Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

These Car Prototypes Built By Kids Can Do Close To 2,000 Miles Per Gallon

Posted: 25 Jun 2011 07:48 AM PDT

What’s more impressive than a car that can do over a thousand miles per gallon? One that was designed by school kids.

In the UK, students from regional schools and universities took part in the annual Mileage Marathon Challenge near Leicester, England, each team vying to set new gas mileage efficiency records in a race around a track. Cars were allowed to coast, but had to maintain a minimum speed of 15 miles per hour. Students worked on the vehicle prototypes, many in partnership with design and engineering firms.

The winner of the 20-team competition, pictured above, was a vehicle driven by 14-year-old Sam Chapman-Hill, which reached a 1,980 mile-per-gallon efficiency. Its aerodynamic design, reminiscent of something from a sci-fi film, weighs just under 100 pounds and is made mostly of plastic reinforced by glass.

One driver, 11-year-old Kitty Foster, completed her race in a model that used a Cambridge Design Partnership oxygen concentrator and micro-diesel engine to reach 1,325 miles per gallon:

The car was also tracked using GPS to optimize its strategy during the race, communicating to Kitty when the perfect moment to stop the engine and start coasting arrived. Those with smartphones were encouraged to track the car’s speed and location during the race.

The Challenge is organized to excite students about tech and engineering, and the prototypes built are unlikely to be mass produced anytime soon. They do demonstrate what’s possible, however, and could inspire car manufacturers to keep innovating towards greater efficiency.

Images via BBC
Hat tip: Inhabitat



Stop The Hate: Daily Deals Aren’t All Bad, And Here’s Why

Posted: 25 Jun 2011 07:00 AM PDT

Editor’s note: We’ve run a lot of guest posts lately poking holes into the daily deals industry.  With this one, we hear another side.  Arash Pirzad-Allaei is a co-founder of KASA Capital, where heads the internet technology development of KASA’s network of websites, including daily deals site Crowd Cut.

There’s a lot of hate out there these days from the press when it comes to the daily deals industry. I’m looking at you, TechCrunch.

Sure, Groupon has become the whale in this industry, but that doesn’t mean Groupon constitutes the entire industry. Sure, while Groupon may sometimes structure lousy deals for merchants, it doesn't mean the entire daily deal business model isn’t sustainable or beneficial for small businesses. When done right, the daily deal can actually be very lucrative for everyone involved: Merchants, customers and the daily deal sites themselves.

So why should you take my word for it? It’s true, I’ve got my biases.  But so many people have quickly elevated themselves to "experts" on this space that it's hard to filter truth from the noise. My company, KASA Capital, started Crowd Cut in May 2010. We are now a top player in our markets, generating eight figures of profitable revenues. So, when I talk about the daily deal space, I do so with direct experience. I talk to merchants and customers every day. I have numbers to back my claims. I'm a player in this game, not a self-proclaimed expert who sits on the sidelines.

Let’s start by clearing up some common misconceptions:

  • The average back-end split is 70/30 (merchant receiving 70%); not 50/50. Over the past year, merchants have become far more savvy, they no longer accept 50/50 splits.
  • Most daily deal sites will pay credit card processing fees (2.8% – 3.5%). If a merchant fails to negotiate credit card processing fees, they have not done their homework.
  • Immediate payment. Many daily deal services from Google Offers on down are paying merchants faster.  Crowd Cut pays all merchants in full within 5 business days of run-date; others typically have similar payment schedules (Groupon has the longest, three payments over sixty days)
  • Non redemption rates vary from 10 – 35%: there is an inverse correlation between voucher price and non-redemption rates.  The bigger the voucher, the fewer that never get redeemed.
  • Generally, a minimum of 60% of purchasers are new customers, at least for us: Yes, we measure this!

Most merchants participating in daily deals do not have much deal experience. This leaves them at a disadvantage to the daily deal sites when it comes to negotiating the terms of running a daily deal, and can lead to stories like "Groupon Was ‘The Single Worst Decision I Have Ever Made As A Business Owner" (also on TechCrunch). Interestingly, I find that most of the daily deal horror stories come from merchants that a) negotiate terrible deal structure/terms b) do not accurately track redemption or customer spend and c) do not clearly understand the true economics of running a daily deal. This particular post references a story about a coffee shop that signed a 50/50 deal to sell $13 value vouchers (an atrocious 2.5-times their average ticket) for $6 and claimed to have lost $10,000 after selling 890 vouchers.

But, let’s take a look at the real economics:

Total Voucher Value = (890 vouchers) X $13 = $11,570.00
Total Food Cost = $11,570 X (85% redemption rate) X (30% food cost) = $2,950.35
Income From Groupon = (890 vouchers) X ($6 voucher price) X (50% split) = $2,670.00
Cost of Deal After Food Cost = ($2,950.35 food cost) – ($2,670.00 income) = $280.35

Even if we factor in additional variable costs (such as labor, etc.) and amortize fixed costs, a $10,000 seems unrealistically high. Unfortunately, it appears that the poor deal terms and lack of preparation crippled the merchant’s ability to convert new customers into regulars, leaving a bad taste towards the quality of the daily deal model—and daily deal users. Sadly, at times this manifests into merchants and their staff treating daily deal customers like 2nd class citizens. Then they wonder why they don’t come back.

Let’s take a moment to analyze a properly-structured restaurant deal:

A restaurant sells 1,000 vouchers that are $20 for $40 worth of food with a 70/30 revenue split.

  • At 1,000 vouchers, the restaurant receives $14,000 for $40,000 worth of food ($14/voucher sold given the 70/30 revenue split).
  • Average restaurant non-redemption is 18%, thus numbers adjust to income of $14,000 for $32,800 worth of food when you subtract the no-shows.
  • Food cost = $9,840 (30% average food cost multiplied by $32,800)
  • Income after food cost = $4,160 ($14,000 – $9,840)
  • We could take this further by taking into account three additional points: a) the merchant does not pay ~2.2% credit card processing on the voucher value b) a percentage of customers spend less than the voucher amount and c) a percentage of customers spend more than the voucher amount, however, that goes beyond the scope of this article.

If reservations are required (per deal terms) and proper sales limits are set, the restaurant merchant can fulfill the vouchers with minimal increases in variable costs. The economics further improve for other merchants in different market segments (rock climbing, golf, laser hair removal, and so on—i.e. merchants with lower costs of goods). In the example above, even if the restaurant merchant simply breaks even on the economic side, a minimum of 600 new customers will be walking through their doors at no cost. What other advertising options could possibly beat that?

Groupon may be the figurehead of the daily deal, but they are not a true reflection of the market as a whole. It is critical for daily deal sites to understand that a positive merchant experience is extremely important, and that more sites should work towards avoiding deals that will result in a negative experience for merchants. It’s not so difficult to reset priorities with this goal in mind and, if we do, we are likely to find that the majority of merchants will continue to reward our industry with repeat business. It’s worked for Crowd Cut.

Now, you may still be asking yourself, is it really possible to make money averaging 30% revenue splits, paying merchants within 5 days, covering credit card processing fees, and providing higher levels of customer service? Yes! For all you haters out there, remember: Hate the player, not the game. The daily deal is here to stay.



Dear Gene: A Self-Branding Reply To Gene Weingarten’s Self-Branding Column About Self-Branding

Posted: 25 Jun 2011 12:07 AM PDT

Dear Gene,

I was just reading your most recent Washington Post column: an open letter to a j-school student who wrote to you, at her professor’s behest, asking how you built your “personal brand” in journalism. You sure showed her!

Of course, you’re absolutely right that the desire to build a “personal brand” has encouraged some journalists to eschew good reporting in favor of self-aggrandizing positioning statements calculated to increase their own popularity. Similarly, I share your frustration at how user generated content is taking over from real journalism. No-one hates “users” more than me, Gene.

Still, a couple of points you might have considered before filing your column. First, If you’re going to embarrass a journalism student to set up a rant about personal branding and user generated content, it’s probably not a good idea to do it in a photo-bylined column (personal branding!) in which you use a letter you received from a reader (user generated content!) to artfully position yourself as an old-school newsman…

“When I was a hungry young reporter in the 1970s, I thought of myself as a superman, an invincible crusader for truth and justice — even though, looking back at old pictures, I now see that I resembled an emaciated weasel in unattractive clothing. My goals, however, were unambiguous, and heroic: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, "Take me." Note the order. First came the work.”

Second, before you get carried away gushing about how much better the old days were — “the media superstars of today are no longer people such as Bob Woodward, who break big stories, but people like Bill O'Reilly…” — it’s worth remembering that Bob Woodward was, and is, a model self-brander — a man who co-wrote a book, that later became a movie, about how he and his partner brought down a president. In fairness, though, Carl Bernstein was even better at it: see William Goldman’s account of how Bernstein insisted on tweaking the screenplay of All The Presidents Men to make himself seem sexier.

The truth is, Gene, there’s no reason why good journalism and personal branding must be mutually exclusive. Or that they should be. In fact, in a world in which news has been commoditised to the point where no-one will pay for raw facts, it’s the self-branders — those who inject personality, attitude and (dare I say?) opinion into their reporting — who will keep readers flooding through the paywalls, ensuring the survival of the industry we both love.

Speaking of which, who was it who inspired you to get into this game in the first place, Gene? Was it Woodward? Tom Wolfe? Hunter S. Thompson? Whoever it was, I bet he or she was a self-brander — they just didn’t use the word back then.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Paul





I Found Out About This Gay Marriage Thing On Foursquare

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 10:21 PM PDT

Well actually it was an Instagram of a Foursquare check-in, posted to Twitter …

So I actually haven’t been following news at all today, and when I say news I mean actual news, not tech news which I keep up with like an addiction.  And I so had no idea that a bill to legalize gay marriage was passing through the New York State Senate at the very moment I was writing this post about the Quora redesign.

I was actually pretty surprised when TechCrunch Managing Editor Erick Schonfeld Skyped me with “Look at your Twitter feed." In a quick game of Internet catch up, I scrolled through my feed.

Yes, my Twitter feed confirmed that New York, as soon as Governor Andrew Cuomo signs off, will join Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in permitting same sex marriage.

So what heralded the news that the bill had passed 33-29? Well actually the above check-in to something called the Marriage Equalitocalypse.

While a lot of my stream is still filled with the noise of people making the requisite clever quips (see below), there are other, more poignant digital artifacts of the historic moment: the hashtag #equalityforall is trending, this pic of a rainbow colored Empire State Building has gone viral and (perhaps the best part) NYC Mayor Bloomberg also checked into the Marriage Equalitocalyspe, the very same Foursquare check-in that was my gateway to the milestone.

The Wikipedia entry for “Same Sex Marriage” was updated seemingly in a matter of minutes, of course.

And so I’ll say it again, simply: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Foursquare and [insert social media platform of choice] are amazing.

There was something so isolating as a kid when my family turned on the TV to absorb world news on a Friday night, and the only reactions I could see to current events would be that of the people in the room, and those of the people on the screen.

I feel exactly the opposite of isolated when I’m sitting in the office finishing up work for the weekend, and one quick glance at Twitter allows me a glimpse into the opinions of my co-workers across town, or how people are celebrating the approval at the Stonewall Inn in NYC. I can even tap into the sentiment of strangers half way across the world if I so please.

The future, to borrow an apropos phrase, it got better.



Mike Bloomberg
I'm at Marriage Equalitocalypse (New York) w/ 248 others

Alex Blagg
"New Yoooooooork, concrete jungle where gays can marry." – Gay-Z

apocryphal mat honan
Let's hear it for New York

Megan McCarthy
Hope whomever writes the NY Times Vows column qualifies for overtime pay.

Jason Kincaid
Sources tell me a male couple near 6th and Bleecker are currently on pace to surpass Buttercup and Wesley for the greatest kiss ever.

Mike Monteiro
@ And SOMEday NY will find a way for you to marry yourself, Anil.

Anthony De Rosa
Before Twitter, as exciting and historic as this is, this procedural nonsense would have been insufferable.

Zeynep Tufekci
So, my twitter is in part-eee mode:-)! Making me think about filter bubbles. Is there also a "satan has won" corner of twitter tonight?

 
dear america, don't you wish you were a new yorker? love, nyc.

Rachel Sterne
Check out @ rainbow avatar. RT @: An historic triumph for equality and freedom. #ssm

Jonathan Kauffman
I can't think of a better place in SF to learn about NY's new marriage law than a packed Castro Theater.

Image: Rachel Sklar



Inspired By Wikipedia, Quora Aims For Relevancy With Topic Groups And Reorganized Topic Pages

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 07:50 PM PDT


Quora has just announced a redesign of its Topic Pages and the introduction of Topic Groups, aiming to make information discovery and navigation on the site a little bit easier. The motivation behind these changes is a thrust towards ease of search and content relevancy on Quora, as there is currently a ton of content on the site that people need to figure out how to navigate.

Now, instead of a chronological stream on Topics Pages (which you can get to via the tags in questions), users will see Best Questions, Open Questions as well as Featured Questions and Frequently Asked Questions depending on the topic.

A Topic Page can also correspond to a Topic Group which will be focused on all the activity on the Topic Page and can roll up multiple topics into one, giving users a way to self-organize and share info. For example this Movies Group corresponds to this Movies Page.

Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo likens the difference between and Topic Page and a Topic Group to the difference between a Wikipedia article and a Wikipedia Talk page, where the Talk page features the activity of a group behind the page that is committed to the topic, moderates questions and features content. The page is just an outpost of the total sum of the group’s knowledge.

“If you’re someone who doesn’t know about a topic, now you can get a general overview of what the topic is about on a Topic Page,” D’Angelo tells me, saying that the Topic Groups will be the space for people who want to delve deeper.

Some Topic Groups will be official (you can see a list here) i.e. moderated by a group of admins with topical expertise, while others will simply consist of all incoming activity to a Topic Page.

D’Angelo writes, “We’ve had a lot of activity on Quora recently with screenwriters and other people in Hollywood. Now there’s a well-defined space for them to focus on movies without being distracted or interrupted with everything else that they’re interested in on Quora. In general, this structure will let us have deeper communities and topic areas.”

Says power Quora user Semil Shah, “[On Wikipedia] you have topics and you move from page to page, like nodes. Here, in Quora, the topics are organized in a way one can eventually drill down and explore, investigate. It’s genius.”

Despite having no user numbers to announce, D’Angelo tells me that the design and organizational changes were the result of having to look closely at what worked and what didn’t after Quora grew faster than expected last winter. The service’s eventual goal is to get more knowledge on to the Internet, get more questions and get more answers, D’Angelo said.

Also in the information discovery and relevancy vein but on the opposite end of the spectrum is the delightful newly launched Quora Shuffle Button, which lets users view random content on Quora a la StumbleUpon. You can find the unassuming Shuffle button at the bottom of each Quora page. Baby steps.



Weekend Giveaway: A Kobo eReader Touch

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 05:22 PM PDT


If you’re curious about the new generation of touchable e-readers, now’s your chance to pick one up just for being a CrunchGear reader. Kobo has been generous enough to donate one of their new eReader Touch Editions for us to give away, and a few gift cards as well. I like the device: it’s a simple, responsive e-reader that would tempt me if I weren’t a scurrilous, paper-loving Luddite.

So how do you win?

Continue reading…



Google Health Creator Adam Bosworth On Why It Failed: “It’s Not Social”

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 02:53 PM PDT

After several years languishing in the backwoods of Google’s server farms, Google Health got its plug pulled today. Why did the ambitious project to record your health record online and help you research your every ailment fail? I asked this to Adam Bosworth, the former Googler who originally created Google Health, a few weeks ago when he was in the TCTV studio to talk about his new health startup Keas.

In a sentence, he said, “It’s not social.” In the video clip above, we talk about why Google Health never seemed to go anywhere. Bosworth says the problem was that “Google didn't push to see what could they do that people would want. They basically offered a place to store date, but people don't want a place to store data.”

Bosworth has learned that you have to make things fun to motivate people. Even healthcare. “If it's not fun, it's not social, why would they do that?” he asks. “Yes, they want to be healthy, but they want more than that. They want the encouragement and even the pressure of friends.”



Dropbox Breach: Fewer Than 100 Accounts Affected, But One Person Actively Exploited Security Hole

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 02:03 PM PDT

It’s been an incredibly rough week for Dropbox. On Monday, news broke that a bug in the service’s authentication software effectively made passwords optional for around four hours over the weekend — meaning that you could log into anyone’s account simply by entering their user name.

Given what Dropbox is used for — namely, syncing your most important files between computers — that’s a huge deal. Especially since the service has promoted its security features as one of its selling points. At the time Dropbox said that “much less than 1 percent” of users could have potentially been affected. Now we’ve obtained an email that Dropbox sent out this afternoon to users who were affected by the breach and it’s much more specific.

First, the good news: the scale of the attack affected “fewer than a hundred accounts” out of Dropbox’s 25 million total users. But according to the letter, those accounts were all accessed by a single individual. In other words, these weren’t accidental logins due to typos — someone discovered the hole and actively used it to access files that were not theirs. That’s obviously very alarming.

Dropbox isn’t commenting on the breach, so it’s unclear whose accounts this individual was targeting, or if the attack was targeted at all.

Here is one version of the letter that’s apparently being sent to users whose accounts were accessed, but did not have files viewed or downloaded — a second version indicates if files were in fact accessed. Note that the letter was written by Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, who offers to speak on the phone to anyone whose account was breached.

Subject: Important Dropbox Security Notice – Please Read

xxxx,

Earlier this week, we wrote to tell you about a security lapse at Dropbox. Today I am writing to tell you something I never expected to tell a customer. During our forensic analysis, we discovered that an extremely small number of accounts, including yours, were subject to some suspicious activity.

Our investigation revealed that at around xx:xx on x/xx/xxxx someone logged into your account. It is likely that your account was compromised by a third party. According to our records, neither your account settings nor files were modified. Information such as file and folder names would have been viewable, but our records do not indicate that any files were viewed or downloaded. Nevertheless, as a precaution we recommend that you take the following steps:

* If you had sensitive, personal, or financial information in your Dropbox or in the names of the files in your Dropbox account (for example, credit card numbers, bank account information, social security numbers) you should monitor your credit for any suspicious activity. You can learn more about identity theft at the FTC’s Identity Theft Site http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ .

* We have made arrangements for you to have free access to a credit monitoring service. Please email us at support@dropbox.com if you would like to use this program. You may also want to consider canceling any credit cards whose information was located in the folders listed above.

* If you stored passwords in your Dropbox, please make sure to change those passwords as soon as possible.

* Again, we urge you to review your account for any unauthorized activity and inform us immediately about your concerns.

As we mentioned earlier, the security lapse occurred during a code update that introduced a bug affecting our authentication mechanism. We will continue our investigations, but as best as we can tell right now, a single individual took advantage of the lapse to access fewer than a hundred accounts. Our team has been working around the clock to understand what happened and to make sure that it never happens again.

I cannot express how deeply sorry I am. Dropbox is my life, and I know that we are only as good as the trust we have built with our customers. This should not have happened, and I am hopeful that you will give us the chance to make this right and regain your trust.

I am here and ready to answer your questions and do whatever I can to help. Please do not hesitate to call me at +x-xxx-xxx-xxxx. Or if you’d like me to call you just reply with your phone number and I’ll give you a call.

Drew


Drew Houston
CEO, Dropbox



Foursquare Closes $50M at a $600M Valuation

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 01:25 PM PDT

Foursquare has just closed one of the most secretive rounds of venture capital TechCrunch has seen.

The company is raising $50 million, and all of it will go towards building out the company, no secondary sales here. The valuation had been rumored to be as high as $1 billion, but our sources say it settled out at $550 million pre-money, $600 million post.

Part of that is because the round was mostly done by insiders. Leading it was Andreessen Horowitz, still the only major Valley firm invested in the company. Ben Horowitz did the deal and is remaining a board observer only. Union Square Ventures, OATV also reupped in this round and Spark Capital came in as a new investor, but not the lead. Bijan Sabet is joining as a board observer as well. The money will be used to build out the merchant platform, the San Francisco office and fuel international expansion, said founder Dennis Crowley in an interview.

Foursquare’s ten million users are impressive for a mobile app, but small compared to numbers other major social networks. Its revenues are scant. Some firms said they shied away from the deal, because they felt monetization was only more unclear now. With the local space on fire, Foursquare’s target advertisers are already beset with sales people from Yelp, Living Social, Groupon, Google and others calling on them. There’s going to be a level of retailer fatigue, and business-wise Foursquare is late to the party.

Crowley emphasized that Foursquare has a very different value proposition from competitors and is focused on not only rewarding loyal patrons but tracking how their referrals snake through the social graph offering different kinds of rewards to new customers, repeat customers, referred customers and of course the mayors in a way that only Foursquare can. The company is still working on the merchant platform and will get aggressive on selling through direct sales and partnerships once they feel it’s perfect, Crowley said. “We know what it’s going to be, we just haven’t flipped the switch on it yet,” he said.

A $600 million valuation is a big but not unreasonable step-up from Foursquare’s last round which was priced at $120 million. That’s still rich, but that’s the market. Plus, from the venture firm’s perspective, a heady valuation only matters so much. Only slightly more than $20 million has been invested so far in the company, and any investor will have a liquidation preference, meaning they get paid first in the event of an acquisition. So a $50 million deal at any price wouldn’t lose money unless Foursquare winds up being worth less than $70 million.

One of the most remarkable things about this round was how deadly quiet Foursquare was able to keep the news. A few of the big Valley firms like Kleiner Perkins and Benchmark weren’t in the bidding for competitive reasons and very few others were invited to take a look at it. Few of Foursquare’s angel investors were even briefed about it. “Loose Tweets sink companies,” Crowley said. “The series B played out very publicly and it was hard for the company, so we came up with a better process this time.”

We have heard the company might be working on an additional round to cash out some early investors, to be closed at a later date. Crowley didn’t have a comment on that, other than to emphasize all of this round is going towards building the company and the door is open to future secondary deals if it’s the right thing for investors and the company.



Angry Yahoo Shareholder Confronts Bartz And Asks For Her Head (Audio Clip)

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 12:56 PM PDT

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz got an earful yesterday at the tail end of the company’s annual shareholder meeting. An angry shareholder, who identified himself as Steve Landry—an advisor to institutional investors with “millions of Yahoo shares”—stood up at the end of what was up until then a surprisingly feel-good affair, given the total underperformance of the stock for the past three years, and asked for her head. We’ve uploaded the audio clip below.

He goes through a list of issue and concerns, calling Yahoo a “debacle” and a “circus.” He starts out by addressing “the elephant in the room”: the search for Bartz’ successor.

“It came out earlier this week in a blog that the board is secretly talking to other CEO candidates,” he said. “I have heard similar details. I believe it is true. The last thing Yahoo needs right now is a lame duck CEO. The buyout talks over your contract need to start today.”

Hmm, I wonder which blog he’s talking about

Landry also brings up the Hulu acquisition rumor (which was wrong) and suggests Jason Kilar could be a good CEO candidate for Yahoo. But he thinks buying Hulu would be a bad idea.

He finishes by calling on the board to break up or sell the company. “The status quo is no longer working,” he says.

To all of which, Bartz responds: “You’re welcome, and thanks for your opinion, the bloggers’ opinions and the rumors. What else? Wonderful. That was certainly a downer.”

Listen to Landry’s entire diatribe below.

Photo credit: IAB UK



MongoHQ Raises $417K From Y Combinator, Lerer And SV Angel

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 11:46 AM PDT

Data hosting platform MongoHQ has raised $417K in financing in order to expand their hosting configuration service for developers who use MongoDB for data storage. Paul Graham’s Y Combinator, Start Fund, SV Angel and Lerer Ventures took part in the funding.

First on the MongoDB database hosting scene, MongoHQ is in the same space as MongoLab and differentiates itself by adding enterprise level functionalities, aiming to provide users with the maximum amount of uptime with its new replica set feature, which gives developers the option to create databases across three EC2 boxes in three different availability zones.

Currently MongoHQ boasts over 7K users, with over 12K databases hosting around 20 Terabytes of data. Founded in 2009, the company is already profitable, and already has a significant international presence

According to co-founder Jason McCay, the company plans on using the funding to invest in infrastructure and hire additional engineers. They also plan on listening to user feedback and expanding into dedicated boxes and data optimization this summer. “Our goal is to become the data layer for applications,” McCay tells me.



Google Shuts Down Medical Records And Health Data Platform

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 11:35 AM PDT

Google is shutting down Google Health, which enables you to store and manage all your health information in one place on the Web. Google says the platform simply wasn’t having the ‘broad impact’ necessary to sustain the product.

From Google’s blog post: There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven't found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people. That's why we've made the difficult decision to discontinue the Google Health service.

Google says that it will continue to operate Google Health until January 1, 2012, will allow people to export their health data for an additional year beyond that. Any data that remains in Google Health after that point (January 2013) will be permanently deleted.

Google Health launched in 2008 as a central repository for all of your health information, including prescriptions, medical history, medical records, and more.

One of the key contributors to the overall success of Google Health were partnerships with insurance companies, hospitals and other medical institutions to make data more available to consumers. As last year, Google Health still needed to sign up hundreds of insurers in the U.S. Google announced some key deals (i.e. a partnership with CVS to import prescription data into the platform), but couldn’t gain traction elsewhere.

Google also started transitioning Health into an overall wellness platform, allowing users integrate data from FitBit and CardioTrainer, but clearly this didn’t get enough traction amongst users.

Microsoft’s competing product HealthVault looks to be still alive and kicking.



TechCrunch Giveaway: Free Tickets To Our 6th Annual Summer Party At August Capital #tcaugustcapital

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 11:26 AM PDT

We have just announced our Mobile First CrunchUp and 6th Annual Summer Party at August Capital! Tickets for both events are on sale now and are currently going very fast. For today, we are giving away 2 free tickets to our summer party at August Capital. We will have a great mix of startup demos, fun giveaways, drinks and more. The party will be in Menlo Park on the best deck in all of Sand Hill Road on July 29th. You can read more about the details and directions here.

150 tickets have been released today for the summer party and we will continue to release these tickets in weekly batches. For now, if you want one of these free tickets, just follow the steps below.

1) Become a fan of our TechCrunch Facebook Page:

2) Then do one of the following:

  • Retweet this post (making sure to include the #tcaugustcapital hashtag)
  • Leave a comment below telling us why you want to come

The contest starts now and ends tomorrow, June 25th, at 7:30pm PT.

Please only tweet the message once or you will be disqualified. We will choose the winners at random and contact them this weekend. Anyone can enter. Please note this does not include airfare or hotel.



Funny 2008 Internal Google Video About YouTube, Project Spaghetti And Tim Armstrong

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 11:19 AM PDT

In 2008 Google’s President of the Americas operation Tim Armstrong (now CEO of our parent company AOL) was pushing hard to get some two dozen advertising processes integrated into a single streamlined system. That project was called Project Spaghetti, and YouTube, which had been acquired in 2006, was a particular problem.

The YouTube sales team, led by head of advertising sales Suzie Reider, was apparently less than thrilled with all the pressure Armstrong and Google were putting on them to get advertising products streamlined. They created this video, says the person who gave it to us, to blow off steam internally.

The setting is “Mama Suzie’s” Italian restaurant. Customers are ordering all sorts of things, but the only thing the team will make is spaghetti. Near the end a waiter says “Mr. Armstrong isn’t going to be happy.” Suzie replies “You tell Mr. Armstrong, in San Bruno we make spaghetti.”

It’s an inside joke kind of thing and this obviously wasn’t created for the public, but the YouTube team was clearly annoyed by the whole situation. The ending is “Don’t worry, they lived happily ever after…making dough.”

The video is below:



Hit iOS Game “The Moron Test” Coming To Mac/PC, Will Be Amazon’s First Digital Game Exclusive

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 10:15 AM PDT

Everyone likes to feel clever. Our brains do all sorts of fun stuff when we do things like complete puzzles or solve riddles; even if the task at hand is somewhat trivial, completing it gives us that shot of serotonin we’re constantly subconsciously striving for.

That’s really the driving idea behind the best-selling iOS/Android game, The Moron Test. Through a series of increasingly difficult but always conceptually simple challenges (like “Crack the egg!” or “Touch the button that isn’t blue!” or “Don’t do anything!”), The Moron Test draws people in — and because everyone always wants to know just how much more clever they are than their friends, the game spreads like wildfire.

After sitting in iOS’ Top 100 Paid apps list for 2 years and finding success on both Android and Windows Phone 7, The Moron Test is about to make the jump out of the mobile world and onto desktops.

Sometime on June 25th (Update: We’ve just been told that the date has changed from June 25th to “soon”,) The Moron Test will launch for both OS X and Windows PCs at a price of $4.99.

Perhaps even more interesting, Amazon has tied up exclusive distribution rights for this one. For the first two weeks after launch, The Moron Test will only be available through Amazon’s digital software store; after that, it’ll presumably hit places like Apple’s Mac App Store and the developer’s own site.

This marks the first time that Amazon has locked down a Mac or PC game as a digital exclusive. Just weeks ago at WWDC, Apple was talking up their Mac App Store as having become the biggest distributor of Mac software (compared to places like Best Buy, or Walmart) in just 6 months. For Amazon to take a title that began its life and then found massive success on iOS and lock it down as an exclusive seems like an oh-so-subtle warning shot in Apple’s direction.



The Final Word: Yes, You Will Be Able To Access iCloud Apps On The Web

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 10:00 AM PDT

Apple has just published a MobileMe to iCloud transition FAQ. Of note, there has been a lot of confusion as to whether or not iCloud apps would be accessible on the web. We had previously heard that yes, they would for sure be available via web apps on icloud.com (similar to the ones currently found on me.com) set to launch at an undisclosed date in the future. But plenty still refused to believe that. So today, Apple has answered the question once and for all. Sure enough:

Will I be able to access iCloud services on the web?
Yes. Web access to iCloud Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Find My iPhone will be available at icloud.com this fall.

So there you go.

Other tidbits from the FAQ are things you probably already knew. If you currently have MobileMe, you service has been extended through June 30, 2012. At that time, MobileMe will cease to exist and you will have to use iCloud services. Also, Gallery and iDisk cease to exist in iCloud.

The news more people may care about is iWeb. Yes, it too is going away for sure, Apple confirms in this document. So what about sites you have built are hosted on MobileMe? Apple suggests you read this document to help you transition your sites to another web hosting service before the June 30, 2012 end date.

One thing not explicitly mentioned: viewing your photos on the web. While Gallery is going away, Photo Stream is taking over and from what we’re hearing, the decision has not yet been made about whether to publish those to a location on icloud.com or not. Stay tuned.



Don’t Miss Our Mobile First CrunchUp And 6th Annual Summer Party On July 29

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 09:48 AM PDT

Update: The first batch of party tickets have sold out. Our next set of tickets will be released next week.

“Mobile first.” It’s a mantra we’ve been hearing increasingly. For many developers and startup founders, they start with a mobile product first, and web second, if at all. We are seeing this across games, social, photo, payment, group messaging, media consumption, local deal apps and more. It’s just the way things are done.

The rise of the iPhone and Android mobile app economies has validated this approach. Other platforms are fading away or making a last-ditch effort to assert themselves. And don’t forget the iPad and other tablets, along with the mobile Web which is trying to keep pace with HTML5 and other technologies. The mobile web versus native apps debate is getting particularly heated

On July 29, we’ll explore all of these issues and what it takes to go mobile first during a half-day CrunchUp in Palo Alto, preceding our 6th annual summer party at August Capital. We are selling tickets right now for $150. It will be an intimate affair with 250 people. A ticket gets you into the summer party at August Capital afterwards as well. We are also opening up 150 of those summer party tickets for $40 each.

More details to come on the CrunchUp. If you are a mobile startup that wants to launch there, we have a few slots. Shoot me an email.

Here are the logistics.

About the Mobile First CrunchUp Conference at AOL (capacity limited to 250 participants)
July 29, 1:00 – 4:30 pm
AOL Auditorium
395 Page Mills Road, Palo Alto CA 94306, Map
12:30 – 1:00 Registration and refreshments
1:00 – 4:30 Mobile First Sessions and Roundtable
Get Tickets @ Eventbrite: $150 based on availability. Tickets include admission for one (1) to the August Capital party and expedited fast-pass door entry. You do not need to purchase a separate August Capital Party ticket if you purchase a CrunchUp ticket. Tickets are non-transferrable, based on availability. Limited seating for the CrunchUp. #crunchup

Speakers to be announced, but trust us and get a ticket. You’ll love the agenda and seating is extremely limited.

We have a limited number of press passes. Contact Elin Blesener to request press pass consideration.

About the 6th Annual Summer Party at August Capital
July 29, 5:30 – 10:00 pm
2480 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park CA 94025, Map
Get Tickets @ Eventbrite: $40 based on availability. Tickets to be released weekly in batches. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for releases as they sell out quickly. #tcaugustcapital

Join us for a great mix of start-up demos, networking, giveaways, drinks and fun on the best deck in all of Sand Hill Road.

Sponsorships:
The combined CrunchUp – Summer Party also gives us a great sponsorship platform for start-ups and brands to reach both conference and networking attendees. Please contact Jeanne Logozzo or Heather Harde to learn more about sponsorship packages and custom opportunities.



Opera Founder Jon S. von Tetzchner Resigns Over Differences With Board

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 09:41 AM PDT

Opera founder Jon S. von Tetzchner has resigned from the company.

In an email to Opera employees, von Tetzchner said that “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera. As a result I have come to an agreement with the Board to end my time at Opera. I feel the Board and Management is more quarterly focused than me.” You can read the full email below.

Von Tetzchner co-founded Opera Software in 1995, and led the company up to 2010, when he resigned as CEO. He then became a full-time strategic advisor to the company.

As for what’s next, Opera says that von Tetzchner has “ideas about new projects, but is not ready to reveal any of his ideas as of right now.”

It’s unclear what values Opera’s founder and the board disagreed upon. The independent mobile and web browser tens of millions of users, and seems to be growing at a fast clip.

Dear All,

It is with a heavy heart that I send this message. Next week will be my
last at Opera. It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not
share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep
evolving Opera. As a result I have come to an agreement with the Board to
end my time at Opera. I feel the Board and Management is more quarterly
focused than me. I have always worked to build the company for the future.
I believe the foundation we have is very solid to build further upon.

I do believe strongly in Opera as a company, and in all of you working
here. Our products actually make a difference for a lot of people in the
world, and I wish you all the best of luck moving forward. I will be
following the company closely and rooting for you all.

Yours truly,
Jon.

Photo credit/Wikipedia



Google Responds To FTC Inquiry: “Using Google Is A Choice”

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 09:36 AM PDT

Yesterday news broke that the FTC is preparing to launch a major investigation into Google’s “core search advertising business” and the way its search results are presented — an investigation that could have major ramifications for the search giant.

Google has faced plenty of scrutiny from the FTC before, including lengthy investigations during its acquisitions of AdMob and ITA. But now the government organization is examining Google’s business on the whole, which means the stakes are bigger. (Here’s a detailed guide by Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land that outlines all of the recent antitrust investigations Google is dealing with).

A few minutes ago, Google posted its initial response to the inquiry on its official blog.

Google’s post, which is titled “Supporting choice, ensuring economic opportunity”, outlines some of the company’s oft-stated core values (and repeatedly points out that consumers can easily change to another search engine). The post is far from combative, but it does preemptively respond to some of the complaints.

Regarding the fact that Google frequently integrates its own products into results in a way that might lead to fewer clicks to third-party sites:

Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that, if we focus on the user, all else will follow. No matter what you're looking for—buying a movie ticket, finding the best burger nearby, or watching a royal wedding—we want to get you the information you want as quickly as possible. Sometimes the best result is a link to another website. Other times it's a news article, sports score, stock quote, a video or a map.

A brief response to complaints from sites that say Google is purposely punishing them in search result rankings for anticompetitive reasons:

We make hundreds of changes to our algorithms every year to improve your search experience. Not every website can come out at the top of the page, or even appear on the first page of our search results.

And then there’s the matter of Choice — a word that appears five times in their post, including the headline. Google has long made the argument that a competitive search engine is always a few clicks away, and that its success is a result of consumers choosing it, rather than being locked in. Google also points out its Data Liberation Front, which is Google’s initiative to help users export their Google data should they wish to do so.

Search helps you go anywhere and discover anything, on an open Internet. Using Google is a choice—and there are lots of other choices available to you for getting information: other general-interest search engines, specialized search engines, direct navigation to websites, mobile applications, social networks, and more.

Because of the many choices available to you, we work constantly on making search better, and will continue to follow the principles that have guided us from the beginning:

At this point Google says it doesn’t know exactly what the FTC’s concerns are — expect to see more posts from them once the inquiry gets under way.



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