The Microsoft BizSpark Startup Rally at The Next Web Conference Europe 2013, saw 16 pre-selected startups plus 4 wildcard entrants chosen by TNW from exhibitors at the event pitch to a panel of judges over two days.
The European Commission today asked Google’s competitors and others working in the Internet industry in the region for feedback on proposals made by Google to settle its years-long antitrust investigation. Swiftly, ICOMP, one of the chief lobbying organizations fighting against the search giant, has already issued a preliminary response: Google’s commitments may be “too little, too late.”
“It is clear that mere labelling is not any kind of solution to the competition concerns that have been identified,” ICOMP notes in a statement. “Google should implement the same ranking policy to all websites. This should include their own vertical services which currently have their ranking unfairly manipulated to appear at or near the top of search results.” ICOMP includes companies like Microsoft, football’s Premier League as well as Streetmap, which is currently suing Google in the UK over its search practices.
Google, meanwhile, remains in a moving-ahead state: “We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The European Commission notes that currently Google controls over 90% of the search market across the European Economic Area.
Although Google’s proposals had not been made public until today, there have been several reports over the last couple of weeks about what Google would be offering in the proposal. It appears that these were on target. The proposals cover a number of areas that have been investigated, from concerns from so-called “vertical search engines” (those specialising in certain areas like mapping, travel or comparative insurance quotes for example) to those of publishers. In a nutshell, here is what Google is offering to do over the next five years:
– label promoted links to its own specialised search services so that users can distinguish them from natural web search results,
– clearly separate these promoted links from other web search results by clear graphical features (such as a frame), and
– display links to three rival specialised search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users;
– offer all websites the option to opt-out from the use of all their content in Google’s specialised search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those web sites in Google’s general web search results,
– offer all specialised search web sites that focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information in such a way that such information is not indexed or used by Google,
– provide newspaper publishers with a mechanism allowing them to control on a web page per web page basis the display of their content in Google News,
– no longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google, and
– no longer impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms.
ICOMP’S response, so far, is a generic one but largely has to do with what Google is proposing in the area of search results, and its suggestion of labelling its own products more clearly. A source connected to one of the companies that is part of ICOMP told TechCrunch that the idea of relegating competitors to a special box featuring three results is not a good enough solution: “It takes attention away from the fact that Google is still putting more emphasis on its own products in its search results,” he said. “Google needs to give its own products the same weighting as those of others.”
He also takes issue with the timeframe of the current consultation. Competitors and others are being given a month to respond; effectively Google has had much longer to formulate its own proposals and technology for how it proposes to deal with the antitrust issue.
The Register, meanwhile, notes that Foundem, an ICOMP member that is one of the original companies bringing the case against Google to regulators, who is also suing Google in the UK, has also issued a preliminary statement criticising Google’s proposal.
“Instead of promising to end its abusive practices, Google’s proposal seems to offer a half-hearted attempt to dilute their anti-competitive effects, by labelling Google’s own services and throwing in some token links to competitors’ services alongside them,” said Shivaun Raff, CEO of Foundem.
The full statement from ICOMP is below. The EU’s memo asking for feedback can be found here. I have a feeling this is not the final chapter in this antitrust saga, which is already stretching into its third year.
Following weeks of speculation, we are pleased to see the publication of a market test notice and look forward to the opportunity to analyse and respond to Google’s proposal in a constructive manner. It is vital to ensure that the market test is thorough and robust and is not simply an exercise to “tick the boxes”.
As we have repeatedly said, it is very important to provide complainants and interested parties with the opportunity to review the proposals and offer their observations, including evidence to show how the proposals will play out in practice. Google has had some time to test the proposals and how they might affect user clicks. We believe complainants and others also have an important role to play not least because of the sectoral expertise they offer. However, they must be provided with enough information and time to make the detailed analysis that is required.
If the proposals don’t clearly set out non-discrimination principles and the means to deal with the restoration of effective competition, plus effective enforcement and compliance, it’s very difficult to see how they can be satisfactory. Commissioner Almunia has himself stated that returning competition to markets effectively destroyed by Google’s dominance and abuse of that position is the main aim of this investigation.
We will comment further once we have had an opportunity to evaluate the proposals in more detail but it is clear that mere labelling is not any kind of solution to the competition concerns that have been identified. Google should implement the same ranking policy to all websites. This should include their own vertical services which currently have their ranking unfairly manipulated to appear at or near the top of search results.
The European Commission is asking for feedback on new proposals set out today by Google to address growing concerns that it is abusing its market leader position in Web search.
The central issue revolves around how the company links to its own specialized search products, such as Google Shopping, to promote brand awareness and the total number of active users across these services.
The Commission said Google does this too prominently at the moment and is also less likely to show products and services offered by rival search companies, such as Bing and Yahoo.
The result is a continuation of its Web search dominance, which, while not entirely unfair, could be stifling innovation and the ability for new entrants to offer a superior product in the European Union.
The Commission has also suggested that users are unaware of the way that Google promotes its other services in its search results. There’s also ongoing concerns that services provided by rival companies are less visible or deemed less relevant in users’ search results.
Google has proposed that it labels promoted links to its own specialized search results over the next five years. These will be set out clearly through an obvious graphical touch, such as a frame or dedicated area of the Webpage.
In addition, Google is offering to display links from three rival search services in a place close to its own services. That’s arguably more valuable to companies such as Bing and Yahoo, which rely on referrals to convert new or existing users.
The Commission has also highlighted problems with the way that Google used content from competing search engines without their prior consent.
“The Commission is concerned that the practice of using third-party content to promote Google’s own services may reduce competitors’ incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users,” a memo published by the Commission today reads.
“Indeed, if users know that Google’s specialised search services contain all the relevant information that is posted on the web, their incentives to visit other sites which contain only a part of that information will be significantly reduced, even if these were the sites from which that information originates.”
Google’s peace offering here is a little more subdued. Over a similar five-year period, the technology giant said it will offer all websites the option to opt-out from having the content used in any of Google’s search products.
Newspaper publishers would also be offered a new way of controlling on an individual basis which webpages will display additional content in Google News.
What happens next
The Commission has revealed that it will be testing these proposals with Google over a one month period. Members of the public are encouraged to comment on the commitments and the extent to why they resolve the aforementioned concerns during this time.
“If following the market test, the commitments form the basis for a satisfactory solution to the Commission’s competition concerns, the Commission may make them legally binding on Google,” the Commission added. “Such a decision does not conclude that there is an infringement of EU antitrust rules, but would legally bind Google to respect the commitments offered.”
The two-person startup has relied on outside developers to have a mobile presence on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Kippt just returned to San Francisco from Helsinki, almost a year after graduating from Y Combinator’s summer batch.
“An API is not only good for us, but it’s good for our users,” said Karri Saarinen, who co-founded Kippt and leads design. “There are some companies that fear this kind of openness will somehow harm the company, but we feel it brings value.”
It’s steady progress for the product, which started as a side project while Kippt’s other co-founder Jori Lallo was collaborating with Leah Culver on message board app Convore.
Over time, however, Kippt started to take on a life of its own. Like a more evolved version of early social bookmarking site Delicious, Kippt is a tool that lets people save and organize links into lists and share them with friends and work colleagues.
A recent redesign made the tool much more visual with image previews and a Pinterest-like layout for collections of links. Saarinen shies away from the word “bookmarking,” though. The idea with the recent redesign was to make saving links much more about the content rather than the URLs.
“People know what bookmarking is, but that they also have this preconceived idea of what it should do,” he said.
Kippt has a freemium revenue model: There’s a pro version for $25 a year that won’t have any advertising and will give people unlimited links.
Earlier today, I wrote about VMware selling SlideRocket to Clearslide, a service that allows sales people to upload collateral and presentations, as well as edit and analyze results. Yesterday I spoke to one of the co-founders of Fileboard, which has changed its direction to offer a service quite similar to Clearslide.
Fileboard is an app that fits into a CRM ecosystem and provides immediate feedback to sales people. It’s the kind of service that, like Clearslide, is applicable to sales engagements across a wide spectrum of the market. Fileboard uses the cloud to provide a common platform for collaborating and tracking how customers are engaging with a presentation sent by a sales person. But, unlike Clearslide, Fileboard does not allow people to edit slide content.
But does that really matter? Co-Founder Khuram Hussain said they see themselves as more of a communications service than a sales-presentation provider and are focused on offering a simple way to upload files and start sharing presentations with customers.
That aside, Fileboard does offer an easy way to upload and rearrange slides, and send them directly from the console.
All the uploaded files are converted into data objects and made available as links. The links are easily tracked:
It also offers analytics to view the click-throughs that illustrate how often the presentation has been viewed, as well as how it then gets shared.
Fileboard also tells a story about how the team is performing:
The data from the customers can help Fileboard determine what works in a presentation and what does not. Managers can correlate the relationship between successful sales people and the analytics about success rates of presentations sent from the Fileboard service.
Fileboard supports screen sharing and integrates with Box and Dropbox so presentations may be automatically updated. Notes can be automatically added to a CRM system.