The year-end holiday shopping extravaganza is officially in high gear, and with six fewer shopping days than usual between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, retailers have been worried that consumers might be tight with their wallets.Polyvore is a popular social shopping site with with a new iPad app
But the Thanksgiving holiday proved to be a big one for online retailing, and at least not a disaster for offline merchants. Many retailers were discounting much earlier than usual this year, and the results were apparent this past week as more people left their family dinner tables on Thanksgiving Day to shop on their mobile tablets and smartphones. Many even went bargain-hunting in retail stores on the holiday, rather than waiting for Black Friday.
Read our Thanksgiving holiday wrap story for highlights on the big shopping trends this year, which includes a hefty hike in in the volume of commerce taking place on tablets and phones.
Then check out this list of the Internet's top deal finder websites as we enter the traditional cyber Monday discounting frenzy tomorrow.
And if you're looking for a new way to shop with friends, try one of the Web's fastest growing social shopping services, called Polyvore. It just released a new iPad app, and is a gorgeous, fun way to do online shopping, by yourself or with all your pals.
Twitter recently announced it now offers improved ad targeting for advertisers who want to reach people tweeting about TV shows.
Dubbed "TV conversation targeting," the new tool is designed to allow advertisers to buy "promoted tweets" and have them shown only to people who are tweeting about particular shows on TV. It expands on previous capabilities advertisers had to promote tweets to people interested in TV shows, Twitter's Olivia Young wrote in a blog post.
This is interesting, really interesting. Theoretically, it offers a way advertiers could bypass TV networks and shows to reach TV viewers via Twitter, though it's not designed to bypass TV networks, of course. In fact, Twitter a has been partnering with the TV industry to try to make its platform smartly syncronized with TV programming.
"We believe Twitter and TV are highly complementary, and we're working hard to make the Twitter x TV experience better for users, networks, and advertisers alike," Young wrote in last week's blog post.
It should be interesting to see how this works out--for both Twitter and the TV industry.
Virgin Galactic announced last week it would start accepting Bitcoin as payment for its space travel offerings, yet another sign that this social virtual currency is going mainstream.
Well, maybe -- I mean, is space travel really mainstream yet?Probably not, but at the rate it's going, Bitcoin may enter the mainstream a lot faster than space travel.
Bitcoin is a complicated peer-to-peer system of digital money that is used both as an investment and for buying and selling things. (See our guide to Bitcoin Basics: How Bitcoins Work.)
In a blog post featuring its founder Richard Branson last week, Virgin Glactic explained why it decided to accept bitcoins.
"Virgin Galactic is one of the universe's most exciting, futuristic companies," he wrote. "Bitcoin, the virtual currency, has really captured the imagination recently as one of the world's most innovative businesses looking to the future. So we think it is about time Virgin Galactic customers can choose to pay with bitcoins."
The space travel announcement appears to be part and parcel of a veritable frenzy. Virgin Galactic's announcement came shortly after the price of a single unit of bitcoin shot up over $900, less than a year after it was valued at less than $15. The value surge came amidst hearings before the U.S. Congress in which regulators discussed issues involving with allowing anonymity in digital money transactions through digital currencies such as Bitcoin. As of today, a single bitcoin costs $832 on the Mt.Gox exchange, one of the leading places where people buy and sell bitcoins.
To learn about how to buy or make bitcoins, see our guide to Bitcoin Mining.Read More...
Facebook Messenger is on the move, getting a hip new design and functional makeover that gives the standalone mobile messaging app a more distinct visual look and wider appeal as a text messenger.
Facebook Messenger for iOS
The version newly released for iOS lets people send messages more widely, since they're no longer limited to zapping off messages just to their list of friends. Facebook Messenger now allows people to send instant messages to any other user of Facebook Messenger, regardless of whether they are friends on the social network.
This puts Facebook Messenger squarely in the competitive field of standalone mobile messengers, which has seen the rise of other popular texting apps such as WhatsApp Messenger.
The redesigned Facebook Messenger app has just rolled out to iPhone users after being tested with a smaller group of Android devices. It now looks less like the desktop Facebook network and more like its own "thing." It's also now more widely available for Android users.
Are you ready to switch from books on paper to all-you-can-download digital reading?
Screenshot of Oyster's digital reading service
Two e-book services want to be your Netflix for reading, creating a vast personal library at the click of your mouse. One is an established online digital library called Scribd, and the other is a newcomer called Oyster. Both are available for tablets and mobile phones as well as the Web.
Both let you read a ton of e-books for flat monthly subscription fees similar to how Netflix charges for movie streaming.
Read more in our review of these digital book subscription services, which function as r eal-time ebooklibraries.
Twitter introduced a new tool for organizing and presenting Tweets today which it calls "custom Timelines."
It functions as a human curation machine, allowing users to manually select tweets by dragging and dropping them into a special timeline. This list of manually selected tweets can then be displayed in a variety of places -- on the user's Twitter.com profile page, or shared via a link, or embedded into any website through a snippet of code.
Twitter is gradually rolling out these new tricked-out timelines through the dashboard product it bought a few years ago called TweetDeck.
In a blog post explaining how custom timelines work, TweetDeck said you start by creating a special column in your TweetDeck dashboard. Next you hover over any tweets you want to add and just drag and drop them (look for the "move" icon) into the special column, where you can rearrange them into the order you want. To delete tweets from a custom timeline, click the "X" button.Read More...
Google introduced its "Google Helpouts" premium video advice service to the public last week after beta testing it for months.
Helpouts is a premium advice service designed to connect people with experts on particular topics via a live video chat--for a fee, of course.
The service relies on the Google Hangouts video chat service and taps a network of experts who have been "verified" in their respective areas. Google said it had signed up more than 1,000 experts who are available to answer people's questions for a fee.
The amount of the fee is set by each provider, and it can be by the minute or by the transaction. Google charges each provider a 20 percent commission on the overall transaction; payments are handled by the Google Wallet app.
In a blog post annnouncing the new service, Google's Udi Manber said, "Our goal is simple: help people help each other. We want to use the convenience and efficiency of the web to enable everyone, no matter where they are or what time it is, to easily connect with someone who can help."
Mobile video continues to be one of the hottest areas in apps development, with new features rolling out every week.
One app we're particularly fond of is Magisto, a free video editor available for iPhone and Android users. It automatically creates short movies from clips you shoot on your phone, splicing them together and adding special effects.
Magisto has been around for a couple of years now, and announced last week that it's passed the 13 million user mark. Read our review of Magisto.
Another mobile video app on the move is Snapverse, which announced last week it had cut a deal with major record labels to license sound tracks for use in cell phone videos.One cool feature recently debuted by Snapverse is Selfieoke, which lets users record themselves singing along with popular tunes. Are you ready for Selfieoke Saturday?
Read more about Snapverse in our weekly Social Media News in Review.
Twitter touched off a furor among users last week by making it easier for mobile users to insert images directly into their followers' Timelines, just like Facebook does with news feeds. People are wondering, what's the point of keeping tweets to 140 characters if you're going to clutter the message list with pictures?Of course, that's not how Twitter saw it. In the company blog, Michael Sippey called the messages newly enhanced with photos and Vine videos "rich Tweets" and said they "can bring your followers closer to what's happening, and make them feel like they are right there with you." Users have long been able to post images on Twitter, but previously you had to click through to see them; they didn't automatically appear in the timeline. Same with Vine videos. Users have to download Twitter's latest mobile app in order to see the new visual look, which shows the images and videos in preview mode automatically and lets users touch them to call up a bigger version or play the videos. But anyone who really dislikes the automatic image-display feature can disable it on their cell phone if they decide they want to go back to a more text-heavy timeline. You can do so by finding the "Settings" area and looking at the bottom for an option called "disable image previews." Toggle to "off" on your iPhone or uncheck the box on Android phones. Related Reading: Vine Video Tutorial and Twitter Account Settings.
Pinterest isn't just a pretty picture gallery any more, far from it.
The site's serious side is emerging as it works with other companies to enhance its visuals with other kinds of information.
On Friday, Pinterest announced it had struck a partnership with stock photography powerhouse Getty Images to have information about Getty's images show up when people pin those pictures to Pinterest--stuff like the photographer's name, a location and other descriptive text.
Pinterest product manager Michael Yamartino wrote in the site's "Oh, How Pinteresting" blog, that "the more we know about a pin, the more valuable we can make it for you."
"As part of our agreement," he added,"we'll pay Getty Images a fee for the data they share and will help make sure that their images get proper attribution."
Both Pinterest and the Web in general still have work to do to ensure proper attribution of copyrighted images, but this seems like a significant step in the right direction. Additionally, the descriptive text should help Pinterest's search engine gain more understanding of what's in the images to users can find more relevant images.