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October 04 2013

Lebanese Jihadis and syria : Waiting For a Victor

Lebanese #Jihadis and #syria: Waiting For a Victor
http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/lebanese-jihadis-and-syria-waiting-victor

http://english.al-akhbar.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/4cols/leading_images/323359-01-08.jpg

A picture dated 18 September 2013 shows Abu Mohammed, an imam from the Liwa al-Tawhid rebel group, leading a prayer with his comrades in the Old city of Aleppo on 18 September 2013. (Photo: AFP - Jm Lopez) A picture dated 18 September 2013 shows Abu Mohammed, an imam from the Liwa al-Tawhid rebel group, leading a prayer with his comrades in the Old city of Aleppo on 18 September 2013. (Photo: AFP - Jm Lopez)

The differences (...)

#Lebanon #Articles #ISIS #Jabhat_al-Nusra

September 13 2013

syria : Al-Qaeda Looking for Local Mujahideen

#syria: Al-Qaeda Looking for Local Mujahideen
http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/syria-al-qaeda-looking-local-mujahideen

http://english.al-akhbar.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/4cols/leading_images/163625-01-08.jpg

Rebel fighters aim their weapons during fighting against Syrian government forces on 7 September 2013 in Syria’s eastern town of Deir Ezzor. (Photo: AFP - Ricardo Garcia Vilanovoa) Rebel fighters aim their weapons during fighting against Syrian government forces on 7 September 2013 in Syria’s eastern town of Deir Ezzor. (Photo: AFP - Ricardo Garcia Vilanovoa)

The number of foreigners flocking to fight in Syria is on the (...)

#Mideast_&_North_Africa #Al-Nusra_Front #Articles #ISIS

January 10 2013

Commerce Weekly: Isis Wallet/NFC payments struggle for a foothold

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

NFC-enabled Cashwrap case equips iPhone with Isis

At the 2013 International CES this week, Incipio and AT&T announced the launch of Cashwrap, an NFC-enabled iPhone case that equips iPhones with the Isis Wallet, currently only available for NFC-compatible Android phones. According to a post at 9to5Mac, the case will be available in March and will cost $59.99 to $69.99.

9to5Mac shot a short video of the product from the CES show floor (the Cashwrap representative mistakenly indicates the case will support iPhone 5 — at launch, it will support iPhone 4 and 4S):

When Isis launched in October, some questioned the viability of the payment platform and whether or not it was addressing a real problem. In a report at Consumer Reports, Jeff Blyskal concluded: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.” Now, on top of the complexity and questionable convenience of NFC payment, iPhone users must not only attach an appendage to the phone, but fork over a not-so-insignificant amount of cash — all for a payment platform that’s only available in Salt Lake City and Austin, and only at select retailers.

At Telecoms.com, Elliott Holley covered a recent report by financial research firm Celent that says the issues NFC payment technology has faced thus far are only going to be compounded in 2013 and that NFC payment solutions will be overshadowed — perhaps ultimately replaced — by cloud-based wallets. Celent senior analyst and author of the report Zilvanas Bareisis told Holley that not only is using the technology still much more difficult than swiping a credit card, but in markets such as the U.S., “the infrastructure bill is huge and convincing retailers and merchants is difficult.”

Holley highlights a key insight from the Celent report:

“Part of the problem for NFC digital wallets is that while the physical POS world is dominated by cards and the mobile equivalent is to have payment credentials inside the phone and sent to the POS via NFC, the online world is dominated by cloud-based wallets such as PayPal. That makes it difficult to bridge the online-offline convergence of customers who use their mobiles while shopping to read product reviews, compare prices and order online, or pick up an item from a local store, according to Celent.”

Target goes all-in with its price match strategy

Target announced this week that it would bring its holiday strategy against Amazon to the overall retail battle — the big-box retailer will now price match online retailers year-round. According to the press release, in addition to Amazon, Target will price match its own online site, Walmart.com, Bestbuy.com and Toysrus.com.

Best Buy implemented the same strategy against Amazon during the holiday season. There’s no news yet on whether Best Buy’s policy also will be continued year-round, but on a visit to Best Buy January 5, the retailer price matched a Bluetooth wireless speaker for me, using a product search of Amazon from my iPhone. Some are calling this tactic an all-in bet that can’t be won, but in the short-term anyway, consumers sure are winning.

App aims to make products the new point of sale

Bridging the gap between print advertising and online/mobile retail is something of a holy grail in the commerce space — being able to buy a product straight from a traditional print ad, for instance. PayPal recently experimented with such an endeavor, partnering with The West Australian daily newspaper to incorporate QR codes into print ads, allowing readers to purchase items on the spot by scanning the code. But what if you could skip the added complexity layer of a QR code? That’s what German startup Shopgate is aiming to offer. The app, profiled by Will M at SocialTimes this week, allows consumers to simply scan the product in the ad and, according to the product website, buy it in two clicks. Will M describes how it works:

“Shopgate enables consumers [to] take pictures of print ads and then purchase products within them using their phone. Product tagging works without QR codes — similar to how Facebook identifies your friends in pictures and suggests them for tags. People touch the product tags, put the items into shopping carts and then purchase products via a mobile storefront.”

Will M reports that the company’s vision is to provide “everywhere commerce,” and says “Shopgate executives say ‘Products as POS’ (Point of Sale) is the future of mobile commerce.” According to his report, the app works with product companies and retailers alike, and so far has 800 merchant partners. In addition to product tagging from print ads, the app also works with QR codes and UPC codes.

The German company plans to expand to the U.S. market early this year. You can watch a demo of the app in the following video.

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Commerce Weekly: Isis Wallet/NFC payments struggle for a foothold

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

NFC-enabled Cashwrap case equips iPhone with Isis

At the 2013 International CES this week, Incipio and AT&T announced the launch of Cashwrap, an NFC-enabled iPhone case that equips iPhones with the Isis Wallet, currently only available for NFC-compatible Android phones. According to a post at 9to5Mac, the case will be available in March and will cost $59.99 to $69.99.

9to5Mac shot a short video of the product from the CES show floor (the Cashwrap representative mistakenly indicates the case will support iPhone 5 — at launch, it will support iPhone 4 and 4S):

When Isis launched in October, some questioned the viability of the payment platform and whether or not it was addressing a real problem. In a report at Consumer Reports, Jeff Blyskal concluded: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.” Now, on top of the complexity and questionable convenience of NFC payment, iPhone users must not only attach an appendage to the phone, but fork over a not-so-insignificant amount of cash — all for a payment platform that’s only available in Salt Lake City and Austin, and only at select retailers.

At Telecoms.com, Elliott Holley covered a recent report by financial research firm Celent that says the issues NFC payment technology has faced thus far are only going to be compounded in 2013 and that NFC payment solutions will be overshadowed — perhaps ultimately replaced — by cloud-based wallets. Celent senior analyst and author of the report Zilvanas Bareisis told Holley that not only is using the technology still much more difficult than swiping a credit card, but in markets such as the U.S., “the infrastructure bill is huge and convincing retailers and merchants is difficult.”

Holley highlights a key insight from the Celent report:

“Part of the problem for NFC digital wallets is that while the physical POS world is dominated by cards and the mobile equivalent is to have payment credentials inside the phone and sent to the POS via NFC, the online world is dominated by cloud-based wallets such as PayPal. That makes it difficult to bridge the online-offline convergence of customers who use their mobiles while shopping to read product reviews, compare prices and order online, or pick up an item from a local store, according to Celent.”

Target goes all-in with its price match strategy

Target announced this week that it would bring its holiday strategy against Amazon to the overall retail battle — the big-box retailer will now price match online retailers year-round. According to the press release, in addition to Amazon, Target will price match its own online site, Walmart.com, Bestbuy.com and Toysrus.com.

Best Buy implemented the same strategy against Amazon during the holiday season. There’s no news yet on whether Best Buy’s policy also will be continued year-round, but on a visit to Best Buy January 5, the retailer price matched a Bluetooth wireless speaker for me, using a product search of Amazon from my iPhone. Some are calling this tactic an all-in bet that can’t be won, but in the short-term anyway, consumers sure are winning.

App aims to make products the new point of sale

Bridging the gap between print advertising and online/mobile retail is something of a holy grail in the commerce space — being able to buy a product straight from a traditional print ad, for instance. PayPal recently experimented with such an endeavor, partnering with The West Australian daily newspaper to incorporate QR codes into print ads, allowing readers to purchase items on the spot by scanning the code. But what if you could skip the added complexity layer of a QR code? That’s what German startup Shopgate is aiming to offer. The app, profiled by Will M at SocialTimes this week, allows consumers to simply scan the product in the ad and, according to the product website, buy it in two clicks. Will M describes how it works:

“Shopgate enables consumers [to] take pictures of print ads and then purchase products within them using their phone. Product tagging works without QR codes — similar to how Facebook identifies your friends in pictures and suggests them for tags. People touch the product tags, put the items into shopping carts and then purchase products via a mobile storefront.”

Will M reports that the company’s vision is to provide “everywhere commerce,” and says “Shopgate executives say ‘Products as POS’ (Point of Sale) is the future of mobile commerce.” According to his report, the app works with product companies and retailers alike, and so far has 800 merchant partners. In addition to product tagging from print ads, the app also works with QR codes and UPC codes.

The German company plans to expand to the U.S. market early this year. You can watch a demo of the app in the following video.

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October 25 2012

Commerce Weekly: Square’s big moves

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Square gets international, plans major growth; PayPal Here hits retail

Square made a couple of big move announcements this week. First, the company literally will move to a new office space in the Central Market area of San Francisco by mid-2013, according to a report by Leena Rao at TechCrunch. Rao notes that the company has grown to more than 400 employees and reports Square plans to expand its staff to almost 1,000 people before the end of 2013.

Square also announced this week that its service is now available in Canada, at the same 2.75% rate it charges in the U.S., according to a report by Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch. Lunden reports one of the obstacles for Square in Canadian as well as European markets is that its dongle depends on the magnetic stripe on the backs of credit cards; many credit card processes in these markets use a chip-and-pin system instead.

The obstacle isn’t insurmountable, however, as Lunden notes, Square’s partnership with Starbucks to incorporate its Pay With Square app service as a mode of payment might pave the way forward with retailers in other markets, making the card processing format irrelevant.

Square competitor PayPal Here was on the move this week as well — into retail shopping. Rao reports in a separate post at TechCrunch that PayPal CEO John Donahoe announced a U.S. retail deal with AT&T during eBay’s earning call this week. PayPal Here previously had a retail presence only in Japan with Softbank. Rao reports that Here will retail for $15, with the purchaser receiving a $15 discount upon signing up; Square is sold in 20,000 outlets in the U.S. and sells for $10, with a $10 purchaser sign-up discount, Rao reports.

Let the mobile payment testing begin

The long-awaited Isis mobile wallet began testing this week in Austin and Salt Lake City markets. Stephanie Mlot reports at PC Magazine that compatible phones at launch include Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S Relay 4G, and Galaxy S II on T-Mobile; the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE on Verizon, with Motorola Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD support coming yet this week; and the Samsung Galaxy S III, the HTC One X, the Samsung Exhilarate, the LG Escape, and the Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro on AT&T.

Mlot also reports that T-Mobile customers can get $10 in Isis eCash if they visit a brick-and-mortar location and activate the application. At launch, Isis works with Chase, Capitol One, Barclaycard, American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discover credit cards.

As to Isis’ success, a report at Consumer Reports says services like Isis are solving “a non-existent problem” and concludes: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.”

Apple also announced this week that it too soon would be testing a mobile payment solution in a limited market — its own retail stores. Mark Gurman reports at 9to5Mac that Apple is preparing to update its point of sale system to scan Apple Store payment card codes through Passbook. The payment system update could be ready as early as the end of this month. Jordan Golson writes at MacRumors that though it’s not confirmed, it’s possible in-store customers also will be able to pay for any merchandise using their iTunes account information; thus far, only select accessories have been available for purchase through Apple’s EasyPay self-checkout system.

Google Wallet on the iPhone?

Business Insider’s Owen Thomas was paying close attention this week, noting the “The next version of Google Wallet, coming soon” statement at the top of Google’s Wallet homepage, with an option for visitors to request an invite. Thomas reports that when he requested the invite, he was prompted to select the type of device he uses: iPhone, Android, or “other.”

Ryan Kim at GigaOm agrees with Thomas’ assertion that this likely suggests Google is looking to expand its purview beyond Android phones and into iPhones and “others,” but notes it really could mean anything. Kim writes:

“It could mean that Google may be pursuing a more cloud-based approach to payments that doesn’t require NFC for transactions. Or Google Wallet could integrate with Apple’s Passbook or evolve to support QR codes or 2D barcodes, which is how Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts handle mobile payments. Or it could just mean Google wants to know how many iPhone users are interested in Google Wallet.”

You can sign up for an invite here.

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October 18 2012

Commerce Weekly: Targeting Amazon

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Strategic maneuvers aimed at Amazon

Best Buy LogoBest Buy LogoRetail competition against Amazon is starting to heat up coming into the holiday shopping season. On the heels of Wal-Mart’s recent moves to square off against Amazon, two other big box brick-and-mortar retailers have announced strategies targeting the Internet retail giant.

Ann Zimmerman reports at The Wall Street Journal that Best Buy not only will price match with Amazon this holiday season, but will also offer free delivery for products that are out of stock. Target has its sights set against Amazon as well. In a report on Target’s planned holiday strategy, Natalie Zmuda at AgeAge notes that tactics include “a price-match guarantee against a group of competitors that includes popular online retailers such as Amazon.” Target also is using QR codes in its holiday campaign to combat “showrooming” on the top 20 selling toys.

In somewhat related news, the US Post Office also is making moves into the e-commerce market. Victoria Stilwell reports at Bloomberg that starting in November, the US Post Office will begin testing its same-day delivery program, called Metro Post, in the San Francisco market. The service is aimed at local physical retailers, which could in turn give them a leg up against Internet retailers like Amazon. Stilwell reports that to participate in the Metro Post test, retailers need 10 or more physical locations throughout the US, with one or more within the test market boundaries.

Square exits taxis

New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) spokesman Allan Fromberg this week unequivocally dismissed rumors from last week that Square was negotiating an official partnership with TLC, alongside news that Square has ended its pilot payment program with the TLC.

Garett Sloane at The New York Post reports that a letter (PDF) sent by Square’s general counsel Dana Wagner to the TLC on Friday “indicated that [Square] needed to overhaul its payment system in light of new rules the commission is drafting to govern credit-card payments in cabs.” Wagner writes in the letter:

“Square has determined, in light of developments in prospective taxicab regulations in New York and other markets, and based on what we have learned conducting the Pilot Program to date, that we wish to pursue a different hardware and software solution for our TPEP [taxicab passenger enhancement project] offering. It would be commercially unreasonable for Square to pursue a new hardware and software solution for a future TPEP offering while at the same time continue to support the software and hardware solution we rolled out in the Pilot Program.”

Ryan Kim at GigaOm says it’s likely that Square will continue working on a taxi-payment product, quoting Wagner’s letter: “… Square looks forward to further improving our product and making commerce and transportation easier for millions of riders and drives in New York and around the country.”

In other Square news, company CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Square would no longer refer to its customers as “users” and appealed to others in the technology industry to follow suit. He writes in a blog post: “The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business.” His post includes a letter he sent to his team that explained: “We don’t have users, we have customers we earn. They deserve our utmost respect, focus, and service.”

Isis is gearing up for launch

Google Wallet competitor Isis is finally gearing up to launch its wallet, after a series of delays this summer. The company confirmed it would officially launch in the Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah markets October 22.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles reports at Wired that the Isis mobile app has shown up in Google Play, but notes that the Wired team had yet to find a compatible phone. Isis head of marketing Jaymee Johnson told Olivarez-Giles, “By year end, as many as 20 Isis-ready handsets are expected to be in market …We look forward to sharing more details on Oct. 22.” Those details likely will include partnering retailers as well. Isis announced partners in May, but as Olivarez-Giles notes, it’s not yet clear which ones will be part of the initial launch.

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May 17 2012

Commerce Weekly: Another mobile wallet is on the way

Here are a few stories from the commerce space that caught my attention this week.

Isis prepares its mobile wallet rollout

Isis-Mobile-Wallet.pngIsis Mobile Wallet had some big news this week. First, American Express officially got on board with the mobile payment platform. Damon Poeter at PCMag notes the announcement was something of a formality, as American Express joined the Isis Mobile Commerce Platform last year along with Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, but he writes: "... the credit card company did offer up specifics on which member accounts will be eligible for the Isis Mobile Wallet — namely, the U.S. Consumer, OPEN Small Business, and Serve cards."

On the heels of that announcement, Isis announced its initial rollout in Austin and Salt Lake City will begin this summer. According to the press release, the first of its local merchant partners includes "hundreds of merchant locations in both Austin and Salt Lake City," from bookstores to bakeries to pizza and burger joints. In addition to local partners, several national partners also were announced, including Aeropostale, The Coca-Cola Company, Champs, Dillard's, Foot Locker, Jamba Juice and Macy's. A list of partners can be found in the press release.

This is a step forward in the U.S. for mobile commerce, but in a post at Wired, Nathan Olivarez-Giles writes: "As for which smartphones will actually work with Isis, the mobile payments consortium is keeping mum." He also says not to "feel too bad for Google Wallet," Isis' main rival, as many of Isis' national partners have already signed on with Google Wallet.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Canada gets a mobile wallet

Canadian banks recently agreed on a new set of guidelines that support secure transactions using NFC chips. In a post at The Globe and Mail, Grant Robertson and Rita Trichur report that the new guidelines will "change the way Canadians pay for goods at retailers across the country" and will "open the door for partnerships between financial institutions and telecommunications companies to embed credit card and debit card information inside smartphones."

That door didn't need to be open long — almost immediately, Rogers Communications and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) announced a partnership to launch Canada's first mobile wallet. Alastair Sharp and Cameron French at Reuters report that the wallet will be available later this year. The mobile commerce technology situation in Canada is a step ahead of most Western countries, including the U.S. — as Sharp and French point out, Canadian retailers have broadly adopted the electronic reader equipment required to interact with NFC chips.

Rob Bruce, president of communications for Rogers, told Reuters "60 percent of Rogers' postpaid customers use a smartphone and that some 300,000 of those are already NFC-enabled." Bruce speculated that mobile wallets will be as common as cameras on smartphones within a few years. Robertson and Trichur at the Globe and Mail also note that "[s]ince most consumers upgrade their cellphones every 18 to 20 months, it is estimated that the majority of Canadians will have NFC-enabled smartphones by 2014."

Benefits of sharing may trump NFC privacy concerns

According to research conducted by Catapult, technology isn't the only holdup for U.S. mobile wallet adoption. EMarketer reports that "[91% of respondents to the Catapult survey] said they would worry about maintaining their privacy, including two-thirds who would be 'very concerned' about this."

Consumer privacy concerns may have a lot to do with the newness of the technology, however, and once consumers use it, they might find it more useful and convenient than worrisome. Kit Eaton at Fast Company argues that sharing your identity and a touch of personal information via NFC will lead to discovery and finding things you never knew you wanted. He says such sharing allows businesses to better understand and serve consumers:

"Picture a music festival in five years' time when instead of a wristband you'll wave your smartphone at a wireless portal, and an app you've pre-set to share particular pieces of personal info (perhaps age, gender, and so on) communicates with the festival's computer. In return it sends a promotional tweet and you'll get a free ringtone to promote the upcoming single of the band you're listening to or an invite to a streaming music service where the band has created a playlist of artists you might like."

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March 29 2012

Commerce Weekly: Google Wallet vs Isis is coming soon

Here's what caught my eye in commerce news this week.

Who's got the winning wallet?

Several recent articles have speculated about the coming competition between Google Wallet and the forthcoming mobile wallet from Isis, which is set to debut in tests in Austin and Salt Lake City this summer. Tech bloggers love a contest, and even though there's only one major player in this race so far, observers are handicapping the players before they even take the field.

MobilePaymentsToday.com ran a column comparing the merits of the two platforms in several categories. (Where was the massive infographic that we've all grown used to for this sort of thing?) Google took the prize in time-to-market (already out there, a little) and branding, while the nod went to Isis for building a solid ecosystem, with its support from three major U.S. wireless carriers and the top credit card networks and handset builders. Isis should also get the award for most imaginative and compelling demo video, based on the clip of Cyber Illusionist Marco Tempest at SXSW a few weeks ago (demo begins 15 seconds in, after the ad):



Of course, both of these plays depend on NFC wireless capability in phones, and while that's destined to ramp up soon, GigaOm reported that in 2011, NFC in the U.S. lagged far behind other regions. Of the 30 million NFC-capable handsets sold worldwide last year, about five million went to North America, 10 million went to Europe, and more than that went to Asia. Some mobile wallets, of course, don't rely on NFC: PayPal, for example, is getting ready to launch an updated version of its wallet that operates closer to the direct billing model, where you enter your mobile number on the retailer's keypad and then confirm when a text is sent to your mobile. PayPal's system is a bit less elegant than wireless tap and pay, but as we wrote a few weeks ago, it's ready now and available on any phone that supports texting.



We couldn't help notice that all this handicapping of the two most visible mobile wallets overlooked the potential of a third player that has yet to enter the arena. Only a few weeks ago, mobile payment geeks were abuzz about newly published patents from Apple that described a method for payment with credit cards that sends the receipt to the user's iTunes account. And since there are more than 200 million of those iTunes accounts (and 350 million iOS devices out there), that represents a significant installed user base that may be receptive to Apple's familiar interface applied to a mobile wallet. Those who think Apple is coming late to the party should be reminded that Apple has never had to be the first to a market to end up dominating it.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

In-app purchases continue to dominate

In-app purchase screenshotHere's more evidence that in-app purchases are driving most of the revenues in mobile apps. According to Inside Mobile Apps, Distimo, which specializes in tracking app store activity, reports that a majority of the top-grossing apps on iPad, iPhone and Android monetize with in-app purchases. The researcher found that, of the top 200 grossing apps in the iPad App Store, the iPhone App store, and the Google Play store in February, 74% of the iPad apps and 80% of the iPhone apps featured in-app purchases. The numbers are even more remarkable when taken with the additional insight that only 10% of all iPad apps and 6% of iPhone apps even offer in-app purchases. So, there appears to be an awful lot of iOS apps that aren't yet interested in playing in the winning game.

The number was lower on Android apps (56%). Inside Mobile Apps' Kathleen De Vere suggested that may be because Android has a shorter history with in-app purchases (only since last May) and, related, fewer Android apps offer in-app purchases.

The findings support other reports that have also suggested the superiority of the foot-in-the-door model, including one by Flurry Analytics last summer that found freemium emerging as the dominant model for generating revenue from mobile apps.

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If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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March 01 2012

Commerce Weekly: Small banks lagging in mobile

Here are some of the commerce stories that caught my attention this week.

Smaller banks lagging in mobile channel

Smaller financial institutions, which depend on a higher level of customer service to compete with the giants, are falling behind in the increasingly important mobile channel, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. Javelin says about 37% of customers at big banks use mobile banking, compared with only 21% at regional and community banks and only 15% at credit unions. Javelin's report suggests two reasons for this. First, community bank customers tend to be older, less well off, and less tech-savvy than customers at big banks. Second, big banks can invest more in online and mobile development and marketing, resulting in a better banking experience through those channels. (That's certainly been my experience: my attempts to switch to a smaller bank were thwarted by a virtually unusable online banking system, which drove me back into the warm and fuzzy interface of a cold financial giant.)

Some smaller financial institutions say they benefitted from the anti-big-bank sentiment of the past year, epitomized by Bank Transfer Day on Nov. 5, 2011. Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, for example, says its new membership was three times the normal rate last fall. But to keep that momentum going, Javelin suggests, financial institutions like Redwood will need to funnel some of their new income into development of these channels.

The report also found that mobile usage is beginning to surpass non-mobile online usage, even if those customers tap their accounts through a mobile browser. Most customers reach banks' mobile sites through a browser on their phone. However, at the largest banks, which tend to offer a "triple play," more customers use apps and SMS text instead of the browser.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

How Netflix improves its recommendations

One of the interesting presentations at O'Reilly's Strata conference this week was about how Netflix looks at its data to present recommendations of other shows members might like. Netflix streams 30 million shows a day. It has 5 billion ratings on those shows and collects another 4 million every day. Data scientist Xavier Amatriain discussed how Netflix uses the data from those ratings and other, more implicit data (including what people watch, which listings they mouse over to read, whether or not they finish programs) to offer recommendations that members will like enough to keep their accounts active, month after month.

Netflix gained a lot of attention a few years back with a broad open innovation initiative: it offered $1 million to anyone who could improve the Netflix recommendation engine by at least 10%. Amatriain said two teams tied for the prize with plans that improved the probability that Netflix could recommend shows that members would like based on their previous activities (though, he added, the cost of integrating those new recommendation engines into Netflix' system may have exceeded their value). Even so, since 75% of shows watched on Netflix's streaming service are based on recommendations, it's more important than ever to offer something that will draw viewers' interest.

Netflix queue example

The clues from all this data allow Netflix to present an array of recommendations to its members. First, there's a row of "top ten" most likely shows. Of course, as Amatriain pointed out, these recommendations are based on viewing history and clues of the entire membership household, not just one viewer. For example, when I log on, along with the thrillers and comedies that Netflix recommends to me, there's a fair amount of "Pretty Little Liars" and other teen dramas that my daughters might like. I used to wonder if this bizarre mix confused Netflix, but Amatriain's talk has reassured me that the company understands what's going on. Then, at a finer-grained level, there are "hyper genres" that Netflix can offer based on your track record: not just Kids Shows, but Goofy Kids Shows; not just Family Movies but Feel-good Father-Daughter Movies. Slicing the offerings narrowly improves the chances of a hit, and it's no accident that the single most likely recommendation is the first one in each row.

Of course, the main complaint Netflix receives (other than its new price structure, I would imagine) is, "why don't you have the show I want to watch?" Amatriain said the company also looks at implicit data to decide what new content to license. So when you search for a show that Netflix doesn't offer for streaming, it gets noted. I guess if you really want it to show up, keep searching for it.

Opera enters the payment fray, PayPal and Home Depot go nationwide

Mobile World Congress, the humongous European conference on all things mobile, is happening this week and everyone loosely connected to mobile payments seemed to time an announcement around it. Here are some of the more interesting announcements that have come down the PR wire from Barcelona:

  • Opera, whose Opera Mini browser has more than 160 million downloads, launched the Opera Payment Exchange (OPX). Opera says it wants to "democratize" the payment space by building a payment platform that works on more platforms and devices than Android and iOS smartphones. It says the OPX platform provides APIs that developers can use to integrate payment systems with the Opera Mini mobile browser.
  • PayPal and Home Depot said they would roll out nationwide the payment program they have been piloting in a handful of Bay Area stores over the past six weeks. The program is a significant step for PayPal, bringing its payment system offline and into the physical retail world. Customers can buy hardware and other stuff on their PayPal account, with a PayPal card or with a mobile number and PIN — no NFC required.
  • Isis, the mobile payments joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, announced more partners in its effort to build a payments ecosystem. Customers of Chase, CapitalOne, and BarclayCard will be able to load their payment information into Isis-compatible phones when they're ready. Isis secured deals with the top four credit card companies (or "payment networks" to use the parlance) last July; now it's making agreements with the banks ("issuers"). Isis is planning two pilots in 2012, in Austin and Salt Lake City, though it's not clear what phones the technology will be in by then.

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If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


Bank photo: Old Bank in Sunbury Village by Maxwell Hamilton, on Flickr

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December 15 2011

Commerce Weekly: Daily Show skewers freemium CEO

Here's what caught my eye in commerce news this week.

Daily Show corners gaming CEO on freemium

Poor Rizwan Virk. The co-founder and CEO of GameView Studios thought he was going to be featured as a new media visionary whose product (social games) contribute to a thriving virtual economy while the real one staggers on through an endless, grinding downturn. Instead, he found himself being skewered by Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi, who accused him of playing off children's emotional immaturity and propagating a business model that looked a lot like drug dealing. Fame, like the Daily Show's producers, plays by its own rules. Here's the segment:

The sneak attack on Virk centered around GameView's popular TapFish, which features a virtual aquarium where players feed virtual food to virtual fish. The game is free, but as with all freemium games, a small percentage of players choose to buy virtual goods (food, fish, accessories) to enhance it. Virk touted the model in the interview as a new approach that allows more people to play the game: "Traditionally, you had to go to a store and buy a $60 cartridge to play. In this new model, you can play games for free."

Mandvi then switched gears and reported on a family in Montpelier, Vermont, (though it's unclear whether this was a real family or actors) where the kids boasted about maxing out the dad's credit card buying virtual fish and fish food on an iTunes account. B-roll showed someone purchasing $99.99 of virtual fish — though Virk says most of the game's actual purchases are for less than $2.

Virk looked equal parts annoyed and confused as Mandvi accused him of pushing a model that lured people into the game and then exploited their addiction. "You provide a product, the first one is free," Mandvi said. "And then as they get accustomed to your product, the price rises. So you're a drug dealer." He then went on to accuse Virk of targeting kids as the dupes, exploiting their "undeveloped frontal cortex" and their desire to keep the fish alive at any cost.

Virk defended himself in a blog post the next day, saying he felt tricked because the Daily Show said it was producing a segment on the virtual goods, and Mandvi's "drug dealer" comments came near the end of four hours of recording. In the post, he pointed out that most purchases are for much less than the one shown during the interview and that all purchases require the buyer to enter their iTunes password. But of course, far fewer people will read his post than see the Daily Show bit.

The report was an unusual attack on the increasingly popular freemium model, which, as Flurry Analytics pointed out last summer, has become the dominant model for popular mobile games. Stories of kids overspending appear rare and anecdotal. I took a small survey on Facebook and Twitter for this post, asking parents how many of them shared their iTunes password with their kids. For the most part, that trust barrier seemed to break down along age lines, with parents of kids younger than about 8 or 9 not sharing the password, while parents of teens were more comfortable with sharing — especially if, as in one case, the child had set it up for them. That may be because at a certain age, kids are old enough to understand they're spending real money and that they're likely to lose the privilege if they abuse it. At least that's what happened to one of the kids in my mini poll: "[I shared the password] until he purchased a bunch of music with inappropriate content!"

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Isis taps NFC partner

ISISIsis, the mobile payment platform funded by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, said it has contracted with Dutch digital security company Gemalto to run the NFC platform on Isis-enabled phones. This means that Gemalto will manage the access to the secure NFC chip on Isis-enabled phones, saying in effect who can access the system for payment or other services.

The move is another step toward Isis' eventual rollout, which will be preceded by two tests planned for the first half of 2012 in Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah. Isis is emerging as a major competitor to Google Wallet, particularly in light of Verizon's recent decision not to allow Google Wallet to function on the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Nexus on Verizon's network. Verizon and Google say they're in discussions, but skeptics wondered if this might be the first of many blocks to come by the three carriers who support Isis.

Meanwhile, Bank Technology News (BTN) reported that Google Wallet may be planning to roll out a larger demo in London in the first months of 2012, ahead of the Summer Olympics. BTN said that Visa, the payments sponsor of the Olympics, is likely to be part of that trial. Thus far, Google Wallet has been limited only to Nexus owners on the Sprint network who have a MasterCard through Citibank. The London trial is likely to be widespread, reaching more handset owners and, presumably, far more merchants.

Consumers: Make it easier for us to spend

Survey results released this week offer the counter-intuitive finding that consumers might be more comfortable with mobile payments than they are with credit cards. Javelin Strategy & Research conducted the survey that found that (not surprisingly) consumers don't like having to key in 16-digit credit card numbers to buy stuff online. They would be more comfortable with direct carrier-billed mobile payment, which requires only a mobile number and a pin. Those charges then show up on a mobile carrier bill. The survey was commissioned by Payment One — a direct carrier-billed mobile payment provider.

More than half of the 2,000 consumers who took the survey said they've abandoned shopping carts before checking out because of security concerns, and four out of five said they would spend more money online if it were easier and more secure. In the report, Javelin said this could all add up to an additional $110 billion in new revenue for merchants in the U.S. each year. Payment One is just one of several vendors willing to step in to help merchants reach that number, recognizing that 14 numbers is a lot easier to key in than 16, particularly when 10 of those digits are your mobile phone number.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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December 08 2011

Commerce Weekly: Verizon drops Google Wallet

Here's what caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Verizon to Google: Leave your Wallet at home

VerizonVerizon's decision not to support Google Wallet in a new NFC-enabled phone renewed concerns that the mobile payments landscape is in for a long turf battle. Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, an Android-powered phone in all other respects, won't support Google Wallet on Verizon because, the carrier says, Google Wallet differs from other apps in that it interacts not only with the operating system but also with "a new and proprietary hardware element in our phones" — presumably, the NFC chip.

Few thought that was the whole story: the consensus among observers was that Verizon won't ship Google Wallet because it's one of the founding partners of Isis, a competing mobile-wallet solution. Isis isn't on any phones yet, but it's planning trials in Austin and Salt Lake City later this year. Verizon teamed up with fellow telecoms AT&T and T-Mobile, along with Barclaycard US and Discover Financial Services to launch the Isis effort last autumn. Since then, Isis has signed agreements with the other major credit card services to collaborate on development.

ZDNet's James Kendrick said it's not just about Isis, but about how much Google should pay to reach a new, large pool of customers: "Google will have to pay Verizon to play." And besides, Kendrick wrote, Google has a deal with Sprint right now — though it's going to be a long, cold winter for Google if that agreement keeps it off the other major carriers.

This fragmentation is likely to be the case for a while, noted Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic. Mobile wallets are probably fine for enthusiasts and early adopters, but mainstream shoppers won't take it too seriously until they know they can use their mobile wallets in most of the places they go. "[W]e won't leave our wallets at home until we get a cord-cutting equivalent," Greenfield wrote. "For now, users either have to load a smorgasbord of mobile payment apps, or settle for the current half-hearted solutions."


X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Crooks take swipe-and-pay literally

In a reminder that unattended payment points — such as pay-at-the-pump terminals, ATMs, and self-serve check-out lanes — are weak links in the payments security chain, shoppers at Lucky supermarkets in Northern California appear to be the victims of criminals who tampered with card readers to skim debit card and PIN data. As of Tuesday, police in Petaluma, Calif., had 112 reports from customers of the local Lucky who reported unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts.

SaveMart, Lucky's parent corporation based in Modesto, Calif., said on its website that it discovered breaches back on November 23 and replaced compromised card readers at 20 stores. Unfortunately, they missed a few stores, including the one in Petaluma.

It's not clear yet what method was used to skim the data and the PINs. BankInfoSecurity.com reports that there are several ways to capture the PIN, including compromising the PIN pad hardware inside the box. In that case, it's also possible that Bluetooth technology could be used to transmit data to a laptop in a car parked close outside. Michael's craft stores were hit by a similar breach last May, causing that company to replace 7,200 PIN pads.

"Criminals realize that retailers are understaffed to the point that swapping out a [point-of-sale terminal] will go unnoticed," McAfee consultant Robert Siciliano told BankInfoSecurity. "Once they determine the make and model of an easily swappable device, they target a chain they can easily comprise."

Starbucks succeeds with payments, moves on to augmented reality

Starbucks said it has processed more than 26 million transactions on its mobile app since launching it last January. The novelty effect appears not to have worn off: in the first nine weeks of the program, there were three million transactions. For the nine-week period starting in October, there were twice that number. The Starbucks app is a nice example of what's possible with lightweight payments when you have complete control of a closed-loop system. Customers can load up a Starbucks card by credit card online or at a store (with cash or credit). They can draw off that card's credit by clicking a button on the mobile app, which displays a barcode that Starbucks' cashiers scan to debit the card.

But payment is just one part of Starbucks' mobile strategy. In November, it introduced Cup Magic, an augmented-reality application that lets users interact with characters on its red holiday cups and on displays in its stores. After launching the associated iOS or Android app, you find drawings of the characters and view them with your phone's camera. The app identifies shapes in the characters and launches simple interactive animations, like snowflakes falling and the characters playing.

When I first read the release, I thought it was yet another way for customers to engage with their phones rather than anyone else in the store. But when my daughter and I went to a nearby Starbucks to try it out, just the opposite happened: a crowd of curious customers gathered around to see what we were laughing at. Some downloaded the app right away and began doing the same. The two cashiers, who were unaware of the app or the secret behind the character drawings, demanded to know what we were all doing. When we explained, they agreed it was pretty cool and helped us locate the other characters in the store. As we drove home with her hot chocolate, my daughter explained to me how each of those people in the store would probably go home and tell a few other people about what they saw at Starbucks this evening. I smiled and thought to myself: a viral marketer's dream.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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July 21 2011

ePayments Week: Is "0000" your passcode?

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Most common iPhone passcodes

Really bad passcodeOne of the obstacles to mobile commerce is the sense that it's not secure, but there's a dead-simple action that can make things a little tougher for the bad guys: consumers can choose original passcodes. App developer Daniel Amitay took a look 204,508 iPhone passcodes and found that the 10 most common ("1234," "0000," etc.) accounted for 15% of all passcodes. Amitay also found a whole lot of codes based on year dates from 1980 to the present. Number 3 on Amitay's list — the code "2580" — stumped me until I looked at a keypad and saw it's a vertical line down the middle. Likewise, I needed to look again to see what "5683" spelled out: LOVE (or LOUD, but I'm guessing love).

MFoundry CEO Drew Sievers cited Amitay's results in his blog this week, and he also added a few things banks should do to educate their customers — like telling users to never respond to a request for a password via SMS text.

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Google In-App Payments

This week, Google made its In-App Payments system available for developers to deploy on any web app. In-app payments rolled out at the Google I/O developer conference in May, but it was initially limited to apps distributed through the Chrome store. Now it works anywhere on the web. It's similar to PayPay for Digital Goods in that it aspires to offer a seamless purchasing experience for users engaged in games or content. And it's similar to Apple's in-app payments for games and subscriptions, except that Google takes a 5% cut compared to Apple's 30%. (PayPal's cut is a close second at 5% plus a nickel.)

Mobile payments mainstream in 4 years? How about 2

It finally happened to me this week: the moment where mobile payments crossed the line from an intriguing novelty (at Starbucks, usually) to a serious questioning of why we're still waiting for this. I found myself out running errands with my phone, but no wallet. Without thinking too hard about it, I had left the house carrying the item that was more essential to me (the phone). Back home, a folded piece of leather stuffed with plastic and paper sat on my dresser. As I groped for a credit card that wasn't there, it seemed odd that with all of the things I can do with my smartphone — conduct business, keep up with friends, research topics, read news or books, watch any movie I could think of, play games, edit videos — I still can't pay for a gallon of gas.

That's changing, of course, and rapidly. Auditing firm KPMG released survey results this week reporting that 83% of 1,000 executives surveyed expect mobile payments to be mainstream within four years, and about half of them think it could be as soon as two years. I'll be surprised if it takes that long.

Isis takes credit cards

ISISIsis, the telecom-backed consortium to put NFC payment technology and standards into mobile phones, said Tuesday it has signed agreements with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express to let buyers and sellers use those credit cards in Isis' future system. (Isis launched last November with the No. 4 credit card company Discover as a partner.) Original consortium members AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless guaranteed near ubiquitous backing among U.S. carriers, but the credit card provider angle seemed a little thin with only Discover enlisted in the effort before this week. These new agreements with virtually the entire credit card industry would seem to be a major vote of confidence in the consortium's ability to drive a standard for NFC payment that handset makers can get behind.

That leaves the major mobile OS operators out own their own — where they presumably want to be. Back in May, Isis invited Apple and Google to join their consortium, but so far both appear to be content with their solo efforts.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.



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