Friday, May 20, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Twitter Inc. Sued For Tweets Which Break UK Celeb’s Press Gag. Oh Yes.

Posted: 20 May 2011 09:25 AM PDT

We’ve been watching the British legal system turn itself into knots for the last couple of weeks, largely due to the ability of Twitter users to break just about any legal ‘super injunction’ a ‘celebrity’ (usually footballers) has on the reporting of their private life (usually affairs). So far so normal for Twitter. What’s a super injunction? It’s when someone rich (these things are very expensive) takes out an injunction on the press that not only stops them reporting something but also stops them reporting that the injunction even exists. That makes it ‘super’, which of course it is anything but.

But today the story took a new turn when it emerged that Twitter Inc. itself is being sued. Oh yes. They are going there.



The Man Who Wants Your ID – Myid.is Launches Beta To 1.2m People

Posted: 20 May 2011 07:52 AM PDT

I first met Charles Nouÿrit at Le Web in 2007. Surrounded by ‘boothe babes’ in tight white T-shirts, he was handing out cards about something called Myid.is. Was this the standard French startup pitch at Le Web? It probably was back in 2007. And it was a little hard to take the pitch, such as it was, seriously. But Identity? “ID”? Yes, it was a hot topic even then – and still is. Since then 600 million users have signed up to Facebook, close to 100 million on LinkedIn. Sure, many of those won’t be fully kosher online identities. But isn’t the issue of a verified online identity slowly being solved? The answer of course is no. Real identity, and more importantly the verification of someone’s ID by a trusted third party is nowhere near being solved online, outside of the banking system. But this is going to be a key battleground online going forward, especially where ecommerce and the ability to ‘sign’ for things enters a new phase. And – since 2007 – Charles has stuck to his guns on his startup and aimed high.And today Myid.is is emerging as a potentially powerful play.

A giant trial with the French Post office (La Poste) with a service branded as “Identic” will soon launch, claiming to be a world first in the Identity space. Identic is a brand owned by La Poste but run behind the scenes by MyID.is and allows digital identity to be verified by the La Poste organisation.



SSE Labs Announces Impressive List Of Advisors, Offers Sneak Peek At Latest Startups

Posted: 20 May 2011 07:45 AM PDT

About a year ago, Stanford University students Dan Ha and Cameron Teitelman co-founded SSE Labs, a startup accelerator designed to assist aspiring entrepreneurs at the university develop their businesses and provide them with the space and educational resources they need to grow a successful business. At the time, the Stanford student government (which operates independently of the university) had just disbanded SSE Ventures, a student-run venture capital fund that invested directly in student-led start-ups. In turns out that this was just the catalyst the founders were looking for. Teitelman turned SSE Ventures into SSE Labs, refocusing the program on the acceleration of its local entrepreneurial talent through experiential education, rather than providing investment and equity. Ha then joined Teitelman at the helm and has run the program since its summer launch.

“At the creation of the program, we interviewed 220 Stanford founders to gauge what, if anything, was missing from Stanford entrepreneurial community”, SSE Labs co-founder Cameron Teitelman said. “For the most part, students agreed that there was little in the way of direct support, through resources, advisors, and other educational opportunities for entrepreneurs trying to launch their companies”.

So, to address this issue, SSE Labs forged a partnership with Aol to offer startups office space in Palo Alto and began recruiting a group of mentors and advisors who could share their startup experience with the student entrepreneurs. In turn, SSE Labs offered customized education through workshops and office hours on topics ranging from UI/UX design to marketing and employment issues, as well as free web hosting via Amazon, and legal services from the local arm of law firm Dorsey & Whitney.

SSE Labs has also made its office space available to Stanford alumni companies, working out a mutually beneficial deal that meant, instead of paying rent, the alumni would become entrepreneurs-in-residence and in-house mentors to the student startups. Ha said that Labs is already playing home to several Y Combinator graduates as well as Disrupt finalist, Lark.

Similar to its well-known peers Y Combinator and 500 Startups, SSE Labs consists of a three-month-long mentoring program, consisting of three sessions — one in the fall, spring, and summer. At the end of each session, the accelerator holds a demo day, in which companies present their businesses to a group of potential investors. (Labs will be hosting its latest demo day on June 1.) Of course, unlike its fellow accelerators, Labs is a non-profit, educational initiative focused on the university’s entrepreneurially-inclined — and it does not take equity in its startups. Though, of course, if you want to participate, your whole team doesn’t have to be at Stanford; the program simply requires one founder to be enrolled in the university within the last 3 quarters.

Stanford has seen many successful entrepreneurs pass through its doors; thanks in part to its proximity to Silicon Valley and the abundant proximate financial and educational resources, the university has long cultivated an entrepreneurial (and innovative) spirit. As an example of the level of interest in entrepreneurship, Ha tells me that, in the year since Labs’ founding, 300 companies have applied to the program.

With so much student interest in the program, Labs has been able to build an impressive bullpen of advisors, partners, and mentors that would make any young entrepreneur eager to gain entry into the program. In fact, about a month-and-a-half ago, Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and successful venture capitalist (and a Stanford graduate himself), signed onto the program as a sponsor and advisor.

And today, the list of advisors and mentors has been rounded out to include the likes of Greylock Partner and former Mozilla CEO John Lilly, Charles River Ventures Parnter and Twitter early investor, George Zachary, August Capital Partner Howard Hartenbaum, Google Developer Advocate and veteran of Microsoft, AltaVista, and Napster, Don Dodge, and more. You can find the full list here.

“It’s been great to be involved with SSE Labs so far; they’re off to a fantastic start in terms of finding and supporting awesome entrepreneurs associated with Stanford”, John Lilly said. “It’s a great combination of community, mentorship and support, and I’m really excited to see them turn SSE Labs into a long-lasting, high-impact Stanford & Silicon Valley institution”.

SSE Labs has already graduated 24 companies, ranging from cleantech and biotech, to consumer web and enterprise. Of those graduates, at least 6 have raised seed capital, including educational game creator Motion Math, which took part in last year's summer session. (You can read our coverage Motion Math last month here.) Another 5 Labs startups are in the midst of raising funding, including Game Closure, which we wrote about in February and Qwhispr. What’s more, George Zachary said that he has already invested in 2 SSE Labs startups and is working on closing a third deal. So, the money is flowing into the accelerator, and startups are more than eager to take advantage.

And, for the first time, SSE Labs is giving TechCrunch a sneak peek at its latest batch of startups. Below are 8 of the 10 startups from Labs’ spring program. (The last two aren’t quite ready for public viewing yet.) You can check these companies out live on stage at SSE’s Demo Day in Palo Alto on June 1st, at which point Ha said that the Stanford accelerator will also be announcing some exciting news of its own. So stay tuned.

The Startups:

Qwhispris a team of Stanford PhDs who are building a new type of social search technology and are closing a large seed round soon. The team has been iterating on its product for the last few months testing it with the closed community of alpha users. Qwhispr is still in the stealth mode.

6dot Innovations has developed the first label-maker that gives users the ability to produce Braille labels independently, in a portable and easy to use package. 6dot has secured its first investor and is planning to find a few more investors to close their first investment round of $500K in the next few weeks. The team plans to release its product first in the U.S., by December 2011, and is hoping for international release to follow shortly after.

WiFiSlam is commercializing indoor positioning and mapping technology. Its technology can run on any smart phone,and has the ability to create indoor maps or location based services, with no initial setup, in any Wi-Fi-enabled building, and claims to be 50-times cheaper than any existing technology on the market.

Clear Ear is a medical device company developing devices that will provide ENT standard of care for the first time in the lower cost and more accessible primary care setting. Clear Ear has developed the patent-pending Clear Ear Kit that will enable nurses to remove earwax in a safer, quicker way for the 35 million Americans and 350 million people affected by ear wax problems worldwide. Clear Ear will be looking for funding after Demo Day.

Game Closure offers the first practical HTML5 gaming platform. Building a game is hard; constructing a multiplayer game is ridiculously difficult. So, Game Closure’s tools remove the pain points from the process of developing, hosting, and maintaining games, enabling authors to focus entirely on the gameplay even when building realtime, multiplayer games.

Juntos Finanzas creates innovative personal finance tools that empower first-generation Latino communities. The startup’s SMS-based products allow people to track their spending using text messages and feel a new sense of control and confidence as they save for things that are personally meaningful to them.

SongSpring offers users a vast and highly available selection of music that they will be able to stream from the cloud. The service will use a consumption based model, in which users are only charged for what they actually listen to. This ultimately lowers the barrier to entry for users to have access to an extensive and personal music collection without actually purchasing it or paying upkeep.

PredictiveEdgeis a SaaS-based e-commerce pricing solution that drives profits for online retailers by helping them set the right prices for their products. The startup aims to bring Amazon's pricing capabilities to all online retailers.



The Hackathon Is Almost Here. Come Root For Your Favorite Hackers This Sunday!

Posted: 20 May 2011 07:38 AM PDT

The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon is taking place in NYC this weekend and is shaping up to be our biggest and best yet. We’ll be hosting hundreds of hackers all weekend long. Come hang out with them. Signup now to watch their presentations in person at Pier94 in NYC on Sunday, May 22nd starting at 10:30 am! We’re thrilled to have Bradley Horowitz (Google), Amanda Peyton (MessageParty), Jeff Clavier (SoftTech), Christopher Poole (Canvas) and more helping us judge the event.  Sign up for the Sunday Demos!

Over twice the number of hackers as last year have signed up to spend the weekend prototyping new products so they can blow you away. Due to the overwhelming demand we have had to close the hacker signup form. However, if you’re a potential hacker who didn’t get a confirmation email from us and still want to hack with us this weekend just show up at Pier94 on Saturday, May 21st starting at 12:30 pm. There’s limited availability for walkup signups but we’ll do our absolute best to make sure you get in. Or you can just come to the Sunday Demos and watch the awesomeness.

Hackathon Logistics
Pier 94
Registration opens 12:30 (come fed or bring your own lunch)
Hacking opens 1:30 pm (dinner, midnight snacks, sugar and caffeine will abound)
API workshops from facebook, twitter, foursquare and others throughout the afernoon – early evening
Hacking closes 9:30 am Sunday
Hackathon presentations 10:30  am – 3 pm (Open to the community, no registration required)
Quick stats
• Hit total registered NYC 2010 numbers in 12 hours (250)
• Hit total SF registered in 24 (350)
• Over 500 hackers currently registered to participate.
We hope to be able to accommodate another 100-150 hackers with onsite registration Saturday.  Please come right @ 12:30 for onsite registration.  We’ll take as many as capacity permits.

The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon is being organized by Tarikh Korula and Daniel Raffel on behalf of TechCrunch.

Photo credit: Flickr/eva meszaros



LinkedIn Climbs Past $100 Per Share On Second Day Of Trading

Posted: 20 May 2011 07:22 AM PDT

LinkedIn’s stock continues to perform well at the start of its second day of trading. After closing on the New York Stock Exchange at $94 per share yesterday afternoon (giving LinkedIn a $9 billion market cap), the professional social network’s first trade began at $98 per share this morning and has reached as high as high as $103.28. The company is now close to a $10 billion market share.

For background, LinkedIn priced its shares at $45 on Wednesday evening but began trading at $83 per share yesterday morning, up 84 percent and giving the company a $7.8 billion market cap. In total, LinkedIn raised $352.8 million in gross proceeds from the offering of 7,840,000 shares, with 94.5 million shares of stock outstanding.

Many have cried Bubble considering how strongly LinkedIn has performed on the public markets considering the company’s previous valuations, revenue and profits. The company just reported that Q1 revenue in 2011 was up 110 percent to $93.9 million. Net income increased to just $2.08 million, from $1.81 million in Q1 2010. In 2010, the company netted $243 million in revenue, and $15.4 million in net income.

One thing is for sure. If LinkedIn can maintain anywhere near this valuation level, it’s a good sign for other tech companies who are looking to IPO this year.



Apple Strikes Back in Amazon “App Store” Tiff

Posted: 20 May 2011 07:21 AM PDT

Shockingly enough, Apple isn't down with Amazon's claim that the term "app store" is generic, and recently denied such a claim during the ongoing tiff between the two application providers. Amazon argues that the term "app store" is generic, and when the words are put together, they signify a store where one can buy and download applications.

Read more…



Stipple Helps Gilt Spread Lady Gaga’s Merchandise Across The Web

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:50 AM PDT

If you haven’t heard, Lady Gaga is taking over the internets with marketing and branding deals to spread the word on her new album, "Born This Way.” The pop artist just launched a new deal with Zynga for Gagaville; and today Lady Gaga is debuting a partnership with flash sales giant Gilt Groupe; offering Gaga-inspired merchandise, curates sales, access to Gaga events and more. And to help spread these deals across the web, Gilt has enlisted Stipple, a technology that allows you to tag people in images no matter where they reside on the web.

In simple terms, Stipple allows publishers to tag a person in a photo on the web, enter contextual information such as a Twitter name or Facebook name and then anyone can see their most recent social updates as overlays on that picture. But Stipple also partners with e-commerce sites to provide a way for each photo to show exactly what piece of clothing the person in the photo is wearing — to show you who makes it, how much it costs, and where to buy it. And it allows you to "Want" it (save it to look at later) or "Shop" for it via two overlay buttons right on the picture itself.

So, now when you click on Lady Gaga photos on publisher sites like TMZ and Hollywood Reporter, Stipple's technology will enable you roll over the Stippled dots on Gaga's images and be directed to Gilt sales links. You’ll also be able to add specific Gaga outfits and accessories to your Stipple Want list.

As we’ve reported in the past, mousing over the Stipple dot is basically an ad impression. In terms of impressions, it's happening 12.48 percent of the time on Stipple-tagged images. And 1.9 percent are clicking the Shop button. Those are high click-though rates, and is definitely alluring for any retailers who wants to advertise their products.

The Lady Gaga partnership is a great example of how Stipple’s technology can be used by retailers to help increase conversion rates, sales and interactions with a publisher’s content.



Zynga And DreamWorks Partner For Kung Fu Panda 2 Marketing Deal In CityVille

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:21 AM PDT

Zynga is racking up the Hollywood and entertainment partnerships. After launching a marketing deal with Lady Gaga for FarmVille, the social gaming giant is rolling out another deal, this time with DreamWorks Animation for the promotion of the studio’s new movie Kung Fu Panda 2. Zynga says this is the first-ever in-game integration within CityVille, the company’s most popular game by monthly active users on Facebook.

CityVille, which has more than 88 million monthly players, will allow users to place a Kung Fu Panda 2 themed drive-in movie theater in their city. Players who place the theater will also receive collection items, members of Kung Fu Panda's Furious Five: Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. When all five items are collected, an exclusive Po the Panda statue will be unlocked and available to players as a reward for completing the Kung Fu Panda 2 quest. The integration runs until May 31.

Why CityVille? Zynga’s Global Director of Brand Advertising Manny Anekal says that nearly a third of all Kung Fu Panda fans on Facebook have also played CityVille. For DreamWorks, the studio can reach 88 million users, who are engaged with the Kung Fu Panda brand, with the promotion.

This isn’t the first partnership with DreamWorks; Zynga and the studio previously launched a “Mega-Farm” promotion on FarmVille with animated movie Megamind. But Zynga says this is the first in-game marketing deal for CityVille. And this follows the recent appointment of DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg to Zynga’s board of directors.

As we wrote in the past, adding Katzenberg to the gaming company’s board represented a broader, multi-channel entertainment strategy for Zynga. I’m sure we’ll see a number of similar deals being struck with both DreamWorks and other movie studios for branded promotions in Zynga’s games.



You Need to Win the Battle for Share of Mind

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:20 AM PDT

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Mark Suster (@msuster), a 2x entrepreneur, now VC at GRP Partners. Read more about Suster at his Startup BlogBothSidesoftheTable.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the proliferation of startups in the past 2 years. It seems almost incomprehensible that only 2.5 years ago we read the “RIP Good Times” presentation from Sequoia.

But what does this all mean? Are we headed for a long era of innovation in which startups are the new norm? Are we seeing a time in which pre-revenue companies are more valuable than our offline institutional brands? As with the late 90′s the answer is “Yes. And no.”

Yes, there is unprecedented innovation. I’ve never seen anything like it in my career. The era of cheap cloud computing plus open-source software plus digital natives unleashed upon society is creating some truly amazing products that will challenge the way we do business and the way we live our lives. I don’t believe it’s hyperbole to say that Twitter and Facebook are truly transformative at a societal level, for example.

No. It’s not all sunshine and candy canes. We are building a lot of stuff now that has no longevity. In a way, startups have become kind of like the video game industry. New stuff gets created, it’s fun to play with and talk about. You want to use it because your friends are doing it and you want to find out what it’s all about. You want to see what’s new. You want the dopamine rush.

You play with it for a few weeks or months. Then you stop. You stop because it was game like. Temporal. Non valuable. Not really helping you do something better. Not improving your life or business.

Not solving a real problem.

And so it occurs to me that many startups in the consumer world are now truly hits driven like video games or movies. They get marketed as such. We compare user numbers like box office receipts. Some become true breakouts that can be built into a franchise even though they started as just a game, like Angry Birds. They had the magic formula. Others like Words with Friends solve deeper problems than games, like meeting new people or curing loneliness.

The challenge that many startups face today is: Are you really providing enough value? Will you get the TechCrunch bump, the tier-1 VC anointment, followed by great PR firm support and then the NY Times or WSJ story that follows? Will that be enough or will high churn rates creep in, new toys be introduced into the market, new time sucks pulling user attention away?  This year’s Tamagotchi?

If you’re building a startup today I would encourage you to think harder about how you’re going to win the battle for share of mind. That’s much tougher than getting people to play with your hot product for 6 months. To do so you must truly provide value that changes the way that end-consumers do something in their lives that will persist.

My example du jour is LinkedIn.

Why had it endured though market machinations and become this year’s darling IPO? I can’t comment on its stock price – I’m not a public market analyst. But the obvious value to LinkedIn is that it is the dominant online resume of our generation. They got us to fill out the details of where we worked in the past and the network effect compels us to keep it updated.

The second obvious value driver is that it was one of our first true “social graphs.” I often argue that this has greatly weakened because everybody I know accepts LinkedIn requests from strangers so it’s not really a true barometer of our graph anymore but enough of the remnants are accurate enough that value persists. So resume + directionally-correct social graph = goldmine for recruiting, networking and marketing.

It doesn’t strike me as a “social network” in the way we’ve come to define them. But its focus on solving a real-world problem makes it uniquely valuable to most other social graphs.

So as I get around the country speaking at college campuses in 2010 & 2011, I have been preaching the same theme. If you want to build enduring companies that weather both the tech market acceleration and the inevitable tech market correction as companies like LinkedIn have done, you need to ask yourself if you’re solving a real problem for users that will persist when hotness wears off.

That might be in online resumes. It might be in online game platforms solving the problem of entertaining people. It might be online videos targeting a niche audience. It might be a way to diet online or a way to manage your online scheduling / appointments. Or like a company I spoke to today, SportsForce, that is helping high-school athletes better prepare to get picked up by college sports teams. That’s a problem in need of a solution – I’m sure. Or the way Uber is shaking up the cozy, static world of taxi transportation.

Not every problem has to be a huge VC-fundable business.

But what I do see in the market in 2011 is way too many “me too” solutions where a bunch of founders have brainstormed a way to do a better Groupon, a better Gilt Groupe, a better Twitter or a better Quora. When pressed, not enough of these entrepreneurs can answer questions about why users would still be using this product in 5 years, about why their product is going to solve a consumer or business problem that isn’t being solved today. They pitch me features, not value.

I play with features. I’m a tech junkie as much as the next guy. But next month I’m on to the next one.

I would encourage you to think bigger. The market is over-weight in companies trying to solve problems for bars & restaurants. Sure, that’s a fine category. I have no problem with it. But what about education? Healthcare information? Energy? Housing? Auto? Financial Services? There are so many big inefficiencies in this country that need tackling. I feel quite comfortable that our bars & restaurant industry will be just fine.

When you solve a real problem you’ll win the true battle. The battle for share of mind. Challenge yourself to think harder.



Google Spends $4.9 Million On Modu Patent Portfolio

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:07 AM PDT

Remember Modu, the Israeli phone maker who never quite found a market for its itty bitty cell phones? That's ok if you don't, because the semi-omniscient Google does. Back in 2008, Modu came up with a tiny modular cell phone that could slip into a number of different sleeves to be able to perform different actions and functions.

Now, over three years later, Google has received permission to buy Modu's patent portfolio, in what we assume are plans to resuscitate the forgotten phones that were only previously picked up by a few carriers. Shortly after Modu's entrance into the mobile arena, the company whipped out its latest and greatest phone models in preparation for an IPO, but unfortunately had to shut down operations after running out of cash.

Read More



SQLstream Raises $6M For Standards-Based Stream Computing Platform

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:01 AM PDT

San Francisco-based SQLstream, which provides a standards-based stream computing platform that enables its clients to harness and monetize their real-time service and sensor data, has raised $6 million from Fontinalis Partners. The investment was announced earlier this week, but the financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed - a recent SEC filing reveals the size of the funding round though.


Infographic: A Look At The Size And Shape Of The Geosocial Universe In 2011

Posted: 20 May 2011 02:49 AM PDT

Thanks to Jesse Thomas of interactive design agency JESS3, we now have an updated look at the structure of the geosocial universe as it exists in anno domini 2011. It wasn’t so long ago that the International Astronomical Union booted Pluto out of the solar system or that MySpace was overtaking Yahoo! and Google as the most-visited site in the U.S. Well, a few rotations around the sun later, and the overall shape of the geosocial universe has changed dramatically. New stars have been born and others have been scattered out across the cold recesses of Internet space. Today, Myspace is sputtering, Skype is part of the Microsoft solar system, and LinkedIn is being traded publicly. The whacky flux continues.

As you’ll see, Thomas’ infographic shows the current size of major social networks as well as the other well-known online services we use on a daily basis relative to their peers. It also overlays the present size of each company’s mobile user base. You’ll see Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, MySpace, LinkedIn, and more. You can also check out the agency’s infographic from last year to see the relative changes. Notable differences include: The rise of Chinese Qzone and Twitter, the fall of Myspace, and the stasis of Friendster.

Some other notable trends in the geosocial universe, courtesy of JESS3:

  • Mobile: 5.3 billion mobile devices are used worldwide — that's 77 percent of the world's population
  • Smartphones: 21.8 percent of all mobile devices are smartphones. Despite what one might think, Apple does not top the list in sales—Nokia does
  • Skype: Mobile usage continues to increase thanks to Skype's wise investment in apps and its mobile platform
  • Facebook: Now tops 629 million registered users with almost 250 million people accessing the site via mobile
  • Qzone: China's version of Facebook, Qzone, is experiencing supernova-like growth with 480 million registered users
  • Twitter: Broke the 200 million registered user mark with nearly 40 percent of people tweeting via mobile
  • Email: Hotmail still dominates email, but Gmail is gaining fast
  • Yelp: Yelp is topping 50 million unique visitors per month. Its move to team up with OpenTable earlier this year will only increase its relevancy
  • Foursquare and Gowalla: These geosocial specialists are still growing, but growth seems to be slowing down a bit



WorldTV Flicks The Switch On Premium Features, Targets Connected TVs

Posted: 20 May 2011 01:41 AM PDT

After fours years of tweaking and pivoting, WorldTV, which brings a TV channel-viewing experience to online video publishing, finally think it has the model right and is flicking the switch on an in-app store for à la carte premium features.

The ‘friends and family’-funded company has been cashflow positive since 2009 but after experimenting with an ad-supported model, which proved disappointing, and pitting this against selling add-on ‘subscription’ products, World TV has settled on the latter with the launch of its own custom-built store offering 33 subscription/add-ons available for instant purchase, some of which are available for a one-off payment while others produce recurring monthly revenue.



Bitcoin, Ven and the End of Currency

Posted: 20 May 2011 01:16 AM PDT

Editor’s note: Stan Stalnaker is the founding director of Hub Culture, a social network that revolves around a virtual currency called Ven. In this guest post, he extrapolates where virtual currencies like Ven and Bitcoins may take us.

Virtual currencies are in the news again with all the discussion around Bitcoins, which is limited in supply and can be exchanged anonymously. Our own long experience with another digital currency, Ven, has made us think about the logical conclusion of these activities, and what it means for money at large.  And what it means is the end of money as we know it.

Digital currencies are really just online account books that measure and record transactions of financial value between nodes on the Internet.  The first ones—Beenz, Flooz and others, arrived with the first wave of the Internet in the 1990s and failed.  By the middle of the last decade, the virtual currency economy boomed on the strength of gaming systems:  the Linden Dollar in Second LifeWorld of Warcraft GoldEntropia and Tencent’s QQ in China encountered success with volatility.  Now Internet currencies are moving out of virtual gaming systems and into the global economy, with Flattr (an electronic tipping currency), BitcoinRippleVen and local exchange trading systems (LETS) leading the way. The central differentiation between these digital currencies is whether they operate in a closed loop (Ven, Flattr, Amex Rewards) or open nodal architecture (Bitcoin, Ripple). This distinction determines to a large extent their ability to be managed.

In 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote a paper that outlined a platform for P2P currency—a bit torrent for cash—that would be anonymous, distributed and generated at the ends of the network instead of a central network point, as all currencies have been managed for over 600 years.  The concept of a truly P2P currency needed innovative architecture, but the open source nature of what became the Bitcoin has allowed it to take root and develop quickly over the last 18 months.  As Bitcoins become more prevalent they are growing in value and represent a fundamental departure from normal currency, because Man does not control this currency, the Algorithm does.  Even if Bitcoin and Ripple do not become a huge force (which they will), it sets the course for more such distributed currencies, and sets the stage for a currency free for all: open markets, open currency, open chaos, and a cambrian explosion of value sets.  The ultimate impact may come from Facebook, Google and other large social network currencies, which could have larger implied users than the Euro right from the moment of exchange trading.

On 4 July, 2007, the social collaboration network I founded, Hub Culture, released the first application for Ven, a new type of digital currency.  It was a watershed moment for us, and a confusing one, because the Ven had no value or exchange rate—it simply existed and could be issued and traded at will to friends.  Ven was a new type of money—as basic as picking up pebbles and assigning arbitrary values for favors or to say thanks.   Everyone laughed, and we soon learned that for a currency to have relevance, it must be measured against other things.  Currency needs an assigned value to be understood, a language to speak.

So in 2008 we assigned Ven a value language—10 VEN = 1 USD—and began to sell it for redemption between members and in Pavilions (retail places developed to accept the currency).  The fundamental advance in Ven was that it was global, digital, and could be exchanged to anyone, at little incremental cost. Later we made Ven more stable by pricing it from a basket of currencies, which meant the price moved less than a single national fiat currency.  To make it more grounded, we added commodities linking it to hard assets.  Then we added carbon futures, creating a carbon component to the value. The language was now efficient, stable and green, and today demand for Ven is growing rapidly. 

By and large, digital currencies are changing what money can be, and widening the vistas for how our global society determines and trades value.  The size of these economies is small but growing fast—with over 6.2 million Bitcoins in an economy worth almost $50 million USD. In Hub Culture, we have 5 million Ven circulating with a GDP equal to over $500,000 USD growing at 10x annually.  Ven plays inside the more closed rules of the current system, but even Bitcoin, with its ‘radical’ open nature, is subject to the value quandary: to be traded, it must be assigned a value.  And if it can be assigned a value, it can be interchanged with anything else of assigned value.  The Internet is enabling exchange of all types of value, and helps us to measure and publish these values.  Taken to its theoretical and logical conclusion, the Internet and all content on the Internet—whether actual or representative (such as the price of a physical good or service)—will eventually be assigned a value. Once these values are assigned, essentially everything will become money, and currency itself will cease to exist.

This is already happening in early ways with the Facebook Like and Google’s +1 buttons—micro-micro values based on attention and favorability that will someday convert in value to other measures.  How many Likes is a Facebook Credit worth? How many Credits make a Ven? How many Ven make a lasagna at the Olive Garden? How much do you have to Like the Olive Garden to get a lasagna? We’ll know soon.

This system of embedded values attached to all things represented on the Internet will turn the Internet itself into a pervasive exchange.  The idea of national currencies will become not just obsolete, but redundant, with no more currency meaning than the value of a “Like” or a banana or a reputation, which will all effectively speak to national currencies in a kind of common “mathematical language.”  Eventually, all of these things will be equally and instantly interchangeable.  It is tough to say how quickly or how slowly this will happen, but it is the single, inevitable consequence of the second phase of the Internet.  The first phase being the P2Pization of communications, already well underway.

This change will also happen faster than any of us can expect, because it is about simple numerical value, versus complex comms.  As most of us are now basically connected, the ability for rapid and mass adoption of new ideas and systems is possible at a multiplying rate, especially if it offers a radical shift in value creation as fundamental as this.  We are teaching the Internet to speak math—via causal links.

We need to urgently think about how the blurring of lines between currencies and everything else will affect us, our relationships, and our physical economies.  How we create and measure value is going through a change that has not been seen in over 600 years—since the emergence of the first systematic nationalized currencies. It is profoundly affecting the central vs. distributed control of value, and the archetypes that surround how we measure value.  It is a snowball today, but tomorrow it is an avalanche.  Just watch.

I don’t believe that the world will end up with a single global currency or a single reserve currency, but in the very near term a network of reserve currencies will allow humans to pick and choose new options for trade. In fact, they are already here, and those mentioned are just the first.  In the long term, these currencies, along with everything else of value, will be measured and represented on a unified system—most probably the Internet itself.  The result of this will be the end of currency and the emergence of Singular Value.

The rise of Singular Value implies more efficient capital markets and the potential for ongoing GDP expansion. It implies a hybrid of fixed asset values and the more efficient monetization of knowledge, which is continually expanding.  This combination could lead to an expanding supply of value relative to hard assets, which are almost certainly subject to peak resource pressure in the coming period anyway.  The tension between these two assets and their relative value will set the agenda for much going forward.

What will be the consequences of losing control of our money supply to the Internet, and is there anything that can be done to avoid this outcome? The answer, as far as I can see, is a systemic rigidity of crushing proportion. Governments will not choose the value of their money, or be able to ease or tighten supply at will. One thing is clear: those who start learning to speak this new common language now will end up ahead of those who don’t.  As for the concept of nations, built on tax and central monetary authority? Could the Internet itself someday control “our nation”? Will it be benignly totalitarian? It is food for thought.



Apple Zeros In On Deals For Its Cloud Music Service

Posted: 19 May 2011 11:51 PM PDT

Apple is furiously negotiating with the record labels to finalize deals which will allow it to stream music from the Internet to mobile devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods) and computers. It just came to terms with Sony Music, according to a Bloomberg report, which means that of the four major labels it’s got three down (EMI, Warner, and Sony), and one to go (Universal Music).

Streaming rights are different than digital download rights so Apple had to renegotiate all of its music deals. A cloud music service would allow consumers to keep all of their music online and stream it to any device. Google and Amazon have both recently launched beta versions of cloud music services, but they are limited in features and functionality (watch our Fly or Die review of Google Music for more info). Both decided to push ahead with music lockers that do not require deals with the labels, and in so doing they may have pushed the labels closer to Apple.

In any event, as soon as Universal gets on board, the last major barrier to Apple launching iTunes in the cloud will be removed. The question is: will iTunes remain a buy-to-own model, or will Apple start offering unlimited subscriptions? We can dream, but let’s take baby steps first. Simply getting all your music off your various devices and keeping them in one central location online will take away most of the hassles of managing your music collection on your own machine and syncing it to various mobile devices with limited storage capacity.



The End Of Blippy As We Know It

Posted: 19 May 2011 06:36 PM PDT

So it turns out that almost nobody wants people to check out their purchases. And also that just adding a social element to a feature isn't enough to make it useful. The lessons of user adoption are sometimes learned the hard way.

Thus is the story of the failure of Blippy, a product that launched in private beta in December of 2009 and that we breathlessly fawned over again, and again, and again and again (and again and again …).

"Imagine being able to see everything your friends buy with a credit card as they do it," MG wrote. "This not only tells you what kind of things they're actually into (rather than someone just saying they like something), but also other information like how cheap they are, as well as where they actually are at a given time."

What we failed to ask was, "Who cares?"

Blippy raised almost $13 million in funding and at some point its valuation was at $46.2 million, with enviable investor David Hornik posting his $8 million dollar purchase of Blippy stock on Blippy itself.

Even Apple copied it, taking the concept of purchase sharing over to its (also failed) social music service Ping. But underneath all the sloppy kisses it seems like people were more in love with the Blippy concept (and the irony of its association with charismatic FuckedCompany founder Philip Kaplan) than the Blippy practice.

According to CEO Ashvin Kumar, and depending on what analytics service you're using, Blippy traffic would spike whenever press would cover it and then subsequently die down to levels that showed no signs of growth. A trip to Blippy meant that you'd see your friends, but they were like bizarre versions of your friends that never did anything. I signed up for Blippy and didn't share one teensy eensy purchase. But the site was innocuous enough.

And then in April of last year Google Search results revealed that credit card numbers of a few Blippy users, and the resulting media spiral unsurprisingly caused a huge spike in Blippy traffic but tainted the service with an aura of mistrust. Despite Blippy's sincere apology many rushed to delete their accounts.

Things eventually quieted down as they are wont to do in media hype land. And then we kind of stopped writing about it, caught up in the hockey stick growth of Groupon and Facebook and Quora. We stopped writing about it so much so that we missed the fact that it pivoted from a purchase sharing site to a user reviews site, starting with the introduction of user reviews on July 23rd 2010 and then moving of the platform fully on to reviews by October of the same year.

"One of the reasons we switched to reviews was to increase user engagement, but that hasn’t really increased either, " Kumar told me resigned, revealing that Blippy has 100K registered users and that 30% have shared a purchase — Numbers that are not spectacular. The service never had a clear business model, just an attitude of "get user adoption and we'll figure it out later." But later never came.

What did come was the sense (and the whispers and the TechCrunch tips) that Blippy was over and that it was time to move on. For co-founder Philip Kaplan this meant stepping down to go make a bunch of silly iPhone apps at the end of March, telling PE Hub’s Connie Loizos that Blippy was "doing better than most people could do … But it hasn't, like, exploded into something huge yet." Which basically meant that traffic had leveled off. And the loss of its figurehead left many, ourselves included, concerned about the service's future.

Well the truth is it doesn't have much of one. While there are a few rays of hope (Blippy gets a lot of traffic from Google as it relates to mobile products) there was no clear direction to shine them in. Said Kumar, "The decision was whether to focus Blippy on mobile products or try something new and we made the decision that we wanted to try something new… Our key product metrics haven’t gone up, we iterated a lot but not enough to create significant user adoption, at least not enough to warrant us spending more time on it.”

Ouch.

Kumar also told me that the Blippy team has stopped innovating upon Blippy, and has moved on to other products in the social ecommerce space, but that it isn't ready to reveal anything publicly yet, “We’re basically taking the things that we learned from Blippy and applying it to a new set of projects. All of them which are in the early stages," Kumar said. The crazy connected investors behind the project are super supportive he said.

“So should I put RIP Blippy in the headline of this post?” I asked Kumar “No. When people say Blippy I still associate Blippy with the company, and not the domain or the product that’s on the domain," he replied, optimistic about the company's new direction whatever it may be. For the record Kumar hasn’t shared a review on Blippy for over a month.

But hopefully he's taken to heart the real reason Blippy didn't work: Sharing purchases with friends doesn't solve a problem. Challenge: Try to figure out what problem Blippy solves, or for that matter what Ping solves or what competitor Swipely solved (“We don’t think people want to share their purchases period,” Swipely CEO Angus Davis told me after his service had pivoted, ”I don’t know how to be more emphatic than that. “)

All three went up against the number one rule in the startup ecosystem, "Make something that people want." And lost.



Sheryl Sandberg: A Facebook IPO Is ‘Inevitable’

Posted: 19 May 2011 04:48 PM PDT

Today, LinkedIn officially started trading its shares on the New York Stock Exchange, Facebook may not be too far behind in its own public offering. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke briefly about the possibility of a Facebook IPO at Reuters Global Technology Summit today, saying that a public offering of Facebook shares is “inevitable.” Reuters reports that Sandberg declined to comment on when an IPO would take place.

As stated in Reuters’ account of her remarks, Sandberg said: “It’s a process that all companies go through. It’s an inevitable process for us, the next thing that happens…People used to ask us if we were going to get sold. People have stopped asking that question — we’re not … No one is buying us, we’re going public.” She also said that LinkedIn’s public offering “validated the importance” of the social networking business.

Facebook is reportedly meeting with bankers to discuss IPO size and time frame for an offering. It’s been thought that the social network will go public by April 2012, but it could happen before this date.



Simplee Makes Your Medical Bills Understandable

Posted: 19 May 2011 04:25 PM PDT

Health care is a mess in this country, especially the payments and insurance side of the equation. But as I mentioned in my last post on Brighter, a new group of startups are attacking the problem by giving consumers better information and tools to take control of their healthcare dollars. Let’s call it DIY health reform.

Another startup launching today in private beta, Simplee, is very much part of this movement. Simplee is like Mint for your healthcare bills. (The first 500 readers to sign up to Simplee’s private beta with the invitation code TECHCRUNCH will get in). The time for this idea is definitely now
—just last week Cake Health launched with a similar approach. Simplee has raised $1.5 million from Greylock Israel and a group of Israeli angels. CEO Tomer Shoval is Israeli, but the company is based in Palo Alto.

Just like with Mint and your financial accounts, you give Simplee access to your medical insurance accounts. It then brings in all of your medical, dental, and pharmacy bills and presents them in an easy-to-understand dashboard. Simplee tells your total medical costs, how much you’ve paid out-of-pocket, your deductible, and how many doctor’s visits you and your family have had.

This is all pretty basic information, but health insurance statements are so obtuse that most people have no idea how much they spend on health care. I know I don’t. Simplee does a good job of breaking it all down and showing you what you’ve spent, how much your insurance has paid, what you’ve paid, and how far along you are towards your deductible. It does this for every member of your family under the same insurance plans.

Simplee lets you drill down to individual claims to see what your insurance paid, the negotiated discount, and what you owe. It’s like a statement of benefits that actually makes sense. Simplee currently supports eight of the largest health plans in the U.S (including Aetna, United Healthcare, Cigna, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and BlueCross BlueShield of California), and is adding more every week.

Shoval, who used to run Shopping.com in North America, says that his ultimate ambition is to “create a shopping engine for health.” But first he will go after low-hanging fruit, such as helping members pick a health plan based on their historical health expenses and doctors. The more data Simplee collects about your healthcare costs, the smarter it can become about suggesting alternatives or reminding you to take advantage of health perks you may have overlooked.

Startups like Simplee aren’t going to solve the problems of the healthcare industry overnight. But if the first step to solving a problem is to measure it, then Simplee is a promising first step.



From Business.com To Brighter, Jake Winebaum Introduces A DIY Dental Plan

Posted: 19 May 2011 02:31 PM PDT

It is no revelation that the healthcare payment system in America is broken. That includes dental plans, where an estimated 50 percent of the $110 billion Americans spend each year on dental bills is paid out of pocket. Jake Winebaum thinks there is a better way to reduce those out-of-pocket expenses, and he’s quietly launched Brighter to offer online marketplace for dental care with negotiated discounts.

Brighter is part of a new class DIY healthcare startups just now beginning to emerge. These work outside the traditional health insurance industry. “Our mission is to provide affordable dental care to people without dental insurance,” says Winebaum, who is best known for starting Business.com in 1999 and eventually selling it for $350 million. He founded Brighter last year, and raised $5 million from Mayfield in January.

Brighter is a simple service. You put in your zipcode and the procedure you are looking for, and it returns all of the dentists nearby, along with the prices they charge for each procedure and any negotiated discount. Brighter already has negotiated discounts with 25,000 dentists in North America, about a quarter of the total. Brighter offers 20 to 30 percent discounts off the bat for free off of what you’d pay without insurance, and up to 60 percent off if you buy the $79/year plan.

The first 500 TechCrunch readers to book a dental appointment through Brighter and use the code TCBrighterSmile500 will get a free premium plan for a year. Brighter also offers plans for small businesses which cost $49 per employee—this one could become popular at all those startups without dental plans.

Unlike insurance, there are no caps and no procedures are off limits. You can see exactly how much the procedure will cost online and even shop around. Compare that to the way it works today. Patients only find out, says Winebaum, “what something will cost them when they are sitting in the dentist chair—not a great place to have negotiating leverage.” Dentists like it because they get paid right away and don’t have to argue with insurance companies for services already rendered.

When you do a search on Brighter, dentists come up based on rates, ratings, and proximity. It pulls in Yelp ratings and reviews, or you can add your own ratings on Brighter. You can even give your dentist a Facebook like. There are 40,000 Tweets a day about dentists. “Those are people in need,” notes Winebaum.



Google Advisor Wants To Be Your One-Stop Shop For Financial Comparisons

Posted: 19 May 2011 01:37 PM PDT

Google has rolled all of its finance tools into one product today, merging its mortgage, credit card and bank account comparison tools into Google Advisor. Google Advisor allows you to compare offer options for your credit cards, checking and savings accounts, CDs or mortgage.

With Google Advisor, users can enter in whatever criteria they're looking for and get multiple offers side by side. Additionally, users can set the search criteria they want and control the amount of personal information they share before contacting the offer provider if/when interested in taking them up on the offer.

With this fleshed out service, the search company has entered the same consumer finance comparison space as Lowermybills.com, CreditCards.com and others. Google has experimented with a mortgage comparison tool since 2009 and receives revenue through referrals — While Google is not currently paid for referrals on any other finance product, it’s safe to say that it hopes this will one day not be the case.



(Founder Stories) Hashable’s Yavonditte: Being Lean Does Not Mean Staying Small

Posted: 19 May 2011 01:27 PM PDT

 

As Chris Dixon rounds out his interview with Hashable founder, Michael Yavonditte, SXSW serves as a springboard to discuss the power of thinking small, when thinking about launching. Yavonditte relates Hashable’s experience at SXSW and puts it in perspective.

Speaking to the topic, Dixon says, “I have come to kind of believe in the lean startup thing, where you just kind of iterate and you iterate” continuing with, “people put way too much weight in … launching.”  Yavonditte offers similar insights, and notes that building a lean startup does not equate to thinking small. The two also have a meeting of the minds when it comes to the power of the press. It is an amplifier for both the good and the bad.

Check out the full discussion in the video above.

In the final segment, Yavonditte answers Dixon’s “rapid fire” questions. Yavonditte tells Dixon why startups fail and dishes the best piece of advice he has been given. “Hire great people and pay them whatever you have to pay them” he says.

Watch Part 1 and Part II of this interview, or prior Founder Stories interviews here.



LinkedIn Closes At $94 Per Share, With $8.9 Billion Market Cap

Posted: 19 May 2011 01:06 PM PDT

After opening to $83 per share and a market cap of $7.8 million, LinkedIn closed at $93.86 per share, giving the company a valuation of $8.9 billion. Although the professional social network priced at $45 per share, trading started at $83 (up 84 percent) and reached as high as $122.70 and as low as $80.

In total, LinkedIn raised $352.8 million in gross proceeds from the offering of 7,840,000 shares, with 94.5 million shares of stock outstanding. As CEO Jeff Weiner told Bloomberg TV this morning, he was happy with the IPO price range and cautions against reading into any one day of trading, as the company is in it for ‘the long haul.’

Still, it’s hard not to note just how strong this IPO is compared to others that debuted this year. As we’ve written in the past, Chinese social networking company RenRen went public at $14 per share, but trading has dropped below this price.

Related Posts:

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner 'Very Comfortable' With IPO Price Range

LinkedIn IPO Shares Pop 84 Percent On First Trade, Opens With $7.8B Market Cap
Attn Entrepreneurs: Mark Zuckerberg Isn't the Role Model. Reid Hoffman Is.
Photo Credit/Flickr/LinkedIn



MasterCard Study: Youngsters Will Be The Catalyst Of Mobile Payment Adoption

Posted: 19 May 2011 12:44 PM PDT

NFC payments have already become somewhat of the norm over in Japan, but here in the States, near field communication technology hasn't quite taken off yet. However, that's not to say that U.S. Americans aren't ready to use their cell phone as a wallet, as shown by a study conducted by MasterCard.

Read more…



Toshiba To Acquire Smart Grid Tech Firm, Landis+Gyr, For $2.3 Billion

Posted: 19 May 2011 12:42 PM PDT

Toshiba — the diversified tech company best known for its consumer electronics, lighting and HVAC systems — is coming after the smart grid market in Europe and the U.S. with the acquisition of a Swiss smart grid tech firm, Landis+Gyr. Toshiba announced a commitment to acquire Landis+Gyr for $2.3 billion today.

The company makes power distribution, metering and smart home software and systems, which will supplement Toshiba’s utility-related offerings and give Toshiba reach into new markets in Europe, the U.S., China, India and Brazil, where Landis+Gyr has already gained some traction, according to a company statement (link, above).

While Toshiba sells hardware used by utilities — in substations, on poles and transmission lines, for example — this is their first major move to grab a piece of the energy management business on the metering and consumer side.

Toshiba’s acquisition of Landis+Gyr could impact the likelihood, or pricing of an initial public offering by Silver Spring Networks, the smart grid company backed by Google Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Northgate Capital.

Silver Spring Networks closed a round of financing in December 2010, which brought its total capital raised to about $250 million. It also prepared to go public last year, at one point hiring Morgan Stanley and Jeffries & Co. to do so, with an alleged goal for a $3 billion valuation reported Fortune’s Dan Primack, then.

Silver Spring Networks already counts large North American utilities like Florida Power & Light, and Pacific Gas & Electric among its customers. The company did not respond to a request for comment on its IPO plans or the impact of the Toshiba deal to the industry in time for publication.

Reuters reported that Bill Maris of Google Ventures at a venture capital conference in New York today, said that Silver Spring Networks’ revenue is growing rapidly.

Bob Gohn, research director for the Smart Grid sector at Pike Research, told TechCrunch:

“Landis+Gyr itself once planned an IPO. We’re not certain why the business took the private sale route. It’s not clear how this could impact Silver Spring Networks’ IPO plan.

It seems that Silver Spring Networks may have had expectations of a valuation that would be pretty high relative to their global reach, and breadth of products. One challenge in this market — there are a lot of big, smart grid investments to be made — is that growth is likely to happen in waves, by region.

Pike forecasts growth in North America reaching $1.7 billion for smart meter, hardware related revenue by the end of 2012, then declining in the region followed by growth in Europe, then Asia.

It will be interesting to see what Toshiba can do for Landis+Gyr in Asia, or vice versa. The big prize of the market in China remains relatively closed. Smart metering vendors from outside of China itself don’t see a lot of business there. But the 15 to 20 smart metering companies that manufacture there, do.”

Smart grid companies that have exited through successful M&As, of late — including Mincom which was acquired by ABB this month, or Opal Software which was acquired back in October 2010 by GE Energy — have been involved in operating software, and back-end, IT management more than metering for the consumer, like that provided by Tendril or EnergyHub, or on metering in general.

Gohn predicts better exits in the smart grid sector for software and services startups serving the U.S. market, rather than hardware and metering, in the near future.

Graphic via Pike Research, from the Smart Meters in Asia Pacific, q1 2011 report



Mobile Video Search Engine Vuclip Raises $8 Million

Posted: 19 May 2011 12:00 PM PDT

Video search engine Vuclip has raised $8 million in Series C funding led by NEA and Jafco Ventures. This brings the company’s total funding to nearly $20 million.

Vuclip is an independent mobile video service that is accessible via mobile browsers, leveraging HTML5 technology to power the platform. The service is popular in international markets including India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Distribution partners include Airtel, Maxis, Tata DoCoMo, Telkomsel, Vodafone, and XL and the company has content relationships with premium content providers such as The AP, Billboard, Falcon Interactive and Times of India.

While YouTube continues to dominate web video search, the company says it is growing fast. It took 31 months to serve up Vuclip’s first billion videos, then only eight months to reach the second billion. Vuclip says that is is now the largest mobile video provider India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Vuclip plans to use the funding to expand mobile video analytics to help advertisers and content owners to help them understand how video is being consumed and region-specific trends.



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