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Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter: Web Giants Make Unexpected Announcements


Google gets a conversation going, Twitter expands advertising options, and more.

Considering that this is May, a surprising number of new initiatives and unpredicted announcements have just been dropped by several Tech companies. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Twitter both have ambitious new features. Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) made yet another acquisition. And Facebook (NASDAQ:FB)... well, Facebook got a big smack in the face, and took it rather gracefully.

Twitter Aims to 'Amplify' TV Commercials

Twitter is beta testing a new service that allows its clients to deliver advertising to just those people who are simultaneously watching and tweeting about television programming the clients are sponsoring. The company said the advertising is intended to "complement and amplify" the message of on-air commercials.

The ads on Twitter will be delivered while the program is still in progress, with the help of new dashboard functions for the advertisers' digital staff.

The company credits its own recent acquisition Bluefin Labs for the technology.

Initial participants reportedly include Major League Baseball, BBC America, Fox (NASDAQ:NWS) and Time-Warner (NYSE:TWX)

Conversationally Speaking on Google

Google may occasionally shoot itself in the foot with that famously minimalist design. It turns out that the little dingus on the far right of the home page search field is a microphone icon, and if you click on it you can just speak a question. The icon apparently has been there for about two years now.

Anyway, there's a good reason to check it out now. With a new upgrade, the conversation goes both ways, and it gets smarter. That is, if a precise answer is found, rather than a selection of possible matches, the answer is delivered by a pleasant little voice while more extensive related information is displayed.

Most impressively, follow-up questions can be asked in natural speech, without repeating the context. For instance, if you ask about the best restaurants in Union Square, New York, you can follow up by asking "How do I get there?"

The functionality is a bit hit or miss right now, but presumably will improve over time. For starters, it's available only on desktops, not on mobile, and only with the latest version of Google Chrome.

Microsoft Kinect Will Do Windows

Voice and gesture sensors will be available for users of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 operating system sometime next year, the company said. The added functionality is based on the next generation of the Kinect motion sensor, to be released later this year with the company's new Xbox game console.

At this point, the company does not expect Kinect to replace or even augment the mouse at home. The gadget for the PC will be marketed to businesses to add some interactive pizzazz to applications like in-store demos.

At $250, the PC version is priced at $150 higher than the gamers' version, which is discounted to boost content sales.

Japan Gets Square

The mobile payments service Square is expanding to Japan, its first foray outside North America, with local partner Sumitomo Mitsui Card Corp. (NYSE:SMFG).

The company may have its work cut out for itself there, as three-fourths of Japanese small businesses don't accept credit cards at all, according to the Wall Street Journal. eBay's (NASDAQ:EBAY) PayPal mobile payments system is already available in Japan, as are some local products.

Square will charge a 3.25% transaction fee in Japan, although it charges 2.75% in the US PayPal's fee is 5%.

Facebook Stays Home

In the face of negative feedback from early users, Facebook has announced it will delay the rollout of its Facebook Home mobile app in the UK and France for several months. The company will retool the feature.

Considered critical to its strategy for mobile success, Facebook Home replaces the phone's standard home screen with a Facebook feed. It is pre-installed on some Android phones, and can be downloaded from Google Play.

In fact, feedback on Google Play was an early sign that this launch was not going well. More than half the 18,000-plus customer reviewers awarded the feature the lowest one-star rating, and its average rating works out to 2.3 out of five stars.

The company said it would incorporate "a lot of great feedback" to retool the app. The company indicated a delay of a few months.

Yahoo Buys PlayScale

It's not quite as flashy as the Tumblr purchase, but Yahoo just made yet another acquisition that could gain it a little credibility among the techy crowd. It has purchased PlayerScale, a fast-growing startup that provides tools for game developers.

PlayerScale claims to power games played by 150 million people, and to be growing by 400,000 users a day.

See also:

Google and NASA Make Quantum Leap With New Computer

Xbox One and PS4: New Consoles Are Nice, but New Gamers Would Be Even Better

The Tesla Model S Is the New Toyota Prius
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