Last November, Mozilla announced that it had worked with Facebook to launch a first preview of its Social API for Firefox by integrating Facebook Messenger into Firefox 17. The Social API allows social networks, blog networks or news sites to easily add persistent social sidebars, toolbar notifications and chat features to the browser, no matter which site a user is looking at. At the time, Mozilla wasn’t quite ready to announce any additional partners for this API. But today the organization announced that it will soon expand this effort with additional services in Firefox Nightly, including Japanese social network Mixi, Microsoft’s MSN Now, new site, CliqZ and the Chinese microblogging service Weibo.
“We are really excited about the possibilities that Social API brings to the future of browsing, including ways to integrate even more social providers, e-mail, finance, news and other applications and services into your Firefox experience,” Mozilla writes in today’s announcement.
When Mozilla launched the Facebook Messenger integration, Mozilla’s VP of Firefox Engineering Jonathan Nightingale told me that the organization wanted to see how it could marry the trend toward more social experiences on the web with the browser. Firefox’s App Tabs were a first attempt to solve this, but, as Nightingale told me, “people still had to work around the limitations of browsers because they were treating social just like any other sites.”
The current Facebook Messenger integration is pretty straightforward and adds a set of Messenger buttons to the toolbar and pops up a sidebar to start chats (see image above). Last November, the Firefox team wasn’t sure how to integrate more than one service yet, but that obviously wasn’t an issue at the time, given that only Facebook Messenger was integrated in the service so far. It’s not clear how the Firefox team has solved this issue, but we’ll surely see the solution once these new providers go live in one of the next Firefox Nightly releases.
Following last month’s rollout of free voice calling in its standalone Messenger app, Facebook has today updated its flagship iOS application to offer the same functionality. In the version 5.5 update, which is live now in Apple’s App Store, users in the U.S. and Canada can phone their friends directly from the right-hand sidebar within the application.
You can see the voice-calling option by tapping on a friend’s name, then hitting the button at the top-right of the Contact Info screen. If they’re online, the “Free Call” button can be used to dial them directly, no phone number required. Otherwise this button is grayed out.
The company commonly uses its standalone apps with their smaller user bases as a testing ground for new features before they make their way into Facebook’s main application.
Facebook introduced voice functionality earlier this year in both its iOS and Android Messenger applications, beginning with a feature that allowed users to send one-minute voice messages. At that same time, it was also testing an option for open source VoIP calling between Canadian iOS Messenger users that worked over a data plan, before introducing it to the U.S. market a couple of weeks later.
With voice calling, it’s notable that Facebook has not been building on top of its existing Skype partnership, which in the past had powered a voice calling test on Facebook’s desktop site.
More importantly, the move is pitting Facebook against the phone’s default calling application, as Josh Constine pointed out last month. Because people’s Facebook networks tend to represent their real-world friendships and connections – meaning those people they’re likely to jump on the phone with – Facebook is in a position to actually have an impact in terms of reducing the number of voice minutes a person needs to have on their calling plan.
It would also provide Facebook with another piece of data about its users, by informing the network who a user’s “real” friends are. That can help it refine its relevancy algorithms for everything from the News Feed to ads and even to Facebook’s newly launched Graph Search.
The updated iOS app is available now in iTunes. The feature has not yet arrived on Android, however, but is likely on the way given the earlier testing.
Today Microsoft announced that its Outlook.com webmail service has crossed the 60 million user mark, just over six months into its life. Also, Microsoft has removed the ‘preview’ tag from the service, and confirmed plans for a massive advertising campaign that will coincide with the start of forced migration of Hotmail users to the new product.
In short, Outlook.com is leaving its early days behind, as in the eyes of Microsoft it is ready for full-time usage, and thus the firm can finally ax the Hotmail product as a relic from a previous era.
Here are the key usership milestones for Outlook.com, to put the 60 million figure into perspective:
Calculating the rate of growth between August 14th and November 27th yields a pace of 142,857 members per day. The service grew at 421,686 members per day from November 27th through February 18th. Microsoft called this rate acceleration ‘great to see,’ but in line with its expectations; as the company has released advertising campaigns, and given users the ability to switch over, so seeing such activity wasn’t a surprise.
The company intends to double down on growing Outlook.com both organically and through external promotion. Starting tomorrow – time zone depending – the firm has a large, pervasive advertising campaign planned. Until now, ads for Outlook.com were focused on tech folks; you may have seen those ads, and if so, you are a nerd.
However, the new push will include cable and broadcast television, and other mediums including ‘out of home’ promotions. Microsoft is investing heavily to ensure that it’s well received, but yet the nascent email project does not stutter in its march towards a nine figure user base.
The high card in Outlook.com’s pocket is that Hotmail, a long-standing and suffering service, has a userbase in the hundreds of millions – Microsoft refuses to be more specific – providing it with a bucket of users that it can quickly sponge to its roster, and thus become a true giant in short order.
The move of Hotmail users to Outlook.com will be utterly done by ‘summer.’ However, the full rate by which users will be shunted over isn’t perfectly clear, as the company intends to watch certain performance indicators to help guide the speed of the transition.
The preview is over. The period of waiting is at an end. The pieces are moving.
Before the move to whack Messenger and scoot its userbase – now under 100 million actives – was announced, Outlook.com had integration as a feature with the old IM tool. Now, with Messenger becoming a Skype vassal before it is subsumed entirely, Skype will take its place inside of the webmail service.
Even better, video chat will be possible, bringing Skype to the web in new ways.
Outlook.com is a sleeper hit for Microsoft, a company in need of some good news on the consumer Internet service front. When it breaches the 100 million active user mark, I’m sure Microsoft will shout loud enough for us all to hear.
Top Image Credit: Alec Perkins
Go here to see the original: As Outlook.com passes 60m users, Microsoft drops preview tag and preps ad push to kill Hotmail
That Messenger will be subsumed into the Skype product is old news. Today, Microsoft detailed the calendar by which the company will shift the tens of millions of Messneger users to the communications platform that it spent north of $6 billion to acquire.
Microsoft declined to be more specific on the userbase of Messenger. However, it is more than willing to be explicit on just how large Skype has grown: it now has more has more than 280 million “monthly active users.”
The software giant will commence moving the Messenger userbase to Skype, sans the ability to say no, on April 8th. Clients that are English-based are up first for migration. The process will conclude with the what the firm described as “Brazilian Portuguese” on April 30th at the earliest.
Microsoft is moving in broad strokes to cut down on its product diversity in situations where there is overlap; just as Hotmail users will be shunted to Outlook.com, so too are Messenger users being transferred to Skype.
Given that Microsoft has failed to describe the Messenger userbase as ‘north of 100 million,’ its notes on its usership falling into the tens of millions range, it is all but obvious that the service has fallen below the 9 figure active user figure. However, the influx of Messenger users will provide a material boost to Skype.
Messenger has suffered, given that analysis, from a sharp usership contraction in the past few months. Microsoft felt safe describing the service as having more than 100 million active users as recently has November. Quite obviously, that figure is falling fast.
For fun, let us math:
Assuming a Messenger userbase of 80 million, assuming a 60% functional transfer in that six of out every ten moved users becomes active on the new service, Skype could grow by 17% overnight.
The headlines have been plain. As Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica noted recently, following its growth, Skype now accounts for an equivalent of one third of “global phone traffic.”
Microsoft wants that portion to grow. Skype gets Messenger just as Microsoft got Skype. The following piece of this equation is just how loud the whining will be among Messenger users. We’ll see.
Top Image Credit: Chris Potter
Facebook is getting stingier about giving data to startups that don’t share content back to it. At least, that’s how it’s describing its decision to cut off a voice messaging app that it has recently begun competing against.
Yesterday, Facebook told voice messaging startup Voxer it will cut off the app’s access to Facebook’s “Find Friends” data citing its policy on competing social networks. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed with me that it will enforce this on apps that use its data to bootstrap growth but don’t contribute anything.
Voxer CEO Tom Katis tells us that it was contacted by Facebook on January 17th to say its Find Friends data access would be turned off 48 hours later. That will prevent Voxer from helping you auto-follow your Facebook friends when you join the service, which makes sure you have someone to chat with right away. Katis says Facebook stated that it views Voxer, whose walkie-talkie app has a couple tens of millions of users, as a “competitive social network.”
Voxer disagrees. It doesn’t view its product as a direct competitor of Facebook’s social network or Facebook Messenger — it’s been live with Facebook more than a year without any issue, after all. Instead, Voxer tells us its “unique, patent-protected technology enables live, push-to-talk functionality combined with the benefits of a messaging application” but isn’t trying to be a wider social network.
That may be why Voxer thought it was safe from Facebook’s Platform Policy, which states:
“Competing social networks: (a) You may not use Facebook Platform to export user data into a competing social network without our permission; (b) Apps on Facebook may not integrate, link to, promote, distribute, or redirect to any app on any other competing social network.”
But late last month, Facebook added voice messaging to its standalone Messenger app. Then this week it rolled out VoIP calling to Messenger for iOS. Facebook seems to be getting very serious about voice messaging and taking on your telephone. Voxer similarly reduces your need for a home phone, or apps like Skype. This means Voxer qualifies as a competitor. But why single out Voxer when there are plenty of apps that vaguely compete with Facebook?
Facebook has its own explanation of the Voxer block.
Users do have the option to post an audio message they’ve Voxed over to Facebook, but since Voxer conversations are private, people rarely do. Also, the option is mostly buried. I couldn’t find it until I looked through Voxer’s help documents. If you slide left a previously sent message, it reveals a share button that lets you post your message to Facebook, Twitter, SMS, or email. That means Voxer is pulling way more data from Facebook than it’s giving back.
If a startup shares back content such as photos or Open Graph stories, Facebook says they’ll be free to use its Find Friends Data. I believe that’s because Facebook can monetize that content with news feed ads.
If an app doesn’t share anything back, a spokesperson tells me it will only be able to use Facebook’s login system. They said Facebook won’t be asserting its vague “competing social network” policy more broadly than that, and it considers non-contributors to be a small class of apps – including Voxer.
Voxer’s Katis responded to Facebook’s explanation by saying the policy is hypocritical. He believes Facebook either wants Voxer to share more, which would make it more of a competing social network but more of a contributor, or Facebook wants Voxer to use its data less. (In which case, why was Voxer in the clear for a year, and why have a developer platform in the first place?)
This new policy is hugely problematic for startups in the messaging space, though, as they primarily deal with private conversations. What would they share back to Facebook that wouldn’t violate that privacy? Obviously who you message with and what you say shouldn’t become news feed stories.
If you look at Facebook’s wide breadth of features, there’s likely tons of startups that could be considered “competitors” and don’t have anything to share. If they get hit with similar Find Friends cut-offs, it will be much harder for them to gain traction. Recreating your social graph manually via email addresses on every new app you use is a huge pain and could deter people from finishing on-boarding or ever discovering the value of a non-Facebook social app.
There’s similarities here to Twitter’s recent policy changes. It ceased giving open access to tweets and required those that use them to reproduce them faithfully. It too was sick of others coining off its hard work; like Facebook, it also promised one thing to developers then did something different.
Facebook is a public company, and it’s not going to act like a charity anymore. You could say Facebook had no obligation to be so generous in the first place. Unfortunately, though, in Facebook’s push to be the way the world connects, it’s about to make other apps less social.
Eric Eldon contributed to this article.