Alibaba Turns 10: Goal To Employ 10 Million People

Alibaba Turns 10 – Aims To Create 100 Million Jobs, Employ 10 Million People: “

This is a guest post by Shanghai-based entrepreneur George Godula. His company Web2Asia partners with Western Internet companies for market entry in Eastern Asia, and also does early stage investments in local tech startups.

George had the opportunity this weekend to attend Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group’s 10 year anniversary celebration, dubbed the “Alifest”.

Alibaba is best known for its international B2B e-commerce and sourcing market place Alibaba.com, but also operates Taobao – the “eBay of China” and largest C2C Internet retail web site, Alimama – an online advertising exchange and affiliate network – as well as Alipay, China’s most popular third-party online payment system modelled after Paypal but offering additional features such as escrow services.

Alibaba’s chairman Jack Ma, a former English teacher, founded Alibaba in 1999 out of his Hangzhou apartment. Ten years later the company has grown to China’s second largest Internet company, after digital entertainment giant Tencent. His company Alibaba.com’s 2007 IPO on the Hong Kong stock exchange was the second largest Internet offering ever after Google’s debut on NASDAQ in 2004.

Since 2005, Yahoo! is a strategic shareholder when it acquired 39% of Alibaba Group for US$ 1 billion. In return Alibaba operates the portal Yahoo! China, but the secondary role Yahoo! China plays for Alibaba became evident when Ma shared his vision for the next 10 years of Alibaba during this weekend’s press conference. This was once again underscored yesterday when Yahoo! sold $150 million worth of shares in Alibaba.com.

Jack’s dream is to focus on empowering and encouraging small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) across the globe and it centers around 3 major goals for the next 10 years:

Goal 1: 10 million people “work at” Alibaba

By “working at” Jack symbolically referred to millions of SME entrepreneurs that will not literally be employed by Alibaba but are turned to “netrepeneurs” and independently utilize and work online with Alibabas trade platforms and software solutions:

Alisoft was established in January 2007 and offers software as a service solutions for SME’s. In July 2009, Alisoft was merged with Alibaba Group R&D Institute to lay a solid technology foundation to further develop Alibaba Group’s businesses. At the same time Alibaba Group this weekend announced the establishment of a new subsidiary focusing on cloud computing. In the medium run, it is evident that Alibaba will strive to emerge as a leading software solution provider for SME’s, eventually competing with Western players such as Salesforce.com.

Goal 2: 100 million new jobs created worldwide by Alibaba

A megalomaniac target at first glance, this could very well become reality when considering Alibabas resources and Jack Ma’s obviously wide-reaching personal connections that became more apparent to me through the course of Alifest.

In May 2007, Alibaba.com introduced the Ali-loan program offering financing to small Chinese businesses in partnership with leading Chinese banks. This model was now hinted to be extended across other countries in cooperation with Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen bank. The second corner stone to achieve this goal involves Alibabas training department, Ali-Institute that was upgraded this July to become a new profit-oriented business unit under Alibaba.com.

During the cleverly staged Alifest program speakers such as Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus, former president Bill Clinton (both over video) and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz underpinned the importance of fostering SME development across developing nations and endorsed Alibabas global efforts. This is quite remarkably for a Chinese company. Provided, you still consider it as such: “In 10 years we wont make differences between local or international companies any more, but only between differences in integrity”, Jack Ma said during his speech this weekend.

All points considered Alibaba is indeed in a powerful position to shape the worlds economy in the coming decade. Taking Alibabas already undisputed status among SME manufacturers in what is soon to become world’s largest economy, even the third proclaimed goal by Jack Ma can seem plausible:

Goal 3: 1 billion people trading on Alibaba Group’s platforms

The roadway to Alibabas most eager goal was visualized to us impressively when Alibaba.com’s CEO David Wei gave us an exclusive tour of his company’s new headquarters. (Which by the way also has a basketball court inaugurated by another of Jack Ma’s friends Kobe Bryant, who was also present in Hangzhou this weekend)

David presented us Alibaba’s realtime trading statistics generated from the three pillars of its business: international trade, domestic Chinese wholesale and domestic Chinese retail. (the according graphs can be seen in the picture above from left to right).

During the time of our visit last Friday evening at around 7pm Chinese time, 2.87 million concurrent users were active on Alibaba.com’s B2B portal. According to David the daily average concurrent user number is 4 million, around 10% of its 42.8 million worldwide registered users. The groups domestic C2C e-commerce marketplace Taobao holds around 78% of the online consumer market in China. As of mid-2009, it served 156 million registered users. Transaction volume on Taobao reached nearly US$ 11.8 billion in the first half of 2009, and by that exceeded the largest retailer in China in transaction volume during the same period.

David continued to say that “Alibaba’s combined trading statistic give us 3-6 months lead time to predict Chinas domestic trade and export volumes”. These are without doubts immensely powerful insights to possibly the biggest driver of our current world economy. Not without reason, Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma was one of the first to recognize the economic downturn in February last year, when he predicted “a though (economic) winter is coming, dark clouds are forming and the thunder is coming closer” during the annual Alibaba all-employee conference. “Today, the darkest period for Chinese exporters is over”, Alibaba’s CEO David Wei confirmed to us.

I asked David to tell us more about AliExpress – a new international wholesale platform for small-sum orders from its Alibaba.com database of Chinese manufacturers. He confirmed “the platform is still in beta but bound to launch in rather weeks than months from now”. The service offers minimum orders as low as 1 item, escrow payment and delivery with full tracking. Advertising “factory prices on even the smallest orders” the service is de facto a B2C marketplace just like Amazon and in part eBay that connects the Chinese manufacturers on Alibabas existing B2B portal Alibaba.com with the US consumer market. It will also be the first international roll out of Alibaba’s online payment and escrow system Alipay now competing with PayPal China in fight for Chinese SME merchants. Alipay currently facilitates about 4 million online payments worth up to US$100 million per day. It surpassed 200 million registered users in early July 2009.

With AliExpress the company for the first time attacks eBay directly in its home market. In China the US company already lost against Alibabas Taobao, giving up its domestic eBay platform and partially selling it to Chinese Internet group TOM Online in 2006. Not included in that sale, however was eBays and PayPals cross-boarder business of Chinese merchants selling to US consumers, that continues to be operated by PayPal China itself. This remaining eBay asset is now under serious threat, with Alibaba entering the B2C export business.

The move nevertheless comes with many risks for Alibaba. Only in December last year, Alibaba’s competitor Global Sources Direct, a division of NASDAQ-listed online sourcing platform Global Sources, announced it would discontinue its wholesale services. The platform was established in 2005 as a joint venture between Global Sources and eBay. A major part of the failure was attributed to the fact, that in such a cross national market place setting, it is impossible for its operator to guarantee quality, availability and delivery times. Instead it has to rely on the goodwill of its merchants, which in a developing market like China is a huge challenge. It remains to be seen how Alibaba can solve this problem better than its competitors.

Additionally to its international challenges Alibaba Group is under constant attack from rising Chinese rivals such as Baidu’s new C2C e-commerce platform Youa. Since the end of last year China’s number one search engine Baidu.com has blocked all Taobao merchants offers in its natural search results, leading to a huge loss of search volume. In retaliation Alibaba Group, previously one of the biggest ad spenders on Baidu, stopped all its PPC campaigns.

In the “Art of War”, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu writes “concentrate your energy and hoard your strength”. However, Alibaba’s Jack Ma seems to ignore this advice by competing on multiple battlefields both at home and abroad, potentially stretching his company’s resources too thin. Yet the man reinforced his modesty in yesterdays closing speech when he said “looking back we are now a big company, but looking ahead we are still a very small company”. Having seen Ma passionately in action this weekend, it is clear that he’s lost none of the tireless energy that has made him successful, instead gaining in charisma and determination that will be necessary for the next 10 years ahead.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco




Google Acquires ReCaptcha

Google Acquires reCaptcha To Power Scanning For Google Books And Google News: ”

Google has acquired reCAPTCHA, an open source technology that provides CAPTCHAs to prevent spam and fraud. Captchas are those security questions you find on Web sites that require you to decipher and type words or numbers and detects whether the user is a human.

Here’s what Google wrote in a blog post about the announcement:

CAPTCHAs are designed to allow humans in but prevent malicious programs from scalping tickets or obtain millions of email accounts for spamming. But there’s a twist — the words in many of the CAPTCHAs provided by reCAPTCHA come from scanned archival newspapers and old books. Computers find it hard to recognize these words because the ink and paper have degraded over time, but by typing them in as a CAPTCHA, crowds teach computers to read the scanned text.

Google says that reCAPTCHA’s technology improves the process that converts scanned images into plain text, known as Optical Character Recognition (OCR). It sounds like Google will be using the technology to power massive scanning projects for Google Books and Google News Archive Search as well as for fraud and spam prevention.

In May, the New York Times reported that Google was developing their own type of captcha and also took notice of the potential of reCAPTCHA’s technology. Sounds like Google found it more effective to acquire reCAPTCHA’s technology instead of reinventing the wheel.

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Cool Twitter Trick

Does your reality need augmenting? Try these apps: ”

A contact lens with metal circuit elements has been tested in rabbits.

(Credit: University of Washington)

Reading the news about a University of Washington professor’s experimental electronic contact lens, I wondered if my dream of the ultimate personal technology has finally moved from over the horizon to in sight. Here’s what I want: to be able to walk into crowded cocktail party, and know exactly who I am looking at — each person’s name, last time we met, and other information pertinent for a pleasant social interaction. I want that information beamed into my field of vision, in text floating over their heads, like the health indicators over the bad guys in a computer game.

It’ll be awhile, though. The contact lens just has one blinky light in it so far. But you can now get augmented reality apps for the most modern mobile phones. New smartphones have not just cameras and location sensors (global positioning satellite receivers) but also compasses and inclinometers, so they know what direction they’re pointing and which way the device is being held. With these sensors, they can run cool sci-fi apps that show data projected on top of the video their cameras are picking up.

In other words, augmented reality apps show, as their baseline image, a video of what the camera is pointing at, which is a redundant display of what you can see already with your own eyes. Then, on top of that, they overlay data — graphics or text — telling you about what the camera is seeing. Until smartphones are smart enough to recognize people by their faces, the cocktail party application I want isn’t quite possible. Although it should be noted that Google and other companies do have face recognition functions in some of their photo album services, and a Swedish company called The Astonishing Tribe has a compelling demo of such a product. There’s a video here.

But here’s what you can do right now with a AR-capable phone:

Yelp shows you what’s outside your window.

(Credit: Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET)

Get Yelp on the iPhone 3GS (download). A secret feature (shake the phone three times to activate it when Yelp is running) overlays restaurant names and user ratings over the video you’re looking at. So you can see, in theory, a review score hovering over the image of the restaurant you’re standing right outside of.

Get Layar for an Android Phone. Layar is a building block AR platform that can use data sets from other providers. There’s Yelp, for example (although the pure Yelp iPhone app is a bit better). Layar can also show you Twitter posts from users nearby, Wikipedia entries based on what your camera is pointing at, houses for sale from Trulia, and other info. It’s incredibly cool.

Lost in a strange city? If it’s New York or London, try AcrossAir’s subway locators that’ll tell you just where the station you’re looking for is.

Unfortunately, for the urban apps I just mentioned, sometimes the orientation sensors aren’t as accurate as you’d like, and the data that you see is placed erroneously. I guess it’s hard to get a reliable compass reading in a modern city setting. Also, the AR apps can’t tell, yet, if what the camera is seeing is relevant to what they want to display. The Yelp app will often pop a review up over a building that’s located between you and the building it means to display its info over.

The most interesting and useful augmented reality app I’ve tried so far (but keep in mind, I’m a geek) is Google Sky Map for the Android phone. When you’re out in a field at night, far from lights and magnetic interference — and assuming you still have a data connection — your Android phone can tell you what stars or planets you’re looking at. Better yet, ask it where a body like Mars is, and it’ll tell you which way to point your phone until you’re looking right at it. I’d like the app to have more data, to find things like the International Space Station, but it’s still an amazing product. It makes me look like a genius to my son, and that’s worth the price of admission. (It’s a free app, so it’s an easy calculation.)

If you want a phone capable of running AR apps, the choices today are be the iPhone 3GS (not the older 3G, it doesn’t have a compass) or an Android phone like the MyTouch 3G.

And here’s a tip: Until we’re all set up with cocktail party implants, if you meet me at a party, do me a favor and introduce yourself the old-fashioned way.

Originally posted at Rafe’s Radar

How Much Traffic Does Blog Catalog Get you?

BlogCatalog, Traffic, Readers And You: “

A common recurring theme in threads on the BlogCatalog Discussion Boards is traffic. Specifically traffic generated from BlogCatalog to member’s blogs. The question, “Can/Do you get traffic from BlogCatalog has been asked and answered in many different ways, many different times.

The problem here is that, in most cases, people are asking the wrong question, or at least asking the question in the wrong way, and the answers that follow continue down the same path to the wrong place. The real question that we sould be asking is “Can/Do you get readers from blog catalog.

When I first came to the BlogCatalog discussion forums, at the invitation of Mark Stoneman, it was to a thread where several members were hotly debating whether it was good for the community to allow back scratching threads to be posted in the main discussion boards. You know, the “digg me and I’ll digg you”, “add me and I’ll add you”, “favorite me and I’ll favorite you” type threads that really don’t serve any one well, and actually hurt those participating in them the most.

I dove right in arguing for the banning of these types of threads from the boards, and I’ve been here ever since. During that time, TonyB contacted me through the shout box and said something that clued me in that BlogCatalog was a place I wanted to be. Tony said, “We don’t want to send traffic to the blogs, we want to send readers”. Not traffic, readers. That’s such a simple thing to say, but it’s also a very powerful thing.

Anyone can send traffic to your blog, for all the good that will do you. But readers, now there is something worth having sent to your blog. So don’t ask yourself how much traffic BlogCatalog has sent to your blog. Look instead to the comments and the statistics for the readers that have found your blog through BlogCatalog. A single reader is worth more than thousands upon thousands of visitors to a blog.

Pizza Hut Delivers Great Facebook Page

Pizza Hut Delivers Great Facebook Page, Tops 1 Million Fans: “

hutlogoQuick serve restaurants are continuing to grow in popularity on Facebook. Last week, Chich-fil-A became the first restaurant chain to hit 1 million Facebook fans, but hot on its heels is Pizza Hut, who just crossed the 1 million fan mark.

A generic Pizza page is one of the most popular generic food Pages on Facebook with more than 4.5 million fans, but Pizza Hut is the first pizzeria to move past 1 million itself. The next closest pizza joint is Papa John’s with a little over 300,000 fans.

pizzahutfb

The Pizza Hut Fan page offers several nice features. First, there’s a Facebook application for ordering from your local Pizza Hut restaurant. The app requires you to create a Pizza Hut account, but once you do, you don’t have to leave your Facebook page to order, and the process is much quicker since all of your info is already on file.

Second, the company is also heavily promoting its Pizza Hut iPhone app, which allows users to place orders from their iPhone. Many other restaurants offer an iPhone app to make ordering easy, but Pizza Hut is cross-promoting the it well, making the tab the default landing page.

pizzahutiphone

Pizza Hut has done a good job of paying attention to the way Facebook users interact with other sites. While they offer discounts and promotions in their update stream, they do so lightly. Instead, the company is focusing first on building and promoting its e-commerce functionality to drive more pizza sales.

Vitamin Water Gains Ground Through Facebook App

Vitaminwater to Crowdsource New Flavor Through Facebook App: ”

Vitaminwater, the beverage brand that has become nationally-known this decade through clever marketing efforts, is making another innovative move today — on Facebook. It has launched its own application, called “flavorcreator,” that appears within its Page and intends to get users creating their own virtual vitaminwater beverages.

While the app has all sorts of games, contests and other features, what it really is trying to do is gather market research about the sorts of flavors that Facebook users like. More on that in a second.

Facebook vitaminwater

On its face, the app is a notably complex effort by a big brand to build a meaningful experience on Facebook, even as many others are still experimenting with basic Facebook page functionality like wall postings.

The app is actually a three-step game, and it has not gone fully live yet.

The first step asks Facebook users to vote on their favorite drink flavors, although voting only goes live on the 14th of this month. The app currently shows a list of top ten flavors, along with a swirling virtual cloud with names of different flavors. To generate the list, vitaminwater is scouring Google, Twitter, Flickr and a food site called foodgawker to try to track top flavors that people are talking about across the web. Facebook is not a part of that mix, presumably because most information about popular flavors on Facebook is not publicly available.

flavorcreator on Facebook

However, to get fans involved in this step before the voting starts, vitaminwater lets you click on the name of any flavor in the cloud. You can see a close-up view of automated information about each flavor pulled from the sites it searches around the web. So, for example, when I clicked on “mint” I could see a virtual bottle with a list of mint-related stories on Google News. Scrolling through, I could also see the latest on “mint” from Flickr and the other sites. There’s also a feature to “like” any given flavor — when you like a flavor, the app asks permission to post the flavor on your Facebook profile wall.

Even though the first step is not fully functional, you can already access the second step. “Through a series of fun and easy games we will test your skills, physical health, mental state, and your potential earning power,” as the company explains this step on the site. These games are very simple. In the first one, you try to run through a street dodging obstacles like lightning bolts and snakes. In the second one, you’re in a gym, racing on a treadmill against a bodybuilder type to try to win the affections of a girl. In the third game, you try to run through a maze-like park while dodging weirdos. The fourth game is actually a health quiz. Once you’ve played all four, vitaminwater gives you a recommended vitamin. In my case, it was “everything but the kitchen sink,” including caffeine. I’m not sure where my potential earning power was factored in. Once you were done playing the game, the app also asks if you want to share your performance on your Facebook wall.

flavorcreator game

Once you’ve played around with the voting and the games, you can see a dashboard detailing your game performance and the types of vitamins that vitaminwater thinks you need.

The third step, however, won’t be live until the 5th of October. It will be a label contest, where you design a graphic, a name and a blurb for your drink. And, the prize for the top label is $5,000; to raise the profile of the contest, vitaminwater is having celebrities Carrie Underwood and long-time business partner 50 Cent help choose the winner. You can have up to three Facebook friends to help you create a label — presumably, if you win you’d split the money up to four equal ways.

flavorcreator on Facebook-1

In sum, the game looks very slick, although the user experience is not quite at the same level. In testing the app out, I was confused to discover that step one wasn’t fully live, yet I was already able to go and play step two. I have to wonder how many users will think that step two is not yet available, and not bother accessing those games as a result.

Conceptually, however, the integration between other web sites and Facebook was perhaps the most striking part of the app. Vitaminwater is essentially testing out internet-wide buzz versus the specific preferences of each Facebook user. The in-app features for sharing information with Facebook friends, including the “likes,” the wall postings and the comments, all are on the surface about getting more people using the app.

But what vitaminwater seems to really have in mind is a massive market research project. By combining web-wide information with as many Facebook users as possible, the company is gathering new insights into what sort of new flavor users will want the most, in terms of flavors, vitamins and bottle design.

Coca Cola-owned vitaminwater will announce the new, crowd-sourced flavor in December, with the product slated to hit the shelves next March. If the company can use this app to figure out a popular new flavor, this market research could translate to lots of new revenue next year.

Facebook App Reaches 2 Million Users; Sounds Spammy To Me

“Birthday” Application Quickly Amasses 1.6 Million Users – And Spam Complaints: “

The Birthday application on Facebook has experienced incredible growth recently, but well-wishers may want to think twice before sending the gift to a friend. The app has grown from zero to nearly 2 million active users in the last two weeks, but there are quite a few negative reviews on the page claiming the app is a source of excessive spam.

birthday-facebook-appdata

Source: AppData

On the surface, the application seems pretty standard — a couple of gifts are immediately available to users, with several more unlocked when recipients accept your gifts. However, the language in the application could cause users to mistakenly send invitations to friends to “confirm their birthdays.” These factors are apparently resulting in a fairly large influx of spam, which has led to an extremely low user rating for the Birthday app and more than a few bad reviews from users.

birthdayapp

Sending a friend a birthday gift laced with spam probably isn’t users’ intent. The developer also doesn’t reveal any information about themselves, with a faceless profile photo, no friends on their personal profile and no other applications or information available.

However, by developing an application purportedly around birthday messaging – a very popular activity on Facebook – Birthday was able to reach a large user number before word spread that it is spreading spam. It will be interesting to see how quickly users catch on, or if Facebook imposes any changes on the developer.

birthdaycomments