Friday, June 24, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Foodspotting Comes Out On Windows Phone 7

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 09:19 AM PDT

Foodspotting, the food photo sharing app that has built a community around the sharing of specific dishes, is launching on Windows Phone 7 today. The Foodspotting Windows Phone app will retain all the functionality of the iPhone and Android apps, allowing users to view dishes nearby, look for a particular food, check out the various dishes at a restaurant and bookmark foods that they’re interested in trying.

The app also has a more streamlined interface and simplified feedback and language than existing iPhone and Android apps, features which Foodspotting says it will port over to other apps shortly. The company plans on letting users browse their “Wants” list from the app as well as follow people and guides in later Windows Phone 7 versions.

Foodspotting Head of Outreach Fiona Tang explained why the company decided to build a Windows Phone app, “We actually had requests for the community for it, and it’s just so pretty. [CEO Alexa Andrzejewski] is really design focused so we thought it’d be a good idea.”

Foodspotting currently has more than 620k reviews and photos across both platforns and over 850k downloads. The startup (which has expanded its team to 10 employees) is currently working on a beta testing a BlackBerry app.

Math Geeks, Rejoice! The Desmos Graphing Calculator Is Here, It’s Online And It’s Free

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 09:07 AM PDT

One of my favorite demos at Disrupt NYC was from an education startup called Desmos that is reinventing the whiteboard to make it browser-based and interactive (watch their Disrupt video below).

One of the killer features of the Desmos Whiteboard is an interactive calculator that graphs equations as you write them. (Founder Eli Luberoff was a double math and physics major at Yale). Desmos has now taken that and rewritten it as a standalone online graphing calculator. It instantly draws the equations as you update them, it’s free, browser-based, color-coded, and you can share any graph with a bitly link.

You will never have to buy a Texas Instruments calculator again (do they still make those?)

Desmos closed an $800,000 seed round the day before Disrupt NYC from Mitch Kapor, Learn Capital, and Kindler Capital.

In The War Over Tech IPOs, The New York Stock Exchange Is Drawing Some Blood

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 08:52 AM PDT

There’s a war going on in the tech world, and it doesn’t involve Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft. In fact, the foes are not based in Silicon Valley, but rather in New York City. As the tech IPO market heats up, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ are battling it out for listings. NASDAQ is home to the tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Oracle, Intel, eBay, Dell, RIM, Baidu and the list goes on. NYSE has its fair share of big-name tech giants, including Nokia and IBM, but traditionally, NASDAQ has dominated listings for the newer major tech companies, especially Web companies. But there may be a changing of the guard.

Many of the biggest IPOs in the past few months have gone to the NYSE. LinkedIn, Pandora, Fusion-IO, Bankrate, Demand Media, and RenRen have all chosen the New York Stock Exchange for their listings. SuccessFactors recently switched its listing on the NASDAQ to the NYSE. But Russian search engine Yandex chose NASDAQ for its IPO, and upcoming offerings from HomeAway and Zillow will also be listed on the NASDAQ.

So what’s causing the sudden urge to list on the NYSE? Sources have said the NYSE is being very aggressive with their marketing tactics and are actively lobbying companies to list on their exchange even more so than usual. In fact, when I spoke to NASDAQ’s public relations representative about this piece, he pointedly asked me if the NYSE pitched me on the idea. (They did not).

Apparently, the NYSE has been pitching reporters on stories about how the exchange is basically kicking NASDAQ’s butt for these tech company listings, and after a cursory Google search I found a few glowing posts that could have been the products of these NYSE pitches.

But digging deeper, there are a number of factors at play in choosing an exchange, and it’s still not clear that we can call the fight  a “complete crushing“ of the NASDAQ by the NYSE, as Forbes asserted recently.

Professor Len Lodish of the Wharton School of Business explains that the NYSE has consistently competed with the NASDAQ for prestige, but NASDAQ historically was always on the cutting edge when it came to the actual technology of trading. That’s what made the exchange so appealing to tech companies like Google and Amazon, he explains.

For background, the NYSE is an auction market that traditionally used floor traders to make most of its trades. Each stock on the NYSE has a specialist who oversees and facilitates all of the trades for a particular stock. Much of that is now automated. The NASDAQ, which has a broadcast studio and “storefront” in Times Square, is a dealer market and is completely computerized. The exchange relies on market makers to buy and sell stock on behalf of their clients.

For a long time, the NASDAQ was the favorite for tech companies, as not only was the exchange strong, but it was also innovative. But the NYSE has adapted to the times and has made more investments in technology, says the NYSE’s Scott Cutler, who heads U.S. listings. “We are a technology enabled organization, with many of our trades being made electronically,” he explains. “We’ve invested in state of the art technology to stay relevant, and companies realize that.”

The NYSE’s investments in technology go beyond the obvious. For example, the NYSE has been using some of flash storage company Fusion-io’s technology, and lo and behold, the company chose the exchange for its $233 million IPO a few weeks ago (Fusion-IO declined to comment on the company’s choice of the NYSE).

In Lodish’s words, “The NYSE realized the world was changing in terms of technology and it had to get with it in order to attract newer companies.”

As for the tech companies themselves, most gave me very bland statements and refused to be interviewed for the story, perhaps for fear of angering the NASDAQ in case things on the NYSE don’t go so well.

From a Pandora representative: As we evaluated what we needed in our new phase as a public company we found an experienced and enthusiastic partner at the NYSE. We’re pleased to be part of this illustrious institution and believe it will enhance the initiatives that we undertake as a public company.

Pandora’s founder Tim Westergren said in this NYSE video clip that the reasoning behind choosing the exchange revolves around the NYSE’s enthusiasm for Pandora as a business, and its progressive stance in embracing technology.

A spokesperson for Linkedin issued this statement: We thought the NYSE was a great fit for LinkedIn based on their understanding of our business and their vision for how we’d work together. In a similar video clip to Westergren’s, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says that the NYSE’s global reach was a deciding factor in choosing the exchange.

There’s no doubt that the NYSE is being extremely aggressive in its marketing efforts to meet and pitch companies in Silicon Valley on a potential listing. Cutler confirmed to us that he’s hitting the pavement, requesting meetings with companies who have the potential to IPO, traveling to Silicon Valley and more. Part of his pitch to companies who are considering an IPO: “Nasdaq is where the technology companies grew up, the NYSE is the future.”

Trading technology aside, one consideration in choosing an exchange is listing fees. The NYSE calculates their fees primarily against the number of shares outstanding for a company. The fees range from $38,000 per year to $500,000 per year. The exchange says that very few companies pay the maximum fee. This also doesn’t include another one-time listing fee, which ranges from $125,000 $250,000.

By comparison, the NASDAQ is more affordable. Yearly fees range from $30,000 to $99,000. The NASDAQ says that on average companies pay around $40,000 per year, plus a one-time listing fee which is generally under $200,000.

But considering the growing number of companies listing on the NYSE and the aggression of the exchange in their marketing tactics, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NYSE is discounting some of their fees to appeal to tech companies.

I also spoke with Bob McCooey, NASDAQ's head of listings, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the NYSE encroaching on the NASDAQ’s turf. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “There are still many more companies set to IPO and in the final chapter of 2011, the strongest companies are going to choose NASDAQ.”

He points not only to the established reputation of the NASDAQ as a home for technology companies like Google and Apple, but also says that the returns for the tech companies that have gone public on the NASDAQ this year are superior to those that have listed on the NYSE.  His implication is that stronger companies list on NASDAQ.

Yandex’s stock has remained fairly steady since opening at $35 per share on the NASDAQ, closing yesterday at $31 per share. Of course, LinkedIn opened at $83 per share on the NYSE and sunk as low as $60, and closed yesterday at $70.32. Pandora has also suffered a similar fate on the NYSE; opening at $20 per share, but dropping to $14 per share at close of market Thursday evening.

I asked McCooey if NASDAQ was feeling any heat on the technology front now that the NYSE has started catching up. He didn’t mince words, telling me that “we pioneered electronic trading and everyone copied us. We have the better trading model.”

But McCooey says that beyond just the trading technology, the NASDAQ’s pitch is around helping a business manage an IPO holistically. For example, the exchange acquired to help companies manage their investor relations platforms. Another element of McCooey’s pitch is the prominence of the NASDAQ’s building smack in the middle of New York City’s heavily trafficked Times Square (as opposed to NYSE’s Wall Street location). For a Business To Consumer company, it’s a great advertisement to have your stock be listed in such a prominent place where hundreds of thousands of people are congregating in a given day, he explains.

To make the rivalry between the NASDAQ and NYSE even more complicated, NASDAQ took that whole “keep your friend close, keep your enemies closer” saying to a new level by trying to buy the NYSE and merge the companies.  The NASDAQ dropped its takeover bid after the U.S. DOJ threatened to file an antitrust lawsuit. Instead it looks like the NYSE will merge with Deutsche Börse, which will create a massive exchange, and up the ante against the NASDAQ.

McCooey’s point that the IPO market for tech companies is still early is accurate. Arguably, the biggest IPOs in the tech space are yet to come—Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon are all expected to go public in the coming 12 to 18 months. But while there isn’t yet a clear cut exchange winner in this latest round of tech IPOs, the NYSE has already drawn some blood and is off to a pretty fantastic start in terms of capturing high-profile listings.

And there’s no doubt that the NYSE is pounding the pavement to win more deals, actively pitching companies (and reporters, apparently) on the virtues of their Wall Street exchange. In fact, Cutler told me that he’s meeting with Groupon this week to pitch the company on listing with the NYSE.

Disclosure: My husband is an employee of Groupon.

Photo Credit/Flickr/VictoriaPeckham/LinkedIn/IMDB

Get Satisfaction Upgrades Social Customer Support Forum On Facebook

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 08:01 AM PDT

Customer support startup Get Satisfaction is partnering with social marketing company Involver today to update its Facebook app to become more customer-friendly. Get Satisfaction’s Facebook app, which launched last year, adds a customer support tab for a brand's Fan Page.

Customers can begin wall discussions in the form of four topic types: Ask a Question, Share an Idea, Report a Problem, or Give Praise. When customers begin to post a question, Get Satisfaction searches for and suggests similar threads to give consumers instant answers to commonly asked questions.

The company says that Get Satisfaction for Facebook is used by more than 600 companies and organization, including Proter and Gamble, Flipboard, and Gilt Groupe.

Unfortunately, the application wasn’t able to import support questions on the Facebook Fan Page into the company’s existing Get Satisfaction community on the web. Today, Get Satisfaction is partnering with Involver to integrate the Facebook Wall with a company's existing Get Satisfaction community, allowing support agents to import Wall conversations directly into the community for discussion and resolution. The updated Facebook app will collect and organize all the social knowledge (questions, feedback, concerns, and praise) found on the Facebook into a company’s Get Satisfaction web based community.

So why is this a big deal? It helps companies transform Facebook Fan page requests into actionable information within the Get Satisfaction community. And the fact is that some support agents would rather not conduct these conversations on Facebook itself, but rather within the support community.Get Satisfaction CEO Wendy Lea says that this was one of the top requests from customers.

Is There A European Tech Incubator Bubble?

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 07:30 AM PDT

Something is happening in Europe. The tectonic plates in the startup ecosystem are moving and, like penguins on ice-flows, we all are slithering around trying to get a handle on how things will play out over the next couple of years. We're having exits (such as Tweetdeck to Twitter for $40million), large funding rounds (such as Wooga raising $24 million) and higher valuations (like Moshi Monsters). Events have ramped up considerably. GeeknRolla in London was a blast this year, as was DLD, Founders Forum and the 1,000-strong Dublin Web Summit. And we still have The Europas and Le Web to go.

NTT DoCoMo Deal Brings FlyScreen To Millions Of Japanese Android Users

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 06:39 AM PDT

A big (marketing and distribution) deal for Cellogic, makers of the fine FlyScreen mobile application: they’re teaming up with NTT DoCoMo, a big Japanese carrier.

Under the terms of the partnership agreement, NTT DoCoMo and a local Japanese location-based services company called Brilliant will be pushing FlyScreen onto the Japanese market, bringing it to millions of Android handset users for starters.

FlyScreen is essentially a dynamic, interactive, widget-based replacement to the standard lock screen of Android and Symbian phones (there’s also an iPhone app but it works differently because of Apple-imposed restrictions).

NTT DoCoMo partnered with an existing LBS service provider called Guidog, whose service was already integrated with the FlyScreen app, and will be marketing the app under that name.

Guidog is a one-stop-shop LBS service, offering weather information, local coupons, train schedules, news, maps and more to mobile users. Thanks to the lock-screen replacing widgets powered by Cellogic’s technology, users will be able to access the app without the need to unlock their phone’s screen, decreasing the time it takes to load.

OpenSky Reboots As A Social Network For Shopping

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 06:15 AM PDT

When OpenSky launched a year ago, it was a commerce platform for influential bloggers. Bloggers with a following would curate their own merchandise, OpenSky would source the goods from manufacturers, and split the profits with the bloggers.

It sounded a hell of a lot better than the miniscule affiliate fees most bloggers were used to, but it didn’t work out. It never got past 5,000 bloggers with a reach of 100,000 unique visitors. “Mixing content and commerce was confusing to people,” says CEO John Caplan.

By November of last year, Caplan decided to start over with a slightly different concept, which OpenSky has been testing since January, and opened up more fully in April. Instead of being distributed across 5,000 blogs, OpenSky is now “a social network for commerce.” It is now its own destination with 50 celebrity curators from chefs like Bobby Flay and Tom Colicchio to supermodel Veronica Webb.

With no marketing, in the space of a few weeks, OpenSky is now up to 200,000 members and one million unique visitors. Those members have created 800,000 connections, meaning they follow on average 4 curators each.  And with only 50 curators instead of 5,000, it is selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods every week. Caplan describes it as “Twitter meets HSN.”

Just like the bloggers before them, the celebrity curators pick items to recommend to their followers, and OpenSky sources the products from the manufacturers.  Followers can buy the products directly from the site. It’s like buying from Bobby Flay, often with a discount.

Some of Flay’s recommended items include a Viking immersion hand blender, a mortar and pestle (good for crushing dried hot peppers and making guacamole), and a chopping block. In the space of a few weeks, Flay now has 60,000 followers on OpenSky. Many of them come from his Twitter account, where Flay has 294,000 followers and promotes his OpenSky items. Curaters like Flay split the profits with OpenSky.

Celebrity-endorsed commerce is certainly in vogue right now. BeachMint recently raised money at a $150 million valuation.  If OpenSky can make its social shopping concept work this time, the sky’s the limit.

OneLogin Raises $1.5M For Enterprise Cloud-Based Identity Platform

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 06:00 AM PDT

OneLogin, a cloud-based single identity platform for the enterprise, has raised $1.5 million in Series A funding from Charles River Ventures.

OneLogin allows enterprises of all sizes to centralize access control with a single login for business applications. OneLogin has integrated with over 1,700 applications including Salesforce, Google Apps, Zendesk, SugarCRM, KnowledgeTree and others to allow business users to access all of their apps within one sign-in and password. Other features include password management, multi-factor authentication, directory integration, and user provisioning.

While OneLogin faces competition from Ping Identity (which just raised $21 million), the startup says that it is focused more on the SMB market as opposed to providing technology for massive companies. Clients who use OneLogin include Yammer (founder and CEO David Sacks is an investor).

The new funds will be used to expand the company's sales and product development initiatives.

Moshi Monsters Valued At $200m After Spark Ventures Sells Half Its Stake

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 05:29 AM PDT

Spark Ventures has sold half of its stake in Mind Candy, creators of the online children's game, Moshi Monsters, for $4.9m, generating a 15x return. The move means that Mind Candy / Moshi Monsters is now valued at $200m. Spark originally invested in 2004.

That means that Mind Candy is now one of the most valuable players in the London startup scene around Silicon Roundabout, after the sale of TweetDeck to Twitter for $40m recently.

Moshi Monsters – used by seven to 14 year olds to create their own pet monsters – has 50m users globally and generates millions in revenue from in-game payments, offline merchandising such as toys, books and trading cards. The "Facebook for kids" now has one in three British children as a player and it has significant traction in the US.

Baidu Makes $306 Million Strategic Investment In Chinese Travel Search Engine Qunar

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 05:21 AM PDT

Chinese search engine Baidu has made a $306 million investment in Qunar, travel search engine in China. The investment will make Baidu the majority shareholder of Qunar. Qunar had previously raised $25 million in funding. Previous investors include the Lehman Brothers, GSR Ventures Management, Mayfield Fund, and Tenaya Capital.

Founded in 2005, Qunar is basically the Kayak for China. The portal allows Chinese consumers to serach for air and rail tickets, hotels, and tour packages. The company also provides group-buying deals and user discussion forums for reviews. Currently Qunar is one of the most frequented travel search engines in China, listing more than 11,000 air routes and 102,000 hotels worldwide.

This is a strategic investment and partnership, as Baidu says that Qunar and the search engine will ‘cooperate in certain areas of online travel search.’

There’s no doubt that online travel in China represents a huge potential market for both search engines and travel companies and Baidu isn’t the only one who is making investments. Tencent and Expedia just made a $126 million investment in Chinese travel site eLong.

Conan Wastes No Time Lampooning “Final Cut Pro Ex”

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 12:51 AM PDT

Despite being the resident Apple fanboy, I’m not going to try to defend the new Final Cut Pro X. I simply don’t use Final Cut enough to know how good or bad it is compared to the old version. But I will say this, the backlash is very predictable.

Apple completely changed a very popular piece of software — rewriting it from the ground up. People hate change. Revolt. Some changes are made. Everyone calms down and forgets. End of story. It happens time and time again. It’s just more striking when it happens with companies like Apple and Facebook because they’re among the only ones seemingly not afraid to upset their massive user bases.

And perhaps it’s extra infuriating for some because it’s almost like these companies don’t even think twice about making such changes. And the harsh truth is that they shouldn’t. When you start to second guess yourself and let the masses dictate your product decisions, you’re done.

Maybe Final Cut Pro X ends up being a hit that changes filmmaking. Or maybe it flops. But Apple thrives by making bold moves — remember when they killed off their best selling iPod, the mini, to introduce the iPod nano? Revolt! Then everyone forgot and Apple sold more iPods than ever.

And yes, I realize this is a professional product that people base their careers around. But remember, the old version of Final Cut Pro isn’t going anywhere either. And in fact, you can’t even move your old projects to the new version if you wanted to. I’m sure Apple could have made that possible, but perhaps they didn’t on purpose. This forces a clean break, a fresh start if and when users do decide to make the jump.

Wait, did I say I wasn’t going to defend the new Final Cut Pro? Sure sounds like I just did. Whoops. My bad. To make up for it, here’s Conan and crew ripping it apart earlier tonight. Every time they say Final Cut Pro “Ex”, you can just imagine the boys in Cupertino wincing. It’s “ten” damnit. TEN!

Stack Exchange Gets In The Conference Game With Stack Overflow DevDays

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 12:49 AM PDT

Q&A network Stack Exchange will be launching Stack Overflow DevDays this fall, a two day series of conferences targeting coders who want to brush up or dive into the latest programming technologies like MongoDB, HTML 5 and Coffeescript, with hour long tutorials put on by speakers culled from the developer community.

Says Stack Overflow co-founder Joel Spolsky on the motivation behind launching a conference,

“Think of all the programmers using slightly old-fashioned programming languages like PHP and Java because that’s what their employers make them use… but they would LOVE to have a chance to learn the hot new things. Last year it was Ruby on Rails and jQuery. This year it’s HTML5, Coffeescript and Node.js.

We set out to organize a conference that would be perfect for these programmers… a series of one hour basic tutorials on the hottest things that everybody wants to learn right now.”

While Stack Overflow did hold an early one-day version of DevDays back in 2009, Spolsky tells me that this time they mean business. The company has hired three people with conference producing experience (one of them, Alex Miller, also worked on TechCrunch 50) in order to handle the five different conferences in the fall, including the developer conferences in San Francisco, Sydney, London and DC as well as a Sys-Admin conference in San Francisco.

Spolsky tells me his goal is to keep the price of DevDays as affordable as possible at $499 and is offering a $100 discount for TechCrunch readers who use the discount code “techcrunch.” He expects several thousand developers to attend (sounds like tech recruiter paradise). Those interested can learn more about DevDays here.

In-Stream Ads Are Coming To Twitter, Will A User Revolt Follow?

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 10:36 PM PDT

After nine months of testing in-stream Promoted Tweets on third party client Hootsuite, reports have surfaced today that Twitter’s head of monetization Adam Bain has been pushing a new in-timeline Promoted Tweets product during this week’s advertiser-heavy Canne Lions awards.

To the two of you that this comes to as a shock, one word: Inevitable. Twitter has made no secret of the fact that in-stream Promoted Tweets have been an eventual business model goal since April of 2010, when co-founder Biz Stone outlined a plan to launch them first on search on, later in 3rd party search and eventually in the user timeline.

"We’ve been talking about Promoted Tweets in the timeline since we launched Promoted Tweets …" Twitter's Sean Garret tells me. "We have and will continue to take a measured and thoughtful approach to how we may display them."

So while there should be little doubt that in-stream Twitter advertisements are imminently on the horizon, the question is whether users will take to them, or whether they’ll revolt a la #Dickbar, the controversial overlay to Twitter mobile that displayed Promoted Trends and eventually ended up being removed after much backlash.

A brief informal poll I conducted on, of course, Twitter revealed that despite the initial resistance many users were willing to support the in-stream ad model as long as Twitter gave them the opportunity to pay to get rid of it. Apparently people like having options.

Then again, actual user reaction will depend on the execution, look and feel of the final in-stream as product, which we know very little about. If the Promoted Tweets blink and take up your entire screen and look like crap then sure, users will be angry. However the guiding hand of an even partially returned Jack Dorsey leads me to believe that this will probably not be the case.

Twitter has also said that again that the Promoted Tweets will only be for brands that you follow or that are “relevant” to you based on whom you follow, but I really can’t see that philosophy being very profitable or holding up for very long, especially since I don’t really follow any brands and don’t know any one else who does.

The dilemma of Twitter advertising is a case of too much demand and not enough supply, which is why the prices on these things keep going up (Promoted Trends are now at $120K). From what I’m hearing advertisers are clamoring for Twitter to give them something to buy and the company has an ambitious and eager salesforce, tasked with selling the promise of one day being able to monetize most of its 300 million users.

But is charging brands $100K to have their tweets show up higher in the Twitter streams of consumers who are already their loyal followers the best solution?

Well Twitter's got to start somewhere, and expand from there. As the Financial Times points out, Twitter is expecting a modest $100 million in revenue this year compared to Facebook’s awe inspiring $3.5 billion in projected display ad revenue. "They are going to get much more commercial,” one agency executive told the FT which also reports that the company is dabbling in Groupon-type deals, the final desperate frontier of monetization for many.

And will this inevitable thrust toward commercialization interfere with user experience to the point where users will be turned off from Twitter? Said one person familiar with the matter, “Users already have such a high tolerance for bugs, errors and latency on, they’re going to live with Promoted Tweets too.”

Alex Wilhelm
@ to keep Twitter alive? Yes. Would love to be able to pay to opt out tho.

Andrew Brackin
@ No, not at all. I want to be able to pay for analytics and no ads.

Leonieke Aalders
@ I don't expect to notice them: with all the activity in my timeline I miss out on most tweets anyway :)

Michael Shafarenko
@ No. I wish someone would innovate a different way to make money than to advertise others' crap for sale.

Leo Widrich
@ not sure, I guess in the age where our eyes are optimised to ignore ads, it wont hurt too much. What do you think Alexia?

Atul Arora
@ AdBlock on Chrome blocks Promoted Tweets/Trends. Hoping it will do the same with in-stream ads :) So I am cool with promoted tweets

Jim Lyons
RT @: Regarding promoted tweets? There's no free lunch, I would say. We'll get REAL good at visually filtering those out, very soon.

Saurabh Bhasin
@ I'd be ok w/ that as long as it's 1 or so an hour?

Alex Wilhelm
@ to keep Twitter alive? Yes. Would love to be able to pay to opt out tho.

Timothy Bowden
@ My followers comprise mostly those selling goods, actually. It is the primary reason for contacting me.

Jason Damata
@ a percentage of tweets are user promotions anyway, at least these will subsidize the twitter experience

Hillan Klein
@ about as much as I'm happy to have marketers yell in my face as I walk down the street. So, yes- yes I am. :P

nuno maia
@ all depends on implementation really. If they hinder experience its a nono. Conceptwise, free with ads, premium without, fine by me.

Nitin Gupta
@ over time I've trained myself to overlook any tweet with a yellow ad bar in it. It's not that bad.

Image: Maximidia

With Pottermore, J.K. Rowling Gives Harry Potter The (Very Lucrative) Elixir of Life

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 08:43 PM PDT

Around 4 AM PDT this morning, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling unveiled the latest addition to the massively successful series: a website called Pottermore, which will feature, among other things, Harry Potter eBooks (which have never been legally available to date) and thousands of words of new content describing the characters and world of Harry Potter.

But while the site now features a handful of screenshots, Rowling and the accompanying press material were still pretty vague about what exactly Pottermore is. Fortunately, as a long-time fan myself, I have a few guesses. So let’s try to cast some light on what this all means. Imperi- err, Lumos!

First, the biggest immediate news: this will mark the first time Harry Potter novels will be available in eBook formats. Rowling has indicated that the books will be DRM-free and will be available for all eBook devices including the Kindle and iPad, though it’s a little unclear how exactly this is going to work. Obviously this is a big deal (the books have sold more than 400 million print copies worldwide). I doubt people are going to rebuy the books the way some of them have with Apple’s launch of The Beatles on iTunes, but going forward the electronic editions will undoubtedly prove immensely popular.

But today’s announcement was about more than eBooks. It’s about the future of the Harry Potter brand, which just got a new home.

It’s a little weird to think about, but up until now there’s never been any officially sanctioned home base for Harry Potter fans.

Fan sites like Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron have given aficionados a place to get daily news updates and interact on forums. But just redirects to a Warner Brothers site about the upcoming Deathly Hallows Part II film. That comes out in less than a month so it’s going to be stale soon, and even if Warner transforms it into a central hub about all of the films, it’s still going to leave fans wanting — especially since many  of them care more about the books than the films.

Which brings us to Pottermore. As soon as the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows ends, millions of fans are going to walk out of the theatre with the uneasy feeling that they don’t have anything Harry Potter-related to look forward to — ending a streak that’s gone on for a decade now.

Pottermore is the answer to this.

Here’s how the site is being described in the press release:

For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books. Pottermore will later incorporate an online shop where people can purchase exclusively the long-awaited Harry Potter eBooks, in partnership with J.K. Rowling's publishers worldwide, and is ultimately intended to become an online reading experience, extending the relevance of Harry Potter to new generations of readers, while still appealing to existing fans. As the Pottermore Shop develops, it is intended that it should include further products designed specifically for Harry Potter fans, offering a potential outlet for Sony products and services related to Pottermore.

(Yes, that bit about keeping the series relevant to new readers is a little depressing — since when do fantastic books require an online supplement? But I digress…)

Looking at the screenshots, I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s official site, which she launched while the books were still being written. Through the site Rowling sporadically revealed clues about the upcoming books using basic puzzles (in 2004, for example, she unveiled the title of Book Six). The site is also littered with tidbits of trivia about the characters, as well as FAQs and debunked rumors.

Pottermore sounds like it will share some of the same characteristics. Like Rowling’s official site, Pottermore appears to mix a combination of hand-drawn illustrations and occasional animation, as opposed to a flashy interface. And, like Rowling’s official site, there will be a wealth of new content for fans to discover.

The site is launching to private beta testers on July 31 (which coincides with Potter’s birthday in the books), and will be broadly available in October. Over the ensuing months and years, Rowling will be gradually adding more content to the site, fleshing out back stories and adding additional interactive features.

Some of this will be contributed by users — the press release notes that users can submit “comments, drawings and other content in a safe and family environment.” And the screenshots also depict some social features, like seeing where in each book each of your friends is. Also note the inbox, which is an owl with a number badge pinned to it.

And.. err.. none of that sounds that thrilling to me. Granted, I’m hardly the target demographic, but even the 12-year old version of me (which is when I started reading the books) probably would have shrugged his shoulders at this. New content? Great — definitely enough to keep me coming back once a month or so to look for new tidbits. Being able to follow along with my friends? Bleh.

But I’m guessing the real meat of the site will come through the partnership with Sony. Sony is describing this as “a pioneering partnership that will help shape the future of story-telling” and will span years. No, a Harry Potter MMO was not announced today, but the demand is there, and Sony certainly has experience with massively multiplayer games — it created Everquest (which was the most popular predecessor to World of Warcraft). Update: Wired UK points out that Warner Brothers owns the rights to Harry Potter video games. And while the press release says that Warner will be a collaborator as the project moves forward, it doesn’t indicate just how deeply involved they’ll be. In other words, that MMO may be less of a given — there may be deals that need to get worked out, or perhaps Warner would do a game independent of Pottermore.

There will undoubtedly be other products as well. Some will bomb, just as some Star Wars products have bombed. But there’s still going to be a huge demand for new Harry Potter games and media, and they now have a launchpad that fans will be checking in on regularly for years to come. And some of those products will rake in boatloads of money.

Or maybe it really is just a Harry Potter-themed pseudo social network. In which case, pass the firewhiskey.

Study: VCs Still Addicted To IPOs

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 06:53 PM PDT

It seems that Venture investors are none-too-happy with current IPO activity. According to a study sponsored by Deloitte and the National Venture Capital Association released yesterday, over 80 percent of venture capitalists from around the globe believe “that current IPO activity levels in their home countries are too low”. Low enough, in fact, that it has investors worrying over whether or not it can sustain the venture capital industry.

While it seems that investors and VCs tend not to agree on anything (ever?) and it’s thus a bit surprising to see 87 percent of U.S. investors agreeing that IPO activity is too low, it’s also important to keep in mind that this survey was given to investors in the spring. This was before Pandora and LinkedIn went public and bubbletalk was on the tip of everyone’s tongue; in fact, 2011 seems to be a pretty good year for IPOs and investors are encouraging startups to raise. (Before a potential bubble burst, of course.) So then, perhaps VCs should consider IPO rehab for their addictions? What do you think?

That being said, the study overwhelmingly found that the health of venture capital industries within each of these countries are suffering thanks to paltry IPO activity, and that the low level of activity is just not producing enough returns to provide growth capital for developing portfolio companies — nor are they meeting the expectations of limited partners.

While 91 percent of investors think that the U.S. domestic IPO market is critical to the health of venture capital, only 36 percent of U.S. VCs feel the same way about the rest of the world. That being said, maybe there’s some promise for the global market, as more than half (57 percent) of the 347 VCs surveyed are making plans to increase investments being made outside of their home countries over the course of the next five years.

As to what’s currently at the top of investors minds in regard to turning this trend around? Of the investors polled, 83 percent cited investor appetite as the most important factor for a strong IPO market, compared to the need for less cumbersome reporting for newly public companies (33 percent). The mention of fickle appetites as the top concern over regulation and reporting is very interesting, especially considering the SEC just voted today on the definition of what a venture capitalist is, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was passed last year.

Though the details of the regulations will be announced next week, it looks like the government’s definition of venture capital will remain much the same, meaning the SEC will likely exempt VCs from most of the new reporting requirements that will be asked of hedge funds and other investors with more than $150 million in assets as part of this legislation.

In terms of areas that investors are currently most excited about, it seems that the cloud is on top, with 69 percent of VCs saying that they continue to be excited about cloud computing, whereas 65 percent are planning to increase investment in social and new media — with clean tech coming in next at 62 percent.

Interestingly, 54 percent of those polled said they would be putting additional funding into healthcare services, which is great to see. There seems to be renewed interest in healthcare IT and medical services, especially considering the government continues to push for reform in the healthcare industry. Nice to see healthcare avoiding becoming one of the sectors least appealing to investors, like semiconductors which came in at 13 percent and telecom at 15 percent.

With there being a lot of coverage swirling around the topic of whether or not there’s a bubble, multi-billion dollar valuations, and a struggling IPO market, quite a few have weighed in on the matter. Mark Suster’s post yesterday is not to be missed. One of the charts in Suster’s post shows that VC-backed IPOs jumped in 2010, and though it doesn’t include numbers for 2011, there’s a chance we may even get to a 10-year hight. Thankfully, I’m not a betting man. And, for good measure, because you need your VC vitamins, you should also check out Fred Wilson’s response.

PayPal Seeing $10M In Mobile Payments Per Day; Will Hit $3B Total In 2011

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 06:46 PM PDT

PayPal is upping its estimates of the amount of mobile payments transactions using the technology this year; doubling the estimate to $3 billion in mobile total payments volume (TPV) in 2011.

PayPal says that the rate at which people are using the payments technology to buy items via their mobile phones is growing rapidly and this is actually the third time the company has had to update its numbers. At years end in 2010, PayPal predicted $1.5 billion in mobile payments and in February, the company revised this to $2 billion.

Last year, mobile payments were up 300 percent from the previous year, so PayPal could exceed the growth rate from 2010.

PayPal is also seeing up to $10 million in mobile TPV a day, which is up from $6 million PayPal reported in March. The company currently has eight million customers who are regularly making purchases on their mobile phones, up from a previously reported six million users.

Of course, PayPal is probably feeling heat from the competition. Notably, Google just unveiled its mobile payments system, Google Wallet. Square has been growing rapidly, and is tackling local, an area where PayPal has not had much success in. Who knows, Facebook may even throw its hat in the ring.

But the fact remains that PayPal’s payments business is still widespread and growing. The mobile payments race will certainly be entertaining.

The State Of iFund: 3 Years, 25 Companies, 2 Exits, Over 300 Million Downloads This Year

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 04:42 PM PDT

Today at their offices in Menlo Park, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is celebrating the third anniversary of the iFund. Technically, the fund started in March of 2008 alongside the first iPhone SDK, when the firm announced that it would be investing $100 million in iPhone applications made by third-party developers. That initial fund went so well that just two years later, they decided to double-down, pouring another $200 million in as the iPad was just about to launch. So where does the fund stand now?

Three years in, Kleiner Perkins has whittled down the 5,000 business plans they’ve received to 25 companies they’ve actually funded. Of those, seven are still in stealth mode, and two have had exits: ngmoco and Pelago. The apps in the fund saw some 100 million downloads in 2010, and they anticipate seeing over 300 million downloads by the end of this year. More importantly, the apps will generate over $250 million in mobile revenue this year, Kleiner says. And they’ll have more than 150 million active monthly users.

The firm is also announcing one new addition to the iFund today: Worksmart Labs. The company focuses on fitness technology, attempting to make working out fun. They have a group of apps available right now which have seen over six million downloads already. And interestingly enough, all of the apps are Android-only for now. Yes, the iFund features some companies decided more “aFund”-esque as well. Kleiner is the lead investor in their seed round.

The iFund has been such a success for Kleiner that they also decided to launch an “sFund” last year to capitalize on the rise of social applications (though some would say too late). Kleiner will be holding an sFund Gamification event next week in San Francisco.

LulzSec Releases Arizona Law Enforcement Data, Claims Retaliation For Immigration Law

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 04:20 PM PDT

Hacker collective of the moment LulzSec has just released a torrent of data it claims to belong to Arizona law enforcement, in what it calls “Operation Chinga La Migra” (or literally translated ”Fuck the border patrol”).

They claim that the information, widely available via BitTorrent, includes hundreds of classified documents including personal emails, names and phone numbers. I’ve confirmed by phone that at least one of the addresses posted in the initial release belongs to someone who works in the Arizona police department.

The hacker group says that the Arizona Department of Public Safety was targeted specifically because of the controversial SB 1070 law, which is currently the strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in the US and requires Arizona immigrants to carry registration documents at all times.

From the LulzSec press release:

We are releasing hundreds of private intelligence bulletins, training manuals, personal email correspondence, names, phone numbers, addresses and passwords belonging to Arizona law enforcement. We are targeting AZDPS specifically because we are against SB1070 and the racial profiling anti-immigrant police state that is Arizona.

The documents classified as “law enforcement sensitive”, “not for public distribution”, and “for official use only” are primarily related to border patrol and counter-terrorism operations and describe the use of informants to infiltrate various gangs, cartels, motorcycle clubs, Nazi groups, and protest movements.

Every week we plan on releasing more classified documents and embarassing [sic] personal details of military and law enforcement in an effort not just to reveal their racist and corrupt nature but to purposefully sabotage their efforts to terrorize communities fighting an unjust “war on drugs”.

Hackers of the world are uniting and taking direct action against our common oppressors – the government, corporations, police, and militaries of the world. See you again real soon! ;D

This adamantly anti-SB 1070 political agenda seems like somewhat of a pivot for the hacker group, which up until now has been adamant about being motivated primarily by “lulz.” It is also probably the grandest actualization yet of its Operation Anti-Security, which it has positioned as a war against all governments.

In any case, taking a stance against racial profiling by “doxing” or dumping personal data like this is a decidedly more serious endeavor than hacking into online gaming communities or even briefly taking down the websites of the Senate and the CIA.

Shazam CEO Talks Android vs. iPhone And How They’re Listening Their Way To Success

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 04:10 PM PDT

Yesterday Shazam, the company that lets users identify recorded music simply by holding their phones up toward a speaker, announced that it had raised a whopping $32 million. The company’s goal: to apply the powerful technology it’s developed over the last decade to television shows and commercials. So how will they do that?

I had a chance to sit down with Shazam CEO Andrew Fisher, who discussed in detail how this leap to television will work. And we also touched on quite a few other topics, including the fact that Shazam is now ten years old (it actually powered the song recognition features that were offered by mobile phone carriers before the rise of the iPhone and Android). You can watch the whole interview in the video above.

I also took the opportunity to ask if Fisher has seen any trends emerge on each mobile platform — after all, Shazam has a universal appeal (just about everyone likes music and wants to figure out what they’re listening to). Fisher shared some interesting data points, including the fact that “iTunes is the dominant platform in terms of user propensity to purchase…”. In other words, iPhone users are far more likely to purchase songs than users on Android and other platforms. That’s not a huge surprise, but it further supports the claims that iOS users are more accustomed to buying content on their phones.

For more, be sure to tune into the interview.

Oblong Has Built The Future Of Computing. I’ve Seen It. Used It. It’s Beautiful.

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 02:45 PM PDT

“This is the next Macintosh-level of disruption.”

Over the past several years, I’ve followed pretty much every new thing in the technology space, and written about many of them. But it’s hard not to get cynical when so much of what’s out there is not only not revolutionary, it’s often not even evolutionary. Instead, much of what I see is simply derivative and quite frankly, boring. But every once in a while something crops up that is truly game-changing. And it restores my faith in technology. That’s the best way to describe what I saw when I met with Oblong Industries this week.

The technologies that Oblong is working on are anything but derivative or boring — they are absolutely revolutionary. And they will shape the future of computing.

I understand that such statements sound like absolute hyperbole — especially from a guy who has written about the death of the mouse a number of times. But I would encourage you to skip to the bottom of this post and check out the videos. I’m going to attempt to explain what I saw and talked with Oblong CEO Kwindla Hultman Kramer and Chief Scientist John Underkoffler about. But the only way to truly do the technology justice (beyond using it) is to see it in action.

If you recognize Underkoffler’s name, it’s perhaps because you saw his TED presentation last year. He wowed the audience by showing off the g-speak SOE (spatial operating environment) technology that Oblong has built. And if that looked familiar, it’s because Underkoffler was also the guy who advised the filmmakers behind Steve Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report. Yes, all of those kickass gesture computing scenes are his work. And over the past decade or so, he’s been working to bring that technology to the real world with Oblong. And they’re getting close. Really close.

Following the TED talk last year, I wrote a post noting that I had seen a brief demonstration in 2008 in Spain that I wasn’t allowed to talk about. The demonstration was of Oblong’s technology. And it was awesome. But it was just a video demonstration. Two days ago, I got to actually see and use the first system Oblong has built. The product is called Mezzanine, and it’s what Kramer calls “Oblong’s first shrink-wrapped turn-key system”. “It’s the first slice through the technology stack we’ve been developing over the years,” he says.

So what is it?

Mezzanine is a spatial operating environment meant to be used in conference rooms and other large meeting areas. The peripherals vary, but the system I used consisted of three large screens front and center, two vertically-aligned screen on a wall to the right, a whiteboard to the wall on the left, and two cameras (one in front pointing at you, and one to the side pointing at the whiteboard). The main points of interaction are two “wands”, which I’ll explain more about in a bit. And the system works in concert with any device — meaning laptop, iPhone, iPad, etc — that is in the room and connected to the network as well.

The idea for Mezzanine is to get people in a room together in order to synthesize information in the most collaborative way imaginable. “We want to get everyone’s pixels in a shared workspace, where they collide,” Kramer says. “The key is to give everyone control over what’s happening,” he continues. And that means interacting with the data on the three main screens from your laptop, iPhone, iPad, directly on the screen with the wands, or even remotely via a device with a web browser.

Using these controls, anyone can rearrange data, push new data into the flow, highlight specific things, and queue stuff up to talk about later. Perhaps the best way to think about it is as a symphony of information that everyone in the room can conduct. Again, it’s a bit hard to describe, but when you see it, it just makes sense.

And it just works, to borrow from the Apple-esque way of thinking about products. I picked up one of the wands and within two minutes I knew exactly what I was doing. I could transfer data around the screens. I could zoom in to certain data. I could crop and manipulate other data. I could zoom out for a full view of all the information available. It’s unbelievable how natural it all feels. The next time I have to use PowerPoint for a presentation, I’m going to want to shoot myself.

Speaking of the wand accessory, the best way to think about it is to think of a Nintendo Wiimote on steroids. It’s a bit like a Wiimote that is much more accurate and insanely more functional. It has three sides that, depending on which is facing upwards in your hand, does different things. You move it around in your hand, switching the sides, to do different things. One side allows you to grab data for example, while another allows you to take control of the data. For example, maybe you have Photoshop open on a computer attached to the Mezzanine system — you can use the wands to directly manipulate it right on the big screens in front of you.

And the wand is a fully spatial device. You can point it upwards and use it as a push/pull lever of sorts. It’s really cool.

But why use a wand and not your hands, a-la Minority Report? Because we’re not quite there yet, Underkoffler explains. Well, let me rephrase that. The technology is there, but it’s still too expensive to implement on a large scale. And it still requires gloves to ensure pinpoint accuracy. Yes, the Microsoft Kinect does some of this, but that’s fairly rudimentary compared to what Oblong is aiming for. “As a company, philosophically, we’re absolutely commited to high fidelity and high-end experience. The commoditized stuff isn’t there yet,” Kramer says.

Still, both Kramer and Ubderkoffler agree that consumer technologies like the Wii and the Kinect are perfect in helping to transition people over to these future concepts of computing. Kramer also singles out the multi-touch first used in the iPhone and now on display in the iPad. “We really do think the mouse goes away over the next few years,” he says.

Thank you.

“Remember, the applications built for the mouse took a while to be perfected,” Kramer says. “The mouse wasn’t really pixel-perfect until the end of the 1980s. And even then, the consumer class were not there,” he continues, noting that just as the mouse evolved into the tool it is today, touch and gestures will be next.

“You have to solve a bunch of new UI problems when you commit to this type of thing. Our goal in general is to change the way everyone in the world uses computers,” Kramer says. “This is the next Macintosh-level of disruption,” he continues (to bring my quote used up top back into context).

But first, Oblong knows they need to be able to bring relatively affordable products to market. And again, that’s what Mezzanine is all about. “Our goal here is to change how people work together,” Kramer explains in a slightly (but only slightly) less ambitious statement. With Mezzanine, they set out to create something that’s both a “lean forward” and “lean back” experience — meaning you can watch and interact. “Corporate IT departments are leery about installing new things on laptops,” Kramer notes, explaining why they created a web control interface for computers connected to Mezzanine. For devices like the iPhone and iPad, they have native applications to interact with Mezzanine.

And the flip-side of this is comfort levels, Kramer says. “You want to be able to walk in a room and use the system whatever you have with you device-wise,” he says. Or if you have nothing with you, that’s where the wands come into play as well.

Talking to Kramer and Underkoffler, you really get a sense of just how much thought was put into this system. For example, Underkoffler brings up the “John Malkovitch problem” (referring to the film Being John Malkovitch which has a scene in which everyone in the world is John Malkovitch). You don’t want to capture a part of the screen being presented and end up re-presenting a piece of the presentation. Again, all of these kinds of things had to be solved on the backend and UI levels. Underkoffler says they’ve solved almost everything, but there’s still work to do perfecting this future of computing.

“We build the software infrastructure to take advantage of where this stuff is going to be,” Kramer says. “The single adjective we care most about is ‘capable’. With our software, we want to provide an enormous way of proving how capable things are,” he continues, comparing what they’ve built to a piano. “Anyone can sort of play a piano. We’re building the UI to emit a virtuosic performance,” he adds.

The third big part of Mezzanine is the app server. Essentially, Oblong will allows developers to write their own Mezzanine apps, and they have an SDK for it. This is something they’re really excited about — to see what others come up with. Along those lines, the plan right now is to release the entire g-speak platform (which again, powers Mezzanine as well as the Minority Report-stuff you’ve seen) for non-commercial use this fall.

Mezzanine itself is already being used by a handful of big early partners (Boeing, for example), but the plan is to formally launch it this fall as well. Kramer declined to give pricing specifics, stating that they’re still fine-tuning them. But Mezzanine is something you’ll buy in full from Oblong, and if you need support, they’ll provide that. Again, the target market is broadly “meeting rooms” — but drilled down, they expect Mezzanine to be used in everything from board room meetings to engineering meetings to creative meetings to sales meetings.

With just the partnerships they have in place, Oblong is already cash-flow positive (and have been since last year). They haven’t raised money since the $8.8 million Series A in 2007.

Okay, Mezzanine is spectacular, but when are we going to see this stuff in our homes? “We believe the same experience we enable in the work place should be available in your living rooms,” Kramer says. “All of us who read TechCrunch have a reasonably large amount of screens we use, so we need to get there,” he continues. At the same time, “we’re not nearly finished,” Underkoffler adds. “It’s fair to say it will be about three years until this is fully into consumer electronics devices,” he continues, noting that the biggest inhibitor is simply cost and bringing it down to a reasonable level for consumers.

The video below will show you Mezzanine in action as I saw it. Note the little things, such as the manipulation of the car on the big screen with the wand and how that moves the car on the laptops in realtime. Again, it all just works. Also watch for a quick demo of a wand-less gesture-based system that Oblong hopes to release soon for retail signage and other breakout-room type situations. Below that, find the g-speak demo video that many people have already seen.

TechCrunch Disrupt Winner Soluto Raises $10.2 Million In B Round

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 01:44 PM PDT

TechCrunch Disrupt winner Soluto has raised $10.2 million in Series B funding. Index Ventures led the round, with Saul Klein taking a board seat. Previous investors including Bessemer, Giza Venture Capital, and Proxima Ventures also participated. This brings the company’s total funding to $18 million.

Soluto helps bring an end to PC user frustration from printing problems, annoying add-ons, apps that crash, resource hogs, and those frustrating applications that randomly cause your mouse to become useless for a few seconds at a time.

As we’ve written in the past, the advantage to using Soluto (which is focused purely for the PC) is that the service records which applications were running at the time of the hiccup, and analyzes low-level events to track things users aren't even aware of, like which applications are competing for memory.

Once downloaded, Soluto analyzes your PC, suggests numerous fixes, including 'like omitting certain applications from your bootup. It can show you your computer's speed over time, mapping out when you installed a certain application — so you can see what led to the problem. The company recently launched an iteration of its software, which includes a browser product and application crashing product.

Soluto, which is free, has had 2 million downloads since the company debuted its product to the public last year. What’s impressive is that growth is without any real marketing or advertising for the software. What makes the application so successful is that it is incredibly easy to use, even for those with limited technical knowledge. Next up, the company says it will be tackling other platforms (Mac OS, please?), including mobile and will be expanding product offerings.

Final Cut Pro X Or Really iMovie Pro?

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 01:38 PM PDT

Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X earlier this week with the tag line “Everything just changed in post.” I guess it depends on what you mean by the word ‘changed’. Apple said they showed the pre-release version to professional editors and their jaws dropped. One Academy Award-winning editor said he was “blown away” by the modern and fast software that let’s you focus on telling your story without worrying about the technical details. Now that it’s released, many critics and early Final Cut Pro X downloaders are telling a different story. Some are even suggesting they will jump ship from what many are calling iMovie Pro or much worse.

Out of 742 customer ratings on the Apple Store right now, 45% are giving the software one star, the lowest rating possible. Comments include:

  • “It’s as if they took a beautifully written novel and turned it into a children’s book.”
  • “This makes no sense. How is it i can import a iMovie project but not a FCP project… What was apple thinking.”
  • “Final Cut ‘Pro’ implies this is an app for working professionals. It’s not.”
  • “I was excited about the new features and 64-bit support, but after running it for the past day, the sad reality has set in that the product we ultimately paid for takes editing in Final Cut Pro back at least 7 years.”

There were also reports reviews were disappearing from the Mac App Store only for Final Cut Pro X. Was it an highly coincidental glitch or something more? The reviews are now back and make for interesting reading.

In fairness, 27% of the customer reviews rate it 5 stars. The average now is 2 and a half, making it the lowest rated Apple software on the Apple store, along with the just released companion Compressor app. For some long-time Final Cut Pro fans, we may be at MobileMe levels of dissatisfaction. (See Steve Job’s comment, as reported by Fortune, to the MobileMe’s team: “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation.”)

Many complaints center around lost features. We used to be able to do this, and now we can’t. You can’t work with existing FCP Suite projects. This is one of those updates where you don’t want to overwrite the old app with the new one. Most editors will need to keep the older copy of the program on their hard drive and hope the two versions don’t cause a problem. Or else, you could spend the extra time and effort to install the new version on a disk partition.

There’s no external video monitoring, no EDL imports (if you don’t know what that is, then it won’t be a problem for you), no backup application disk so good luck re-installing the software on the road without a good internet connection, and lots of unanswered questions about site licensing. There’s also no multicamera editing.

Is this negative response just a very short-term response from editors who have gotten used to doing things the old way and don’t want to change? Clearly, there are some amazing new features in FCP X. The 64-bit architecture means much better performance. The new tools such as the magnetic timeline, clip connections, compound clips, and audition seem like intuitive, great features. The ability to work natively with DSLR formats will be very useful.

Of course, this is version 10.0 of the software. It will only get better and new features will be added. Third-party plug-ins that don’t work now will likely work in future releases. As with most prior versions of Final Cut Pro, I’ve always waited until the .1 version to start using it on projects that really matter.

But, editor Walter Biscardi wrote:

“I simply will not cut Apple some slack because it’s a 1.0 release. That’s complete BS. … The developers at Apple, who do NOT make a living as a video editor, decided that they would completely re-invent video editing based on their preconceived notion of what a video editor does. If it’s not right the first time, we’ll just develop more features, on our own timeline without telling anyone what we’re doing, until we get it right.”

Biscardi continues, “for now, and it’s sad for me to say this, I’m done with the game. This was the product that completely built my company starting in 2000 / 2001 and now it’s time for me to say goodbye. As I tell everyone else, if the tool isn’t working for you, then find a tool that does.”

On the other hand, Filmmaker magazine wrote:

“Great design, like great music, is almost always foreign at first, if not disturbingly strange. You have to spend time with it. But if it is great, and if you invest your attention, it will change the way you look at the world.”

John Gruber, who wrote a roundup on the backlash, predicts “a two-year transition where the previous Final Cut Pro suite remains available, whilst the new Final Cut Pro X suite regains lost features.” Robert Scoble tweeted “I don’t care what the pros say, I love Apple’s new Final Cut Pro… Great companies piss off users sometimes.”

At TechCrunch TV, we use Final Cut to edit most of our content. We’ll be testing FCP X to see if it’s a good fit for our productions. My initial hunch is iMovie users will love it, but its going to be awhile before more professional editors start adopting it.

Facebook Now Has 750 Million Users

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 01:26 PM PDT

Facebook’s incredible worldwide growth has reached another major milestone: the service now has 750 million monthly active users, according to a source close to the company.

We reached out to Facebook for confirmation, and a company spokesperson responded that they don’t have anything to announce at this time. That isn’t surprising: the company hasn’t officially released an updated user count since it reached 500 million users nearly a year ago. Facebook has obviously been growing since then — we believe the company may be waiting until it hits the 1 billion mark before officially updating the stat again.

The last semi-official update came from a leaked Goldman Sachs report for potential Facebook investors that pegged the number at 600 million in January.

In the mean time there have been numerous reports from unofficial sources tracking Facebook’s growth. Socialbakers reported in late May that the site was around 700 million users, and Inside Facebook reported that the tally was at 687 million earlier this month. This data can be difficult to interpret because it’s based on third-party companies like Quantcast and/or Facebook’s ad tools, which may not necessarily be completely accurate.

One important thing to note: unlike many online services, Facebook’s user count metric actually means something — it’s defined as a user who has logged in within the last 30 days (plenty of sites only report cumulative users, which doesn’t take into account that many people stop using their services).

SimpleGeo Outsources Its Places Database To Factual

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 01:00 PM PDT

In the quest for a unified database of places, geo-location startup Factual is making big strides. Today it is announcing a major partnership with SimpleGeo to maintain and power its places database, which up until now has offered a competing database of places in the eyes of developers.

The merged database will have 30 million places, and be maintained and updated by Factual. Developers will be able to access the database either through SimpleGeo or Factual. “It's Factual's dataset, our interface,” says SimpleGeo CEO Jay Adelson.

SimpleGeo instead will focus on its other geo-infrastructure services for developers, such as its geo-storage and geo-context services (which delivers relevant information about a particular place from weather to voting districts to neighborhood boundaries).

Other startups such as Fwix are also gravitating towards Factual as the repository of places data. But don’t expect an unified places database anytime soon. Bigger players like Google, Facebook, and Foursquare will continue to build out their own places databases.

But Factual, which is backed by more than $25 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Index, GRP, SV Angel and others has the resources to go up against the bigger players.

Adelson tells me why SimpleGeo decided to go with Factual. One reason is Factual’s machine learning capabilities which it applies to keeping the geo-data fresh and accurate, along with “the ability to merge data as it arrives.” But the other reason is “there is a degree of neutrality.” While he didn’t name names, it’s not too hard to guess who he thinks is not neutral. “There are other data sets that are proprietary, or geared towards a single use,” he says. These other partners insist that “you have to use our maps, our check-ins that drives my business. Factual is in a neutral position, accepting different data sources. We looked at these different data partners and how many data sources they can integrate. I think it is a longterm bet when I am betting on Factual.”

Getting The Band Back Together: Picadee Founded And Funded By The iLike Guys

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 12:21 PM PDT

Keep an eye on yet-to-be launched Picadee, a new Seattle startup getting some buzz. The company was founded by former iLike employees Marcus Womack, Mike Bohlander, Ray Fortna and Josh Hepfer, and has taken a seed round of funding from iLike founders Ali Partovi and Hadi Partovi.

The company isn’t saying what it’s doing yet, but this is a team that has performed well together before. They built iLike (see our first coverage), which was eventually acquired by MySpace. iLike was the original “Facebook Music” app. – for a time it was by far the most popular third party application on Facebook.

This is also the team that created the popular concert discovery app for the iPhone that was featured in a commercial.

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