Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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NVIDIA CEO: Android Will Overtake iOS On Tablets In 30 Months

Posted: 17 May 2011 09:34 AM PDT

Today at the Reuters Global Technology Summit, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang threw out a prediction for the future of the tablet market that isn't too far removed from that of the smartphone market over the past few years. Huang said that Android will surpass Apple's iOS-powered iPad in market share over the next 2 1/2 years.

Read more…

A Little Augmented Reality Check From Metaio

Posted: 17 May 2011 09:32 AM PDT

As a fan of Augmented Reality and its potential, I have, for some time, been thinking about how the technology will benefit from the larger screen real estate that tablets provide. There are plenty of examples out there…just search “Tablet AR” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. I received a press release from Metaio this morning (one of the companies that I follow most often with regard to AR) and there are a few new “Tablet AR” concepts in the accompanying video that are worth sharing. In my opinion, Metaio’s scientific approach and focus on true image recognition help it stand apart. Even Forrester’s Thomas Husson has stated that when considering Augmented Reality, “Only a few companies, such as Total Immersion and Metaio, really master this technology today.” I think the list is larger than that (Beyond Reality to name one), but he’s right that these companies definitely are at the forefront of the technology and Metaio, in my opinion, is leading the charge because their focus is broad—not just gaming, not just advertising—a holistic approach.

Anyway, check out the video below and let your imagination run wild for a bit. Let us know what you think is next for Augmented Reality?

Read more…

Sequoia Leads $3M Round in Onavo, The Must-Have Data Shrinking iOS App

Posted: 17 May 2011 08:50 AM PDT

It was only a few shorts weeks ago that we reviewed Onavo, the must-have iOS app that significantly shrinks data consumption. We were so impressed with the app’s ability to save users money on their data usage plans, that we went so far as to say that every iOS user should download it.

Today the company is announcing a $3M Round A by Sequoia Capital, with participation of Magma Venture Partners.

I asked the company to share some usage statistics for the first twenty days since launch. Here’s what they came back to me with:

  • Onavo saved users approximately 500GB in data consumption.
  • Data consumption of 30,000+ different apps passed through Onavo’s data-shrinking technology.
  • Onavo saw particularly high demand in two main user categories: The first, among travelers seeking to save on data roaming plans. The second, among domestic users with capped plans looking to get more bang for their buck.

Also noteworthy, and by popular demand (mine included), Onavo is now also available for iPad.

Lady Gaga On The Farm

Posted: 17 May 2011 08:43 AM PDT

You’re not a real celebrity until you have your own video game or, these days, your own section of FarmVille. Lady Gaga teamed up with Zynga to promote GagaVille, which is now live inside the game. It’s a place where you can grow jewels and get her new album when you purchase $25 in Zynga game cards. Yeah, that must be costing Zynga or one of its partners (Best Buy, Clear Channel) a pretty penny—at the very least someone is subsidizing the albums.

But at least they are having fun with it. Check out the promo video above which shows what happens when Lady Gaga hits the heartland.

Netflix Now The Largest Single Source of Internet Traffic In North America

Posted: 17 May 2011 07:54 AM PDT

Netflix video streaming is now the single largest source of peak downstream Interent traffic i the U.S., according to a new report by Sandvine. The streaming video service now accounts for 29.7 percent of peak downstream traffic, up from 21 percent last fall.

That puts Netflix above HTTP websites (18 percent), BitTorrent (11 percent), and YouTube (10 percent) as a source of downstream traffic during peak times in North America. (BitTorrent still accounts for half of all upstream traffic). As whole, “real-time entertainment” (which is mostly video streaming, but also includes streaming music) accounted for 49 percent of downstream traffic in March, 2011, versus 19 percent for P2P file sharing, and 17 percent for Web browsing.

Video files are so big that it does not take much usage for it to take over in terms of bandwidth consumed. But these numbers definitely point to a future where video accounts for more and more of the traffic on the Internet. As recently as last November, Web video alone accounted for an estimated 37 percent of Internet traffic.

But as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings points out, bandwidth to the home keeps increasing along with demand—he expects a gigabit to the home to be commonplace within ten years. As he told me earlier this month, “streaming is the core of our business,” but he also points out in the video below that most of the video to the home is cached on the edge of the network rather than going through the backbone.

Social TV Platform Loyalize Acquires Game Studio Savage Entertainment

Posted: 17 May 2011 07:53 AM PDT

Loyalize, an audience participation company, has acquired game studio Savage Entertainment. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Savage has worked with numerous publishers, including Electronic Arts, Activision, THQ, Midway, and LucasArts. The studio has created games for a number of well-known movies, including Transformers, James Bond, and Star Wars. Savage has also created simulators for various branches of the US government, including the Army, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Loyalize offers a white label,second-screen, Social TV experience to broadcasts or live events, allowing viewers to win real awards, shop, virtual badges, polls, and more around interacting with content on phones and tablets. Brands can also view the analytics from consumer interactions in real time and determine what audiences like, hate, or find unbelievable.

The company, which recently landed a deal with Motorola Mobility to power a social TV service for Motorola’s devices, will be using Savage talent and gaming expertise to add interactive gaming features to Loyalize’s platform.


B&N Sends Invites For A Special Announcement

Posted: 17 May 2011 07:53 AM PDT

Well, after several leaks, an SEC filing, and random speculation from random bloggers, Barnes & Noble just sent out an invite for a Special Announcement. Ready for more random speculation from a random blogger? Here! We! Go!

So the B&N Nook Color is huge hit. In fact it might be the second most popular tablet right now, thanks to its low price, impressive feature set and hackable nature. Many have thought that B&N is ready to take it up a notch with a new Nook Color. Said tablet could be a slight revision of the currently loved tablet with maybe just the addition of a 3G radio. Or, it could be a total overhaul. Then there’s always the possibility that the special announcement could for a new version of the company’s original ebook reader, the dual screen Nook. Either way we’ll find out next week on May 24th.

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99 Percent Of Android Devices Are Vulnerable To Password Theft

Posted: 17 May 2011 07:52 AM PDT

Researchers at Germany's University of Ulm have made some unsettling discoveries about the security of the Android platform. According to an article from The Register, the research group located a vulnerability that allows hackers to collect and use the digital tokens saved on a phone after a user inputs credentials for a password-protected service.

Read more…

Energy-Management Startup Hara Soaks Up $25 Million In Venture Funding

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:58 AM PDT

Before companies can do anything about reducing their impact on the environment, they need to measure the damage they are doing. Energy management startup Hara helps them track their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

The company announced a new $25 million C round of funding today, led by Focus ventures. Other investors include Energy Technology Ventures, and Navitas Capital, with existing investors Kleiner Perkins, JAFCO and Nth Power also participating. In addition, Kleiner partner Ray Lane is taking a board seat as chairman.

Energy Technology Ventures is an investment vehicle for GE, NRG Energy, and ConocoPhillips. Hara recently won a GE Ecoimagination challenge focused on smart grid technologies, an area of intense interest for GE.

Hara last raised $14 million two years ago, and another $6 million in 2008 from Kleiner. The new round brings the total capital in the company to $45 million.

Time Warner Invests In TV Advertising Technology Company BlackArrow

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:28 AM PDT

BlackArrow, a provider of advertising solutions for ‘New Television platforms’, this morning announced a strategic investment by Time Warner Cable. Joan Gillman, president of media sales for TWC, has been named to the BlackArrow board of directors.

The cable system operator joins BlackArrow’s impressive list of backers, which includes Cisco, Comcast, Intel Capital, Mayfield Fund, Motorola Mobility, NDS and Polaris Venture Partners.

The Time Warner Cable investment and the Motorola Mobility investment from last November complete BlackArrow’s previously announced Series C funding – bringing the total amount raised in the round from $20 million to $27 million.

BlackArrow says the Time Warner capital will be used for the deployment of its Advanced Advertising System to programmers and New TV content distributors.

The system is designed specifically for the technological complexities and business issues within on-demand television advertising environments.

SecondMarket Sees $115 Million In Private Stock Sales During Q1

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:15 AM PDT

Are sales of private company shares taking a breather? Demand for private company shares resulted in $115.4 million worth of transactions on SecondMarket during the first quarter of 2011, down from $120 million last year. The value of shares trading hands was also down from $158 million in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to its first quarter report.

The biggest buyers were high net-worth individuals, who accounted for 59 percent of completed transactions, compared to only 18 percent last quarter. VC funds stopped buying completely during the quarter, whereas the quarter before they made up a whopping 43 percent of completed transactions (with mutual funds making up another 13 percent).

The most coveted private stock remains Facebook, which saw its valuation reach $75 billion on SecondMarket (and $85 billion on SharesPost). Facebook was the most “watched” company, followed by Twitter, Groupon, LinkedIn, Zynga, Foursquare, Skype, Pandora, Yelp, and Gilt Groupe—in that order.

In March, SecondMarket launched a redesign which allowed members to more easily “watch” companies, which is similar to following news about those companies. Foursquare was the fastest rising star, with 2,950 percent growth in the number of participants “watching” the company. All of this interest propelled Foursquare to the No. 6 spot on the overall most-watched list. Other rising stars include Dropbox, Spotify, Skype and Gilt. Newcomers to the watch lists included Hulu, LivingSocial, Quora, and Square.

Jive Launches Facebook Connector To Integrate Social Content Into Support Communities

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:04 AM PDT

Jive Software, the maker of an all-in-one social enterprise software, has launched a deeper integration with Facebook today with the release of the Jive Facebook Connector. The connector allows companies to integrate Facebook communities, fan pages and content into the Jive external customer support communities.

Modeled to offer Facebook-like features to enterprises, Jive's software combines computing with social collaboration to offer fully-featured social networks for businesses. Its suite of applications help businesses collaborate on a variety of tasks, including holding discussions, communication, sharing documents, blogging, running polls, and social networking features and more.

Jive’s Facebook Connector allows companies to integrate customer interactions and information residing on a company or brand’s Facebook page in Jive’s customer communities. Once connected, content generated in Facebook will be replicated and available in the Jive customer community.

From within the Jive community, members can share and post content directly on the company’s Facebook wall. Users can also recommend content to their friends, view their friends’ activities in the community and have their responses automatically posted to the Facebook fan page.

Jive says that one of the advantages of using the integration is that content within Facebook becomes searchable in Google and search engines by posting to Jive’s public communities.

This isn’t the first integration with Facebook for Jive. The company also offers a social media engagement app (via its acquisition of Filtrbox) for companies to track activity on Facebook. And it’s no secret that Jive is pushing its social agenda ahead of its IPO. The company just added a Facebook exec to its board a few months ago.

Most People Think Online Companies Are ‘Too Powerful’ (While Usage Soars): Study

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:02 AM PDT

Research firm Harris Interactive asked 2,124 American adults if they agree or disagree that some online companies, singling out such companies as Google or Facebook, control too much of our personal information and know too much about our browsing habits, and found that more than three quarters of respondents agreed (76%) with those statements.

Only one in six disagreed that these companies know and control too much (16%) and even fewer are ‘not sure’ (8%). These are some of the findings of a recent Adweek/Harris Poll survey of U.S. adults surveyed online between April 25 and 27, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

So basically, the report claims the large majority of people in the United States thinks that Facebook and Google are essentially evil corporations that store all sorts of information about us, but that doesn’t exactly stop them from using their services, it would appear.

And didn’t Harris Interactive just put out a report showing that Google is considered to be the most reputable company in the United States?

Anyhow, according to Harris Interactive, majorities of both men and women agree that these companies control too much and have too much information about us, although women appear to be somewhat more likely to say this than men are (79% vs. 74%). Also, more affluent Americans are more likely to agree than are Americans who earn less—80% of those who earn $75K or more per year agree, compared to 70% of those who earn between $35 and $50K.

However, says the report, American seem to oppose government intervention to regulate large online companies like Google or Facebook (46%) rather than support it (36%).

From the report:

It seems Americans are torn, possibly between ideals of free enterprise, the products and services that they use and enjoy which these large businesses provide, and their trepidations about companies yielding so much information and power. Either way it will be interesting to track reactions—if people embrace, or rather brace themselves against, these companies as they continue to grow and develop.

My educated guess? The network effect will continue to significantly outweigh any reservations people might indicate when polled online, so Google and Facebook – and other major online companies – needn’t worry too much at this point.

It’s a lot easier to agree with given statements about a service than to actually quit it.

Patent Troll Sells Licenses For In-App Buy Buttons, Then Tries To Explain Itself

Posted: 17 May 2011 05:42 AM PDT

Patent trolling is often a lucrative hobby for many companies that have fallen into hard times. Like the junkies they are, the trolls will spin all sorts of delightful stories exonerating themselves of their actions in order to grab another infusion of cash. That’s why it’s not surprising to read this discussion from the trolls at Lodsys, a company that is now charging small mobile developers for licenses to their unique IP, the use of an upgrade/buy now button inside of an app.

That’s right: they’re charging for a button.

Their M.O. is simple. They go after the little devs who may or may not have known about their unique contribution to the programmers canon. They then ask for a percentage of revenue to “license” their IP. Why don’t they go after the big guys instead of Apple and Microsoft? Well, the little guys will probably pay up.

Read more…

With 1 Billion Views Per Quarter, Blip.tv Becomes A Video Destination (Interview)

Posted: 17 May 2011 05:00 AM PDT

Blip.tv started five years ago with a focus on helping budding video producers manage and distribute their shows across the Web. Slowly but surely, though, it's become a video destination in its own right with 3 billion cumulative video views—currently closing in on one billion a quarter. In light of that growth, it is now fully embracing its destiny as a video destination with a redesign that puts the most popular blip.tv Web series front and center.

In the exclusive video interview above, CEO Mike Hudack takes us through the new look and features of the site. When you go to blip.tv, the first thing you see now is a grid of tiles for popular Web series. As you mouse over each one, you can view the latest show from that series in the main player on the home page, or click through for a more immersive experience.

The shows on the homepage are hand-picked by Blip’s editorial team from 1,800 of the best original Web series on the platform (out of a total of 50,000). You’ll find everything from Chad Vader to Ski the Himalayas. Web show producers can also promote other series at the bottom of their show pages, adding a crowd-sourced curation element to the site that is still selective.

Blip.tv raised $10 million in a series C a year ago.

Social TV Startup BeeTV Raises $1.5 Million, Releases iPad App

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:49 AM PDT

It’s been two years almost to the day when Israeli startup BeeTV raised $8 million in funding for a – really impressive – personal TV suggestion engine they’d been building.

Fast forward to today, and the company has shifted its focus squarely on offering social tools for sharing the TV viewing experience with online friends.

The company’s co-founder and former CTO, Yaniv Solnik, is leading the pivot as the startup’s chief executive officer, backed with $1.5 million in additional funding from Italian investment firm Innogest, a previous investor in BeeTV.

BeeTV lets users share ‘TV moments’ with friends and others in real-time, via an iPad app (iTunes link) that hits the App Store today. The app, which leverages the company’s existing recommendation technology, comes free of charge.

The idea is to start with the iPad and the website and then expand to social networking sites and mobile apps for iOS, Android and other smartphone and tablet platforms.

BeeTV lets people interact with each other while watching the same TV show or movie, and get more information straight from the same app (think news, gossip, fan pages and so on). The app also lets users rate and get personalized recommendations for TV shows.

Also cool: there’s a VIP section that shows tweets and messages from celebrities who act in, wrote, produced or are somehow related to the show or movie you’re currently watching.

Some screenshots of the iPad application:

9flats, The European Airbnb, Secures ‘Major Investment’ From Silicon Valley’s Redpoint

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:42 AM PDT

9flats, the peer to peer apartment rentals site (or Airbnb-clone), has secured a "major investment round" led by Silicon Valley VC firm Redpoint Ventures. European-based eVenture Capital Partners also participated. Terms of the deal aren't being disclosed although 9flats says this brings its total funding to $10m just six months after the startup was founded. The new round will be used to expand 9flats' management team and service across Europe as it aims to become a "global player" in the online travel industry.

LinkedIn Ups Price Of IPO To $42 To $45 Per Share, Valuation Now Over $4 Billion

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:19 AM PDT

Wow. According to this filing, professional social network LinkedIn has just upped the pricing of its IPO from between $32 and $35 per share to $42 to $45 per share. This latest pricing, which marks a 30 percent increase, values the company at over $4 billion (from a $3 billion plus valuation at the previous price).

LinkedIn is still offering a total of 7,840,000 shares and is looking to raise as much as $406 million in the offering. LinkedIn says it will use these funds from the offering for general corporate purposes, including working capital, sales and marketing activities, general and administrative matters and capital expenditures. The funds could also be used for acquisitions or investments in complimentary technologies.

The professional social network is set to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange this Thursday, under the symbol LNKD.

Clearly, LinkedIn is upping the price of the offering because its expects that Wall Street will respond to this increase positively. As we wrote yesterday, LinkedIn is growing revenue—the company just reported that Q1 revenue in 2011 was up 110 percent to $93.9 million. Net income increased to $2.08 million, from $1.81 million in Q1 2010. The increase in sales came from the company's hiring solutions, a paid offering which helps recruiters search for professionals and list jobs on the site. But the question is whether LinkedIn can accelerate this revenue growth.

But Chinese social networking giant RenRen flopped in its public offering, pricing its IPO at $14 per share. Unfortunately, shares dropped below this offering price shortly after trading began on the NYSE.

uma Raises $1.1 Million For Semantic Web Technology

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:08 AM PDT

Vienna, Austria-based semantic web technology company uma has raised $1.1 million in funding from TheMerger.com and multiple private European investors. The company has also appointed new board members, including Heinrich Schuster, former founder and now retired chairman of EPAMEDIA, and Oliver Holle, CEO of TheMerger.com and occasional TC guest blogger.

Exclusive: Jobvite Recruits $15 Million In Funding For Social Hiring Applications

Posted: 17 May 2011 03:17 AM PDT

The socialization of the Web has brought about changes to how, when and where we communicate with each other over the Internet. The same goes for companies who now look for and hire new staff by using online software, social networks and whatnot, although that shift – to what is often referred to as ‘social recruiting’ – is perhaps far less visible.

Jobvite, a developer of software that enables companies to leverage the social Web for finding and hiring new employees, was one of the first to spot this trend a few years ago, and the startup is today growing faster than ever. We’ve learned that the company has raised $15 million in Series C funding, underscoring its momentum.

The financing round, which brings the total of capital raised by Jobvite to over $30 million, was led by Trident Capital and joined by previous backers CMEA Capital and ATA Ventures.

John Moragne, co-founder of Trident Capital, will join the company's board.

Jobvite offers social recruiting applications used by over 500 companies today – its customer base has grown to 600 percent the size it was just two years ago – and counts well-known Internet companies such as Zappos, Yelp, Groupon and Twitter among its clients. Other notable customers include WholeFoods and Starbucks.

The company offers its Web-based social recruiting apps and an applicant tracking platform on a subscription basis, which center around driving referral hires by leveraging dozens of social networks and other digital communication platforms. Notably, the software isn’t designed to be used exclusively by recruiters or hiring managers, but can easily be used by all employees.

Jobvite also provides realtime analytics, allowing managers to see the status of searches, identify areas for improvement and optimize recruiting spend.

The company claims its customers hire 10 percent of referral applicants compared to 1 percent of general applicants. Jobvite cites examples from its customers TiVo, whose referral hires have risen from 23 percent to 39 percent in three years, and Shutterfly, who it says hires referral candidates at 12 times the rate of applicants from other sources.

Jobvite competitors include Firefish, Sendouts and Taleo, among many others.

Also read: The Resumator Raises $700,000 For Social Recruiting Solution

Advertising Giant Publicis Groupe Acquires Rosetta For $575 Million+

Posted: 17 May 2011 02:24 AM PDT

Publicis Groupe, the French advertising colossus, announced today that it will acquire Princeton-based interactive marketing agency Rosetta for $525 million in cash, plus later milestone payments.

As one of the “big four” advertising holding companies, Publicis competes with Interpublic, Omnicom, and WPP, which each generated at least $6 billion in revenue in 2010 and employ at least 40K people. With sizable competition and online advertising growth picking up by 15 percent in 2010, the French company is looking to increase its presence in digital interactive advertising. The company’s proposed goal is to increase digital revenue from 28 percent of total revenue to 35 percent by 2013.

After snatching up Razorfish in 2009, Publicis continues with smart forays into digital advertising with its acquisition of Rosetta, which was called the second largest digital advertising agency in the U.S. in 2010 by Advertising Age — and is expected to generate $250 million in annual revenue in 2011. Rosetta’s clients run from healthcare to tech, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, RIM, and T-Mobile, among others.

The agency will remain a standalone brand under the continuing leadership of Rosetta's founder & CEO Chris Kuenne. Kuenne will be reporting to Jean-Yves Naouri, Publicis’ Chief Operating Officer.

The transaction is expected to close in the second or third quarter, and manager-shareholders could receive a potential deferred payment in 2014 based on the agency’s performance between 2011 and 2013, Publicis said.

What Happens When It’s Google/Android Vs. Amazon/Android?

Posted: 17 May 2011 02:12 AM PDT

Reading the news in recent weeks, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are the early signs of a new war brewing in the mobile computing space. And it’s a war that promises to be the most fascinating one yet. It doesn’t involve Microsoft or Nokia or RIM or HP or Palm. It doesn’t even include Apple. It’s all about Android.

Whereas right now, it’s all Google/Android vs. Apple/iOS, what happens when it becomes Google/Android vs. Amazon/Android? It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of “when”.

First, a bit of backstory. Last August, The New York Times reported that Amazon was looking into creating hardware beyond its Kindle e-reader. A month later, we received a tip which proved to be a confirmation that Amazon was gearing up to launch their own Android app store. Alongside that tip, we received one from the same tipster stating that Amazon was also working on an Android-based tablet. This past March, we saw the Amazon Appstore launch, but Android hardware from Amazon was not yet anywhere to be seen. Still, as we wrote at the time, it seemed inevitable.

Fast forward to last week. In an interview with Consumer Reports, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said two words when asked about a new Amazon tablet that set the Internet on fire: “stay tuned.” The following day, the site Android and Me published another tip coming from “an industry insider with direct knowledge” who says that Amazon is not only gearing up to launch one Android device, but an “entire family” of them. And those devices would come in time for this holiday season.

And that brings us to today. BGR is now running the rumor that Amazon is prepping a dual-core “Coyote” and a quad-core ” Hollywood” tablet for release this year. Android isn’t mentioned, but well, yeah. If there’s truth to these claims, that’s how they’ll work.

And that brings us to our war.

Imagine a 2011 holiday shopping season where Android-crazed consumers hungry for the latest tablets have to pick a side. Do they go with the Google-backed variety (perhaps a Nexus model tablet)? Or do they go with the Amazon-backed variety?

Even if it doesn’t happen this year, extend the same question into next year. Again, this seems inevitable at this point. There’s a reason why Amazon not only built their own Android-based app store, but is working on deals left and right to get exclusives on apps and pricing. Just today, it was revealed that PopCap would give the Amazon Appstore the exclusive rights for Chuzzle and the all-important Plants vs. Zombies for a set timeframe. This means they’ll have the games and Google’s own Android Market will not (at first). That’s huge. And you can expect more of those types of deals.

Still think Amazon won’t be making Android devices?

They have to. The experience of installing their Appstore on current Android devices, quite frankly, sucks. They need to get devices in consumers hands that has their store pre-installed. They may be able to work out deals with some carriers to do that. But remember that Google also has deals with the same carriers. You don’t think Google would figure out some way to block (or heavily discourage) such maneuvers? Amazon needs to make their own devices with a customized version of Android that is centered around their software/experience. And they will.

And what does Google do if it’s significantly better than the experience they offer with Android? Do they stick to the “open” nonsense? Or do they start locking stuff down (even more) when they realize that Amazon is commandeering their own platform? What if Amazon strikes a deal with Microsoft to put Bing on their Amazon tablets? What if the ads are handled by someone else whose name doesn’t end in “oogle”? It could be bad news for the search giant.

Google has succeeded in building a massive platform that doesn’t fully rely on them. That’s awesome on paper. But it can work both ways. If others start to realize that they don’t need Google, what does Google do? Just sit there and take it?

The answer, of course, is “no”. They’ll fight back. Maybe they’ll use carrots. Or maybe they’ll resort to sticks.

All I know is that I’ll be watching. With popcorn.

[image: Lucasfilm]

Eventually, One Of These Updates Will Make Google News Not Suck At Tech News, Right?

Posted: 16 May 2011 08:14 PM PDT

For as long as I can remember, there has been one constant in tech news: Google News sucks at it.

Now, that’s not entirely fair since Google News doesn’t actually provide any of their own content. Instead, they use the supposedly magical Google algorithms to curate others’ content from around the web. Still, there’s just no way around it — the product, at least for tech news, sucks.

Again, this is nothing new. I’ve been writing this article at least once a year for five years or so. But what’s amazing to me is how many updates Google does to the product and it still sucks. Even more remarkable is that a lot of people continue to go to it as a source of tech news. How do I know? When TechCrunch does appear on it, it sends a lot of traffic.

So is this just me complaining that we don’t appear on it enough? Well sure, partially. But to me, our sporadic appearances are also indicative of the big problem the service has.

How much tech news gets broken on TechCrunch? Even our rivals would admit “a lot”. Yet if that news appears on Google News at all (far from a given), it often does hours later and almost always under another source that has re-reported it after we have. That’s really Google News’ problem in a nutshell. It’s hit-or-miss, way too slow, and as a result, often credits the re-bloggers rather than actual sources.

Let’s look at the Google News Technology section right now (which, humorously, is still called the “Sci/Tech” section — Technology apparently isn’t yet big enough to have its own stand-alone section even though I think just about everyone in the media industry would disagree at this point — and impressively odd since Google is a company known for one thing: technology).

  • Top story: Sony’s freebies after Playstation hack. First of all, a fairly “meh” top story. (Main story is very old, new update today is fairly lame freebies in response.) Second and more importantly, even this new twist to the story is hours old. They use this Computerworld story as the main headline, which is little more than a repurposing of information from Sony’s own blog from hours earlier.
  • Second story: RIM stock falls on Playbook recall news. Again, old news — from yesterday, in fact. And they link to this Reuters story which appears to have been written on a typewriter in the 1940s — and does nothing to expand upon the story which is over a day old. The secondary headline they choose is from a site called “Today’s THV” which is some local bullshit site that just republishes AP stories. Puke.
  • Third story: “Next hurdle for Giffords: Mending damaged skull.” Interesting and important story, no doubt. But a top tech headline? The algorithm is fooled because her husband is an astronaut aboard Space Shuttle Endavor, which took off on its last flight earlier today. Again, that would also clearly be a “Sci” story, which should have its own category.

This goes on and on.

Now, let’s compare it to Techmeme.

  • Top story: Rumors of Apple secret launch for 10th anniversary of Apple Stores. Hot story? Yep. Bullshit? Maybe, but judging from the smoke surrounding this, probably not. Regardless, it’s something everyone wants to know about. And yet, it’s story number nine on Google News, waaaaay below the fold. And they cite PC Magazine which is re-blogging the actual source, BGR. Guess who Techmeme cites? Yep.
  • Second story: Bing/Facebook integration. Again, good story, though several hours old — BUT, Techmeme cites the Bing blog as the big source of the news. In other words, they give proper credit rather than award johnny-come-lately, which is exactly who Google News gives credit to in their listing for it (more on this in a minute).
  • Third story: Amazon rumored dual-core and quad-core tablets. Again, really hot story. And at least at a high level, seemingly for sure not bullshit. Google News doesn’t have this story at all. Not one word, even though a dozen or so big sites are covering it.

Techmeme learned long ago that algorithms alone aren’t nearly enough to fully, quickly, and competently convey the news. Google has not yet learned this. For some categories, their algorithms probably work fine. For tech news, they suck.

And I’d argue they suck for both visitors and for publishers. Because it’s so obvious what Google’s algorithms are looking for, there’s a not-so-secret trick on how to game them. Instead of rushing to get a post out about a hot story, just wait a few hours. By then, the story will bubble towards the top of Google News’ tech section and if you time it correctly and you’re a site that Google News watches (some good, some bad), you can easily be the top headline for the entire section (which also means placement on the main site as well).

This works because Google News favors recent “takes” on a story instead of actual sources of information. You could argue that’s okay in some situations, but often these “takes” are just like the Today’s THV bullshit: republishing AP content late.

In other words, if you’re in the business of breaking news, you’ll almost never find your stories on Google News. Instead, you’ll find someone else re-purposing your story there hours later and reaping tens of thousands of pageviews as a result of the sloth and/or jackassery.

Why bring this all up now? Because Google announced yet more updates to Google News today. I tried reading over what’s new, but my eyes quickly glazed over. I’m certain it will be business as usual.

Actually, it might be worse.

As Danny Sullivan points out, Google now allows you to cut out the source of much of the fresh content — blogs — as an option. Brilliant. Now you can further hide the sources that Google was already burying for you.

At some point, I have to believe Google will start to care about the quality of this product. But years of experience tells me otherwise. And really, that’s fine by me. It’s just another service I can easily ignore.

Instagram Adds Bios, Grid View For Profile Pages

Posted: 16 May 2011 07:17 PM PDT

If you’re like me Instagram has become a service you check the first thing you wake up in the morning, alongside Twitter and Facebook. My Instagram addiction has seriously gotten to the point where I anticipate the app’s bi-monthly updates (Tilt Shift is the best thing to happen to photo sharing addicts since sliced bread, or something).

So what’s new in Version 1.7?  The most obvious change is that when you click on someone’s photo history, the app now shows you a grid view instead of a laborious feed view, but lets you toggle between them both.

Users also now have the option to add a bio to their profiles by going to Account > Edit profile > Bio, upload a profile picture from Twitter and Facebook (Account > Change profile picture) and drill down into which profile notifications they actually want to receive based on their Instagram follow graph.

The update also makes it more clear when your photos are being geo-tagged and includes bug fixes and speed improvements.

Instagram founder Kevin Systrom delved deeper into the motivation behind each new feature:

Grid View
One of the biggest requests we’ve had was an easier way to browse feeds. Now, you can view user, location, and hash-tag feeds more quickly by browsing a grid view of the photos.

One of the strongest assets Instagram has is its community. People have been making friends from around the world, and users have always wanted to know more about the people behind the photos. With the simple addition of a bio, we allow you to tell your story in text as well.

Finer-grained push notifications
Before today, you either had to choose to get all push notifications from Instagram or none at all. Today that all changes with fine-grained push notifications control. Now for new likes and comments you can choose to receive pushes from everyone, just the people you’re following or no one at all.

Choose profile picture from Twitter and Facebook
Most people don’t have a picture of themselves lying around in their camera roll — so now we allow people to import their profile photos from other services.

Systrom tells me that the company is maintaining a quick release schedule while simultaneously working on some bigger picture stuff. Hopefully some of that bigger picture stuff includes an Android app.

Chrome OS 12 — AKA: The Shipping Version — Hits Beta

Posted: 16 May 2011 06:09 PM PDT

Last week, just prior to day one of Google I/O, we noted that some updates in the Chrome OS code and forums indicated that a formal unveiling was likely very close. Sure enough, on day two of I/O, Google unveiled the first Chromebooks, the first shipping products running Chrome OS. But Google also noted that the first orders wouldn’t start until June 15, about a month away. One reason: Chrome OS still needed a tiny bit more work. And an update today brings it very close.

Google has just updated the Chrome OS beta channel to R12, aka Chrome 12. The version, which has been in the dev channel for a couple of weeks, will now be further tested in beta for a couple of weeks before it becomes the first version of Chrome OS to go stable. Expect this to happen slightly before the June 15 date.

Following Google I/O, we got some hands-on time with the first Chromebook, the Samsung Series 5. Sure enough, it was running Chrome OS version 12 (though the dev version). Representatives from Google stated that this would eventually be the build (when complete) that ships with the first Chromebooks.

So what does Chrome OS R12 contain? Well, it’s essentially Chrome 12, the browser (which is also in beta), with a number of Chrome OS-specific features. Those include:

  • File browser
  • Shiny new look
  • Improvements to GSM support
  • Verizon activation improvements
  • New Flash player
  • Feedback link is now under the wrench menu (“Report an issue”)
  • 3G connection to the carrier fixes
  • Wi-Fi connectivity/Out of the Box fixes
  • New trackpad and sensitivity setting adjusted
  • Auto update engine and debugging improvements
  • Power optimizations
  • GTalk video/chat optimizations
  • Improved on screen indicators: brightness, network status, update icon

I just updated my Cr-48 to the new build and it’s feeling pretty polished (though there are still some bugs — such as with Angry Birds). Notably, it makes the trackpad feel more stable than ever. So if you have a Cr-48 and want a glimpse of what the first Chromebooks will feel like, check it out.

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