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Weekly Web Watch: How Facebook Will Change the Conversation


Look for the company to make a statement with an acquisition that strengthens its hold in a mobile world.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Facebook (FB) is just not into spin. That's the only conclusion possible from the deafening silence in Palo Alto since its IPO belly-flopped, to loud boos for all involved. But there are signs that they're not just hiding under their desks out there. It looks like they're working on a conversation-changer, and they know it had better be positive news about Facebook for mobile device users.

Reports emerged over the Memorial Day weekend that Facebook is working in three distinct areas to improve its ability to insert itself into the mobile computing experience. Success in all three might even add up to a cohesive mobile strategy. The evident lack of such a strategy was perhaps the key criticism of potential investors, especially those who attended the Facebook pre-IPO road show.

The three areas:
1. Facebook is working on a phone: Reports have emerged, not for the first time, that the company is working on its own branded and Facebook-centric feature phone. This time, it sounds serious. The work is reportedly being done in partnership with Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC. The internal team includes several hires from the Apple (AAPL) iPhone team, according to the New York Times. It even has a project code-name: Buffy, because the company is hoping for a Google (GOOG) Android phone slayer. More prosaically, it needs a mobile platform that works elegantly with Facebook, period, to avoid criticism that the move to mobile computing could leave it in the dust.

2. Facebook is negotiating to buy is the Israeli company that created Photo Tagger, the facial-recognition app for Facebook used to scan online photo albums for friends. The report originated in a Hebrew-language news site, but PCWorld points out that already has a mobile product, an Apple applet called KliK that identifies and tags faces as photos are uploaded. This might not sound mission-critical, but updating by photo could appeal more often to more people than updating by text entry, a tedious process on phones.

3. Facebook wants to buy Opera: Unless another contender emerges soon, Google Chrome could become the default mobile browser, with all the advantages that implies for anchoring the user to Google products. Facebook wants to be that contender. The obvious acquisition candidate is Opera Software (OPESF.PK), Norwegian owner of the fifth-largest browser out there. In fact, it may be the only browser that is even theoretically available for acquisition. Its market share is hard to pin down, but Opera appears to have only a fraction of worldwide browser use, and a larger though declining share of mobile browser use, which it once dominated.

Web Watch In Brief:

PayPal Gains Offline Locations
eBay's (EBAY) PayPal unit has stepped up its game in the mobile payments competition by signing up 15 big retailers for its in-store payments system. The retailers include Toys R Us, JC Penney (JCP), Foot Locker (FL), and Jamba Juice (JMBA). Home Depot (HD) began accepting PayPal in January.

President David Marcus told Reuters that the unit hopes to bring its total signups of major store chains to 20 by the end of this year.

The company also is rolling out a project to bring PayPal to small-business retailers through a partnership with ShopKeep, an iPad app for merchants.

Amazon Expands Its Catalog
Amazon (AMZN) has just expanded its online stock by thousands of additional items, all of them low-cost products like a bar of soap or a jar of paprika. Apparently, it just figured out a way to do that without losing its shirt on shipping costs.

The new "Add-On Program" offers customers free shipping if they toss one or more "Add-On" items into the cart to bring their total purchase over the $25 mark. For Amazon Prime members, the new "Add-On" stock will ship free if combined with items that are Prime-eligible for a $25 total.
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