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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Google hires Java creator James Gosling despite Oracle suit

Java's core creator James Gosling revealed on Monday that he was joining Google. He didn't know what his efforts would focus on but did anticipate it would be a "bit of everything." The new, unnamed position took effect the same day.
The hire is likely to focus on Android, where Java is the core of the app system.

Google's timing has raised attention as it comes just as the company is facing Oracle accusations of copying Java code. The Dalvik Java engine that powers Android 2.2 and later has multiple instances where code appears directly lifted from Sun, which Oracle now owns. If Oracle was successful in its lawsuit, it could force Google to change its Java code, reach a royalty deal, or face a ban on virtually all Android devices that could cripple competition with Apple.

Gosling wouldn't necessarily be brought on to rewrite the disputed Java code but would be uniquely qualified to do so by having an understanding of the very deepest levels of the run-anywhere platform. His experience could also be used simply to improve Java for future versions of Android. [bottom image via Peter Campbell]

James Cameron pushes for higher frame rates to improve 3D

Avatar director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau are currently pushing the film industry to adopt higher frame rates, a move which is said to be necessary to improve 3D content. Moving from 24 frames per second to 48 or 60 frames per second is touted as a way to enhance the overall image quality and brighten the picture to compensate for darkening from 3D glasses.
"An artifact in 3D (creates) strobing that goes away at higher frame rates. (Strobing) is more noticeable in 3D (than 2D)," Landau told The Hollywood Reporter.

The producer suggests most digital cameras are already capable of shooting in 48 or 60 frames per second, but the feature is generally utilized solely for slow motion effects played back at 24 frames per second. The proposal seeks to push manufacturers to enable playback at the same rates.

"We think it will make a big difference to the audience experience -- not just for 3D movies, but for all movies," Landau argues.

[via Electronista]

How the Internet of Things is Changing the Way We Work

iot_networked.jpgSeveral years ago, before the Web had become as ever-present as it is now, Wal-Mart was the shining example of a future where inanimate objects communicated, aka the Internet of Things. The company had a plan to implement RFID tags to better optimize its supply chain. The problem? The RFID technology could not be programmed to exchange data.

In the past few years, we've seen the emergence of the application programming interface, or API. APIs have become very popular. It's evident when you look at the directory from Programmable Web, which has 3,000 APIs.

APIs are used all the time to connect Web apps, cloud-based services, devices and increasingly, inanimate objects. APIs are making our world programmable. We can program a bridge, the door to a house or the cart that trucks your luggage to the plane.

And with mobile devices, we can track that data no matter where we are and use real-time analytics and a geospatial context to find intelligence in the collective data.

The Internet of Things is only practical when you have a critical mass of devices and a cloud infrastructure. We have that now. But we also need the geospatial context to know where everything is located, all the time.
All of this has implications on the way we work.

For example, a municipality cannot afford to replace all of its aging roads and bridges at one time. But it can place sensors to transmit data that can then be analyzed in real-time. The analysis tells the people managing the system how the bridge is faring. This can be replicated across the entire transportation network.

By doing that, the systems manager can get a granular view that was not possible before. Road crews with sensors on trucks can be monitored, too. Teams can be distributed across the network, based upon the data analytics that indicate weak points and potential weak points in the system.

This kind of approach means automation on a scale that we have not seen before. We need this automation as this kind of data becomes a deeply woven mesh into all aspects of society.

 [via readwriteweb]

Ad Industry Execs: Google’s +1 Could Hold Us More Accountable

Is Google’s +1 feature likely to be an online ad industry game changer?
Ad experts were split on whether Google’s new recommendation system will catch on, but if it does, it’s likely to further an existing move toward marketing transparency.

Voicing the most pessimistic view on +1 was David Hallerman, a senior analyst at eMarketer. He notes that search is more a utility than a social activity, making recommendations an odd fit. “It’s not a medium where people spend time,” Hallerman says. “It’s a tool that people use.”

But as DeepFocus CEO Ian Schafer suggests, +1 could make search more social, changing behaviors in the process. “When someone is searching for a piece of information about a product, a review, or insightful commentary, it is typically a very insular activity,” says Schafer. “But being able to place a ‘seal of approval’ next to a search result may have the effect of making a typically insular activity more collaborative -– hopefully improving the ‘algorithm’ through the quality of your connections.”

Alisa Leonard, director of strategy and planning at iCrossing, expressed doubt that people on Google Contacts were as influential as Facebook friends. “In Facebook, my social graph is highly qualified and much more intimate,” she says. “On Google, my contacts may be less intimate and less qualified.”

If +1 gains currency, however, there’s a strong possibility that marketers will begin trying to collect +1s the way they currently try to accumulate Facebook likes. “It encourages that kind of behavior — the gamification of marketing,” says Josh Rose, executive vice president and digital creative director of ad agency Deutsch LA. “This will definitely play into those hands.”

On the other hand, +1s are likely to provide another advertising metric, and that could have some value. “It will definitely be interesting to see if ads with a lot of +1s perform better,” Rose says.

If +1s aren’t gamed too much, Rose and others see the new recommendation aspect of search as a positive force, holding brands and their advertising more accountable. Leonard points out that if the +1s contribute to a marketer’s Quality Score, they will pay less for advertising than others with lower scores, giving consumers a new way to, in effect, vote on a brand. A large number of +1s could raise expectations about a product, Leonard says.
[via mashable]

Everything You Need To Know About Google’s +1

Google’s announcement that it’s adding a “+1” button to incorporate sentiment into its search results raised a lot of questions not addressed in the company’s official announcement.

We spoke with Google rep Jim Prosser about +1. Here are some of our questions answered. What other questions do you have about the new product?

Why is Google doing this?
Aside from the fact that it represents another way to compete with Facebook, Google’s officlal line is that it will make search results more germane. Says Prosser: “People consult their friends and other contacts on decisions. It’s very easy and lightweight way to make search results more relevant.”

Will the number of +1s affect search rankings?
Prosser says no, but adds that it’s something Google is “very interested” in incorporating in some form at some point.

Who are these contacts we’re seeing next to the +1s?
They are from Google Contacts, which come from various Google products, most notably Gmail, Buzz and Reader.

Will we see Facebook friends giving +1s at some point?
Not likely. Prosser draws a distinction between the “open web” and Facebook’s closed system. Google is up for incorporating open social media apps, but not Facebook. And Facebook isn’t likely to be interested in bolstering +1, a competitor to its “Like” button.

What about Twitter?
That’s a different story. Google already incorporates Twitter data into its searches, though Prosser says there are no immediate plans for integrating Twitter results with +1.

What about using data from other social networks?
Prosser says Google is interested in using more data from Flickr and Quora, which Google considers “open web” apps. Initially, though, you won’t see your Flickr or Quora friends’ +1 recommendations.

When will we start seeing the +1s?
Not for a few months, at least not en masse. Those who are interested in experimenting with +1 right away can go to Otherwise, Prosser says only a “very small percentage” of searches and sites will have the +1 button within the next few weeks.

Will +1 be incorporated into banner ads?
Not right away, though Google is interested in that possibility.

Can marketers game the system by running “check +1 to enter” promotions?
It seems that Google frowns on this sort of thing, but it’s unclear whether the company expressly forbids it. Meanwhile, to maintain the integrity of the results, Prosser recommends that marketers don’t tweak their copy to ensure more +1s.

 [via mashable]

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

HTC ThunderBolt review: The new smartphone king of 2011

akeaway: The HTC ThunderBolt is Verizon’s first smartphone to run on its 4G LTE network. The speed of the ThunderBolt is so fast it’s almost ridiculous, but it does come at a price.
The HTC ThunderBolt delivers big, in nearly every sense of the word. It lives up to its sky high expectations (see huge banner below from CES 2011). And it’s physically really big and heavy. It’s big in hype, big in performance, and big in form factor — and it has one big caveat.

The ThunderBolt is Verizon’s first 4G LTE phone. And, while AT&T and T-Mobile are abusing the term 4G and causing it to lose its meaning, Verizon’s LTE is a legitimate next generation experience with uber-fast download/upload speeds and lower latency connections that provide better responsiveness. For the ThunderBolt, all of that connectivity goodness is paired with a phone that has screeching fast hardware to keep up with the wireless speed boost.
That said, while the ThunderBolt gives us a peek at the future, it’s also a 1.0 device that has a couple imperfections, which potential buyers need to be aware of before jumping on board.

Photo gallery

HTC ThunderBolt photos: The Ferrari of smartphones


  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Android 2.2 (Froyo) with HTC Sense UI
  • Processor: 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (QSD8255), Adreno 205 GPU, and MDM9600 chipset for 3G/4G
  • RAM: 768MB
  • Storage: 8GB internal, 32GB microSD (pre-installed)
  • Display: 4.3-inch WVGA with 480×800 resolution
  • Battery: Lithium-ion with 1400 mAh capacity
  • Ports: microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack, SIM slot
  • Weight: 6.23 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.75 x 2.44 x 0.56 inches
  • Camera: 8MP with auto-focus, dual LED flash, HD video capture, 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, A-GPS, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor
  • Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY
  • Networks: CDMA 800/1900Mhz (2G); CDMA2000 EV-DO (3G); 700Mhz LTE (4G)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • Tethering: USB + mobile Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Price: $249 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

This is a phone for someone who needs all the performance they can get out of a mobile device. I have tested a lot of smartphones — iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone 7, Palm, and more — and this is the fastest one I have ever seen. It loads apps, Web pages, videos, and documents at near-desktop speeds. Obviously, the +10Mbps speeds (bursting to up to +30Mbps) of Verizon’s LTE network helps a lot, but this device is still really fast on 3G and Wi-Fi. For the road warrior who does a lot of work on the smartphone and needs a workhorse device, a widespread mobile network, and a future-proof phone that will still be relevant in two years, the ThunderBolt fits the bill.

What problems does it solve?

The HTC ThunderBolt is arguably the world’s first smartphone to experience true 4G speeds over 30Mbps with hardware than can keep up the pace. Sure, there have been Samsung phones running on WiMAX in South Korea, for example, but those don’t have the latency improvements that Verizon has made with LTE and the devices themselves haven’t had the kind of horsepower that you get in the ThunderBolt, with its upgraded 1GHz Snapdragon, Adreno 205 GPU, and MDM9600 chip for LTE. With its 4G LTE phones, Verizon has also solved the issue of simultaneous voice and data. In the past, you couldn’t make a call and browse a Web page at the same time because of the limitations of Verizon’s CDMA network. With 4G, Verizon is sending voice over CDMA and using LTE for data.

Standout features

  • Performance sets a high bar - As I’ve already mentioned, the ThunderBolt is really fast. The combination of the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (single core), a dedicated GPU (Adreno 205), LTE chip (MDM9600), 768MB of RAM, and 8GB of integrated eMMC storage gives the ThunderBolt a lot of horsepower under the hood.
  • Top-of-the-line hardware profile - In addition of the high-end chips, the ThunderBolt also sports a bight, crisp WVGA display, an 8MP camera on the back, a 1.3MP camera on the front, a 32GB SD card (included), a 1400 mAh battery, and all the latest digital sensors. The camera in the ThunderBolt is a nice improvement over last year’s HTC EVO. Here’s an example of a photo I took using the ThunderBolt’s camera.
  • Industrial-strength form factor - As I wrote in my review of the HTC Inspire (which has a nearly identical form factor to the ThunderBolt), this hardware design is appealing with its unibody aluminum frame. It combines the unibody frame of the Google Nexus One and the HTC Desire with the square body of the HTC EVO (which has a shiny plastic bezel). The result is a sturdy, attractive metal body. The battery cover on the back of the ThunderBolt is plastic but has a steely finish that successfully masquerades as metal. The phone is large and a little heavy, but it’s one of the best hardware designs on the market.
  • HTC Sense UI adds value - I don’t like any of the software skins that the hardware vendors layer on top of Android, with the notable exception of HTC’s Sense UI. All of the other Android skins subtract from the Android experience, in my opinion, and would be better off just running the stock OS. HTC is the only vendor that improves on Android with attractive UI elements as well as useful widgets and services.

What’s wrong?

  • 4G battery life - If you look at my 4G speedtests with the ThunderBolt, you’ll see that it was easily topping 10Mbps downloads and uploads on Verizon LTE. I was regularly seeing bursts of speed that were faster than what I have on my cable modem at home. However, all of that crazy speed comes at a price. Almost immediately after the ThunderBolt was released, reports started surfacing that it only gets about 4 hours of battery life on 4G. After spending a week testing the ThunderBolt on LTE in Orlando (while attending CTIA Wireless), I can confirm that 4G drains the battery in about half the day. On 4G, you have to smartly manage battery power, use the extended battery or a add-on battery pack, or charge the phone at mid-day in order to make it through a full work day with the ThunderBolt. You can turn off 4G so that you can get through a whole day — I made it through a whole day of normal use on a mix of 3G and Wi-Fi and still had 70% of the battery left. However, turning off 4G on the world’s first LTE phone is disappointing. The ThunderBolt is still staggeringly fast on 3G and Wi-Fi, but 4G is its killer feature — especially when using it as a mobile hotspot — but if you’re going to use it for an extended period of time then you’ll need to plug it in.
  • No dual core - As powerful as the ThunderBolt is and as much as it is packed with top-of-the-line hardware, the one area where it comes up a little short in hardware is its single-core Qualcomm processor. All of the other high-end Android smartphones in this category are going to be running dual core processors in 2011 — usually the NVIDIA Tegra 2. However, HTC has a tight partnership with Qualcomm, which hasn’t come to market with its dual core solution yet. The ThunderBolt doesn’t appear to suffer from any speed lapses because of this, but dual core can improve battery life and multitasking.

Bottom line for business

At CES 2011, I wrote that the HTC ThunderBolt was the early favorite for the best smartphone of 2011. After testing it for two weeks — including some extended time on 4G — I’m ready to officially put the ThunderBolt at the top of my current Android leaderboard. And, with iPhone 5 probably delayed until Fall and other LTE phones on hold until this summer, the ThunderBolt is likely to remain on top for a while.
Despite its 4G battery problems, this phone is a powerhouse. It sets a new standard for how fast we can really go on a smartphone and provides a peek at what the future will look like for nearly all smartphones once the next generation of mobile broadband is fully deployed and the devices are optimized for it. In the short term, this is still a lightening fast device on 3G and Wi-Fi, with the ability for seismic 4G bursts when needed. Plus, it has a great hardware design and HTC’s excellent software enhancements for Android.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is Apple Delaying the Release of iPhone 5?

Apple could be delaying the release of its unannounced generation iPhone from its typical summer debut to sometime in the fall due to the Verizon iPhone 4.

For the last four years, Apple has released a new version of the iPhone in June or July. And for the last three years, Apple has unveiled the phone at its Wordwide Developers Conference (WWDC), held sometime in June each year.

Earlier today, Apple announced the dates for the next WWDC. The announcement was unusual though. Apple’s SVP of marketing didn’t say anything about new hardware; in fact, it was all about software. “At this year’s conference we are going to unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS,” he said in the company’s press release, making it sound as if a new iPhone wasn’t high on the company’s agenda for WWDC.

The Loop chimed in, claiming it has heard that WWDC will be “a software show in 2011, not a hardware event.” Adding fuel to the fire is a new report that claims Apple has yet to order components for the iPhone 5. Apple typically orders the parts for its phones six months in advance, so if this rumor is true, then Apple won’t have enough time to assemble enough iPhones for a June or July 2011 release, even if it started ordering parts tomorrow.

Instead, Apple may wait until September or October to release the iPhone 5, after its 2012 fiscal year begins. Apple’s current fiscal year ends on September 24. The upcoming smartphone is rumored to include a a bigger screen and better cameras and could feature NFC chip technology and a metal back.

The reason Apple may be waiting to launch the iPhone 5 could be the Verizon iPhone 4, which it announced in January and launched in February. The CDMA-version of the iPhone has given Apple more than 100 million potential customers, so the company could be avoiding a scenario where it shoots itself in the foot by releasing a new iPhone too early.

By delaying the iPhone 5′s launch, Apple can focus on acquiring new CDMA customers. A delayed release would also give Mas OS X Lion a more prominent role at this year’s WWDC.

 [via mashable]

Amazon Cloud Player: First Impressions

Amazon has made its triumphant entry into the music streaming world with Amazon Cloud Player. Rather than stream a library of predetermined music (e.g. Pandora, Spotify), Cloud Player lets you upload your existing music library and stream it from any computer or Android device.

For the last 30 minutes, I’ve been testing out Cloud Player. While it’s impossible to get the full experience in half an hour (mostly because Amazon estimates it will be another 12 hours before my first 1,262 songs are uploaded), I’ve had enough time to play with it to write a preliminary evaluation of Amazon’s new streaming music service.

Here are some of my initial thoughts about Amazon Cloud Player and its companion Android app:
  • Uploading: When you first install Cloud Drive on your computer, it searches your entire hard drive for your music and your playlists. While this takes a while (10 minutes), once the process is complete, it makes uploading songs a snap. It pulled my iTunes playlists and let me choose which ones I wanted to upload, a very welcomed feature.
  • Usability: The web-based cloud player is really intuitive. The layout makes it easy to select songs, search your music archives and organize your music. The player itself is quick to load, responsive, and even lets you skip around to different points in your music, something not possible with most of the streaming music players on the market today.
  • Music Quality: While I’m no audiophile, I really can’t tell any difference between Cloud Player and a streaming service like Pandora. Playing music from your hard drive is going to give you a better acoustic experience, but the vast majority of consumers won’t be able to tell the difference.
  • Features: Cloud Player doesn’t have a lot of frills, but you will be able to do almost everything you want within it. It doesn’t have iTunes’ ability to automatically download podcasts or Genius recommendation feature, but they’re not necessary features for a great music experience.
  • Android: I also took Amazon’s Cloud Player app for spin on a Motorola Atrix 4G phone. After signing in with my Amazon account, it quickly found my uploaded music and played it flawlessly. Again, I was able to skip around to different points in my music, create playlists and search my Cloud Drive for uploaded music. The player even lets you access your on-device music, essentially rendering Google’s official Music player useless.
  • Price: You start with 5 GB of free storage, but for the vast majority of people, that won’t be enough. Without a second thought, I upgraded to 20 GB for $20/year, though in retrospect I should’ve bought a cheap album instead. The pricing plan is very simple: 1 GB per dollar. I paid more for Pandora One ($36)than I did for 20 GB of Cloud Player storage, so overall I’d say Amazon’s giving everybody a good deal.
Even from my short test, it became apparent that Amazon wasn’t launching some half-baked product; Cloud Player is a fully-functional, very usable streaming music player that could even make iTunes obsolete for many people, and its ability to play on-device and cloud-based music could quickly make it Android’s killer app.

Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and set a high bar for cloud-based music streaming. Apple and Google, which are expected to launch their own cloud players sometime this year, will have to match Amazon on usability and price if they’re going to compete.

Amazon can’t rest on its laurels though; Apple will surely harness its control of iPhone, iTunes and iOS to boost its own offering and give the shopping giant a run for its money.
[via mashable]

Monday, March 28, 2011

HOW TO: Avoid and Prevent Facebook Spam

The Facebook Marketing Series is supported by Buddy Media, Power Tools for Facebook. Have something new to tell 500 million people? Learn the best way to manage multiple brands on Facebook with this webinar.

Like death and taxes, spam is one of life’s inevitabilities. From junk emails to fake pharmaceutical advertisements to bogus comments on websites like this one, spam is a very real (if aggravating) part of online life.

As Facebook emerges as the communications platform of choice for a growing number of individuals and brands, the spam problem — both from other users and from applications — becomes a more pressing concern.

Facebook is doing a lot to help curb app-generated spam, with platform spam down 95% in 2010, but no automated system is perfect — especially when the platform is as large as Facebook.

Here are some tips to reduce the amount of spam that you see on Facebook — and avoid contributing to the problem yourself.

Be Aware of Facebook Link Scams (Experts Can Get Fooled Too)

We cover many of the most prevalent Facebook scams as they take place across the web — and many are easy to spot.

These wall attacks almost frequently lead users to agree to install a Facebook application that requires that a user authorize the ability to post to walls and friend pages.

Sometimes the scams are easy to detect — “OMG Click here to watch this video, you can’t miss it” or something else that is baiting. Other times, however, the scams can replicate promotions or apps that really do exist.

Last month, a Mashable reporter fell victim to a Facebook scam purporting to be part of a Southwest Airlines promotion. The damage was limited and it was cleaned up quickly, but it’s a good reminder that even the best of us can fall for these things.

A few things to keep in mind about these types of spam app attacks:
  • Beware of short links that accompany text on your wall from people who don’t normally post links.
  • Investigate or research any app that seems too good to be true before agreeing to install it.
  • Pay attention to what apps you authorize to post to your wall.
If you do fall victim to one of these app spam attacks, be sure to follow Jolie’s instructions in the Southwest post:
  • Visit your Facebook privacy settings and click on the bottom section that says “Apps and Websites.”
  • You will see a listing of the most recently accessed apps from your account, select the offending app and remove it from your account.
  • Delete any messages posted by the app on your behalf and notify any friends that might have been spammed.
Also keep an eye out for popular scams and waves of attacks. We cover these topics frequently on Mashable and the Sophos Naked Security blog is another great resource.

Moderate Spam Comments on Pages

Facebook has automatic spam filters that gray out comments on the Page wall that Facebook thinks contain spam.

These filters work pretty well, but it’s worth checking out your Page every so often to make sure genuine comments aren’t incorrectly marked as spam.

Likewise, posts that are not spam can be marked as spam when you run across them. Wall posts can be flagged as spam and the accounts, if you believe they are fraudulent, should be reported to Facebook.

SocialFresh provided a good overview of some options for page administrators in cutting down on spam.

Some of the highlights include altering settings so that the default wall view is “Only Post by Page” and preventing users from posting links in their wall posts. Because a lot of spam contains links, preventing links can also keep the spam at bay.

Be Aware of What Information You Provide Apps

Not all Facebook spam comes by way of rogue apps that send messages out on your behalf. Now that Facebook allows apps to access your email and send you messages, it’s possible that apps that appear to be legit can still grab your email for annoyances later.

A good rule of thumb when using apps is to investigate the settings. If an app seems to require an inordinate amount of access to your profile and the brand or app maker isn’t well known, then the best practice is simply to avoid using the app.

Use a Clickjack-Revealing Bookmarklet

Aside from rogue applications that try to trick users into spamming their friends, another popular Facebook spam method is known as clickjacking. Clickjacking, sometimes called likejacking, happens when a user clicks on a link and is taken to a page with a hidden Like button. Clicking anywhere on the page will “like” the post and publish it to your news feed. Friends see this and investigate the link, unwittingly propagating the spam.

We’ve seen this time and time again over the last ten or eleven months. Just last week, Charlie Sheen’s newfound “popularity” was used to perpetuate a clickjacking attack.

Researchers at the cloud security firm Zscaler have built a JavaScript bookmarklet designed to help uncover these clickjack sites. To avoid spam, simply hit the bookmarklet on a suspect site before clicking anything to reveal hidden Like buttons and iFrames. 

[via mashable]

Links for Windows Live Essentials 2011 Offline Installers for ALL languages

The final version of Windows Live Essentials 2011 are now available for download. Here is the list of and the links to the offline installers in all the available languages.

These languages include Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Czech, Danish, German, Greek, English, etc, along with some Indian languages like Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu.
Lang iD
Norwegian (Bokmal)
Portuguese (Brazil)
Portuguese (Portugal)
Chinese (Simplified)
Chinese (Traditional)

Use these links to download an installation program that can be used to install Windows Live Essentials without an internet connection.  After downloading this program, you can use it to install Windows Live Essentials while offline.

Source: WLSC.

Why Facebook’s New Questions Tool Is Good for Brands & Businesses

Brands and businesses are looking for ways to leverage Facebook’s recently unveiled Questions tool in ways that differ from what they’re already doing on Q&A sites such as Quora, Yahoo Answers and LocalMind.

The feature, which Facebook rolled out to all users March 24, functions as a recommendation engine. It also presents a major opportunity for businesses to conduct market research and crowdsource in a far more elegant way than was previously possible, according to Ben Grossman, communication strategist for marketing agency Oxford Communications.

“We know from Nielsen that recommendations from friends and family and the opinions of online strangers are the top two most trusted forms of advertising,” Grossman told Mashable. “Facebook Questions offers the perfect opportunity for brands to tap into exactly that.”

Businesses, groups and organizations can use Questions in several ways. For example, Grossman said:
  • Ice cream parlors can find out what the flavor of the week should be.
  • A gym can find out what time is best for its new hip-hop yoga class.
  • Radio stations can determine the hottest concerts for the summer.
  • Manufacturers can do a pulse check on fans’ holiday shopping plans.
“The best part about this is that it’s in a trusting, social and real-time setting,” he said. “The opportunity to gain instant feedback from a brand’s biggest fans is amazing.”
Fittingly, we had some more questions about Questions. Below, Grossman weighs in on the feature to help brands better understand the tool.

Mashable: How is Facebook Questions different than the Q&A tools already online?
Grossman: Though Questions certainly falls into a similar category as Yahoo Answers and Quora, there is are two very major differences:
  •  Answers to questions are not free-form; users are limited to multiple-choice responses.
  • Questions (and their answers) are not catalogued by search engines at this time. Public Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora will still remain important for public-facing customer support and inquiries.
Mashable: How will Facebook Questions change the way users of Facebook Pages interact with their fans? Why is this important?
Grossman: Though third-party Facebook application development companies such as Involver and Wildfire have developed turn-key “poll” applications, many users were likely to get hung up on that pesky “Applications Permissions” box that demands access to users personal information.
Questions changes that. No permissions are required, and the Questions platform lets you answer and talk about questions with all your friends no matter if they’ve engaged with a third-party application before or not.

The other great thing about Questions is it comes with a setting that allows users to add more answers to the multiple-choice answers. This bit of flexibility will really and truly allow businesses to learn from their consumers — they just have to know the right questions to ask.

Questions also demands a higher level of fidelity to opinion statistics for brands. If brands bind themselves to the Questions platform to pose questions and they relate to the brand’s business, it’s going to be a lot clearer to all the fans what public opinion is. If the brand doesn’t follow through by acting on that opinion, Questions has a nice comment area that gives fans the perfect place to call a brand out on it.

Mashable: How have you or Oxford used Facebook Questions so far? How do you plan to use the feature in the future?
Grossman: Oxford Communications decided to test out the functionality and float this question out to our fans:
Within 15 hours, we had engaged 13% of our fanbase and had not only gained votes on answers we had given to the question; we also had fans suggesting (and voting for) new answers, including local couponing sites, LiveTVChat and more. For us, it was an opportunity to enjoy a high level of engagement with our followers, emerge as a thought leader and learn a little all at the same time.

The next frontier, after some additional testing, will be to activate Questions on behalf of our clients. Next month, we are planning on extending Legends Outlets Kansas City’s “Charity Check-In” program through use of Facebook Questions. On Legends Outlets Facbeook Page, Legends Outlets is currently encouraging its consumers to check-in with Facebook Places in order to trigger the brand to donate $1 to a pre-determined, local Kansas City charity.

Next month, the brand will be doing the same, but we will also be employing Facebook Questions to ask the fans what charities they would like to see appear as part of the ongoing Charity Check-In program. We’re excited to help Legends Outlets partner with the charities that mean the most to its fans, while raising their friends’ awareness of ways they can give back to the community.

Mashable: What was your initial reaction to the new Facebook Questions tool?
Grossman: Any time Facebook adds a new standard application to all user and business profiles, I get excited. When Facebook adds major new functionality like Questions, it stands to shift the social dynamic of over 500 million people, creating richer, more diverse and increasingly dynamic conversations.

Beyond the impact it will have on users, the widespread release of Facebook Questions is also emblematic of the continuing trend we’ve seen from Facebook: As soon as a new trend in social media begins to rise up, Facebook acts quickly and decisively. For those long-time Facebook users out there, Questions will hearken back to the days when Polls were far more common on Facebook. But this round of Q&A-based functionality released by Facebook is likely more of a direct response to the increasing popularity of up-and-coming sites like Quora and LocalMind.

What I love about Questions is how true it is to Facebook’s zeal for transparency and trust.

Will You Be Using Questions For Your Business or Brand?

How do you plan to use Facebook Questions for your brand, business, group or organization? Let us know in the comments.

[via mashable]