Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Postagram Captures Android And Facebook For More Mobile Photo Postcard Fun

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 09:00 AM PDT

When we first covered Postagram in April, there was a lot of excitement about it. They take your Instagram photos and turn them into postcards that you can send right from your iPhone — who wouldn’t love that? Well, Android users, for one. With a new release today, Postagram has remedied that — with a twist.

Yes, Postagram for Android is now available for free in the Android Marketplace. But because Instagram itself still isn’t even available on Android, Sincerely (the team behind Postagram) decided to do things a bit differently with the Android version. With it, you can upload and create postcards from images found on your Android device or from your Facebook account. So yes, the “agram” aspect of the name doesn’t really apply here. At least not yet.

Still, as popular as Instagram has become, Facebook is much more popular. While Instagram is just about to hit 5 million users, Facebook is closing in on 700 million. And their photo service in particular is by far the most popular one on the web. In fact, it’s now larger than all the other ones combined. Content will not be a problem.

And alongside the Android release, Postagram is upgrading their iPhone app to version 2.0 as well to match the functionality. Now with the iPhone, you can upload a photo from your phone, or choose a Facebook photo, on top of the Instagram support.

Also new (and available on both the iPhone and Android versions) is the ability to send to multiple recipients. The design on the back of the actual Postagrams has also been altered to now include the (optional) message and a profile photo of the person who sent the Postagram.

While the price remains the same ($0.99), Postagram is also offering a 24 hour period in which new users can send one Postagram for free starting right now.



Nuance Slaps Vlingo With Another Patent Lawsuit Over Voice Recognition Technology

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 08:59 AM PDT

Well, this is interesting. Nuance, a company that develops imaging and voice recognition technologies, is once again suing competitor Vlingo, which also develops a voice search technology and is backed by Yahoo, AT&T and Charles River Ventures.

According to the suit, which we’ve embedded below, Nuance claims Vlingo is infringing on number of Nuance’s patents including U.S. patent no. 6,487,534 B1, which relates to a “Distributed Client-Server Speech Recognition System." By making, using, selling, offering to sell, and or importing its products and services related to speech recognition, Nuance says Vlingo is infringing on its patent.

Nuance is also claiming that Vlingo is infringing on that U.S. patent no. 6,785,653 B1, which is titled "Distributed Voice Web Architecture and Associated Components and Methods," U.S. patent no. 6,839,669 B1, titled "Performing Actions Identified in Recognized Speech;" U.S. patent number No. 7,058,573 B1, titled "Speech Recognition System to Selectively Utilize Different Speech Recognition Techniques Over Multiple Speech Recognition Passes;" and U.S. patent no. 7,127,393 B2, titled "Dynamic Semantic Control of a Speech Recognition System."

Nuance is requesting that Vlingo pay damages for infringing and profiting off the patents, but it’s unclear what the dollar amount of these damages are.

The two companies have a bit of a storied past. Nuance slapped Vlingo with a patent lawsuit back in 2008. Vlingo then bought a number of patents last year relating to voice and speech recognition, that aimed to force Nuance to drop its suit.

Dave Grannan, CEO of Vlingo, recently compared the act of competing with Nuance to
“having a venereal disease that’s in remission.” He tells Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “We crush them whenever we go head-to-head with them. But just when you’re thinking life is great – boom, there’s a sore on your lip.” Gross.

Nuance is a massive company with a $6 billion market cap and is a formidable competitor. In fact, Apple appears to be licensing Nuance’s technology in OS X Lion. And we heard that Nuance was in negotiations with Apple for a partnership to license and use the company’s voice recognition technology, though Nuance was missing from the lineup of products revealed this week’s WWDC conference. And we’ve learned that Apple may already be using Nuance technology in their new massive data center in North Carolina.

Photo Credit/Flickr/KWDesigns



500 Startups Unveils Its 2nd Batch: From “Foodspotting For Fashion” To “Iron Chef In Your Livingroom”

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 08:59 AM PDT

Investor Dave McClure and his wily bunch of scrappy startups are at it again this time almost doubling up on startups, going from 12 in first cohort to 21 and bringing the accelerator’s total to 140. For those unaware, 500 Startups is the Palo Alto based incubator that was founded by angel investing firebrand McClure, investing between $25K to $250K in startups with a focus on the "Three Ds" design, data, and distribution.

The demographics breakdown of this new "Fast and the Furious" 500 Startups batch are as follows, 30% have international founders including Zerply (Sweden, Estonia), vvall (Hong Kong) and BugHeard (Australia). Many are from outside of the valley including LaunchRock (Philadelphia), Snapette (Boston) and HelloWorld (Austin).

McClure tells me that 500 Startups, which finds entrants to its accelerator program through word of mouth, is specifically looking for startups with a simple revenue model a.k.a things that can be easily understood and make money.

McClure and his former YouTuber partner Christine Tsai are also announcing their first d.fund and Twilio fund winners, the startups StoryTree and Culture Kitchen are the former and Volta has the honor of recieving the latter award. To help wrangle the startups presumably, Principal Christine Tsai has moved up in the 500 Startups world to Partner ("Chief Pug Herder") and Paul Singh has also joined on as Principal.

The 21 startups will more elaborately present their wares at the 500 Startups Demo Days in August, but in case you can't wait, here's a sneak preview below in alphabetical order.

AppGrooves The Palo Alto based AppGrooves is an app recommendation app for iOS.

BugHerd  Bugheard aims to be the world's simplest website bug tracker.

CardinalBlue A realtime corporate collaboration tool that relies on photos and chat.

Culture Kitchen Culture Kitchen (“Iron Chef in your LivingRoom”) is a platform to connect foodies with lower income ethnic women skilled in cooking the traditional recipes they grew up with.

Daily Aisle Inexplicably founded by two unmarried guys, Daily Aisle is a wedding planning site.

HelloWorld.im HelloWorld wants to provide simple networking profiles to developers.

Kibin Get feed feedback on your writing, from essays, resumes to breakup notes.

Launchbit Female founded startup offering customer development software.

LaunchRock LaunchRock creates viral launching pages for startups, offering analytics as a premium.

OVIA Video employment recruitment startup.

Scoopola Yield management startup for live music, theater. Also: "We only eat meat from animals that we’ve killed."

Snapette A “Foodspotting for Fashion” Snapette lets you share photos of your latest Marc Jacobs bag, Louboutin heels or Prada skirt, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

StoryTree A platform that allows you to capture stories for your family.

Tout Email templates for people who send repetitive emails.

Vayable A marketplace for travel experiences experiences.

Vidcaster Allows you to turn any site into a video casting site.

Volta A/B testing for phone marketing spiels.

Vvall A photo aggregator site run by the creators of Startup Quote.

Welcu White-label event planning.

Zerply A LinkedIn based on vocation, not corporation.

McClure tells me that there many advantages to hooking up with the 500 Startups brood, first and foremost its #500Strong network of advisors and founders. More than 50 percent of it previous class raised at least $250K, and 2 raised a million or more. Everybody raised something.

McClure said that the stunning Palo Alto-based office is also a factor, “We actually have physical space here. So they’re actually located with us. I think the female and international numbers are not a coincidence. We’re big on crazy.”

When asked why he chose “Fast and the Furious” as the theme for this batch, McClure said, “Because we’re fucking cool, and it was a close call between X Men, First Class and Fast and Furious. A distant third was Kung Fu Panda."

For more McCure watch the below video of him likeninghis incubator to the Oakland As to Sequoia’s The Yankees. You can also check out the seven best startups from the last batch here.



Fwix Introduces GeoTagger: “Our Goal Is To Index The Web By Location”

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 08:21 AM PDT

Location is the new black, but why do mobile apps need to have all the fun? Increasingly, location is getting baked into regular web pages as well. Today, Fwix is taking its hyperlocal places database and exposing it to web sites in a novel way. “Our goal is to index the Web by location,” says Fwix CEO Darian Shirazi.

With one line of Javascript through its new GeoTagger API, partner sites will be able to geotag their web pages. What that means is that Fwix will index the site and extract any places it finds.  The first partner to roll this out will be NBC’s local sites such as NBC New York and NBC Bay Area.  A Geotagger button on the page, which could be labeled “Places on this page,” will then create a places widget when someone clicks and hovers over it.  It will show the names, addresses, and each place on a map.

GeoTagger shows all the places mentioned on the page without any tagging or other wok required by the publisher.  It is all automatic.  Fwix has expertise in this kind of geo-content analysis because it started out as a hyperlocal news aggregator before it switched gears.  Now its ambition is much bigger: to geo-index the web and expose the location data buried in everyday web pages.

How useful will this be?  It depends on the site.  But as the web becomes more mobile, that kind of feature is something mobile users will definitely want to see.



Apple Backpedals On App Store Subscription Rules

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 08:20 AM PDT

Back in February, Apple unveiled its much-anticipated subscription feature, giving digital newspapers, magazines, and other apps a consistent and easy way to sign iOS users up for recurring billing. But it came with some major caveats: Apple’s rules, which were going to go into effect at the end of the month, gave these apps very little flexibility with their pricing and how they could actually distribute their content.

In particular, Apple was demanding that publishers like Time Inc and services like Netflix sell all content within the application at the same or lesser price as what it sold for outside of the application — and that they’d still have to hand over 30% of the take to Apple. The rules also seemed to affect Amazon’s Kindle platform, with Apple taking an untenable 30% on every book sold through the Kindle app.

There was a lot of controversy around the news — some said that it was a gamble that might make perfect sense for the company, others (including me), thought that Apple was being obscenely greedy. Now, nearly four months after Apple first unveiled the rules, it has quietly revised them. The changes were first pointed out in a MacRumors report, and they’re a big deal.

Here’s the old wording of the relevant section:

11.13 Apps can read or play approved content (magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video) that is sold outside of the app, for which Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues, provided that the same content is also offered in the app using IAP at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app. This applies to both purchased content and subscriptions.

And here’s the new section, via the MacRumors report:

11.14 Apps can read or play approved content (specifically magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video) that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app, as long as there is no button or external link in the app to purchase the approved content. Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues for approved content that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app.

So what does this mean? Companies like Netflix and periodicals like Time can now encourage their users to sign up for subscriptions from their websites, and then direct users to download their iOS applications afterward, thereby bypassing the 30% fee.

Granted, Apple is explicitly forbidding applications from including a ‘buy’ button within the apps themselves that link to an external payment flow, but this is still a big improvement. And those applications that do want to take advantage of in-app purchases can now adjust their pricing to take Apple’s 30% fee into account.

The news comes after several publications like the Financial Times have opted to go web-only as a way to work around Apple’s subscription rules. And I’m sure plenty of apps and publishers have already been prompted to started developing for Google’s more open Android platform.

This isn’t the first time Apple has had to backtrack on highly controversial rules that it’s tried to impose on iOS developers. Last year, it heavily restricted the tools that developers were allowed to use to build iOS applications (including blocking apps that used  of Adoble’s Flash->iOS app converter). Several months later, it reversed the policies. And who can forget the Google Voice fiasco, which banned Google’s app for “reproducing existing functionality” only to admit it into the App Store over a year later.



Scoop: Fab.com Launches Online Design Store, Ashton Kutcher Invests

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 07:39 AM PDT

Exclusive - Fab.com, which started out as Fabulis, a social networking site for gay men, has not only recently changed its name but also started from scratch with an entirely new business centered around ‘design online’. The company is today debuting its all-new website, which features daily design inspirations and invited member-only flash sales of design items at significant discounts.

In addition, TechCrunch has learned, the company is currently in the process of finalizing a new financing round, and we’ve also learned that self-proclaimed design junkie and actor Ashton Kutcher has invested in the business and will be joining the startup’s advisory board.

Fab.com launches today with 200,000 pre-registered members and over 175 designers and manufacturers. Flash sales will launch daily at 11 AM Eastern time, 7 days per week and lasting for 72 hours. As is common with flash sales sites, upcoming deals are announced exclusively to members, through the Fab.com website as well as via a daily e-newsletter.

Fab.com membership is free but the startup says numbers are restricted in order to maintain “exceptional prices” for design products in a range of categories including furniture, home accessories, technology, lighting, art and toys.

Sales will be curated by design industry experts like Monica Khemsurov (founder of SightUnseen, editor at Details, former editor at ID), Fab.com Buying Director David Branham (former senior buyer for The Conran Shop) and well-known product designer Karim Rashid.

Based in New York, Fab.com was founded in 2010 by serial entrepreneur Jason Goldberg, formerly of XING, socialmedian, and Jobster, with design industry vet Bradford Shellhammer, contributor to Dwell and formerly of Blu Dot and Design Within Reach, along with Deepa and Nishith Shah in India and Veerle Pieters in Belgium.



Fusion-io Opens At $25 Per Share With A $1.9 Billion Market Cap

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 07:09 AM PDT

As we heard yesterday, Fusion-io, the developer of flash- memory technology for companies, upped the opening price of its IPO to $19 per share, valuing the company at $1.5 billion. Earlier in the week, the company upped the range f its offering to $16 to $18 per share from $13 to $15 per share. And this morning, company’s shares, which are trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "FIO,” opening at $25 per share (up 32 percent), which gives Fusion-io a $1.9 billion valuation with 77,809,084 shares outstanding at the time of offering.

Fusion-io's enterprise flash-based drives help store data in smaller devices and is known for being an incredibly fast data storage solution. And Facebook is a big client of Fusion-io, which has raised $110 million in funding. Another fun fact—Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is Fusion-io's chief scientist.

The company is offering a total of 10,755,607 shares in its IPO and aiming to raise as much as $233 million. Another 1,544,393 shares are being offered by selling stockholders. In addition, the underwriters have an option to purchase up to an additional 1,845,000 shares from Fusion-io on the same terms and conditions.

A 30 percent jump is significant but its still unclear if Fusion-io’s shares will be able to sustain the price increase. LinkedIn shares popped 84 percent on the first trade of its offering to $83 per share, but has dropped below this number of late (today’s LNKD shares opening at $76 per share). Yandex shares opened at $35 per share, but have dropped slightly (shares opened at $33.75 this morning).

The company’s revenue has been strong of late with revenue growing by four times to $125.5 million and gross profit up by four times to $65.7 million in the nine months that ended March 31. But the company’s revenue is based around a small number of clients. According to the Dow Jones, 10 clients account for 91% of the company’s revenue and Facebook alone generated 47% of Fusion-io’s revenue in the past nine months.



Apple Registered At Least 50 Product Domain Names On WWDC Day

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 06:50 AM PDT

Here’s a tiny tidbit of news for all you Apple aficionados out there: the Cupertino company waited until the day its developer conference kicked off (June 6) to register a bunch of product-related domains.

I’m sure they cost Apple a heck of a lot less than the $4.5 million purchase of icloud.com.

And no, they still don’t own ipad.com (yet), nor do they own ipods.com (yet).

Here’s all 50 domain names revealed to have been registered by Apple last Monday (in alphabetical order):

- airplaymirroring.com
- appleairplaymirroring.com
- appledocumentsinthecloud.com
- applegestures.com
- appleicloudphotos.com
- appleicloudphotostream.com
- appleimessage.com
- appleimessaging.com
- appleiosv.com
- appleitunesinthecloud.com
- appleitunesmatch.com
- applelaunchpad.com
- applemailconversationview.com
- applepcfree.com
- applephotostream.com
- appleversions.com
- conversationview.com
- icloudstorageapi.com
- icloudstorageapi.com
- icloudstorageapis.com
- icloudstorageapis.com
- ios5newsstand.com
- ios5pcfree.com
- ipaddocumentsinthecloud.com
- ipadimessage.com
- ipadpcfree.com
- iphonedocumentsinthecloud.com
- iphoneimessage.com
- iphonepcfree.com
- itunesinthecloud.com
- itunesmatching.com
- macairdrop.com
- macgestures.com
- macmailconversationview.com
- macosxlionairdrop.com
- macosxlionlaunchpad.com
- macosxlionmissioncontrol.com
- macosxlionresume.com
- macosxlionversions.com
- macosxversions.com
- mailconversationview.com
- osxlionairdrop.com
- osxlionconversationview.com
- osxliongestures.com
- osxlionlaunchpad.com
- osxlionresume.com
- osxlionversions.com
- osxresume.com
- pcfreeipad.com
- pcfreeiphone.com



HP Touchpad Available July 1 Starting At $500

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 06:30 AM PDT

The HP Touchpad, the great Palm hope of tablet lovers everywhere, will be officially available for $500 for 16GB and $600 for 32GB on July 1 in the United States. It will be available in the UK, France, and Germany “a few days later” and Canada in mid-July. The rest of the world will see it trickle out over the summer.

We’ve been waiting for the Touchpad since February and, in a few short months, it has appeared to be ready for launch a few times until June looked like the target date. Sadly, it was not to be and July is the final delivery date.

Check out our hands-on here and read the PR after the jump.

Read more…



CrunchGear Reviews The Barnes & Noble Nook

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 06:18 AM PDT


Short Version: After a few day with the new Nook I was hooked. It is a pure reading experience condensed into a device the size of a paperback and with a super-crisp e-ink touchscreen. The Nook is, in short, the best ereader from a major player I’ve used thus far and is well ahead of its competitors in terms of usability and form factor.

Read more…



Pusher Raises $1M From Heroku Founders And More To Bring Realtime Tech To Your Apps

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 06:00 AM PDT

On today’s ever-evolving Web, it seems there’s a growing demand for web apps that incorporate realtime functionality. Of course, it’s by no means easy to build seamless realtime functionality, as it often requires site developers to learn a whole new framework, or worry over the configuration of existing infrastructure.

To address this problem, Pusher has built a hosted service that helps developers create web apps featuring real-time collaboration in a jiffy, all through a cloud-based API. From a free sandox account, Pusher allows developers to bring the added benefits of realtime technology to existing apps, across various languages and platforms, to small sites for free. And so far, so good. Pusher opened its beta in March 2010 and has delivered approximately 9 billion messages to date. Over 4K developers have signed up to the service, including those from Groupon, Slideshare, Togetherville, and more.

Above, you can see a screenshot of Word2, a massively multiplayer word game in which tiles placed by users are reflected in realtime for other players viewing that area of the board, thanks to Pusher’s realtime technology. To check out some awesome examples of how various developers and websites are incorporating Pusher’s realtime functionality, click here.

When WebSockets were announced as part of the HTML5 specification in 2009, Pusher believed the new technology would be an important part of the evolution of Web browsers and servers. Judging by investor interest from the likes of Orion Henry, James Lindenbaum, and Adam Wiggins (otherwise known as the founders of Heroku, the cloud app deployment and scaling platform that sold to Salesforce.com in 2010) as well as a full set of other VCs and angels, it seems that the Pusher team is not alone.

Led by co-founders Max Williams and Damien Tanner, Pusher announced today that it has raised $1 million in seed funding, led by London-based early stage venture firm, Passion Capital. Other investors include the Heroku founders, San Francisco-based angel Bill Lee (who has invested in Remarq, Tesla, and more), New York-based MI Ventures, and Greg Marsh (founder of One Fine Stay and formerly of Index Ventures).

Pusher will use its new capital to expand the features of its realtime platform and drive adoption of realtime features on the web. As to potential future internal revenue models? The startup plans to offer paid-plans beginning in mid-June.

“Pusher is built for a generation of developers who will spend their time making awesome apps rather than configuring infrastructure", said Adam Wiggins, Heroku co-founder and Pusher investor.



VideoGenie Scores $2M From Eric Schmidt, Others For Video Testimonials Platform

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 05:59 AM PDT

Back in May 2010, VideoGenie launched at our Disrupt conference as a platform for consumers to connect with their favorite brands through user-generated testimonial videos. A couple of months later, VideoGenie reported back to us with an excellent progress status update.

Today, the startup is announcing that it has raised a $2 million Series A round of venture financing led by Blumberg Capital, with previous investors, including Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors, also participating in the fresh round.

The company informs us that they intend to use the proceeds of the financing round to expand the VideoGenie solution set, as well as grow the team.

VideoGenie basically enables brands and organizations to engage and capture the passions of their fans through customer-generated videos via a platform that requires no training or special experience to implement.

Brands can use the platform to gather, manage, publish and analyze videos recorded by their fans, incorporating the authentic video content they collect into a broad range of marketing and customer engagement initiatives.

Below, you can find a screenshot of an implementation by Shoedazzle.

VideoGenie has been selected by some of the world's biggest brands and organizations, including Levi's, Intuit, Sony Music and the U.S. Department of State, to power video-based testimonials, reviews and corporate communications.

The business broke even within 8 months after its launch at Disrupt, the company says, without spending a dime on marketing and without a dedicated sales team in place. The startup says it has since relied on operating income to fuel product development and new customer acquisition.



Square’s Remarkably Similar Chinese Competitor Appears

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 05:46 AM PDT


While Square is believed to be raising $50 million or more, say sources, at a valuation of $1 billion plus, and processing more than $3 million per day in mobile payments, others are noticing their traction. In China.

To that end iBOXpay is advertising its development of a “free mobile payment platform”, although it doesn’t appear to be on sale yet.



Shell Spinoff Avantium Raises $43.9 Million To Develop Green Plastics, Chemicals And Fuel

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 05:37 AM PDT

Shell spinoff Avantium raised another EUR 30 million, or about $43.9 million (USD) the company reported Thursday. Avantium produces “chemical building blocks” that industrial plastics, textile and fuel makers need to churn out green products that are as affordable and work as well as petroleum-based equivalents.

Avantium uses a catalytic process to convert carbohydrates into furanics, which are bio-materials that can be made from sugar or non-food sources.

The company plans to use its new funds, in part, to create a 100 percent plant-based, 100 percent recyclable polyester. It also aims to complete and begin operating a production plant in Geleen, the Netherlands. The plant was expected to be up and running already, according to earlier reports by Green Car Congress.

The EUR 30 million included EUR 25 million in financing from: Sofinnova Partners, Aster Capital and De Hoge Dennen as well as existing investors Aescap Venture, Capricorn Cleantech Fund, ING Corporate Investments and Navitas Capital. The company also obtained a subsidy and innovation credit of EUR 5 million from the Dutch Ministry of Economy, Agriculture and Innovation. Part of the overall round was used to buy out shares held by DFJ Esprit, AlpInvest, Eastman, EDBI and Pfizer.



Google’s European M&A Man Leaves To Explore New Startup Fund

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 04:23 AM PDT

Anil Hansjee, long time Head of Corporate Development at Google EMEA has left, effective today. This is quite a big change in the European startup eco-system, as Hansjee was effectively the guy who startups and VCs in Europe went to to sell their companies to Google. We’ve reached out to Google to check whether he will be replaced.

In an email to colleagues – which TechCrunch Europe has seen -Hansjee said:

“I most definitely won’t find anything like this job in any other corporate development role (and I mean ANY) so I’m not even going to try. Instead for now, I’m going to take some time and do some advisory work (and maybe raise a different kind of fund – but more on that later!)”

I rang him up to quiz him on this, and it turns out his plans to raise a fund to back early stage startups are more than a “maybe”.



Google Earth, Columbia University Map Seafloor Area Bigger Than North America

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 04:10 AM PDT

Thursday marked World Oceans Day, a United Nations effort to “raise global awareness of the challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.”

Getting in the spirit, Google Earth and about a dozen research labs paired their data, talents and technology to create high res maps of seafloor terrain. Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory led the charge contributing its Global Multi-Resolution Topography (GMRT) Synthesis and some 20 years worth of data from 500 ship cruises.

The interactive topo maps they created portray an underwater area bigger than North America. Such visualizations help scientists understand natural and man-made disasters including: tsunami events and runups, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, changes in coastal and deep-ocean sea levels, storm surges and contaminant dispersal, according to the website of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a research participant in this project.

A post on The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory website explained, from what’s already mapped:

“…Scientists have learned much. For instance, researchers can see details of earthquake faults and underwater landslides. Shifts in the seafloor can trigger tsunamis, as shown by this year's disaster in Japan, and the 2004 wave that swept Sumatra. The sharper imagery helps scientists assess the risk in various regions, including along the U.S.-Canada west coast. The maps also bring erupting mid-ocean ridges into sharper focus and help scientists understand volcanic eruptions on earth, the vast majority of which occur hidden far from view on the ocean floor.”

Other research entities that contributed to the World Oceans Day 2011 seafloor mapping effort with Google Earth include: the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Hawaii, University of New Hampshire, University of Washington, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel and the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Chilean Navy.

Even though this group just collectively doubled what had been mapped before, Google estimates that only 5 percent of the world’s ocean floors have been mapped to date. So. There’s far more eye candy to be had! [hat tip: Julia Whitty at Motherjones].

Check out the Google Lat Long blog explaining the project further, or take a video tour of a few of the underwater volcanoes, ridges and mountain ranges as far as 26,000 feet below the surface of the sea.



Search Engine Room 77 Raises $10.5M For Personalized Hotel Room Recommendations

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 03:56 AM PDT

Room 77, a comprehensive search engine and review site focused exclusively on hotel rooms, has raised $10.5 million in Series B financing led by General Catalyst Partners with participation from PAR Capital Management; Sutter Hill Ventures; Felicis Ventures; Rich Barton (founder of Expedia and co-founder of Zillow); and Erik Blachford (former president of IAC Travel). This brings the total amount the company has raised to date to $13.5 million.

Room 77, which officially launched in public beta in February, has collected and indexed data on more than 500,000 hotel rooms in 2,500 properties and also crowdsources reviews and ratings from travelers.

The site provides travelers with specific details about each hotel room at a property, including the room category, square footage, bed type, elevator proximity and if it is a connecting room. For each room, Room 77 also generates a virtual Room View, simulating the actual view from that room's window using Google Earth-enabled technology.

The best rooms for each traveler are automatically ranked using Room 77's proprietary Room Rank algorithm that adjusts to each individual's preferences for high or low floor, distance from elevator, view importance and need for connecting rooms. Each room is then scored with a color-coded match percentage indicating: "strong match" (green), "fair match" (yellow) and "weak match" (red). Room 77 also gives travelers insider tips on how to request desirable room(s) directly from the hotel and increase the probability of securing one.

For now the company is focusing on indexing every hotel room at every three- to five-star hotel and resort worldwide, which the company estimates to total approximately 25,000 properties. Currently, the startup has property and room data in 24 markets but hopes to use the funding for further international expansion. Room 77 will also use the investment to expand its core search platform to offer more ways to help travelers shop and book hotels online and via mobile devices.

Room 77 seems like it could provide a useful service as long as it collects the right intelligence on hotels. That’s why the startup has been partnering with hotel groups to provider accurate information. Obtaining this information may give it a leg up in terms of competition from user reviews giant TripAdvisor.



With A $9 Million B Round, Taykey Targets Social Interests With Ads In Realtime

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 03:30 AM PDT

Social advertising is the next hot thing, and startups are starting to come out of the woodworks with different approaches. One to watch is Taykey, a startup we first wrote about a year ago, but which is launching today with a fresh $9 million B round from Crescent Point, Sequoia, and Softbank Capital. It previously raised $2 million in June, 2010 from Sequoia Israel.

Taykey tries to determine what topics are trending among different audience groups and then targets them with Facebook ads, promoted trends on Twitter, or search ads. "We think advertising is broken," says CEO Amit Avner, because it is "based on demographics."

The company tries to figure out what people are interested in based on signals from socialmedia and then respond with ads in realtime. Instead of targeting five million 18 year-olds, Taykey tries to reach people who are into hiphop. "Basically we are doing audience discovery based on trends," says Avner. "We figure out what is trending for who."

If you know what 18 year-olds who like hiphop are talking about, you can target ads around those topics and search terms. If Paula Abdul is trending on Twitter, Pepsi might want to buy Paula Abdul keywords on Google or Facebook ads targeted at a specific audience with related interests. As we enter summer, for instance, women are talking on social media channels about “friends,” “family,” “fun,” and “sleep.” Whereas men are talking about “twitter,” “beer,” “obama.”, and “itunes” (these are actual top trending topics discovered by Taykey).

Taykey tracks public data from 150 different social media services, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and Digg. The data is all anonymous and aggregated, and advertisers pay Tapkey on a cost per action basis. Depending on their goals, that could range from a cost per like to a redemption of an offer.



Visa Acquires Mobile Financial Services Company Fundamo For $110M In Cash

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 03:27 AM PDT

Visa this morning announced that it has agreed to acquire Fundamo, a specialist mobile financial services provider to network operators and financial institutions in developing economies, for $110 million in cash.

In a separate announcement, the giant payments technology company said it has entered into a new, long-term commercial agreement with Monitise, a provider of mobile money solutions for financial institutions in more developed regions.

Here’s how the duo of agreements was pitched:

The combination of acquiring Fundamo and expanding the relationship with Monitise will enable Visa to deliver best-in-class mobile financial services and payments capabilities to consumers across the full spectrum of uses, geographies and mobile environments from basic services on simple handsets to more advanced services for smart phone owners.

Fundamo's platform enables the delivery of mobile financial services to unbanked and under-banked consumers around the world, including person-to-person payments, airtime top-up, bill payment and branchless banking services.

The combined Visa Fundamo platform will add enhanced functionality and new services to existing mobile financial services subscribers for globally accepted payments solutions.

Privately-held, Cape Town, South Africa-based Fundamo says it boasts more than 50 active mobile financial services deployments across more than 40 countries, including 27 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Fundamo's deployments currently have a base of more than five million registered subscribers and the potential to reach more than 180 million consumers with mobile financial services.

Fundamo CEO Hannes van Rensburg and the executive team will continue to manage current and future Fundamo implementations as members of Visa's mobile product organization.

Monitise and Visa, meanwhile, say they will debut a mobile banking solution in the U.S. for clients of Visa DPS, the company's debit and prepaid processing platform.



Jerry Levin’s Latest Gig Is Startup Health, Kind Of Like A Startup America For Healthcare

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 03:00 AM PDT

Former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin is dipping his toes in the startup world. He thinks there should be more healthcare entrepreneurs, and so he is becoming the chairman of Startup Health, a project aimed at fostering a better community for health startups by helping them raise capital, offering longterm mentorship, and bringing other resources to bear. Startup Health is a partnership between OrganizedWisdom (a startup where Levin is also the chairman) and the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services, which is opening up government data to entrepreneurs and developers.

Startup Health is also partnering with Startup America, Steve Case’s new organization. It will be just like old times. Startup Health and Startup America will organize some roundtables together, but Startup Health is a private effort through and through. “When you look around,” Levin tells me, “all the entrepreneurial talent is going into certain sectors like the retail space. There is not a lot going towards health and wellness.”

The impetus behind the project is the lack of significant activity in the health and wellness sectors by startups. He wants to change that and “energize entrepreneurial talent” in the sector. “The disruptive locomotive of the net, which has disassembled every media business we know of, hasn't taken over health or wellness.” But now with open APIs to government data and the importance of mobile phones, all that is set to change. At least, that’s what Levin thinks. I hope he’s right this time.
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Sapato.ru, The “Zappos Of Russia”, Raises $12 Million From Intel, Others

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 02:28 AM PDT

Sapato.ru, a Russian online shoe retailer, this morning announced that it has secured $12 million in additional capital from Intel Capital, with existing investors Direct Group, eVenture Capital Partners and Kinnevik participating. The round brings Sapato.ru's total of funding to approximately $20 million. The investments will be used for expanding the assortment range, marketing and to improve customer service through enhancement of the startup's CRM platform.


Six Apart Releases Movable Type Updates To Plug Security Holes, Following PBS Hack

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 01:37 AM PDT

In a message posted on its corporate blog earlier this morning, blogging software maker Six Apart essentially admitted that security holes in its Movable Type product(s) are to be blamed for the recent, prominent hacking and defacement of the PBS.org website, which occurred at the end of last month.

Hackers aligned with WikiLeaks at the end of May managed to break into and deface the US broadcaster’s website after it had aired a controversial documentary called WikiSecrets about the whistle-blowing site.

LulzSec, the hacker group that claimed responsibility for the action (and the same group that has been harassing Fox, Sony and Nintendo lately), in a recent interview with Forbes said that the attack was made possible thanks to PBS’s “outdated” content management system.

The hackers had managed to publish a fake report on the PBS website, claiming that legendary rapper Tupac was alive and well living in New Zealand (screenshot below).

The content management system used by PBS was, in fact, Six Apart’s Movable Type software, as had been pointed out by some over the past week.

Today, the company issued the first Movable Type update since the PBS hacking case. Mandatory security updates for Movable Type 4.3, 5.0, and 5.1 were released this morning.

The company says the impact of the vulnerabilities in its products did in fact allow hackers to “create, read or modify the contents in the system under certain circumstances”.

Suggest you update asap.



Chip Maker AMD Invests In Video Conferencing Startup ViVu

Posted: 09 Jun 2011 01:00 AM PDT

Through its Fusion Fund program, chip maker AMD has injected an undisclosed amount of capital into ViVu, a startup that specializes in desktop videoconferencing solutions.

AMD sometimes makes strategic investments in companies that make use of its Fusion Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) products. ViVu is said to be working on a new generation of enterprise-class video conferencing applications that leverage AMD Fusion APUs.

Among other projects, AMD and ViVu are collaborating on the latter’s VuRoom videoconferencing solution and a prototype wireless display technology, which will enable real-time streaming of 1080p HD videos wirelessly from an AMD-powered notebook PC to one or more network-connected display devices, such as flat panel TVs, tablets or notebooks without requiring any additional hardware.

ViVu has previously raised funding; it completed a $3 million Series A round back in October 2009, from investors like Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Quest Venture Partners.



BiteHunter Launches “Kayak for Restaurants” iPhone App

Posted: 08 Jun 2011 11:08 PM PDT

It was a couple of months ago that BiteHunter.com beta-launched itself as an aggregator for dining deals. Easily described as a “Kayak for restaurants,” BiteHunter is designed to help users locate dining deals, a problem which has been been addressed quite well for verticals such as travel, but quite poorly for dining, at least on an aggregated basis.

Today BiteHunter is announcing a new iPhone app (iTunes Link) that expands its dining deal search across the US, from the initial markets of New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

The uniqueness of BiteHunter is the real-timeliness of the deal data it exposes. By this I mean, that BiteHunter scours real-time sources such as a restaurant’s Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook accounts, as well as Groupon, LivingSocial and newsletters, to bring users the freshest deal info. Compare this against, say Yelp, which restaurants seem to use more as a business card rather than a customer engagement medium.

BiteHunter’s new iPhone app has nicely designed search and discoverability features built-in. Deals can be searched for, or discovered on a map. Filtering can be applied to cuisine, price, distance, and type of deal. Alongside the deal info, BiteHunter also provides restaurant information, related deals, reviews, photos and menus. Users can even reserve tables with the app.

A feature I really like is that the app alternates tabs depending on the time of day. So the Lunch tab will become Happy Hours, and Dinner as the day progresses.

There’s no question that BiteHunter brings value to users, however, the big challenge, as always for these types of services, is customer acquisition.



Cupertino To Jobs: There’s No Chance We’re Saying No To The Apple Spaceship Campus

Posted: 08 Jun 2011 10:53 PM PDT


While he’s no Steve Jobs, Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong has his unique charm. In a press conference today responding to yesterday’s amazing Steve Jobs pitch, Wong said emphatically, “Cupertino is ready for this” referring to the 150 acre “Mothership” Apple campus.

Jobs hopes the fantastic building will be ready to house over 12K employees by 2015 (if everything goes as planned).

“There is no chance that we’re saying no,” insisted Wong, who started his life with Apple IIs and Apple II +s, “The Mothership has landed in Cupertino.”

In his statement Wong referred to the fact that his daughter attends the same middle school as Jobs did as a boy, but insisted that no preferential treatment was given to Apple in this decision, “Every time that we have a large company [which] has a large sales tax produced we are very accommodating to that company.”

Wow, an unabashed “Yes,” and Jobs didn’t even have to include free Wifi! But seriously, how would you react?

You can follow the project at http://www.cupertino.org/apple



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