Monday, June 20, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Flurry: Time Spent On Mobile Apps Has Surpassed Web Browsing

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 08:46 AM PDT


Mobile app analytics firm Flurry is releasing a new report today comparing the daily engagement of smartphone users on mobile apps vs. web browsing on the PC. For web analytics, Flurry used data from comScore and Alexa and for mobile application usage, the startup used its own analytics, which now counts 500 million aggregated, anonymous use sessions per day across more than 85,000 applications. Flurry says that this accounts for approximately one third of all mobile application activity. While this is an imperfect methodology, it does point to the rise of mobile apps in our lives.

Flurry says that daily time spent in mobile apps has now surpassed web consumption. The average user now spends 9% more time using mobile apps than the Internet. In June users spent an average of 81 minutes daily on mobile apps, compared to 74 minutes on the web.

This compares to 66 minutes on mobile apps daily in December of 2010, and 70 minutes spent daily on the web. And June, the average user spent just under 43 minutes a day using mobile applications versus an average 64 minutes using the Internet.

Flurry says that the growth in mobile app usage is a result of more sessions during the day per user, as opposed to an increase in session length. So basically, users are checking Twitter and Foursquare more often as opposed to spending more time in the apps in any given session.

Flurry also took a deep dive into where mobile app users are spending their time. Flurry captured time spent per category from May 2011 across all apps it tracks (more than 85,000). Games and Social Networking categories dominate, capturing 47 percent and 32 percent on consumer time spent daily, respectively. Combined, these two categories control 79 percent of consumers' total app time. Time spent on news apps follows with 9 percent share, with entertainment capturing a 7 percent share.

Flurry didn’t include information about time spent on the mobile web, which I’d also find interesting compared to time spent browsing the web on a computer. But the stats above certainly put Facebook’s mobile strategy and Project Spartan in context. As smartphone usage continues to grow, we’re going to see more tech companies pursue aggressive mobile strategies. What it will come down to is who will take a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to user engagement.



Google To FCC: Stop Letting The Voice Network Tail Wag The Internet Dog

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 08:27 AM PDT

The Internet carries nearly 160 times more traffic than voice networks in North America, yet many of the regulations and inter-carrier traffic fees are based on the quickly receding era when voice networks ruled. Google calls this the “Tail Wagging The Dog” in a letter to the FCC (embedded below) urging them not to impose antiquated per-minute voice traffic fees on IP networks. This is becoming an issue as IP voice traffic approaches that of traditional circuit-switched voice traffic. Google’s lawyers write in their letter:

Standalone voice traffic already is decreasing markedly relative to other forms of communications traffic; in fact, as depicted in the attached, the majority of voice traffic will be IP-based in just a few years. Accordingly, the FCC should not allow what amounts to the very small tail of legacy voice wireline services to wag the very large dog of all communications traffic exchange. In particular, per-minute voice traffic origination and termination charges are a persistent but unwelcome relic from the circuit-switched telephony era, and not best-suited for modern IP traffic and networks.

Google illustrates the changing nature of the network in a series of dramatic slides. Back in 1997, U.S. Internet traffic was only 3,300 terabytes per month, compared to 54,000 terabytes per month for the voice network. Three years later in 2000, voice traffic peaked at 66,000 terabytes per month, while Internet traffic had grown more than eightfold to 28,000 terabytes oer month.

By 2005, consumer IP traffic had reached 669,000 terabytes per month (with 2 terabytes of that being IP voice traffic), while voice traffic had shrunk to 48,000 terabytes per month.

In 2010, consumer IP traffic in North America completely dwarfed voice traffic with 5.7 terabytes per month versus 36,000 for the aging voice network. What’s more, IP voice traffic (Skype, Google Voice, etc.) accounted for 21,000 terabytes per month, or nearly 60 percent of what was going over the old switched network.

All of these networks, both data and voice, are going to IP networks. By 2015, Google estimates that consumer IP traffic in North America will more than triple again to 19.4 million terabytes per month, whereas the voice network will shrink further to 26,000 terabytes per month. And IP voice traffic will be almost as big at 21,000 terabytes per month (See top slide). The entire letter with all the slides is embedded below.



Daily Deal Wallet CityPockets Raises $735K; Adds Secondary Marketplace For Deal Resale

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Like them or not, Groupon has successfully brought coupons to a whole new generation. Tellingly, this has resulted in a cavalcade of clones popping up in its wake — and they continue to pop up — like some kind of infectious popcorn. The effect of which is that bargain hunters, coupon clippers, local shoppers, and those just looking to save a few bucks — all these people, myself included — invest in a ridiculous amount of coupons or daily deals across an array of deal-hawking sites. And maybe it’s just me, but half the time I end up getting excited about a particular deal, but then within a few hours, I’ve forgotten about or lost track of them.

Enter stage left: CityPockets. This New York City-based startup aims to be the portfolio (read: wallet) for all one’s daily deals and digital discounts. CityPockets users range from those with a few vouchers to those horder-types that have deals coming out the wazoo — so you don’t have to feel left out if you’re not one of the latter.

Users can bring in their information from Blackboard Eats, Bloomspot, BuyWithMe, Daily Candy, EverSave, Gilt City, Groupon, KGBDeals, Livingsocial, Thrillist, Restaurant.com, Yelp Deals and more so that CityPockets can help you keep track of your many (or few) vouchers. The other important feature here? CityPockets allows users to set custom reminders so that they can be reminded when a voucher is about to expire.

The second key factor to CityPockets’ virtual deals wallet is that the startup has recently launched a secondary marketplace where users can unload deals they can’t use anymore to those looking for a similar deal. Since the voucher belongs to you, the user (or seller) can edit (or end) the sale of their voucher, and CityPockets won’t impose any restrictions on the sale price. Once you’ve sold a voucher, CityPockets will deposit the money into the PayPal account you’ve added, and you’ll receive an email confirming the transaction. Though, CityPockets does impose a small transaction fee on the sale — they have to make money, people.

CityPockets already had an easy-to-use and sharp UI, but today the startup launched a re-design, and now the site looks even better. The same features still exist, though now in version 2.0, including the service’s sexy coupon organizer that places all your deals in categories, with a bunch of different ways to view deals, by type, date, and so on. Users can also view their deal portfolio on an overlaid map, which you can use to pick the location of your upcoming night out on the town.

The startup is also announcing today that it has closed a $735K seed round, led by Great Oaks Venture Capital, which has invested in sites like StubHub, Cardpool, OkCupid, etc. Contributing investors also include MI Ventures, and several other NYC-based angels and international investors. The new seed round adds to the $20K CityPockets received as part of its participation in LaunchBox Digital’s accelerator program.

According to CityPockets CEO Cheryl Yeoh, the startup will use the influx of capital to ramp up hiring, especially for developers and engineers, and finish up work on its Android and iPhone apps, which are due out in the first week of July.

While CityPockets currently supports 30 deals sites, Yeoh said that she hopes to expand the startup’s reach to eventually include the some 450 deals sites currently operating in the U.S. And that near-term plans for expansion include adding a personalized “Recommended Deals” vertical, a la Amazon, that serves recommendations based on users’ purchase history, preferred category, price range, location, etc.

While the daily deals space becomes more and more saturated every day, with its secondary marketplace for deal resale, CityPockets finds an end-around the “breakage problem” that irks many local vendors — and the startup is clearly adding value and usability in a space that suffers from the opposite. The site is attractive, usable, and cuts through the fluff. I’m excited to see what the future holds for CityPockets; I’m going long on ‘em.

For more, check out the video below:



DuckDuckGo To Google, Bing Users: Escape Them Filter Bubbles!

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 07:37 AM PDT

We all want solutions tailored to our needs for a lot of things, online and offline, but does that include a search engine that shows results for queries based on dozens of factors (and more importantly, hides from you certain results based on those factors)?

Well, I’m inclined to think that’s not such a bad thing at all, or at least not that big a deal.

DuckDuckGo, a tiny alternative search engine, begs to differ, and this morning they spread the word about a new website they’ve set up to give home to an illustrated guide of the ‘search engine filter bubble‘ concept and why they think it ducks sucks.

Go visit DontBubble.us and please make up your own mind.

For the record, MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser came up with the term ‘filter bubble’ (see his TED talk), and has even authored a book about it.

Also, you can add &pws=0 to any string on Google and it will turn off personalized search results (though there is some debate about if it actually does what it’s supposed to).

(Via Hacker News, where there’s an interesting discussion about the ‘filter bubble’ being complete nonsense or of the utmost importance to mankind)


 
Escape your search engine Filter Bubble! An illustrated guide by #DuckDuckGo http://t.co/WP8OnVu


Social Addicts Rejoice! HTC ChaCha Facebook Phone Headed For AT&T

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 07:30 AM PDT

Have you ever excused yourself from a real-life interpersonal conversation to play Farmville? Do you update "what's on your mind" more often than you eat? Do you scour the social network religiously for signs your ex-girlfriend is "in a relationship?" If you answered yes to any of these questions, it's possible that you have a Facebook addiction.

Luckily, HTC has created a way to keep you hooked on the 'book, instead of ween you off of it: the HTC ChaCha, photos of which have surfaced with an AT&T logo emblazoned across the front.

Read more



Meet The First Indie Publisher To Sell A Million Kindle Books

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 07:06 AM PDT

Amazon is touting its self-publishing platform today with the announcement that John Locke has become the first independently published author to become a member of the "Kindle Million club,” selling over 1 million Kindle books using Kindle Direct Publishing.

Locke, who has published nine works including “Vegas Moon," “Wish List," “A Girl Like You," “Follow the Stone," “Don’t Poke the Bear!” and “Saving Rachel.” joins Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins and Michael Connelly in the Kindle Million Club. Taking a look at Locke’s works (i.e. Now & Then, which pictures a half-naked woman on the cover), it looks like he may not be in line for a Pulitzer, but the milestone is impressive for an independent author.

Kindle Direct Publishing allows anyone to publish and sell e-books to Amazon Kindle users in a number of languages. Books self-published through KDP can also participate in a 70% royalty program. Thousands of books are published on the platform each month.

Unfortunately, Amazon’s KDP program has been hit with massive amounts of spam of late, causing some to call for stricter regulation of what’s published on the platform.



Want Some Facebook With That Skype? New Windows Client Adds IM Support

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 06:48 AM PDT

In October 2010, Skype debuted new Windows software with deep Facebook integration, adding the ability to use the client to monitor your Facebook news feed and post, like or comment on status updates straight from your desktop.

This morning, the company (which has been acquired by Microsoft in the meantime) released Skype for Windows 5.5 Beta, which now also lets you have instant messaging conversations with Facebook friends directly from the desktop client.

Aside from support for Facebook Chat, the client also comes with a dedicated contacts tab that filters your Skype contact list down to just your Facebook friends.

Other enhancements include a new ‘Call Control’ toolbar, improvements to the saving of a phone number in the “Call Phones” section and a number of UI changes.

Skype says the final version of the client will be released ‘soon’.



eBay Closes $2.4 Billion Acquisition Of GSI Commerce

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 06:11 AM PDT

eBay announced its $2.4 billion acquisition GSI Commerce in March, and today the e-commerce giant has announced that the deal has been closed. In a release, eBay said that GSI’s stock holders approved the deal late last week, with the merger closing on June 17.

With more than 180 customers across 14 merchandise categories, GSI has long-term commerce services relationships with a wealth of retailers and brands. eBay says it expects GSI clients to benefit from eBay's Marketplaces and PayPal services, particularly.

As we wrote last week, a lawsuit was filed in late March by an investor, claiming that the $2.4 billion offer at $29.95 per share was a "bargain price." eBay and GSI subsequently settled the suit, with GSI Shareholders receiving GSI $0.33 a share (separate from the $29.25 per share payout), bringing the total acquisition and merger price to roughly $3 billion.

For eBay, GSI Commerce was its second largest acquisition ever. The company’s previous big dollar acquisitions include PayPal for $1.5 billion and Skype for $4.1 billion.

GSI Commerce will operate as a separate business unit led by Chris Saridakis as president. Saridakis will report to eBay CEO and President John Donahoe. eBay has also divested a number of GSI’s former properties, including 100 epercent of GSI’s sports merchandise business and 70 percent of both Rue La La and Shop Runner. These businesses will be part of a newly formed holding company led by GSI founder and former CEO Michael Rubin and will be completely separate from eBay and GSI.



Virtual World Technology Developer ProtonMedia Raises $4.5 Million

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 06:00 AM PDT

ProtonMedia, a startup that develops virtual worlds technology, has raised $4.5 million in Series B venture financing led by Kaplan Ventures (the venture arm of the education company) with Originate Ventures and Osage Venture Partners participating. This brings ProtonMedia’s total funding to $7 million.

ProtonMedia develops ProtoSphere, a virtual world and collaboration tool for the enterprise. It’s like SecondLife meets Yammer or Jive. The software aims to bring together the people within an enterprise, in a 3D environment, to collaborate on spreadsheets, documents, images, presentations, web content, etc.

The new funding will be used to integrate ProtoSphere with Kaplan’s ComplianceWire, a cloud-based learning management system. As part of the financing, Kaplan will become a strategic reseller of ProtonMedia products to its customers. The new capital will also be used towards product development, and sales and marketing.

Competitors include Linden Lab, which also offers a virtual world for the enterprise.



Latest Apple Rumor Puts Sandy Bridge, Thunderbolt Mac Pro, Mac Mini Launching Late July Or Early August

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Don’t tell the kids this, but it’s almost back to school time and Apple is reportedly gearing up for a major push this August. Apperently several large hardware refreshes are on tap with both the Mac Pro and Mac mini set to get new innards.

It’s about time, too. The iMac got in on the Intel Sandy Bridge party just last month with the top of the line model now packing more computing might than a much more expensive Xeon-packing Mac Pro. Intel’s latest chips are just that good. But this refresh isn’t just about the processor. Oh no, it’s a whole lot more than that.

Read More



Decide Launches An Electronics Shopping Service That Tells You When To Buy (And Wait)

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 05:00 AM PDT

Decide.com has been cloaked in stealth mode for nearly the last two years. During that time, the startup has remained tight-lipped about what it’s been up to, while at the same time managing to raise $8.5 million from Maveron, Madrona Venture Group, Google founding board member Ram Shriram, former Expedia CEO Erik Blachford, and others — all in the name of building a “revolutionary new shopping service that will bring unprecedented levels of transparency to electronics shopping".

Today, Decide is finally ready to unveil what it’s been working on and launch that new shopping service into the wild. The proposed goal? To offer a novel comparison-shopping tool that will take that feeling of nagging regret out of consumer electronics purchases. For those who may not be familiar with the regret associated with the consumer electronics shopping experience, Best Buy actually released a great commercial a few months back that highlights the often annoyingly speedy pace at which new product iterations and updates hit the market. Figuratively speaking, it always seems that just as soon as one buys a 3D TV, a 4D TV is right around the corner.

Decide tackles this problem by giving users a service that uses data mining techniques to tell a consumer whether they should buy a device now or wait until there’s a cheaper model on the market. After all, in doing its year-and-a-half due diligence, Decide observed that, in 2010, an average of six new laptops were released into the market each day, plus one new TV and one new camera every other day.

And, as electronics geeks know, many device manufacturers make announcements or start planting rumors about their next generation devices months before they are available on the market. MacRumors is one popular example of the many websites and blogs that traffic in these tips and early rumblings.

Thus, Decide is offering consumers a tool that uses proprietary data and predictive algorithms to tell them when they can buy with confidence, or whether they should wait for a price drop or a new model that’s slated to be released in just a few days. Decide matches hundreds of thousands of devices to their “model lineages” and crawls the Web for news and rumors, as well as applying “advanced machine learning and text mining algorithms” to predict future product releases.

Rather than rely on trade-in credits or buyback programs, Decide wants to give consumers the ability to make the right choice the first time. It does this by using price prediction algorithms that take into account billions of observed price movements and over 40 distinct factors to offer comprehensive predictions.

Considering that Decide was founded by Oren Etzioni, the former founder of Farecast, an airfare predictions service, Metacrawler, a metasearch engine, and Netbot, one of the Web's first comparison-shopping services, and has added several founding developers from PriceYeti (which allows anyone to track any item on the web and get an email instantly when the price drops) and Eggsprout (which compiled data on resumes) — it’s probably fair to say that Decide is a high-level, suped-up Farecast for products.

While Decide intends to eventually become consumers’ go-to resource for all things consumer electronics, the service is currently only available for TV, laptop, and camera shoppers. More to electronics will be added later this year.

So how does it work? Users simply go to Decide.com and search for, say, a TV that he or she wants to buy. Decide then comes back with a recommendation on whether to buy or wait based on its proprietary predictions about future prices and model releases.

Then, if the user wants to buy, they simply click through to the seller of their choice — Decide offers pricing on hundreds of thousands of products, too, so it’s a fairly wide selection. If, based on Decide’s suggestion, a user chooses to wait, they can view a timeline that shows when the product will be coming down in price and estimates how much that change will be. The user can set an alert to ping them when the product comes down in price, which is added to their “Watch List”, a la eBay.

Decide will also alert you if you’re unwittingly looking at an older iteration of a product you want, and at at the bottom of each product description, it presents a timeline of releases so that users can view when prior iterations were released and when it predicts new models to arrive. It also gives the user a “confidence score”, so they’ll know just how likely a new product is to be release in 2 weeks, for example.

The startup’s service provides much needed amplification to the typical comparison-shopping experience — and the many comparison shopping sites out there on the Web. Using complex algorithms plus the aggregation of data like CE and OEM press releases and sites trafficking in rumors and tips is a great concept, with a little dash of eBay’s user experience may prove to be a successful hybrid model. Of course, it’s all a matter of how accurate Decide’s secret sauce proves to be in predicting the best time to buy. But, with a year-and-a-half of data mining under its belt and a veteran team of data and search experts, I’m expecting good things from Decide.com.

Let us know what you think.



iControl Lands Over $50 Million For Broadband Home Management Software

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 04:49 AM PDT

iControl Networks, a provider of broadband home management software solutions, this morning announced that it has raised over $50 million in Series D funding, bringing total investment in the company to more than $100 million. The round was led by energy and clean tech investors, with notable backers like Cisco, Comcast Ventures, Intel Capital, Charles River Ventures, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers iFund, Rogers Communications and Tyco International also participating.


Online Gaming Outfit Bigpoint Points To Some Big Numbers

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 04:33 AM PDT

Bigpoint, the German online gaming outfit, is pointing to some big numbers today, claiming its 200 millionth registered user. This, says the company, puts it on par with Twitter, which is a bit like comparing apples with oranges but whatever. That said, 200 million users is no mean feat and to put it into context, Bigpoint says that 18 months ago it could only boast 100 million users and is attracting 250,000 new users every day on average. Again, not too shabby at all. More big numbers from Bigpoint:


Bluefields Scores Angel Funding To Help Amateur Football Teams Get Organised

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 03:12 AM PDT

Bluefields.com, a sort of 'Groupspaces for amateur football', has scored £100k from seven angel investors including Julian Ranger of iBundle and Jalin Somaiya, Google Sales Project Leader, although Somaiya's involvement isn't associated with Google. Both will join Bluefields' board. The other five angels are Lee Strafford, co-founder of Plus.Net and ex-Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday FC, along with Mark Wainwright, Brian Lawrence, Jim Mann and Ami Shipro. The funding will be used to launch Bluefields' football (soccer) focused player availability and payment applications this August in time for the start of the football season in the UK. The platform is both browser-based and will have mobile apps for iPhone and Android.


ICANN To Expand Top-Level Domain Names, Applications Start Jan 12, 2012

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 02:02 AM PDT

The ICANN board has voted to approve the new gTLD program, which was first announced three years ago. The new program will significantly expand Top-Level Domains (TLDs) to allow companies, organizations and even cities to turn their own brands into domain name extensions. Think .ADIDAS, .HOTEL, .BRUSSELS, .FACEBOOK and the likes.

Applications for new gTLDs will be accepted from 12 January 2012 to 12 April 2012.

The first ones should be operational by late 2013 according to the current roadmap.

ICANN board members voted 13 for, 1 opposed, 2 abstain on the first day of its international pow-wow in Singapore. Earlier this year, the organization’s board entered into a contract with ICM Registry to operate a .XXX top level domain name for adult websites and whatnot.

Currently, there are 22 generic top-level domains, including .com, .org and .net.

According to ICANN, newly introduced gTLDs may change the way people find information on the Internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence.

“Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways,” ICANN said in a statement.

However, it’s important to note that only “established public or private organizations” will be able to apply, and the price tag for a new domain name extension is steep – unless you consider $185,000 a bargain. Nevertheless, expect lots of interest even at that price.

Applications will have to show a legitimate claim to the name they are buying – ICANN is reportedly taking on hundreds of consultants to whom it will outsource the job of evaluating such claims. In addition, gTLD owners will be expected to maintain operational sites, in an effort to minimize the risk of massive .CYBERSQUATTING.

Also read: ICANN Moves Ahead With Non-Latin Web Addresses (Video)

(Image above via the ICANN website)



‘Reminder: Call Dad’ Is Another Notch In Google’s Belt Of Social Fail

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 01:34 AM PDT

Google, Google, Google … I don’t know if it's that you just don’t understand the intricacies of intrapersonal relationships or if getting the social stuff right is just extremely difficult …

Whatever the cause, it looks like you've made another faux pas with your innocent Father's Day reminder to give Dad a call via Gmail for Father's Day, which offended the sizable number of people who for one reason or another weren't able to call their fathers yesterday.

The backlash, taking place primarily in this support thread in Google’s Voice Chat forum, Twitter and Hacker News, refers specifically to the note under Chat in Gmail that said "Reminder: Call dad" all day.

This note clearly rubbed some users the wrong way, "I very recently lost my dad and while I understand the sentiment, having that ‘reminder’ there is incredibly mocking" and "Isn’t this day hard enough without my own computer rubbing it in my face?" are typical of the somewhat painful comments about the feature, which was also difficult to remove.

Albeit micro, 'Reminder: Call dad' is just one more example of Google not entirely grasping social niceties. It should be obvious that putting up a status message that's offensive to some users (especially users whose fathers have passed away, or were abusive, et al.), in a place that most people consider private, might not go over well.  But it wasn't.

As many of the Hacker News commenters pointed out, the line between what should be public versus private is the kicker here. People don't get angry when Google uses its homepage logo to celebrate a holiday (in fact Google also put the same reminder on its homepage, to lesser complaint) because they consider the homepage a public space.

HN commenter djcapelis explained,

"It’s the difference between someone coming up to you on the bus and asking you if you’ve called your father and a poster on the side of the bus asking if you’ve called your father.

When you put your message in someone’s personal space, you don’t get to just say 'eh, it’s probably only a small fraction' because you’re specifically communicating with specific people."

But Google has had a hard time drawing the line between public and private, most notably with the Google Buzz privacy settings, which lead one user to write a blog post entitled "Fuck You, Google" as well as to a FTC investigation, all because Buzz's strange conception of what a frequent contact means.

Because it is considered a public space, Google has been doing its Doodle shtick pretty much without incident. But there needs to be more awareness of the fact that some holidays are sensitive and should be treated as such when moving into more granular marketing messages like today’s. As one armchair commenter remarked, "Would they have a status message to call your gay friends on Gay Pride, or your Jewish friends on Rosh Hashanah?"

In contrast, Facebook expertly let users take the reigns on Father's Day, playing host to a meme where people uploaded pictures of their Dads to their Facebook profiles, not getting in the way of people who wanted to celebrate the holiday but not shoving it down the throats of those who didn't.

I am 100% sure Google intended "Reminder: Call Dad" to be a cute, heartfelt message. But its execution was flawed to say the least. Taking into account its stumbles with Orkut, Dodgeball, Buzz, Wave and (some might say) +1 and the fact that 25% of all employee bonuses are now reportedly based on Google "getting" social, Google should really take user feedback to heart on this one.

Or perhaps hire a team of hybrid UX/UI/psychologist geniuses? Before this happens again.



Joe Hewitt’s First Post-Facebook Web Gift: Inertial Scrolling For All

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 01:17 AM PDT

Back in early May, developer Joe Hewitt surprised a lot of people when he abruptly announced he was leaving Facebook after nearly four years. Hewitt had been vital to everything from the social network’s iPhone app (the most popular app of all time) to (supposedly) the don’t-call-it-a-phone secret phone project. But he apparently wanted to return closer to his pure web roots (he was an early developer of Firefox and built the still widely-used Firebug dev tool). And today we’re seeing the first fruits of that journey back.

Hewitt has just announced a new site, Up on a Hill, a photo blog he made in collaboration with his girlfriend, Laura Copeland. The site itself looks great, but the real key (at least from the tech perspective) is Hewitt’s use of Scrollability, the native scrolling framework he created for mobile web apps. “Most mobile websites still rely on clicking (actually, tapping) buttons to navigate through sections that should really be using inertial scrolling, like photo galleries. That’s unfortunate, because flicking through pages is a far more comfortable than tapping on small “next” and “previous” buttons,” Hewitt writes.

That’s funny. The first such a photo galleries that come to mind matching that description are on… Facebook.

As Hewitt notes, Up on a Hill was designed to work on desktops, phones, and iPads. And again, it looks great on all three. But Scrollability really shines on the iPad, where you can seamlessly flick up, down, left, or right to navigate the images.  ReadWriteWeb has more details about Scrollability from their initial look at the open source project last month.

“My hope is that Scrollability will encourage mobile web developers to be more like native app developers, and use inertial scrolling when it makes sense, rather than falling back on desktop conventions,” Hewitt ends his post tonight by saying. Remember, this is the guy who once ripped apart the state of web development as compared to native app development. Now he’s trying to do something about it. Bit by bit.



Adobe Software Updates To Help Devs Build iOS, PlayBook And Android Apps

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 12:48 AM PDT

Adobe is today pushing updates to its application development software product Flash Builder and the open source Flex framework to enable developers to build apps for iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry PlayBook, following support for the Android platform (added last April).

Developers can now opt to use Adobe’s platform to build apps that work across the Web, the desktop and a range of tablets and smartphones, with the ability to reuse most or all of their existing code and use common logic across all platforms.

The new version of Flash Builder (4.5) and Flex (also 4.5) are offered as stand-alone products or as part of Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium and Master Collection. Also, Flash Builder 4.5 for PHP today supports mobile application development for Android, BlackBerry PlayBook and iOS.

The release of the software updates accompanies the company’s announcement of the Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform, which it bills as an “open, standards-based platform for delivering engaging digital solutions across social, Web, mobile, and print channels”.

Using the new Flash Builder, developers can create Flex and ActionScript applications and deploy them using Adobe AIR software, which Adobe reckons will be supported by over 200 million mobile devices by the end of this year. Needless to say, this is a way for developers to work around Apple's no-Flash restrictions when it comes to building apps for iOS devices.

Last week, the company released the Adobe AIR 2.7 SDK and runtimes. Notably, Adobe at the time of the release said it would be dropped support for Linux to focus on mobile platforms.

Flash Builder 4.5 Standard will set you back $249, while the premium version of the product costs $699 – upgrade pricing for Flash Builder 4.5 is $49.

Flex 4.5 is available as a free open source framework.

You can find some example applications built with the new software in Adobe’s blog post.



The Bitcoin Trials Continue: Mt. Gox Exchange Collapses Due To Compromised Account

Posted: 19 Jun 2011 11:17 PM PDT

It seems that Bitcoin is experiencing the same fits and starts that any new currency undergoes early in its history. Though Bitcoin is 2 years old, the mainstream press discovered it much more recently, and since then, Bitcoin has experienced some schizophrenic volatility — you can read Jon Evans’ recent diagnosis here.

Yet, absent from Evans’ post is the very latest news out of the virtual currency market: Late this afternoon, Bitcoin suffered from another serious setback, as the network’s most popular exchange, Mt. Gox, collapsed thanks to a hacked account. The unknown hacker(s) made an enormous sale of bitcoins from the compromised account, causing the price of the currency to fall from $17.5 to just pennies in a matter of minutes.

Mt. Gox’s Mark Karpeles issued a statement early this afternoon saying:

One account with a lot of coins was compromised and whoever stole it (using a HK based IP to login) first sold all the coins in there, to buy those again just after, and then tried to withdraw the coins. The $1000/day withdraw limit was active for this account and the hacker could only get out with $1000 worth of coins.

While the relatively small value of the hacker’s loot may have at first seemed like a silver lining, it has since come to light that whoever owned the compromised account also had “read-only access” to Mt. Gox’s database, which enabled the hacker(s) to pull information from older Bitcoin accounts, including email addresses and hashed passwords.

A discussion on Reddit found some readers saying that the hackers were able to take Gmail addresses and hashed passwords to brute-force users’ real passwords. Just as Reddit users recommend that anyone using the same passwords for Mt. Gox accounts, email addresses and so on, immediately change all passwords, Karpeles has also advised all Bitcoin users not to download any information (certificate or otherwise) sent from Mt. Gox until further notice.

Until the investigation concludes and security is confirmed, Karpeles said, Mt. Gox will remain offline. When it does in fact come back online, users will be put through “a new security measure to authenticate the users. This will be a mix of matching the last IP address that accessed the account, verifying their email address, account name and old password. Users will then be prompted to enter in a new strong password.”

Bitcoin has been the subject of quite a bit of controversy lately, as the U.S. Senate has been drafting anti-Bitcoin law, and there had been reports this week that hackers had begun targeting Bitcoin users’ virtual wallets with Malware and more, in an attempt to steal the virtual currency. However, an important thing to note for the anti-Bitcoiners is that the underlying peer-to-peer transaction clearing process does not seem to have been compromised — at least in this incident. Instead, the Mt. Gox crash appears to be the result of poor security (or using the same password for 8 different accounts) on the part of a single user.

Whether or not one believes that Bitcoin marks the future of currency, there appear to be a number of sites and blogs writing openly about the security holes in Bitcoin’s current system. Quora even has a string on this topic. That doesn’t bode well for confidence in the virtual currency market, at least in the short term. On the other hand, having its network security dissected by various sites and message boards across the Web, as well as market crashes like the one that happened today, will hopefully be used as fodder for building a better and more secure exchange.

And it’s worth mentioning, for how much both have been in the news of late, this does not appear to be a LulzSec Production, nor does Anonymous seem to have anything to do with it. In fact, some even want LulzSec to be the White Hats that hack-test a new, private security exchange for Bitcoin.

In the end, as Evans so astutely said, whether or not Bitcoin itself is a success, its existence is notable (and significant), as it may be the progenitor of future virtual exchanges that will collectively change the very face of currency as we know it. The Internet has a way of doing that. Until then, Bitcoin users should increase the level of security of their own accounts and passwords, and expect these kinds of crashes to happen again.

For those looking for an exhaustive explanation of what Bitcoin is and does, check out The Economist’s run-down here.

Or you can just turn to Tweets like this one:

Or this apt description from a commenter on Slashdot, which includes, “Bitcoin is a decentralised computer currency designed by self-righteous Ayn Rand-reading nerds who despise looters and parasites like, er, you. It is used to purchase Internet services, illegal drugs and pictures of naked women holding video cards”.



VillageVines Relaunches As Savored, Expands Discount Dining To 10 Cities

Posted: 19 Jun 2011 10:04 PM PDT

New York City-based dining deals site VillageVines is now Savored. In addition to the name change, it launched a redesigned site, is doubling its cities to ten, and added Buddy Media CEO Michael Lazerow as an investor and board member. The company raised $3 million last January.

Savored focuses on high-end dining discounts at top-rated Zagat restaurants. But the model is slightly different than your run-of-the-mill daily deals site. Members pay $10 per reservation, and get a flat 30 percent off food and drinks. Unlike Groupon or LivingSocial, merchants get to keep everything after the discount instead of splitting that with Savored. Savored makes money by charging $10 per reservation (so the deals are only appealing at restaurants where it is worth paying $10 to get 30 percent off).

Another difference with the bigger daily deal sites is that Savored is a lot more flexible. “We don't have sky diving, we don't have spas and salons,” notes co-founder Daniel Leahy. Restaurants can pick the times that their deals are available, as well as limit the size of the party that can take advantage of the deal. Savored makes it easier for them to drive traffic during slow hours. Members make reservations on the site just like they would with OpenTable (pick a time, restaurant, and how many diners) and 30 percent is automatically taken off the bill.

In addition to New York City, San Francisco, Chicago,LA< and Washington, D.C., Savored is expanding to Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, and Denver. Leahy expects that Savored will be able to drive $25 million in incremental revenues to restaurants this year.



Yup, YouTube Counts Video Ads As Regular Views

Posted: 19 Jun 2011 08:51 PM PDT

Movie trailers are among the most popular videos on YouTube. A typical movie trailer gets millions of views, but how many of those views are natural and who many are pushed as paid-for ads? Yes, movie trailers are all ads in a sense. But people seek them out just like any other 2-minute video. That is not what I am talking about.

The same movie trailers are also promoted through various means and shown as prerolls before other videos or via paid links and those views can also count towards the total. For instance, this trailer for the new Conan The Barbarian movie has been watched nearly 5.5 million times. If you click on the statistics right next to that number, you will see that 4.98 million of those views come from ads (see also below).

This is not an isolated incident. The trailer for Rise of the Planet of The Apes shows 7 million views, but nearly 5.8 million of those ad views. In this case, the statistics are hidden, but I got my hands on them (see second image below). Same for this X-Men trailer: 2 million out of 2.4 million views are ads (although this one is literally a 15-second teaser, not a full two-minute trailer like the other ones I’ve cited).

Not all ads count towards a view, but many do: Promoted Videos, skippable TrueView ads, homepage ads or search ads that drive traffic to the video page.

I find this practice to be surprising, so I asked YouTube for an explanation. A spokesperson wrote me the following in an email:

When it comes to paid advertising, view count of a video increases only when it’s clear that a viewer has made a choice to watch a video. For example, a viewer might make that intention known by clicking to watch a Promoted Video, opting-in to watch a TrueView in-stream ad, or playing a YouTube video embedded in a homepage ad.

To be clear, with standard in-stream ads where a viewer has no choice in its selection, we do not increase the videos view count.

Not every pre-roll ad counts towards a view, but all of those skippable, opt-in TrueView ads do count, and from the looks of things people are watching a lot of those. Some YouTube purists are up in arms about this practice. One commenter asks, “Remember when you could watch a video without having to sit through a commercial?”

There is nothing wrong with movie studios using their trailers as ads. After all, they are trailers (i.e., ads for movies). But when people search for videos, they tend to click on the ones with the most views. Apparently, those views can be bought.



Netflix.com Website And Streaming Services Go Down

Posted: 19 Jun 2011 08:44 PM PDT

Thinking about catching a movie with your loved ones for Father’s Day, or just because its Sunday? Well it’s not going to be on Netflix as it online services including the $7.99 a month streaming feature and the ability to order DVDs are down for some users.

Right now users have been unable to access the website or the streaming features for about three hours and are complaining on (of course) Twitter. Netflix has 23.3 million members in the United States and Canada.

Reports of inability to access the site have been popping up since 5:23 pm PST according to one user and the website currently displays the above “service down” message (Netflix on the Wii and the iPad is still working apparently). There’s no word yet on whether this is part of a recent spate of hacks on services like Sony and Sega.

I’m currently listening to Netflix’s godawful hold music and will update this post if I hear any more information. Until then, maybe you should check out Hulu? Or actually talking to your family?

Update 9:00pm PST: Some users are reporting that it is back online, and it seems like http://movies.netflix.com can still be accessed.



The Most Important Organization In Silicon Valley That No One Has Heard About

Posted: 19 Jun 2011 11:10 AM PDT

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Dave Chase, the CEO of Avado.com, a health technology company that was a TechCrunch Disrupt finalist. Previously he was a management consultant for Accenture's healthcare practice and was the founder of Microsoft's Health business. You can follow him on Twitter @chasedave.

Imagine something so insidious that it leads to the following: over 750,000 personal bankruptcies per year. In Bill Gates' recent TED talk, he described it as the factor that is devastating education budgets and is leading to a pitting of old versus young; it impairs U.S.-based automakers by adding a $2000 "tax" on all of their vehicles; many believe it is the primary driver of the jobless recovery. Despite corporate profits being at record levels, many corporations simply aren't hiring as a result. In the startup arena, it can keep people from moving to a startup.

What is it? Healthcare hyperinflation. It won't be long before $1 out of every $5 in the U.S. economy is spent on healthcare despite the U.S. ranking 31st in the world in terms of health outcomes. Founded by Dr. Samir Qamar in Monterey, MedLion recently opened a clinic in the heart of Silicon Valley with a model that is revolutionizing how primary and urgent care are delivered (Disclosure: MedLion may become a customer of my company, Avado.com, which is why I am so familiar with it.) Their breakthrough model is enabled by disintermediating insurance companies from their encumbrance of day-to-day healthcare. This allows them to dramatically reduce the cost of day-to-day healthcare.

From the time Dr. Samir Qamar was going through his Family Medicine residency, he knew there was something severely broken the insurance-impaired primary care practices he observed during medical school and residency. The primary care practices he experienced were typical of insurance-centric primary care that is the norm today.

It is a relatively recent phenomenon to have day-to-day medicine paid for through insurance. Unlike all other forms of insurance designed for rare events, insurance became encumbered in day-to-day healthcare (i.e., we use insurance for the healthcare equivalent of getting one's car tuned up where we wouldn't dream of using insurance). The result has been what some call a 40% "insurance bureaucrat tax" unnecessarily adding to the nation's healthcare cost burden.

Fortunately, pioneers such as Dr. Qamar have shown there's a better way. Dr. Qamar originally setup a concierge medicine practice catering to the well-healed. He remains the House Doctor for the world famous Pebble Beach Resorts. As much as he has enjoyed his Pebble Beach practice, Dr. Qamar wanted to serve a broader population so he opened a practice with a dramatically lower price point. For only $49 per month and $10 per visit, MedLion is able to provide high quality medicine at a price point nearly any family can afford.

In fact, MedLion has plans to open another clinic in 2011 in a farming community in California catering to migrant workers who can have difficulty finding a family physician. Dr. Qamar states, "For the same amount they may pay in co-pays with an insurance policy, we can offer complete primary care without the added cost burden of insurance. We believe that a farm worker deserves access to primary care just as much as an executive at Pebble Beach."

MedLion recently opened up a clinic in Mountain View, California in the heart of Silicon Valley. It's apropos to open a clinic in Silicon Valley since technology a critical element of having a high quality at a low cost. Dr. Qamar has received inquiries from doctors all over the country seeking to replicate MedLion's success. These leading doctors are thrilled to remove the yoke of insurance and work for their patients rather than a faceless insurance company.

Many view what Dr. Qamar is doing as simply going back to the Marcus Welby, MD model of a family physician. It hasn't been without challenges though. MedLion has spent an extensive amount of time (and attorney fees) on setting up their practice model to avoid running afoul of California's insurance regulations. States such as Washington and the federal health reform allow for direct primary care practices, but it hasn't yet trickled down into California – ironic for a state known for innovation.

Dr. Qamar explained, "We hired experienced attorneys including the one involved in writing the law in Washington to ensure we were fully complying with the current regulations, however it would be nice if the folks in Sacramento would follow other states in supporting a model that has the potential to save California citizens billions of dollars."

States such as West Virginia are ahead of California in supporting the direct primary care model. So much so that they are looking to move Medicaid patients onto this kind of model as a means of improving the health of their population while simultaneously reducing costs.

Part of MedLion's value proposition has been availability to its patient base. Like many direct primary care practices, they find more than half of their patient interaction is via electronic means, as they aren't forced by reimbursement rules to have a patient come to their office for something that could be done simply over phone or email. We want to be available for our patients whether they are in the Bay Area, Bali or Boise."

What's next? Like the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs MedLion now cares for, he has big plans. Dr. Qamar is focused on rapidly expanding his model by partnering with doctors throughout California and beyond. A past president of the American Medical Association once called the primary care physician the "quarterback of the modern medical team." Yet, compared to their specialist physician brethren, they are paid like "Special Teams players".

Dr. Qamar sees a resurgence of the primary care physician where the primary care physician can make a healthy living while not being shackled by insurance bureaucracy. "The gratifying part of being in a practice like ours is we can practice medicine the way we were trained while saving our patients a considerable amount. Many of my brethren in insurance-centric primary care share with me they believe they are only using 40% of their medical training when they are forced to have what I call 'drive by' interactions with patients. When they learn about how we practice, they are eager to transition their practices to our model."

Studies have consistently shown that the higher the percentage a country or a county in the U.S. has patients with a "medical home" (i.e., one has a specific primary care physician they go to), the better the health indicators are. A byproduct of these better health indicators is less money is spent on healthcare. Denmark has had so much luck with increasing primary care that they have reduced the number of hospitals in the country by over half – they simply weren't necessary anymore.

In the U.S., the early results are similarly promising. That is, by deploying a more primary care centric model, a pilot program is Ohio has shown it can save $500MM per year just in their Medicaid population with diabetes once they scale the pilot. As Bill Gates’ recent TED Talk on State budgets highlighted, these are monies that can remain in education rather than a further draining of education budgets. At a time when Silicon Valley needs more education, not less, this is critical for the future of the industry.

MedLion makes a Medical Home available to virtually anyone regardless of their income. This will help the U.S. match other parts of the world that outpace the U.S. in prevalence of Medical Homes that are so critical to improving the health of the population. Importantly, this will also dramatically lower costs when deployed at scale.



Good World Games’ MyConservationPark Helps You Save Endangered Species

Posted: 19 Jun 2011 11:05 AM PDT

Combining social games with a cause has become a popular way to engage game players on Facebook with raising money for various philanthropic causes. For example, Zynga has raised funds via its games for the earthquake relief efforts in both Japan and Haiti over the past few years. Startup Good World Games is developing Facebook games devoted purely to marrying the power of causes with the viral explosion of social gaming. The startup’s first Facebook game, MyConservationPark, allows you to protect an endangered animal from environmental and human threats while enriching the park with fauna and flora to create a sustainable habitat.

There are 2 modes of Play in the game: Play and Decorate. In Play mode, new challenges constantly appear that you must overcome in order to save and protect your endangered species (i.e. there’s a fire in your park, hire a firefighter to put it out) In this mode, your eco-system and hero levels are affected by your success in conquering these challenges.

In Decorate mode, you can create a haven for your species and add people and creatures, trees, food and water, watchtowers and sheds, and arrange your park as you see fit. You can purchase virtual good such as park rangers, native species such as antelopes, structures such as watchtowers and camps, flora (indigenous trees and bushes), water and insects.

All purchases of virtual goods directly benefit Good World Games’ non-profit partners with 15% of in-game purchase revenue donated to select causes. Each park benefits a different partner, which include Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Sea Shepherd, Wildaid and Orangutan Outreach. You can see what percent of revenue from your game interactions have been donated as well.

Each park contains species native to its location, with different art and challenges. And top scorers in game will, on a periodic basis, receive real world rewards such as an all-expenses paid trip to help (as a volunteer) one of the non-profit partners in the field.

Eventually Good World Games plans to roll out similar games that allow Facebook users to play games towards social good.



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