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WhatsApp, Doc? Facebook makes healthy investment in real-time messaging

Facebook and WhatsApp

Facebook has just bought WhatsApp for $19 billion.

Facebook minted two new billionaires last month: WhatsApp Co-Founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton. The social media giant offered $19 billion for Koum and Acton’s cross-platform mobile messaging app, along with a Facebook board seat for Koum. This investment raises more than a few questions, including concerns about possible privacy changes and the future of instant messaging worldwide. Did Mark Zuckerberg and company make a healthy choice here, or is this a bitter pill to swallow?

The Same, but Different

A recent TIME article compares WhatsApp and classic Internet portal America Online (AOL). Author Ben Bajarin argues that both fill the same role by connecting the unconnected. In the 1990s, AOL was responsible for bringing millions of Americans online for the first time via desktop computers and dial-up modems. Now, Facebook and its new messaging app are doing the same thing in developing nations across the globe, and fighting for a spot in massive markets such as China and Japan.

The difference, of course, lies in the platform. AOL and similar Internet services relied on personal computers, which meant users were stationary and their usage per session was measured in hours. WhatsApp and its parent company focus on mobile devices where users are active for brief moments — and consumers are now far less forgiving of latency.

Privacy is also a concern for WhatsApp. The messaging service allows users to send text messages, images, audio, and video to any other user with the app, regardless of their platform. Instead of relying on traditional SMS channels, the mobile app relies on a user’s Internet and data plan to provide “unlimited” messaging without additional fees. Because the app handles a massive volume of personal data, some critics are worried Facebook will change the kind of data WhatsApp collects and shares. However, Koum says his company has no plans to make any privacy changes.

Getting the Message

Connect the unconnected? Check. Respect privacy? Check. But this partnership still has one more hurdle to overcome: Speed. As noted above, users have no patience for failed message deliveries or partially downloaded videos. For WhatsApp to justify the $19 billion price tag and allow Facebook to turn a profit on this deal, text, picture, and video messages need to arrive intact and nearly instantly. Otherwise, users will turn to one of countless other alternatives. In China, for example, many Internet service providers (ISPs) have developed their own messaging applications — WeChat, developed by ISP Tencent, has over 300 million users.

Therefore, reliable content delivery is crucial for WhatsApp and Facebook, and the same goes for any social media endeavor. Without a content delivery network (CDN) that has worldwide access to major Internet peering points, data can easily be bogged down. When users may have only minutes of screen time before they reach their destination or must turn off their phone, this kind of delay simply won’t be acceptable.

Security is also critical. While robust privacy policies are necessary to protect consumer data, so too is protection when this data is moving from point to point — the right CDN marries speed, simplicity, and security.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Vacation personalization: The role of social media in the hospitality industry

A Hotel Room

When you book hotel reservations on an online site like Orbit or Travelocity, you’re handing over money to those sites as well as the actual hotel. According to Hotel Cluster, online travel agencies raked in $2.7 billion in hotel booking commissions in 2010.

These integrated travel websites and agencies seem to have a monopoly on personalization. Your air, hotel, and car reservations are bundled together, giving you cheaper rates. Then there’s the convenience of integrating your holiday planning with social media applications, which further personalizes the experience because recommendations are tailored to you based on previous activities.

Well, the major players in the hospitality industry have decided to take back some of that action by making social media and personalization a major focus of their offerings, hoping to draw customers to their dedicated sites to make bookings directly. Here are some of the ways they are doing it.

Content marketing

Using content marketing enhances the personalization of your travels. Hotels are starting to utilize both paid and unpaid blogs, targeted Facebook marketing, and even enhanced travelogues in order to cater to consumers.

There is obviously no one-size-fits-all experience for travelers, so hotels must cater to a range of customers. Adventurous and seasoned travelers, for instance, like to take things into their own hands, staying in crowdsourced accommodations found on sites such as Airbnb in an attempt to feel like locals. Younger travelers enjoy socializing (and the cheaper rates) at hostels. But now, hotels are using blogs to market that same sense of adventure to consumers, highlighting destination spots that are easy on the wallet, but also provide an authentic and immersive experience.

Sheraton Hotels, for example, created the #socialhour initiative, providing opportunities for socialization among hotel guests while also tying the experience directly to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. On May 15, 2013, Sheraton Guests shared a simultaneous global toast during #socialhour, a unique event powered entirely by social media.

Social network integration

Have you ever tried a restaurant or visited a night club because you saw your friends rave about the food or drinks on Facebook or Pinterest? Social networking review sites like Yelp have a strong hold on consumer choice. The hospitality industry, too, is banking on the fact that you share your travels and interests with your friends.

Innovators like Double Tree Hotels partnered with Google to create a video, Twitter, and Facebook aggregator called DTour. The initiative offers not only Double Tree produced videos and content, but also provides a global map on which Double Tree hotel customers can share their individual travel experiences in videos, tweets, or Facebook posts. While traversing the DTour map, you can see the wide variety of activities and accommodations that Double Tree has to offer.


Yes, there is an app for everything, but many hotel chains either don’t have apps or maintain apps that are fairly simple and uninteresting. Food service giants such as Dunkin Donuts and Pinkberry have apps that allow an amazing level of personalization. The Pinkberry app lets users recharge their Pinkberry card, acquire coupons, and easily share purchases and favorites on Facebook. Dunkin Donuts recently launched an instagram campaign using the hashtag #mydunkin, which encourages users to post their Dunkin Donuts inspired stories and photos on Instagram. The hospitality industry wants to build on this success and encourage volunteer content creation, tying in each step of the reservation process to a social media application.

The Ritz-Carlton mobile app doesn’t stop at allowing quick room reservations and check-ins. The app is location aware, presenting you with special offers based on your current location. The Ritz-Carlton mobile app also allows you to access room service, provides location-based travel tips, and has social media integration.

Finding the right technology

Building the travel experience of the future is not only a problem for artists, designers, and creative professionals, but also for operations and development. The hospitality industry wants to utilize social media, produce corresponding mobile apps, distribute multimedia rich content, and enhance the personalization of your travels. The only way to distribute such media effectively is by using a content distribution network (CDN).

Mobile apps for hotel reservations need to be fast and responsive, and the multimedia-rich content such as images and video that will be incorporated must be dispersed across major points of presence (POP). These POPs will cache data and effectively distribute content to devices based on geographic location, allowing hotels to quickly distribute updated content and present fresh daily deals and perspectives to potential customers.

With hotels redesigning their Web applications to facilitate social media integration, their infrastructures will quickly become obsolete. Hotel chains are moving to the cloud and large data centers in order to keep up with customer demand. A CDN can replicate static features of hotel web applications globally so that customers can access content even when the hotel Web application is overloaded, ensuring a seamless user experience without costly discontinuities.

Business travelers require VoIP to make international phone or video calls. In addition, business customers may need to keep up on the international business climate by viewing global TV news channels. Content distribution networks can deliver streaming video and TV up to ten times faster than other solutions. Hooking up VoIP and IPTV with many points of presence allows content to be delivered quickly in hotels. Content distribution networks are the only technology which can allow every customer at a large hotel to stream video simultaneously, a feature necessary in today’s globalized marketplace.

Marketing Experiences

According to Media Bistro, 30 percent of travelers find hotel deals through mobile apps, and 46 percent of all travelers “check-in” on social networks while on vacation. Events like DTour and #socialhour allows hotels to market tangible experiences, rather than just use their sites and apps for room reservations. As the hospitality industry continues to develop unique mobile apps and social media integration, the highlight of any vacation may soon be the personalization of your experience that these technologies offer.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Social networks remain a key part of enterprise marketing

Social Network Visualization

Businesses need to embrace marketing on social networks to be able to reach and captivate the largest possible audience. Bands, video game makers, traditional product manufacturers — they all use Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to interact with their customer base. Businesses not leveraging the power of social network marketing run the risk of being left behind as their competition continues to gain new customers and publicity.

Advantages to a focused social networking campaign

While raising some privacy concerns, the personal information about likes and dislikes shared by Facebook users allows advertisers to target customers more accurately than ever before. This finer granularity makes the advertising process more efficient, especially for companies with a niche product or a band working in an obscure sub-genre of music. Internet advertising revenue has made Facebook and Google very wealthy companies, and the same is hoped for Twitter with their recent IPO.

Improved customer reach through social networking also allows the easy delivery of unique media ad options that go beyond buying commercial time from a traditional radio or television source. It is now possible to target millions of Facebook users with video or audio content advertising any kind of product.

Don’t skimp on the quality of the content delivery process

Any advantages derived from advertising on social networks will be thrown away if you don’t invest in high performance content delivery. Potential customers checking out an ad might lose interest if the video suffers from poor quality or lag. In this case, it is important for businesses to partner with a leading Content Delivery Network (CDN) to ensure the best possible performance.

The best CDNs ensure the superior delivery of podcasts, audio, video, or any other form of Web-based promotional material. Potential customers all over the world are able to easily access this rich media content delivered by a CDN no matter their location. Leading CDNs place the content close to the most popular peering points so access is fast and seamless.

TCP-anycast-based routing and gzip compression optimizes large file downloads, assuring users don’t drop out due to slow network issues. Captive customers lead to a better return on a social advertising investment.

Starting a social network without a CDN providing support lessens the overall impact of the advertising effort, essentially wasting valuable company dollars. Let packet loss and substandard network performance hamper the social marketing campaigns of companies without a CDN partner. The smart business needs the most bang for their ad budget.

Photo Credit: Flickr