Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Software AG Buys Metismo To Expand Enterprise Mobile Offerings

Posted: 31 May 2011 08:16 AM PDT

After buying Terracotta last week, Software AG is continuing its acquisition spree today. The provider of business process management solutions has acquired UK mobile development company Metismo. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2007, Metismo provides a platform for the design and development of device independent mobile apps. The company's write once – run anywhere software Bedrock platform for the development of mobile applications converts Java source code to native source code for different mobile devices.

Metismo’s tools and systems allows for data from mobile devices such as GPS, audio and video can be integrated within business applications. Currently, Metismo;s technology is integrated with apps for iOS, Android, Nokia Ovi and BlackBerry devices.

Software AG says that the integration of Metismo’s technology will lead to the total "mobile office" for the company’s customers. According to the company, the availability of process-driven mobile applications is a major step towards the fully, real-time "digital enterprise".



iCloud, YouCloud, We All Scream For iCloud. But What Exactly Will It Be?

Posted: 31 May 2011 07:42 AM PDT

Next week, Apple will unveil its much-anticipated iCloud service at its annual developer conference, WWDC. Apple even put out a press release this morning pre-announcing the service—something it almost never does. Details began leaking out in March, and then the name was pretty much confirmed when Apple bought the domain iCloud.com. Yet for all the talk and speculation, we still don’t know exactly what iCloud will look like, or what services it will include.

Here is what we know so far (or at least what we think we know):

  1. iCloud will include a music locker that mirrors your iTunes collection online and makes it available via streaming to any device.  But as I’ve argued, it needs to be much more than this.
  2. It will be more than just music.  In fact, iCloud will likely replace Apple’s so-so MobileMe service.
  3. Not only that, iCloud could be baked right into iOS 5, which will also be announced at WWDC.
  4. Once it’s baked into the OS, any number of new iCloud services can be launched in the future, such as a location service for friends and family.

It isn’t too difficult to imagine other cloud services, some of which already exist as part of MobileMe, such as being able to back up and share photos or personal videos in the cloud, but done better. It is no secret that Steve Jobs was not happy with the initial launch of MobileMe three years ago. A recent article in Fortune describes how Jobs dressed down the group responsible for the initial debacle:

“Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?”

For the next half-hour Jobs berated the group. “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation,” he told them. “You should hate each other for having let each other down.” The public humiliation particularly infuriated Jobs. Walt Mossberg, the influential Wall Street Journal gadget columnist, had panned MobileMe. “Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us,” Jobs said. On the spot, Jobs named a new executive to run the group.

Even Walt Mossberg, Apple’s “friend” in the press, hated the first version of MobileMe. The service was fixed, but it never was never able to rise to the level of Apple’s other products. Now with iCloud, Apple might finally be ready to rethink the whole experience beyond the simple syncing and sharing of data to full-fledged apps with online components.

What does that mean? Well, for starters it could mean that Apple software on the iPhone, iPad, and desktop such as iTunes, iPhoto, and maybe even iMovie will also exist as Web apps. Or at least certain features will be available in the cloud. At a minimum, you should be able to access your collection in the cloud and share it with people online. Right now, all those pictures, songs, and movies are locked in people’s Macs and iPhones, and it is still a hassle to get them off your device and onto the Web.

But that is just Step 1. Remember, Apple is choosing to announce iCloud at its developer conference, presumably so that they can start developing their own apps for iCloud. If iCloud is baked into iOS 5, perhaps it will be more than just a set of Apple services. This is complete speculation on my part, but what if it’s a framework for developing iPhone and iPad apps with storage and software functions in the cloud instead of on the device? App developers could then choose to enable certain functions in the cloud. The storage limits of the device would become less of an issue as well.

Of course, this line of thinking raises a whole host of other questions. Who would host all of these cloud apps—Apple or the developers themselves, with Apple merely defining how the services must work? Once apps exist in the cloud, will it be easier to create hooks in between them? How will Apple charge for its own iCloud apps, as a bundled yearly subscription ($99/year) or a la carte? Will any of them be free? How will developers be able to charge for iCloud apps? Will Apple use iCloud as a way to bring over the subscription model for online publications to apps?

Other than the name and a few spare details, we know so little about iCloud. Hopefully, Apple will have answers to these questions next week. What do you think iCloud will look like?

Photo Credit/Flickr/Kevin Dooley



My Book, Black Hat, Is In ePub Format And Is Free To Download

Posted: 31 May 2011 07:42 AM PDT

I wrote a book in 2004 about hackers, spammers, and other nerds and I thought I’d like to share it with the world. It’s currently available on Amazon and B&N and is $9.99 for the print edition and an inexplicable $9.49 in the Kindle edition. It is apparently not available for the Nook.

The book is 7 years old and is nearly out of print. It is about spammers, hackers, and viruses and I wrote it for a general audience like my dad who may or may not be all that technically savvy. It’s not a How-To as much as an exploration of the personalities in hacking.

According to Bookscan I sold 0 copies in the past few months and rather than allow it to molder, I’ve decided to give it away, with some caveats.

Read more…



Inspired By The Start Fund, New World Ventures Offers Chicago Excelerate Startups $50K

Posted: 31 May 2011 07:32 AM PDT

Earlier this year, Yuri Milner and Ron Conway’s SV Angel announced a new fund that offers all Y Combinator startups $150,000 in convertible debt. Not only is The Start Fund a brilliant investment strategy, but the news was also a big win for Y Combinator and the startups housed and developed in the incubator. And it was only a matter of time before other incubators and funds caught on to the idea and emulated a similar strategy. Today, New World Ventures, one of the Midwest’s largest early stage funds, is partnering with Chicago incubator Excelerate Labs to offer their own version of the Start Fund.

Excelerate, which launched its incubator last year, will now offer its entrepreneurs $50,000 in convertible debt from New World Ventures, with no discount or cap. The money is available for Excelerate’s 2011 class of ten startups. Roughly one-third of the money is available for draw down during the Summer and the remainder is available after Demo Day in August.

Similar to The Start Fund, terms are company-friendly (no discount to the next round, no warrant coverage, and a below market interest rate). Plus, the nature of the convertible debt provides the companies with access to capital without locking in valuation terms today.

New World partner Adam Koopersmith tells me that the model created by SV Angel and Milner for Y Combinator made a lot of sense for the fund. New World had invested in two of Excelerate’s first class of startups (EduLender and GiveForward) and believes in the strength of the program.

Excelerate is also announcing for the first time its limited partners who have funded the program, which include a who’s who of the investment community in the Midwest. Partners include Lightbank, New World Ventures, I2A Fund, Sandbox Industries, Hyde Park Angels, DFJ Mercury, OCA Ventures, Brian Hand, Fred Hoch, Bob Fealey, Andrew Razeghi, Dan Ratner, Kevin Willer, Tim Draper, Sam Yagan and Troy Henikoff.

New World’s new offering is bound to be popular amongst the startups in Excelerate’s program. As we saw with the Start Fund, almost all of the Y Combinator startups in the recent Y Combinator class accepted the fund’s money.

Of course for Excelerate, the promise of $50,000 in funding for every startup makes the startup incubator program more appealing than other incubators. On top of the New World funding, Excelerate’s startups receive $25,000 in seed funding for 6 percent of the common stock. Now that there are incubators in nearly all major cities in the U.S., it’s competitive to attract talent to these programs. Excelerate will be able to promise entrepreneurs more money and funding than most other incubators.

The fact that the Start Fund is now inspiring similar ventures in other incubators and programs makes me wonder if the model will eventually be a part of all incubators in the future, including other popular programs such as TechStars.



Apple’s Cloud Product Officially Official And It’s Called iCloud

Posted: 31 May 2011 05:55 AM PDT

Pop over to iCloud.com today and you’ll see a doomed web page. The domain, which redirects to Xcerion’s CloudMe software, is sitting on some prime real estate, namely Apple’s new iCloud service.

In a short release, Apple confirmed the existence and name:

Apple® CEO Steve Jobs and a team of Apple executives will kick off the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with a keynote address on Monday, June 6 at 10:00 a.m. At the keynote, Apple will unveil its next generation software – Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS® X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple's advanced mobile operating system which powers iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®; and iCloud®, Apple's upcoming cloud services offering.

We’ve been hearing about the potential cloud services for months now and it seems the stars have finally aligned. The MobileMe service recently received some considerable upgrades to improve performance and stability and there has been oodles of talk about a potential music service in the cloud similar to Rdio or Spotify. That we now know it’s called iCloud, officially, is just icing on the cake.

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Official: iOS 5, OS X Lion, and iCloud To Be Announced Next Week At WWDC

Posted: 31 May 2011 05:41 AM PDT

There goes all the fun rumors and wild speculation. Apple just released a press release detailing what’s coming next week at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Apple pre-announced something — iOS 5 and OS X Lion to be exact. Oh, and something called iCloud, too.

It was already generally accepted that the two operating system were going to debut next week, but it’s rather strange that Apple would take to the wires with a pre-announcement. Please correct me if I’m wrong, save a teaser image showcasing a roman numeral and a large feline, the company hasn’t done this in recent history. The presser is after the break but it’s more of an advert for the developer’s conference. This pre-announcement either means Apple doesn’t have that much to show, or, hopefully, there’s so much that the company had to announce some ahead of time to make room in Steve’s keynote.

Read More



OpenX Secures $20 Million In Series D Funding To Fuel Growth, Acquisitions

Posted: 31 May 2011 04:59 AM PDT

Digital advertising technology company OpenX has scored $20 million in its fourth round of financing, provided by the venture capital arms of strategic partners such as AOL and SAP, in addition to Asian investors Mitsui & Co and Presidio Ventures (Sumitomo).

Previous backers Accel Partners, DAG Ventures and Index Ventures also participated in the round, which brings OpenX’s total funding raised to $50 million.

The additional capital will be used to further the company’s growth, particularly in Asia (Japan and China to be more precise), where the online advertising market is still relatively nascent. In addition, the money will be used to accelerate the adoption of OpenX’s Enterprise solution.

OpenX CEO Tim Cadogen tells me the proceeds may also be used for strategic acquisitions of smaller firms in the near future – they’re basically interested in technology companies that can complememt them in areas where they foresee expansion (mobile ad exchanges, for one).

SAP Ventures led the investment and will take a board seat.



Watermelon Express Rebrands As BenchPrep; Launches App Store For Test Prep Content

Posted: 31 May 2011 04:56 AM PDT

Lightbank-backed test prep app developer Watermelon Express is announcing a rebranding today, relaunching as BenchPrep. BenchPrep develops cross-platform apps to help students prepare for a number of standardized tests including the GRE, SAT, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT. The startup collaborates with educational publishers to integrate content into its platform, which will work across a variety of devices including the iPhone, iPad, computers, Android and more.

The company’s Android, iPad, Web and iPhone apps now include a marketplace where users can purchase study content across dozens of subject matters from a variety of publishers, including McGraw Hill.

The virtue of using one of BenchPrep’s apps is that you can start a practice test on your iPad and finish it on the web. Users also can access customized progress reports and can chat with other users in real-time who are studying the same subject.

Via BenchPrep, users can also post public notes to others users, set a study schedule, post questions to other users and more.

As we’ve written in the past, BenchPrep apps cost around $25 each, which is a drawback in some ways for students. Users have to pay separately for apps on different platforms (i.e. a web app vs. an iPad app).

BenchPrep plans to expand to new subjects in the neat future, including law, medicine, physical sciences and project management.



Scoop: European Social Games Phenomenon wooga Raises $24 Million

Posted: 30 May 2011 11:29 PM PDT

Exclusive - Wooga doesn’t get even half the attention that’s been given to its closest rivals in the social games space, namely Zynga and EA. But the European games developer is taking off big time, and it’s no surprise to see venture capitalists jump on the opportunity to invest before everyone starts taking notice.

The Berlin, Germany-based startup has raised a huge Series B round of financing, TechCrunch has learned – $24 million, to be more specific, bringing its total capital raised to a healthy $31.5 million. The round was led by Highland Capital Partners, with Tenaya Capital and previous backers Balderton Capital and HV Holtzbrinck Ventures participating.

Wooga has been on a roll lately, recently reaching 30 million people who play its games (which include Diamond Dash, Monster World, Happy Hospital and – wait for it – Bubble Island) per month. The extra capital will be used for the production of more Facebook games.

As you can see on AppData’s excellent leaderboards, the aforementioned number puts wooga (“world of gaming”) in the same league as Zynga and EA in terms of reach on the Facebook platform, and ahead of familiar names like Playdom, Crowdstar and Digital Chocolate.

Wooga was founded in 2009, starting out with just five employees and growing to 85 people today. The company has ambitions of hiring two more employees every week going forward, to reach 150 employees in total by the end of this year.

Fergan Mullen, who heads Highland’s investment activities in Europe, will join wooga’s board. A former director of NASDAQ-listed VistaPrint, he’s also on the boards of other fast-growing European technology companies such as Privalia, Spartoo and PhotoBox.



With 2 Million Downloads Under Its Belt, Appsfire Raises $3.6 Million Series A

Posted: 30 May 2011 07:02 PM PDT

There are literally hundreds of thousands of iPhone, iPad and Android apps to choose from, and yet finding good apps is far from easy. App discovery and recommendations is a fertile niche where a few startups are fighting for mindshare. After being downloaded more than 2 million times, app discovery startup Appsfire closed a $3.6 million series A, led by French VC firm IDinvest. (Appsfire is based in Paris and Tel Aviv, and was co-founded by Ouriel Ohayon, who used to be the editor of TechCrunch France).

Appsfire crossed 1 million downloads in February, and then the 2-million mark in May. Ohayon says its various apps for the iPhone, Android, iPad, and kid’s apps is generating 3 million leads to app developers each month. Appsfire lets you share your favorite apps with your friends via the web, your mobile device, or Facebook.

Previously, in February, 2010, company raised a seed round from a group of French angel investors including Marc Simoncini (CEO of dating site meetic.com), Jacques-Antoine Granjon (CEO of Vente-Privee.com), Xavier Niel (CEO of French ISP Free), and entrepreneur and angel investor Jean-David Blanc, as well as Lerer Ventures.



Disrupt Backstage Pass: Google’s Marissa Mayer Talks Serendipity (And Dodges The Apple Question)

Posted: 30 May 2011 04:47 PM PDT

Hey, this is Jason K. with TechCrunch TV. And I am here with Marissa Mayer. Again, I actually just got a chance to interview her earlier this month. But now I have another chance to ask more questions about all the cool local and other products that you guys are working on. And once again, thank you for coming here to TechCrunch Disrupt.

No problem. I love TechCrunch Disrupt. It's just a really great opportunity for entrepreneurs, and it's just also amazing to see all these launches. I just love that there's this launch vehicle that really helps get companies going.

It's definitely it's exciting. So, here's a question that Mike didn't really touch on at all, and I'm not sure how much you're totally going to get into this, but there's been speculation that Apple is going to do some stuff around maps. There is a lot of controversy as far as location and WiFi data recently, and as part of that, Apple responded indicating that they were doing something related to traffic mapping.

And I'm wondering what's going to change, if anything, for Google's strategy if one day a significant segment of the mobile market, in other words all the iPhones out there and iPod Touches, stopped using Google Maps powered product, and transitions over to something that's controlled by Apple? Is there any game plan there, I'm sure there is?

Well iIthink I'm not going to speculate as to some of our competitors, but I will say that one thing that we're really learning is that maps is a huge part of the mobile ecosystem. Today we announced we have 200 million active users of Google maps for mobile.

And we actually now are seeing crossover on the weekends. What I mean by that is that we see more traffic from mobile than desktop maps on the weekends. In June we think that is going to crossover permanently . We know that's a really big part of it.

That said, we're really proud of some of the innovations that we've been able to roll out. Things like latitude, but also things like Vector maps. It's not just about tiled maps anymore.

Which aren't actually on the iPhone as far as I know.

That's right. And so...

The iPhone map is not as good.

No, the vector maps, they're beautiful, they're fast, there're one one hunderd of the data. And the other nice thing, that in addition to being able to really quickly drag and drop and move around, because were transmitting mass data we can do interesting things like cashing the map around you, so if your connection suddenly fails, you're not lost sitting there looking at the blue dot in the middle of an area that isn't filled in, and so there's just a lot of potential.

So here's another question that's actually been especially important to me out here in New York. I noticed that identifying exactly where I am is not working so well in New York City. I've got my wifi enabled and I know Google has a very powerful data base as far as associating were you are using the wifi hotspots that are available.

Is there some other technology that I'm not aware of? Or something that is coming down the line that will be able to improve on these wifi hotspots? Is this sort of something that is going to improve overtime as you get more hotspots in your database?

I think that the hotspots are something that will help. New York city's particularly challenging because of the tall buildings and the signal and the surround is also hard to get a signal into a really tall building and it can drain the battery. things like that, and do they really understand where a person is when they say find me and show me on the map?

That's actually reasonably hard to do.

Right.

But one of the things here is really about inputs, and so, you know, we really hope that the users check in. We have loyalty offers in order to promote more people doing that. The other value in check-ins is it actually causes person to say.

I'm here Actually, I'm here, and we understand them, what that signal looks like. So then later when someone else is there, we have a better chance of getting it right. And so there really is like a lot of times in these types of systems where they need to learn. All we're talking about is really the learning problem, they need a lot of input.

I wanna make sure I'm clear on that. So, these explicit check-ins could eventually help you who even who aren't explicitly checking in.

That's right.

It will just makes the database better. We'll say we have a vague idea and these coordinates seem to match with this person who explicitly checked in there. Right.

That 's right. For example, like, spelling on Google. Today our spell-check is so good because more people mispelled before you. They mispelled and they figured out howDid I get it right? We learned off of that pattern, and now we are really good at spell checking. Same thing, right? If we could guess where you are, but now that you told us means that we're more likely to get it right for the next person.

So, one of the things you talked about on the panel earlier was about this notion of having serendipitous suggestions based on where you are. And I know you're not going to be able to go into too much detail here, but as far as the timing on when would we might expect this sort of thing? Are we talking long term, like it's going to be years before the data is there, or is this something we might see this year or next year, we're going to start having our Android phones say like, "check this out." Or-

I think it's probably inside of a two year horizon.

OK.

Because, one of the reasons I moved from Search to what we call "Geo" is that- I just think there's something really special happening. With location, with mobile phones, we can just do things that we couldn't do before, because we can understand so much more about what's happening with a person. Where are they?

Is this some place where they are frequently? Is it somewhere that they only are very occasionally? And also it's getting a little bit of contacts and what other things may have been doing. These are making really good suggestions, understanding social context. All of these different pieces, and so a lot of the building blocks you need are in place, and I think this is something that is going to happen quickly.

Once it does start making this connections again this may not be something you can get into, do you think they're going to be more subtile in the sense that you'll open a browser and it will say like, I don't know, there'll be a link that's at the top of the ten blue links, it's nearby, as opposed to a popup when you open your phone that says "check this out now."

I think it's so new that it's hard to speculate on what the right UI is. But I do think that a lot of times with a new medium you really need to start out somewhere more explicit rather than less explicit. It's sort of interesting. I haven't gotten to go to a show this time but I like Broadway musicals.

I mean. I'm going to see a Broadway musical. Actually, I don't really like the revivals. The only thing that I don't like the revivals is I gonna have to be super explicit. The thing with the look, like they have a whole scene change were someone says like will I ever see him again?

Right, Right.

And I do think the same is true with technology, when you are designing a new interface. At least in the beginning so people understand, what are you doing, why are you doing it, what does it mean for me? You need to be more explicit. Then later you can be more subtle. So exactly the right way to leave it in I don't think we quite understand yet.

And we need to still figure that out, but I do think that, at least in the beginning, just to make sure people really understand what's going on, because we want to be very clear and transparent with users. It probably will be more explicit.

Great, alright so I think I'm being that I'm are out of time, thank you so much for joining us once again and for coming to TechCrunch Disrupt.

Thank you very much for having.

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, Google VP of Location and Local Services Marissa Mayer took the stage for an interview with our own Michael Arrington, where they discussed everything from Google’s mobile growth to Mayer’s investment strategy. A few minutes after the interview, I had the chance to ask her a few more questions about Google’s approach to mobile and local. It’s only been a few weeks since I interviewed Mayer about Google’s two pillar approach to local, but I still had plenty of questions.

The first thing I asked: what happens if and when Apple decides to swap out the Google Maps application that ships with every iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad in favor of something that it built in-house (Apple has confirmed that it’s working on an improved traffic database, and has also quietly acquired some mapping-related startups).

Unsurprisingly, Mayer mostly skirted the question — instead she pointed out how huge Google Maps’s audience is, with some 200 million active users on its Mobile products alone. She also mentioned some of the innovations that Google has made recently with Maps, including the new vector-based tiles that require 1/100th the data (the iOS version of Maps doesn’t take advantage of this feature).

Next, I asked if there were any technologies coming up that would help phones more accurately determine your location. Because while the Wifi/GPS combo works pretty well in most places, reliability takes a nose-dive whenever you’re in a dense city like NYC.

Mayer says that the Wifi hotspot database that Google has been building out will help with this, because it will improve over time. This is one reason why Google is going to be pushing users to explicitly check-in using Latitude — in addition to providing a new channel to engage with consumers, these check-ins also help Google improve its database. The system may not know your exact GPS coordinates, but if if someone with the similar signals previously checked in at In-N-Out Burger, there’s a good chance that’s where you are. Mayer likens the system to the powerful spell checker that often pops up in Google search.

Finally, I asked about serendipitous suggestions on mobile phones, which Mayer has previously said she’s excited about. Mayer says that she thinks we’ll see these “inside of a two year horizon”. The UI for what these suggestions will look like is still TBD, but it sounds like initially they’re be pronounced rather than subtle.



Twitter Close To Acquiring AdGrok

Posted: 30 May 2011 01:17 PM PDT

We’re hearing from multiple sources that Twitter is in talks to acquire Y Combinator-backed key word bidding platform AdGrok, in a deal that is less than $10 million. It’s still unclear where exactly they are in the closing process or whether this is a tech acquisition or an acqui-hire.

AdGrok itself automates the process of bidding on contextual keywords on Google AdWords; Perhaps Twitter could find some use in this for its own Promoted Trends/Tweets?

Twitter seems to be in acquisition mode, most recently dropping $40 million on pro-client Tweetdeck.

Fun fact about this particular grab: The last person Twitter corporate development executive Jessica Verrilli followed on Twitter was AdGrok co-founder Argyris Zymnis. Co-founder Antonio Garcia-Martinez has yet to return my calls.

Status update: It’s complicated.

Garcia-Martinez has changed his title on his Facebook profile to Product Manager at Facebook. I have no idea whether this means Facebook won some acquisition battle or that Garcia-Martinez left the rest of the AdGrok team independently. In any case we’ll find out soon enough.



The Next 6 Months Worth Of Features Are In Facebook’s Code Right Now (But We Can’t See)

Posted: 30 May 2011 01:04 PM PDT

A few days ago, Facebook held a tech talk at their headquarters. The topic of the talk was pushing changes — bug fixes, new features, product improvements, etc. Every day, Facebook engineers push hundreds of these; some big, some little. Most of the 600 million-plus users never notice a thing. And apparently, we’re even less likely to notice changes due to a special feature Facebook has. The “Everyone But TechCrunch Can See This” feature.

As Facebook engineer Chuck Rossi details around minute 23:00 in the video, Facebook has a tool they call “Gatekeeper” which allows them to be in control of who can see what code live on the service at any given time. As Rossi points out, right now on Facebook.com there is already the code for every major thing Facebook is going to launch in the next six months and beyond! It’s the Gatekeeper which stops us from seeing it.

And I do mean “us”. While some of the Gatekeeper parameters are obvious — filter by country, age, data center — one is really interesting. “One of my favorite ones is an ‘everyone except people from TechCrunch can see this’,” Rossi says. He’s serious.

What Facebook has done is likely just put all of our personal profiles on a list of people never eligible to see hidden code. Of course, that doesn’t always work. But it’s also the same type of feature that allowed them to “launch” a new faxing service with us, even though no one else could see it. Funny stuff.

We appreciate Facebook’s attention to detail in keeping us out of their code. Of course, now they’re really asking for it. Do they really think you can’t make a fake account on Facebook? Sure… Stay tuned for the next six months of features coming from Facebook…

The whole talk is excellent and worth watching, we’ve embedded it below.

[thanks Almir]



Twitter Is Launching Its Own Photosharing Service

Posted: 30 May 2011 12:33 PM PDT

Twitter has been completely emphatic about where developers should stake a claim, with Twitter Platform Lead Ryan Sarver warning the ecosystem to stay away from building “client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” 

Well if Sarver stays true to his word the Twitpics and Yfrogs of the world can just give it up now. According to multiple sources, Twitter is on the verge of announcing its own built in Twitpic competitor. Like tomorrow, if things go according to plan (naturally this post might change that).

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone,  as photosharing is the next logical step of Twitter expanding its in app experience. It’s basically grabbing at low hanging fruit.

Twitter is flinging money around; It just spent $40 million on power user client Tweetdeck which represents 13% of its userbase. It’s only natural that they would spend more resources on photosharing, especially considering how much money is being poured into the white hot space and that images were the crux of the success of competitor Facebook.

I’ve got no details on what exactly the photosharing URL shortener will be if any (Twitter has owned Twimg.com for a long time) or what the Twitter for Photos product will look like. Just that it’s coming, soon. And if they’re smart they’ll put ads on it.



Pew: A Quarter Of American Internet Users Have Placed Phone Calls Online

Posted: 30 May 2011 12:24 PM PDT

Pew Internet, a think tank that regularly publishes research reports about technology, has released a new study today showing the steady growth in using VoIP and phone services online. According to the organization’s report, a quarter of American adult internet users (24 percent) have placed phone calls online. That amounts to 19 percent of all American adults. On any given day 5 percent of internet users are going online to place phone calls, says Pew.

And Pew says that usage has grown significantly from a few years ago. For example, Pew found in February 2007 that 8 percent of internet users (6 percent of all adults) had placed calls online and 2% of internet users were making calls on any given day. At various points during the 2000s, Pew held similar surveys and found that at most about a tenth of internet users had ever used the internet to place calls and the daily figure never rose above 1 percent of internet users.

Pew also broke out its findings by demographic as well. Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 years of age had the highest percentage of users who made calls online amongst age groups, with 27 percent of the age group reporting that they’ve made calls online. In terms of household income, 37 percent of users whose household income is above $70,000 have made a phone call online, compared to 13 percent for users whose household income is less than $30,000.

Considering Google’s presence in the market, and Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype, we know the big players see strong potential in the market. But it’s certainly interesting to see data on just how common internet calling and VoIP services have become.



Silicon Milkroundabout: How London Startups Took Hiring Back Into Their Own Hands

Posted: 30 May 2011 11:02 AM PDT

This is guest post by Ian Hogarth, co-founder of Songkick, relates how 45 startups in London’s East End got tired of being over-shadowed by the financial sector in London and created their own event to lure wanna-be startupers.

Sunday 15th May was a significant event for the London start-up community. 45 start-ups from across London gathered in one room with a single purpose – preventing banks and consultancies hiring the best UK engineering and computer science talent.

In the Bay Area the biggest recruitment challenge start-ups face is how to stand out from the crowd, with so many start-ups and a hiring boom. In London the start-up ecosystem has a different problem – developers aren't aware start-ups exist. Most UK graduates in computer science assess their options via the 'Milkround', a giant careers fair held every year on university campuses across the UK. Banks, consultancies, Google, Microsoft and others spend tens of millions advertising to graduates and without the density of Silicon Valley, smaller start-ups are drowned out.



(Founder Stories) Reddit’s Ohanian: What Competition? (TCTV)

Posted: 30 May 2011 10:08 AM PDT

In this episode of Founder Stories with host Chris Dixon, Reddit Founder, Alexis Ohanian takes Dixon back to his college days at the University of Virginia where he and co-founder Steve Huffman bonded over video games and began plotting ways to avoid taking a real job after graduation.

Not wanting to be holed-up in a cubicle for 50 years, they submitted an idea to Y Combinator, the idea got rejected, they got accepted, and together began building around the concept of “people deliberately trying to find and share new and interesting stuff online” says Ohanian.

Joking about “competitive analysis” Ohanian tells Dixon he wasn’t even familiar with Digg until “about a week or two after we had launched” and says interestingly enough, “it was this classic example of alright, you’ve launched, it turns out there is someone else who is in your space, who has already got a significant advantage, and you know, that is not time to quit, that is just time to keep doing what you are doing.”

The boys kept on doing, and did quite well. Less than two years after launching they sold Reddit to Conde Nast and Ohanian says Reddit is currently tallying “1.3-billion page views per month.”

Make sure to watch the full episode for additional insights.

In the below interview, Ohanian offers thoughts on the future of Reddit from his vantage point as a consultant and tells Dixon how Reddit makes money.

Past episodes of Founder Stories with such leaders as Fred Wilson, Perry Chen and Lauren Leto are here.



Airbnb Has Arrived: Raising Mega-Round at a $1 Billion+ Valuation

Posted: 30 May 2011 09:41 AM PDT

According to several sources Airbnb is in the process of closing a whopper of a funding round: $100 million or more at a $1 billion-plus valuation. The round is being lead by Andreessen Horowitz, and includes participation from DST, say our sources.

That’s a big increase from the company’s last funding round of $7.2 million, which included Sequoia Capital, Greylock, SV Angel, Ashton Kutcher and Youniversity Ventures (Kutcher broke the news that he’s an investor in AirBnB at TechCrunch Disrupt last week). The company, which launched via Y Combinator, has raised just $7.8 million to date.

No surprise, it was a hotly contested deal. The service has exploded, growing more than 800% last year and booking 1.6 million night stays in other people’s homes to date. On any given night in New York there are more people staying in homes via Airbnb than there are rooms in the biggest hotel in Manhattan.

Airbnb has become the sleeper hit of the startup world. It’s one of those companies plenty of well-heeled investors passed on in the early days, because they thought no one would want to open his or her home to strangers. Out of twenty angels he pitched in 2008, founder Brian Chesky said half didn’t return his emails and most of the others told him it was an awful idea. Even Paul Graham hated it, but he liked Chesky and backed him hoping he’d change the company. TechCrunch’s own hotel expert Paul Carr was a cynic too.

Now, the fear of missing another Airbnb is palpable in the Valley, and one of the reasons GetAround became the darling, audience choice and winner of our Disrupt conference this week.

Earlier in the week, I sat down with Airbnb founder Brian Chesky to talk about this reversal in fortune and how the business is going, although at the time we hadn’t heard the details of the deal he was busy negotiating. Check it out below.

Hi, I'm back stage with Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb. You guys have kind of been a sleeper hit. I mean you certainly didn't have the color fanfare when you launched.

Nope.

Or anything like that. Mike was just back here. He said he thought you were stupid. Paul wrote something nasty about you. There's Ron Konway waving. That they were stupid?

Are you live?

You are live. Alright, so no one really thought you guys were going to be as big as you have.

Absolutely not.

And I can tell you, the last couple of days, you guys have been the sort of example everyone keeps bringing up. One of the companies thats in the finals get around. Chris Saka said, "Oh this the Airbnb I could get. I passed on Airbnb. I thought it was stupid. I can't believe I passed on it". I mean the fact that people passed on you is dictating investment decision.

It's ridiculous.

Because it's seen as such a mistake.

That's ridiculous. When I first told my parents. They thought I was insane about this idea. Paul Graham, when we first met him in January 2009, he admitted he thought the idea was terrible.

Hm-mm.

And Paul Graham only invested in us, when he heard about the Obama O's story. And he figured, well these guys are like really creative, smart entrepreneurs; they'll probably change their idea. That's the only reason he invested in us, is he thought we were going to change ou idea; he hated it. And we met in the Fall of 2008, probably 15 or 20 Angels, and well, probably half of them didn't return my emails and the ones that did, no one wanted to invest in us.

Right.

It was just something that seemed like obviously a bad idea until one day it seemed like obviously a good idea. And I don't know when that tipped, I think it was just enough people doing it.

So what was the insight that you had that other people missed?

The insight we had was that we actually did it. The way this started is that I moved,--Joe, my co-founder, was living in San Francisco, and I was living in Los Angeles. I came up to San Francisco. We had to figure out a way to make rent. This international design conference is coming to San Francisco, all the hotels are sold out.

We were trying to figure out, how are we going to make rent? And Joe had some air beds in his closet. We pulled the air beds, and we decided we're going to create an "airbed and breakfast" one weekend, and it was only meant to make our rent. We ended up hosting three people. We made a bunch of money, and so I think the insight we gained was, we by accident, I guess you could say, did it ourselves, had an amazing experience.

And by then we realized, this is awesome, one day people all over the world are going to do this. I don't think we had the vision that people were going to be renting all the spaces and renting? We originally envisioned, like, kind of air beds, and like kind of budget. I was a little different vision.

Right. Well, it's fascinating because it tips so quickly, and usually when someone has this kind of story it takes a long time. It's also interesting because, you know, especially in the 90s when I first moved into Silicon Valley, founders would say exactly what you said. They have this story of, like, "Oh, you know, I did this, and then I saw these keys, and I realized I needed this special keyring." And it turned out it was all marketing.

Like the eBay Pez dispenser as the famous example. Is that really the real story or is that all marketing--

It's all real.

--that a PR person has come up with later?"
search in Google, "air, bed, and breakfast" because that was our original name. You will see an original blog post from like October 2007 when people kind of, in a half-jokingly way, are covering us in a blog, like, "couple designers doing this little thing" and it was a really slow launch.

It was like in 2008 we did South by Southwest. Then Erick Schonfeld had covered us in August of 2008. And even it was like still two years, or a year-and-a-half after that, that it took us to get to where we are. So it was a pretty long road. The story is pretty public. We've kind of gotten this market by accident.

And I certainly, I moved up to San Francisco to be an entrepreneur but I was an industrial designer in Los Angeles making physical products. So it was kind of serendipitous that we got into this space.

Now according to Mike, who just yelled this from the hallway, Ron Conway told him yesterday that you guys are on a $500 million dollar revenue runway.

I don't know where he heard that or I think he misunderstood. We haven't disclosed revenue but that's not the number for sure.

And it's lower, not higher?

It's not It's not, it's not higher you can confirm that Alright you guys another start I heard from our produce, John Orlean you guys books more rooms on Airbnb than there are hotel rooms in New York. Am I getting that right?

Tonight, in New York City, more people will stay on Airbnb than any hotel in New York City.

Got it.

We're not bigger than all the hotels combined.

An aggregate, but the biggest hotel. We're bigger than the biggest.How big is the biggest hotel?

I think it's got a thousand rooms and it's the Marriott or the Hilton, around Times Square. And so we have five thousand rooms, we have thousands of people stay with us, we've had as many as, I do not know. Maybe at new year's eve we had five or ten thousand people just in New York staying on Airbnb and there is no hotel that can accomplish that.

The really cool thing about Airbnb is there is literally an Airbnb in almost every block. I'm sure if we searched location, within a couple blocks of here there is probably one. So it's anywhere you go in the city there's basically an Airbnb No rests, no murders, no rape, you haven't craiglist moment yet.

You had 1.6 million nights books, and no one has been heard, there is been no reports. any major problems?

It's got to be coming though. It's got to be like hitchhiking in the 1960's where it's safe and rational and then it went horribly wrong.

1.6 million nights booked, I driven cars for, well, a shorter period of that, I've been in three car accidents. So, I'm going to say safe in the car. I have no idea.

Any tips for people on how to use AirBnB? You know Mark Zuckerberg always talks about the early days of facebook, that people were you know, people were adding all this people, and it's like no you just your real world connection. Do you see people who are using it, not the way it's intended or not getting the most out of it.

I think the number one thing is just adding a lot of information to your profile, especially if you have a listing, the thing that makes this work is that people knowing and like what they're getting, or who this person is that's coming to their place. And so if you're kind of like don't ever put your dog, if you're like don't have a complete listing.

That's not super productive or helpful but if you really just fill out all the information. We make it pretty easy now connecting to facebook import a lot of that. That's, I think, the key thing. That and just being super open-minded, and just remembering that when you're hosting people, you're kind of hosting people on behalf of, not just yourself, but your community.

And sometimes you're hosting people on behalf of your country because there are people who are staying with you who have never even been in the country before and you are their first impression.

Right .

The entire culture of the nations.

Southern manners, I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, I like that.

Southern hospitality needs to have the pineapple representing hospitality in the south, so very much in that spirit.

Well thank you so much, Brian, for being with us.

Thank you so much.

Congratulations on the success


Behind The Scenes: Making Spotify More Convenient Than Piracy

Posted: 30 May 2011 09:40 AM PDT

If you’re in the United States, you’re probably tired of hearing about Spotify, the on-demand music service that lets you to listen to any of 13 million tracks as often as you’d like on both your PC and mobile phone. The service still hasn’t managed to close deals with the major music labels over here, but it has developed quite a following in Europe, with over 10 million users and 1 million paid subscribers. And when it finally does come stateside it might turn into an even bigger hit.

And it all started with one main business idea: make a music service that’s more convenient than piracy.

That’s one of the highlights from a presentation given by Spotify engineer Gunnar Kreitz at KTH Royal Institute of Technology last month (many of Spotify’s engineers came from KTH). Unfortunately I’m not seeing a recording of the presentation anywhere online, but Kreitz has posted the slides to his website, which you can find embedded below. The slides outline some of the key technical attributes that make Spotify what it is, many of which revolve around one key factor: speed.

According to the slides, Spotify has a median playback latency of only 265 ms, which Kreitz says “feels immediate” and avoids Spotify’s forbidden word, “Buffering”. Only 1% of songs streamed have buffering issues. In other words, the Spotify player is every bit as fast and reliable as, say, iTunes, and it’s a hell of a lot faster than finding the latest album release on BitTorrent.

Here are some of the interesting datapoints from the presentation:

  • Development is done in three week sprints, called the ‘scrum methodology’
  • Spotify uses a proprietary protocol that was designed for on-demand streaming, with most streams at Ogg Vorbis q5 @ 160kbps
  • While Spotify streams music on demand, caching is very important. The player caches your most-recently listened to tracks, and a lot of them: it uses 10% of your disk space by default (you can adjust that figure). Most Spotify users have a lot of data cached, with 56% over 5GB. And the strategy works: over 50% of data is served from the local cache, which saves a lot of bandwidth
  • When you listen to a song, the first ‘piece’ is immediately streamed from Spotify servers, and the player switches to P2P whenever possible (if P2P isn’t working, it will switch back to Spotify’s central servers).
  • P2P makes it easier for Spotify to scale, and leads to them needing fewer servers. It can also provide better uptime.
  • Mobile clients, as you’d expect, aren’t participating in P2P streaming.



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