Best of the Web: Alibaba’s IPO means consumer tech innovations from Asia can’t be ignored anymore

Alibaba finally filed for its highly anticipated initial public offering yesterday. The IPO of the world’s largest e-commerce company is expected to surpass the $16.4 billion raised in 2012 by Facebook. But as Catherine Shu explains in TechCrunch, media coverage of the IPO has been limited. She thinks that’s because Alibaba is best  known outside China for its unglamorous flagship product Alibaba.com, a business to business wholesale site.

Shu argues perceptions of China consumer tech companies have begun to shift and these tech innovations can’t be ignored. She looks at the reasons behind Alibaba’s success:

One critical reason for the company’s rapid growth is that the e-commerce platforms of Alibaba Group, including C2C platform Taobao.com, have allowed small-to-medium sized businesses to flourish.

Alibaba is also busy creating a massive logistics network that will reach all of China, including the so-called third-tier cities in its western provinces. That is a savvy move because many e-commerce companies tend to hone in on large cities, like Beijing and China, in the east. Though there is a wide income gap between China’s inner provinces and its coastal cities, Alibaba is making a long-term bet that will ensure its continued position as the country’s largest e-commerce player.

Alibaba has also spread its tentacles into the world of finance.

Alibaba Group isn’t just an e-commerce company anymore. Along with other Chinese internet companies like Baidu, which is known mainly for its search products, Alibaba Group is also becoming a pioneer in China’s finance industry, which is subject to stringent and slow-to-adapt regulations from the government.

Alipay, an Alibaba Group affiliate, makes it easy for consumers to purchase goods online, while Alipay’s microfinance site Yu’e Bao (‘leftover treasure’ in Chinese), which launched in June 2013, lets users to invest tiny amounts of money — as little as one yuan (about 17 cents) — into a money market fund.

By the end of last year, Yu’e Bao had become the biggest single public fund in China, with 43.03 million users from more than 31 provinces who had made deposits of 185.3 billion yuan (about $30.4 billion).

Yu explores other Chinese tech companies which are making waves abroad including Baidu, which is often referred to as the ‘Google of China’ because it is the country’s top search engine.

But Baidu’s reach stretches far beyond search. Its innovation center, based in Beijing and Silicon Valley, is developing new ways to use big data and artificial intelligence.

According to a profile by Wired, Baidu’s R&D center, called The Institute of Deep Learning (IDL), in Cupertino is “exploring computer systems that can learn in much the same way people do.”

Like Google and Apple, two companies that may eventually find themselves competing directly with Baidu in the near-future, areas the company is focusing on at IDL includes deep learning algorithms and speech- and image-recognition.

IDL “could be a way for Baidu to attract top talent and let creative engineers explore all sorts of blue-sky innovations–stuff akin to Google Glass and other projects gestated at Google’s secretive X Lab,” wrote Daniela Hernandez in Wired.

Twitter is not dying, it’s on the cusp of getting bigger – here’s why

In the article Twitter is not dying, it’s on the cusp of getting bigger. Will Oremus responds to claims in The Atlantic that Twitter is on the way out as a social network.

Oremus says the argument against Twitter is an “unsubstantiated hunch”. 

Wall Street—along with everyone else who’s down on Twitter because it has “a growth problem”—is making a mistake by comparing it to Facebook. Twitter is not a social network. Not primarily, anyway. It’s better described as a social media platform, with the emphasis on “media platform”. And media platforms should not be judged by the same metrics as social networks.

He argues as a media platform, rather than a social network, Twitter’s chief function is to help people keep up with what’s going on in the world, and what influential people are thinking and doing at any given time. In that regard, Oremus says Twitter’s closer to a news service than a social network and he says Twitter is still alive and kicking. 

Even if you’ve never signed up for Twitter, you’ve almost certainly been part of the audience for tweets, whether they’re displayed on television, quoted on the radio, or embedded in an article like this one. Whether you choose to or not, you’re likely to see more in the months and years to come. Yet you won’t show up in any of the metrics Wall Street is relying on to assess its growth.

Oremus argues Twitter’s wider audience is what will drive Twitter’s growth. 

In the future, Twitter is also likely to find new ways to capitalise on its vast indirect audience. For example, those tweets you see embedded in articles online could come with their own advertisements, analogous to the pre-roll ads that play before embedded YouTube videos.

Jury: Apple should duke it out with Google over patents

Jury members in the Apple v Samsung trial say if Apple thinks Google’s Android infringes its mobile tech it should battle directly with Google rather than handset makers, C-Net reports.

Apple took pains to make its patent-infringement suit all about Samsung, not Android, but the jury wasn’t quite convinced. Members of the jury, who spoke with reporters and attorneys Monday following the end of the trial, said Google didn’t factor into their decision for damages or what device features infringed and what didn’t, aside from testimony by certain developers who had created Google features.

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