and virtualization, Nick Jones, a mobility analyst with Gartner, told an audience at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo.

The Gartner analyst noted that the mobile market will be driven by companies, such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), that “could care less” about the enterprise market. “Sort of a scary thought,” he added.

Jones predicted that mobile technology would be the number one technology priority for CIOs in the near future.

According to Gartner estimates, shipments of Android tablets will exceed shipments of iOS tablets by the end of 2014.

“As tablets become more affordable and more capable, look for new opportunities to use them,” he advised the audience.

Jones predicted that BlackBerrys would make up a declining share of the smartphone market, dropping from around 5 percent this year, to around 2 percent in 2016.

Jeff Holleran, senior director of enterprise product management at RIM, took issue with Jones’ prediction. “Our smartphone business at RIM has remained steady. In certain regions we’ve seen growth and in other regions we’ve lost customers. Overall, our enterprise business has remained steady,” he told FierceMobileIT.

According to Jones, the Windows Phone will surge from below 10 percent of the smartphone market this year to over 20 percent in 2016.

The Gartner analyst predicted that tablet prices will fall through 2013 as volumes increase and vendors look for ways to compete with Apple. Apple and Android will be the dominant tablet platforms, making up over 80 percent of the market by 2015. The majority of media tablets will be around 10 inches.

Network operators have regained their interest in Wi-Fi recently as a way to offload traffic from cellular networks where demand will exceed supply until LTE can be deployed, Jones said.

Some of the fastest growing uses of wireless are related to machines and include ZigBee, Bluetooth LE and Dash 7, he said. Low-power wireless technologies such as ZigBee will be particularly useful for “Internet of things” applications, he added.

Jones recommended that IT departments identify new ways to provide, manage, and secure mobile devices and applications to deal with the challenges of BYOD, and define mobile strategies to cover business-to-consumer, business-to-business and business-to-employee domains.

Read more: Mobile is second tech priority for CIOs, Gartner finds – FierceMobileIT


The BlackBerry as Black Sheep

October 16th, 2012 No comments


Rachel Crosby speaks about her BlackBerry phone the way someone might speak of an embarrassing relative.

“I’m ashamed of it,” said Ms. Crosby, a Los Angeles sales representative who said she had stopped pulling out her BlackBerry at cocktail parties and conferences. In meetings, she says she hides her BlackBerry beneath her iPad for fear clients will see it and judge her.

The BlackBerry was once proudly carried by the high-powered and the elite, but those who still hold one today say the device has become a magnet for mockery and derision from those with iPhones and the latest Android phones. Research in Motion may still be successful selling BlackBerrys in countries like India and Indonesia, but in the United States the company is clinging to less than 5 percent of the smartphone market — down from a dominating 50 percent just three years ago. The company’s future all depends on a much-delayed new phone coming next year; meanwhile RIM recorded a net loss of $753 million in the first half of the year compared with a profit of more than $1 billion a year earlier.

Among the latest signs of the loss of cachet: One of the first steps Marissa Mayer took as Yahoo’s newly appointed chief executive to remake the company’s stodgy image was to trade in employees’ BlackBerrys for iPhones and Androids. BlackBerrys may still linger in Washington, Wall Street and the legal profession, but in Silicon Valley they are as rare as a necktie.

As the list shrinks of friends who once regularly communicated using BlackBerry’s private messaging service, called BBM, many a BlackBerry owner will not mince words about how they feel about their phone.

“I want to take a bat to it,” Ms. Crosby said, after waiting for her phone’s browser to load for the third minute, only to watch the battery die. “You can’t do anything with it. You’re supposed to, but it’s all a big lie.”

The cultural divide between BlackBerry loyalists and everyone else has only grown more extreme over the last year as companies that previously issued employees BlackBerrys — and only BlackBerrys — have started surrendering to employee demands for iPhones and Android-powered smartphones.

Goldman Sachs recently gave its employees the option to use an iPhone. Covington & Burling, a major law firm, did the same at the urging of associates. Even the White House, which used the BlackBerry for security reasons, recently started supporting the iPhone. (Some staff members suspect that decision was influenced by President Obama, who now prefers his iPad for national security briefings. A spokesman for the White House declined to comment.)

Out in the world, the insults continue. Victoria Gossage, a 28-year-old hedge fund marketer, said she recently attended a work retreat at Piping Rock Club, an upscale country club in Locust Valley, N.Y., and asked the concierge for a phone charger. “First he said, ‘Sure.’ Then he saw my phone and — in this disgusted tone — said, ‘Oh no, no, not for that.’ ”

“You get used to that kind of rejection,” she said.

“BlackBerry users are like Myspace users,” sneers Craig Robert Smith, a Los Angeles musician. “They probably still chat on AOL Instant Messenger.”

BlackBerry outcasts say that, increasingly, they suffer from shame and public humiliation as they watch their counterparts mingle on social networking apps that are not available to them, take higher-resolution photos, and effortlessly navigate streets — and the Internet — with better GPS and faster browsing. More indignity comes in having to outsource tasks like getting directions, booking travel, making restaurant reservations and looking up sports scores to their exasperated iPhone and Android-carting partners, friends and colleagues.

“I feel absolutely helpless,” said Ms. Gossage. “You’re constantly watching people do all these things on their phones and all I have going for me is my family’s group BBM chats.”

Ryan Hutto, a director at a San Francisco health information company, said he frequently depended on others, often his wife, for music playlists, navigation and sports scores. “After two or three questions, people start to get irritated,” Mr. Hutto said.

His wife, Shannon Hutto, says with a sigh: “Anytime we go anywhere, I always have to pull up the map. If we’re searching for a restaurant, I pull up the Yelp app. If we need a reservation, I pull up OpenTable. I kind of feel like his personal assistant.”

Still, a few BlackBerry users say they’re sticking with the device, mainly because of the BlackBerry’s efficient, physical keyboard. “I use my BlackBerry by choice,” said Lance Fenton, a 32-year-old investor who frequently travels and needs to send e-mails from the road. “I can’t type e-mails on touch-screen phones.”

Mr. Fenton said he could not wrap his head around iPhone fever. “I constantly ask people, ‘What is so great about it?’ and they have these nonsensical answers,” he said. “Someone told me I’m missing out on some app that maps their ski runs. I ski four days a year. On the road, I don’t need a ski app.”

RIM’s most recent efforts to hold on to loyal customers, as well as software developers building apps for its next generation of phones scheduled to be available next year, have elicited universal cringes. In a recent promotional video, Alec Saunders, RIM’s vice president for developer relations, is shown belting out a rock song titled “Devs, BlackBerry Is Going to Keep on Loving You,” a riff on the 1981 power ballad by REO Speedwagon “Keep on Loving You.”

“This is the sign of a desperate company,” said Nick Mindel, a 26-year-old investment analyst. “Come on, BlackBerry, I always had some faith, but you just lost a customer. Frankly, I don’t think they can afford to lose many more.”

After eight years with a BlackBerry, Mr. Mindel said he just joined the wait list for the iPhone 5. When it arrives, he said, “I’m considering removing my BlackBerry battery, pouring in cement, and using the BlackBerry as an actual paperweight.”

Google expands analytics toolset with Tag Manager

October 1st, 2012 No comments

Google is expanding its digital marketing capabilities with the introduction of the Google Tag Manager.

Supporting both Google and non-Google website tags, the Tag Manager consolidates tags through a snippet of code. This can be managed through web interface where users can add and manage tags without having to rewrite the site code or involve IT.

Some of the features range from simple tasks to preview mode and tag templates to more in-depth functions such as debugging console and asynchronous tag loading designed to prevent any slow down on the user-visible part of the site.

Laura Holmes, a product manager on the Google Tag Manager team, explained on the Google Analytics blog on Monday that the goals of the Tag Manager is to fine-tune the tagging process altogether:

Tags are tiny bits of website code can help provide useful insights, but they can also cause challenges. Too many tags can make sites slow and clunky; incorrectly applied tags can distort your measurement; and it can be time-consuming for the IT department or webmaster team to add new tags—leading to lost time, lost data, and lost conversions.

Additionally, Holmes asserted that this will also give marketing departments more flexibility for developing better informed campaigns to reach their customers in new ways.

Another feature designed specifically for marketers include multiple account functionality and user permissions so that large marketing teams can work together but at varying levels of access to the Tag Manager as well as the company/campaign website.

The Google Tag Manager is a free tool and will be launching in English first with support in additional languages promised soon. For a closer look at the Google Tag Manager, check out the promo video below:


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Bank of America tests QR code mobile-payment service

September 27th, 2012 No comments


The latest company to get into the mobile-payment market, the bank is using QR codes that let customers use a smartphone to scan pictures and make their payments.


Bank of America is testing a new mobile-payment service that lets customers use their Apple or Google smartphones to scan pictures to pay for things.

The bank is testing technology developed by a company called Paydiant. The solution uses Quick Response or QR codes. The way it works is that users use their smartphones to scan the QR code, which unlocks the users’ bank information stored in Bank of America’s network to complete the transaction.

The QR codes could be displayed at the register in a store when a customer is checking out, or a restaurant could print the code on the check, allowing patrons to scan their bills right at the table and pay without ever handing over a credit card or cash.

Because the technology doesn’t require any special hardware on the device, it can be used with any smartphone running Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android software.

This is different from other mobile-payment technologies, including the one Google and the carrier consortium Isis have adopted as part of their mobile-payment effort. Google and Isis use Near Field Communications technology, which is short-range wireless technology that lets users pay for things by tapping their devices to a payment terminal.

This technology requires that an NFC chip be on the device as well as at the payment terminal. Because there hasn’t yet been a critical mass of smartphone or payment terminals equipped with the technology, NFC has gotten off to a slow start. In fact, the technology’s future has come into question recently since the newly released Apple iPhone 5 doesn’t support it.

In the past, Bank of America tested NFC mobile-payment services. In an interview with Reuters, a representative from the bank declined to comment on whether the bank is still considering using NFC technology.

Bank of America launched the QR code mobile-payment service at five merchants in Charlotte, N.C., this week. The test will run for the next three months. So far, the testing program is closed to the bank’s employees, a Reuters article reports.

Smartphones supported for the trial include newer Apple iPhones as well asGoogle Android smartphones. There was no indication that other smartphones, such as Microsoft’s Windows Phone smartphones or RIM’s BlackBerry devices, would also be included.

Categories: e-commerce, mobile, QR Codes Houston Tags:

QR Haters… See Passbook App in IOS 6

September 21st, 2012 No comments

I’m cautiously optimistic about Apple’s Passbook mobile wallet application. Though it currently lacks features and sufficient support from participating businesses, enterprises may want to start thinking about developing apps. Passbook has a lot of promise for companies in a number of industry sectors.

Although the heart of Passbook is mobile payments, it’s also for storing digital loyalty cards, gift cards, discount coupons, tickets to sporting events and movies, boarding passes for airlines, and passes for buses, subways, and railways — which increases its potential enterprise appeal.

Passbook is one of the major new features of Apple’s iOS 6 operating system, which was released Wednesday. It works on the iPhone and iPod touch, but not the iPad — perhaps because few people will want to haul around an iPad to pay for purchases or show loyalty cards.

So far, Passbook is missing at least two major mobile payment capabilities. It lacks near-field communication (NFC) for tapping an iPhone and iPod on a point-of-sale terminal. Also, credit and debit cards can’t be added.

The lack of NFC could slow the adoption of mobile payments in the US. However, Apple integrates technologies it believes already are mature or will mature. The jury’s still out on NFC.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple added credit/debit cards to Passbook in the future.

Instead of credit/debit cards and NFC, Passbook employs QR codes for virtual cards. QR codes can be scanned on, for example, an airline boarding pass, a loyalty card, and a gift card. Two or three dozen applications are available for Passbook, such as StubHub for tickets for sporting events, concerts, and plays; Fandango for movie tickets; Ticketmaster; (Major League Baseball); Target; United Airlines; and Sephora.

Apple isn’t the only company to recognize the evolution that’s occurring from using a mobile device “merely” for payments to a “digital wallet.” Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 will include a Wallet Hub that’s similar to Passbook. Google is expanding its Wallet to include similar capabilities as Passbook. This makes sense because the more functionality that’s included, the more likely companies will participate, and the more likely Americans (and others) will use it.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the success of Passbook for a few reasons. Thanks to the availability of iOS 6, enterprises that create apps have access to millions of iPhone and iPod users right now. What’s more, many iPhone users are early adopters who aren’t afraid of testing a new wallet application. In contrast, Android operating system upgrades take longer to be released and tested across all handsets and devices. One day after iOS 6 was released, it was on 15 percent of Apple devices.

For enterprises looking to offer Passbook apps without spending the resources to develop their own, some companies are already obliging. Branding Brand is one of these. This firm developed Sephora’s Passbook “Beauty Insider” app and says some 20,000 users have downloaded it.

Still, relatively few companies have developed applications for Passbook. Also, some of the employees of companies with Passbook apps don’t have any idea that an app exists or what to do with it. In addition, Passbook has some problems, as users have discovered.

Most importantly, mobile payments are not only esoteric for the majority of Americans, but also are sometimes less convenient than just swiping a credit card through a terminal or handing a loyalty card or paper coupon to a cashier.

Despite all the problems, I’m a fan of digital wallets and believe they will eventually become mainstream, especially as companies look to address consumer demand. As a consumer, I don’t want to carry multiple credit cards in my wallet, numerous little loyalty cards on my keychain, boarding passes in my coat pocket, and subway cards in my pants pocket. I want to get rid of all that plastic and paper. I want everything to be on my phone, secured with a PIN, and remotely wiped if lost. I want loyalty points to be added automatically to purchases. I want to receive location-based/geo-fenced discount coupons transmitted automatically to my phone as I walk near a shop.

Passbook is just one of many mobile payment/mobile wallet systems that are commercially available, undergoing trials, or still in beta, such as Isis, the Merchant Customer Exchange,Lemon, and Groupon. It’s a real mess right now as companies jockey for position, but many large companies already are participating. Enterprises need to stay abreast of developments and seriously consider whether to develop an app for Passbook.

Categories: Apple, e-commerce, mobile, QR Codes Houston Tags:

Google Fiber!

September 14th, 2012 No comments

Google’s highly-anticipated plan to build an ultra-fast city broadband network kicked into gear Monday with the search giant’s announcement that it will begin laying miles of fiber-optic cable across Kansas City, Kansas and neighboring Kansas City, Missouri. Google said it aims to create a new “high speed infrastructure” that will allow local citizens to enjoy data speeds 100 times the national average. Google’s goal? To show off its telecom engineering chops and showcase next-generation web-applications. Oh, and maybe shame the big national broadband providers into improving U.S. Internet service speed, which currently lags behind many other countries around the world.


Google’s Kansas City network is not just a stunt: the company is implicitly making a broader point about the lack of broadband competition in the U.S., which is one of the reasons broadband is slower and more expensive here. If Google is successful, it could embarrass  — or at least call out — existing ISPs once it becomes clear that much faster broadband speeds are possible in major U.S. cities. For comparison, Verizon’s ultra high-end FiOS plan tops out at 150 megabits-per-second. Google’s Kansas City network will boast blazing speeds of 1 gigabit-per-second, or nearly seven-times that of Verizon. (HD streaming-video to the living-room, anyone?)

Google first announced the project in February of 2010, saying it wanted “to make a meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better Internet for everyone.” Over 1,000 cities expressed interest, and last year, Google selected Kansas City as the first city for the test program (and later expanded to neighboring Kansas City, Missouri). Google spent several months hammering out the details with local officials, including where the company could hang its fiber cables on city utility poles. Now, all systems are go, Google’s Kevin Lo wrote in a company blog post. Google isn’t saying how much the network will cost, only that it will offer the super-fast broadband service at “competitive” prices for consumers. But let’s face it: Google isn’t going to match its sky-high search ad profits with this venture, and may actually lose money in the short-term. So what’s Google’s game here?

(MoreGoogle Taps Kansas City for Crazy-Speed Internet)

Google wants more people online with faster connections, in order to better provide and expand its web-based services around the country. That’s why Google has traditionally advocated for open, high-speed networks and complained about U.S. broadband speeds. “By several measures, no matter who you ask, the U.S. in far too many places still lags behind many countries in Europe and Asia in terms of broadband speed, availability, and uptake,” Richard Whitt, Google’s top D.C. telecom lawyer, wrote when the company’s initiative was first announced.

Google is not alone in its concern. Last year, a study found that U.S. broadband speeds ranked 26th in the world, far behind South Korea, Romania and Bulgaria. Nearly one-third of U.S. residents, meanwhile, or 100 million Americans, don’t have high-speed Internet access at home, compared to Singapore and Korea where the adoption rates are over 90 percent, according to the Federal Communications Commission. What’s more, studies have shown that U.S. broadband service costs more than in other countries. Of course, it’s much easier to wire South Korea, with its relatively new infrastructure, than the U.S., which has a vast and often rugged geography. But that’s not the only reason U.S. service is slower and more expensive.

Lack of competition is also a problem. In many markets, there are only two options for broadband service, and without more competition, the companies that offer it have little incentive to improve service or lower prices. “Without a major policy shift to increase competition, broadband service in the United States will continue to lag far behind the rest of the developed world,” Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has written. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has embarked on a high-profile plan to improve the state of U.S. broadband, in part by using the $8 billion Universal Service Fund to help expand broadband access in rural, under-served areas. But real improvement will only come with more competition.

Enter Google. This isn’t the first time the search giant has used its clout to try to nudge the incumbent broadband providers. Google owns vast swaths of so-called “dark fiber” — unused cable that it picked up for cheap after the dot-com bust, and in 2008 the company bid $4.6 billion for a highly-valuable chunk of wireless spectrum known as the 700Mhz C Block. Verizon Wireless ultimately snagged the spectrum for $4.7 billion, but Google’s bid triggered FCC “open access” provisions that the search giant favored. Many analysts view Google’s ultra-high-speed broadband initiative in a similarly strategic light. In the end, it’s highly unlikely that Google will begin offering fiber-to-the-home broadband on a nation-wide basis. But Google will have made its point.

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