Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Spotify Finally Announces Impending US launch (Really)

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 09:32 AM PDT

Streaming music service Spotify, which is gunning to compete with iTunes, just put up a holding page for it’s US service which will presumably be launched soon. Users are being asked to enter an e-mail address on its U.S. site to get an update.

Date, pricing and partners are not yet specified but it looks like they landed the final music label deals they were after to launch the service.



Raising The Most Money Doesn’t Mean Your Company Will Become The Most Valuable

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 08:52 AM PDT

Editor’s note: Guest writer Jules Maltz is a General Partner at Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), a late-stage venture capital firm based in Menlo Park. You can follow him on Twitter @julesmaltz.

One of my favorite recent blog posts is Seth Godin’s "Getting funded is not the same as succeeding."   Whether or not we're in a bubble, it's a sign of the times that this post has to be written in the first place.   As Josh Elman tweets, we've gone from RIP Good Times to funding a grilled cheese company in less than three years (Sequoia was involved in both interestingly).  Instead of focusing on the companies that are creating the most value for their customers, we're talking about who raised the largest round or who's part of the billion dollar valuation club.

And this is dangerous.  It's dangerous because we're celebrating the "success" of fund raisings rather than the success of building truly valuable businesses.   Fundraising success does not always predict long-term success, and the data shows it.  Below are the largest technology venture fundraisings from 2004 to 2008 according to VentureSource (Note: I purposely excluded data from the current bubble and from cleantech, which I imagine only further supports the point).

While many of these companies have had good outcomes (IVP invested in HomeAway, Cortina, and Vonage), it's surprising how few lasting, quality multi-billion dollar companies are on this list.   Having a successful mega-fundraising is a lot like being an NBA lottery draft pick.  It can feel great at the time, but just like for Darko Milicic, Michael Olowokandi, or Sam Bowie (drafted ahead of Michael Jordan), it doesn't guarantee success.

So while much of the tech world gets caught up in the hype around valuations, I think we should all get back to business—the business of building great, lasting, sustainable companies.  The kind of companies that pay less attention to joining the billion dollar valuation club and pay more attention to joining the billion dollar revenue club.




Medialets Updates Universal SDK With Third-Party Rich Media Support, New Mobile Ad Formats And More

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Mobile advertising company Medialets is launching a significant update to its mobile ad SDK to support new ad formats, new data capabilities, and with support for any certified rich media vendor to deliver into Medialets-enabled publishers.

Medialets helps publishers sell rich media ads directly to brands. On the publisher side, Medialets provides all the tools to go and sell ad inventory for mobile rich media ads independently and trains publishers’ salesforce as well. For brands, Medialets evangelizes their ad formats and the mobile ad opportunities provided by big-name publishers, serving as a middle man between publishers like CNN and advertisers like Coca-Cola.

The new SDK allows third-party rich media providers like Google, Mediamind, Sprout and Unicast, to offer campaigns to advertisers and publishers. Medialets says these providers now have access to more than 20 billion monthly available impressions across its publishers. Medialets has also added a number of social features for ad formats, including social media sharing, email and SMS functionality, Add-to- Calendar (with Reminders) and Embedded Maps.

Medialets’ new ad format, Growables, is included in the new SDK, which is an HTML5 expandable ad which grows out of the original banner ad. An Audio ad format allows advertisers to deliver audio ads with or without an on-screen component while an app is backgrounded (which works well in music mobile apps).

Medialets, which has raised $10 million in funding, recently formed a partnership with Adobe to integrate Medialets‘ mobile ad platform into the Adobe creative suite. And the New York-based startup just released Medialets Muse, a comprehensive creative dashboard for rich media advertising,



Microsoft Aims At Samsung To Continue Milking Android Cash Cow

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 07:56 AM PDT

Remember that somewhat confusing equation that left Microsoft with 5x more Android dough than Windows Phone profits? We already detailed the situation, but for those of you who missed it, Microsoft holds patents on certain facets of Android technology. Because of that, every Android-based smartphone sold by HTC rakes in a $5 licensing fee for Microsoft, an agreement the companies reached out of court. We thought that Microsoft would have already covered its Android bases and reached more secretive agreements with heavy-hitters like LG and Samsung, but Reuters reports that the cash-grabbing has only just begun, and this time Samsung is in the cross hairs.

Read More



Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer To Keynote CES (Again) In 2012

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 06:45 AM PDT

Microsoft head honcho Steve Ballmer will return to CES in January 2012, kicking off the consumer technology tradeshow with a preshow keynote, the fourth time he’ll be taking the stage to do so.

"We are pleased to welcome Microsoft back to the CES keynote stage," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which owns and produces CES.

The 2012 International CES is scheduled January 10-13, 2012, in Las Vegas, Nevada. CEA says the full line-up of 2012 International CES keynote addresses will be announced in coming months.

Ballmer's preshow keynote address is slated for 6:30 PM on Monday, January 9, in The Venetian.

Microsoft has used the CES keynote stage in previous years to unveil products like the original Xbox and Avatar Kinect.

Care to venture some guesses as to what Ballmer will be announcing next January?

(Picture courtesy of Microsoft Sweden @ Flickr)



Fabless Chip Company Valens Raises $14 Million

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 06:34 AM PDT

Valens Semiconductor, a provider of semiconductor products for the distribution of high-definition multimedia content and the inventor of the HDBaseT technology, this morning announced that it has raised $14 million in a Series B round of financing. The capital injection comes from Taiwan-based Pegatron and Japan-based Mitsui & Co. Global Investment, new VC investors Amiti Ventures and Aviv Venture Capital as well as previous backers Genesis Partners and Magma Venture Partners.


Wizard101, KingsIsle’s Massively Multiplayer Game For Kids, Passes 20 Million Users

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 05:55 AM PDT

In the last few years, web game developers have started to bring online concepts, gaming and otherwise, that have proven successful with adults to a younger market. And the results have been no less compelling for younger audiences.

Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters, which brings social networking and virtual worlds to kids, passed 50 million users in June. Club Penguin, a massively multiplayer role playing game for kids developed by New Horizon Interactive was bought by Disney in 2007 for $350 million. And today, KingsIsle Entertainment is announcing that Wizard 101, itself a massively multiplayer online game that targets that much coveted 6 to 14-year-old demographic, has passed 20 million registered users.

Though of course it’s all relative, Wizard101 has flown somewhat under the radar compared to Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin, and of course its older cousins like World of Warcraft and Free Realms. Yet, with 20 million in the U.S. alone and nearly 12 million unique monthly visitors, Wizard101′s latest numbers undoubtedly make it one of the most popular massively multiplayer (MMO) games in North America.

Wizard101, being a game that involves a fair amount of wizards and wizardry, is often compared to Harry Potter and the Hogwarts band of teen witches and wizards. Wizard101, too, takes place at a wizarding school, which is looking to populate its ranks with young wizards. Users start as wizard students, progressing their way through grades and various worlds, ultimately battling an evil character not unlike Voldemort.

Yet, while the comparison with Harry Potter may be an easy one to make, the KingsIsle team prefers to elicit what it calls the “Pixar model” when referring to its influences. This means that, while Wizard101 is a game built for kids and teenagers, it is rife with allusions, jokes, and imagery that makes it appealing to older audiences as well.

For example, Wizard101 is fully voice acted, and the game’s music has seen contributions from Nick Jonas (of the Jonas Brothers) as well as the lead singer of The Blue Oyster Cult, among others. Fred Howard, vice president of Marketing at KingsIsle Entertainment, told me that he has personally heard from a number of grandmothers — those who would never refer to themselves as gamers — who have racked up hundreds of hours of Wizard101 gameplay.

While the graphics, voiceovers, and fantasy elements are appealing to adults and kids alike, the game also owes its success to the fact that it’s free to play online, much like its older brethren WoW and Lord of The Rings, and is direct to consumer and direct to download. The game is easy to set up, and the barriers to entry are low — five minutes of setup and users are off and running.

As players progress, they run into Wizard101′s freemium model, in which users are asked to pay to access further levels and premium content. What’s more, there are more than six worlds users can play around in, and with the 300 hours worth of content recently added, gameplay in Wizard101 is far deeper than the experience one has playing a Facebook game like FarmVille.

Wizard101 also boasts a turn-based card game, with collectible cards in which users can build their own decks, virtual pets and minigames for those pets, and so on. While there’s competition for loot and in-game rewards, the game is casually collaborative, as users can work side by side in duels against evil bad guys, adding the social nature inherent to Facebook games, but building upon those with far more content and features than one might typically find in games made for the social networking platform.

KingsIsle has also taken Wizard101 to mobile with an iPhone app, and as it continues to roll out enhancements to its mobile experience and add levels and minigames to its online game experience, the startup is clearly making a play at users — both kids and adults — that find themselves looking for a deeper experience beyond those available in casual Facebook games.

KingsIsle was founded by Elie Akilian, who sold his Inet Technologies to Tektronix in 2004 for $500 million. Akilian partnered with a former Activision executive and brought on game developers from Austin-based WolfPack studios, the makers of Shadowbane, eventually growing the company to 120-plus employees. Since its founding in 2005, KingsIsle has been bootstrapped, taking no outside investment, but with Wizard101 recently launching in Europe, and online collaborative and immersive games for a younger market hitting the tipping point, it seems only a matter of time before Wizard101 catches up to the likes of Moshi Monsters and becomes more than marginally profitable.

For those interested in learning more, check out the game here.



Apple Obtains U.S. Trademark For ’280′. Wait, What?

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 05:23 AM PDT

Apple last week obtained a U.S. trademark for ’280′, Trademarkia records show. I was puzzled about that, until I saw the image that was submitted along with the trademark filing, which shows the maps icon Apple uses for its iOS navigation app.

In case you’re still at a loss about why the maps icon shows ’280′; it’s because it pinpoints the location of Apple’s headquarters at Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California, right alongside Interstate 280.

The mark description reads:

“The mark consists of a gray map with streets in gray and white and highways in yellow and orange, a highway sign in blue, yellow and red bearing the number “280″ in white, and a gray and red pin.”

Mapping service providers with ’280′ in their product names or designs should be on alert.

I suggest they change it to any number below or above 280, none of which have been trademarked by Apple (so far, at least) to my knowledge.

Seriously though, what’s the point of registering the number 280 as a word mark?

Any trademark law connoisseurs in the house that can help explain Apple’s move?

Update:

Nik Cubrilovic explains in the comments below that, when you submit a trademark filing for an icon, you have to put in the “word mark” field any words that make up part of said icon.



From Diapers To Pets, Amazon’s Quidsi Introduces Wag.com

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 04:55 AM PDT

Everything comes around. A decade after the Pets.com sock puppet became the symbol of overreaching Internet startups, Amazon-owned Quidsi is launching an online pets supply store today called Wag.com. But before you dismiss this as yet another sign of the bubble, consider how much things have changed in the past ten years.

People are now very used to shopping online, and if the price is right and it can be delivered in two days, why not order a bag of dog food to be delivered to your door? At launch, Wag.com will offer 15,000 pet products—about the same amount you can find in big box pets supply retailer. Over time, that number will grow to 25,000. Orders of $50 will be shipped free.

Another big difference this time is that Quidsi seems to know what it’s doing. It started with Diapers.com, which quickly became the biggest seller of diapers online. Last year, it expanded into drugstore items with Soap.com. And now it is moving into pet supplies (an online toy store called Yoyo.com will be next).

“We have spent many years now honing our back-end logistics,” says CEO Marc Lore. “We have built a logistics backend to sell big, bulky, heavy items and co-mingle them with smaller items and get them in the same box and get them out and ship fast.”

That may be true, but shipping heavy bags of low-margin dog food is exactly what killed Pets.com. Lore notes that “there has definitely been a shift to more specialty, natural and organic foods, so the cost per pound is higher.” But Quidsi’s formula for success has always been to get customers—usually the women shoppers who buy everything in ost households—to come back periodically for staples and then upsell them on higher-margin goods. Wag.com will have plenty of more expensive toys and treats for the pampered pet as well.

And to encourage cross-shopping, the free shipping minimum drops to $39 if you buy from more than one of Quidsi’s sites. There will be tabs taking shoppers to Diapers.com, Soap.com, and BeautyBar.com, where they will be able to keep filling up the same carts and use the same accounts (which are not yet tied to Amazon). Although it took a while for the Amazon deal to close (it finally did in April), Amazon has been pretty much hands-off. At some point, though, you’d think they could at least link to Diapers.com when someone searches Amazon for diapers.

Here’s a video that explains the company’s logistics and robotic warehouse system:



With Top Banks In Tow, Financial Service Provider Yodlee Hits 30 Million Users

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 04:10 AM PDT

Yodlee, the provider of personal financial management most well known for its account aggregation, today announced that it has crossed the 30 million users milestone. Founded in 1999, Yodlee has raised over $100 million in funding and has quietly built a suite of financial management solutions that power many large financial institutions and portals, including Bank of America, Fidelity, and Amex.

Yet, for having raised significant capital and having survived more than a decade’s worth of financial vagaries, Yodlee remains somewhat under the radar — this in spite of the fact that Yodlee has offered its services to all Y Combinator startups and was originally provided Mint.com (one of its more notable, nominal competitors) with its back end technology, until Mint was acquired by Intuit in 2009.

As Mike Arrington wrote at the time, Yodlee provided its financial account aggregating services to Mint early in its career, allowing Mint to focus on user experience and launch significant marketing campaigns. The startup went on to create a significant buzz in the industry, nearly overshadowing its predecessor.

That being said, Yodlee continues to outpace Mint.com, which currently boasts 5 million users, as it has built a platform that has come to function as the backend for the majority of online personal financial management services.

Yodlee crossing the 30 million user milestone seems a testament to the fact that online banking has transitioned into personal financial management, as users are increasingly expecting to be able to manage all of their finances on one customizable platform. Adding app-based mobile functionality, too, with its FinApp Store, which offers an open API for developers to build apps for the startup’s various products, has helped Yodlee become one of the more notable online financial services providers.

Yet, even though Yodlee was recently awarded its 45th patent, counts 5 of the top 10 U.S. banks as customers, and now has over 30 million registered users, it continues to look for that elusive exit, which Mint.com was able to find in a matter of years.

Perhaps with those 45 patents issued, which range from data aggregation and categorization to instant account verification and personal finance management, Yodlee’s investment in the creation of intellectual properties is beginning to pay off.



How To Move Your Facebook Photos To Picasa (Soon, Google Photos) In A Flash

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 04:03 AM PDT

I’m sure there’s more than one way to easily transfer your Facebook photos and albums to Google’s Picasa service (which will apparently be renamed Google Photos). If you know of a good method for moving from one to the other, do share it in a comment below, but I would like to highlight one that launched very recently.

The aptly named Move2Picasa.com website lets you connect to your Facebook account, after which all your Facebook photos and albums will automatically be migrated over to Google’s Picasa service. Note: sans captions, comments and whatnot.

It admittedly took a couple of hours for me to get my Facebook photos transferred, but for people who don’t mind the wait and would like to move only their photos to Picasa / Google Photos, this is a more than adequate solution.

Evidently, the more photos you (and others) migrate, the longer the wait. Another caveat: it’s all or nothing – you can’t transfer specific photos or albums at this point.

Needless to say, once your photos are in Picasa, sharing them with Circles (or the world) on Google’s brand new social networking service, Google+, can be done in a snap.

The web app was conceived by AmiWorks’ Aman Kumar Jain and Amogh. According to the website, roughly 300,000 photos have already been transferred to date.

My guess is there’ll be plenty more by the end of the week.



Smartphone Maker HTC Buys S3 Graphics From VIA, WTI For $300 Million

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 02:45 AM PDT

VIA Technologies, a Taiwan-based developer of x86 processor platforms, this morning announced that it has sold all of its shares in S3 Graphics, a provider of graphics visualization technologies used in PCs, game consoles and mobile devices based in California.

The buyer is smartphone manufacturer HTC, which is acquiring all outstanding shares of S3 Graphics for a grand total of $300 million.

Once it obtains full ownership of S3 Graphics, HTC will not only gain the company’s experienced team but also quite some valuable intellectual property and a ton of know-how on building energy-efficient graphics and video solutions.

VIA Technologies acquired S3 Graphics in 2001 with the intention to accelerate integration of graphics capabilities with its processor and chipset products. S3 Graphics became undercapitalized in 2005, prompting VIA to add WTI Investment International as a new investor to help fund the operations and R&D initiatives.

Notably, WTI is a private investment company, in which VIA Technologies chairman Cher Wang is a significant shareholder. Update: Wang also co-founded HTC, by the way.

VIA will receive $147 million, while WTI will receive $153 million. VIA will recognize a capital gain of $37 million and paid-in-capital of $115 million in this transaction.

"The transaction would allow VIA to monetize a portion of its rich IP portfolio, yet retain its graphics capabilities to support the development and sale of its processors and chipsets," said Tzu-mu Lin, Senior Vice President and Board Director of VIA.

The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions but is expected to close before end of 2011.

S3 Graphics recently made headlines with its patent infringement suit against Apple. The company filed an ITC complaint in May 2010, and an eight-day trial was held in March 2011.

Earlier this month, ITC Judge E. James Gildea ruled that Apple infringes US Patent 6,658,146 directed to systems and methods for compressing images and US Patent 6,683,978 directed to image data formats, both of which belong to S3 Graphics (and soon, to HTC).

Apple was found not to violate two other patents.



App Store Analytics Startup App Annie Gets Backing From IDG, Preps Premium Service

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 01:47 AM PDT

App Annie, a Hong Kong-based provider of app store analytics and marketing intelligence for Apple’s App Store, has raised an undisclosed amount in a Series A funding round led by IDG Capital Partners, the China-focused VC fund backed by IDG and Accel.

First launched in March 2010, App Annie lets app developers and publishers track sales, downloads, rankings, and reviews. The fledgling company says 13,000 users have already signed up, including marketers or executives from more than 50 percent of the top 100 App Store publishers.

Unlike competitors such as Distimo, Mopapp and Flurry, App Annie currently only supports Apple’s App Store. The startup says it will use the extra capital to expand its scope to other mobile application stores and to develop new features.

In a blog post, App Annie also says they will soon launch additional premium services.

IDG Capital Partners is a China-focused investment firm with over $3.8 billion in capital under management. The firm, which is backed by IDG and Accel Partners, boasts offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Silicon Valley, and Boston.

Xiaojun Li, a partner at IDG Capital Partners, has joined App Annie’s board of directors.



JailBreakMe.Com Will Jailbreak iPads 2 And Other iOS Devices

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 01:20 AM PDT

Through the mists of time, the elders tell of a website that could jailbreak and iPhone in seconds, allowing users to free their devices from the shackles of Apple’s all-seeing eye. They spoke of a great war between Apple and the warriors of justice and how the warriors, for a time, were vanquished. And the elders told that this website would return, gloriously, bringing peace to iOSia once again.

The elders were right. The site has returned. This site will jailbreak devices running 4.3.3.

Read more…



History Made As 15 European Investors Agree On A Standard Term Sheet For Startups

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 11:05 PM PDT

Reviewing term sheets from investors can be time consuming and not a little confusing, especially for first time entrepreneurs who may have never seen one before. That puts them at a disadvantage against the investor. Across Europe, the picture is even more confusing. What we needed was a sort of Rosetta Stone term sheet. So today a group of 15 early European stage investors have decided, under the SeedSummit umbrella group, to standardise on two “reader-friendly” term sheet templates. One is being dubbed the SeedSummit Term Sheet and the other an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) friendly variant, tailored for the UK market. See here. This is the first time European investors have co-operated in this way, on this scale.

SeedSummit, a 50+ group which convened first in 2009, hopes that the benefits to startups will include reducing the time it takes to get deals done, reducing legal costs and greater transparency. They were inspired, they say, by the Series Seed docs of the USA.

The participants in the initiative consist of some of the leading early stage and Seed investors in Europe:



Blippy’s New Direction? Daily Deals For Artisanal Goods At Heartsy.me

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 10:30 PM PDT

Earlier this summer we wrote a post on purchase sharing site Blippy’s decline, titled “The End Of Blippy As We Know It.”  While Blippy CEO Ashvin Kumar didn’t want to reveal what the team’s next step was at the time, we’ve now got a few more details to share as to what the company’s pivot new venture will be – Heartsy.me, a daily deals site for handmade goods and other products.

Heartsy.me has been around in incognito mode since February 2011 and has gotten considerable media pick up as a “Groupon for Etsy” mainly because of its novel twist on the concept of a social deals platform, letting users vote on what deals they want to see. Even we covered it, without knowing anything about the team behind it.

Basically Heartsy.me allows artisan sellers to offer group discounts like “$18 for $38 store credit at A Pocket of Posies Jewelry” or “$15 for $31 at Soapin’ It Up Soaps.” Buyers are redirected through the site to the seller’s Etsy listing and can use their Heartsy.me voucher there. After they buy a deal, users are given a unique link that they can share with friends to receive an additional $5 off their next Heartsy purchase.

The Heartsy.me community curates the featured sellers, using a novel “Pick Deals” feature to gage user interest, where users are given five credits at $1 each in order to give potential deal feedback. Once a seller in waiting reaches 60 “Yes” votes, the deals get passed on to the Heartsy.me community editors who complete the final step of curation.

The site monetizes through its VIP program, where for $8 monthly VIPs can get around a $10 credit at most of the featured stores, in addition to the Heartsy discount. VIPs also get early access and collection perks. The model seems to be taking off, since February the site has seen more than $564K in sales, with 47k vouchers sold from 646 sellers.

Kumar wouldn’t give me much more detail (ultimate plans for the site are still in flux he says) but did confirm that Heartsy evolved from the learnings at Blippy and that Blippy will continue to run independently, ” As a team we haven't made any decisions about Blippy, we're primarily focused on this,” he said.



On The Eve Of One Facebook Event, The Spartans Prepare For Another

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 08:26 PM PDT

Tomorrow morning at their headquarters in Palo Alto, Facebook is holding an event to show off an “awesome” new product. Our sources tell us that product with be the long-rumored Skype integration within Facebook for full-on video chat goodness — just a week after arch nemesis Google unveiled Hangouts as a part of Google+. Given that news has already leaked out, it’s certainly possible that Facebook could surprise with talk of their iPad app or new Photos experience as well. But one thing not on the agenda is Project Spartan.

You’ll recall that Project Spartan is the HTML5-driven mobile application platform that Facebook has been quietly building for months with the help of a group of third-party app developers. While some of those very developers believe Facebook’s intentions here is to break up the control Apple (and Google) have over the mobile app space, Facebook started freaking out when we reported that. The spin began almost immediately. And it has continued, even with the group of third-party developers working on the project — they’re affectionately known as “Spartans”.

We previously reported that after our initial story, Facebook began reaching out to the Spartans, reminding them that the information of the project was confidential (while telling the press this stuff was really “nothing new”). Since then, Facebook has stepped up their game as well. We now hear that there’s been a lot of stern talks with the Spartans, telling them that the project is not about going after Apple. But it’s not really working. “I look at these apps and how content rich they are and how they have nothing to do with Apple and everything to do with Facebook and assume that they think we are retarded,” is how one put it.

One developer says that the quality of the apps on the platform is really surprising — in a good way, naturally. Apparently, there are going to be a ton of games that will be a part of the Spartan launch. This shouldn’t be too surprising, HTML5 gaming has been something Facebook has been pushing. And Zynga is believed to be heavily involved in the project.

So when will Spartan launch? Facebook is pushing to have everyone ready by July 15. One source expects a formal unveiling to be sometime between then and August 1.

While we’ve been hesitant to provide many screenshots of what the project looks like since it could give away sources, we have secured the one below which has been slightly altered. You’ll note that it looks like a modified version of the current Facebook mobile site. Of course, two things you won’t find on the current mobile site are right there staring you in the face: Games and Apps — with notifications too!

The blue bar along the top is referred to as “chrome” (yes, it shares a name with a Google product). Developers say it’s the glue that binds all the different mobile sites together. That’s one key — these HTML5 apps are said to reside elsewhere, not on Facebook’s own servers (at least right now). So instead they have to make external calls to pull in the Facebook “chrome” to make the apps look like proper Facebook apps.

For a better idea of how this may work, check out this “Getting Started” site set up by Matt Kelly, a Facebook engineer who works with developers. Undoubtedly, this site will be pulled, but it essentially shows how HTML-based navigation is set up on a third-party site. It looks good, and is fast. And it contains talk about things such as to use remote calls to send action alerts inside of a mobile web app — “This can be used for re-engagement, like telling a friend it’s their turn in a board game.”

Also worth noting is a separate tip we got pointing to this page. Apparently, the Facebook Javascript SDK underwent some big changes in the past week, including a lot of references to FB.Native, iOS, and Android. One developer notes that the native code mentions seem largely related to orientation, and wonders if that’s tied in to the iPad app. There is also a bunch of code for “mweb” (mobile web), which apparently is a new parameter that allows apps to auto-login when coming from Facebook’s Platform (yes, Spartan apps).

Previously, we speculated that Project Spartan and the iPad app release could be related. In fact, we had heard that Facebook and Apple were even working together on some things, at least loosely. While the ultimate goal of Spartan is clearly for HTML5 prevail, it is possible that Apple simply doesn’t believe it will anytime soon and is happy to help Facebook try their hand, while also helping the web in general move beyond Flash (think of the position Flash would be in without all those games requiring it).

Notes one developer:

Facebook wants a cut of the Apple’s mobile app market, that’s been clear this entire time. Perhaps it’s not war against Apple — maybe Apple is just going to ‘gift’ Facebook the share of their market (the HTML5 share) in exchange an alliance being formed whereby Apple get’s some exclusive access to Facebook’s 600 million-plus users and thereby cutting out Google (exclusive to some degree, Facebook is too open for it to be fully exclusive). In this theory, it’s not Facebook Spartans vs. Apple, it’s Facebook/Apple Spartans Vs Google.

The Spartans have been told to code specifically for the iOS flavors of Safari — both iPhone and iPad.

The truth is that it’s hard to know Facebook’s exact intentions at this point — too much seems in flux right now and Facebook is holding their cards pretty close to their chest after a series of leaks. Certainly, the HTML5 angle will be played up as “open” rather than being against either Apple or Google. But the larger reality remains: Facebook wants this HTML5 app platform to succeed so the mobile world is not fully controlled by those two companies. And they want their own Credits platform to dominate mobile. Facebook has to play nice and say the right things for now since they do not have their own phone — yet.

Speaking of that, there’s not much here, but we have heard that the work on Facebook phone project continues. One whisper has them working closely with Samsung. Another has them working with Pivotal Labs as well. Facebook will disavow all knowledge of this of course. But it takes nothing more than a quick rational thought to realize that for the future Facebook needs to be in control of two things to maintain power: a web browser and a mobile phone. The thought that they wouldn’t be working on both is what’s really crazy.

And none of this speaks to the other big projects Facebook has going on, like their music launch. Which will probably be at their next f8 which the last we heard will be at the end of August. And yes, it will involve a lot of partners.

This summer is shaping up to be a very exciting one for Facebook. It begins tomorrow.

[thanks Tom — to be clear, not a Spartan source, a tipster of some other info above]



Dutch Ad Creatives Land A Job With Clever Twitter Hack

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 07:11 PM PDT

Dutch designers Bas van de Poel and Daan van Dam have creatively come up with a way to use Twitter to get the attention of people in a position to give out jobs, by taking advantage of a core and more importantly manipulable Twitter design element, the “Followers” box.

Looking for a summer job at an ad agency, the two created five related Twitter accounts and uploaded pics that spelled out the words “H”"IR”"E”"U”"S.” They then followed a series of creative directors in succession, trying the trick out on @Pablo_Marques, @Seth_Weifeld, @EmmaPueyo, @TempleofLove, @BandwidthPirate, @MasayaNakade and others. Boondoggle Amsterdam’s Gaston Serpenti eventually hired them.

People looking for the Twitter version of Alec Brownstein’s “Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun too” campaign, look no further. Vous êtes arrivés!



WordPress 3.2 Released Into The Wild; Downloaded More Than 330K Times In 24 Hours

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 06:34 PM PDT

WordPress 3.1 was downloaded over 15 million times in less than 5 months. But time marches on, and so does the music. Yesterday, WordPress 3.2, also known as “Gershwin”, was released to the public, and in just 24 hours, the latest iteration of the website and blogging platform has been downloaded over 330,000 times. They grow up pretty quickly these days.

Why are so many people downloading the latest iteration? According to Matt Mullenweg and company, the goal for WordPress 3.2 was “lighter and faster”, meaning that Gershwin makes a play at removing extra code, rewriting certain queries for speed optimization, etc.

User interface has also seen a little bit of tweaking in the new version, as you can see from the comparison between versions 3.1 (left) and 3.2 below:

Another cool feature of v3.2 is what WordPress is calling “Distraction Free Writing” (DFW), which replaces “Full Screen” mode, with a new mode that has the dashboard fade into the background while the user writes to offer a less cluttered viewing experience. The team has also been referring to this as “zen mode”, and apparently users are feeling the power of the zen:

According to Mullenweg, beyond an attempt to make the entire WordPress experience faster and adding a few tweaks to admin design, the team has also updated the default theme to be compatible with micro-blogging, HTML5 and to work on any screen size. All much needed enhancements. (For full disclosure, TechCrunch runs on WordPress.)

This is WordPress’s 15th major release, and the website platform now boasts over 15,000 plugins. What’s more, WordPress 3.2 will not be compatible with Internet Explorer 6, something that Microsoft actually seems quite happy about.

Contributors to WordPress will also now be given credit in a “Credits Screen”, so that finallycredit may be given where credit is due, especially for all those that have participated in the open source development of the 15 WordPress iterations and counting.

For a full rundown of all the new updates to Gershwin, check them out here.



Nestio Raises $750,000 To Make Apartment Searches Suck Less

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 05:01 PM PDT

Nestio, a startup that aims to calm and organize the frantic process of searching for an apartment, announced today that it has closed a $750,000 seed funding round. The round was led by Quotidian Ventures, with contributions from a number of angel investors, including Joanne Wilson, Rick Webb, Josh Auerbach, and David Tisch.

The startup plans to use its recent funding to build out its development team and is currently working on adding a number of features that will provide deeper context and transparency to apartment listings. While the service currently only offers web and mobile support to New York City, the startup also plans to use its new capital to begin rolling out support for additional cities in the next few months.

The New York-based TechStars grad is building a service that allows users to save apartment listings from across a variety of sites all in one place, using Nestio’s platform. The startup hopes to put an end to long email chains, messy spreadsheets, and multiple tabs in one’s browser.

Nestio enables users to edit listing information, add comments, and to collaborate with roommates in realtime during apartment searches by sharing listings, photos and notes. Nestio also recently released the first version of its iPhone app to let users to keep track of the places they view on the go, so that apartment searchers can upload photos and notes right after a walk-through of a new apartment, for example.

With comparable services like Apartments.com, Padmapper.com and Hotpads.com, to name a few, already in the space, Nestio certainly has its work cut out. However, optimized mobile functionality is a huge leg up for Nestio, as the majority of mobile apartment search services out there leave quite a bit to be desired in terms of mobile functionality.

Plus, with Nestio intending to provide a supplement to the value of listing services like Zillow and Trulia, there's something to be said for a startup that aims to tame the apartment search process and doesn’t compete with these well-established, highly inventoried services, and instead acts as a logical extension.

For those looking to learn more, check out our original writeup of Nestio here.



Google Hires Microsoft Product Veteran Sanaz Ahari

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 04:30 PM PDT

Sanaz Ahari, who at 23 was the youngest lead product manager in Microsoft history, has left Microsoft after seven and a half years. Her last job was the Principal Group Program Manager for Bing, and she was part of Brian MacDonald’s core leadership team. She’s 29 now.

She gone now, she confirms, and has taken a job at Google. She’s part of Neal Mohan’s (last seen collecting some $100 million to stay at Google) team and will lead display advertising products in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

Ahari was one of the handful of senior people responsible for search quality and relevance and was also part of the senior product team during the Bing development and launch period.



Educated Buy? Providence Equity Partners To Acquire Blackboard For $1.64 Billion In Cash

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 04:29 PM PDT

Blackboard, the maker of learning and education software for enterprises and schools, announced Friday that it is being acquired by a group of investors led by Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in media, entertainment, communications and information investments. Providence has also invested in several for-profit educational companies, like Education Management Corporation and Archipelago Learning. The acquisition is an all-cash deal valued at $1.64 billion, with Providence assuming approximately $130 million in Blackboard debt.

The educational software giant, which went public on NASDAQ back in 2004, will be dishing out $45.00 in cash for each share of common stock owned by its shareholders as a result of the acquisition. According to Blackboard’s press release, the company has been “evaluating strategic alternatives” to its current trajectory in an effort to provide its stockholders with better value (than presumably what they’ve been getting up to this point).

Since rumors over a potential acquisition began percolating back in March, and the company more broadly announced that it was seeking prospective buyers on April 18 of this year, Blackboard’s stock has largely hovered above $40.00 per share. (Compared to its being priced at $37.16 a share on April 18, and averaging over $35 the last few years, $45.00 a share at acquisition does indeed seem to be relatively positive return on investment for its sharedholders.)

According to Blackboard’s press release, the transaction must be approved by a majority of stockholders, and is subject to other closing conditions and regulatory approvals, but the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2011. Once the transaction is finalized, Blackboard will return to being a privately held company. Blackboard said that it will remain headquartered in Washington and will continue to be led by its senior management team; however, when a company is purchased by a private equity group, and goes back to being a private company, changes are presumably ahead.

Although the announcement made no specific mention of cost or personnel cuts, these tend to be an inherent part of this kind of acquisition, so Blackboard may be on its way to a bit of a shakeup — or at least some streamlining and trimming — in the coming year.

While Blackboard’s products are certainly widely-used, with over 5,000 education institutions using the company’s software, Blackboard has not always had the best reputation among students, especially in terms of user experience. In fact, my college opted for its own customizable educational software for this very reason.

Yet, both because Blackboard got a head start on the market and has become fully entrenched in universities and across secondary education systems and because its user experience has left room for improvement, many education startups have popped up with their own models aimed at snatching up some of Blackboard’s market share, like CourseKit, Instructure, Nixty, to name a few.

Blackboard acquired Presidium for $53 million back in January of this year, and Saf-T-Net for $33 million in March of 2010.

For more, check out Blackboard’s announcement here.



DocStoc Turns A Page As It Looks To Be A One-Stop Shop For Small Business Knowledge

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 04:19 PM PDT

We’ve been tracking Los Angeles-based startup DocStoc for years now, from the company’s roots as a fairly broad document sharing site that competed directly with Scribd to, more recently, a hub that caters more exclusively toward businesses, complete with bundles of premium professional documents available for purchase. And today, the company is taking another step in that direction, with a rebranding of the site that positions it with the tagline, “We Make Every Small Business Better”.

So what exactly does that entail?

CEO Jason Nazar explains that for the last year the company has been building out a repository of professional documents — they have 20 million that were uploaded by users, and plan to have another 10,000 written in-house (or outsourced to contracted professionals) by the end of the year. The goal of this DocStoc-produced content, Nazar says, is to provide businesses with a set of documents — including hiring forms, schedules, and legal papers — that they can trust to be high quality, so they don’t have to wade through multiple variations of similar docs. This content is available through a premium subscription service, which runs $20 a month (if you buy multiple months at a time, the price goes down).

In addition to creating its own documents, DocStoc is also increasingly producing articles and videos related to starting and running a business. And that’s just the start, Nazar says. Later in the year the company will be rolling out additional products to help streamline business management (as far as documents are concerned), including a wizard that will help complete forms quickly. DocStoc has been offering some of these features for several months now, and Nazar says that the startup already has “tens of thousands” of companies signed up for subscriptions.

My gripe with the service: DocStoc includes disclaimers saying that it isn’t providing legal advice, so it isn’t responsible if you use a document the wrong way, or aren’t using the right documents, or whatever. Nazar says that the majority of the site’s professional documents aren’t related to legal issues, and for those that are, the site will also be helping users connect with consulting services, so you can speak to someone (for a price) if you want to be sure you’re setting your business up the right way. And if you already know what you’re doing, then DocStoc could be exactly what you’re looking for.

The company last raised $4 million in 2008 — it’s now profitable, with 35 full-time employees. Nazar says that revenue has been doubling each year for the last three years.



With “Beyond Check-In” Notifications, Foursquare Goes Android-First

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 04:11 PM PDT

Over their history, Foursquare has been an iPhone-first company. The app initially launched on the iPhone back in 2009, and new features have typically rolled out to iPhone first. But with a new feature today, Foursquare has shaken things up, going Android (and web) first.

The new feature is a nice one: Notifications. Unlike the push notifications for check-ins you’re used to seeing on the Foursquare mobile apps, these new Notifications focus on other activities on Foursquare “beyond the check-in”. That means things like comments on check-ins and photos, alerts when friends sign up, alerts about tips, alerts when you’re ousted as mayor, swarming alerts, etc.

But again, just as interesting is the new Android-first approach. As Foursquare notes:

People in the Android-iverse, you're first to play with this; download today's update to get started. For the rest of you, head over to foursquare.com to see what it's all about (just click on 'notifications').

At the bottom of the post, Foursquare reiterates that this feature is Android and web-only for now, but promises that iPhone and BlackBerry users will get the new feature “as quick as possible”.

Foursquare has hardly been the only major app to focus on iPhone-first over the years. In fact, many of the major ones still do. This perplexes some people since Android has a larger overall market share. Might this be a sign of things to come for other companies? Or was it simply easier to complete and push out this particular feature for Android this time?

Update: I asked co-founder Dennis Crowley about the new Android-first approach, and he said, “Android needs some early-access love!” “We worked hard as a company to make it so different products are paced differently on different clients — so it’s not always iPhone, Android, then BlackBerry,” he continued.

“Plus, it gives us a smaller subset to test on,” Crowley also said noting that the team is at a point where they’re “CRANKING”. He also hinted that we should expect more pushes regularly.



Sequoia And Others Put $10 Million In Cloud-Based Demo SaaS CloudShare

Posted: 05 Jul 2011 03:00 PM PDT

CloudShare, a service that allows companies to demo software in the cloud, has raised $10 million in new funding led by Globespan Capital Partners with existing investors Sequoia capital, Charles River Ventures and Gemini Israel Funds participating. This brings CloudShare’s total funding to $26 million.

CloudShare is essentially a collaborative tool for IT environments, allowing users to share, interact and collaborate in enterprise IT environments, for any length of time. Organizations can instantly deploy multiple, independent copies of their existing demos or training environments from CloudShare's platform.

CloudShare Pro’s environments are pre-configured to include servers, networking, storage and pre-installed operating systems and application licenses, including those for software vendors like SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft. And the company offers a lightweight version for small businesses.

The company now has more than 50,000 users worldwide using its SaaS offerings. The startup plans to use the funding for sales expansion and product development.



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