Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Weekend Giveaway: An iPad 2

Posted: 04 Jun 2011 08:51 AM PDT

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think iPads grew on trees or were on sale at TJ Maxx or something with the number of these things people want to give away. Regardless, we have a 16GB Wi-Fi iPad 2 waiting for you in sunny San Francisco, ready to wing its way to your mailbox in a few days. Want it? Thought so.

Here’s how to enter.

(Founder Stories) Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian Bows To “Lord Jobs” And Jabs Investors

Posted: 04 Jun 2011 07:30 AM PDT

Color gets bashed as being a contributing player to the so called startup bubble and the frat-boy attitude of investors from the Web 1.0 era don’t do much better in this episode of Founder Stories with host Chris Dixon and Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who is now with Y Combinator and Hipmunk.

In a conversation spanning a variety of topics, you’ll hear Ohanian describe how “Lord Jobs” has indirectly contributed to the success of Zappos and Instagram, the gaping opportunities for start-ups to solve, and the attitude adjustment seen in present day investors; swinging a big load of cash (and something else) doesn’t cut it with this class of start-ups.

Make sure to watch the clip to hear insights on the above – and why we might expect to see a softer landing if the speculated bubble ever bursts.

Below, Ohanian describes his leadership style, why he thinks start-ups fail (it has more to do with just “bad logos” says Ohanian when pressed by Dixon) and what Ohanian looks for when hiring.

Past episodes of Dixon’s interview with Ohanian are here and here.

Prior Founder Stories interviews with leaders such as Seth Sternberg, Mike Walrath and Dennis Crowley are here.

SEC Watch: Tiger Global Bought Massive Amounts Of LinkedIn Stock Pre And Post IPO

Posted: 04 Jun 2011 07:09 AM PDT

LinkedIn and investment firm Tiger Global both filed separate SEC filings yesterday evening indicating that the firm loaded up on LinkedIn stock both before and after the company’s IPO in May.

According to the filing, a Tiger’s head Chase Coleman and Tiger fund, PIP V, acquired 2,436,001 shares of preferred and common stock of LinkedIn on secondary markst, from December 21, 2009 to August 10, 2010, for $31,740,600.70. Some of Tiger’s investment during this time was reported, but the filing shows Tiger had a much bigger stake.

LinkedIn Holdings, another Tiger/Coleman vehicle, acquired 1,306,927 shares of LinkedIn stock on secondary markets from August 10, 2010 to April 15, 2011, for $29,796,007.50.

And post IPO, which took place on May 19, Tiger Funds purchased 300,000 Class A Common Shares, for a purchase price of $45.00 per Share or $13,500,000.

While we knew Coleman was buying up shares of LinkedIn, we didn’t know it was to the tune of over $75,000,000. And Coleman himself now owns a little over 4 percent of LinkedIn, according to the filing. The filing also states that Coleman has agreed to not offer or sell any shares for a period of 180 days from the offering in May.

LinkedIn’s IPO priced at $45 per share, but started trading at $83 per share, giving the company a market cap of $7.8 billion. Shares have since dropped to $77.92 per share.

Tiger has made a number of investments in large internet companies including Zynga, Facebook and Yandex, which just went public two weeks ago. On the public markets, Tiger has recently bought stakes in Amaxon, Apple and Netflix. Tiger Global has $1 billion in commitments and is reportedly raising another $1.25 billion for a new fund.

We’ve confirmed Tiger’s stock purchases with LinkedIn.

The Kno Textbook App Hits The iPad

Posted: 04 Jun 2011 05:38 AM PDT

Last night, Kno quietly released its first digital textbook app for the iPad. It includes its own store of “over 70,000 titles at 30% to 50% off list” price. And the app is a full textbook reader.

Kno, whose CEO Osman Rashid previously founded textbook-rental service Chegg, originally developed its own oversized tablet for textbooks. But once the iPad and Android tablets hit the market, the company saw the writing on the touchscreen and bailed on its hardware efforts last April.

At that time, when I spoke to Rashid, he was talking down the iPad because it does not support a stylus, which is the input method the Know software was designed for (although there are styluses that do work with the iPad). Maybe he was just trying to throw me off the trail.

The iPad app allows you to organize your digital textbooks and PDFs by dragging and dropping them into “courses.” Once you open a textbook, you can swipe through the pages or navigate via a filmstrip of thumbnails up top. There is also full text search. Pages can be bookmarked and highlighted. You can also add digital sticky notes which pop out from the margins.

The highlight feature is a nice touch. You can also launch a Web or Wikipedia search based on a highlighted word. There is also a “WTF” feature, which stands for “Words to Friends,” although it could mean the more common acronym since it’s a nit of a head-scratcher. It allows you to send out little study messages to friends on Facebook or Twitter, but doesn’t link back to the text or even make it easy to cut and paste a quote. WTF, indeed.

All in all, though, the Kno textbook app is pretty solid and will compete based on the breadth of its textbook selection and pricing. It certainly beats lugging around a backpack full of books.

Could This Be The First Solar Powered Laptop?

Posted: 04 Jun 2011 04:56 AM PDT

While there are plenty of solar-powered peripherals that plug into your laptop to boost its battery power, we haven’t yet seen a model that runs solely on solar. Industrial Designer Andrea Ponti‘s concept for the Luce Solar Panel Powered PC could become the greenest laptop ever made.

The computer has two solar panels: One on the back of the monitor and one underneath a touch keyboard. Ideally, the two panels would be able to power the computer continuously, though it’s unclear whether this has been successfully tested. Using a laptop in the sun is far more battery intensive than indoors since the screen brightness needs to be cranked up to compete with the sun’s bright light.

One solution could be to use an electronic ink display in place of the usual backlit flat panel. Although the laptop includes a battery, the cordless design means your productivity will plummet in the evening — at least until you reach for another digital device.

The Luce, which means light in Italian, is made from a clear polycarbonate and weighs about four pounds. It was shortlisted in Fujitsu’s 2011 design competition.

There’s no word on whether Fujitsu plans to turn Ponti’s design into reality, but either way they’re not the only ones thinking about integrating sunlight into computer design. Last year Apple filed a patent for “harnessing external light to illuminate a display screen.”

In Apple’s vision, a reflector could fold down to brighten the display, and the company is rumored to be looking at integrating solar cells as well.

Design images by Andrea Ponti
Apple Patent images via Patently Apple

White-Hot Flickr Alternative 500px Raises $525K In Series A

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 06:39 PM PDT

As the complaints about Flickr continue to pile on, scrappy Toronto-based service 500px continues to grow, going from 1000 users in 2009 to over 85K (around 45K of which have joined in the last three months). And after two years of bootstrapping, the startup is today announcing its $525K Series A round with investment from High Line Venture Capital, Deep Creek Capital and ff Venture Capital.

Says co-founder Oleg Gutsol, “The idea of making 500px arose from Evgeny [Tchebotarev] and I having difficulties with the current available platforms — there wasn't a good service that would allow us to display our photos is a visually pleasing way and be easy to use. I think we tried every somewhat popular service online and still were not quite satisfied. So we decided to build one ourselves.”

Founders Gutsol and Ian Sobolev migrated their Livejournal-based photo sharing community to the current site on Halloween 2009 with little fanfare. Recently garnering some positive press as well as drawing in Flickr power users like Thomas Hawk, Troy Holden and Ivan Makarov and this whole thread of  Flickr migrations, the site grew 60% in the last 30 days, bringing in an impressive 2.5 million visits last month.

Despite its unexpected scales, 500px is committed to its main goal to help photographers reach larger audiences, with Digg-like Popular and Upcoming pages as well as an editorial staff that curates the Editor’s Choice and Fresh collections.  ”We encourage young talent,” says Gutsol Tchebotarev, “It is not uncommon to see someone new joining our site and have their photo appear in our popular feed in a matter of hours.”

Gutsol plans on using the money to hire more engineers, like everyone else in tech right now, hoping to build a “global platform” for digital photography. The company currently makes revenue by offering a $50 pro-account that gives users custom layouts and giving photographers the ability to sell their prints.

Forget Google, DoJ Fears Apple Gaining Nortel’s “Stockpile Of Nuclear Weapons” — Here’s Why

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 03:26 PM PDT

Two months ago, Google disclosed that they were bidding on bankrupt Nortel’s patent portfolio. Why? They claim it’s a defensive maneuver to protect the “relatively young” company from would-be patent predators. And Google is very serious about it. They put up the $900 million “stalking-horse bid” (the initial bid) for the over 6,000 patents. Given the stakes, it should be no surprise that the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into the bidding. But interestingly, it may not be Google they’re too concerned with.

As The Wall Street Journal reports today, the DoJ “hasn’t found any major competitive issues that would lead it to challenge [Google's] purchase of the patent portfolio.” But the same is apparently not true of Apple. The government is concerned about Apple’s history of intellectual property protection, WSJ cites sources as saying.

In other words, DoJ feels fairly confident that Google would not be aggressive in going after rivals if they won the patents. Apple? Yeah, not so much. They’re concerned that these patents would simply be new weapons for Apple to use at their disposal.

Alexander Poltorak, CEO of General Patent Corp goes one step further, telling WSJ, ”You’re acquiring a stockpile of nuclear weapons as far as patents go.”

Of course, it hasn’t even been confirmed that Apple will be bidding on the patents. But again, given the stakes, it seems to be a pretty fair bet that they will. Another report from Bloomberg a few weeks ago says that RIM is also considering a bid. While not stated, the DoJ probably isn’t too concerned about them either, since they’re a smaller player than the big boys, Apple and Google.

But what about the biggest boy? Microsoft.

Microsoft is actually not believed to be bidding on the patents because they already have a licensing agreement on them. And this agreement would transfer over no matter who ultimately won the patents. And that’s good news for Microsoft. If DoJ has a problem with Apple bidding on the patents, you can bet they would scream bloody murder if Microsoft did.

First of all, Microsoft has a very prolific history of aggressive IP lawsuits. More importantly, in the tech space, they are the king of patents. (Well, aside from old guard IBM.) While Apple is believed to have something like 4,ooo – 5,000 patents, Microsoft has something like 17,000.

Google? They have fewer than 1,000, we hear. Gaining Nortel’s 6,000+ would leapfrog them ahead of Apple, but they’d still be very far behind Microsoft. Meanwhile, if Apple won the rights to the patents, they’d cross the 10,000 mark. And Microsoft? They’d be approaching 25,000.

But again, the number is less important than the suspected intention. Google has simply not shown a history of aggressive IP protection. In fact, they’ve apparently never affirmatively asserted a patent, in legal terms. (Basically, they’ve only delved into IP agression as a pre-emptive or defensive measure.)

Certainly, you could argue that this is because with less than 1,000 patents, they’re in no position to go after anyone. But the DoJ seems convinced enough that they won’t even with these 6,000 new patents in their pocket. Apple, apparently, is going to need to do some more convincing along those lines.

The auction takes place on June 20. The rhetoric from all these companies leading up to it should get interesting.

[image via]

Venture Crapital Lets You Play The Tech Bubble As An HTML5 Game

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 03:22 PM PDT

Whether you’re on Team Andreessen, who held that we weren’t in a tech bubble at the AllThingsD conference, or the now revised Team Arrington (“All signs point to a real bubble, probably starting later this year when a lot more companies start to go public.”), there’s no denying post Groupon S-1 drop that we’re in a bubble of people talking about whether or not we’re in a tech bubble.

Hence Venture Crapital, an HTML5 game built at TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon by Dmitri Cherniak, Adrian Sanders, Wylie Conlon and Chris Bliss. The game, whose creators mostly work at startups themselves, lets you role play an early-stage VC with millions in your piggybank to throw at startups based on TechCrunch headlines. The goal is to sell before each bubble pops, making a return so you can throw more money. You know, sort of like a real life investor.

The most impressive part of the game is that it actual company information from Crunchbase. Creator Dmitri Cherniak explains the game mechanics behind it:

“Basically the small companies start off with a small radius, but have a fast growth rate because they are super agile. If you invest in them early, you’ll get better returns. The ones that turn green mean they are growing, the ones that are red, are slowing down their growth and you’ll start to lose money.

Once you have money invested, it shows you the total amount you have vested in that company. If you click on a bubble you’ve invested in, you get back all that money. But if it is gets too big, it’ll pop and you’ll lose it all. If a lot of them start to pop, then a whole bunch more will pop too, like a real bubble.

Each time you throw you invest a half million. If you miss a bubble, you lose that money. That’s part of the game element. If you run out of money, you have to start over. The banner at the bottom generates news stories, which affect how the bubbles grow too. Bad news means bad growth, Good news means good news for the company its about.”

Brilliant. Also: You can watch the team tell me that their closest competitor is eBay below and follow them for updates at @VentureCrap.

500Friends Allows Retailers To Reward Customers For Social Actions

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 03:09 PM PDT

Consumers are engaging retailers on Facebook and Twitter now more than ever. Whether it is Liking a deal, Tweeting the link to a product, or even participating in a contest, shoppers are mentioning and interacting with these e-commerce sites on a daily basis. The problem with traditional online loyalty programs mirror offline programs, they only focus on rewarding users for simply their purchases. The challenge for retailers is not only how to track online mentions, but also how to meaningfully reward consumers for these mentions. Enter Y Combinator-backed 500Friends, which offers a platform called Loyalty Plus, which allows retailers to reward their customers for social actions.

The SaaS allows retailers to track users Tweeting their purchases, Liking the Facebook page and referring friends. It also allows merchants to reward other actions such as writing product reviews, entering sweepstakes or signing up to newsletters. Each action gives the user points, which can be used towards discounts, or even put towards charity donations.

Consumers sign into the Loyalty Plus program on a retailer’s site with their Twitter and Facebook account information and the retailer can then track the social activities of consumers as it relates to their brand. And the addition of the program on a retailer site is fairly simple—the merchant just adds one line of javascript.

In terms of cost, Loyalty Plus ranges from $2,000 to $30,000 per month. It sounds like a lot of money, but 500Friends is focusing on major retailers and e-commerce sites. For example, is a customer.

Loyalty Plus a compelling idea, in my opinion. Not only does it help retailers engage purchasers and their best customers, but it also helps the company reward consumers. And when consumers feels happy about a brand, especially one that saves them money; it helps business both online and offline.

And 500Friends, which graduated in 2010 from Y Combinator, is led by a strong team with experience in the e-commerce and marketing industries. Co-founder Justin Yoshimura has founded and sold two e-commerce companies. CTO Bob Tekiela was formerly CTO of StrongMail and VP of Technology at Sapient Corporation.

The company has raised and undisclosed amount of funding from a number of notable investors including Jeff Fluhr, Steve Newcomb, Naval Ravikant, Ben Ling, Eric Chen, Chris Yeh, and 24 others—they have a total of 30 investors.

Review: HTC Flyer

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 02:55 PM PDT

A promising aberration. The Flyer is barely a viable product, but it hints at potential that is almost surely being unlocked in the labs of HTC right now.

It’s kind of cool, and Sense looks nice, but for $600 you have a right to expect something more than a shiny Android 2 tablet with the ability to scribble on screenshots of your email.

Continue reading…

Heyzap Brings Social Discovery And Check-In For Games To The iPhone

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 02:42 PM PDT

Heyzap, a social discovery platform for mobile and online games, announced today that it's zapping its way onto the iPhone just in time for WWDC 2011, Apple’s developer conference. The startup will be extending its fast-growing Android community (which launched in March) and has been doubling in size every month since.

In spite of the success of its partnerships with social game makers like Aeria Games, Game Duell, and TheBroth, to name a few, Heyzap Co-founder and President Jude Gomila told me recently that significant deficiencies still exist in today's online and mobile gaming communities. Chief among them is the lack of an easy and trustworthy method by which to discover new games that target the individual's specific interests. Gomila saw an absence of viral channels and secure communities for mobile games.

To address this issue, the startup's new iPhone app will detect recent gameplay and lets people check-in to their favorite games. Once checked-in, users can share scores and more on Facebook and Twitter and see what games their friends are playing.

Mobile gamers can check-in to all 65K games on iOS and all 10K games on Android. And, what’s more, the Heyzap SDK, which launched along with the Android app in March, already has 130 game developers integrated. The Heyzap SDK is designed to provide deeper functionality for developers’ users and to quickly increase the virality of a game by allowing users to check-in (and broadcast) to Facebook, Twitter, and the Heyzap graph by way of a simple button.

The SDK also enables users to more easily find the games played most recently on the Heyzap app and to check-in both at the end of a game's level and when gamers unlock achievements.

But one of the coolest features of Heyzap’s apps is its ability to detect what games users have been playing, which makes it quick and easy for them to find and share games they’ve played to their gaming graph. It also tracks a user’s checkins to enable them to find niche games and those that aren’t on the app store.

Heyzap also uses an algorithm to track trending games so that you can see what games are trending among your friends, specifically, not just the gaming masses. Since a group of teenage boys is likely to be playing different games than a 45-year-old woman, basing the discovery process on your friends (rather than total aggregated users) is something Heyzap thinks is going to be a better way to find games you’re more likely to play — and enjoy.

A la Foursquare, Heyzap is also adding a badge, or “mayorship” feature, which allows users to become “The Boss” of a game by checking in with gusto. You can compete with your friends to be the boss of a certain game, so even if you can’t beat them at the game, you can still be the boss of checkins.

The Y Combinator alum has raised $3.6 million in capital from Union Square Ventures and other angel investors since its launch in 2008.

Heyzap will also be holding a private WWDC party on Wednesday, June 8th for developers in San Francisco. Open bar, prizes, and food will be in store. If you’re a mobile developer and want to get in on the action, email with the promo code “TCROCKS”. The first 30 developers will get a free ticket.

Check out the game on the app store here.

Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya Forms New Venture Fund, The Social+Capital Partnership

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 01:32 PM PDT

Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya will leave the company as he launches a large new venture fund called The Social+Capital Partnership, with backing from some of the worlds leading business and technology leaders. The new fund will be up to $400 million in size, he says, and will focus on a wide range of investments in technology, healthcare, education and financial services.

Investors in the fund are not yet being disclosed, although Palihapitiya is the largest single limited partner. Facebook is also investing, says the company.

Palihapitiya, who joinedFacebook in 2007 and led the launch of the Facebook platform, has been investing for the last several years through a fund called Embarcadero Ventures. Not all of his investments through that fund have been disclosed, but they include Playdom, Peixe Urbano, Pure Storage, Yammer and others.

The new fund will have an initial size of $200 – $400 million, with the ability to make large secondary investments as well. But what Palihapitiya is really focused on isn’t the fund size; rather, he talks about the extraordinary nature of the investors. “These are fifteen of the most important technology and business leaders in the world,” he says.

The fund will specifically leverage the Facebook Platform in many of its investments, says Palihapitiya. One example he gives is about how traditional risk models around lending aren’t efficient. “We can rewrite these models to leverage social data,” he says, to increase efficiency.

Not many details about the fund are being disclosed yet. No investments have been made, although Palihapitiya says that a couple of deals are pending. Investors in the fund and more details will be announced over the next several weeks, he says.

Palihapitiya posted a note on Facebook talking about his new project:

i leave with incredible hope for how you will continue to make this place awesome. every tuesday, i talk to the n00bs. and i generally tell them the following, which i leave for you as a reminder:

its easy to get distracted. everyone thinks we are much better than we actually are. be humble and honest about the fact that more is left to do than has already been done. keep moving quickly and don’t get bogged down in the things that don’t matter.

we risk becoming like everyone else. the only chance we have is the discipline and resolve of the silent majority who needs to and MUST become more vocal as the company gets bigger. fight for the culture the way it should be…not the way it was or the way its becoming.

be afraid of the company you don’t know. there is someone out there lurking with a small idea that will grow into a giant. don’t ignore that which you don’t immediately understand and keep pushing to evolve faster than what people expect. it can create unease at times but its our only path to long term relevance.

speak the truth. its too easy to “manage” – upwards, sideways, downwards and be rewarded for it. this is death. speak candidly especially when it means it won’t be well received. respect the person but don’t let bad ideas go unchallenged.

their is more valor in failure than success. success is hard to define and hard to isolate root causes when it happens. its rare to learn much of anything from success except to conflate luck and skill, but you learn tons in failure. take enough risks that you continue to fail…and celebrate those so that it becomes the battle scars you talk about when you do eventually succeed.

don’t be a douchebag. this is pretty self-explanatory but its not about the right to ripstik or the quality of the candy bars in the office. its about winning. everything else comes second….a distant second. and the perceived correlation between winning and the rest is only in your mind. interestingly so is the resolve and focus to win.

i’ve really enjoyed my time here. thanks again for the chance to always say what’s on my mind. its a rare place that allows everyone to do that and our results speak to the values of risk taking, openness and transparency. don’t betray them as we move along.
good luck. make it rain.chamath

How Facebook Can Put Google Out of Business

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 01:30 PM PDT

Editor’s note: Guest author Ben Elowitz (@elowitz) is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, an online publisher with an audience of 10 million monthly uniques, and author of the Digital Quarters blog. Prior to Wetpaint, Elowitz co-founded Blue Nile, the online retailer of luxury goods. He is an angel investor in media and e-commerce companies.

I was surprised to hear former Google CEO Eric Schmidt publicly lament lost opportunities and missed chances to catch Facebook the other day.

I used to envy Google and the vast digital empire that Schmidt commanded.  Google had one of the most intricate monopolies of all time. It had the most impressive dataset the world had ever seen; the most sophisticated algorithm to make sense of it; an audience of a billion users expressing their interest; and more than a million advertisers bidding furiously to reach those consumers at just the right moment.

What's more, it had captured the ultimate prize: increasing returns to scale. Only Google could spread such huge R&D costs among an even more humongous query volume, all while offering advertisers the chance to reach most of the population with one buy. Google had earned its success.

It competed on being smarter.

It was.

And it won.

Google's business strength was simply taken for granted; so much so that even deep-pocketed competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft stopped trying to outdo Google's massive scale and core algorithmic know-how.

And that's why I used to think that Google was unstoppable.

Until I realized one very important thing: despite the fact that Google goes to great lengths to keep its index fresh by indexing pages that often change every hour, or even every few minutes, and despite its efforts at realtime search (including searching the Twitter firehose), its dominant dataset is dead, while the Web is—each day more so than the last—vibrantly and energetically alive.

Indeed, Google's revered and unparalleled dataset is increasingly dating itself as an ossified relic akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls—outshined by the freshness of the living, breathing organism that is the social Web.

Like dusty and determined archaeologists, Google's massive bots crawl the Web looking for the artifacts of digital civilization. And what they find is fossils—in the form of pages and links: the leave-behinds of writers, contributors, and casual end-users who have deposited traces of themselves in the skinny crevices and dark recesses of the Internet. Google analyzes these remains, and yet it has almost no first-hand knowledge of any of the users who created this content—or those who are searching for it.

Enter Facebook.

Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has focused on enabling social connections, not on search. And yet, in the process, Facebook has created a platform that knows more than 600 million people, complete with identity, interests, and activities online. The company's relentless and organic expansion—from an application to an emergent social operating system—has enabled it to know its users, not only on the domain, but also on other sites, as they travel throughout the Internet.

While Google has amassed an incredible database consisting of the fossilized linkages between most Web pages on the planet, Facebook possesses an asset that's far more valuable—the realtime linkages between real people and the Web.

What does this mean, and what are the implications here?

Well, in a nutshell, Facebook has stored a treasure trove of distinctive data that, if fully utilized, could put Google out of business.

Yes, put Google out of business.

Here's why.

Facebook's data allows it to do more than just guess what its customers might be interested in; the company's data can help it know with greater certainty what its customers are really interested in. And this key difference could potentially give Facebook a tremendous advantage in search when it eventually decides to move in that direction.

If Google's business has been built on choosing which Web pages, out of all those in the universe, are most likely to appeal to any given (but anonymous) query string, think about this: Facebook already knows, for the most part, which pages appeal to whom—specifically and directly.

And, even more powerfully, Facebook knows each of our individual and collective behavior patterns well enough to predict what we'll like even without us expressing our intent.

Think of it: Facebook can apply science that is analogous to what Amazon uses to massively increase purchase likelihood by suggesting and responding to every minute interactive cue. Whereas Amazon relies on aggregate behavior, Facebook adds in the intimate patterns of each individual—along with their friends and the behavioral peers they've never met all around the world. And each of them is logged in and identified as a real person.

When Google was born, its advantage stemmed from its ability to collect and analyze superior data. While other publishers looked myopically at each page on the Web as a standalone realm, Google found that the link relationships between those pages held more valuable relevance data than the pages themselves. All of a sudden, the isolated views of players like AltaVista and Yahoo began to look one-dimensional. And ownership of what is now the $20-billion-plus search advertising market was cemented.

In the last several weeks, Google has indicated how important Facebook-like social networks are to its still-vast ambitions. One proof point is the launch of the new +1 product; another is the company's internal announcement that bonuses will be tied to success on the social Web.

It may seem that this is about capturing a new market opportunity. But, trust me, it's not. In reality, it's Google's recognition that Facebook has the same kind of advantage over Google that Google is used to having over its competitors.

And Google is smart to be scared.

Very smart.

But, if the truth be told, it will take far more than +1 to measure up to the whole new human dimension of the Internet. After all, the human organism is home territory for Facebook and utterly foreign turf for Google's algorithmic machine.

Photo credit: flickr/Ken and Nyetta

Here We Go Again: Syria Goes Offline

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 01:22 PM PDT

After Egypt and Libya this spring, Syria is the latest Middle Eastern/North African country to get its connectivity pulled due to internal anti-governmental unrest. According to the Rensys blog almost 2/3rds of Syrian networks have been pulled as of late last night. It seems like killing the Internet is the MENA government default when it comes to quelling protests.

According to The Washington Post, around 50,000 protesters took to the streets today demanding that President Bashar al-Assad resign, in protests called “Children’s Friday” and honoring the deaths of 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb and another six children killed in the anti-regime uprisings since March 18th.

A similar blackout tactic did not work so well for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarek, but Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi is still in power — There’s no real way to determine what effect this move will have on whether or not the protests are successful.

And just like it did for Libya and Egypt, Telecomix is offering a dialup number to Syrians who want to connect, below …

Dial up access for #Syria: +46850009990 +492317299993 +4953160941030 user:telecomix password:telecomix #syria #killswitch by @

Stay tuned.

Apple Hires The Guy Who Hacked Together A Better iOS Notifications System

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 12:52 PM PDT

Back in February, I wrote that MobileNotifier (a replacement notifications system for jailbroken iOS devices) would be the one thing that would make anyone want to jailbreak — and I stand by it. Months later, my iPhone is still jailbroken, almost solely so that I don’t have to go back to Apple’s built-in system.

It seems I’m not the only one who was impressed. Sometime in the last week or so — just days before they announce iOS 5, which is expected to come complete with a new (and hopefully less terrible) notifications system — Apple has pulled MobileNotifier’s developer, Peter Hajas, under their wing.

Read the rest at MobileCrunch >>

Twitter Photos Live For Twitter Employees, User Roll-Out Begins Next Week

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 12:42 PM PDT

So now that we know that the Twitter Photos is very real (as we first reported), the next question is: when can we actually use it? In their initial announcement, Twitter said that the product would roll-out to users in the “next several weeks”. But today brings a bit more specific timeline. Initial roll-out to users will begin next week.

Twitter’s PR team has just sent out a tweet updating users. “Currently, Twitter employees can upload #photos to We’ll start slowly rolling this out to users next week,” Twitter’s Carolyn Penner writes. You can see a collection of early pictures here. Again, Twitter employees have already begun tweeting with the new feature, using the URL.

The initial roll-out to users should still take a few weeks to be completed. And it will focus on at first — meaning photo uploads will have to come from there. The mobile client integration will follow, but there will be Twitter Photo viewing capabilities right away.

While Twitter Photos is done in partnership with Photobucket, the company wants to make it clear that you don’t need a Photobucket account to use it. Further, the photos are only going to be visible on Twitter, and not on Photobucket itself.

Twitter Comms
Currently, Twitter employees can upload #photos to We'll start slowly rolling this out to users next week.

Social Listing Lets You Create Instant Classified Ads Right From Your Phone

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 12:30 PM PDT

When I want to sell something, I generally always use eBay or Craigslist, but usually the process takes time, I don’t get to meet the person I’m selling to (or buying from), and I can’t list from my smartphone. Which is why I’ve become intrigued by Social Listing, a two-month old startup that launched at Disrupt NYC last week.

Social Listing is offering a rich mobile app that combines a few of the key ingredients in Foursquare, Instagram, and Craigslist. Say you’ve got something to sell, for example, whether it’s a device, a car, or you have a service to offer, or a job that needs to get done, Social listing is a location-based app for iOS and Android that connects buyers and sellers all speedy-like via your mobile device. This means that you can snap a pic with your iPhone and then instantly shareit with nearby buyers on Facebook and Twitter. Geotagging takes place automatically behind the scenes, so that users don’t have to manually input their location.

Basically, within 15 seconds, you will be able to list the item you want to sell, which solves a pain point in the selling and sharing of services and goods to people just down the street. No longer do you have to snap a pic, copy to your computer, go online, and post. Not that you would grow old doing this, but in today’s world, faster is always better.

Social Listing also allows nearby buyers to launch the Social Listing app and view items that have been sorted by location using a mileage metric. If the buyer is interested in what’s being sold, he or she can tap to call or email the seller. Then Social Listing bows out of the transaction and the rest happens between buyer and seller.

"Social Listing gives us the power of immediate purchase," said Duy Huynh. "When I buy something, I want to buy it right now from people who are within 500 feet from me. Local newspapers couldn't do it. Craigslist couldn't do it either. Social Listing makes local browsing and shopping faster and easier."

Since these transactions all happen locally, making it easy for users to meet up in person to exchange goods or services, it takes away the need for shipping fees, while simultaneously tapping into that huge local buyer/seller market that every web company across the board wants a piece of.

Social Listing Founder & CEO Huynh said that the service is currently offered for free, but will eventually switch to a freemium model, where businesses pay to list but individual sellers use it for free.

Some may also be familiar with Zaarly, another startup at Disrupt NYC this year that is also creating some buzz around its mobile app. Zaarly users can post what they’re looking for (i.e. a six pack of beer), 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. Whereas Social Listing is the uber-fast mobile Craigslist and eBay version of Zaarly. In line with that, Social Listing has a Community & Opinion section where people can share their opinion about things around them like new restaurants or new gadgets.

Together the two startups are building some very appealing mobile extensions to the Craiglist (and reverse Craigslist) experience.

Check out Social Listing at Disrupt NYC in the video below:

Survey: 36% Of U.S. Adults “Not Concerned” With Electronics Power Consumption

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 12:22 PM PDT

Adults in the U.S. could use a little more education on economics and physics, it seems. We’re not drawing the connection between power consumed by our electronics and the cost of our electric bills.

A new survey from the Consumer Electronics Association found thirty-six percent of adults in the U.S. are “not concerned” with the amount of power consumed by their gadgets, gear and appliances. Sixty percent of U.S. adults, by contrast, are concerned about the cost of their electric bill.

CEA also estimated that just 10.2 million U.S. households are enrolled in electricity management programs, now. That’s a mere 8.6 percent of 119 million households that have access to these things.

Overall, energy management programs help consumers control most anything that’s plugged in at home — from heaters and air conditioners to dishwashers and lighting — so that the devices keep them comfortable and happy without hogging as much power. One aim of these programs would be to decrease pollution caused by large-scale electricity generation. Another aim is to keep the cost of electricity reasonable as demand rises.

A number of software and hardware startups— like eMeter, Grid2Home, OPOWER and Green Energy Options— are working with huge power companies to make these programs, and devices and software to support them, mainstream.

It’s hard to see how the U.S. will achieve national goals to reduce energy related pollution and emissions, when not even 10 percent of the American adults who have access to energy management programs try them out.

Some of the harmful environmental impacts of traditional electricity generation are acid rain and air pollution. The Federal Government aims to reduce its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 28 percent by 2020; and the EPA has proposed new national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants.

However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) page projects energy demand in the U.S. will rise by 1% a year through 2035.

The growth in demand and consumption of electricity has, in recent years, led to growth in pollution globally. The International Energy Agency reported last week that global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide in 2010 were the highest ever measured at 30.6 gigatonnes.

Attitudes aren’t all bad stateside, though. The CEA survey found 55 percent of U.S. consumers are at least interested in an electricity management program that’s sponsored by their local utility or electric company. Forty-six percent of those who are aware of electricity management programs say they want to enroll in coming years.

Image: A Georgia power plant spewing emissions, via BlatantWorld [CC by 2.0]

Revenge of the Travel Agent: Jetsetter Announces Travel Planning Service (And Discounts for TechCrunch Readers)

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 12:03 PM PDT

A few days ago at the All Things D conference, Marc Andreessen predicted that every wacky 1999 dot com business that failed would one day find success in a new incarnation. But what about businesses those dot coms killed?

Jetsetter is launching a personal travel planning service today that is essentially a travel agent 2.0. Thankfully, the earlier iteration of online travel sites so decimated the category that Jetsetter has a pretty wide open market opportunity here. A poll of its users found that 90% of them had never used a travel agent and wouldn’t even know where to find one.

The service is consistent with Jetsetter’s belief that there’s a market of affluent travelers who want curation. And as I’ve written before, I’m a big believer that hotels are not commodities and shouldn’t be booked like flights and rental cars. Jetsetter has long offered some of my favorite hotels around the world on its site, and recently unveiled a glossy iPad app that blurs the line between a travel magazine and an ecommerce booking engine even further. Now, it’s leveraging its network of more than 200 travel writers who source hotels to give Jetsetter members insider, local tips to make a vacation even more memorable.

What Jetsetter excels at is building trust in their recommendations, but critics have argued that if even a huge Jetsetter fan like me has only booked a handful of trips on the service, there’s no big business opportunity in all that trust. That’s not a bad point, and the answer may be layering more services on top of Jetsetter, so that I don’t have to wait for them to offer a trip to a place I want to go for me to give them my business.

The service isn’t cheap: It costs $200 for three hours of consultation and a detailed itinerary, that their specialists will book and arrange for you at no additional cost. You get $100 back if you book a hotel through Jetsetter.

Is it worth it? It depends on the traveler. Even if you don’t get the discount $200 is likely the price of an additional night in a hotel, and if the service helps you get enough out of your trip that you’re not wasting time on lame experiences, I’d argue it’s a good deal. But like most concierge services, it’s what you make of it.

I tested the service on my recent trip to Berlin. I sent the expert a pretty vague email explaining how I like to travel; essentially saying I didn’t know what I wanted to discover, but that I definitely didn’t want to do the usual touristy stuff and wanted to see a glimpse of the city’s emergent artsy urban soul. I got back an incredibly detailed list of suggestions from someone who clearly knew Berlin like a local, and we wound up booking a walking tour of the city’s hip Mitte district as a result. The walking tour was great and I don’t know how we would have found it on our own. We saw more of the city than we could have in three hours, got amazing local shops, pubs and restaurant suggestions and just enough of a touch of history to feel like we learned something. Most important, it gave us a base to explore the city more efficiently over the next few days.

But was it worth $200 on top of the several hundred dollars we paid the tour guide? Probably not. I don’t think that’s Jetsetter’s fault. If I’d taken more advantage of the service, having them build out a detailed week-long itinerary, it would have been a bargain. But I’m just not that type of traveler. For someone like me, a retainer-style travel service would be better; an “I’ve-got-a-few-days-in-Bangalore-all-of-the-sudden-Quick!-what-should-I-do?” problem solver that I could amortize at a fair hourly rate over several trips, as opposed to someone to build an entire trip for me.

Other trips that have been booked on the service include things like and GLBT-friendly trip through bed-and-breakfasts in Alaska or an “Around the World in 70 Days” trip in honor of a member’s 60th birthday. For something that elaborate, $200- or $100 if you book a hotel stay– is a bargain.

You know what would make it more of a bargain? A special TechCrunch reader discount. The first 25 people who email and put TechCrunch in the subject line will get the service for free if they book a hotel through the site. The service officially launches Monday, but you can go ahead and check it out here now.

Why Daily Deals Are Becoming A Raw Deal

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 11:59 AM PDT

Editor’s note:This guest post was written by Rocky Agrawal is an entrepreneur who has worked on local products since 1995.He blogs at reDesign and Tweets @rakeshlobster.

In the wake of Groupon’s IPO filing, it’s worth looking at the fundamentals of the offer. Growth numbers to date have been phenomenal. But is it a business that can last?

We love daily deals for a simple reason: the deals have been outstanding. If revenue growth in the first Internet bubble was about selling a dollar for 50 cents, growth in the daily deals business has been about getting other people to sell their dollars for 50 cents and charging them 25 cents for the privilege.

Living through the worst recession in our lifetimes has made such deals even more appealing.

The deals have been embarrassingly good. I used the first Google Offers deal at Floyd’s Coffee yesterday. For $3, I got $10 worth of food. Let me tell you, it’s really hard to spend $10 in a coffee shop. I got an order of red beans and rice, a Mexican Coke, a doughnut and a chocolate chip cookie. The total came to $9.95.

That’s a great deal for me, but it’s unsustainable for the business. (I expect that in this case, the economics were different than the typical daily deal economics, but we’ll get to that later.)

For most local restaurants, the cost of food alone is 25-30% of the price. A sustainable discount is 15-30%. Certainly not 75%. The growth of daily deals has been built around a value proposition to the consumer that is economically unsustainable.

Deal economics

The general deal structure is something like this:

  • 50% of the regular price is applied as a customer discount
  • 25% of the price goes to the business
  • 25% of the price goes to the deal provider

Specific percentages will vary, but these are rough approximations. A business can’t cut prices in half and give half of the rest to someone else and make a profit.

This is a zero-sum game with three parties. Money either goes to the customer (not paid) , the business or the deal provider.

If the business wants to make a little bit of margin on the deal, that money can either come from reducing the deal provider’s share (which will cut into margins) or by reducing the customer discount (which will reduce the appeal of the deal).

Don’t worry about making a profit on this deal, the business is told. It’s all about customer acquisition! You’ll get new customers and you’ll be able to make a lot of money on them in the future. There are a few issues with this:

  • Many of the customers who walk in the door are your existing customers. You’ve just repriced your product and taken a 75% revenue hit. Assume you do a deal where you sell $40 worth of food for $20. You sell 2,000 of these. 25% of the people redeeming them are existing customers. That’s $15,000 in revenue from existing customers you just lost. (The 25% number is actually lower than I’ve heard from merchants. The higher the number, the worse the business case. One business claimed 90% of Groupon purchasers were existing customers.) There’s also the potential long-term impact of resetting your customer’s expectation of your value.
  • Many customers are from outside your primary market area. For neighborhood restaurants, the typical market area is within 5 miles. Even with recent market segmentation by geography, the deal providers don’t target that narrowly. It’s more efficient for them to serve larger geographies. If someone is willing to drive 25 miles to your business to save a few dollars, that’s probably a customer you don’t want. There are restaurants that people are willing to drive an hour for and pay full price — but those restaurants don’t need to run deals.
  • The deal companies don’t provide merchants any contact information for deal purchasers. It’s up to them to engage with each customer and find ways to get them to come back. There are definitely ways to do this, so if you run a deal, make sure you do. Encourage customers to sign up for your Twitter or Facebook feed. Get their email address. Hook them. But I rarely see local businesses do this.
  • You have no control over when people will show up. One merchant I spoke with sold a month’s worth of business in a Groupon promotion. Another merchant had a long line and couldn’t provide the level of service he normally provides. Will you be able to deliver a product that you’re proud of under those conditions?

Offsetting the economics is that merchants keep the revenue from Groupons that aren’t redeemed.

The deal providers need to ensure that the business works for the merchant. In my conversations with merchants, it’s clear that some have jumped on the deals bandwagon because it’s the hot thing to do; not because they’ve meticulously calculated the ROI.

One potential way to make these deals better for businesses is to put usage restrictions on them, so they can only be used during off-peak times. But that reduces the appeal to consumers and makes it less likely that the deal sites will feature you. Other ways would involve better training to help merchants maximize their deal placement.

Assessing merchant satisfaction is difficult at this stage and is largely anecdotal. (Groupon’s S-1 provides little guidance.) A study by Utpal M. Dholakia of the Rice School of Business found that 42% of Groupon merchants would not run another Groupon: “There is widespread recognition among many business owners that social promotion users are not the relational customers that they had hoped for or the ones that are necessary for their business’ long-term success. Instead, there is disillusionment with the extreme price sensitive nature and transactional orientation of these consumers among many study respondents.”

A-list businesses

Not all businesses are created equal. There are some that are A-list businesses and most that are not. Examples of national A-list businesses include Amazon, Costco, Starbucks, Target and Apple. If you look up their gift cards on Plastic Jungle, they typically trade for about face value. People consider them as good as cash. You will rarely see huge discounts from them, unless someone else is footing the bill for the discount. Apple is so protective of its brand that it doesn’t even want you to give away its products.

Consumers love these brands, so some deal companies will pay for their discount out of their own pocket. I just got $25 back on a $50 Nordstrom purchase. The $25 was provided by the deal company.

Remember the Gap deal that Groupon ran as its first national deal? That deal added approximately 200,000 customers to Groupon’s rolls. Based on my estimated customer acquisition cost of $26.50, that deal provided Groupon with $5.3 million in subscriber value. Even if Groupon charged Gap nothing to run the promotion, being linked with Gap and getting those subscribers was worthwhile. (Plus all of the publicity the campaign generated.) LivingSocial ran a promotion where it subsidized the cost of Amazon gift certificates and sold about a million of them. A great way to build the list and generate buzz.

The same thing applies in the local market. There are some businesses that can be used to build lists; others to earn money. In Portland, Google has been doing an extensive marketing campaign since last winter. They’ve bought billboards for local businesses, wrapped public transit vehicles, sponsored events at Trailblazers games, hosted private concerts and much more. (See this post for an extensive write up.)

Most of these events have revolved around iconic Portland businesses, such as Voodoo Doughnut. Google recently announced Offers in Portland. But businesses like Voodoo Doughnut have no need for Offers. There’s already a 40-minute wait to get doughnuts. (They’re worth the wait!) If I were managing Voodoo Doughnut, even if Google didn’t want a cut and paid for the discount to the customer, I wouldn’t run an offer. (It cheapens my brand.) There are other things I’d consider, but not discounting my highly sought after product.

But going after these high-profile businesses will be important to building the list. As more Offers roll out, it will be interesting to see what businesses Google targets. If we see a lot of big names, it’s a good sign that Google is either waiving its fee or even paying for the discount. Given the 70% discount at Floyd’s Coffee, I expect that that deal was either no margin or negative margin.

National deals and fake pricing

A trend I’ve seen over the last 6 months is an increasing number of national deals from the deal providers. These include things like florists, photo books, photo scanning, custom T-shirts, travel, etc. At a generic level, they use the same 50 / 25 / 25, pricing. But the reality is that the 50% discount to the customer is usually only a 20-30% discount. The balance comes from fake pricing.

Many national businesses use fake pricing as part of their everyday business. If you pay full price at Macy’s, you’ve paid way too much. (Costco and Nordstrom are rare exceptions.) One of the most egregious in the use of fake pricing is FTD. They regularly run promotions with steep discounts off their regular rates. I’ve seen promotions from FTD where you could get frequent flier miles and flowers for less than the price of buying the miles alone from the airline.

FTD also got caught using fake pricing on Groupon. In order to redeem your Groupon, you had to go to a special Groupon-branded FTD site. That site had higher pricing than if you went direct to (Which in turn is higher than any of the numerous FTD promotions around.) When it got caught, FTD did the right thing and honored the Groupon against the pricing on the main FTD site.

Travel is another category that makes extensive use of fake pricing. My favorite example of this is Starwood’s 50% off certificate. You can redeem 1,000 loyalty points for a certificate that will get you 50% off your hotel stay. But that’s based on the hotel’s full rack rate, which almost no one ever pays. As a test, I called to check on the rate for the Palace Hotel for tomorrow. The SPG50 rate is $299. The best phone rate is $199. My corporate rate is $169. The best online rate is $161. Some deal! (I love Starwood Hotels, but this rate is just an embarrassment to the brand.)

The increasing use of national deals, while providing a jolt of revenue and potentially lower cost of sales, has several issues:

  • It pollutes the value proposition of the deal providers. Groupons used to have a Costco-like simplicity. I knew that if I bought one, I was getting a good price. The only decision I had to make was whether I wanted the product or service. With fake pricing, I now have to figure out whether it’s a good deal.
  • National deals also have more restrictions. Certain brands are excluded, or the offers aren’t valid on sale items or only valid during certain periods. Travel is often subject to “availability.” That cabin on the lake in Minnesota you want to visit for the 4th of July? You might only be able to reserve it in February. (Dress warm, it might be 20 degrees below zero.)
  • Because of their scale, national retailers will be able to negotiate pricing more heavily, meaning lower margins for the deal providers.

Groupon’s S-1 lists many risks. But the biggest risk of all is that local businesses will realize that they can’t afford to give away the store and consumers will realize that the national deals aren’t deals at all.

Scaling, Scaling, Scaled: textPlus Turns Two, Hits 10 Billion Messages Sent Milestone

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 11:36 AM PDT

GOGII’s well-funded, free text messaging app, textPlus, announced today that it has crossed the 10 billion text messages sent mark since it launched in the app store in June of 2009. They’re pumping out texts like McDonald’s pumps out burger patties. Of course, when it comes to group and micro-messaging apps, textPlus has some competition. Think SXSW and you probably think group messaging. Ask Around, Ditto, Yobongo, Beluga, GroupMe, FastSociety, etc. have all been making noise, getting acquired by Facebook, or raking in funding. The list goes on.

But today textPlus makes it clear who the leader of the pack is and will be for at least the near future. On top of 10 billion total messages sent, in May alone, textPlus sent 1.3 billion texts. The app has been downloaded more than 17.5 million times and, while the startup hasn’t finalized the statistics yet, GOGII Founder & CEO Scott Lahman said that the startup has now passed the 8 million monthly active users mark.

In March, ahead of SXSW, textPlus launched a group messaging charity campaign that donated $1 for each new group created to charities like Livestrong and EnoughisEnough. This followed a long scaling process that started two years ago with free texting and group texting, then added communities, or supergroups as Lahman calls them. textPlus then moved from doing traffic over shortcode to giving out free phone numbers, before adding the ability for avid texters to not only get their own number but create a social profile and search all other users by name or keyword.

Today, textPlus has built its own social network of texters and instant messagers, and not surprisingly, its core demographic is teenagers, who are, on average, text messaging machines. And since adding search functionality in December, textPlus has seen 27 million searches, mostly among younger users, who have embraced texting as the new voice — and instant messager.

When asked what the next step is for textPlus that will allow it continue to stay ahead of the rapidly scaling field, Lahman referenced Comscore’s latest mobile data, which showed that 70 percent of mobile usage centers around texting, while gaming has grown to 25 percent. When GOGII left the mobile gaming space in 2007, that number was closer to 10 percent. Lahman said that the communities of texters and the textPlus platform itself are already social in nature and are well positioned for gaming integration. For teens, mobile chat is already an engaging and social game for mobile, and really there’s little separation for young people between texting and gaming, so Lahman said that it’s a matter of finding the best way to build gameplay out of social chat.

With competition on its heels, Lahman is wary of sharing too much of GOGII’s future roadmap, but there’s no doubt textPlus will be playing with game-ified texting over the next year. There was also mention of a “Twitter and textPlus lovechild”, which could add a bit of microblogging to the textPlus platform. Nothing for sure yet, but it will be interesting to see what textPlus has up its sleeve.

textPlus already enables users free and unlimited one-to-one, group and community texting, so that users can group text with friends and talk to people all over the world about what interests them via chat communities. And the announcement of 10 billion messages sent includes the addition of textPlus Free Text, Group Text, and GOLD to Amazon’s app store for Android. textPlus is also available on Apple’s app store and the Android Marketplace.

Google ‘Sunsets’ AdMob’s Cross-Promotion Download Exchange

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 11:31 AM PDT

It looks like Google is sunsetting a cross-promotion feature that mobile ad network AdMob previously offered. The AdMob Download Exchange allowed mobile app developers who had an application with available ad space to serve ads that promote other applications in the AdMob exchange. In return, their apps were promoted on other apps in the network.

Apparently, Google sent all developers who are participants in the exchange an email informing them that the AdMob Download Exchange is being ‘sunset’ and ‘will no longer operate after June 8, 2011.’ From Google’s email: This will allow us to focus our efforts on further developing our suite of publisher tools.

Google is encouraging developers to use the network’s House Ads, which allows you to cross-promote your own products within your own apps. The search giant is also encouraging developers to use Google AdSense ads to improve “fill-rates and increase your revenue potential.”

The problem with House Ads is that they don’t allow you to promote on other developers apps and reach new audiences, which was the benefit of the Exchange. And developers got the inventory for free. It’s unclear if Google will add this functionality into House ads, but sunsetting the feature all together may not make developers too happy with AdMob.

Update: Google has confirmed to us that the AdMob Download Exchange has been shut down.

Google Acquires PostRank, An Analytics Service For The Social Web

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 11:24 AM PDT

In another move that makes it clear that Google is putting a much greater focus on ‘social’, the search giant has just acquired PostRank. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed.

PostRank is a service that helps measure how far content, like tweets and Facebook updates, spread across the web. PostRank’s products include ‘Analytics’, which let you see which users are sharing your content and where — as well as how your competitors are doing. Its ‘Connect’product helps brands connect with influential users. You can find our coverage of their Activity Streams feature, which launched last year, here.

Here’s the note that PostRank just posted on its homepage:

We know that making sense of social engagement data is crucial for online businesses, which is why we've worked hard to monitor where and when content generates meaningful interactions across the web. Indeed, conversations online are an important signal for advertisers, publishers, developers and consumers — but today's tools only skim the surface of what we think is possible.

We're proud of what we've accomplished, and we now look forward to working with Google's team to build more useful tools for measuring engagement online, and we'll be sure to share details on our progress in the coming months. In the meantime, if you're interested to learn more about PostRank's products and services, we encourage you to click here and fill out the form.

The service will continue to operate for existing customers, but new signups have been closed down. Google isn’t saying what the team will be working on, though they will be relocating from Waterloo to Google’s Mountain View headquarters. The size of the team isn’t being disclosed, either, but I’m told it’s less than two dozen. A Google spokesperson gave us this statement:

"We're always looking for new ways to measure and analyze data, and as social analytics become increasingly important for online businesses, we're excited to work with the PostRank team to make this data more actionable and accountable. They have developed an innovative approach to measuring web engagement, and we think they can help us improve our products for our users and advertisers."

The Internet Makes You Declare Winners, Unless You’re On French TV

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 11:21 AM PDT

In an extremely absurd move by French TV regulatory agency CSA, the French can no longer say the words ”Facebook” or “Twitter” on television unless they are in the context of a news story. While France has an interesting history of regulating the adoption of commonplace English words through its Toubon Laws the move isn’t Toubon-related.

Rather it’s about the fact that the usage of these words on television constitutes an ad for these specific social networking services according to the CSA’s logic, showing preferential treatment to them and not others like the French-based Skyrock.

Instead of referring to specific social networking pages, like saying “Find us at,” or follow us on “” brands will have to skirt around the issue, saying things like “Find us on social networking sites!,” or directing viewers to their community pages and hoping that viewers will just pick up on where to go.

Now this is just shortsighted. The Internet forces you to pick winners, even if those winners are constantly in flux (years ago news stories about this rule would have had the words “Myspace” and “Friendster” in their headlines).

Right now people Google things and don’t Bing them, despite Bing’s best efforts. Like everybody else, governments need to accept that it's okay to acknowledge that some online services are just more popular; Remember when people got all huffy about the US government putting its videos on YouTube? They shouldn’t have.

Because there are clear winners online (and off) you sometimes you just have to work with them, instead of creating archaic go-arounds. There’s also the argument that politics and the CSA are the current winners in this case, being able to cite a law that went into effect in 1992 before the public availability of the Internet in France. But not for long.

Judging by the ongoing popularity of these social networks (see the Facebook-focused music video above) the CSA won’t be #winning for very much longer. There’s a Bob Dylan lyric that sums this dynamic up nicely, “The first one now will later be last … Oh the times there are a changing.”

And until those times change, here are some of French blogger Benoit Raphael’s ways to circumvent the regulation (translated from the French):

Funny: “Find the live coverage of the trial on our thread on the platform to spread messages of 140 characters.

Confused: “You can send your testimonials page on our social network where you usually have” friends.” Caution, don’t get it confused with the other social where you don’t have friends but followers.

Jaded: “Find us where you know …”

Fly Or Die: Windows 8 Tries To Out-Touch Apple

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 10:03 AM PDT

The debate about Windows 8 rages on in this episode of Fly or Die. CrunchGear editor John Biggs, who joins me from Las Vegas where he is attending a watch conference (don’t ask) thinks nothing has really changed because users can always switch back from the touch interface to the old Windows.

I appreciate the shell argument, but counter that desktop operating systems are also moving towards more of a touch computing UI anyway. So is this a shell, or is Microsoft trying to get ahead of the curve?

Watch the video, and tell us what you think. You can find previous episodes of Fly or Die here or subscribe on iTunes.

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