Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Tell Your Gullible Relatives Not To Click On Any Banned Lady Gaga Video Links

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 09:26 AM PDT

There is a fairly egregious worm going around now that masquerades as a YouTube link for a “banned” Lady Gaga video. When you click on the bit.ly link it sends you to a fake YouTube page and then asks for permission to access your Twitter account. This results in another infected tweet being sent out on your Twoot stream, thereby continuing the long, sad cycle.

Read more…



Cardpool Mobile Allows You To Buy And Use Gift Cards On The Go

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 09:00 AM PDT

Y Combinator-backed Cardpool recently launched the ability to sell a gift card online without having to mail it in via snail mail. Cardpool launched this feature because the startup realized that many customers didn’t want to wait for cards to arrive in the mail and were impulsive buyers. Now the startup is taking this one step further with the launch of Cardpool Mobile, a web app that allows customers who have an iPhone or Android phone purchase discounted gift cards that are instantly delivered to their phone so they can use them in store or online immediately.

Customers can literally be waiting in line at the checkout counter, and can purchase gift cards at discounted rates for the value. Cardpool allows you to buy card at discounts (which vary depending on the store), users get more for their money. For example, for a $30 BestBuy card you will receive a 6 percent discount.

Taking Cardpool mobile makes sense considering it gives consumers access to discounts on the go, and capitalizes on the online to offline shopping experience. The startup says that mobile gift cards can be used at any retail location as well as online. Once you purchase the card via the mobile app, you can simply show the gift card code to the cashier for the discount.

The startup says that Cardpool Mobile invites are being sent to existing customers first and will be rolled out to the public soon afterwards. Cardpool has raised angel funding from a number of well known investors including Jeff Fluhr, Ron Conway, Max Levchin, Mitch Kapor, Alfred Lin, Naval Ravikant, Chris Dixon, Chris Sacca, and Paul Buchheit.



Russian Search Giant Yandex Seeks To Raise Up To $1 Billion In IPO

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 08:54 AM PDT

Yandex, one of the leading Internet companies in Russia, this morning announced that it has filed a registration statement with the SEC for a proposed initial public offering, as expected. The number of shares to be offered and the price range for the offering have not yet been determined, but the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the company had been given a preliminary valuation of between $6 billion and $9 billion ahead of the filing.

According to the filing, the proposed maximum aggregate offering price amounts to $1 billion, which should give you an indication of how much Yandex seeks to raise.

A portion of the shares will be issued by Yandex, and a portion will be sold by certain of its shareholders. Yandex will list its Class A ordinary shares on NASDAQ (symbol: “YNDX”).

Yandex operates the most popular search engine and the most visited website in Russia (it is also the largest Russian Internet company by revenue). In 2010, the company generated 64% of all search traffic in Russian, trumping Google.

In March 2011, Yandex.ru website attracted 38.3 million unique visitors. Aside from Russia, Yandex has operations in Belarus (yandex.by), Kazakhstan (yandex.kz) and Ukraine (yandex.ua). Total revenues for 2010 hovered around $440 million.

Based on the filing, net income for 2010 was $134 million.

Founded back in 1997, Yandex has been reported to be preparing an IPO before, with talks dating back all the way to 2006. In 2008, the company planned for an initial public offering but quickly moved to indefinitely delay those plans due to the global economic turmoil.

Yandex is among the largest high-tech companies in Russia, with an estimated workforce of about 2,500 employees. Currently, Yandex has branches all over Russia (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Kazan), Ukraine (Kiev, Odessa, Simferopol) and in the United States (in Palo Alto, CA, to be exact).

Morgan Stanley is acting as sole global coordinator for the proposed offering. Deutsche Bank Securities and Goldman Sachs are acting as joint bookrunners.

The SEC filing follows in the footsteps of fellow Russian Internet giant Mail.ru’s successful listing – the company raised roughly $1 billion at the end of last year.

Also read:

Russian search giant Yandex partners with local Facebook-clone VKontakte
Russian search engine Yandex gets a semantic injection
Yandex acquires WebVisor's behavior analysis technology, team
Yandex acquires Loginza, the single sign-in plugin maker

Yandex IPO to Make Dozens of Yandex Employees Millionaires (Quintura blog)



Kickstarter, Two Years And 20,000 Projects Later: $53 Million Pledged, $40 Million Collected

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 08:53 AM PDT

Two years ago, crowd-funding phenom Kickstarter launched with a handful of projects. Anyone with an idea for a film, album, art project, or product could make their pitch, say how much they needed to get started, and ask for pledges. Once the minimum amount needed was pledged, the project would get started. Today is Kickstarter’s birthday, and it is releasing some stats.

Over the past two years, $53 million has been pledged for 20,371 projects. Of that money, $40 million has been collected, going towards 7,496 successful projects (meaning they raised enough money to get off the ground). Over the same time period, 9,700 projects were unsuccessful and 3,175 are still live.

That means Kickstarter projects overall have a 43 percent success rate, and 85 percent of money that is pledged ends up being collected. The money pledged on Kickstarter is growing steeply (see chart). In March, $7 million was pledged, up from about $5 million in February, and $4 million in January. April will be even bigger.

The number of new projects also keeps on climbing. There are more than 2,000 projects added every month, double the rate a year ago.

If 85 percent of pledged money is collected, why do only 43 percent of projects succeed? The answer is that more money goes towards successful projects. About a fifth of all posted projects, 21 percent, never receive any pledges at all. Simply finding one person who believes in your project enough to pledge some cash towards it is a good predictor of success. Projects with only one pledge have a 52 percent success rate. And projects which manage to reach 30 percent of the funding needed, have a 90 percent success rate.

In the Founder Stories clip below from January, Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen talks about how projects like Diaspora (an open-sourced Facebook) or the TikTok iPod Nano watch take off on Kickstarter, and gives some advice for how to create a successful project.



Genomatica Exporting Sustainable Chemicals Technology To Asia

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 08:51 AM PDT

One of the largest chemical companies in Asia, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. in Japan, has formed a partnership with San Diego, Calif.-based Genomatica, a sustainable chemicals startup, the companies revealed today.

Genomatica converts sugar from corn wet mills, sugar cane and sugar beet — among other sources — into butanediol (BDO), a chemical used to make everything from the plastics in consumer electronics and cars, to the spandex and foam found in athletic shoes and apparel.

The chief executive and founder of Genomatic, Christophe Schilling, explained:

“Our scientists used computational modeling and simulation of metabolism to study how living cells function, then designed and developed organisms that produce BDO directly from sugar. No other company does this, and there's no naturally occurring organism that makes BDO. We project — using renewable feedstock and our proprietary processes — we will save on the order of 70 perecent of CO2-emissions, and use 60 percent less energy to produce BDO, and other chemicals.”

Through their partnership Mitsubishi Chemical and Genomatica plan to: build the first commercial “bio-BDO” plant in Asia as a joint venture; and to develop additional, sustainable chemicals and applications using Genomatica’s technology.

Mitsubishi is an equity investor in Genomatica, and was part of the company’s recent, $45 million Series C-1 funding round. In total, the startup has raised about $85 million from investors including: Alloy Ventures, Bright Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, Mohr Davidow Ventures, TPG Biotech, VantagePoint Venture Partners and Waste Management.



Investors Fred Wilson, John Borthwick and Josh Kopelman Are Ready To Disrupt NYC

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 07:53 AM PDT

Where there are startups, there are great investors backing them up. The resurgence of New York City as a startup capital the past few years has witnessed the rise in prominence of several East Coast investors across the spectrum from super angels to super VCs. Today, we are incredibly pleased to announce that Fred Wilson, John Borthwick and Josh Kopelman will all join us for this year’s Disrupt in NYC.

All three invest early and often, and represent a new breed of founder-friendly investors who contribute more than just capital. Speaking of money, if you still haven’t purchased a ticket and would like to do so, tickets are available here.

On the super VC end of the spectrum, it’s hard to compete with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. He was an early investor in Twitter, Zynga, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Etsy, Wilson is also a proficient blogger and an avid user of Web products, which is why founders like Jack Dorsey and Dennis Crowley seek him out.

John Borthwick is more of an operator than an investor. As CEO of betaworks he incubates projects which turn into startups (he is also the CEO of bit.ly, and oversaw the development of its News.me iPad reader), but he also invests in outside startups such as Tweetdeck, UberMedia, DailyBooth, and Summize (acquired by Twitter and powering its search).

Josh Kopelman is a founder-turned-VC. After he sold Half.com to eBay for $313 million in stock and ran it for a few years, he ended up starting First Round Capital, an early-stage venture firm that strives to puy the entrepreneur first because Kopelman’s been there.

Wilson, Borthwick, and Kopelman will join our previously announced speakers which include Tim Armstrong, Roelof Botha, Ron Conway, Dennis Crowley, Chris Dixon, and Arianna Huffington. As we get closer to Disrupt NYC 2011, we are going to keep announcing new guest speakers week after week. You can read the full list of announced speakers here.

This year’s Disrupt NYC is going to be huge. We have even taken over a whole pier and we have many more announcements and surprises coming up. Also, be on the lookout for our ticket giveaways every Friday.  If you'd like to become a part of the Disrupt experience and learn about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Jeanne Logozzo or Heather Harde for more information.

Fred Wilson
Partner, Union Square Ventures

Fred Wilson began his career in venture capital in 1987. He has focused exclusively on information technology investments for the past 17 years. In 1996, Fred co-founded Flatiron Partners. While at Flatiron, Fred was responsible for 14 investments including, ITXC, Patagon, Starmedia, TheStreet.com and Yoyodyne. Fred currently serves on the boards of Alacra, Comscore, iBiquity, Return Path, Instant Information and Tacoda Systems.

John Borthwick
CEO, betaworks

John Borthwick is CEO of betaworks. betaworks is new form of internet media company. Prior to betaworks John was Senior Vice President of Alliances and Technology Strategy for Time Warner Inc. John's company, WP-Studio, founded in 1994, was one of the first content studios in New York's Silicon Alley. John holds an MBA from Wharton (1994) and an undergraduate degree BA in Economics from Wesleyan University (1987).

Josh Kopelman
VC & Managing Partner, First Round Capital

Josh Kopelman is a venture capitalist and Managing Partner at First Round Capital. Previously, Kopelman founded Half.com, which was acquired by eBay in 2000. He remained with eBay for three years, running the Half.com business unit and growing eBay's Media marketplace to almost half a billion dollars in annual sales. In late 2003 Kopelman helped to found TurnTide, an anti-spam company that created the world's first anti-spam router. TurnTide was acquired by Symantec just six months later. In 2001 Kopelman co-founded the Kopelman Foundation, a non-profit grant fund for social entrepreneurs. He also serves as a member of the advisory boards for Wharton Entrepreneurial Center and the Weiss Tech House at the University of Pennsylvania.



Startups.com Now Offers Daily Deals For Online Business Owners

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 07:52 AM PDT

Back in October 2008, KillerStartups acquired the domain name Startups.com for roughly $500,000 in cash. About a year later, Startups.com was relaunched as a Q&A site for business questions. Today, KillerStartups is launching a new initiative: a daily deals site for Internet entrepreneurs and online business owners.

The new site, which will be hosted at Startups.com (the Q&A section moved to answers.startups.com) will feature a 50% to 80% discount on useful Web applications, software, ebooks, gadgets and other resources entrepreneurs might need to grow their online business. AppSumo launched a similar service back in July 2010.

KillerStartups says it spent months researching which resources an Internet entrepreneur needs to improve and automate an online business.

Startups.com will be free of charge – you can sign up here.

The company says it will start sharing deals with their subscribers as soon as they reach a minimum of 10,000 members.



Crisp Media Raises $6 Million From Intel And Others To Take Its Rich Media Platform Global

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 07:02 AM PDT

Crisp Media, a cross-platform rich media advertising company, today announced that it has raised a $6 million round of growth capital from Meritage Funds, Intel Capital, and EDBI. The round brings Crisp’s total investment to $17 million.

VP of Marketing Tom Limongello says that Crisp will use its new funding to expand into international markets, specifically Asia, and will be establishing a second headquarters in Singapore. The use of cell phones and tablets in Asia is exploding, Limongello said, so building a second home in Singapore, along with partnering with EDBI, one of Singapore’s leading investment firms, will assist the company in its plans to roll out its advertising solutions across Asia.

Crisp will also be using its funds to scale its recently launched rich media ad management platform, Crisp Engage. Engage is a self-service ad management platform that allows companies to build cross-platform rich media campaigns. Engage makes use of HTML5-based ad solutions to enable businesses to run campaigns through the browser, across desktops and mobile, that are relatively SDK-agnostic.

Crisp is currently runing its campaigns across the websites of top publishers like CBS, CNN, ESPN and Yahoo!, and has seen brands including GM, Ford, Toyota, VW, IBM, and Intel use the platform to create rich campaigns.

Crisp also recently teamed with several other publishers to form a consortium called ORMMA Initiative (or the Open Rich Media Mobile Advertising Initiative), which aims to simplify the serving of rich media ads into mobile apps by creating an open standard and API intended to be adopted by leading publishers, developers and vendors. Founding members include The Weather Channel, Crisp Wireless, TringApps, PointRoll, and Jumptap.

Why is this important for ad providers? Well, if an operating system launches a new version of a mobile app, mobile ad providers don’t want to sit around twiddling their thumbs as rich media vendors or analytics providers slowly conform to the new version. Providers want to roll out the best solution as soon as the update takes place, which ORMMA takes steps toward facilitating. A vendor-agnostic HTLM5 standard that can work on any platform, on any handset, without a dozen or so SDKs and constant updates and tweaks, well that’s music to the ears of both publishers and advertisers.

What’s more, if advertisers can scale easily and quickly across various platforms and devices, there will be a lot more money and stake, making the existence of standards (and fair use) not only important — but necessary. If ORMMA can continue to attract big players into its consortium, the more likely it is to become the standard, and an important functionary in the growth and scale of rich mobile advertising.

And $6 million in funding is just more fuel for the fire.



Flash Sales Site Ideeli Raises $41 Million

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 06:59 AM PDT

Flash sales site Ideeli, which was founded in 2007, has raised $41 million in Series C funding led by Next World Capital with Cue Ball Capital, StarVest Partners, Constellation Growth Capital and Kodiak Venture Partner participating in the round. This bring’s Ideeli’s total funding to nearly $70 million

With over 4 million members, ideeli offers 50 to 70 percent discounts on clothing and accessories over a several day period. The sales are private, available only to members, with upcoming sales from brands announced via emails. Products include clothing for men, women and children as well as jewelry, handbags and home accessories.

Ideeli also recently expanded into travel and daily deals, similar to Gilt Groupe’s Gilt City deals. Ideeli says that the new financing will be used for category expansions, partnerships, technology enhancements, marketing campaigns, attracting talent and enhancing the Ideeli member experience.

The flash sales space has been showing both big venture raises of late. One of the leaders in the space, Gilt Groupe, has been raising huge amounts of money, growing its user base at a rapid pace and turning a strong profit. In December, Gilt raised another $15 million, bringing the company’s total funding to nearly $100 million. At one point Gilt was valued at $400 million and an IPO could be in the near future.

One Kings Lane, which focuses on using the flash sales model for home accessories and furniture, has also recently raised a large round. And Ideeli competitor HauteLook (which also has 4 million members) was just acquired by Nordstrom for $270 million.



Less Altruism, More Capitalism – Flattr Users No Longer Need To Give To Receive

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 06:04 AM PDT

Flattr, the social micropayment startup founded by ex-Pirate Bay associates, is announcing a significant change today. In a move that represents less altruism and more capitalism, from May 1st onwards Flattr will no longer require new users to add credit to their accounts in order to run the Flattr button on their sites and start receiving payments. In other words, users won't be required to give to receive.


Clarizen Raises $12 Million For Project Management Software

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Clarizen, provider of online work and project management software, has raised $12 million in venture funding led by Opus Capital Ventures with Benchmark Capital, Carmel Ventures and DAG Ventures participating. The total amount of venture capital invested in the company, which was founded in 2005, now totals $36 million.

The company provides collaborative project management software that allows businesses to easily manage all of their projects and resources. Work and project details for all employees are managed and maintained in one centralized, online platform.

The company has experienced 400 percent year over year growth and more than 1,000 organizations around the world use Clarizen. Clarizen will use this funding for new product development, global expansion and business development, sales and marketing initiatives.



Media Corporation Sells Gambling.com To Unnamed UK Company For $2.5 Million

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 05:32 AM PDT

Sedo will announce shortly that it has sold the most expensive domain name of this year so far in its third biggest public sale ever handled behind sex.com ($13 million) and vodka.com ($3 million). The company has brokered the sale of gambling.com for $2.5 million in cash.

UK-based Media Corpporation sold the domain to an unnamed company also based in the United Kingdom for £1.5 million in cash. According to the seller, the transaction formally completed on 27 April, with the receipt of funds and transfer of the domain name.

The company says it’s ‘pleased’ with the price, although Media Corp apparently paid $20 million for the domain name back in 2005.

Justin Drummond, CEO of Media Corporation, commented:

"The sale of Gambling.com brings a significant boost to the Group's already substantial cash reserves; we have recently seen a number of exciting acquisition opportunities in the online gaming and online advertising space. The successful sale of www.gambling.com has given the Group more than adequate financial resources to pursue these acquisition opportunities aggressively."

The identity of the new owner isn’t known, but Sedo says the company will be well placed to capitalize on the benefits of such a memorable keyword domain considering the health of the online gambling market in the UK.

Also read: BodogBrand Buys Slots.com For About $5.8 Million



BMC Buys Web Application Performance Management Software Maker Coradiant

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 05:13 AM PDT

BMC Software this morning announced that it has acquired Coradiant, a privately-held provider of web application performance monitoring solutions. BMC pitches the purchase as a way to enhance its ability to offer businesses a 360-degree view of service performance ('from end-user experience and behavior to infrastructure'). The company says an 'aggressive product integration plan' is already underway. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.


Did Apple Buy iCloud.com For $4.5 Million? It’s Possible, But …

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 05:02 AM PDT

Om Malik got a tip from an unidentified source who told him that Apple purchased the domain name icloud.com from a Swedish company called Xcerion (which recently renamed its iCloud service to CloudMe) for about $4.5 million. This is most certainly a possibility.

Last week, we also received a tip that Apple purchased iCloud.com. I immediately followed up with Xcerion and asked the company whether they changed their name because Apple had purchased the domain name / trademark from them and why they changed their service’s name to CloudMe if that weren’t the case.

Here’s what they replied to me back then:

Hi Robin,

We decided we needed a name change to better reflect our new focus on files and storage, where the desktop is just one of many clients to access files and content stored in CloudMe. Since we a couple of months ago launched our iPhone and Android app, WebDAV and the automatic backup software, Easy Upload for Windows, Mac and Linux, we now have many clients that interact with our users’ content. There also are a lot of third party apps and software supporting the CloudMe online computer.

The virtual desktop and all its apps will continue to be an important piece of our offering and, with this new release, we have increased cross-browser capabilities, speed and stability.

If you have any files to share with me – Just CloudMe :)

Best Regards,
Monica

As you can tell, they pretty much danced around the main question and mostly promoted their wares, but for what it’s worth, Xcerion clearly claims they decided to change their name as part of an effort to showcase its shifted focus to cloud storage.

Here’s the thing: it would be a serious coincidence for both GigaOM and ourselves to receive a tip about Apple buying iCloud.com separately (Malik also managed to get a purchase price, which we didn’t) and I have a feeling Xcerion didn’t respond to the question whether the purchase happened because they signed a confidentiality agreement with the Cupertino computer giant. Maybe that’s what they’re really celebrating (see screenshot above).

To conclude: there’s a strong possibility Apple bought iCloud.com, but neither Xcerion or Apple has confirmed this at this point. And even if Apple did buy the domain name, this doesn’t guarantee that they’ll end up using it as a brand name (see the iSlate story).

Apple is clearly plotting to launch a cloud-based media storage and online music streaming service in the foreseeable future, and iCloud would fit the company’s product naming strategy. But Apple also owns iTunes.com and it would make a lot of sense for them to use it for the cloud-based music service instead (if only for brand recognition).

We’ll know soon enough, I wager (WWDC is scheduled for June 6 through June 10, 2011)



Gaming Startup The Casual Collective Rebrands As Kixeye; Launches Battle Pirates On Facebook

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 05:00 AM PDT

Social gaming developer the Casual Collective is rebranding today as Kixeye and debuting a new game, Battle Pirates, today on Facebook. Battle Pirates is a real time strategy game featuring base building, exploration, and player vs. player combat.

Kixeye’s games are targeted towards hardcore gamers and is betting that Facebook is a platform where these types of gamers will continue to flock to. Kixete games are all free-to-play and monetizes via virtual goods. In addition to Facebook, KIXEYE's games are also published on the company's own platform.

Battle Pirates, the company’s newest game, is set in the year 2067 and Earth is covered in water. Due to a terrorist-sparked world war, only a small amount of Earth's original landmass remains. With a 95% extinction level, the only remaining survivors are split into two factions: the Foresaken, impoverished
survivors who rely on engineering hacks, guerilla warfare and piracy, and the oppressive Draconian Empire, the once elite citizens of the who who've now become a giant military complex.

Players are required to build their island base from the ground up and strategically place defensive turrets on their island, research technology and armaments, and create up to 50 deadly ships with a variety of armor, weapons and hulls. By adding friends to their crew, players are rewarded with special in-game bonuses. Then, dominate the world map by engaging in real-time synchronous PvP battles, attacking other players and Draconian fleets for precious resources.

Clearly Kixeye’s games aren’t your Farmville-type lighthearted game. Kixeye’s games are targeted towards heavy gamers on Facebook. And there appears to be a market for this genre of games. The company’s popular game Backyard Monsters has reached over one million active daily users on Facebook. At any given second, there are an average of 40,000 gamers around the world playing the game at once.



Spiceworks Raises $25 Million To Be The Facebook For IT Managers

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 04:25 AM PDT

Spiceworks, a startup that develops Web-connected social IT management software, has raised a whopping $25 million in new funding from Adams Street Partners, Tenaya Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, Austin Ventures and Shasta Ventures. This brings the company’s total funding up to $54 million.

Spiceworks develops a desktop software suite that helps a company's IT staff collaborate with each other and manage "everything IT." The IT management software, which is free and ad-supported, is mainly used at small to medium businesses to inventory, monitor, troubleshoot, report on and run a help desk for their IT networks.

Spiceworks also allows IT admins to create purchase lists, renew warranties, and buy cloud services from select vendors. The startup also plans to roll out group deals, integrated requests for quotes from tech vendors, and the purchasing of IT products and services built directly into the workflow of the application.

Currently, more than 25 percent of the world's small and mid-sized business IT professionals are using Spiceworks. More than 1.4 million IT pros rely on Spiceworks to discover, buy and manage $244 billion worth of technology products and services each year. Over 200 top technology providers, including Microsoft, Google, Dell and Intel, use Spiceworks to connect directly with IT buyers through the company's Vendor Pages and social marketing programs.



Inspirato Takes Another $11 Million For Exclusive Resorts Competitor

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 01:09 AM PDT

In February I wrote about new startup and luxury home rental service Inspirato. Think timeshare for the rich – members are able to stay at luxury homes around the world for a relatively inexpensive price that’s about 1/3 of market price.

It’s a twist on the Exclusive Resorts model, with the biggest difference being that members don’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to join. Instead they pay a relatively modest fee of $15,000 plus a couple of thousand dollars a year.

The company raised $5 million in late 2010 to get things started. Today they’re announcing another $11 million in funding. It’s not from venture firms, either. 50 or so wealthy individuals invested in the round. That’s an average of about $220,000 per person. Most of those investors, says cofounder Brad Handler, got a free membership as part of their investment. Funnily enough, a lot of the investors are venture capitalists acting as individual investors, not through their firms.

How’s the company doing? Besides the $15 million in capital, Inspirato has racked up $4 million in revenue since launch, and about 100 new members join each month.



LetsLunch Launches in New York Today

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 10:24 PM PDT

LetsLunch, the service that helps you network less-awkwardly, is expanding from its comfy Silicon Valley confines and launching in New York today. We first wrote about the service here, and it’s gotten a nice niche following since then. People have scheduled more than 1,000 lunches through the service, and about 70% of the time people take time to write a testimonial of the lunch afterwards.

I respect founder Syed Shuttari’s strict adherence to his vision. A lot of people have suggested he have the “commoners” bid for lunch spots with the more well-known investors and Valley personalities on the site. Shuttari is insistant that would create the wrong vibe, and that the key is the two people meeting on an equal footing. I couldn’t agree more. I want to lunch with people who are interesting, not people who can pay the most money. That’s just weird.

I used LetsLunch once and enjoyed it. I met with a guy named Pat Kitano, who I probably never would have met otherwise. He’s a real estate consultant who’s cobbled together a fascinating local news and social media service to help real estate agents build a name in their requisite communities. I’m not sure I’d give up a lunch every week, particularly given my travel schedule, but I’d trust LetsLunch to set me up once a quarter.



Greplin: 1.5 Billion Documents Indexed, Six Engineers

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 10:04 PM PDT

Late last year we first mentioned Y Combinator startup Greplin – it’s a startup that indexes your social stuff in the cloud, making all your Facebook, Gmail. LinkedIn, Google Calendar, Evernote, Twitter, Dropbox and just about everything else searchable. The easiest way to describe it is “the other half of search.”

They opened their doors to customers in February. The company won’t talk about total user numbers yet, which isn’t surprising. But we have dug one interesting data point out of founder Daniel Gross – They’ve now indexed some 1.5 billion documents. And they’re indexing about 30 million new documents per day.

What this means – when you join Greplin you authorize it to index various social apps and services. A typical user may sign up and start off by authorizing Greplin to index Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, for example. Greplin then grabs everything in those services – all your Facebook messages and updates, all your Twitter updates and DMs, all your Gmail messages back and forth, etc. , and lets you search them. When you add up all those documents for all users, you get to that big number, 1.5 billion.

To put this into perspective, that’s about the size of Google’s web-wide index in 2001. Or 60 times the size of Google’s original 1998 index of 25 million documents.

On the daily side, Greplin’s 30 million new documents a day is about 25% of Twitter’s current load (and Twitter gets off easy with 140 character documents). It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but it gives you some idea of the scale that they’re already reaching. And remember, they launched in February.

And all that with just six engineers and one support person, says Gross. He has Amazon web services to thank for that, although the recent outage didn’t make him too happy.



Barnes & Noble: Microsoft-Patented Nook Features “Trivial,” Licensing Fees “Exorbitant”

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 07:43 PM PDT

The licensing fracas Microsoft is whipping up around Android and, in particular, Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader gets another chapter today, as B&N submits its 50-page response to Microsoft’s suit. Their position and language are aggressive out of the gate, accusing Microsoft of trying to “marginalize the competition” and describing the contents of the patents in question as “highly obvious at the time [they] were filed.”

It’s a bold rebuttal, but not entirely convincing. Amazon and HTC, after all, didn’t find them onerous enough to object, and countless other companies great and small find licensing patented Microsoft software and patents no problem at all. But by attacking the patents themselves and Microsoft’s greater market-driven intentions, they might be able to poison the well sufficiently to make their case at least plausible.

Continue reading…



Sony Shares More Details On PlayStation Network Breach

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 06:46 PM PDT

Yesterday Sony revealed that some 77 million members of its Playstation Network had their personal information harvested by hackers, including name, address, and possibly credit card numbers in a massive security breach. Sony pulled down PSN as soon as it detected the breach, (we’ve been following the story since it first began last week), and it’s now regularly sharing more details to provide clarity to the situation.

This evening Sony posted a lengthy Q&A discussing the security measures it had taken to keep user data in the first place. Among the answers:

  • Sony says that it’s working with law enforcement and views this as a criminal act.
  • Personal data (name, address, etc) was not encrypted, but credit card information was — though Sony can’t rule out that it was accessed.
  • Credit card security codes (the three digit numbers on the back of the card) were not stored, so they weren’t compromised
  • Sony suggests looking at your email confirmations for past transactions to determine which credit card you had connected to the account.

In an update last night, Sony also clarified that while it detected the breach on April 19, it didn’t know the scope of the data that was harvested until April 25, the day before its announcement (Sony has come under lots of fire for apparently waiting a long time to disclose the information). However, Sony’s defense isn’t that solid — if it even thought there was a possibility credit cards might have been taken, it seems like it should have given users fair warning.

Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A — you can find the whole thing here, and should check it out if your information was compromised.

Q: Was my credit card data taken?
A: While all credit card information stored in our systems is encrypted and there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained. Keep in mind, however that your credit card security code (sometimes called a CVC or CSC number) has not been obtained because we never requested it from anyone who has joined the PlayStation Network or Qriocity, and is therefore not stored anywhere in our system.
Q: What steps should I take at this point to help protect my personal data?

A: For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well. To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, we encourage you to remain vigilant, to review your account statements and to monitor your credit reports.



Cult Clothing Line Betabrand Pockets $1.3 Million From OATV

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 06:03 PM PDT

Home of the “DARPA” hoodie, the “Bike To Work” pants, the “Disco” shorts, the “Cornucopia” backpack, the “Vagisoft (yes)” blanket and the TSA-proof “Privates” underwear, Betabrand is an online-only marketplace for unconventional clothes in the same eclectic e-commerce space as Modcloth and Threadless.

The company’s emphasis on original in-house designs, in addition to its 100K-200K in monthly revenue, certainly piqued the interest of O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures which led Betabrand’s $1.3 million Series A round followed by Morado Ventures this week. Along with the recent financing, OATV’s Mark Jacobsen will be joining the Betabrand board.

The San Francisco-based Betabrand has 12 employees who come up with the quirky designs and complete the production on items like “Sons of Britches” or the “Harvester Collection”(launched today) in-house. The company releases between 4-6 designs a month, manufacturing locally and in small batches.

Founder Chris Lindland likens the design process to a startup being in beta, hence the Betabrands name, “We have an iterative process that resembles beta development of websites, and that might be a disruptive idea in the world of fashion … Businesses like Zara and H&M jam out new products all the time, but they’re following fashion. We put out a new product every week. It creates a non-stop idea machine.”

Lindland plans on using the new financing to speed up the production process to 12-16 products a month and add a women’s line in the fall. He also wants to crowdsource more of the designs and expand on the “Model Citizen” program where customers send in pictures of themselves modeling Betabrand designs for use in actual campaigns.

So what’s Lindlands take on a VC firm investing in what is essentially a clothing company, “E-Commerce is such an exploding area, and there aren’t really companies failing at it. There will be a ton of online clothing brands that pop up over the next year. The next Quicksilver or the next Patagonia is going to start on the internet.”

True.



Lost In The iPhone Location FUD

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 04:47 PM PDT

Last week, I was on vacation and I promised myself that I wouldn’t do any work. I was still lightly browsing tech news just because I really enjoy reading tech news — yes, even on vacations. I came across the Apple location story and started to read some of the commentary about the situation. Most of it was idiotic. Pure FUD. It was really hard not to open my laptop and start typing — so I tweeted some snark instead. But now I’m back. And now Apple has officially weighed in. It’s time to start typing.

The situation is a joke.

That’s not to say the actual issue at hand is a joke, but rather the coverage of the issue is. In that regard, it reminds me a lot of “Antennagate” last year. It was the biggest deal ever. It was the death of the iPhone. It was the end of Apple. …in the press. The reality of the situation was the vast majority of actual consumers didn’t give a shit — and rightly so. Apple sold more iPhones than ever last year — by a wide margin. The device is now the source of the majority of revenues for the company.

But it’s a broken device, remember?

As I maintained throughout the fiasco, the issue with the antenna was real, but it really wasn’t a big deal. The same is true here.

Reading the press coverage this past week, you’d think Apple was watching your every move. You might think they were plotting to rob your home. Or at the very least, they were going to make it easy for criminals to use your iPhone against you to rob your home. If you carried an iPhone, you were going to be attacked by shadowy villains tracking you. That was the basic gist across dozens of publications.

This fear mongering quickly spread to other companies in the mobile space. Google. Microsoft. They’re all out to get you. They’re all tracking your information to give to criminals. The motives weren’t entirely clear. But the intent was. Evil.

And now that Apple has formally weighed in with a lengthy explanation (which Robin translated into slightly easier to understand and humorous terms) of the issues, the FUD has slowed, but doesn’t appear to be stopping. “Okay, so Apple isn’t tracking you, but they’re tracking the cell towers you’re close to — which is the same thing.” That’s this week’s more convoluted variation of “Apple is tracking you.” The underlying FUD is the same. They’re out to get you. And they will!

Let’s take a step back for a moment.

What Apple is actually doing is collecting data points to build up their own location database, as Erick explained last week. Why? Because as we first reported last year, in April 2010, Apple made the move to ditch former partners Skyhook Wireless and Google, who were previously supplying them with such a database — information necessary for all location services on the phone.

And guess how those guys built-up and updated those databases? The same way (though as Apple briefly mentioned today, each company that collects such information has different methods for doing so). Previously, the iPhone was sending this same type of information to Skyhook. Now they’ve taken full control of that information. Apple likes to be in control of its own products. This should be absolutely no surprise.

Building an all-encompassing location database is hard. Really hard. By far the best way to do it is to crowdsource the creation. And the best way to do that is to use the mobile devices that people have on them. Otherwise it would be back to using cars to drive around constantly getting this information (which I believe both Skyhook and Google have done) and the data is less consistent, less up-to-date, and harder to get.

The alternative is to use GPS data. But that can take several minutes to get at times. Or if you’re indoors, it might not work at all. This means that location services, including many of the location-based apps that are now popular, would not work.

So instead your mobile device is used to anonymously record, encrypt and send this cell tower and WiFi hotspot data to Apple. The keywords “anonymously” and “encrypt” are paramount here, yet both have been downplayed in nearly every story on the issue. Apple has no clue who you are based on this data. They have no way to know that. And they have no reason to want to know that. And anyone trying to snatch this data out of the sky would not be able to read it.

The problem — that is, the actual problem — is the way each iPhone has been keeping these logs. That leads to three sub-issues, none of which are as big as the FUD would have you believe. But they do need to be addressed. And they are.

The first issue is that the location log is really big. In fact, it could span years, showing your general movements throughout that time. That’s how the nifty research behind this ordeal came about.

Theoretically, someone could steal your phone, hack it, and get access to this data. This could potentially show them where you were up until the point they stole your phone. (Of course, given that they stole/found your phone, they would probably already know that.)

But wait. If they stole/found your phone, couldn’t they also have access to information like your address, the addresses of friends/family, all your phone numbers, perhaps some passwords, maybe monetary information? Yes, but that’s not as sexy of a story.

Oh, and if your phone had any app like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, etc, they could just open those apps and get all your actual location information without hacking the device? Yep, but again, Apple has nefarious intent here, remember?

Let’s face it, our phones have a lot of potentially personal information about us on them beyond just location. That’s why it really sucks when we lose them or they’re stolen. And just imagine when these devices all have NFC chips in them for easy payments. That’s really going to suck. I’m sure the FUD stories will start about that in the next year or so.

But back to the issue at hand. Apple SVP Scott Forstall explains the log length mistake (and that’s exactly what Apple is claiming it is — and there doesn’t appear to be a reason to believe otherwise) pretty well in an interview with Mobilized’s Ina Fried:

We picked a size, around 2MB, which is less than half a song. It turns out it was fairly large and could hold items for a long time.

Two megabytes does sound very small. But this data is very small, so the iPhone is holding a lot of it. Apple will be correcting this to make sure only roughly seven days worth of data is cached on the device going forward with a software update.

Why cache at all? As Forstall explains and Apple hits on a bit in their statement, if they didn’t do this, they’d have to do location calculations on the server. Though not explicitly said, that would be both slower and potentially less secure. Also only briefly mentioned is that this anonymous data can help third-party developers debug when an app crashes.

Another — again, real, but minor — issue is that when you backed up your iPhone, this location data log was transfered over to your computer. If you select to encrypt your backups as an option, it was encrypted. If you don’t, it was not (but still protected). Because of that, someone could technically steal or access the computer you sync your iPhone with and get access to this file(s).

Of course, if they stole or accessed your computer… hopefully you know where I’m going here.

Regardless, Apple has determined that they should no longer backup this location cache, and with the upcoming software update, they no longer will.

The final — and actually most important — issue is that when you turned off sharing your location, Apple was still generating the anonymous logs for their location database. They shouldn’t have been, and they acknowledge that saying it too was a “bug”. Bug or oversight, they’re also going to correct this shortly.

So that’s it. Three issues, each of which is being corrected with a simple software update. Were these mistakes? Yes. But they could each be easily chalked up to rookie mistakes in Apple’s first foray into location database building. What they cannot be chalked up to is evil intent.

Further, the fear-mongering going on about these issues is just insane. These issues have persisted in iOS for a long time now. How many incidents have they lead to? Even if Apple didn’t fix them, what’s the likelihood that they would lead to any sort of incident? It would take a separate criminal act (stealing or illegally accessing/hacking your phone/computer) to even get to the point where a perpetrator could potentially do something with the data. And even then they would only know approximately where you’ve been in the past.

Okay, well what about the police or government using this data to track you? If they really wanted/needed to, they would go to the phone companies and do it that way. They would not look at your WiFi triangulation logs.

I’ve been sitting on panels about location issues for a few years now. The discussion always falls to the same place: privacy and security. But the funny thing is that increasingly, it’s not the “regular” users who take the discussion there, it’s those of us in the media who know this is the sexy thing to talk about because it sounds scary.

This also extends to the recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and other publications that range from oddly out of touch to wildly misinformed about technology, privacy, and security in general. (As a sidenote, isn’t it great when a company that makes money by dishing out subscriber data to marketers complains about privacy and security?)

F U D

Are there real issues to think about and debate? Of course. But there’s a way to do that without knowingly being an asshat in an attempt to drive fear.

Guess what? The phone that you bought at least partially because it offers you access to cool new location services, needs location data for those services to work. How dare they! Let’s sue! Oh, you’re a Senator? Let’s attempt to make a name for ourselves in the press by leveraging this overblown controversy in the guise of protecting the people.

Let’s be honest: no one is going to be talking about this issue in a few weeks. Why? Because it’s not actually a huge security issue and never was. It’s one that the press really badly wanted to be one. It generated hundreds if not thousands of widely read stories this past week. And it will generate more such stories for the next few weeks or so, depending on if and when Apple is actually called to Washington to testify about this.

Forget about balancing the budget, Apple’s phones with location capabilities that need to collect locations to work are collecting locations! I just read about it in all the major papers! It’s a big deal. We’ll figure out why later.

Then all of a sudden, everyone will stop talking about this issue. It will be completely forgotten. On to the next FUD.

[image: Warner Brothers]



Chrome OS “ZGB” Netbook And Potential “Seaboard” Tablet Surface In Bug Reports

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 04:45 PM PDT

Recent bug reports within the Chromium testing community have turned up a couple new devices running Chrome OS. There’s the expected netbook from Acer, different from the ZGA we saw a while back, and a mystery device referred to as Seaboard that may or may not be a Chrome OS tablet.

Could these be the devices on track for the rumored early summer public release of Google’s browser-based OS?

Continue reading…



Contest: Win Qualcomm’s 1.5 Ghz, 13 Megapixel Android Development Superphone (Worth $1,350!)

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 04:15 PM PDT

I get to give away lots of cool stuff on MobileCrunch… but this might be the coolest thing we’ve given away yet.

This morning, Qualcomm began selling an Android device called the Snapdragon MDP MSM8660. This thing is, in a sense, a glimpse of the future. Built on top of a dual-core, 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon CPU, the crazy fast Adreno 220 graphics chip, and sporting a 13 megapixel camera, the MDP is primarily meant for developers to get a head start on the tech that’ll be hitting handsets later this year.

As you might expect, this thing doesn’t come cheap. If you were to buy it direct from Qualcomm, it’d set you back $1,350. Win it from us, however, and it won’t cost you a dime.

Find out how to win at MobileCrunch >>



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