By Me Yesterday: The World Leader in Mobile Facebook Access? Indonesia

My WSJ Digits post begins:

Indonesia leads the world in terms of the percentage of its Facebook users who access the social network on their mobile devices.

That’s according to research firm eMarketer, which said Thursday that some 92.4% of Facebook users in the country — 62.6 million people — tap into the social network via their phones at least once a month. That’s up from 88.1% last year and 77.7% in 2013.

Click through for more.

By Me Today: WhatsApp’s Now Available on a Web Browser

My post at WSJ Digits begins:

Users of the popular messaging app WhatsApp can now conduct their chats via a Web browser — with a few restrictions.

The Facebook-owned service with some 700 million monthly active users said in a blog post Wednesday that people can now link their mobile phones with a WhatsApp Web client, allowing them to write and read messages via their computers.

There are, however, a few limitations to the setup. First, those with iPhones are out of luck due to “Apple platform limitations,” WhatsApp says. The service works with Android, BlackBerry, Nokia S60 and Windows devices, but users need the latest version of WhatsApp.

To start, WhatsApp users can visit Web.WhatsApp.com via Google’s Chrome browser on their computers, where a QR code will appear.

Click through for instructions on how to set it up.

And, yes, an you’ll see an image of a WhatsApp conversation I had via a Web browser…with myself.

As I said on Facebook earlier: Anything in the name of journalism.

By Me Yesterday: Twitter Buys India-Based Startup ZipDial to Tap Emerging Markets

Our main story at WSJ.com begins:

Twitter Inc. agreed to buy India-based mobile marketing startup ZipDial for an undisclosed sum in its first acquisition in Asia, as it seeks to tap more offline users in fast-growing emerging markets.

Countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil are key to Twitter as it tries to attract new users and advertising dollars, analysts say. Emerging markets are increasingly becoming an important part of Twitter’s growth strategy as it peaks in developed markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. In the three months ended September, Twitter reached 284 million monthly active users, about 77% of whom came from outside the U.S.

Bangalore-based ZipDial is known for its “missed call” marketing service, which allows consumers to dial a number for a company and hang up before connecting. The company in turn sends them free text messages containing advertisements and other content, like sports scores, without users incurring a charge.

A colleague and I also wrote this primer on ZipDial:

Twitter said Tuesday it is paying an undisclosed sum to acquire ZipDial, a Bangalore, India-based startup known for its success at “missed call” marketing.

Wait, what’s a missed call?

In India, many cost-conscious consumers use missed calls — they dial a number, let it ring, then hang up before connecting — to send a message, like “I’m running late,” to friends and family. A missed call is free, since callers are only charged when the other party answers.

What does ZipDial do?

ZipDial lets companies take advantage of this practice. The startup, which was founded in 2010 and has 56 employees, provides services that allow brands to advertise a number for “missed calls.”

For example, in one campaign for Colgate toothpaste, users could give a missed call to a special number shown on advertising banners in Mumbai, then receive a text message. Consumers would respond to that with their addresses, and then are sent a free sample of toothpaste.

ZipDial’s other clients have included the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney and more.

Click through for more.

My Q&A with Dan Neary, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific VP

It begins:

Dan Neary oversees Facebook Inc. ’s advertising operations across Asia-Pacific, a fast-growing region that is home to some of the social network’s biggest markets.

Nearly all of Facebook’s revenue—some $3.2 billion as of the third quarter—comes from fees companies pay to show users ads.

As the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company continues to add to its 1.35 billion monthly active users globally, many are coming from emerging Asian countries such as Indonesia and India.

Moreover, such users are accessing the platform not just on PCs, but increasingly on mobile devices, presenting new challenges and opportunities for Facebook and advertisers.

Mr. Neary, a 49-year-old Chicago native who began his career at Kellogg Co. before holding senior positions at Skype and eBay Inc., is tasked with ensuring the company continues to profit in an ever-changing technological environment.

In a recent interview at Facebook’s offices in Singapore, Mr. Neary discussed the shift to mobile, as well as what Facebook’s photo-sharing service Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp can contribute to the company.

Mr. Neary was cautious in addressing Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg ’s October visit to China and possible expansion there, saying only that having access to the country’s 1.3 billion people is an important part of Facebook’s future growth plan.

Click through to read the whole thing.

You may recall that some of my similar interviews in the past — part of our “Boss Talk” series — include chats with BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen; Twitter’s vice president of Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, Shailesh Rao; and Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin.

By Me and a Colleague: BlackBerry Releases High-End ‘Classic’ Smartphone in India

A story I wrote with colleague Jai Krishna:

Samsung this week said it would unveil in India a sub-$100 smartphone based on its own operating system, its latest attempt to turn around its declining sales.

That isn’t stopping rival BlackBerry from launching a high-end smartphone in the country, with the Canadian company hoping corporate executives and professionals there will pay a premium for its devices.

BlackBerry on Thursday said it is releasing its new Classic phone for 31,990 rupees ($518), slightly higher than the $449 it costs in the U.S., where it went on sale in December.

The Classic, which comes with a physical QWERTY keyboard and trackpad, reflects the company’s plan to appeal to corporate customers in search of secure services, Sunil Lalvani, managing director at BlackBerry India, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.

Click through to read the rest.

Aunt Cece and Her Pecan Pie Make Their WSJ Debut

2014 12 16 aunt cece

Longtime Newley.com readers will recall that I have blogged, in past years, about my Aunt Cece’s pecan pie.

I absolutely love it. And I make a point to bake one every Thanksgiving.

I’m happy to say that her fantastic dish figures in this story I wrote for WSJ Expat about connections that folks who live abroad feel to food from home:

American holidays and customs resonate strongly with me during this time of year, even amid the heat and sunshine of my adopted Southeast Asian home.

The nostalgia surprises me sometimes. Born in Oregon and raised in South Carolina, when I still lived in the U.S. I never really cared that much about Thanksgiving, for instance. Then I moved to Thailand in 2006. It was only there, surrounded by central Bangkok’s gray concrete buildings, with puttering tuk-tuks buzzing in my ears, that this most American of holidays firmly took root in my heart.

Perhaps it was homesickness mixing with a bit of sentimentality I didn’t know I had. The result was a hankering for down-home side dishes like deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, and—best of all—my Aunt Cece’s South Carolina pecan pie, not to mention cranberry sauce and my mother’s oyster pie. My wife—also an American—and I used these dishes to maintain a connection to home and celebrate with our close-knit group of friends since our relatives were so far away. We moved to Singapore in February and continue to celebrate American holidays here, in this similarly tropical city-state.

It turns out I’m not the only foreigner whose view on his or her home country’s holidays have changed over time, though not always in ways you’d expect.

Click through for photos, input from other expats, and — perhaps best of all — the recipe for Aunt Cece’s pie.

My Story on Lazada and E-Commerce in Indonesia

2014 11 23 indoecomm

My newest story focuses on a rapidly expanding startup, Lazada Indonsesia, that’s aiming to be the country’s Amazon.com. The piece also looks at the promise of e-commerce in the populous country.

It begins:

JAKARTA—Executives at Lazada Indonesia, a fast-growing e-commerce startup aiming to be the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia, faced a couple of unexpected challenges when they opened a cavernous new warehouse outside Jakarta last year.

The executives, who hail from Europe, were forced to build a special, refrigerated room after realizing that some perfumes they stocked were evaporating in Indonesia’s tropical heat.

Then there was something even more surprising: Staffers were forced to hold a special ceremony to rid the warehouse of what the staff feared was a ghostly presence lurking in the facility.

Challenges are par for the course at Lazada Indonesia, founded in Jakarta in 2012 and partly funded by Rocket Internet AG , a Berlin-based tech incubator that went public last month. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is still small, and Lazada had to build a lot of what it needed from scratch. But the company is plowing ahead so it can get a head start in the country over international giants like Amazon.com Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and eBay Inc.

Meanwhile, I wrote an accompanying post for our Digits blog about some of the local competitors Lazada is battling in Indonesia:

E-commerce startup Lazada is moving quickly in its quest to become Southeast Asia’s Amazon.com.

But as the company expands its operations in populous Indonesia — which analysts say is on track to be the region’s most lucrative market — it’s battling not just big multinational players like the Seattle-based behemoth. It’s also competing with some popular homegrown sites, too.

Lazada Indonesia, a business-to-consumer site founded in 2012 that offers everything from Xiaomi smartphones to bedding and badminton rackets, sees more visitors than the likes of Amazon, Alibaba and eBay in Indonesia, according to data from research firm SimilarWeb.

But several local shopping sites, little known outside Indonesia, are also hugely popular in the country of more than 240 million people.

At the top of this post: An image I snapped inside Lazada’s warehouse outside Jakarta.

Zalora Opens ‘Offline’ Shop in Singapore, and Bhutan Gets Google’s Street View Treatment

Those are the subjects of a couple of stories I wrote last week.

The first:

Amazon may be planning to open a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce startup Zalora has beaten them to the punch in Singapore.

Zalora, which launched in 2012 and says it has served more than 2 million customers throughout the region, late last week unveiled its first physical store, a 4,000-square-foot shop in an upscale Singapore shopping mall.

It’s the first such physical store for an online retailer in the region, according to Zalora’s regional managing director, Tito Costa, who cited clothier Bonobos and subscription beauty-products service Birchbox as having used brick and mortar stores to good effect in the U.S. In China, meanwhile, Internet giant Alibaba has invested in a local department store operator.

And the second:

You can now take in dramatic vistas from the tiny, isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — via Google.

The tech giant Thursday unveiled Street View images — the Google Maps feature providing 360-degree panoramic images — for some 1,900 miles of roads in the remote country, which sits between India and China and is home to about 700,000 people.

That includes images of the Punakha Dzong administrative headquarters, which is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. There are also images from the capital, Thimpu, and the towns of Paro and Trongsa, as well as panoramas from a highway and photos of the country’s National Museum.

Google says the effort, which was undertaken with the cooperation of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, required snapping more than 200,000 panoramic shots with one of its camera-equipped cars.

FireChat App Takes Off Amid Hong Kong Protests

That’s the subject of a brief story I wrote yesterday:

A new mobile messaging app that enables users to communicate in the absence of cellular or Internet connections is seeing a surge in downloads among Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

The free FireChat app, which launched in March, was downloaded 100,000 times in Hong Kong between Sunday morning and Monday morning, said Micha Benoliel, co-founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Open Garden, which developed the app.

It is unclear how many protesters are using it to communicate regularly during the protests, which mark Hong Kong’s most serious confrontation with Beijing in more than a decade. Students and other protesters have flooded the city’s streets in the weeks since Beijing’s decision on Aug. 31 to impose limits on how Hong Kong elects its leader. The protests escalated Sunday, with police using pepper spray and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Click through for more.