Today in Social

Publishers are blaming dramatic drop-offs in Facebook traffic to their auto-sharing Timeline news reader apps on a change by Facebook in how stories show up in news feeds. We’ve heard this one before – social games were probably the first victim of Facebook’s often-random changes in thinking on cross-promotions and ranking algorithms. Facebook more or less made it up to the social games, but then they share 30 percent of  digital goods sales with Facebook. Different publishers have different ad strategies for their apps, but Facebook is rarely involved. As my GigaOM colleague Mathew Ingram points out, even with the drop-off a lot of those apps have pretty big numbers. Regardless, surely Facebook apps must be a better traffic strategy than slideshows.

Today in Social

AllThingsD has some detail behind a Twitter update of its “discover” function it uses to recommend users to follow. It sounds like Twitter is looking at posts of interest to people a user follows. While that makes sense, as described it sounds more like a social graph rather than an interest graph. Haven’t we all been saying Twitter’s in the best position to map actual interests? Right now it’s recommending some tech, football and business stories for me, though none of them are particularly surprising. And its entertainment recommendations do touch on movies, but also TMZ celebrity news that I couldn’t care less about. Survey sample of one, of course. But I use lists that actually have topic headers, so you’d think Twitter could figure me out. Keep an eye out for some new research from us on content discovery, and be sure to come to paidContent 2012 in my neighborhood.

Today in Social

Facebook must be trying to spin some bad press it got a while ago when Bloomberg interviewed some big merchants who had given up on their Facebook storefronts. Reuters sort of falls for it, at least in the headline, and retells the story but also pumps some shopping startups who are still true believers in “f-commerce.” But they don’t share a lot of evidence of their success. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in social commerce – I just think Facebook is a better marketing than transacting medium. I advise merchants to put their Facebook stores in the hands of their marketing and promotions departments. Brian Solis also sees promise in surrounding a consumer and using social media as an amplifier. Facebook has much better stories to tell about driving traffic (especially to content) than it does about sales conversions. At least so far.

Today in Social

Kantar Media, a unit of the big advertising holding company WPP, estimates that Google spent over $200 million in U.S. advertising last year, $70 million of it on TV. Kantar says that’s up almost four times versus the prior year, and when measured as a percentage of revenue is approaching the ratio of companies like Microsoft and Apple. That’s a new thing for Google, a company whose online reach – via search, email, and YouTube – is pretty much ubiquitous in the U.S. Does Google feel it needs to explain itself to consumers? You bet. It can put a Play button on its black toolbar and it will be in most consumers’ face, but what’s behind that button? A re-named Android Marketplace as a launchpad for a lot of Google entertainment content. Google’s integrating, but it’s also looking like the distributed version of a portal. Will its coming cloud drive be a consumer play, or a Google Docs extension? Both. And that will require advertising to explain.

Facebook’s app ecosystem is still missing a piece of the puzzle

At its f8 developer conference, Facebook laid out a grand vision of a new class of lifestyle apps enabled by its platform. Last week, at a subdued event that attracted far less media coverage, Facebook showed 60 apps. Is this a letdown? Not necessarily, but Facebook needs an effective marketplace for app promotion and monetization.

Today in Social

Facebook’s data team says that although users are more inclined to share amongst friends they have strong ties to, their sheer number of connections means social networks aren’t echo chambers. Yes, friends’ content sharing is more influential, but Facebook says the majority of the activity comes through connections with weaker connections. I’m a little puzzled why Facebook doesn’t quote its actual data on the latter. And Facebook’s algorithms contribute to the mix (it wants to show you what you’re interested in, but that doesn’t always come directly from close friends). All very interesting, with the major implication for content companies and marketers being: Nothing’s as simple as you thought. It’s not just about reaching “influencers.” Meanwhile, more sharing is on the horizon as rumors suggest a wave of friction-less apps are coming Wednesday.

Outbrain raises $35M for content discovery platform

Outbrain, a content discovery platform that helps online publishers drive engagement, has raised $35 million in a Series D round led by Index Ventures with participation from existing investors Carmel Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners. That brings Outbrain’s total funding to $64 million dollars.

How publishers must adapt to multiple content discovery options

Last week, companies including Google, Facebook and NetShelter introduced new products and services that, while unrelated, all promise to be new vehicles for web content discovery. And with so many new offerings coming to market, content companies must evaluate whether and how to best use services like news reader apps (Google Currents and mobile Flipboard), social sharing mechanisms, etc., to achieve objectives like audience acquisition, content engagement and revenue.

YouTube’s new challenge: connecting users & channels

YouTube introduced a new homepage Thursday that puts more of a focus on personalization and social features, highlighting the content that’s most relevant to its users. But it does a poor job of showing off all the new content that YouTube is investing heavily in.

Today in Connected Consumer

Google presented a demo of the new version of Google TV at the Streaming Media West conference yesterday, which featured many notable improvements over the lame first version. Much of the discussion around the new version has focused on the addition of the Android Market to the Honeycomb-based platform, but I was struck by the subtle, yet striking, shift in Google’s approach to TV navigation. Whereas the first version relied primarily on a browser-like search bar for surfacing content, the new version relies heavily on structured program guides that look much more like…well, TV guides. Lesson to be learned: There’s a risk to pushing consumers too fast out of UIs they’re comfortable with.