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BEST OF THE WEB: Can Meg Whitman bring HP back from the brink?

Traditional PC makers have been in a bad way for a while now. With more consumers buying laptops and smartphones, consumers no longer need a new desktop every few years.

That’s meant bad things for HP. The company has suffered one of the harshest corporate downfalls in recent history, and now Meg Whitman – the firm’s fourth chief in two-and-a-half years – is attempting to save the business from disaster.

But as this piece in BusinessWeek explains, it’s going to be tough.

Whitman’s had a few tough years herself. A failed $150 million campaign for the California governorship included a public squabble with a former housekeeper.

“Running for political office was the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says in the new publication. “When things seem challenging here, I go back to that.”

But can Whitman save HP? The company makes PCs and printers, which customers just aren’t buying anymore. In the past couple of years, the company has lost 70% of its value – a cool $US68 billion.

So how long will it take to change the company?

“Five years…some people don’t like that answer.”

This piece is an excellent look into both what caused HP to fall so fast, and Whitman’s own personal style. The company was one of the earliest darlings of Silicon Valley, complete with a casual and playful office environment.

The story chronicles a steep downfall. Chief executive Mark Hurd had built the company into the largest tech business in the world – it counted $US126 billion in sales in 2010.

He resigned after being accused of sexual harassment – but not without some counsel from Apple chief Steve Jobs, who said that a healthy HP was important to Silicon Valley. The piece reveals that Hurd’s successors tended to blame him for bad decisions.

Now, Whitman is trying to change all that. One of her first steps was to take executives out of their office and place them in cubicles.

“We are a Marriott company, not the Four Seasons,” she told a meeting of executives.

There are plenty of people telling Whitman what to do, including break the company into several pieces. But she’s confident the business can succeed on its own terms.

“We’ll see how it turns out…my view is that it will be one of the great comeback stories in American business.”

A bold call.

How Facebook plans to beat Google at its own game

This week has been a significant one for Facebook. The social network announced a new search product that allows users to trawl through the huge amounts of data in their network.

The possibilities are endless. But analysts have rightly latched on to the fact this could give Google a run for its money. If users are searching Facebook for places to eat, and things to do, then Google could see a big dent in its user base.

But as this piece on Wired points out, it goes even further than that.

Facebook created the search function to solve a specific problem – sorting through your Facebook friends is a huge task, especially if you have several hundred. As the piece rightly points out, Google has been dreading this day for a while. Google’s data can’t access Facebook, and now, Facebook has the ability to search through it in detail.

Zuckerberg is still adamant the product isn’t web search – but he also says the product can do something no other company can.

“All those other services are indexing primarily public information, and stuff in Facebook isn’t out there in the world — it’s stuff that people share.”

“There’s no real way to cut through the contents of what people are sharing, to fulfil big human needs about discovery, to find people you wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. And we thought we should do something about that. We’re the only service in the world that can do that.”

The story of the product begins in 2011, when Zuckerberg asked former Google employee Lars Rasmussen to join him for a discussion. Rasmussen, who has previously worked in Australia, was part of the team which originally created Google Maps and Google Wave.

Rasmussen worked on Facebook Search for more than a year, until 50 engineers were working on the project. It became clear the project was so big it would require an update to the entire site.

A demonstration shown to Wired provides a good reason for several sites to worry – Facebook allows you to search for potential employees, photos of your family members, and even potential dating partners.

And while Zuckerberg is still saying this is different from Google, he doesn’t hesitate when asked whether the number of queries could match the search giant.

“Hopefully, over time,” he says. “But we’re building this because we think it’ll be something that people want to use.”

Google should be worried. Check out the story for an in-depth look at the future of search.

The YouTube revolution

Here at Best of the Web we’ve highlighted a few articles that have examined the way YouTube is changing, but this feature at the New Yorker deserves a look.

It’s no secret the company is looking to emphasise its “channels”, hubs of content designed by people who don’t have access to the Hollywood machine.

YouTube is aiming to change the way we consume content. Rather than have the television when we can watch certain shows, a video sharing site has the ability to open up new avenues of media consumption.

The man responsible for a lot of YouTube’s growth is Sala Kamangar, but he says in this piece he has a specific challenge – to get people watching entire programs. The longer people stay, the more money Google makes from ads.

“Our data suggests TV watching is on the rise,” he said. “It seems to have increased from four to five hours in recent years, and we think it will keep increasing. Screen time in general will increase. I wake up with a Droid next to my bed, and I immediately look into the screen for my instructions.”

“That’s the trend – more screen time – and we think that will benefit YouTube.”

If you’re a YouTube user, then you’d better check this one out – you might notice some of these changes occur over the next few years, or even months.

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