Friday, May 13, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

How To Install Netflix On Most Android Devices

Posted: 13 May 2011 08:49 AM PDT

Netflix previously all but ignored Android, leaving users confused and annoyed by the lack of love. All that changed yesterday when the app dropped on the Nexus S and several HTC devices. But that’s the catch. Only a select few devices currently support the streaming service, so the fun is only for those rocking the HTC Incredible, HTC Nexus One, HTC Evo 4G, HTC G2, and Samsung Nexus S — unless you’re comfortable following a few lines of instructions!

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Facebook Faces Lawsuit Over Unauthorized Sharing Of User Data With Advertisers

Posted: 13 May 2011 07:35 AM PDT

A judge yesterday threw out most of the claims made in a lawsuit against Facebook, in which two California individuals, David Gould and Mike Robertson, accused the social networking giant of sharing their names and other private information with some advertisers in direct violation of its own privacy policy.

That said, the judge also ruled the lawsuit will not be dismissed in its entirety either, as Facebook had pleaded.

In October last year, The Wall Street Journal ‘uncovered’ that some of the most popular apps on the platform, including Zynga’s Farmville, Frontierville and Texas HoldEm Poker, had been sharing certain information, including users’ real names, age, hometown, gender or other details with advertising and Internet tracking companies.

Facebook admitted that this happened, but downplayed the risks involved and quickly plugged the security hole in question.

Gould and Robertson, however, rather swiftly lodged a complaint alleging that the Facebook security flaw violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act, and California’s Computer Crime Law and Consumers Legal Remedies act.

U.S. District Judge James Ware in San Jose, California, yesterday unequivocally rejected Facebook's argument that Gould and Robertson’s lawsuit should be dismissed because the users didn't show an injury sufficient to bring the case, which means the company will have to actually face the lawsuit. You can find the relevant documents below.

However, Ware also threw out most of the two men’s claims against the company (8 out of 9, actually), also giving them a chance to refile only five of those dismissed.

We’ll see what happens next – we’ll keep you updated.

FWIW, a Facebook spokesperson said the company was “pleased with the court’s ruling”.


2011-05-12 – FB Privacy Lit – Order on MTD


LIVE At the TimeCrafter’s Show In New York

Posted: 13 May 2011 07:23 AM PDT

I’m broadcasting live from the Timecrafter’s watch show in New York with Hugh Dougherty, the Mart & Highlights Editor for the National Association of Watch And Clock Collector’s own watch blog, WatchDig. We’ll be looking at some higher end watches (and some affordable ones as well) and talk about the recent watch show in Basel, Switzerland.

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OpenTable Founder Launches OhSoWe, A Network For Neighborhoods

Posted: 13 May 2011 06:50 AM PDT

OpenTable’s co-founder Chuck Templeton is launching his latest venture today—OhSoWe. The site essentially aims to bring together neighborhoods. It’s sort of like an online version of a block association.

On the site, users can create a “neighborstead,” to form a block club, neighborhood association or a neighbor-based organization. People have to create profiles and join the site (there’s no Facebook integration). To join the site, you enter your address, and OhSoWe will automatically show you neighborhood activity near your home. People can message each other, post notices, organize meetings, and more.

The idea behind OhSoWe is to encourage sharing between neighbors, whether it be food, offering skills (like gardening, handy work), transportation or babysitting. Templeton tells me that currently, there really isn’t a way for neighbors to communicate with each other in a group setting besides via email.

One feature that is noticeably missing in the site is a deeper Facebook integration. It seems that it would be much easier to import my social graph from the network as opposed to creating it on OhSoWe. And users could create groups on Facebook around their neighborhood. That being said, I agree with Templeton that there is a need for a more interactive neighborhood-focused communications app that trumps email. Perhaps OhSoWe is the answer.



Google Bullies OEMs Over What Can And Can’t Appear On Android Devices

Posted: 13 May 2011 05:37 AM PDT

Based on a batch of documents released in the Skyhook/Google lawsuit, it seems that Google’s Andy Rubin is not only the boss of Android, but the boss of just about everyone in the Android ecosystem. Freshly unsealed court docs reveal that Google is using Android's compatibility standards to bully OEMs into choosing Google products for their smartphones.

Basically, anytime a manufacturer wants Android — or at least, Android with all of its best perks, like the Android Market or Google’s ultra slick Gmail client — on its smartphone, the device must adhere to a compatibility standard, which is determined solely by Google. In an email dated August 6, 2010, Dan Morrill, a manager in the Android group, mentioned that it's pretty obvious to phone manufacturers that "we are using compatibility as a club to make them do things we want."

Read more…



The Wild Tale Of A Stolen Laptop In Brooklyn

Posted: 13 May 2011 05:04 AM PDT

Analytics ninja Sean Power lost his laptop in Brooklyn – it was stolen, although it may not have been stolen by the man who had it – and using Prey he was able to track it to a particular bar near City Hall in downtown Brooklyn.

Sean got some snaps of the guy and his browsing habits and asked that some of his Twitter followers visit the bar to wait for the police. When the police refused to come because Powers had not filed a report the Twooters took the matter into their own hands. Again, to be clear, the man in the photo probably just paid the thief for the laptop in what we can only assume is good faith.

Read more…



How One Swedish Startup Was Almost Acquired By Skype, Pre-Microsoft Deal

Posted: 13 May 2011 04:45 AM PDT

Exclusive - Earlier this week, Microsoft dropped a bombshell on pretty much the entire technology industry, acquiring VoIP juggernaut Skype for a baffling $8.5 billion in cash.

One side-effect unrevealed up until today: TechCrunch has learned that Skype came extremely close to buying Swedish startup MyWidz right before negotiations with Microsoft were kicked into high gear, freezing said acquisition plans.

Multiple sources confirm that Skype wanted to buy MyWidz mainly for its team and core technology, which enables companies to develop and maintain mobile applications in the cloud, and that Skype had produced and delivered a term sheet as recently as February 2011.

Negotiations were ongoing though, we hear.

Apparently, MyWidz wanted to fetch a higher price as paying customers were just starting to trickle in, essentially proving its SaaS business model for creating, managing and sharing cross-platform mobile applications through a cloud-based system turned out to be solid.

I spoke to MyWidz CEO Jonas Löfgren this morning. While he wouldn’t confirm that Skype was engaged in late-stage talks with his startup for an outright acquisition, he said MyWidz was on to something big enough to continue pursuing as a stand-alone company anyway.

From what we’ve gathered, MyWidz isn’t the only player in the cloud-based mobile app management field Skype took a good look at, although we couldn’t confirm if terms sheets were delivered to any of those companies, apart from MyWidz.

For the Internet telephony giant, such an acquisition would bring in technology and experienced people to help manage its mobile application development and maintenance efforts. Skype offers apps for iPhone, Android, Symbian and BlackBerry handsets.

Now that Skype has been acquired by Microsoft, chances are that the company’s efforts will not be translated into actual acquisitions, although it’s entirely possible the plans will still be carried out, albeit with some delay, as they are of strategic importance to the company.

The company is, however, not exactly the most aggressive when it comes to M&A.

They once tried to buy VoIP startup Gizmo5, which Google ended up doing instead of them. They also took a close look at a number of Web-based video chat companies in the past, but none of that sniffing has turned into a deal thus far.

I asked Löfgren if he’d consider a buyout offer from Skype, or any other company that would be interested in the MyWidz business. “If the price is right,” he replied, sensibly.

Skype declined to comment on this story.



Walmart Invests In Yihaodian, A Massive Chinese E-Commerce Company

Posted: 13 May 2011 02:29 AM PDT

Wal-Mart this morning announced that it intends to acquire a minority stake in the holding company of Yihaodian, a massive B2C ecommerce company based in China. The transaction is expected to close within 60 days, the retail giant says.

Launched in July 2008, Yihaodian offers more than 75,000 products ranging from clothing to grocery to consumer electronics. Less than 3 years after launch, the company boasts a whopping 2,000 employees and logistics operations in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.

The size of the investment was not disclosed.

Walmart last month acquired social media technology provider Kosmix, and just over a year ago acquired online movie service Vudu.

Worth noting: Facebook, Groupon and Zynga investor DST recently joined a group of investors who’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars into Yihaodian rival 360buy.com.



NTT Docomo Partners With Twitter For New Location-Based Service In Japan

Posted: 13 May 2011 01:35 AM PDT

Japan’s biggest mobile carrier NTT Docomo today announced it will develop with Twitter a set of new mobile services for its domestic customer base of 58 million. Under the deal, Docomo plans to integrate a “touch and follow” app into NFC-equipped feature phones, allowing two users to start following each other just by placing their handsets together.

Docomo also says it will integrate tweets and other content from Twitter into the search results on i-mode, its web portal for feature phones starting this summer (50 million subscribers), and on the so-called "docomo market" portal for smartphones in late 2010 or early 2011.

What’s most interesting though is what Docomo hasn’t officially announced but what The Nikkei, Japan’s biggest business daily, is reporting today. According to the paper, Docomo entered a licensing agreement with Twitter to harvest “masses of tweets” in Japanese for a new type of location-based service for smartphones.

The idea is to alert users to local events, places and other information by combining keywords in tweets with times and locations in real-time (after anonymizing the data). Docomo is also expected to use information gathered this way to constantly track consumer behavior in certain locations and sell that information as a marketing tool to other companies. Docomo is planning to roll out the service this winter, the Nikkei says.

Using tweets for location-based services isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s potentially good news for Twitter to officially license content to a partner of that size and in that advanced a mobile (test?) market.

The deal between NTT Docomo and Twitter isn’t coming as a big surprise, given how popular Twitter is in Japan. According to Nielsen Japan, the service had 17.58 million users in the country in March, the second highest number in the world.

NTT America has been Twitter’s global network partner for years.



Online Gaming Startup We R Interactive Raises $5 Million From Private Backers

Posted: 13 May 2011 12:28 AM PDT

Online games publisher We R Interactive this morning announced that it has raised $5 million in second round funding from a slew of private investors, including Elio Leoni-Sceti, former CEO of EMI Music and Paul Fitzsimons, ex-media sector partner at Apax Partners. The company secured initial funding upon launch back in July 2010, although it's unclear how much they raised then. The proceeds of the financing round will be used to support the ongoing development and international roll-out of the startup's first social game, I AM PLAYR, a point-of-view game that allow players to experience the life of football players through their eyes.


Nearing 100 Million Views, Decorah Eagles Become The Most-Watched Live Stream Ever

Posted: 12 May 2011 09:16 PM PDT

"When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber".

– Winston Churchill

It seems that the “Decorah Eagles” have officially become America’s biggest reality-TV stars. For those who haven’t yet heard, the Decorah Eagles are a family of Bald Eagles nesting in Decorah, Iowa. The Raptor Resource Project, a non-profit organization that specializes in the preservation of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks, and owls, established a Ustream channel, consisting of live, round-the-clock footage of a pair of Bald Eagles and their 3 eaglets.

In the last month, the Decorah Eagles have become a full-blown national phenomenon. The stream has been live since February of 2010, but the majority of traffic has arrived since the pair’s eggs began hatching on February 23rd of this year. The Huffington Post wrote a story on the Decorah Eagles in April and, at the time, the channel had attracted 25.6 million views. Today, less than a month later, that number has passed 95 million (currently at nearly 95.9 million). Thus, in 29 days, the stream has tallied over 70 million views, which breaks down to roughly 2.4 million views-per-day over that time.

Ustream told TechCrunch that the Decorah Eagles stream has become the most-watched live stream in the company’s five-year history, passing the 34 million views garnered by Ustream’s Canal 5 news page (which covered the Chilean miner saga in September of last year) over the course of the last month.

According to the live video platform, the average time spent watching the Decorah Eagles in April, per-unique-viewer, was 6 hours and 10 minutes, and over 2,400 human years have been invested in watching the “eagle cam”. Of course, many people are likely leaving the stream on for 24-hours-a-day, so this skews the figures a bit, but the point remains: People love the eagles. And I don’t mean Don Henley’s Eagles.

YouTube’s coverage of the “Royal Wedding” generated 72 Million total live streams, so, considering that Ustream expects the Decorah Eagles to pass 100 million views within the week, the video platform believes that it now has the most-watched live stream (emanating from a single source, or provider). Ever. Though it’s true that the Royal Wedding’s 72 million viewers watched over the course of a much shorter time frame.

Ustream Marketing Manager Tony Riggins tells me that the company has been hearing from people from all walks of life, who have been tuning in to watch the eagles go about their day-to-day bird business. He said that they’ve been receiving calls from hospitals, where cancer patients are routinely checking in with the eagles to get a few minutes of much-needed distraction from their treatments.

The “Real World Decorah” live stream has also become an inimitable educational opportunity, as classrooms of grade-schoolers through colleges are watching the live stream to learn about biology, natural history, and more. With scientists, bird lovers, seniors, kids, and even bloggers all tuning in, this has truly become what Beverly Macy called a “global social learning experience in realtime”.

This is obviously a big moment for Ustream, just as it is for this family of eagles, who are giving the world the best damn reality show it’s ever seen.

So far, my pleas to the Eagle Family for an exclusive interview has not been granted, but stay tuned. This just might be my opportunity for some unprecedented embedded reporting.

And just for good measure, to appropriately commemorate the occasion, here is John Ashcroft singing “Let The Eagles Soar”.



Facebook, You’re Going To Need A Better Answer For Your Slimeball Stunt

Posted: 12 May 2011 08:31 PM PDT

At this point, I think it’s pretty clear what Facebook’s strategy for this whole Burson-Marsteller caught-with-their-pants-down situation is going to be: say as little as possible and move on. And it will work.

Like it or not, Facebook is too integrated into the fabric of the web now for everyone to just walk away. As has been proven time and time again, people will get really angry with them for some misstep, and then totally forget about it a week later. So this is the smart play by Facebook.

But it doesn’t mean it’s the right one.

While Burson-Marsteller came out and gave a bone-headed statement that essentially threw Facebook under the bus, Facebook has only given a one paragraph canned answer in response to publications like LA Times and The New York Times (which sure was soft in their headline on the matter, huh?). The statement:

No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles — just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read something so disingenuous. With every point, they go out of their to deflect from the key questions:

  1. Why use Burson-Marsteller for this matter and not your own internal PR team? Or even the PR team that you keep on retainer for other work (Outcast)?
  2. Why not authorize Burson-Marsteller to say your name when asked?
  3. Why do this behind-the-scenes at all? Why not just write a blog post about it if it’s such a clear problem that everyone is missing?
  4. And if you really feel Google is in the wrong here, and you can fully make that case, why not just block them — or sue?
  5. Why is Facebook resorting to this nonsense? Isn’t this kind of thing weak companies do when they’re scared?
  6. For a company so concerned with real identity, isn’t this all a bit ironic?

Earlier today, we reached out to Facebook to ask all of these questions. They declined to comment on the record for any of them. Instead, all we have is the lame paragraph above. So I’m going to take this opportunity to answer them myself, based on my assumptions — again, since Facebook isn’t talking.

Here we go:

  1. Facebook clearly did this in an attempt to remove themselves from the situation. They wanted this information out there, but did not want to be associated with it. They sort of allude to this in their statement, but they don’t address how slimy this is. If you’re going to call someone out on something, call them out. Don’t anonymously hire a PR firm to talk to journalists to call them out on your behalf. It’s cowardly and a scumbag move.
  2. This is obviously related to the first question. Facebook did not want to be associated with this situation. Of course, by going out of their way to make sure they weren’t even named when Burson-Marsteller was asked, is again, slimy. If you’re going to put something out there, have the balls to attach your name to it.
  3. Again, they did not want this tied to them. But had they come out in public, it would have been much better received (to say the least). Sure, much of the press would have focused on the war between Facebook and Google, but that’s happening now times a million worse because of the way this all went down. Publicly calling a rival out would have taken some guts, and Facebook clearly didn’t have any here.
  4. This is where the hypocrisy really kicks in. Facebook has been pushing and pushing users to open up more of their data to share with everyone. As a result, Google can see it and use it in products like Social Circle. Danny Sullivan has a great rundown of this hypocrisy. Facebook wants it both ways here. And they can’t have it both ways. Too bad. And if they feel Google is actually doing something malicious with this data (which the journalists pitched rejected the notion of), they should sue. (Don’t expect that to happen.)
  5. That’s the most surprising thing here. Facebook is the prince of the Internet at the moment. The widely held perception is that their ascension to the throne seems inevitable as Google descends. They simply did not need to pull this stunt. Yet they clearly felt they had to. Interesting.
  6. Yes. Yes, it is. Very.

Make no mistake, this entire maneuver by Facebook was about manipulation. Whether or not they had malicious intent, Facebook’s aim was to quietly manipulate both the press and the public into seeing things their way.

In their ideal world, Burson-Marsteller would have taken this, pitched it to a group of journalists/bloggers, stories questioning Google’s tactics would have been written, and Facebook’s name would have only been brought up as the victims.

Instead, the opposite happened. Karma is a bitch.



Foursquare SF Hires HR Manager Morgan Missen, Is Closing In On A New SOMA Office

Posted: 12 May 2011 06:28 PM PDT

Former Twitter recruiter Morgan Missen is joining Foursquare today as Head of Talent for Foursquare West.

Missen (née Missentzis) was the first Technical Recruiter at Twitter, responsible for all backend engineering hires. Prior to that position she was a Google Technical Recruiter for three years. Missen’s Foursquare hire is important because it solidifies the check-in service’s ongoing San Francisco expansion; Foursquare is also closing in on an office in SOMA and is planning on leasing space for between 30-50 additional engineers.

Foursquare SF’s team of ten now has three non technical employees –VP of Mobile Partnerships Holger LeUdorf, VP of Business Development Tristan Walker and Missen — with the seven remaining being engineers.

Missen, who consulted and worked on her side project Main.is in between Twitter and Foursquare gigs, will be focusing on recruiting at Foursquare in addition to human resources and development. She will be operating under Foursquare General Manager Evan Cohen and recruiting 100% of the positions at the West Coast branch.

Right now Foursquare shares the historic Chronicle Building with Square, but its team is rapidly outgrowing the small space.  Their move out of the Chronicle Building is imminent, and should be completed in about a month’s time. Foursquare SF eventually wants to grow to 100 people (the entire Foursquare team, SF + NY, is now at 60).

The demand for skilled recruiters like Missentzis in Silicon Valley and SF is high as everyone and their mother is hiring. On what she thought about the talent rush Morgan told me, “It’s an exciting time and I’m fortunate to be at Foursquare,” which she holds has the strongest team and is the best engineering job in SF. Also, it had angel investor Ashton Kutcher call her personally to seal the deal.

Foursquare has somewhere around nine million users and just hit 3 million checkins, with $21.4 million in funding from Kutcher, Andreessen HorowitzUnion Square VenturesO’Reilly AlphaTech VenturesRick Webb and others.


ashton kutcher
I'm starting to become convinced that people put my name in articles just to improve their SEO or hoping I'll tweet it.


Mike McCue: FlipBoard Is Seeing More Than 10 Million Flips Per Day (Video)

Posted: 12 May 2011 05:04 PM PDT

When it comes to publishing apps on the iPad, there are two models: 1) social readers that bring all your realtime news feeds together like Flipboard; or 2) single-title apps from major publishers like the New Yorker, The Daily or the New York Times. Those two models are also dividing along the lines of subscriptions versus ad-supported/free.

In the video above, Flipboard CEO Mike McCue makes the case that in tablet publishing, “the bulk of the revenue will come from advertising.” To make his point, he shares some recent numbers from Flipboard, which is seeing more than 10 million “flips per day”, up from 3 million two months ago. A “flip” in the app is like a pageview (in the video, he says 10 million flips per day, but later he checked the number and it is actually 11.4 million). Of the 2 million people who have downloaded the Flipboard app to their iPads, I’ve heard from other sources that about half are active, which would mean that on average each user flips through 10 pages a day.

McCue thinks there will be a place for subscriptions as well, especially for premium media brands, and would love to be able to place subscription buttons on premium content within Flipboard. My idea is that if you already subscribe to a publishing app on iTunes, the articles should be able to appear in Flipboard, News.me or any of the other general reader apps. But if they are not already a subscriber, some sort of all-you-can-eat subscription model would have to be worked out, with Flipboard doling out the money based on how many times articles from a particular publisher is read. It can get complicated because “people like to see their content atomized,” says McCue.

That’s why he thinks advertising will produce more revenues than subscriptions. It is easier to split advertising revenues with publishers based on readership. His investors agree. They just put in another $50 million into Flipboard, betting that he is correct. Although McCue and I have debated whether he needs that much, I also think that advertising is the way to go with tablet publishing. McCue also hints that Flipboard’s iPhone app will come out this summer. Watch the video to find out more.



With Dominate, IGN Looks To Own Cross-Platform Video Game Check-Ins

Posted: 12 May 2011 04:21 PM PDT

While the check-in started with social apps tied to location in the real world, it quickly spread to the virtual side of things, giving users the ability to check-in to watching tv/movies, listening to music, browsing websites, etc. But one area that remained largely untapped was gaming, which is surprising because it makes a lot of sense. IGN clearly agrees.

The gaming network has just entered the space with their first app, subtly titled: Dominate. The iOS app has just hit the App Store today.

So what is Dominate? It’s an app that allows you to check-in to any game you’re playing and share that information with your friends (via Facebook/Twitter). And yes, if you check-in to a game often enough, you’ll becomes the “Dominator” of the game — think: Foursquare Mayor.

So how is this different from the few other players in this space, notably Heyzap which launched similar functionality recently. Well, Heyzap focuses on mobile gaming only, Dominate wants you to be able to check-in for every type of game you’re playing across all the major platforms (mobile, game consoles, PCs, etc).

And this make a lot of sense since it keeps with IGN’s tradition of appealing to all gamers, no matter the genre or platform.

Right now, the app is pretty barebones. But it’s also very fast and does exactly what it needs to. The plan is to get this out there and gain feedback from the IGN audience.

IGN Director of Product Management, Anand Iyer, notes that even though Dominate is iOS-only right now, the app was written from the ground-up to be platform agnostic. They used the Sencha framework with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript to write the app, then they used PhoneGap to make it iOS-native. In other words, they basically already have the pieces in place to port it to other platforms, like Android.

Iyer recognizes that there’s a lot of opportunity to go in new and interesting directions with this app — perhaps even eventually moving towards a full-fledged high level social network for gaming — completely with in-game integration. But in the immediate future, you can expect the following:

  • (Push) Notifications for when people you are following start playing a game.
  • Sharing your game play data on other social networks like Facebook and Twitter
  • Rewards
  • Get tips and information once you’ve checked in to a game
  • Get recommendations for games you should be checking out

IGN just acquired rival UGO last week in anticipation of a roll-out from parent News Corp. in a few weeks.

Find IGN Dominate here in the App Store. It’s a free download.

 



Bezos On An Amazon Tablet: “Stay Tuned”

Posted: 12 May 2011 02:49 PM PDT

Amazon has always been frustratingly close-lipped about its hardware business, opting not to divulge sales numbers or upcoming hardware changes for more or less the entire life of the Kindle. And incredibly, such information rarely leaks out (though we managed to catch the graphite Kindle 3 ahead of its debut). But today just two words are sending the tech blogs into confusion, as Jeff Bezos coyly tells an interviewer to “stay tuned” in relation to a new Amazon tablet.

Continue reading…



Netflix For Android Released For Select Samsung, HTC Handsets

Posted: 12 May 2011 12:46 PM PDT

Whoa! Talk about a welcome surprise. After many long months in the works, Netflix has just pushed the first release of their Android application to the Android Market.

Alas, there’s a catch: it’s only working on a handful of Android devices right now. With this first release, the only supported devices are the HTC Incredible, HTC Nexus One, HTC Evo 4G, HTC G2, and Samsung Nexus S. We’re checking to see if it can be finagled onto other devices as we type — but given how carefully Netflix is treading with regards to DRM on Android, we’re not expecting much.



Claritics Raises $1.5 Million For Cloud-Based Analytics Apps

Posted: 12 May 2011 12:34 PM PDT

Businesses today have the benefit of access to tons of data on their customers, what they’re buying, what their social behavior looks like, and more. The problem, though, is how best to funnel the fire hose of social data. Companies can now collect so much social data on their customers, it can be difficult to narrow it down to the most applicable, and useful, information that will allow them to optimize their social campaigns.

This is where Claritics comes in. The Mountain View-based startup provides a suite of social analytics applications that enables businesses to get a better idea of where their customers are coming from, what they’re doing within applications, and what hooks them into a purchase. Claritics analyzes the data and provide insights in realtime so that businesses can get a better sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Today, Claritics announced that it has closed a $1.5 million series A funding round, which the company says it will use to beef up its analytics suite and grow its sales and operational staffs. The round was led by Cervin Ventures and TiE Angels.

Founded in 2010, Claritics has been in private beta and has been testing its suite of SaaS social intelligence applications with media companies and Facebook app developers, including Grab Games, Hallmark’s Social Calendar and more. The startup will soon begin accepting applications to its open beta.

The company will be competing with businesses like Omniture and Webtrends, and Echo in the realtime data aggregation and trending, so it hopes to narrow its focus on social eCommerce. To be successful there, Neeraj Gupta, managing director of Cervin Ventures said, companies have to harness the huge chunks of data produced by the ever-more social web, and doing so requires a new solution. Therefore, Claritics allows app developers to identify trends in realtime and react to those changing trends in realtime. Developers can update the content of their app, viral features, marketing campaigns on-the-fly, using the analytics suite.

But the real key to success here may be to move away from the backwards-facing approach of traditional web analytics, CEO Raj Pai, to offer forward-looking social analytics that enable users to “create automated processes” around their social data and “leverage predictive modeling” to make social campaigns more effective in realtime.



Docstoc Goes Mobile; Brings Premium Document Sharing To The iPad

Posted: 12 May 2011 11:57 AM PDT


Docstoc, an online document sharing site that caters primarily to small businesses and professionals, is unveiling its first mobile app today with the launch of its iPad app today—Docstoc Premium.

The iPad App, which is free, includes access to documents that are shared on the platform, including both premium and free content. Users have access to over 10,000 business and professional documents, and can also search and download over 20 million library documents. Content includes company business plans, proposal letters, real estate purchase forms, LLC operating agreements, marketing plans,and more. You can also integrate your saved, bookmarked and uploaded documents from the web on the app through your account.

Within the app, you can upgrade to access premium content (for $9.95 per month) from Docstoc. The startup has been making a big push towards premium content, launching a marketplace for professional documents, as well as books from premium publishers. Docstoc co-founder Jason Nazar says the iPad app gives users access to over 3000-plus high quality legal and business contracts, forms, guides, and templates as well.

This is actually Docstoc’s first mobile app, which is surprising considering that the startup has been around since 2007 (Docstoc launched at TechCrunch40 in 2007). But Nazar says an Android app is currently in the works and the company is ramping up mobile development. And the startup, which faces competition from Scribd and SlideShare, is growing in terms is usage. A year ago, Docstoc has around 3 million users and today the site has 11 million registered users.



YouWeb Incubated Pluto Plays Music Combines Gaming With Helping Kids Learn Music

Posted: 12 May 2011 11:50 AM PDT


Social and mobile incubator YouWeb, who has helped create OpenFeint, CrowdStar, iSwifter and Sibblingz, is announcing its latest venture—mobile ‘edutainment’ startup Pluto Plays Music.

Pluto Plays Music is an educational game and iPad app that combines scrolling gameplay dynamics with musical notes to get the kiddies interested in learning music. The game follows the main character, Pluto, a penguin on a quest to master a variety of songs on different instruments. Children can learn basic songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as well as more classical pieces like The Magic Flute by Mozart, Ode to Joy by Beethoven, Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.

While Pluto Plays Music is free to download and play, users can purchase virtual goods via the game’s in-game currency, pearls. Using pearls, players can unlock new levels and instruments including the piano, xylophone, and guitar. Players can also earn pearls to use toward purchases by completing simple tasks like opening the app daily and performing songs. The game also ranks players by their level of apprenticeship, depending on how effectively they complete and learn the songs in the game.

The game itself is using sister company OpenFeint’s plug and play social gaming platform to allows players to compare their scores and ranking with other players around the world.

YouWeb founder Peter Relan tells us that he picked this particular company to incubate because of the tremendous potential of edutainment games for children on tablet devices.

Last month, YouWeb celebrated the first exit with the acquisition of OpenFeint by Japanese gaming company, GREE, for $104 million.



The Mobile Privacy Hearings: Senators Prod, Apple And Google Defend

Posted: 12 May 2011 11:36 AM PDT

When researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden announced at the Where 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara a few weeks ago that iPhones and 3G iPads are storing records of where their users are and where they’ve been, the news created quite a stir. Google also stores a similar list on Android devices, so naturally questions have swirled in the last few weeks around how both Apple and Google are collecting and using this location data and to what extent it encroaches on user privacy.

Yesterday, representatives from both companies were called before a senatorial subcommittee to answer questions from the likes of Senators Al Franken (Minn.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.) on whether or not our mobile devices are becoming Big Brother 2.0.

During the testimony, the senators were careful to say that the government is well aware of the many benefits of the technology created by both companies and is in no way eager to stifle innovation or create knee-jerk legislation. That being said, in the words of Senator Leahy, while the “digital age can do some wonderful, wonderful things for all of us … American consumers and businesses face threats to privacy like no time before.”

Naturally, even without the information that has recently come to light, there has been a growing concern among lawmakers and consumers alike that both Google and Apple are not doing enough to become guardians of the user’s personal data rather than wholesalers. Leahy told the representatives that he was “deeply concerned” about the reports that iPhones and Android devices were “collecting, storing, and tracking user location data without the user’s consent”.

“I am also concerned about reports that this sensitive location information may be maintained in an unencrypted format, making the information vulnerable to cyber thieves and other criminals”, the Senator said.

As to the basic allegations that lay before the two giants of the mobile space, Apple has previously stated that, though it is partly at fault for not educating its users to fully understand the technical issues with providing fast and accurate location information, the company does not (nor has it ever) tracked the location of a user’s iPhone.

At the time, Apple explained that, while it did find a few bugs in the architecture, it was adamant that it is using the location data stored on its devices to maintain and improve upon a crowdsourced database of WiFi hotspots and cell towers — not to keep a log of a user’s prior location. The geo-tagged data from iPhones, for example, is used to help build data about WiFi networks and cell tower locations, which let location-based services work even when GPS/satellite positioning isn’t available or functioning seamlessly.

Be that as it may, Senator Franken noted that consumers remain confused, so he posed the question directly to Apple’s VP of Software Technology Bud Tribble: “does this data indicate anything about the user’s location, or doesn’t it?”

Tribble’s response was to reiterate the main message to the average consumer: that the data is a record of the location of cell towers and WiFi hotspots, it does not contain any customer information. It is anonymous. However, that comes with a nuance. When a portion of that database is downloaded onto your phone, your phone knows which hotspots and towers it can transmit through, so the combination of the location of those towers and your phone knowing which towers it can transmit through, allows the phone to give you a basic location without GPS.

So, he is essentially saying, yes of course Apple tracks your location. That’s what GPS and WiFi and cell tower positioning are designed to do, and yes it does store location-based information on its devices in order to do that, but no it isn’t keeping a full history of your locations, and while it does know where you are, it doesn’t necessarily know who you are.

Though Apple doesn’t seem to be doing anything intentionally nefarious with this information, the point remains that the laws of this country have not yet come anywhere near to adequately addressing the capabilities of modern technologies. In an earlier panel, Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Dept, told the subcommittee that once companies have access to consumer info (if you give Apple or Google permission to use your location or something similar), they can legally share that data with third-party businesses.

Only when companies have previously promised not to share something, like your location, can they be held accountable in court. As Justin Brookman, the Director for the Center of Democracy & Technology’s Project on Consumer Privacy, said, “the default law in this country for the sharing of data is that you can do anything you want”, with the exception being any prior promise the company has made not to share specific data.

Franken also asked the representatives from the two companies about the fact that they run the biggest app stores in the world, yet require no privacy policy for their apps, and so asked them if they would consider adding a privacy policy.

Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy, said that Google has relied on a permission-based model which requires users to give permission before any sharing takes place, but that the next step is important for Google to consider and is “a very good suggestion”. He said that he would “take that issue back to leadership”. And for Apple, Tribble said that Apple contractually requires third-party developers to disclose if they’re going to do anything with user information, but does not integrate an over-arching privacy policy. He then continued on to say that a general privacy policy would not be enough, that true transparency goes beyond what’s in the privacy policy and needs to be integrated into the user interface of an app, designing feedback to the user about what’s happening to the information into the actual app.

Franken then asked Tribble about why Apple only asks users if they want to share location with an app, while Google asks the user if they want to share location, address book information, contacts, and so on. Tribble responded by saying that a long checkmark box of opt-in sharing options would only confuse the user and be unwieldy both to present and read on a mobile device.

There’s no doubt that Tribble makes two valid points here, but Ashkan Soltani, an independent researcher who has worked with the Wall Street Journal on mobile-privacy investigations, shortly thereafter quickly cut to the heart of the matter. He told the senators that the biggest privacy threat to mobile users today is the simple fact that “consumers are repeatedly surprised by the information that apps and app platforms are accessing”. Users are entrusting their phones and computers with a great deal of personal information, he said, and these platforms are not taking adequate steps to make clear to the consumer that third-parties have access to this information.

Not only that, but the other issue is that platform providers, too, are often caught off-guard as to the types (or amount) of information they’re gathering. Soltani cited the examples of Google Street View collecting WiFi information during Street View surveys and this recent example of Apple’s location storage cache.

So, it seems that not only are lawmakers and legislation slow to catch up to the uses and capabilities of modern technology, so too are the providers themselves. Going forward, Soltani suggested, we will need to begin to formulate solid definitions to questions as fundamental as “What does ‘opt-in’ mean?” and further define oft-used concepts like location. Is a user’s location defined within 4 feet or 100 miles? What is “anonymous” going to mean in a location-crazy world, and how are we going to define “third-party” and what those “third-parties” rightly have access to?

The legislative process is just beginning here, and may well be glacial in its progress. Though there is certainly some questionable thinking to be found coming from these two companies in how they’re thinking about privacy, it’s great to see evidence of their willingness to work with the government to find the best solution for enterprise — and more importantly, the consumer — going forward.

Kudos to the senators and the subcommittee for asking the right questions.

Top Photo: Reuters





Pacific Crest Securities Buys Shanghai-Based Bank to Help Navigate the China Web Chaos

Posted: 12 May 2011 11:29 AM PDT

Boutique tech investment bank Pacific Crest Securities has purchased Pacific Epoch, a Shanghai-based investment research firm specializing in technology. This gives Pacific Crest fifty more bodies on the ground in China to deliver investors better investment research than “This is the (fill-in-the-blank-Western-Internet-company) of China.”

That lazy marketing strategy has helped companies like YouKu (aka THE YOUTUBE OF CHINA!….nevermind it doesn’t really do user generated content) or RenRen (aka THE FACEBOOK OF CHINA!) to get heady IPO pops, but it doesn’t help investors have a clue what they are really buying or the context of those companies on the ground. Historically boutique banks are better at doing this than the bulge bracket firms. (See the “four horsemen“ who helped build Silicon Valley.)

Pacific Crest has been in China for ten years, and it’s clearly a good time for the firm to be doubling down. Much of the entrepreneurship in China over the last decade has been in non-tech sectors. Think: The guy who became a billionaire by growing the potatoes KFC uses in its fries. (I have no proof that guy actually exists, but I always hear about him when I’m talking to bankers in China as the example that nearly anything becomes a $1 billion business on the mainland.)

But tech is finally exploding, and China is proving that the biggest Web companies no longer come out of Silicon Valley. Not only are Tencent and Baidu two of the five largest Web companies by market cap in the world, the number of $1 billion+ Web companies in China has doubled in the last two years from fifty to more than 100, says Scott Sandbo, Chairman and CEO of Pacific Crest.

And my personal barometer for Chinese investment no longer being a fringe thing: Even Michael “everything great happens in the Valley” Arrington has money invested there.

Of course as the rollercoaster of RenRen’s IPO shows, many people are momentum investing off of scant information, marketing taglines and momentum. That’s not pretty. Hopefully, Pacific Crest can bring some more solid research to the Chinese tech investment landscape, before this whole thing ends in paper millionaires moving back in with their parents….again.



Sleazy PR Firm Throws Scummy Facebook Under The Sordid Bus

Posted: 12 May 2011 10:56 AM PDT

It’s pretty rare for a story to be one part sad, one part fascinating, and twenty parts sleazy. Luckily, Facebook and Burson-Marsteller have just handed exactly that to us on a silver platter.

As you’ve undoubtedly seen by now, last night The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons’ broke the story wide open about how the social network hired the PR firm to plant negative stories about rival Google in the press. As Mike wrote last night, it’s “not just offensive, dishonest and cowardly. It's also really, really dumb.” And it keeps getting better.

Now one of the sleazy companies in this sordid affair, Burson-Marsteller, is throwing the other sleazy company, Facebook, under the bus.

In an email sent to PRNewser this morning, the PR firm is confirming their involvement (as if that was still in question), defending themselves and their actions, and blaming Facebook for bringing the work to them in the first place.

In other words, they took the job, fucked it up, then blamed the client. Brilliant.

Let’s break down the Burson-Marsteller’s statement:

Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

If they hadn’t come forward, we wouldn’t have either. But since they’re potentially ruining us, screw you too, Facebook.

The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.

Facebook was asking us to do something shady, which we were totally fine with at the time. After all, this information is public, so why not do humanity a favor and pitch it to journalists for a smear campaign? We were really just doing journalists a favor — how’d they miss this golden information anyway? Maybe we should be journalists (again). At least we know to do our homework when getting pitched something sleazy. Oh wait, the journalists didn’t bite. So our argument trying to throw journalists under the bus doesn’t work either. Shit.

Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.

After we just fed you that bullshit excuse, here’s the real deal: we shouldn’t have done this. Or perhaps more accurately, we shouldn’t have agreed to terms under which we were likely to be caught. Next time we take one of these assignments, we’ll simply throw the client under the bus immediately so we look like the good guys to the journalists and public. Or we’ll cover our asses better. And ask for more money.

Scummy. Sleazy. Sordid. A true class act.

UpdateFacebook, You're Going To Need A Better Answer For Your Slimeball Stunt

[image: flickr/earls37a]



Facebook Partners Up With Web Of Trust To Warn Users About Malicious Links

Posted: 12 May 2011 10:10 AM PDT


Because Facebook is clearly concerned with user privacy, it’s partnered up with crowdsourced reputation management service Web Of Trust today in order give its population of almost 700 million users protection from links deemed “risky” by the Web Of Trust community.

As of today, if a user clicks on a link with a poor Web of Trust reputation rating, they will see the above warning telling them that the link has been classified as abusive. And then they can either circumvent the link, learn more about the Web of Trust rating or continue browsing.

“Facebook users are passing around links that can disrupt the system, and Facebook is very aware that users are experiencing the effect of opening spammy links, stuff like ‘You just won a prize.’ We are the first of a number of security companies that Facebook is partnering with because people are much more aware of [and concerned about] their privacy these days,” Web Of Trust marketing manager Deborah Salmi told me.

Through the multi browser Web of Trust extension, the Web of Trust community has now classified five million sites as untrustworthy, fraudulent, responsible for phishing or other unsavory behavior. Users who want to see the Web of Trust reputation rating off of Facebook, on Google search results, Twitter links and shortened URLs can download the Web of Trust extension here.



Apple, Google Grilled By Senate Over DUI Checkpoint Apps

Posted: 12 May 2011 10:02 AM PDT

Both Google and Apple got an earful from Congress this week concerning a few different DUI checkpoint apps that were floating around in the App Store and Android Market. Senator Charles Schumer, who was one of four senators to spearhead resolving this issue through a letter to the companies in March, grilled both of the tech giants during the inaugural hearing of the Privacy and Technology Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary this week.

"Apple and Google shouldn't be in the business of selling apps that help drunk drivers evade the police, and they shouldn't be selling apps that they themselves admit are 'terrible'," said Schumer. Back in late March, Sen. Schumer joined Sens. Harry Reid, Frank Lautenberg, and Mark Udall in scribing a letter asking Google, Apple, and RIM to remove any DUI checkpoint apps from their app stores. RIM was the only company to comply.

Read more…



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