Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Wahwah.fm Is Like A Foursquare For Sound – Stream Music With Your Location (TCTV)

Posted: 18 May 2011 09:07 AM PDT

The Next conference in Berlin is an international, English language conference covering of the latest in “digital”, and serves as a useful platform for German startups to present themselves. One of the best – and the one that won the startup competition this year – was Wahwah.fm. I actually really liked this company, but the downbeat presentation of its founder belies quite an innovative idea. Imagine being able to get your iPhone and start broadcasting a local radio station that other people nearby with the same app could pick up, live.



SkyGrid’s Realtime News Aggregator Now Allows You To Follow Topics, Sites And More

Posted: 18 May 2011 08:56 AM PDT


SkyGrid, a startup that offers a powerful business news aggregator, has upgraded its free iPhone and iPad app with a number of new social and interactive features today.

SkyGrid's app allows you to add filters to news streams, with the aim of giving you the most important news right as it's happening. Using the startup’s patented algorithm, Information Velocity; SkyGrid measures what news is spreading the fastest across the world, and brings that content directly to its apps. The app itself streams information from mainstream news, social sites, and blogs and allows you to share news articles and streams on the app via email, Twitter and Facebook.

Now, you can filter your news stream on the app by following topics. You can follow topics like tech, and receive a realtime stream of news from tech news outlets. Skygrid even allows you to follow more detailed topics, like “Zynga games,” for users who want to access news about a specific topic. You can also now follow news sites like TechCrunch or The New York Times. And the app has deepened its social integrations, giving its users the ability to add your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn streams to the app. The new version of the app includes a more seamless browsing experience with one box to search and navigate.

CEO and founder Kevin Pomplun also tells us that the app has been updated with the company’s "Fast Page" technology, which brings faster load times for sites. He says this technology combines Safari from the iOS SDK with SkyGrid's real-time processing pipeline.

Of course, the startup is playing in a competitive space in terms of news and social content aggregation, including well-funded startup Flipboard. But SkyGrid’s filtering and new follow options make the app ideal for tracking specific topics in the news, and it offers a compelling option for any power user.



Online Ticket Seller Eventbrite Raises $50 Million

Posted: 18 May 2011 08:50 AM PDT

Online ticket seller Eventbrite has raised another $50 million in a Series E financing round led by Tiger Global, according to a release issued by the company. This infusion comes only eight months after the company raised $20 million in funding last October. This latest investment brings the company’s total funding to $80 million.

To date, Eventbrite has helped over 120,000 event organizers in 150 countries host more than half a million events. Over 10 million people have attended an event ticketed by Eventbrite, and the company is on track to process nearly half a billion in gross ticket sales this year. Last year, the company sold 11 million tickets for $207 million in gross sales.

Founded by Kevin Hartz and Julia Hartz, the company says that it plans to use the new funding for product development, global expansion and to scale to larger events. Last year, the company launched a deeper integration with Facebook, and the social network now drives more traffic to Eventbrite than Google.



Despite The Hype, Just 5 Percent Of U.S. Owns A Tablet, Says Nielsen

Posted: 18 May 2011 07:59 AM PDT

From the way that OEMs are rushing to get ahead in the slate race, you'd think that tablets were just about as ubiquitous as our beloved smartphones. But according to Nielsen, that is not the case, whatsoever. In fact, only about 5 percent of the 12,000 U.S. consumers surveyed own a tablet.

However, this isn't all bad news for tablet makers, at least every tablet maker but Apple, which, according to Nielsen, currently holds 80 percent of the tablet market. If only a measly five percent of the U.S. population owns a tablet, the majority of whom probably chose the iPad, that still leaves a whopping 95 percent of U.S. Americans just waiting to find a tablet they can't resist.

Read More



Cloud Database Provider MongoLab Raises $3 Million From Foundry, Baseline, And Others

Posted: 18 May 2011 07:30 AM PDT

MongoLab, a cloud-based database provider created by San Francisco-based ObjectLabs, announced today that it has closed a $3 million series A funding round led by Foundry Group, Baseline Ventures, GRP Partners, Freestyle Capital, David Cohen, and more. The list of investors is notable, considering that it includes several names involved in the backing of other well-known cloud infrastructure players, like Heroku, SendGrid, Urban Airship, SimpleGeo, and Twilio, to name a few.

So, what is MongoLab? For those not familiar, MongoLab is a database-as-a-service (DBaaS) provider for MongoDB, 10gen’s scalable, open-source, document-oriented database currently being used by companies like Foursquare, bit.ly, and Etsy. MongoLab enables cloud-based hosting for MongoDB users on Amazon’s EC2 and Rackspace, and manages replication, backups, monitoring and uptime — the tedious stuff — so that your team doesn’t have to.

The cloud service also offers web-management tools that are optimized for those who are new to the technology. It provides an admin UI, for example, that allows users to create and remove databases, to search for and edit data, providing you with the supplemental tools you’d need if you, say, installed the database yourself.

For app developers looking to take advantage of cloud-based data storage, MongoLab allows clients to connect directly to the database via its JSON REST API. This is huge for mobile and AJAX applications, because the traditional way of writing the backends of mobile apps is to create a REST API intermediary between the device and the database storing the app’s data, but MongoLab allows developers to skip writing a custom server app, cutting out the middle man.

There are a bunch of scalable NoSQL technologies out there, but MongoLab is, as you can guess from its name, all about MongoDB. The reason the team chose the new technology, says MongoLab CEO Will Shulman, is because of its scalability and usability as a general-purpose database. It works with both large and small sets of data.

“Developers have spent the better part of their careers writing code to change the shape of their data between object form and relational form. I recently heard one VP of Engineering refer to it as ‘our Vietnam’”, Shulman said. “Since JSON is an object format, MongoDB makes a lot of these problems disappear. Developers have been waiting years for something like this”.

The team is obviously very excited about the new technology behind MongoDB and hopes that, through it’s cloud-based data storage and management solution, the two can provide a knock-out solution for cloud scaling and hosting.

“The folks at 10gen, the makers of MongoDB, made all the right trade-offs: a general-purpose query
language, a generic way of indexing, and very configurable consistency semantics. And it scales. For these reasons we see MongoDB as a general-purpose DB that’s highly scalable, rather than a very specialized data store”
, Shulman concluded.

MongoLab is currently in beta both for its multi-tenant database plans and as a Heroku add-on and is in alpha with a dedicated server offering. Developers can begin test driving MongoLab now using its free plan, and get started in minutes.



TurningArt Raises $750K To Be The Netflix For Artwork

Posted: 18 May 2011 07:28 AM PDT

TurningArt, a startup that aims bring a Netflix-like model to the art world, has secured $750,000 in seed funding led by NextView Ventures with participation from Niraj Shah, Steve Conine, Thomas Lehrman, and Will Herman.

Launched in August 2010, TurningArt allows customers to rotate prints of contemporary artists in their home or office for as little as $9.99 per month. Similar to the way you pick movies on your Netflix account, customers can build a queue of artwork they’d like ‘rent’, and TurningArt will then ship that artwork at their preferred frequency.

Customers can rotate pieces for as long as they like, and have the option to purchase whenever they are ready. Every dollar spent during the subscription plan can be applied towards the purchase of a work of art on TurningArt. Currently all art on the site is 17 inches by 21 inches but the startup plans to expand to larger formats soon. Prices for art range from $50 to 5,000 on TurningArt and all pieces come framed.

Applying a Netflix model to ‘renting’ art is an interesting idea. I’ve been tempted to buy artwork on sites like 20X200 but I’m not sure how the artwork will look in my home and would like to see the piece in person before making the investment. TurningArt allows me to test out a price and buy it if it ends up being a fit.



Amazon Expands To Mysteries And Thrillers With Fifth Publishing Imprint, Thomas & Mercer

Posted: 18 May 2011 07:07 AM PDT

Amazon is launching its fifth publishing imprint today—a mystery and thriller focused vertical called Thomas & Mercer. This joins Amazon’s other imprints, including Amazon Encore, AmazonCrossing, The Domino Project, Montlake Romance.

Thomas & Mercer launches with four books that will be released in the fall via Kindle, print and audio formats: "Resuscitation" by D.M. Annechino, "Stirred" by J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch, "The Immortalists" by Kyle Mills and "Already Gone" by John Rector.

Amazon says the expansion to this vertical made sense because mysteries and thriller are popular with its customers. The e-commerce giant started its publishing arm in 2009, giving Amazon greater control over producing original content for its readers.

AmazonEncore publishes works from emerging and new writers, AmazonCrossing translates foreign language works, TheDominoProject is a partnership with Seth Godin for publishing works relating to innovative ideas and Montlake Romance publishes romance novels.



Cognitive Match Secures $6 Million For Ad Targeting Technology

Posted: 18 May 2011 06:22 AM PDT

Cognitive Match has raised $6 million from new investor Antrak Capital and previous backer Dawn Capital. The round brings total funding raised by the company to over $10 million.

The funding announcement coincides with recent moves for Cognitive Match CEO Alex Kelleher and the company’s SVP of Global Sales, Mike Harris.

Both men recently relocated from London to New York to more efficiently attack the ultra-competitive North American market.

Cognitive Match, which offers in display ad and onsite predictive targeting solutions, also recently announced that it has hired Dave Burgess, formerly Chief Architect of Yahoo!'s Advertising Solutions, as their new CTO. More about the management team here.

Founded in 2009, Cognitive Match’s solutions are used by clients like Financial Times, AOL, Net-A-Porter, Steve Madden and JustGiving to maximize visitor engagement, conversion and revenue from their digital marketing activities.



Gilt Taste: A Pricey Online Marketplace For Artisanal Foods

Posted: 18 May 2011 06:22 AM PDT


Today, flash sales giant Gilt Groupe is launching its newest vertical—Gilt Taste, a marketplace for artisanal foods. By definition, artisan foods are ingredients and foods that are hand-crafted, created in small quantities, and tend to be high-quality products. Basically, these are not the type of ingredients you’ll find at your local Safeway.

Led by former Gourmet Magazine Editor and New York Times Restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, Gilt Taste is a members-only site that aims to give consumers access to artisanal products and ingredients, many of which have only been available to professional chefs until now. But while there is an e-commerce component of the site, there is also a significant editorial presence, with recipes, background on each ingredient, where the ingredient comes from, and more. With its design and high-quality photography, the site feels sort of like a magazine.

Products in the site range from Black Winter Truffle Juice ($112), to Murray’s Paglierina Cheese ($24.95), to Primizie Jumbo White Asparagus ($36), and Flannery Beef Private Reserve Filet Mignon ($88 for 4 steaks). There’s no doubt you are paying a premium for these foods. For example, eight 6 oz. Alaskan Salmon fillets are $120, which is more than double the price of the Alaskan Salmon fillets I buy at my local Whole Foods. These prices don’t include shipping/delivery costs, which vary by product.

All of these items and recipes are being curated by professional chefs, photographers, filmmakers and tastemakers. If you can afford those prices and place a high value on using quality artisan foods that are used by professional chefs and restaurants, then Gilt Taste is for you. The company says that it will be including weekly specials on the site, but none were posted today. And certainly the element of luxury is part of Gilt’s brand, so the prices aren’t particularly surprising.

Gilt Taste isn’t the first company to offer a marketplace for artisanal goods. Competitors include Foodzie and Foodoro. And OneKingsLane offers artisanal foods within its flash sales site as well.

So will Gilt Taste be a success as a vertical? Gilt’s other independent vertical, travel site Jetsetter, has been a hit so the company does have the experience of being able to operate and grow a separate vertical. Another compelling part of Gilt Taste is that it combines editorial with commerce (which is something Gilt is also trying to do with its Home And Furniture vertical). In the stories section, you’ll find professionally written articles about food trends, recipes and more As a cook and food-lover, I miss Gourmet Magazine and I wonder if Gilt is aiming to fill this gap.

But the prices are high, and it’s unclear if I’m getting a discount on some of these artisinal. On Jetsetter (a site which I’ve used and am a fan of), it is very clear that the price per night at hotels is marked down significantly, sometimes by as much as 60 or 70 percent. It’s not really clear on Gilt Taste if I’m getting a deal on some of these artisan products.



Producteev Launches Google Tasks Sync And Outlook Plugin To Take Your Inbox To Zero

Posted: 18 May 2011 05:30 AM PDT

You may be tired of hearing about task managers, but Producteev is a task management service worth writing home about. Few people enjoy using complicated product, task or CRM managers, so Producteev has built a solution with a user-friendly interface that is channel agnostic, and even adds a bit of gaming mechanics. Producteev is a workable alternative to solutions like Basecamp, though the space will surely be keeping a close eye on Dustin Moskovitz’s Asana.

What makes Producteev such a great alternative (and for full disclosure, TechCrunch employs Producteev for managing conference-related tasks) is that it allows users to capture tasks, email-based action items, or schedule deadlines using your preferred communication channels as well as using its realtime-enabled backend to synchronize web apps, mobile apps, and desktop apps so that your information stays up to date — across platforms.

Producteev already connects to most of the communication tools you use on a regular basis, including IM services like Google Talk, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Twitter, and Facebook, so you aren’t forced into visiting a web application to save and manage tasks. Instead, you can open a custom message to a dedicated email address, or quickly check and manage important tasks straight from Gmail’s interface.

The startup’s goal is to turn your emails into actionable items and improve email-based workflow. Free for individuals and groups of two, Producteev connects to main communication channels and allows users to capture tasks and schedule deadlines from their preferred methods and devices. Tasks are easily added via email and IM, with modifications and notifications available remotely as well.

Today, Producteev is further expanding its compatibility by announcing its “Google Tasks Sync” and Microsoft Outlook plugin. Producteev’s Google Tasks Sync allows you to turn Gmail emails into tasks and provides 2-way synchronization, sync notes and deadlines in realtime, as well as adding collaboration, apps, and multiple project management features. Integration with Outlook, in turn, puts Outlook tasks in the cloud, so that tasks can be accessed from Producteev apps on mobile, desktop, and the Web. Users can turn emails into tasks with 1 click, sync labels between Outlook and Producteev, and sync the platform with your Outlook calendar.

"Most people's tasks are buried in their inboxes, and, as a communication tool, your inbox doesn't let you manage your next steps. Since recently launching our Google Apps Contextual Gadget, which turns emails to tasks in 1 click on Gmail for Google Apps, Producteev is now going one step further to help manage your inbox and working toward getting your Gmail and Outlook inboxes to zero", says Producteev co-founder and CEO Ilan Abehassera.

While you can still manually enter tasks into Producteev, you can also just forward an email to the solution, using the subject line to tag it with a due date, and instead of using Gmail stars or writing reminders or keeping notes, forward the email to Producteev and wait until you need it.

Along with these awesome task management options, Producteev also uses built-in game mechanics designed to incentivize productivity with rewards like badges (a tip of the cap to Foursquare). If, on the other hand, you’re not into these rewards, you can opt out. It’s these kinds of added features that allows Producteev to stand out in a somewhat crowded field.

Google Tasks Sync and Outlook Plugin are free and are available starting today. For information about Google Tasks Sync and the Outlook Plugin, check out the landing page here, or watch the Google Tasks video below.



Zaarly Launches Realtime, Local Marketplace To The Public

Posted: 18 May 2011 05:28 AM PDT

Backed by an impressive list of investors, Zaarly, a web and mobile service that connects buyers and sellers in a localized market place, is launching to the public today.

As we’ve written in the past, Zaarly is a mobile-centric reverse Craigslist service. Here’s how Zarrly works. On the site or via the startup’s mobile apps, you post what you're looking for (i.e. cupcakes), how much you're willing to pay for it and how soon you need it. Zaarly will then share your request in the local community through the platform, and also allows you also post your request to Twitter and Facebook.

People or businesses nearby can access and see your request and then anonymously message each other to complete the transaction of delivering the cupcakes you want. Sellers bid for the tasks, and the buyer chooses the best one, with Zaarly connecting the two via an anonymous Twilio-powered phone number. You can use cash or Zaarly's integrated credit card payment system to pay for the transaction.

One of the compelling parts of Zaarly is that it is mobile centric. The company offers a rich HTML5 mobile app, and has launched a free iPhone app. Zaarly also offers a Facebook app as well.

And Zaarly has pretty incredible story for a fledgling startup. The company’s founding team of Bo Fishback, Eric Koester and Ian Hunter conceived of and built the prototype for Zaarly in February 2011 at Startup Weekend Los Angeles. The company won this competition, raised funding from an all-star list of angels and investors, and then debuted a test run at SXSW in March, where Zaarly processed over $10,000 in transactions in less than 48 hours.

Zaarly’s investors include include Ashton Kutcher, Felicis Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Bill Lee, Naval Ravikant and Lightbank.



Former Nokia CFO Rick Simonson Lands At Rearden Commerce

Posted: 18 May 2011 05:28 AM PDT

E-commerce platform company Rearden Commerce has appointed former Nokia CFO Rick Simonson as its new chief financial officer and president of business operations. Simonson is known for serving as Nokia's CFO for six years before taking over leadership of the company's Mobile Phones business in November 2009 - and for quitting less than six months after his appointment. Simonson is also the man who declared in January 2010, shortly after taking over the reins of Nokia's - obviously key - mobile phones business, that Nokia would be "at par with Apple and RIM in smartphones" by 2011. Yeah, but no.


Silk Scores Seed Funding From Atomico, Others For Content Crunching Platform

Posted: 18 May 2011 04:55 AM PDT

Exclusive - Amsterdam-based startup Silk, which offers a platform that allows content creators to distribute their work on the Web in a more structured manner, has raised €320,000 (approximately $475,000) in early-stage funding from Atomico and a number of individual angel investors, TechCrunch has learned.

Silk, which was originally founded back in 2009, will use the proceeds to finally bring its technology to market and to scale development efforts.

In essence, the company wants to make it easier for people to interact with the ever-growing amount of data that gets continuously published by content creators worldwide.

The service is still in private alpha, so to learn more you’ll need to sign up with your email address in order to keep informed about the upcoming launch, or watch the demo video on the Silk website. I also put some screenshots at the bottom of the post.

I got a demo from Silk CEO Salar al Khafaji earlier this morning and was quite intrigued. Silk is a Web-based application that allows any content creator to provide content in a structured manner, thus enabling users to quickly sift out the data they desire from mountains of available information. In a way, it reminds me of the Blekko search engine and its slashtags.

The demo sites I was shown this morning were based on a wealth of data abstracted from our own CrunchBase and Wikipedia, to give you an idea.

Aside from the VC firm started by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, Silk’s investor roster includes Floris Rost van Tonningen, co-founder of Hyves (the largest social network in the Netherlands); MetrixLab founder Han de Groot; Hans-Poul Veldhuyzen van Zanten, co-owner of Free Media Group; and Mark de Lange, founding partner of Global Grid Capital.





The Roundabout Tapes – Documenting The Startups Of London’s Silicon Roundabout

Posted: 18 May 2011 02:42 AM PDT

Many have talked about the explosion of tech startups in the East of London, which has come to be known colloquially as “Silicon Roundabout“. But who are they? We’ve been writing about the emerging tech cluster there since it’s first stirrings in 2008, so we’ve decided to start documenting them for TechCrunch TV. And with the help of our video crew in the shape of producer (and startup founder, even) Chris Leydon and camera guru Olly Newport, we’ll be releasing the videos over the next few weeks.

Our first interview was with Azeem Azhar, CEO and founder of PeerIndex, which moved into the area recently.



WITN: Nigeria Gets A Lot Of Attention – Just For All The Wrong Reasons [TCTV]

Posted: 18 May 2011 01:22 AM PDT

If you’ve been reading TechCrunch regularly for the last week, you’ve learned the good, the bad and the utterly unique about Nigeria’s tech and media scenes.

But is Africa’s largest market prime for foreign venture capital investment, and how does it stack up to other frontier emerging markets Sarah has been visiting? Just after she got home, we shot a Why Is This News on her takeaways: Was she crazy to visit Nigeria like some people in the Valley said, or should we all be going there?







Morgenthaler Ventures Adds Angel Mark Goines as Partner, Upping Consumer Web Cred

Posted: 18 May 2011 12:29 AM PDT

Morgenthaler Ventures is one of those Valley firms who did incredibly well during the Valley’s telecom/networking/enterprise software glory years. For all the dot com headlines in the late 1990s, enterprise software has long been the core of the industry’s returns, and the telecom networking build out was an order or magnitude bigger than the cash funding the more written about dot com fetes.

But like so many Valley venture firms, Morgenthaler has struggled to carve out a franchise in the less techy Web 2.0 era. It has at least one bonafide up and comer it its portfolio in Evernote. Rather than chase secondary investments in deals it’s already lost like other firms, Morgenthaler is hoping the new edition of Mark Goines as a partner will help bring in more Evernotes: Companies solving a hard productivity or transactional problems, leveraging the mobile Web.

Goines hasn’t been as into the limelight as other angels, but he has incredibly prolific, having done some forty deals since 2000 and netted nice returns from investments in BabyCenter, Mint, PayCycle and Nolo.com. There’s a lot of grousing in the Valley these days that a lot of angels merely lend their names to companies, but Goines is known for spending a lot of time coaching companies he works with– particularly in the financial space, where he has a lot of industry experience.

Aaron Patzer was introduced to him early in Mint’s development, and he says Goines spent several days a month with him early on, working through everything from strategy to hiring to fundraising. As Mint’s independent board member, Patzer says he devoted at least an hour a week digging through the basics like product strategy and how to run board meetings. It was a level of coaching Patzer didn’t necessarily get from other investors.

Goines will focus on mobile deals at Morgenthaler, especially in the finance and small business verticals. Particularly in finance, there’s still a ton of room for disruption.



Qwiki Cofounder Louis Monier Exits, Joins Proximic

Posted: 18 May 2011 12:00 AM PDT

TechCrunch Disrupt: San Francisco 2011 winner Qwiki has a hot iPad app (250,000 downloads in 11 days) and plenty of cash. But one thing they no longer have is cofounder Louis Monier. He’s left the company, he tells me, to join Proximic as Chief Scientist.

And that means Monier won’t be attending Disrupt next week in New York to help hand over the Disrupt Cup to the next winner.

Why did Monier leave? Nothing juicy, he tells me. “The research phase is over, the basic technology is in place,” he says. Monier, who founded the first popular Internet search engine, AltaVista, has a history of moving on from projects after the hard parts are finished. He also had stints at eBay rebuilding search, Google and Cuil. He even worked for a time on our CrunchPad project.

Proximic, his new home, was originally a German startup that has moved to Palo Alto. They’ve raised over $10 million in three rounds of financing. It’s an ad targeting and analytics platform for brands on the surface. But what excites Monier, he says, is all the data that needs to be cultivated. “Proximic is analyzing billions of impressions per day,” he says.



Why Isn’t Google Chrome A Part Of Android?

Posted: 17 May 2011 10:43 PM PDT

Over the past couple of years covering Google, there’s one seemingly simple question that comes up again and again, that Google just can’t seem to answer. Why isn’t Chrome a part of Android?

Read the wrong way, that could seem like a deep question. But it almost never means “why isn’t Chrome OS simply merged with Android?” or the like. Most of the time, it’s simply a question wondering why Google’s very popular web browser is not a part of their very popular mobile operating system? After all, that OS has a browser (the aptly-named “Browser”), but it’s not Chrome. Why not?

Unsurprisingly, the question came up once again at Google I/O last week. During a panel with a bunch of engineers on the Chrome team, it was one of the first questions asked. The response? “It’s not something we’re talking about right now.” Ouch.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” the engineered continued. Okay…

Another team member, probably realizing those answers sounded both cryptic and harsh, chimed in. “The important thing at the end of the day is to make browsers better. While it’s not strictly Chrome, we share a lot of code with the Android team. We’ll share more over time.” Okay, that’s better. Still, a bit odd.

Based on my understanding, after having a number of discussions on this topic over the years, it would seem that boils down to a few things. First, the Android team is a completely separate team from the Chrome team. Second, it’s a branding issue that Google isn’t quite sure how to resolve. Third, the Android browser, while similar to Chrome, really isn’t Chrome.

The first and second issues are interesting because more and more, they’re related. As they showcased at I/O this year, Google now is fully backing two horses in the OS race: Android and Chrome OS. Each are made by two entirely different teams that don’t often mix with one another.

As Google executives kept saying over and over again when asked last week, the two OSes have different goals — and are going about things in completely different ways. While Chrome may have started out as a web browser, it’s now much more from an ideology perspective inside of Google. No one will admit this, but if they’re to ultimately succeed, they sort of have to believe that Android won’t. That makes it hard to work together.

When Android first launched in October of 2008, it seemed like either a small oversight or precautionary measure that the browser bundled with it wasn’t branded as Chrome. After all, Google’s browser had just launched in beta (on Windows) the month before. Assuming people liked it, you would have assumed that Google would transfer the branding over to use in Android, right?

Well people did like Chrome. A lot. And yet, Google never moved it over. This despite the fact that Apple did just that on the iPhone with its much less successful Safari browser. Meanwhile, Opera and Mozilla’s Firefox were committed to mobile versions of their popular browsers as well. But Google stuck with “Browser” for Android.

And now they may be stuck with it for good. The problem is that Chrome, for better or worse, is now associated with another product that is similar but different from Android — again, Chrome OS. Imagine if they start including a Chrome browser on Android tablets and then next year Chrome OS tablets launch. Consumers will wonder what the hell the difference is? (And this may already prove to be an issue on the PC/Chromebook side of things, we’ll see.)

All that aside, it is still important to remember that Android’s Browser really isn’t Chrome. The two are both based on WebKit and use Google’s V8 JavaScript engine, but there are dozens of other features that Google is trying to associate with Chrome that they couldn’t possibly squeeze into a mobile web browser (at least not yet).

The same issues are true with Apple’s regular Safari browser and their mobile one. But that browser generally seems to be less feature-focused, so the branding might not be as big of an issue. Plus, even if the two sides don’t work closely together inside of Apple (though it seems like they might), does anyone really believe there’s anyway in hell Steve Jobs would let the browser in iOS be called anything but Safari?

Back to Google, on the flip side of things, the Android team has their own wants and needs for the browser bundled with their software. And imagine if a problem on the Chrome team was stalling a new Android build? Or vice versa?

But with the launch of Honeycomb, Android’s Browser is now starting to look a lot more like Chrome as well, thanks to the tabbed browsing experience it offers. This will only lead to more questions. And it’s only a matter of time before users start demanding that elements are fully synced between the two (Chrome and Android’s Browser).

At that point, Google may have to consider this question yet again. Is it time to bring Chrome to Android?

[image via]



Amazon Buys The A.Co, Z.Co, K.Co And Cloud.Co Domains

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:46 PM PDT

Following in Twitter (T.co) and Overstock’s (O.co’s) footsteps, Amazon has picked up the domains A.Co, Z.Co, K.Co and interestingly enough Cloud.co in a deal made with Colombia-based domain registry .Co.

While .Co originally gave Twitter the T.Co domain name for free in order to spread awareness about the brand, Amazon has actually purchased these from .Co for an undisclosed price. In comparison, Overstock’s O.Co rebranding was the first negotiated .Co purchase deal, for $350K ( Godaddy also owns the name X.Co, using it as a vanity link shortening service).

The genesis of the .Co domain is through Columbia, and while country codes usually take a hit in Google rankings, .Co is part of a unique set of cclds (.tv .me .co) which are treated like gtlds or generic domains like .com .net .org.

.Co is about to hit its 1 millionth domain registered in little under a year of service (.com is at over a hundred million) and is about to set up a stable pricing plan for one letter and two letter domains.

Co representative Lori Anne Wardi tells me, “With every allocation of a single letter domain name the pool of these gets less and less, with every sale we do the resource becomes smaller. We have a very long list of people who want one letter and two letter domains and price will be set high enough that each person who buys one of these will use it.”

While .Co wouldn’t tell me what Amazon will do with these domains it did emphasize that they will absolutely be utilized, “I’m confident that they’ll do something interesting, ” said Wardi. Cloud.Co will be particularly one to watch as Amazon is at the forefront of the cloud based music wars among other things. K.Co? Well they’ve stumped me on that one.

Unlike the Libyan-based .Ly domain, .Co (with Colombia’s full support) is doing a heavy marketing push towards appealing to startups and entrepreneurs, “We’re not looking for a major brand to switch over to .co, but every day new companies are starting and can’t get the domain name that they want,” says Wardi. “We want to be the domain of the next Twitter and the next Facebook.”

Update: As our commenters have pointed out below, it’s likely A.Co is for Amazon, Z.Co is for Zappos and K.Co is for Kindle.



And Now To See If This Social Search Stuff Actually Works

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:41 PM PDT

Yesterday, in a massively botched press launch, Bing released some new features that begin to really tap into the huge amount of social data exposed through its partnership with Facebook. The alliance isn’t a new one — the companies have had a friendly relationship ever since Microsoft made a $240 million investment in Facebook that valued the social network at $15 billion in 2007, and Bing launched Facebook’s Instant Personalization last October.

But Bing’s Facebook integration up until now was a little superficial — if you ran a query relevant to something your friend had previously ‘Liked’ on Facebook, you’d see that in a special module embedded in the search results page. Beginning today, things are getting much more interesting: Bing will actually reorder search results based on friends’ Likes (in other words, your friend’s recommendations won’t just be relegated to a standalone widget, they’ll influence the Ten Blue Links).

That isn’t all. If you run a query that matches information in a friend’s profile (but not necessarily their ‘Likes’) then Bing might show a link to their profile too (for example, run a query for “San Francisco” and you’ll see which of your friends live in SF). Sometimes Bing will show that a certain result has been liked N number of times by other users, even people who aren’t your friends. Bing’s blog post announcing the news outlines the features in more detail. And they look nifty.

But there’s still a big question: will social search, a term that gets tossed around as if it’s some kind of Holy Grail, actually be useful?

The average Facebook user has around 130 friends, which isn’t that many in the grand scheme of things, so you’ll be drawing from a limited amount of recommended content. And my hunch is that the majority of ‘Likes’ are concentrated around a few key areas that include movies, TV shows, breaking news, and humor — you know, the things you see popping up in your Facebook News Feed all the time. Obviously people search for those things on Bing, and when you’re looking for that awesome dancing Android video you heard about but don’t know the name of, surfacing these water-cooler links can be invaluable.

But people use search engines for a ton of other tasks too, and many of them aren’t involving the sort of content that people share to Facebook. How times have you actually ‘Liked’ the new shoes you just ordered? Or your favorite hotel in the Caribbean? Or the how-to guide on repairing your dishwasher? Everything you Like is shared with your friends via the News Feed, and when you share something they’re interested in — like breaking news, or something funny — there’s positive reinforcement as they interact with that shared story. But at the same time you’re probably going to be a little hesitant to start Liking things that are more mundane, even if you found them useful.

And there’s also the question of whether people actually care what their friends think. Internally, Facebook has found that people aren’t necessarily motivated to click links because they share similar tastes with their friends — sometimes, people are interested in a piece of content because it was shared by their friend. In other words, we care about our friends’ recommendations because we care about our friends, not necessarily because we like similar things. So do these ‘Liked’ pages become helpful for finding the information you’re searching for?

I asked some of these questions to Stefan Weitz, director of Bing, who was unsurprisingly a bit more optimistic than I am. He says that the ‘new web’ is inherently social, and that for the first time in human history we can tap into the data that was previously stored in people’s heads. But that’s long-term.

The features Bing launched yesterday, he says, are not ‘the ultimate social search’. He explains that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg, and that social search isn’t going to revolve exclusively around Facebook data. “It’s hard to predict where it’s going next,” Weitz says. “Facebook went from zero Likes to what they have now in one year. The challenge is to not get too locked into one signal — we have to pivot quickly around the current zeitgeist.”

As for my concerns about the way people are ‘Liking’ content with Facebook and how that ties into search, Weitz says that it’s still up to the user to figure out which of their friends’ recommendations are relevant (e.g. if you see one of your gadget-savvy friends ‘Like’ a camera, that’s important; someone else’s recommendation may not be).

And, regarding the scope of content that people are Liking, Weitz points out just how new the Like button is, and that it generally appears in inconsistent places on webpages. Bing launched a new browser toolbar as part of yesterday’s news that solves this issue, but this is only available to IE users. And I’m not convinced that people are having a hard time finding the buttons — I just don’t think they’re compelled to click them unless they really want to broadcast something to their friends.

Of course, Facebook isn’t standing still either. It has every incentive to get you to Like a broader array of content online — after all, its ad platform revolves around showing your friends what you’ve Liked. And it also has a strong incentive to give partners like Bing a way to leverage that data in a useful way.



Paul Graham To Hold Y Combinator “Office Hours” At TechCrunch Disrupt. Apply Now!

Posted: 17 May 2011 05:14 PM PDT

One of many things that make Y Combinator special: They hold regular “office hours” with startups where entrepreneurs can get advice on any topic, from business strategy to design issues.

What we talk about at office hours also depends on the startup and where we are in the cycle. Usually we talk about whatever is the most urgent question right now. Sometimes, especially early on, the most urgent question is to figure out what the most urgent question should be. That’s less trivial than it sounds; we spend a lot of time telling founders what not to worry about.

(About 10% of the time we talk not about immediate problems but about the big vision for the company. You don’t have to be bound by this, but it’s good to have one. Some startups arrive with a big vision already, but most don’t. It’s a useful exercise to spend some time thinking about what the path would be from what a startup is doing now to a giant company, even if that’s not the current goal of the founders. Helping founders come up with these big visions is one of our strengths, because we’ve explored so much of the space of startup ideas that we know what’s over each hill.)

If the startup either hasn’t decided what to work on or wants to change their idea, then we talk about what the company should do. That usually means satisfying two constraints: something (1) users would want, that (2) the founders of this startup would be good at building. We have these types of conversations surprisingly often. Startups modify or even replace their ideas much more than outsiders realize. By Demo Day perhaps 15% are working on new ideas that grew out of conversations during office hours. Some of the most successful startups we’ve funded have.

If the question of what the company should do is settled, the most urgent question tends to be what to build first. Usually we advise startups to launch fast and iterate. This doesn’t apply to all startups (Clustrix, for example), but it works for most. The reason we advise startups to launch fast is that till you launch you’re designing for hypothetical or at best tame users, instead of actual ones. Once you launch you begin the conversation with real users, whose often surprising reactions to your product teach you what you should have been building..

These sessions are private, and for Y Combinator companies only. But partner Paul Graham, who will already be on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt next week, has offered to host “office hours” for non-YC startups at the event.

Six startups will be selected and will join Paul on stage on Tuesday at 11:45. Each startup will get 8.5 minutes on stage, enough for a couple of questions with meaningful feedback.

If you are attending Disrupt and would like to be considered, please fill out the form below. We’ll work with Paul to narrow the applicants to those that will benefit the most, and provide insightful content. Then, at the start of the session, Paul will select six companies from those finalists. They need to be prepared and ready to walk on stage immediately.

Y Combinator startups aren’t eligible (they can get office hours at any time). Startup Battlefield companies are also ineligible as they’re getting plenty of feedback and advice from our expert judges. Other conference attendees, and the Startup Alley startups, are welcome to apply.



Book A Cruise On Your Phone: Viator Wants To Be Your Realtime Travel Booking Solution

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:36 PM PDT

When you plan a vacation, you likely have a destination in mind. Location plays a considerable role in our travel plans, but really what makes or breaks a good vacation is what you do when you get there. Your trip to Hawaii last summer was enjoyable simply because you were in Hawaii and not at the office, but really what you remember is the scuba diving — and backpacking through volcanoes. These “travel activities” are essential to every travel experience and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have become a sizable business.

According to PhoCusWright report “When They Get There (and Why They Go)”, the U.S. travel activities market totalled $27 billion in 2009. Not only that, but more than $7 billion in activities were booked online in 2009, and the study predicts that, by 2012, the percentage of activities that will be arranged online will double.

Now, historically, the people and agencies that act as your travel concierge have been small operations, and few had websites — or rather, few had websites worth mentioning — nor were there global distribution systems that condensed all your globe-trotting discovery and booking options into a single resource. Thanks to companies like Viator, a one-stop-shop for researching, planning and booking tours and activities all over the globe (and countless others), agents now have central resources to consult — and bookings through their sites are commissionable.

But the real game-changer for a travel business is not just having an online resource, it’s having an activities planner, with a serious mobile presence, that allows travel agents to upload itineraries instantly and enables users to book activities in realtime. That’s the golden ticket.

Today, Viator is introducing two free apps for the iPad and iPhone that enable travelers to find and book activities anytime, anywhere — whether they’re planning ahead from their living room or standing in a hotel lobby just looking for something nearby to do for the next few hours. Each app gives the user access to Viator’s tour and activity portfolio, which lists activities like, for example, a private, after-hours tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, or surfing lessons in Sydney, or a desert safari in Dubai, and so on. Users can check out Viator’s 260K traveler reviews and photos to get a little taste of some crowdsourced info so that they can better decide which scuba outlet to patronize.

As part of the new Viator mobile experience, the company has developed a backend proprietary system (essentially an extranet) that enables tour operators to upload inventory in realtime. This means that vacationers can book 80 percent of the available activities within 48 hours and that you can check out what’s being listed now, tomorrow, or six months from now. The new backend also allows users’ search results to be filtered more easily, allowing you to search by activity category, such as 'family friendly,' 'tours & sightseeing,' and 'shows, concerts & tickets' or date, time and even by hotel pick-up locations.

The company has also made an effort not to simply port its website directly into iPhone and iPad apps, which I like to hear. It’s important for companies to customize their services for the mobile experience — and for different devices. For example, while Viator’s iPhone app uses GPS to detect where you are and allows you to check out top destinations in your proximity, while booking in-app, the company’s iPad app is geared more towards inspiration. It’s designed for people who haven’t yet decided on a destination.

As such, the iPad app allows users to navigate top destinations via a rotating a 3D globe and to browse city guides, which feature content from experts as well as related images.

So, while Viator offers a bit of the mobile Foursquare experience with its realtime discovery of cool activities to pursue while in a new location, it’s also serving up a bit of Groupon by allowing users to scan exclusive deals in each local market. And, what’s more, prices are shown in the traveler's currency choice and reveals percent savings off original price.

All in all, using Viator can be faster and cheaper than booking travel activities through a concierge service or your hotel, and since users can pay from within iPhone using a credit card, it’s pretty convenient.

Viator has raised more than $15 million to date and is currently profitable. The company currently provides the tours and activities for more than 2,000 affiliates, including major travel brands like Priceline, Virgin Blue, Lonely Planet, AAA, British Airways, Air France, American Airlines Vacations.

Also worth noting: All mobile bookings through May 31st will be eligible for additional 10 percent discount. The company also tells me that Android apps are on the way.



Almost Half Of All Online Orders Now Include Free Shipping

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:10 PM PDT

Online retail spending reached $38 billion this quarter, up 12 percent from a $33.8 billion a year ago according to Comscore. This growth is due to an increase in the number of buyers (7%), transactions per buy (9%) and tempered by a decline in spending per transaction (4%).

According to a ComScore report released today, nearly half of those orders included free shipping, at 47% versus 53% for Q’1 ’11, 49% versus 51% in Q’4 10 (the holiday season) and 41% versus 59% in Q3 ’10.

“A lot of consumers are taking free shipping for granted,” said ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni. Indeed the report also came to the conclusion that 61% consumers are “at least somewhat likely” to cancel their entire purchase if free shipping isn’t involved. So have we come to expect free delivery on our gadgets, Christmas sweaters and cookbooks?

As eCommerce hits the highest share percentage its ever seen versus retail ( 8.6% ), the perk of free shipping is a major incentive to buy more, as orders with free shipping average around 30% higher in value those that tack on a couple of bucks for transport.

Those that have Amazon Prime know this instinctively, the proof is in the piles of smiley-faced boxes scattered around your house.



(Founder Stories) How Hashable Rose From The Ashes Of Tracked

Posted: 17 May 2011 03:06 PM PDT

Before there was Hashable, there was Tracked, Michael Yavonditte’s attempt to build a better Yahoo Finance. It was little too complicated, and not social. “I felt like I was on the wrong side of history,” he tells Chris Dixon in this episode of Founder Stories.

So Yavonditte (who had previously sold advertising startup Quigo to AOL for $360 million) started from scratch, recruited a new team, and Hashable was born—a lightweight mobile app that helps you keep track of your business meetings and contacts, and is replacing business cards for many people.

In the video clip below, Yavonditte explains what exactly is Hashable and hints at some upcoming features. Be sure to also watch Part I of this interview, in which Yavonditte describes how he went toe-to-toe with Google back in his Quigo days, and came out all right. He also describes his thoughts on management: “Leadership is not acquiescing to the mob.”

Previous episodes of Founder Stories can be found here.



OMG/JK: Chromebooks And Droided Out Lightbulbs

Posted: 17 May 2011 01:07 PM PDT

From Google I/O to Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, last week was a huge one for tech news.

In this episode of OMG/JK, my colleague MG Siegler and I do an in-depth look at what happened at Google’s annual developer conference, which saw the launch of Google Music Beta, Android’s @home project, and the first Chromebooks. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about the Skype acquisition next time, there was just too much material to pack into one show.

And, yes, this episode is a bit retro — we shipped out the better cameras to New York in preparation for TC Disrupt next week, so we had to shoot this one in SD. But the sounds of our rich voices are as clear as ever, and we’ll be back in HD for the next episode!

Here are some posts relevant to this week’s episode:

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