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Yesterday, Yahoo turned in what its fans kindly described as a well-at-least-we’re-not-falling-off-the cliff earnings report.

True, true, but it was nothing to be proud of either, with earnings and revenue down in the third quarter, along with a slew of other business deficits. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gamely tried to smooth it all over – a unique talent of hers – in a kind of retro-chic method, by pointing out that Yahoo’s user traffic is back to 2011 levels and that mobile was growing.

Of course, it’s booming everywhere across the Internet, with rivals managing to monetize the explosive growth that Yahoo simply still cannot.

As the New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth aptly wrote in the lede of her piece about the Q3 debacle: “The honeymoon is over … 15 months after she took over, Ms. Mayer has failed to translate Yahoo’s user increase into meaningful revenue growth.”

This is not to say that she will not eventually, especially if she can keep attracting top talent to help her.

But it’s lucky Mayer has the magnificent performance of China’s Alibaba Group as a lifesaver. Yahoo, which owns a big stake in the e-commerce juggernaut, has seen its stock boom in tandem with investor frenzy to get any piece of the Alibaba rocket ship before its expected IPO next year.

Essentially: Buy Yahoo, get Alibaba; or perhaps more simply put, buy Yahoo as a proxy for it.

But why take my word for it? Here’s the Yahoo slides, press release and also a filing on a new agreement with Alibaba to be able to hold onto more of its shares upon the IPO (Yahoo knows a good investment when they see it) to peruse to get a handle on what’s actually going on.

And that is: A still-damaged core business that is struggling mightily to turn around, with a lot of help from Asia and also the mojo provided by Mayer’s own personal halo.

Here’s Yahoo’s own data to look over:

Q313_YHOOEarningsSlides

Yahoo – Yahoo Reports Third Quarter 2013 Results

Form 8-K

(Photo from Mayer’s Tumblr blog, showing new sign at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale HQ with new logo she helped design.)

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Flickr/Ei Katsumata

The adage should be familiar by now: Teens may have a Facebook profile, but they sure don’t think it’s cool anymore.

In a move on Wednesday afternoon, however, Facebook is starting to become a bit like its younger, hipper competitors.

Starting this afternoon, new Facebook teenage users age 13 through 17 will now be able to create public posts viewable by any other user, whether or not they’re connected to one another on Facebook. Heretofore, teenagers were only allowed to make posts viewable to friends, or people that were one-degree separated from in their direct network (“friends of friends”).

Also, teens can also let people “follow” them (a la Twitter or Instagram) instead of befriending them, a way to cordon off the crowd that you only want to see certain types of posts.

Facebook postures the move as no big deal – just like any other social network would allow for.

“While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services,” Facebook said in a company blog post (italics mine).

And that, in and of itself, is an interesting statement. Some could argue that the entire original point of Facebook is that it wasn’t like other social networks such as Twitter; Facebook was the place to go for personal interactions with people you know. Twitter was the “global town square” where you could talk with anyone you wanted.

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But this is just another in a series of recent moves by Facebook to become a more public-facing network, one that, perhaps, the teens will enjoy all the more.

A few quick caveats: Teens who are new to the network will begin posting to “friends” by default, and pop-up tutorials will explain how to change privacy settings in case they want to go public. I imagine that could help Facebook dodge some early flak from privacy watchdogs.

And to be fair to Facebook, that’s a greater degree of flexibility and control in terms of sharing audience than Twitter, which basically has only two settings – public or private.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what the Facebook of, say, a year from now will look like, how different it may be from the one of just a few years ago. Perhaps it’ll be one that the kids think is pretty cool.

Or perhaps not.

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Only a few months after closing a Series B round of $60 million that valued the ephemeral messaging company at $800 million, Snapchat has been in talks for another funding that values it at up to $3.6 billion, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources also added that the funding itself would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and that the lead investor might be a strategic party from Asia.

Such a deal could still fall apart, of course, but the effort has become well known among several Silicon Valley venture firms, who have considered investing.

A spokeswoman for Snapchat declined to comment.

The investor is neither China’s Alibaba Group nor Japan’s Rakuten, which has put a lot of money in Silicon Valley startups of late, said sources. One interesting possibility would be China’s Internet giant Tencent, which makes money from in-app transactions.

The move by the Los Angeles-based company comes on the heels of another massive funding round raised by social scrapbooking company Pinterest, which announced earlier this week that it just raised $225 million at a $3.8 billion valuation.

Besides the huge piles of investment dough being poured into them, here’s what else the pair have in common: Little to no revenue.

That does not seem to have stopped a panoply of venture and other investors from jumping in and ponying up with huge amounts of cash for the privilege of investing in several fast-growing startups, hoping to grab ahold of the next Twitter or Facebook early.

Launched in 2011, Snapchat has grown wildly popular in a relatively short span of time, effectively creating an entirely new genre of messaging category with its “ephemeral” pictures and videos that last for only a matter of seconds.

Snapchat’s last round – which it called a “scaling round” for infrastructure improvements – was announced in late June, led by Institutional Venture Partners, with participation from General Catalyst Partners and SV Angel. Previous investors Benchmark Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated. With that round, the company had raised around $75 million in total.

Snapchat's Evan Spiegel

Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel

All the fervor has been due to Snapchat’s fast growth and younger demographic. Only a few months ago, co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel boasted that the service had more than 200 million snapped pictures and video taken by its users on a daily basis, up from 150 million just months before. Then in September at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, he said that the number had grown to 350 million self-destructing messages daily.

At the time, there was also an additional $20 million in a secondary offering just four months ago.

At the time of the June funding, in an interview with AllThingsD, Spiegel noted: “We’re excited about in-app transactions because of what we’ve seen in the Asian markets.”

A clue!

Snapchat has clearly been a phenom of late.

Indeed, the app has proved so popular – and potentially worrisome to established social players – that sources said when Spiegel continually rebuffed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition offers, Zuckerberg cloned the app outright with a service called Poke. Zuckerberg’s offering famously flopped, while Snapchat continues to grow.

Most recently, Snapchat has begun to experiment with features outside of its core ephemeral messaging service. The company launched its Stories product last month, essentially a long-form play on Facebook’s status update in the form of a picture or video. And recently, Spiegel has grown more keen on the idea of monetization, experimenting with bands and listening to music inside the app.

The company, however, has not been without its problems. Early on in its history, Snapchat had to fight the perception that it was a “sexting service” for tweens, a fly-by-night app used to easily spread lewd photos. And it is still involved in ongoing litigation with Frank Brown, a collaborator from the service’s early days, who is suing the company he was pushed out of.

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Nextdoor, the locally driven private social network for neighborhoods, announced on Tuesday that it raised a round of funding, adding another set of high-profile venture firms to the list of the company’s backers.

The $60 million round was led jointly by new investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Tiger Global Management, with participation from Comcast Ventures and existing investors Benchmark, Greylock Partners and Shasta Ventures.

The move, which comes just as Nextdoor celebrates its second anniversary since launch, brings the total amount of funding raised to about $100 million over the last 18 months, according to the company. CEO Nirav Tolia positions it as a strategic move, bolstering the company’s coffers as it gears up for a push into international expansion.

“We needed first of all to make sure we had our domestic house in order; then, second, to get the right talent in building,” Tolia said, pointing to Minna King, his hire for VP of International. “Third for us is to be demand-driven about our international road map. Where are we receiving most demand in foreign countries?”

Nextdoor plans to move into English-speaking countries in the first part of 2014, targeting places such as Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa before moving on to other areas, like Brazil and Japan, which Tolia said are next on the road map. The company, which does not disclose specifics on its user numbers, said it was now being used in more than 22,000 neighborhoods across the U.S., with nearly half of its members regularly contributing content. Earlier this year, Nextdoor released its first smartphone apps for consumers.

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The very nature of the service, however, makes growth a particularly interesting challenge. Positioned as a privacy-focused network for those within neighborhoods to communicate with one another around local issues, the startup strictly limits communication to those within the same general nearby areas. Identity, too, is checked through address verification or other methods.

For these high-profile venture firms, it is a big continued bet on a startup focused on the local space, a problematic area that has seen many companies try – and fail – to solve it. (AOL’s cash-bleeding Patch initiatives immediately come to mind.) Nextdoor makes no revenue to speak of as of yet, though it will have $90 million in the bank to expand abroad after this round.

Kleiner’s John Doerr, who is bullish on the social-local-mobile sector, and will take a position as a special adviser with the new investment, thinks Nextdoor is uniquely positioned to approach the issue of local – especially when contrasted against Patch.

“There’s nothing inherently social about Patch, no viral properties that go along with it,” Doerr said in an interview. “While Patch owns the content, it doesn’t really own the graph,” he said, referring to a common term first made popular by Facebook’s large map of social members, and later by LinkedIn’s professional user base. “The converse is true for Nextdoor. There are strongly viral properties, neighbors are strongly encouraged to invite others.”

Kleiner’s Mary Meeker will also help advise Nextdoor as part of the investment, while Tiger Global’s Lee Fixel will focus mostly on helping the startup’s international growth efforts – his firm’s particular area of expertise.

It’s well-established at this point that the U.S. National Security Agency obtains data about people from their Internet service providers through its secret court systems. But the NSA also has a backdoor to Google and Yahoo data centers, according to the Washington Post, which has fresh documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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The report details a project called MUSCULAR that grabs data from fiber-optic cables. That would be illegal on U.S. soil, but it takes place overseas. Google has said it is actively working to encrypt data flowing between its data centers, while Yahoo has not.

It’s unclear how useful MUSCULAR has been, but the Post reports that it “has produced important intelligence leads against hostile foreign governments.”

Google sounds freaked out in its statement to the Post. The company is “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity. … We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.”

Yahoo’s statement is more circumspect: “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.”

empty wallet shutterstock

Want to sell your startup to Facebook or Google? Don’t try doing it in late summer.

Both Web giants, which have been very active acquirers for the last few years, slowed down considerably in the third quarter of the year.

Facebook, which had spent $246 million buying companies in the first six months of 2013, spent $14 million in the next three months. Google had a similar pattern: In addition to Waze, the mapping startup it bought for $1 billion, Google bought 15 other companies for $344 million in the first half of 2013. But Google only shelled out $25 million, on five purchases, in Q3.

Two quick off-the-cuff theories to explain the slowdown, which aren’t mutually exclusive:

  • Perhaps both Google and Facebook have concluded that the startup shelves have been pretty picked-over, and there’s not a lot else they need to buy.
  • Bankers need breaks, too.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/PTstock)

Google’s Motorola unit on Monday sent out a “save the date” announcement, tipping Nov. 13 as the launch date for its rumored low-cost Moto G phone.

Moto G globe-feature

The invite, as is typical, didn’t say much. But it depicted a lush-looking globe, perhaps an indication that the company has global ambitions for this phone, as contrasted with its Moto X phone, which was aimed at regaining share in North America.

Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside indicated during his D11 appearance that the company was interested in bringing out lower-cost devices as part of its efforts, a point he reiterated in an August interview.

“Without giving too much away, one area that I talked about at D was this massive market for devices that are super high-quality, but also reasonably priced,” Woodside told AllThingsD at the time of the Moto X launch.

As part of its quarterly earnings last month, Google said its Motorola unit had $1.18 billion in revenue, down from $1.78 billion a year earlier.

Moto G invite

BlackBerry is giving up its effort to sell itself to a large investor, and will replace CEO Thorsten Heins, the company said on Monday.

The company said that, rather than bid for it, Fairfax Financial will lead a group of investors pouring $1 billion into the troubled handset maker, with Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa becoming lead director. Former Sybase CEO John Chen will serve as interim CEO and executive chairman once the investment is completed, which BlackBerry said should be within the next two weeks.

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The investment will come in the form of a debt sale, BlackBerry said, with Fairfax itself putting $250 million into the company.

“Today’s announcement represents a significant vote of confidence in BlackBerry and its future by this group of preeminent, long-term investors,” current BlackBerry chair Barbara Stymiest said in a statement. “The BlackBerry Board conducted a thorough review of strategic alternatives and pursued the course of action that it concluded is in the best interests of BlackBerry and its constituents, including its shareholders. This financing provides an immediate cash injection on terms favorable to BlackBerry, enhancing our substantial cash position. Some of the most important customers in the world rely on BlackBerry and we are implementing the changes necessary to strengthen the company and ensure we remain a strong and innovative partner for their needs.”

Monday was the deadline that the company had set for investor Fairfax Financial to put in a formal bid for the company. In September, BlackBerry had announced a deal to sell itself to Fairfax for $4.7 billion, however the deal was nonbinding and contingent on the investment company lining up capital to finance the bid. BlackBerry had also been seeking other buyers.

The announcement marks the end of the company’s strategic review, BlackBerry said. However, it leaves the company’s future as uncertain as ever; confidence in BlackBerry from investors and customers has been waning, despite reassurances from the company that it and its products are here to stay.

In addition to ceding the CEO post, Heins will step down from the board of directors, as will director David Kerr.

The move was reported earlier Monday by Canada’s Globe and Mail, citing sources.

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Foursquare is saying goodbye to its product head, a longtime employee whose ties to CEO Dennis Crowley go back many years.

Yesterday, Crowley told employees that Alex Rainert, who was the mobile discovery app’s 10th hire, is leaving. Crowley is also reorganizing his product team, and will split Rainert’s duties between lieutenants Noah Weiss, who had previously overseen Foursquare’s ad products, and Jon Steinback, the company’s VP of marketing.

The move comes while Foursquare is in the middle of its most significant product rollout: A new version of the app that will automatically offer users tips about places they’re visiting, without requiring them to check in with the app itself. And it comes seven months after Foursquare raised $41 million in debt financing.

Crowley said the new version of the app, which the company refers to internally as “Pilgrim,” is “working really well. It’s working better than we expected it to work.” The update is now available to all Android users and a limited set of iOS users.

Crowley said the reorg, which doesn’t include any other departures besides Rainert’s, is supposed to help the company “figure out what the Foursquare of 2014 will look like.”

Rainert and Crowley met in graduate school, and the two men co-founded Dodgeball, the location startup that Google acquired in 2005. Four years later, they were back again with Foursquare.

If there is a Twittery backstory here, neither Crowley or Rainert are letting on. Both describe the move as a product of discussions that started up in the last few weeks, prompted in part by the fact that Rainert’s wife is returning to work after a maternity leave.

The fact that he doesn’t have another job or company lined up is natural, Rainert said.

“The past four years have been so intense that I don’t even know how I would think about something else until I went full stop,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is jump into something else without thinking about what I’ve learned in the last four years. Which is a lot.”

(Update: Here’s Rainert describing his departure in his own words.)

Facebook’s mobile image took a bit of a beating in the weeks that followed the April launch of its Home software for Android.

Ondrejka, right, with Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

Ondrejka, right, with Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

But, more than six months later, Facebook mobile engineering VP Cory Ondrejka said that the company learned a lot from the experience – knowledge that is going into both improving Home and into developing other mobile products.

“We will keep iterating on Home,” he said during an interview at this week’s Techonomy conference near Tucson, Ariz. “We really have a better understanding of where to take Home in the future.”

One of the most recent changes is the capability to add photos from other services to be part of the Facebook Home experience (Home replaces the standard Android lock screen and home screen). That and other improvements mean that those who try Home now may have a more favorable impression than those who did so in its early days.

“Most people have never seen Home,” Ondrejka said. “They may have heard about it.”

More broadly, Ondrejka said the Facebook Home experience has helped the company better develop overall Android software. By digging deeply into the operating system, Ondrejka said the company has a keen understanding of the kinds of products it can create going forward.

Google has also turned on options in its Google Play Store that let the company simultaneously offer early alpha and beta versions of its products to willing testers while maintaining an earlier version for general consumers. That is a big deal, he said, since even a large company like Facebook can’t possibly internally test on all the different combinations of devices and operating system versions that the software will be run on after release.

Meanwhile, a project to preinstall Home on phones appears to still be in hiatus. Facebook touted a wide range of expected hardware partners when it launched Home, but the effort was put on hold after initial critiques of Home and slow sales of the HTC First, the lone device to ship with Home preloaded. AT&T eventually sold through the initial batch of HTC First devices, following price cuts.

Ondrejka said that preloading Home has become less necessary after a range of changes that Google has made in recent updates to Android.

Instead, Facebook has been focusing on its core app, as well as companion programs such as Facebook Messenger.

“It’s certainly something we are always exploring,” Ondrejka said.

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