Friday, June 17, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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comScore: The Average YouTube Viewer Watches 5 Hours Of Videos A Month

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 08:09 AM PDT


comScore has just released its monthly data on online video engagement, with 176 million U.S. Internet users watching online video content in May for an average of 15.9 hours per viewer. The total U.S. audience engaged in more than 5.6 billion viewing sessions during the course of the month. And 83.3 percent of the U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.

comScore says Google sites (a.k.a. YouTube) was again the top video property in May with 147.2 million unique viewers, 2.17 billion viewing sessions and an average of 311 minutes spent per viewer on the site (that’s an average of 5 hours spent per view in May).

YouTube had previously revealed that the video site is now handling 3 billion views per day, but comScore’s measurement of viewing sessions is different from actual views. We’re assuming a viewing session is measured as sitting in front of YouTube before clicking away, which could include watching 1 video or 10 multiple videos in a single session. YouTube is probably counting individual views.

VEVO followed with 60.4 million viewers (and 309 million viewing sessions), with Yahoo (55.5 million viewers) and Facebook (48.2 million viewers) taking the third and fourth spots, respectively. Viacom Digital ranked fifth with 46.5 million viewers.

The U.S. internet audeince viewed a whopping 4.6 billion video ads in May (up from 3.8 billion in April), with Hulu generating the highest number of video ad impressions at more than 1.3 billion (up from 1.1 billion ads in April).

Tremor Media Video Network ranked second overall (and highest among video ad networks) with 700.8 million ad views, followed by Adap.tv (642 million) and BrightRoll Video Network (565 million). Time spent watching videos ads totaled more than 2 billion minutes during the month, with Hulu delivering the highest duration of video ads at 560 million minutes.

Video ads reached 45 percent of the total U.S. population an average of 34 times during the month. Hulu also delivered the highest frequency of video ads to its viewers with an average of 48 over the course of the month.

The duration of the average online content video was 5.2 minutes, while the average online video ad was 0.4 minutes. Video ads accounted for 12.6 percent of all videos viewed and 1.2 percent of all minutes spent viewing video online.



This Better Not Be The Xoom 2

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 07:49 AM PDT

The Internet is abuzz with chatter that this, the tablet in the pic above, is the Xoom 2. It’s featured in a new Verizon ad (embedded after the link) and while it lacks any branding besides the large Verizon logo on the back, it at least looks like a Xoom. It has the same matte black color scheme, contured back and, as Droid-Life points out, the same unique speaker found on the Xoom. But please-oh-please do not let it be the Xoom 2. Or rather, please don’t release the damn thing anytime soon.

The original Xoom started slowly rolling out back in late February. It was supposed to be the ultimate Honeycomb tablet — a sort of Nexus product. But it isn’t and the sales reflected that. It’s stupid expensive, hard to hold, lacks a USB host port and functional microSD card slot. Then there’s Honeycomb, which isn’t exactly fully cooked even now thanks to the lack of apps. It only makes sense that Verizon and Motorola would want to quickly recover from the Xoom disaster, but launching the Xoom 2 anytime soon would do just the opposite.

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Forrester: U.S. Mobile Commerce To Reach $31 Billion By 2016

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 07:21 AM PDT


Forrester Research has just released a new report this morning projecting U.S. mobile commerce to reach $31 billion by 2016, growing at a 39% compound rate. But the report says that mobile commerce is only expected to be 7% of overall eCommerce sales by 2016 and only 1% of general retail sales.

This year alone, mobile commerce sales are expected to reach $6 billion as more consumers look to their smartphones to make purchases. Forrester says that most retailers are continuing to invest in mobile apps and mobile optimized sites. In a recent survey of major retailers, the firm founds that only 9 percent of online retailers didn’t have a mobile presence or strategy.

Forrester says that there are a number of factors that will help drive growth. First, as mobile security improves, more consumers will feel comfortable inputting financial data into phones. And as smartphones usage increases, more consumers and retailers will look to mobile as an e-commerce platform. Plus as more brick and mortar stores create a web presence (as competition from online retailers heats up), mobile will inevitably be part of this strategy.

To put the $31 billion estimate in perspective, the research firm also recently estimated that both US and European online retail (representing 17 Western European nations) will grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015, reaching $279 billion and €134 billion, respectively, in 2015.



Keen On… Suzanne Vega: Music, Like Oranges, Shouldn’t Be Given Away for Free (TCTV)

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 07:00 AM PDT

Question: Who is the mother of MP3?

Answer: Singer songwriter Suzanne Vega, whose iconic 1981 song "Tom's Diner" was used by MP3 inventor Karl-Heinz Brandenberg to calibrate the standard of the revolutionary codec that would change the music industry forever.

Vega's attitude to the music industry is pretty matrimonial too. On Wednesday, she keynoted the "CREATE: Protecting Creativity from the Ground Up" conference in Washington DC, put on by the technology and media coalition Arts and Labs (for whom, full disclosure, I consult). Not only did Vega play us an haunting intimate version of "Tom's Diner", but she also spoke uncompromising in favor of the artist's right to be paid for his or her work. Arguing that if she wasn't paid for her songs she would have to go back to being a receptionist, Vega argued that music, like oranges, shouldn't be given away for free.

Whatever else one might say about Vega's critique of free culture and piracy, she can't be accused of being a Luddite. As she confessed to me when I caught her on camera after her CREATE speech, she is a big fan of Twitter and particularly Facebook where she goes "eight or nine times a day". Nor does she defend the status-quo of the old record industry. "The audience is the most important thing", she explained the new reality of the business, telling young musicians that it's much more important to build a loyal following than get a record deal.

Her faith in today's digital technology to build viable new business models was echoed by a number of other speakers at CREATE. On a panel about the future of the digital economy that I moderated, for example, all the panelists agreed that the digital economy provided exciting opportunities for all creative industries in the 21st century. From Mike Fricklas, Viacom's General Counsel to Matt Serletic, CEO of Music Mastermind to Jim Cavanagh, President of the American Society of Media Photographers to Tom Adams, Rosetta Stone CEO, everyone agreed that new streaming and anti-piracy technologies and devices offered incredibly exciting opportunities for media entrepreneurs. But, like Suzanne Vega, too, all the speakers on my panel agreed that digital content, like analog oranges, couldn't and shouldn't be given away for free.



Photo courtesy rpichler, stock.xchng



The Legend Of Zelda: A Generation’s Awakening

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 06:53 AM PDT

I was trying for a few weeks to write a review of the remake of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the 3DS and I couldn’t do it. It was too hard. I was lost to the experience of the thing and knew that I’d simply gush over the new graphics and old storyline and have little to say about the quality of the thing. Then, like a porcine Robert Pirsig, I began to think about the quality of the thing and why Zelda plays such an important part in my life and the lives of an entire generation.

The Legend of Zelda came out at a crucial point in history. Launched in August, 1987, the game appeared on the cusp of the Iran-Contra hearings and its launch coincided with a major LA earthquake. To children of the 1970s who were just coming into their own (I was 12 then), it was a frightening and confusing time. I was too young to understand the world, yet old enough to be afraid of it. I don’t want to conflate world events with the launch of a game, but I think it’s accurate in this case and, at the very least, helps explain some of the world as we (or I) saw it.

Read more…



FiftyOne Helps Online Retailers Reach Global Audiences

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 06:06 AM PDT

Expanding e-commerce operations to international markets is a challenge for online retailers. The logistics of localizing product prices in a country’s currency, and integrating shipping and delivery options can be difficult even for the biggest retailers in the world. Enter FiftyOne, an e-commerce platform that helps power international expansion and operations for online retailers.

FiftyOne streamlines all aspects of the international shopping experience for retailers. FiftyOne will manage all aspects of the international order life cycle, including multi-currency pricing and payment processing, landed cost calculation, customs clearance and brokerage, international fraud management, international logistics orchestration, and more.

Here’s how it works. With FiftyOne’s software powering the backend of the site, a localized homepage will appears automatically, welcoming the customer with a flag denoting their country and their selected currency.

At checkout, a customer can view a guaranteed order total in their own currency, including international duties (if applicable), taxes, and delivery costs, with a guaranteed exchange rate. Similar to the normal experience of purchasing an item online, the customer receives an e-mail directly from FiftyOne with the order number, estimated delivery timeframe and a link to the online tracking system.

FiftyOne has an impressive client base of retailers who are using its platform for global expansion. Barneys New York, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma and others have all used FiftyOne.

As more retailers see sales opportunity on the web outside of the U.S., FiftyOne is growing like gangbusters, In 2010, FiftyOne increased its annual sales by 310% year-over-year, from $25 million in 2009 to $77 million in 2010.
This year the company is on a trajectory to increase its sales by more than 250%.



Report: HP Moves Part Of Notebook Production From China To Japan

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 05:50 AM PDT

You don’t hear news like this too often these days, but according to Japanese business daily The Nikkei, HP is planning to shift part of its notebook production from China to Japan in the next few months. The Californian company plans to eventually manufacture all computers for sale in Japan in factories in Akishima near Tokyo.

For that, HP plans to hire 50% more workers in Akishima, boosting the number of employees there to 450. According to the Nikkei, labor costs in Japan are about four times higher than in China. But with this move, HP apparently wants to increase efficiency, be closer to the market, stand out with a “made-in-Japan” moniker, and push down delivery times especially to Japanese business customers.

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Indian Village Renamed Snapdeal.com. And It’s Not A Cheap Marketing Stunt!

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 02:34 AM PDT

A village in India has decided to rename itself and henceforth be known as Snapdeal.com Nagar (which means town). Snapdeal.com being an online couponing company that recently raised $12 million and has the lead over Groupon in India in the local ecommerce space.

So what gives? This isn’t exactly the first time anything like this has happened (mostly for cheap publicity scoring reasons), but the story behind it I think is unique and worth sharing.

Snapdeal has adopted a remote village in India and enabled clean drinking water facilities for its people by installing manual pumps. To show their gratitude, the village’s residents have decided to rename their village to Snapdeal.com Nagar, actually taking the company by surprise.

Snapdeal.com CEO Kunal Bahl tells me the goal has always been to build a socially responsible organization, and that the decision to provide clean drinking water for the village came from a conversation with one of its 500 employees in the hallways.

This person mentioned that his family lives near a cluster of villages where the locals have to walk over a kilometer every day and stand in line just for clean water, so Bahl figured they should explore if they couldn’t easily and cost-effectively solve their problem.

Bahl is refreshingly modest about what happened next, too:

We honestly did something very simple – didn't even cost that much – and installed 15 hand pumps, which now enable clean water within a distance of 50 meters for all the residents of the village.

We must have spent a total of $5000 on getting this and the really cool part about this is that these 15 hand pumps will give clean water to the villagers for the next 15-20 years!

The decision to rename their village Snapdeal.com Nagar, Bahl says, was not only a gesture of appreciation from the residents but also a sort of demonstration against the local governance and administration, for their lack of care and competence.

Bahl also explained that they’ll be doing a lot more over the next few years for the community in this village, such as upgrading facilities in the local school and hospital.

In another testament of his humility, Bahl concludes:

Ours is a fast growing, yet relatively still-to-get-there company with 500 people.

There are 640,000 companies incorporated in India, many many of them much much larger than ours. Assuming even 10% have the resources to do anything (and $5000 isn't really a lot), we can solve water problems for 64,000 villages and millions of people in India. Something to think about.



Cutting The Cord: WildChords Brings Guitar Hero To Real Guitars On The iPad

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 09:52 PM PDT

Learning to play an instrument is challenging; the progress in the early stages is slow, and the exercises that help you learn are boring and tedious. It’s largely for this reason that so many people give up on their chosen instrument before they reach vaunted rock star status. So, to combat this drop-out problem, Ovelin, an early-stage startup from Finland has built a game for the iPad called WildChords that aims to provide a fun way for beginners to learn guitar so that they can get over those early humps and go on to musical glory.

Essentially, WildChords takes the Guitar Hero model and applies it to early-stage musical education. You simply download the game onto your iPad, and pick up your acoustic or electric guitar and start playing. The app uses high-tech audio technology to recognize the sound through your device’s microphone what chords you’re playing, turning your six-string into a game controller.

The gameplay itself is based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin story, so the user finds his or herself among a menagerie of animals that have recently escaped from the zoo. Each animal likes a particular chord, so the object is to play all of the chords correctly, and save the animals — and the city — from madness.

The game levels are short one-minute exercises that become successively more difficult as the players’ skills improve. While the game is intended for people of all ages, the animation and gameplay will likely be more appealing to a younger audience.

Ovelin founders Mikko Kaipainen and Christoph Thür told TechCrunch that the game’s design is intended to differentiate itself from Guitar Hero, in that this is an app to teach the user to play guitar, not to necessarily to give you the impression that you’re a rockstar. Because, let’s be honest, most people are far from it. (Myself included.) The songs are also, generally speaking, simple, and though some of the melodies may sound familiar, you won’t find a lot of recognizable songs. This is because, as anyone who has tried to learn an instrument knows, the first thing you do is try to learn your favorite songs — whatever they may be.

But, early on, this can be counterproductive and frustrating. While you may be able to finger the chords, what you play obviously never quite sounds like what you’re hearing. Instead, WildChords’s game levels are intended to be akin to brief — and enjoyable — homework assignments.

The Ovelin founders said that the motivation for WildChords came from their own personal experience — they too are both instrument education drop-outs. The main reason that so many people drop out early in the process, they believe, is a matter of motivation. Although both are engineers, neither had music backgrounds, so they focused on building an app from the user’s perspective that minimizes the frustration and ups the addictiveness. Once they had a roadmap, they brought in a team of signal processing experts, music teachers, and game developers to round out the team.

And so far, it’s worked out well, especially considering the startup is bootstrapped and running on a small grant it received from the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. In fact, a week ago, Ovelin won the “Best Game” at the European Learning Game Competition. And, today, Ovelin will be presenting at the “Startup Sauna Demo Day” at Aalto Venture Garage (which I’m told is in essence the “Y Combinator of the Nordics and Baltics”), where the team will be courting investors.

Though WildChords will be available only for guitar and the iPad, the startup plans to add a full suite of instruments to its roster and to go cross-platform with its mobile apps as it goes.

Ovelin is also announcing a competition to submit the best voice-over for WildChord’s sound effects — particularly for the game’s monkey character. Whoever produces the best monkey sound wins a WildChord starter set. Check it out on the landing page here.



Chrome 13 Hits Beta, Google Touts “Print Preview” Feature. For Serious.

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 08:03 PM PDT

Google Chrome first launched on September 1, 2008. The very next day, someone filed a “bug” report on the Chromium project page stating the following:

There is no option for a print preview. I think that this is needed so that you can see what the page will look like before wasting paper and toner.

Good news, Eric Lake — today is your lucky day! Yes, it may have taken almost 3 years and 13 versions, but Google has finally added “Print Preview” as a feature of Google Chrome! Google touts the new addition (which still doesn’t work on Macs yet) in their post today on Chrome 13 entering beta:

Second, we're happy to announce that issue number 173 in our public bug database, which has collected more than 900 "stars" from users around the world since it was filed in 2008, has been implemented on Windows and Linux (the Mac version is coming soon). That's right–we've finally added Print Preview! Print Preview uses Chrome's built-in PDF viewer to display the page you want to print, and it updates automatically as you adjust your print settings. You can also choose to save any web page as a PDF file, using the "Print to PDF" option that's automatically included in the printer list. Thanks for being patient with us on this one!

More importantly, Chrome 13 brings the new Instant Pages feature Google unveiled earlier this week. And there’s a new Omnibox suggestion feature.

Chrome 13 should be in beta for a few weeks and then it will go stable with the new features as well. Meanwhile, Chrome 14 just entered the dev channel. No word on if it will contain the “set as desktop wallpaper” bloatware, er, feature.



Yes, Despite All The HTML5 Talk (And Action), Facebook Is Finally Doing An iPad App

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 06:57 PM PDT

The leaking of Facebook continues. Following our stories yesterday about their new Photos mobile app and “Project Spartan” (a new mobile app platform), Nick Bilton of The New York Times reports that Facebook will soon release an iPad app. Yes, finally.

We had also heard in recent weeks that despite Facebook’s seemingly anti-iPad stance, such an app does exist internally, and has for some time. But we hadn’t been able to find anyone who had actually seen it. Well, until right now. We can now confirm the app’s existence with someone who has actually seen it.

“It looks pretty slick. Photos are fullscreen & really nice UI,” says a person who has played with the app.

I’ve long complained about Facebook’s lack of an iPad app. While their regular site works pretty well on the iPad, even Facebook CTO Bret Taylor recognized the need for a UI more custom-tailored for big touch screens.

More importantly, third-party Facebook apps have been flying off the virtual shelves since day one of the iPad (including a few that have tricked people into thinking they were official apps). Facebook needed to get on top of this situation, to ensure that they own their own brand on the device, not some third party. And now they are.

We have not heard a specific date the app will be released, but NYT says that it will hit the App Store in the “coming weeks”.

One interesting tidbit we did hear was that the app has been done for some time, but that Facebook may have been holding it back as a bit of leverage over Apple. Those two companies have been in the news a bunch recently following Apple’s inclusion of Twitter in iOS 5, despite talking about a similar deal with Facebook previously.

And then there was our story yesterday about Project Spartan. We heard (and have seen) indications that Facebook was targeting mobile Safari with the mobile platform. HTML5-based apps as well as Facebook Credits are the key parts of the plan.

Since our story, Facebook PR has gone on the offensive, trying to spin this to other journalists as not being a move against Apple, but rather a way to “complement” their devices (while at the same time declining to admit the project even exists — heh). That’s a bunch of horseshit, and they know it.

But honestly, does anyone expect them to say anything else? It’s not like they’re going to declare war on Apple (or anyone else) publicly. You don’t announce to someone that you’re going to punch them in the face before you punch them in the face. That would be madness. (Madness?! This. Is. Sparta[n]!)

Again, developers actually working on this new platform say it’s very clear that Project Spartan is step one in an attempt to gain control over the mobile space. That means getting on the devices currently controlled by Apple and Google, and doing so without fear of restrictions (hence, HTML5). And it means disrupting the current mobile distribution channels (App Store, Android Market, etc) which are controlled by the gatekeepers. Facebook has to do this because they do not have their own devices. At least not yet.

But now we’re getting too far into the weeds. I’m just happy Facebook is finally releasing an iPad app. Send pics if you got em!



X-Men Director, Stan Lee, And Other Notables Use Crowdsourcing Startup To Mine For Talent

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 06:31 PM PDT

Whether it’s an altruistic push to give back to and interact with their fans or to just drum up publicity for their brands, it seems that a number of well-known musicians, artists, and creatives are turning to Talenthouse to get inspiration for their projects from everyday web users like you and me.

These crowdsourced projects tend to range across the board: Soundgarden (I had no idea they were still touring, either) used Talenthouse to search for a photographer to take their glamor shots as they traveled around the world, Comic book guru Stan Lee asked his fans to help him create a new superhero, and rapper The Game is asking his fans to help him write a verse for a new track — and more.

Talenthouse, which went live at the end of 2009, is a startup that specializes in getting big names to find not-so-famous, but equally-as-talented collaborators through global social media competitions. Essentially, you can think of these projects as speedy, micro online versions of American Idol or X Factor, except the winner actually collaborates with the talent.

So, in practice, the startups posts these trumped-up, multimedia craigslist listings, or invitations, that are announced through the company’s website and Facebook page. If the contest (or invitation) is to write a verse, for instance, you then drop your hot rhymes into Talenthouse’s digital form and submit. Once the submission period is over, users vote on their favorite ideas, and the winner gets to collaborate with the stars. This voting takes place through Facebook (different from Facebook likes), Twitter, and Talenthouse’s distributed cloud architecture — all of which is proprietary technology developed by the startup itself.

As another illustration, X-Men and Rush Hour film director Brett Ratner, today launched his own series of crowdsourcing projects, in which he’s casting for an assistant director, a walk-on part for an upcoming production, somebody to design his company’s animated logo, as well as an assistant on a magazine photo shoot.

And because Talenthouse runs a distributed platform approach built for reach and engagement, projects like Ratner’s can live on talenthouse.com as well as on host pages, media partner pages, Facebook fan pages and blogs.

On a quick TechCrunch-related note, as you may remember, TC’s own Erick Schonfeld was memorialized in a meme following TechCrunch Disrupt SF last year, when he rocked out on stage with none other than MC Hammer. (You can see the results to the left.) And it’s now come to light that this is not the first time. So this would be the perfect place to introduce the early-nineties version of dancingerick, who it seems made his professional dancing debut in a Brett Ratner music video. R&B and Dick Clark are both involved. Check it out here, especially starting at 30 seconds. Awesome.

For more on Talenthouse collaborations, watch Ratner’s video below:



Payments Service Dwolla Hits $1M A Week In Transactions

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 06:12 PM PDT

Payment platform Dwolla is celebrating an important milestone this week; Hitting almost 1 million a week in payments on the service. This is rapid growth, as six months ago the startup was completing $50K in transactions a week. Only three months ago, it hit the $1 million transactions a month mark.

Co-founder Ben Milne says that this is notable because it was only a little over a year and a half ago that billion dollar startup Square crossed the exact same “$1 million a week” milestone.

With 20K users currently, Dwolla provides a free web based software platform which allows users to exchange funds with any other Dwolla user. Users who receive funds are charged 25 cents, versus PayPal’s 30 cents.

The company recently released their FiSync feature, and has thus far hooked up with 11 banks to provide the service to another potential 600K users. In addition Dwolla recently launched GRID, allowing third party platforms like Google Wallet and Mint to potentially access its API as well as Spots, a payments feature based on location checkins.

Co-founder Ben Milne writes, ” I can say this with a straight smile on my face, ‘Thank you Google.’ Since the announcement of the Google Wallet, we’ve seen outstanding interest and excitement in our cash-based network from merchants wanting to adopt our low-cost mobile payment platform. “

The payments space is definitely heating up.



Education Incubator Imagine K12 Picks Ten Startups For Its First Class

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 05:50 PM PDT

In March we wrote about the launch of Imagine K12, a new startup incubator modeled on Y Combinator that is focused on the education space. It was founded by startup veterans Geoff Ralston, Tim Brady and Alan Louie.

The company sorted through some 200 applications, interviewed 36 startups and made offers to ten startups for the first class this summer. All accepted, took an average of $20,000 in funding for an average of 6% of their equity, and moved to Silicon Valley.

Those startups are now hard at work to launch by the first Imagine K12 demo day in September. They’re also getting lots of attention and mentoring via a weekly dinner and office hours.

The largest team is four people, say Ralston. There are a total of 24 founders among the ten startups.

New applications for the next class are being accepted starting July 1.



Cleaner Flight: Virgin America’s Efficient Engines, UOP Biofuels Go Transatlantic

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 05:33 PM PDT

Air travel promises to become cleaner, if industry actions ahead of the huge, annual Paris Airshow are any indication…

Branson Still Backing Biofuels

Virgin America— a company that’s been reporting on its own greenhouse gas emissions since 2009— ordered $1.4 billion worth of new, super fuel-efficient engines from CFM International the companies announced on Wednesday. The move should help keep energy costs down, and reduce the negative environmental impacts of air travel by Virgin America as the company triples the size of its fleets, as promised back in January.

According to a joint press statement from the companies, CFM’s LEAP Engine will power 30, brand new Airbus A320 aircraft slated for delivery to Virgin America in 2016, and CFM’s 56-5B engines will power 30 of Virgin America’s current-edition Airbus A320-line aircraft.

Promoting the deal, CFM Engine and its parent companies GE and Snecma, agreed to purchase carbon offsets via Carbonfund.org for the first 5,000 flights booked on Virgin America online, following the announcement. Virgin America also threw a one-day fare sale.

Virgin America claims that in pairing the A320neo and the LEAP engine, it will deliver 15 percent better fuel efficiency and 50 percent greater reductions in NOx emissions, over levels that environmental regulators require today. The company also forecasts that it will save $1.9 million per aircraft per year in fuel costs at current fuel prices.

It’s worth noting that while the airline bets on efficiency technology, it has also invested in biofuels. The company tested its first flights using at least some biofuel in 2008 (as TriplePundit reported then).

Sir Richard Branson, famed founder of the Virgin group of companies, also backed Gevo a biofuels company that went public back in February. Virgin plans to use at least ten percent drop-in biofuels, or plant-based fuels that work with existing engines, by 2020.

Boeing Going To Paris On Camelina-based Biofuels

Jet biofuels made by Honeywell UOP from a non-food crop, camelina plants, will power a Boeing 747-8 freighter en route to the Paris Air Show on June 20th. The companies announced their plans today, while members of the U.S. house and senate were pushing to end ethanol subsidies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack was campaigning to save the subsidies which bring money to farms large and small.

The Boeing plane will use not corn ethanol, of course, but a blend of 15 percent camelina-based biofuel, mixed with 85 percent kerosene jet fuel, which is the traditional jet fuel (a.k.a. Jet A). Boeing Captains Keith Otsuka and Rick Braun, along with Cargolux Captain Sten Rossby will pilot the historic 5,000-mile flight.

It’s kind of funny how Boeing is backing the use of plant-based fuels, here.

The company is still struggling to get its new line of efficient 787 Dreamliner planes (image, above) to market. These aircraft are supposed to burn 20 percent less fuel than other passenger planes of their size, and are lighter with more cargo space.

As Katie Johnston Chase at the Boston Globe recently reported: “The 787 is in the process of being certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and is expected to be delivered to its first airline, All Nippon Airways Co., in August or September. A total of 56 airlines, including United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have placed orders for the 787.”

Image 1: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner first flight, via Dave Sizer (CC)

Image 2: Camelia plant, via Matt Lavin (CC)



Zynga v. Vostu: Vostu Uses The “I Know You Are But What Am I” Defense

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 04:51 PM PDT

The TechCrunch office pool predicted Vostu would respond to the Zynga lawsuit alleging that Vostu’s entire business is basically to copy every single thing Zynga does in one of two ways. They’d either use the “I know you are but what am I defense,” or just a more straightforward “It wasn’t me” approach.

It turns out they just did both.

Vostu’s statement:

Zynga has been accused of copying so many games [Editor note: the "I know you are but what am I" defense"] that they’ve sadly lost the ability to recognize games like ours that are chock full of original content and have been independently created [Editor Note: the "It Wasn't Me" defense]. Vostu has 500 brilliant employees working night and day making hand drawings and writing proprietary code for online games that our 35 million users worldwide enjoy. Zynga’s anti-competitive effort to bully us with a frivolous lawsuit — especially when we have some of the same key investors — is pathetic. While Zynga plays games with the legal process we will continue focusing on using our substantial resources to create games that entertain our customers.”

Attribution to company spokesman Davidson Goldin

As i mentioned in our previous post, Zynga’s biggest weakness here is that they’ve “borrowed” game ideas from others, and have had to settle lawsuits because of it.

But Zynga, which has done some audacious things in the past, has never had the chutzpah to not only copy a game idea, but copy every aspect of the game design and mechanics as well. Take a gander at the side by side screenshots in the lawsuit complaint attached to our original post. There just isn’t a whole lot left to say.

My take: Vostu can’t win this lawsuit. I mean, they even copied the bugs in Zynga’s games.



Lackluster Forecasts, Declining Revenue, And Imminent Layoffs: A Rough Quarter For RIM

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 04:14 PM PDT

Just because things are expected, doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. This is the case for Research In Motion (RIM), which has been steadily slashing expectations over sales and earnings for the first quarter, released its report today. And it doesn’t look good. Net income for the first quarter was a low $695 million, or $1.33 per diluted share, compared with net income of $934 million, $1.78 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of last year — down 26 percent. Revenues came in at $4.9 billion, down from $5.6 billion in the fourth quarter, or a 12.5 percent drop.

As to smartphone and tablet shipments, during the first quarter, the company says that it shipped approximately 13.2 million BlackBerry handheld devices and approximately 500,000 BlackBerry Playbook tablets. However, these numbers only include products that have been shipped, not products that have been sold. What’s more, it looks like shipments of 4G versions of RIM’s PlayBook have been delayed until the fall. These ongoing product delays are affecting the company’s overall growth, so we’ll have to wait and see whether PlayBook and product sales increase over the coming quarters, but clearly RIM is no longer remaining optimistic over sales — or overall forecasts.

As a result of its declining financials, RIM said that it will begin a series of layoffs beginning this quarter. This so-called “realignment” will be focused on “taking out redundancies” and a “reallocation of resources” to focus on high growth areas. Beyond the corporate jargon, this is obviously bad news for the 17K+ RIM employees.

What’s more, RIM has downgraded its expectations for the second quarter of this year, estimating that revenues will be in the $4.2 billion to $4.8 billion range, with earnings per share dropping to between $0.75 and $1.05 diluted.

This also comes on the heels of the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Canadian Company’s COO, Don Morrison, will be leaving the company for medical reasons. Obviously, speculation is swirling considering the timing of his departure, but the plummeting revenues and the COO’s departure do seem unrelated. The problem is that, as BI reported, the company’s executive ranks are already thin at best, so RIM is bringing in former executive, Larry Conlee, as a special advisor.

RIM has lost nearly a third of its market value since April, but the company is trying to maintain some semblance of optimism, even in spite of lackluster international sales and a gloomy forecast. At the company’s headquarters today Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said of RIM’s disappointing start to the year:

Fiscal 2012 has gotten off to a challenging start. The slowdown we saw in the first quarter is continuing into Q2, and delays in new product introductions into the very late part of August is leading to a lower than expected outlook in the second quarter.

The one bright spot? The co-CEO made mention of a “strong balance sheet” with almost $3 billion in cash and he believes that new products scheduled for launch this year (if they’re not continually delayed) will help the company realign its cost structure and see some growth in the latter part of the year. But that’s a big “if”.



Groupon: On Second Thoughts, We Really Hate Those Guys

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 03:40 PM PDT

At TechCrunch, there’s nothing we hate more than predictability.

That’s the reason we sold ourselves to Aol, a company we previously considered to be a dead-in-the-water startup killer. It’s why we put Lumier on stage at Disrupt, even though their founder had nothing to pitch  and a clear contempt for the conference and its attendees. And now it’s why, after months of (almost) entirely fawning coverage of Chicago-based coupon startup, Groupon, we’ve decided to pull a dramatic 180.

Specifically we’ve decided to commission guest writer Rocky Agrawal to write an “in-depth TechCrunch series” revealing everything that’s wrong with the company, its business model, its founders, their children, pets and fashion choices. Jesus Christ, we suddenly hate those guys, and their stupid kids, dogs and shoes.

The series is currently four parts long, with each installment taking the same basic plot but adding a new twist – disgruntled employees, hypothetical law breaking – to keep readers hooked. In fact, given the name of the author and the number of episodes, one might draw amusing parallels with the Rocky series of movies. But, while the Rocky movies were ridiculous, comically aggressive crowd-pleasers which tried desperately to spread an already paper-thin plot over way too many installments, Agrawal’s posts are journalism. As such they must continue until the world is rid of the menace of daily deals (or Agrawal has 5,000 Twitter followers, whichever comes sooner).

Here, then, is a preview of the shocking revelations still to come in parts five through 8,000 of the series…

  • In 2010, Groupon successfully lobbied the cities of Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago to pass a law forcing all coffee shop owners to offer 80% discounts to their customers. As such, the company is entirely responsible for the shuttering of over 100 otherwise financially healthy small businesses.
  • After politely turning down an approach by a Groupon salesperson, one anonymous Seattle retailer reported receiving a box of human faeces in the mail. Groupon later invoiced him for the box.
  • Every weekday, at precisely 3pm, Andrew Mason crushes a kitten’s skull with the heel of his shoe. On weekends, he does the same thing, but using his bare foot.
  • A recent investigation into Nigerian 419 scams found an astonishing 80% could be traced directly back to a laptop owned by Groupon CFO, Jason Child.
  • Not satisfied with their own soaring wealth, Mason and co-founder Eric Lefkofsky regularly go door to door in Chicago taking money off other people’s tables.
  • Following the departure of MyCityDeal’s Alexander, Marc and Oliver Samwer, the company’s international strategy is now being controlled by COO Margo Georgiadis. However, according to sources familiar with the transition, Georgiadis was actually the company’s second choice of global leader, the first being Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri.
  • Georgiadis is currently believed to be hiding out along the Pakistan-Afghan border, millions of dollars in Groupons sewn into her clothes, surviving only on sushi, hot stone massages and discounted flying lessons.

Have more dirt on Groupon? Were you dumb enough not to do any research before risking the long term stability of your business for a quick cash-flow bump? Did Andrew Mason crush your hopes/dreams/kitten? Let us know right now: tips@techcrunch.com

(Next week on TechCrunch: How listening to Pandora is the worst decision a small business owner can make.)



Mad Magazine Announces Their Own “Official” “Blog”

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 03:18 PM PDT

First Facebook, now WordPress? Mad Magazine just announced an update to their official blog, now called The Idiotical, following such greats as the New Yorker and Cracked into the cesspool that is Internet media.

In honor of the launch, Life magazine ran a gallery of some of Mad’s greatest contributors including William Gaines, Nick Meglin, and The Beard, wandering the world, wearing each other’s pants, and generally looking like the travelling cast of Call Me Baron Harkonnen: The Musical. The Pete Best of Mad, Dick DeBartolo, also appears.

Read more…



One Kings Lane’s Downstairs Offers Discounts On Discounts

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 03:15 PM PDT

It’s no secret we’re big fans of One Kings Lane, a Kleiner Perkins and Greylock-backed flash sales site for home décor, furnishings and accessories. Today, the e-commerce startup is launching a new feature called Downstairs, which will give the site’s members deeper discounts on a selection of items; with prices up to 80 percent off retail.

Until now, discounts have remained in the 50 percent off range so One Kings Lane is now discounting these already discounted goods even more. “Downstairs,” (which seems like a flash sales site’s version of Nordstrom Rack or Filene’s Basement) will still feature many of the brands and designers that One Kings Lane includes in its sales, but selection will change on a weekly basis and there will be a more limited availability.

The new feature will launch June 19. And I’m curious if a more deeply discounted, regularly stocked vertical will become a increasingly common feature on flash sales sites with more inventory.

One Kings Lane has been on a tear of late, raising $23 million in new funding, and revealing 500 percent sales growth in 2010.



Slacker Radio Launches An iPad App

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 02:52 PM PDT

Hot on the heels of rival Pandora's IPO yesterday, Slacker Radio has its own offering for the public: an iPad app.

The app brings all three levels of Slacker service to the iPad – Slacker Basic Radio, the ad-free Slacker Radio Plus, and Slacker Premium, which offers music on-demand.

Read more…



AppRedeem Rewarded With $700K From SV Angel And Blue Run Ventures

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 02:34 PM PDT

AppRedeem, a Mountain View-based startup that aims to offer mobile app developers innovative, effective solutions to driving app installs and engagement, announced today that it has raised $700K in seed funding from SV Angel and Blue Run Ventures. The startup plans to use its infusion of capital to expand its engineering resources and to accelerate its development onto other mobile platforms.

In conjunction with its funding announcement, AppRedeem is also launching a free mobile app that allows users to earn real world, offline rewards and merchandise for using and reviewing mobile apps promoted in its AppRedeem app. The app is available on iOS and Android.

Co-founders Sheffield Nolan and Frank Mattox started AppRedeem after building and launching several top 10 iPhone apps, because even in spite of a few hit apps, they kept coming back to the fact that advertising is expensive on mobile platforms and thus limiting — so like any good entrepreneurs, they became determined to find new ways to advertise.

And because they knew that people love to get real, live rewards (actual merchandise), they launched an early service that offers users a list of promoted applications to try. When users install, use and provide feedback on these applications, AppRedeem rewards users with AppRedeem points. Then, as the circle goes, those AppRedeem points can be converted into real rewards, like Amazon and iTunes gift cards, for example, or PayPal credit.

Not only can users just rate apps by ye olde star system, they can also write longer-form reviews on the apps they try. Users get more points according to how much time they spend playing with and analyzing the app. And, if others comment on that review and “vote it up”, more points for the review’s author. Obviously, the more specific the reviews are and the more they stay away from stuff like “omg this app totes sux, lulz!”, the more constructive that information becomes for developers and app designers. And users also get the satisfaction of knowing that their contributions are going towards making their favorite games and apps more playable.

For developers, it’s long been difficult to quickly get to take the pulse of their audience to see how they’re liking a new app or a new version, but AppRedeem makes that possible — and rewards its users with cool stuff.

AppRedeem is also looking to differentiate itself from well-funded Tapjoy, which offers monetization and distribution services for social games, mobile apps, etc. “We want to drive true user engagement”, Nolan said. “We’re not looking for a bunch of false downloads, we want real people engaging and being rewarded with real products”. Gilt Groupe and Groupon are two of AppRedeem’s early clients, and Nolan said that all the apps that the startup will offer up for review come through one of the app stores, and they will also be running analysis on their apps to ensure clients and users that there are no pirated apps making it into the system.

AppRedeem's approach seems to be a good one not only for users but for app developers and publishers, giving them a more effective, economical route to drive installations and engagement within their apps. Always a good thing.

For those readers looking to get an early taste and a few AppRedeem bonus points, go to the signup page here, create a free account and install the web app. Once you do, you should be prompted to “Enter bonus code”. Enter the top secret command: “techcrunch”, and fame and glory should await (also 50 free points).



Study: You’ve Never Met 7% Of Your Facebook “Friends”

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 02:02 PM PDT

A just-released Pew study on the ways people use social networking sites has found, unsurprisingly, that the most popular social network is Facebook, with 92% of social networking users reporting that they have a Facebook account.

The study also found that on average Facebook users have about 229 Friends, with about 22% of their total Friends list being comprised of people they know from high school, 12% extended family, 10% coworkers, 9% college friends, 8% immediate family, 7% people from extracurricular groups and 2% being neighbors.

According to Pew, the average Facebook user has never met 7% of their Facebook “Friends” in real life, which means that on average about 16 people on a given Facebook Friends list are actually more like strangers. Users on average have only met 3% of their list (around 7 people) just once.

These numbers seem about right: A quick scroll down my Facebook Friends list reveals a smattering of people I’ve just added because I know “of” them and a few people I’ve added who I’ve met once at a conference. These not-quite friends Facebook Friends serve as reminders that Facebook should make it easier to mass “un-Friend.”

Either that or come up with a different word for the relationship.



4 Million Users Strong And Apple Design Award In Hand, Pulse Grabs $9 Million Series A

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 02:00 PM PDT

Apple doesn’t hand out a lot of design awards. When they do, it’s a pretty clear indication of the apps they feel best showcase their platforms. This year at WWDC, one of the winners was Pulse, the visual news-reading app created by Alphonso Labs. And Apple isn’t the only one taking notice of the app, so are investors.

New Enterprise Associates, Greycroft Partners, and Lerer Ventures have just poured $9 million into Pulse. As you might imagine, the nice-sized Series A will help the small team grow and continue to push towards creating the perfect news reading apps for modern devices. NEA’s Patrick Chung will join Pulse’s board, and Greycroft Managing Director Alan Patricof and Lerer Ventures Manager (and Huffington Post co-founder) Ken Lerer will serve as advisors to the company.

While it first launched on the iPad and got some nice early traction (and mentions on stage by Apple during events), Pulse is now available on the iPhone and Android devices as well. With the new money, the team will be looking at other platforms too. Presumably, things like webOS for the new HP tablets coming out.

Pulse also recently passed 4 million total users across all the devices they’re currently available on. And a couple weeks ago, they launched a new way to save stories for later reading, Pulse.me.

With the new money, they’re just shy of $10 million in total funding.



Google’s Related Searches Now Harness Google Squared (And They’re Pretty Nifty)

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 01:53 PM PDT

Google has just announced a new feature for its core search engine that sounds like it will be very helpful: a new kind of related search result that’s based around lists. Starting today, when you run a general query like, say, “Greek philosophers”, Google will actually present a list of top Greek philosophers instead of queries that are simply similar to that one.

Okay, so it isn’t the kind of announcement that’s going to make you scream from the rooftops, but it’s a subtle and important difference. Previously, for the query “american authors” you would have gotten suggested searches including “famous american authors” and “american literature”. Now you’ll also get a list of some of the top American authors themselves: Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and a half-dozen others.

Google’s post says that the feature also works for a variety of other query types, like movies (you’ll get a list of actors). I just ran a query for “Jelly bean flavors” (which was not one of the examples) and got a list that includes Green Apple, Coconut, and Blueberry. Neat.

Google’s post notes that this is actually based in part on Google Squared, the feature it launched in Labs two years ago that presents search results as structured data. At the time Squared seemed overly ambitious (the structured results didn’t seem very reliable), but obviously it’s come a long way.



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