Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Want To Get Rewards For Going Out? Good, Because LoSo Wants To Find You Free Drinks

Posted: 21 May 2011 07:30 AM PDT

I’ll bet that got your attention. Finally, an app that wants to buy you a drink. Well, not exactly, but it’s the next best thing. LoSo is a location-based social media app for the iPhone that re-launches today to bring the best parts of Foursquare, Yelp, and OpenTable together in one app for your mobile phone. An ambitious goal, yes, but to counterbalance that, LoSo is targeting a very specific market: your local restaurants and bars. So, on the one hand, LoSo is addressing a problem cited by many small businesses in using Groupon: They’re happy to have a blast of new customers taking advantage of a big discount, but they want to see loyalty, not single-serving customers. And, on the other hand, LoSo wants you to be rewarded for doing just that: By being (or becoming) a loyal customer at your favorite local eatery or watering hole.

In a nutshell, LoSo is taking the better parts of the aforementioned services (and, maybe Citysearch) to create a realtime guide for going out on the town. Currently, the app offers 200K realtime feeds for 700K local bars and restaurants, allowing you to see happy hours, drink specials, dinner specials, what bands are playing, and more. LoSo ranks these eateries and bars according to total number of checkins, so you can get a sense of which place has the most activity.

Taking a page from Foursquare, LoSo encourages users to checkin from their favorite spots, pooling these checkins in live Twitter and Facebook-like feeds, which you can get a sense of from the screenshots above. By clicking “IMHere”, you can show your friends where you are, as pins drop down on a Google Map to display your current location. You can navigate this interactive map of local venues and leave posts that tell your friends where you are.

With each checkin, you earn a point. Earn ten points and you can redeem your points for free swag. You can make checkins private, or public. And, probably the coolest part, is that you can post videos you take while being over-served and post them to Facebook and Twitter. They show up on the business pages of the place where you’re eating, which is hopefully great for the local business. As long as the videos aren’t troll-ish, of course.

As to the reward system, each time you checkin at a local spot, you earn a certain amount of points, most often 10 points. In the meantime, LoSo has encouraged the local business you’re patronizing to set up a rewards page, describing the types of rewards you can earn and how many checkins it takes to take advantage. Most frequently, it only takes one or two checkins, LoSo CEO Rich Rodger tells me, before you might be throwing back a margarita gratis. LoSo will also be offering points of its own, so if a user starts checking in frequently (to any place), they will become eligible for LoSo rewards. Which could be anything from a cruise to 3 months of free HDTV, Rodgers says.

But what’s to stop people from doing drive-by checkins to take advantage of deals? To discourage these miscreants, Rodgers says that part of the app’s secret sauce is that you will only be eligible if you’re within 100 feet of the establishment, and the reward will only become available after 10 minutes. So you can’t just throw back a quick one and then run.

"We set out to create a mobile app that was built around the idea that mobile is a mentality of the here and now," said Rodgers. "We started by building the largest social media connected database of any city guide”.

While there are definitely game mechanics at play here, unlike FourSquare and other game-related retail "directories", LoSo gives people more than just listings and status. LoSo's Restaurant Rewards Points are good for free drinks, eats, and prizes, and each check in on LoSo also counts as a check in on Foursquare and Facebook Places, so all check ins can be done from one app. So, users can not only become Mayor in Foursquare, but stay current on Facebook, earn restaurant rewards, and accrue LoSo Loyalty points.

Rodgers also tells me that LoSo recently closed a $350K round of seed funding from various New York-based angels and VCs, allowing them to do some more iterating and a little bit of hiring. But, how is the free LoSo app going to make money, you ask (aside from seed funding)? Well, unfortunately, there may be some ads. Rodgers told me they won’t be obnoxious, but if they are, don’t shoot the messenger. LoSo is also offering local businesses the opportunity to let the startup take over all of their social media activities, email and SMS marketing, and all that good stuff. The subscription will cost $100 a month.

The other bad news is that, though you can use the app anywhere (and they’ve already added 800K places), rewards are only available in Philadelphia. But, Rodgers says that if the experiment goes according to plan, they should be expanding to other U.S. cities within the year. With how expensive eating can be in the Bay Area, I hope LoSo makes it out to the West Coast before long.



(Founder Stories) Gilt Groupe’s Kevin Ryan Says There Is No Bubble (TCTV)

Posted: 21 May 2011 06:56 AM PDT

Heading into TechCrunch Disrupt, New York, we pulled a couple excerpts from Chris Dixon’s freshly shot Founder Stories interview with Gilt Groupe’s CEO & Founder, Kevin Ryan. Ryan, who will be speaking at the conference dismisses talk of the so-called “tech bubble” and dives into the “renaissance” of the New York Tech scene.

Responding to a recent “Economist” article which cautions of a tech bust, Ryan, the former DoubleClick CEO says, “They are completely wrong.”

Ryan and Dixon break it down above. (Note that this was filmed before LinkedIn’s blowout IPO on Thursday).

In the below exchange Dixon and Ryan discuss the emergence of the New York Tech scene. Ryan tells Dixon, “I could not be more bullish about what is happening in New York.” Going on to say, “the core fundamentals in New York are fantastic.”

Ryan also explains why New York is a pipeline for talent, and why Boston is hardly mentioned in the same breath.



This is How Sacca Spends His Friday Nights: Wearing A Space Helmet On Turntable.fm

Posted: 20 May 2011 11:58 PM PDT

Ever wonder how super angel and man-about-town Chris Sacca spends his Friday nights? Well, right now you can find him at Turntable.fm, a stealthy, you-can-only-get-in-if-you-know-someone online DJ party. I just stumbled onto it by accident. You can only gain entry if you are Facebook friends with someone already inside.

As it happens, I knew some people. Turntable.fm is a project of Seth Goldstein and Billy Chasen, the two guys who brought us Stickybits. You enter and there are different DJ rooms to choose from. There are probably 25 people there right now (this is still in private alpha). But in one room called “Let’s rock old-ish hip-hop,” there was Sacca, Goldstein, YouTube’s Hunter Walk, and Mike Marquez of CODE Advisors. Sacca was playing “Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa, up on the DJ platform (he gets to wear the space helmet because he has a lot of points, which are awarded to him by other people in the room who like what he plays).

Everyone in a room has an avatar and can chat with each other. You can create your own playliist and get up on the DJ table to battle it out. People tend to talk a lot of smack. But it’s fun, and addictive enough that I didn’t leave after 20 seconds. Turntable.fm needs a lot of fine-tuning (in fact a lot of the chat was about features it coud use, such as better animations for the avatars or different ways to award points.

In the end, Turntable.fm is really about hanging out with people and discovering music. If a DJ is playing a song you like, you can add it to your playlist, buy it on iTunes, findi it on Last.fm, or launch Spotify.



RadiumOne About To Corner The Market On Social Data Before Competitors Even Know What’s Happening

Posted: 20 May 2011 05:25 PM PDT

RadiumOne is emerging as a leader in a new breed of advertising networks, with enhanced targeting based on social data. The company is positioning itself to lock in data sources before competitors even get rolling.

“Behavioral targeting in advertising led to double digit increases in effectiveness,” RadiumOne’s CEO Gurbaksh Chahal tells me. And he should know, this is his third advertising network. The last one, BlueLithium, sold to Yahoo in 2007 for $300 million. “But it’s commoditized now, and it’s time to innovate and differentiate.”

The key is to know what ad to show to a person, and when. That can turn low value remnant inventory to premium ad space, no matter what site or service that ad is being served on.

When a user visits a site the ad networks determine in real time, often through an auction, what ad to show you based on the profile that’s been built for you. RadiumOne builds a different profile for you than it’s competitors, though, and may grab ads that others leave untouched (or just pay more). The reason? They’ve built your profile based on what your friends like, too.

These ads appear to work. One retailer who was achieving $8 per dollar spent on advertising increased that to $14/dollar spent with RadiumOne, says the company. A credit card company decreased cost per acquisition from $200 to $75.

This also makes intuitive sense, of course. The problem is really how to get the right data. Previously only Facebook has a high level view of hundreds of millions of Internet users and are able to build an interest graph based on what those users’ friends like. It explains why Google is so interested in being Facebook – it’s all about the ad dollars.

The Data Is The Hard Part

How does RadiumOne build the interest graph at scale? Via data deals with all those sharing widgets you see on websites from companies like ShareThis, AddThis and AddToAny. Users of those services spread links on social networks. Through a combination of unique URL shorteners and cookies they are able to create a profile for people clicking on the links, as well as the implied social connection.

RadiumOne has deals with many of these widget providers, covering hundreds of millions of Internet users. They combine the data from the partners to extract more useful information about relationships and interests, and then target ads based on that. So if you’re using those widgets, or clicking on links from friends that use the widgets, there’s a good chance you’re seeing RadiumOne served ads around the web.

Here’s where things get really interesting. RadiumOne is using the $21 million warchest from their just-announced funding to begin to buy the widget guys outright, ensuring that no one else down the road can get the data. And anyone they don’t buy should watch out. RadiumOne says eventually they’ll probably pay sites to include their widget to get more distribution and data, possibly edging out anyone they haven’t bought.

If they pull this off, and there’s no reason to think they won’t, Everyone is going to want to own this company. Chahal, who dropped out of high school to start his first company at 16, may have his third ad network liquidity event on his hands in the near future. I can’t wait to see what his fourth looks like.



Google’s WebP Image Format Takes On JPEGs With Sharper Pictures

Posted: 20 May 2011 03:25 PM PDT

Google is on a mission to make the Web faster. One thing that slows down pageload times are fat image files. Even JPEG and PNG files can get pretty big. So Google is developing a new image format called WebP (which is a sister format to its WebM project for videos).

The key to making image files on the Web smaller without losing sharpness is better compression of the original file. Today, Google announced via the Chromium blog that the compression algorithms for WebP just got better and that they can even handle different parts of an image separately so that parts of it can be displayed without waiting for the entire image to be compressed and decompressed.

The images above, for instance, are from this gallery comparing JPEG to WebP. The WebP images are significantly smaller, but look just as sharp. Can you tell the difference? Unfortunately, WebP is only supported in Chrome and Opera browsers. Google products such as Gmail, Picassa Web albums, and Google Instant Previews also support WebP. But other than Opera, it’s pretty much an all-Google affair.

Websites aren’t going to start using WebP images just for Google Chrome visitors. But if it does speed things up without reducing the quality of images, other browsers will start supporting it as well or else be left behind.



Frequent Fliers: Superfly Emerges From Beta To Help You Organize Your Travel Rewards

Posted: 20 May 2011 03:17 PM PDT

If you’ve seen George Clooney and Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air, you know that George Clooney’s character in the film is the epitome of a savvy, frequent flier. His life’s ambition is to accumulate miles, and he knows exactly what his rewards packages entail. Most of us, though we may similarly heavy travel schedules, are by no means masters of miles or travel rewards. If you’re anything like me, you can’t even remember which mileage programs you’ve enrolled in. Thus, Superfly, an Israeli startup emerging from beta today, wants to help you become more like George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air — and less like me. (Always a good thing.)

Armed with a new domain, new design, and fresh funding, Superfly’s goal is to not only help users organize travel rewards (be they frequent flier miles or hotel rewards), but actually educate users on how to use them to maximize their value. According to Superfly, there are currently between 17 and 22 trillion unused miles and points floating around travel accounts today, and these points are valued at between $500 and 600 billion.

Clearly, while users are spending a great deal of time traveling and accumulating miles, they’re not making use of them. This is largely due to the fact that airlines craftily make it difficult to understand and appreciate the value of the rewards, where and how to redeem them, etc.

Superfly is mainly targeting under-40 business travelers that carry multiple reward cards, aiming to make their lives easier by tracking their reward balances, rate of accrual, while managing the various terms of airline policies, to put concrete dollar values on their rewards. The startup does this by aggregates a user’s travel information and running a comprehensive analysis of users’ travel habits, plotting their behavior patterns against available rewards programs.

Superfly offers a simple interface that displays miles earned over time, as well as spending patterns, that make it easy to see how close one is to achieving various rewards. The startup’s platform then serves you suggestions as to airlines, accommodations, flight times, and more that will help maximize miles and rewards earned.

The startup plans to monetize by charging credit card companies and airlines for referral when a user takes their suggestions. Founders Jonathan Meiri and Zviki Cohen estimate material revenue per user at about $29, even through the service is completely free.

Superfly recently closed a seed round from a number of high profile angels, including the founders of Israeli tech companies like NESS, and 888.com CEO Gigi Levy. The startup has brought in $600K to date, and CEO Jonathan Meiri said that the startup plans to have 100 million-plus miles under management from launch.



Firefox Updates Mobile Browser For Android With ‘Do Not Track’ Privacy Feature

Posted: 20 May 2011 02:25 PM PDT

Firefox beta for Android has been updated today with the ability for users to turn on the “Do Not Track” privacy feature, making it one of the first mobile browsers to offer the privacy option.

Mozilla’s Do Not Track allows users to have more control over how their browsing behavior is tracked and used online. When the feature is enabled, Firefox will tell advertising networks and other websites and applications that you want to opt-out of third-party tracking for purposes like behavioral advertising. Basically, Mozilla implements an HTTP header that Firefox users can elect to send that tells ad networks they don’t want to be tracked.

To turn Do Not Track on in Firefox for Android, you tap on Browser Tools within the app. From the Preferences pane, you tap on the box next to “Tell sites not to track me” to turn this option on or off, where you can also choose to save passwords and allow cookies. The same feature was also launched for Firefox’s web browser in February.

This week the FTC called for ‘Do No Track’ technology to be added to mobile browsers, as more consumers use their smartphone’s browser to surf the web. Now that Firefox has added this feature to its mobile browser, it’s expected that others will follow suit.



Twitter’s First CTO Greg Pass Steps Down

Posted: 20 May 2011 02:00 PM PDT

 We’re hearing rumors that Twitter CTO Greg Pass has as of today left his post at Twitter, according to a source familiar with the company.

Prior to becoming CTO, Pass held the VP of Engineering position at Twitter, after being CTO and co-founder at Summize, which was acquired by Twitter in July 2008 and was eventually turned into Twitter Search. Prior to Summize, Pass was Systems Architect at AOL.

As VP of Engineering, Pass was responsible for taking the Twitter development team from a dozen engineers to around 10 times that number and played a seminal role in Twitter’s scaling success.

I’ve contacted Twitter PR for more information and have yet to hear back. I’ve also heard no word on who will be replacing Pass or what Pass’ future plans are.

Update: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has confirmed that Pass will be leaving, with the below tweet. PR Representative Sean Garrett says that Twitter is not looking for a replacement and that Greg Pass currently has no future plans set in stone.


Biz Stone
Twitter acquired Summize three years ago, cofounder @ is moving on—we're lucky to have had him so long!


Loopt Beats Groupon To Notifying You Of Nearby Groupon Now! Deals

Posted: 20 May 2011 11:37 AM PDT

Loopt a checkin app that seems to be pulling out all the stops in order to survive in a saturated space, has now partnered up with Groupon Now! in Chicago in order to provide Loopt users with locationally relevant realtime deals around them, push notifying them when they are near a deal.

While the plan is to notify users of deals when the app isn't even open, and the time sensitive Groupon Now! deals will also appear on place pages within Loopt, so users can see and share with friends their favorite relevant deals in the vicinity.

Loopt has basically beat Groupon to bringing this LBS/realtime technology to its own app, where you still have to type in your zip code to get more granular locational deal notifications. But Groupon recently acquired Pelago, so I wouldn't be surprised if a similar functionality is on its way.

Currently the specific Loopt service is only available in Chicago, and users who are interested can go into their Loopt settings, turn Reward Alerts on and start receiving their once a day, location specific Groupon Now! deal well, now!.

As 14% of subscribers interact with daily deal push notifications, this is a mutually beneficial and strategic partnership between the two companies. But one can help but wonder when Groupon will apply this same technology to its own mobile app and what exactly that will mean for Loopt long term.

Loopt is planning on expanding the Groupon Now feature nationwide, and it should be available on both Android and iPhones in each market.



Chomp Brings Cross-Platform App Search To Android With Verizon’s V Cast Integration

Posted: 20 May 2011 11:03 AM PDT

Chomp, an app search engine, has partnered with Verizon Wireless to offer an app search engine for the communications company’s mobile app marketplace, V Cast.

Chomp, which just launched an Android app that allows users to search across Google’s Android Marketplace, now allows customers to search for apps on the V Cast marketplace. Chomp now allows Verizon Wireless customers to find apps based on what the app does, as well as the title or name of the app. Verizon Wireless customers with V CAST apps enabled devices can download Chomp (which is free) from the marketplace.

As we’ve written in our initial coverage of Chomp’s Android app search portal, the app’s navigation is simple and intuitive, and allows you to easily discover apps by category. And installation of an app is as simple as downloading an app through the Android Market

But additionally, with the integration with Verizon, Chomp allows users to search for apps across multiple storefronts, including Google’s Android Market. When the same apps (in different marketplaces) are priced at different points, Chomp will show the least expensive shown first.

Chomp CEO Ben Keighran says that cross-store search is a ‘milestone’ for the app and for the greater landscape of Android apps. With the Google Android Marketplace, Amazon’s Android App Store, and other independent App Stores like Appia’s white-label offerings, there’s a need for cross-platform search. Chomp hopes to be the solution to this problem.

Keighran’s vision for Chomp is to provide users with the ability search across app stores and marketplaces. Next on the list for Chomp should be Amazon’s Android App Store.



An Explosion At Foxconn Chengdu Engulfs Building, 16 Hurt, 2 Killed

Posted: 20 May 2011 10:38 AM PDT

What appears to be a fire or explosion engulfed one of the buildings at the Foxconn Factory in Chengdu, China. Foxconn is reporting two casualties and 16 hurt and the damage does look severe and quite thorough. MICGadget reported that “10 fire engines, ambulances and 10 police cars” arrived on the scene. Reports state that a few floors in Building A5 (apparently part of the iPad 2 production line) were affected and that the explosion was caused by light dust igniting in one of the manufacturing rooms.

Auto-playing video after the jump.

Read more…



What It’s Like To Go Through Y Combinator (The Wired Version)

Posted: 20 May 2011 10:13 AM PDT

Paul Graham and Y Combinator just got the Wired treatment. Steven Levy writes a long and loving article which evokes what it’s like to go through the program (or at least what it’s like to be a fly on the wall watching startups who go through the program). A big part of the Y Combinator experience is learning from Paul Graham, who is like a Jedi master for startups. Graham is famous for his “office hours” when founders can come and consult with him. (Graham will be holding office hours onstage next week at Disrupt NYC and will also be interviewed by Charlie Rose).

Levy explains how office hours work in his article:

When the companies run into questions—and they all run into questions—they sign up for office hours with one of the YC advisers. . . . appointments with Graham are the most coveted. A few times a week, he and the other partners announce their availability in a private section of Hacker News—a news site hosted by YC—and founders can book a time slot.

Graham often conducts office hours while perambulating. He favors a quarter-mile circuit around the cul-de-sac at the end of Pioneer Way, dispensing wisdom while founders scamper alongside him like acolytes of Socrates. One day in February, he has several of these meetings, one after another.

The first group asks about its financial situation—should they begin seeing investors? Graham explains that the YC program is designed to let them create the best product possible, shutting out distractions. "Money comes with Demo Day," he says.

"But when do the best startups raise money?" one of the founders asks.

"It's random!" Graham says. "The best startups do things when it's right to do them."

The article is filled with other great details. Like the description below of when Yuri Milner and Ron Conway told the winter class that they would offer funding to each one of $150,000, no questions asked. Milner was in Davos, so he participated remotely through an Anybot robot:

A tiny screen atop the wheeled robot's saucer-shaped "head" carries a projection of Milner's face, allowing him to talk to the group.

"So, the surprise," Graham says, gesturing to Conway and the Milner-bot, "is that they want to invest in all of you."

For a few seconds there is stunned silence as 99 founders try to process this news. It's like a denial-of-service attack on their brains. Finally, there's a collective exhale and a round of applause. This is good. . . . The budding entrepreneurs look like an Oprah audience after learning that everyone is getting a free Pontiac.

I do have one quibble with the article. Although it does mention TechCrunch a lot (Levy is obsessed), there is not one link. Will those magazine guys ever learn?



AHAlife Curates And Sells Unique, Hard-To-Find Products From Around The World

Posted: 20 May 2011 09:39 AM PDT

Have you ever visited a city, country or even store and found an original, unique product or item that you’ve never seen before? AHAlife is an e-commerce sites for hard-to-find and exclusive luxury lifestyle products, curated by ‘tastemakers’ from around the world.

AHAlife introduces one new product a day in editorial format through its email list, tells the story about how the product was made, who made it, and where it came from while allowing you to also purchase the product. Products span fashion, food, beauty, travel, accessories, home d├ęcor, tech, and travel experiences.

Products range from a handmade Crocodile iPad cover to an exclusive Cannes Film Festival package to gold plated porcelain cups to stylish energy saving lightbulbs.

What makes the site compelling is the blend of content, commerce, and curation in AHAlife’s platform. Celebrity curators on the site include Tim Gunn, Wendi Murdoch, Daniel Boulud, Bobbi Brown, Petra Nemcova, Cynthia Rowley, and Tina Brown.

AHA is also hoping to incentivize its users by allowing them to gain points by sharing products on Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogs and email. As users share, purchase and invite their friends, they gain points and reach various levels with titles such as Fabulous, Muy Caliente and Molto Sexy. Depending on their level, they receive social status as well as rewards such as free shipping and concierge services.

The site sort of reminds me of Fancy, a social shopping list where anyone can list products. But AHAlife adds a magazine-like editorial quality to its site with curated recommendations that makes it compelling.



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