Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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YouTube Unveils Slick Experimental Redesign, Codenamed Cosmic Panda

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 09:18 AM PDT

YouTube has just unveiled an experimental new redesign called Project Panda, and it’s looking good. You can activate the redesign right here (and if you don’t like it, you can disable it from YouTube’s Test Tube control panel).

Some initial impressions: The new design makes significant changes to the way playlists are presented, moving them in some cases from a sidebar to a scrolling horizontal bar of thumbnails just beneath the video you’re watching (it reminds me a little of YouTube’s LeanBack). The video player now has a darker theme that looks more polished, and there’s a dark background behind the player that highlights the content you’re viewing. And channel pages look a lot nicer, with big, wide images for each video.

Here’s how YouTube is describing the project:

So what the heck is Cosmic Panda?

We’re always trying out new things here at the Tube and Cosmic Panda is our way of letting you in on some of the fun.

Here’s what to expect when you follow the cosmic panda over the double rainbow:

  • A new experience for watching videos and playlists
  • More page designs and better editing tools to customize your channel
  • Keep watching when moving between videos, playlists, and channels (Chrome only)
  • Stylish new look and feel
  • You can always jump back to the YouTube experience you know and love by coming back to this page or visiting TestTube.





Box Scores A Big Enterprise Deal: 18,000 Procter & Gamble Employees Up In Clouds

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 09:17 AM PDT

Box, formerly usually referred to as Box.net, has landed a big customer: consumer goods juggernaut Procter & Gamble.

The latter will bring Box’s cloud content management solution to 18,000 globally distributed employees following some test runs with a select number of P&G divisions.

Procter & Gamble has 127,000 employees across more than 180 countries, so it’s important to note the deal leaves room for increased adoption within the company over the next three years.

Box says the deployment represents its largest enterprise deal to date.

Previously, Box was already powering internal and external content sharing and collaboration for a couple of P&G divisions. Its services are designed to empower P&G employees to share and access information across devices (with mobile applications for iPhone, iPad, and BlackBerry), without any P&G maintenance or upgrades.

Box also says roughly 60,000 businesses and 6 million users are using its services today.

The startup recently raised $48 million in Series D funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Meritech Capital Partners, and Emergence Capital Partners, bringing its total capital raised to roughly $78 million. For your further reading pleasure:

Box.net Upgrades Cloud Storage Platform With New UI And Collaborative Features

Box.net Ups The Ante Against Microsoft With In-Depth Google Docs Integration



Loic Needs To Get His Head Out Of His Silicon Valley

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 09:13 AM PDT

I have the hugest respect for Loic Le Meur. Years before anyone was organising a major tech conference in Europe (outside of the dull corporate IT ones) Loic was charging ahead with first Les Blogs, which became the juggernaut of Le Web. It’s the biggest tech event in Europe (although, now not the only one, which I will touch upon later). When he moved to the Valley a few years ago, he continued with Le Web and brought the A-listers of the Valley back with him to Paris, France. We are all grateful to him for shining that light.

That said, with the greatest respect, I’m going to have to call him out following his interview with Andrew Keen yesterday.

His characterisation of Europe as a market entirely stuffed with clone startups is, well, obtuse, to put it mildly. I’ve even helped develop the startup rally at Le Web at couple of years ago and I simply don’t recall any blatant clones even getting through to the competition. This would be hard if all we had was clones.

What I think has happened – and it’s not really his fault – is that Loic has simply been unable to track what has been happen day to day. Interestingly, there is someone who tracks day to day what is happening with startups and VCs in Europe and he even happens to be on the TechCrunch staff. So maybe one day you may even see my mug opine about the scene in glorious technicolour video. We shall see.



Clean Urban Energy Raises $7 Million To “Turn Buildings Into Batteries”

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 08:50 AM PDT

A Chicago startup Clean Urban Energy (CUE) raised $7 million in a series A round from Battery Ventures and Rho Ventures, the company announced today.

CUE’s software-as-a-service “exploits the thermal mass of commercial office buildings to make [them] more efficient,” according to a company press statement. The software was developed at the University of Colorado, which struck an exclusive, research and development and licensing agreement with CUE in 2008.

CUE claims it can lower buildings’ energy expenses by 15-30 percent through predictive modeling and optimization. The company can also aggregate energy demand across portfolios of buildings in cities, which means it has the potential to provide more macroscopic benefits.

Utilities and grid operators in big cities could use CUE technology to understand how their biggest customers are using electricity, and to introduce price elasticity in cities, encouraging commercial customers to shift power use away from high- to low-price (and lower demand) periods. Power generated outside of high demand periods generally causes less pollution, today. It also relieves power companies from the need to develop new power generating facilities— like coal or nuclear plants that nobody seems to want in their back yard.

With its new found capital, CUE aims to grow sales throughout cities in the U.S. including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston. Jason Matlof from Battery Ventures and Joshua Ruch from Rho Ventures are joining CUE's board of directors with this round.



Onesheet Is About.me For Bands

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 08:12 AM PDT

Onesheet, the latest project from ArtistData founder Brenden Mulligan launches into beta today. Like an About.me for bands, Mulligan holds that Onesheet is the simplest web presence for a band currently available.

With Onesheet, bands can verify their identity through Facebook or Twitter and connect their musician-specific third party services like Soundcloud, Bandcamp and ReverbNation as well as social media services like Posterous, Tumblr and YouTube. Once all their content is in, bands can tweak their Onesheet’s design, making changes like font and widget positioning. Aside from this slight customization, bands really don’t have to do much work, as the service updates itself.

Right now bands have limited options in terms of web presence, and with Myspace’s imminent fall, it might be a good idea to port your content from the flailing social network onto some place more stable. “Musicians are constantly having to direct fans from service to service and from used-to-be-awesome social network to now-is-awesome social network,” says Mulligan, who brings his copious industry experience with ArtistData to this endeavor. “It’s confusing for them and for their fans.”

So why just not use About.me? Well namely because it doesn’t support band-specific data like concert dates and song uploads. In fact Mulligan has added this helpful addendum to the registration process, “Note: This site is built for musicians. If you want a personal page, click here.“ The same exact problem exists with the web’s most ubiquitous presence option, Facebook Fan pages, which are more like places to interact with fans then a way to showcase your music. Hence Onesheet …

At the moment Onesheet is bootstrapped, and Mulligan plans on monetizing by offerring premium features. Instagram, iTunes, Topspin and Rdio and other integrations are in the works.

The beta is pretty much open and TechCrunch readers who happen to be in bands (I for one hope there are many of you) can sign up for Onesheet today and get access to a customized domain within the week, Mulligan tells me. “It's so crazy easy to set one up, I think a lot of bands will give a try,” he says.



Smart TV Platform Flingo Comes Out Of Stealth To Merge Television And The Web

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Founded in 2008 by former BitTorrent employees Ashwin Navin and David Harrison, Flingo has slowly been building its smart TV app publishing empire for two years and the platform finally unveils itself today with some hefty partnerships. Co-founder Navin likens the core synchronization tech behind Flingo to an IntoNow for your television set, but it really is much more than that with its unprecedented technology and features enabling greater engagement between viewers, their television sets and the web.

People who want to use Flingo and don’t already have it on their television sets can either buy a new Smart TV, a Flingo-enabled BlueRay player or a streaming box like a Roku. Because the co-founders have been steadily working on this for two years, the technology is already available in over half the televisions sold. And the company has managed to hook up with TV hardware companies like Samsung, LG, Vizio Insignia, Western Digital which means it's already on 5.7 million screens in 117 countries.

The ultimate objective of Flingo is to merge TV and the web, allowing media partners like Fox, Showtime and Etsy and 65 others to build apps that integrate both. In addition Flingo has built its own apps on top of its platform and its Hovercraft content detection algorithm allows for all sorts of increased user interaction. “A colloquial gloss on every show” is how Navin describes it, “I think what we've done with smart TVs is adding a layer of intelligence.”

Coming this August from Flingo are Hovercraft apps that overlay a Tweet stream, add a Facebook “Like” button and overlay TV reviews onto TV shows.

Along with these apps, the Flingo platform offers a feature called Fling, which allows users to “fling” or push content from their browser into their television screens and mobile phones by using the Fling bookmarklet. Users can also use the bookmarklet to share content on Twitter and onto Facebook.

While Flingo’s inhouse offerings are impressive, the company hopes that developers will take the Flingo ball and run with it like Utiva did with its “What’s On” app, “We’re excited to see what development will take place. It's difficult to say how developers will come up with stuff.”

Navin tells me that the company plans on monetizing through advertising revenue share (consumers pay nothing extra) and is excited about the prospects of merging the economics of the web app business (a $40 billion dollar industry internationally) with television (a $70 billion dollar industry worldwide).

Navin is also excited about the greater potential for targeted ads that Flingo allows, “Now Coke can sponsor a poll on American Idol, which is not only a new feature, but a new revenue opportunity,” he tells me.



CardFlick Debuts Location-Based Mobile Professional Contact Sharing App

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 07:58 AM PDT

Mobile app CardFlick is launching in private beta today as a proximity-based business card sharing application. The startup’s iOS app allows you to upload your professional information wither manually or from Facebook, into a sleek digital business card.

Once the card is personalized users can then share individually to contacts (via email) or can access others who have downloaded the app at an event. Basically, CardFlick will show you others in your area who you can share your business information with. When you’ve shared your digital business card with a contact, CardFlick will store a record of where and when you met. Additionally, when a user updates their contact information on CardFlick, everyone they have connected with is automatically updated as well.

Digital business card sharing isn’t really new but the idea of sharing your professional contact information with those who are in close proximity could be a compelling addition to any networking or business event. CardFlick could partner with event organizers to create a branded app for event participants to share their contact info.



Google Maps For Android Now Lets You Download Maps For Offline Viewing (Hallelujah!)

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 07:24 AM PDT


No matter which side of the smartphone wars you’ve landed on, it’s hard to deny that Android’s Maps application blows iOS’s out of the water. And this week it’s getting even better.

Yesterday Google highlighted a new feature that’s super handy for anyone who uses above-ground public transportation on a regular basis: turn-by-turn navigation for transit, which helps make sure you never get off at the wrong bus stop. And they’ve just pointed out another great addition that I’ve been yearning for for ages. Say hello to offline maps, thanks to a new feature in labs called Download Map Area.

To activate the feature, you’ll first have to visit the Labs section of the Maps application, which you can access using the Menu button. Enable the Download Map Area option, and from then on when you browse to a Place page and hit the ‘More’ button, you’ll see an option to locally store a map of the surrounding area.

And it’s a big surrounding area — Google will download local copies of the map tiles within a 10 mile radius of that venue. Which means that you can easily download the entirety of SF or Manhattan in a single tap (the download itself took about a minute for me over a Wifi connection). Then, next time you fire up a map but don’t have a data connection, you’ll still be able to pan and zoom around the city all you’d like.

The feature is made possible by the fact that Google Maps on Android uses a vector-based system for displaying map tiles, rather than the older image-based system (which is what the iOS version of Maps still uses). The vector-based tiles use much less data (around 1/100th), which means they are quicker to download and can be stored locally without using too much storage space. Google Maps for Android has actually been caching mapping data automatically for some time now — the difference this ‘download maps’ feature  brings is that it lets users explicitly choose which areas to store locally.

It’s a great start, but it’s still clearly a work in progress. You can’t look up transit maps while you’re offline, and you can’t run search queries for venues and addresses that appear in the map areas you’ve downloaded. But these are pretty obvious features, so hopefully they’re in the pipe.



Do You Subscribe To NYT On Your Kindle? You Can Now Access NYTimes.com For Free

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 06:39 AM PDT

There are so many ways to get around the New York Times paywall (or, as someone called it when it debuted, its pay fence) but if you subscribe to the NYT on your Amazon Kindle, you are now “entitled to complete online coverage of breaking news, articles, videos, audio clips, multimedia and blogs on NYTimes.com” free of charge.

Amazon had promised this would be coming, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Customers can link their Kindle NYT subscription to their NYTimes.com account by visiting this site.

According to Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content, the New York Times remains the best-selling newspaper in the Kindle Store.

The Kindle subscription for the NYT costs $19.99 per month. I’m actually a subscriber, though only because I forgot to cancel my subscription in time after the free trial period.

And since my Kindle was stolen last week, I was going to cancel the subscription anyway, but now I may just leave things the way they are. Just so you know.



eBay Buys Zong For $240 Million In Cash To Boost PayPal’s Mobile Payments Technology

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 06:33 AM PDT

eBay has acquired mobile payments company Zong for $240 million in cash. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2011.

Zong has been one of the pioneers in the mobile payments space, adding a compelling new way for consumers to pay for items online. Simply put, it lets you pay for things, particularly virtual goods online, via direct billing to your mobile phone. Consumers simply enter their mobile phone numbers in the payments process.

When a user wants to purchase an item, he can enters his cell phone number on a site, the site sends a text message to the phone, the user confirms the transaction with a short reply, and all the charges show up on his phone bill. Zong powers this entire transaction. The company has partnered with over 250 carriers worldwide to offer the technology to mobile phone users.

eBay says that Zong will add ‘complementary technology and talent’ to its PayPal division, giving consumers more ways to pay for virtual goods and products online. Scott Thompson, president of PayPal, said this in a release: "Commerce is changing. With mobile phones, we walk around with a mall in our pockets. PayPal helps to make money work better for customers in this new commerce reality – no matter how they want to pay or what device they're using…We believe that Zong will strengthen this value by helping us reach the more than 4 billion people who have mobile phones, giving them more choice and security when they pay."

Zong, which was founded in 2008 by entrepreneur David Marcus, has raised a total of $27.5 million in funding. Matrix Partners’ Dana Stadler, who was the former CTO of PayPal, is on Zong's board of directors.

Stadler tells us that he’s spent a lot of time looking at financial services technology, and Zong was one of his first investments in the venture world. “It was clear to me at the time that we had space to build something big here,” he explains. In the digital goods category, carrier billed payments account for 50 percent of payment volume. It’s a frictionless payments mechanism, he explains, and this makes it ideal for digital goods. For digital good providers, carrier billing provides the highest conversions and Zong helps PayPal shore up this category.

Last year, Zong was spun off from its European parent, Echovox, and Marcus moved to the U.S. to run the fast growing company, which landed a pretty big deal last year with Facebook to become a an early mobile payment provider for Facebook Credits. Other partners include IMVU, Sulake (makers of Habbo Hotel), Big Fish Games, Sony Online Entertainment, Zynga, Playdom (owned by Disney), and Bigpoint. The company also launched Zong+, an extension of the mobile payment startup which lets users bill microtransactions to credit, debit and prepaid cards (instead of their phones).

Marcus wrote in a post on the company’s site: I am so excited by the unique combination of PayPal's 8 million merchants, brand power, risk management expertise, and financial stability, with Zong's Carrier DNA, its largest direct carrier payments network, product innovation, and best-in-class carrier billing technology. This industry first is going to allow us to scale what we've built over the course of the past 3 years (and then some) in a massive way!

Zong faces competition from Boku, which was also rumored to be the target of an acquisition as well.

eBay and PayPal have been on a bit of an acquisition spree, so it’s not surprising that the e-commerce giant made another big buy. PayPal is facing competition from fast growing startups like Square and even Google, and the payments company needs to add compelling technologies to help draw merchants, consumers and local businesses. As we’ve seen in the past few months, PayPal acquired local payments and advertising company Where, and shelled out cash for mobile payments company Fig Card as well.

Zong provides a seamless payments product that could help improve conversions for online merchants and digital goods (PayPal processed $3.4 billion in transactions for digital goods in 2010), and in the end, frictionless online payments is PayPal’s bread and butter. In fact, PayPal just upped estimates of the amount of mobile payments transactions using the technology this year; doubling the estimate to $3 billion in mobile total payments volume (TPV) in 2011.

PayPal’s CTO Patrick Dupuis tells us the acquisition is an expansion of vision fo enabling commerce anytime anywhere, adding another payments source for PayPal’s 9 million merchants. Marcus tells us that PayPal’s ability to scale and accelerate with Zong’s built made it an appealing new home.

Another draw for PayPal—Zong has pretty massive international reach, offering mobile payments in in 21 languages and 45 countries. The service’s technology is especially appealing in countries where mobile phone usage is high (as opposed to internet connectivity). Zong should also help PayPal expand its footprint in developing countries.

In terms of integration, PayPal and Zong arent’s saying much as to how Zong will be branded in the future. Marcus says he will be staying on at PayPal.

Unsurprisingly, Dupuis says that Marcus and his team will have a critical role in PayPal’s future transformation in the payments business. Stadler echoes this sentiments, explaining that PayPal, with Zong in hand, is in a better position to create the digital wallet.



Naspers Values Turkish Ecommerce Giant markafoni At $200 Million, Buys 70% Stake

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 06:21 AM PDT

Multimedia juggernaut Naspers has entered the Turkish internet market with a bang by acquiring approximately 70 percent of the shares of markafoni, a Turkish private shopping club, through its subsidiary MIH-Allegro. Our source in Turkey says the investment values markafoni at around $200 million. Markafoni is the third biggest ecommerce company in Turkey, and has ambitions to become a global brand.


Intel Capital and Others Put $10 Million In Virtualization Infrastructure Startup Virtustream

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Virtualization startup Virtustream has raised $10 million in Series B round financing from Intel Capital, Columbia Capital, Noro-Moseley Partners, and TDFunds. This brings the company’s total funding to $59 million.

Virtustream provides strategy, integration and managed services utilizing virtualization technologies, and xStream, the company's cloud provisioning platform. xStream allows enterprise customer to access highly elastic cloud computing resources at a consumption-based pricing model, similar to Amazon EC2.

Virtustream plans to used the new funding to productize xStream into a distributable end “cloud O/S” software product. Virtustream will also use the funding for branding, marketing and advertising and to expand market presence in San Francisco and London.



Google Invests In Stealth Startup That Aims To ‘Accelerate Science’

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 05:51 AM PDT

Google Ventures has quietly invested in a stealth startup called Wingu, reports StrategyFacts (subscription required).

Indeed, while the Google Ventures website lists four career opportunities for one of its portfolio companies located in Cambridge, Massachusetts without naming Wingu, the stealth startup published the exact same job openings on its job board, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Wingu is building a enterprise-grade cloud platform dubbed Elements that will enable research teams to collaborate more effectively and use data in ‘new ways’.

Here are the four main selling points of Wingu’s platform, according to its website:

MANAGE: Unify your cross-discipline teams on a common platform to share data and ideas.

ANALYZE: Drive decision-making with our analytical workflows and discovery tools.

SHARE: Connect your researchers across silos and geographical divides for better collaboration, coordination and communication.

PROTECT: Breathe easy knowing that your data is backed and protected by leading systems and security experts.

Wingu intends to distribute its research integration software on a subscription basis.

The startup’s proposition sounds similar to that of Mendeley, a research network. Other similar services include Academia.edu (which we likened to a “Geni for researchers”) and Questia. If you know of any others, feel free to share them in comments.



Apple’s App Store Crosses 15B App Downloads, Adds 1B Downloads In Past Month

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 05:45 AM PDT

Apple has just announced that the company’s 200 million iOS users have downloaded over 15 billion apps from its App Store, including both iPad and iPhone apps. The App Store currently includes more than 425,000 apps, with over 100,000 native iPad apps.

In early June, Apple revealed that the App Store had seen 14 billion app downloads, so Apple has racked up a billion downloads in just one month.

At that time, Apple also said that 15 billion songs have been sold from the iTunes Store, making it the number one music retailer in the world. And 130 million books have been downloaded from the App Store, with 225 million credit card accounts listed with iTunes.

Apple has also paid out more than $2.5 billion to developers building off the iOS platform.



BMC Software Acquires Aeroprise To Enhance Its Mobile Know-How

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 05:08 AM PDT

BMC Software this morning announced that it has acquired Aeroprise, which provides a mobility solution for BMC's Remedy IT Service Management Suite. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. With support for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile devices, Aeorprise's solution helps enterprises and governments provide rapid access to IT service management functionality on the go via mobile applications for service desk, change, asset, service catalog and request management with support from on-premise and SaaS-based deployments.


Loosecubes, The Airbnb For Workspace, Relaunches With Nifty New Social Features

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 04:41 AM PDT

In this day and age, with the ubiquity of WiFi, tablets, smartphones, and laptops, we live in a highly connected and increasingly mobile world. Though many people make daily commutes to the office, the truth is that many can still do their jobs while working remotely, be it from home, from the road, or from the local library or coffee shop. Of course, having a quiet place to be productive (answer email) is welcome and, if that space is shared by those in similar professions, it can be a great opportunity to network and make connections.

The problem is, for those who work far from company headquarters, or in a startup or small business, finding cool, local office space can be tricky. It is for this reason that Campbell McKellar and team created Loosecubes, a community marketplace for workspace that connects people who have great workspace with those who need it.

Loosecubes aims to bring the many online connections we cultivate on a daily basis into the real world, during business hours, by enabling wayfaring professionals to find awesome shared workspace. Founded in 2010, Loosecubes offers, at least superficially, a similar service to Liquidspaces. But Loosecubes takes a more social, or person-to-person approach to finding shared office space. As McKellar says, “it's about so much more than finding a desk”, it’s about finding available office space offered by people with interests (and professions) that are similar to your own.

The startup is broadly launching a public redesign today, though it will remain in public beta, to build off the traction it received at SxSW this year with its Instant Jelly app, which allowed conference-goers to create spontaneous co-working events with people of similar professions.

So, in order to create a more personalized marketplace for shared office space, Loosecubes is launching some cool new functionality today that includes “Recommended Spaces”, in which the startup will tap into your social graph (via Facebook Connect) to recommend office space based on your friends, location, and line of work.

Loosecubes also enables “Hosts”, or those with office space to rent and share, to post office space for free and to invite coworkers or friends to come share the office space. Hosts can specify which type of professionals they’d like to host, like entrepreneurs, developers, investors, etc., as well as including pictures of the office space, location, and so on. (Beware of hosting bloggers, though, they will drink all your coffee and slow your WiFi to a crawl.)

And for those looking for space rather than looking to host, Loosecubes provides search functionality, in which users can look for coworking space by city, address, or zip. Once users find space they’re interested in, they can message the host and work out the terms of their new professional coworking relationship. Users can specify on their profiles, or in messages to their hosts, whether they’re looking for office space for the day or for a month, Loosecubes doesn’t limit these requests by duration — it’s up to the respective parties to decide.

In terms of pricing, Loosecubes members who are invited to cowork receive special deals on a space when they’re invited, in order to incentivize you office-space-hunters to join the Loosecubes network. What’s more, the Airbnb for office space lets users pay online for office space. The startup charges a 10 percent transaction fee, because even though they’re backed by Accel and Battery Ventures for $1.23 million, they need to make money somehow. For the first 60 days, however, Loosecubes will be waiving that 10 percent transaction, so if you want to avoid the surcharges, sign up now.

Host offices decide how much to charge, but Loosecubes encourages those hosting office space to include printing, scanning, faxing, phone, etc. in the price so that you’re not met with additional charges. But, in the end, Loosecubes just provides the marketplace, the sellers decide the terms. Once Loosecubes comes out of public beta, it will likely begin charging for listings, but until then it’s free to list and use.

Airbnb, Hotel Tonight, Hurricane Party, BatchBlue, and SnapGoods are among the startups already offering office space on Loosecubes. Other office space of not includes Rickshaw Bags headquarters, Red Paper Clip, Platform4 in Denmark, and Society M in Glasgow.

All in all, Loosecubes’ new design looks fantastic, and search is much improved, though I’m still waiting for mobile apps. The New York City-based startup is getting some good buzz right now, so check ‘em out and let us know if you’ll be joining in or opting out.



Will Skype In Facebook Mean The Loss Of A Major Arab Country… And Another Revolution?

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 03:55 AM PDT

This is a guest post by David George-Cosh, a freelance journalist based in Toronto, Ontario, who is the former technology correspondent for a national newspaper based in Abu Dhabi.

If there's one place in the world that may be fretting over Facebook's announcement it had partnered with Skype to launch video chatting for its users, it may be the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The UAE is one of four countries in the world that has opted to block access to Skype's services or website, primarily because its state-run telecoms operators stand to lose millions of dollars each year on long-distance charges.



Cubic Telecom Secures €500,000 To Ramp Up In US

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 03:21 AM PDT

Cubic Telecom – best known for its MaxRoam product enabling cheaper mobile roaming – has secured €500,000 from Irish government-backed fund Enterprise Ireland to continue its expansion. In total Cubic has raised €5m in venture funding to date. Cubic, which is a fully licensed mobile network operator, plans a US office this year.

Cubic has signed a few deals recently including one with Qik to create QikRoam, a special SIM card you can order today from the QikRoam website that allows users to travel abroad using Qik without having to worry about excessive roaming charges.



Exec: Wii U Arriving After April 1, 2012

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 01:36 AM PDT


Although his statement could be an elaborate prima aprilis prank, Nintendo COO Reggie Fils-Aime stated that the Wii U would be arriving after April 1, 2012 and would co-exist on the market alongside the Wii, DSi, and 3DS. In a Forbes interview Fils-Aime said that the two major Nintendo consoles would be on the market simultaneously until they stop supporting the quickly aging original Wii.

The Wii U, announced at E3 this year, will consist of an HD console and a unique handheld controller with touchscreen. The entire package is compatible with older Wii games and the HD graphics and high-speed processor should bring Nintendo back into the pantheon of high-end home consoles currently populated by the PS3 and the XBox 360.

Fils-Aime made it clear that the Wii U controller is not a “tablet” but a new way of interacting with new and familiar games. For example, users can send a currently running game from the TV to the controller, allowing parents or significant others to watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition while the gamer keeps playing.

via BGR



Josh Harris Takes His Wired City To Kickstarter

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 12:21 AM PDT

For the past year, Josh Harris has been trying to get funding for his Wired City concept. It’s a crowdsourced Internet TV station where all the viewers are also the broadcasters, multicasting to each other and the World Wide Web.

If this sounds a little like the documentary movie We Live In Public that is because Harris was its subject. He also founded Jupiter Communications and Pseudo a decade ago, but he’s a little bit eccentric. His ultimate vision for Wired City is wild (check out my interview with him from last year below). Harris once told me that all he needed was $50 million to build it. I suggested he might want to start with a smaller, less expensive piece of it to prove it out.

Now he’s taken his idea to Kickstarter, where he is trying to raise $25,000 to build a “net television pilot.” That will probably be enough for the uniforms, and might help him secure some angel money to get a real production going. “More importantly,” he tells me, “it is a litmus of audience interest in the thing.”

In it’s first day, the project has already raised $2,108. I bet he could raise the entire $500,000 on Kickstarter if he wanted to. It’s perfect for Kickstarter because it’s kind of half-movie, half-Internet startup.

You won’t get any shares in Wired City for contributing, but you will get “privileges for being a founding member,” including a “day of cyber-living on the Wired City set (non-transferable)” and maybe even a “Wired City cadet bandana.” If you pledge $2,500 or more you get:

A Wired City Official dress uniform including jacket, pants, socks, underwear, collared shirt, t-shirt and formal hat. Seven days (for four) of cyber-living on The Wired City set (transferable). PLUS one year of VIP status (including prime capsule hotel living quarters), a personal video assistant and special powers/privileges. PLUS 20,000 BoWC credits.

Well, what are you waiting for?



Zuckerberg’s Not So Subtle Dig At Google Circles

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:00 PM PDT

Even as Facebook revealed some new chat products on Wednesday, the elephant in the room was Google’s latest attempt to create a social network, Google+. Mark Zuckerberg tried deflect direct comparisons by saying, “Every app is going to be social.”

But he did make one remark, which suggested how he really feels about Google+ and one of its main features, Circles. Zuckerberg didn’t mention Circles specifically but he did state:

The definition of groups is . . . everyone inside the group knows who else is in the group

This might seem obvious unless you’ve played with Circles. The Circles feature is how Google+ handles groups, but it is not completely intuitive and problems can arise when different Circles collide It is designed to let members set up different groups of people, or Circles, to share things with.

But Circles are one-way, or asymmetric. Everyone sets up their own Circles and nobody knows whose Circle they are in. Secret Circles would be a more apt description. Zuckerberg seems to be suggesting that they are not really groups because instead of everyone in the group knowing who else is in the group, it is the exact opposite: nobody knows which groups they are in.

Circles are so confusing that Ross Mayfield created the Slideshare below to explain it all. Facebook has a “symmetric sharing” model where two people mutually confirm that they are friends, and then can start sharing stuf with each other privately or publicly. Twitter has an “asymmetric follow” model where people Tweet out publicly and anyone can follow what they are broadcasting without that person necessarily following back. It’s one-way.

Google+, however, has an “asymmetric sharing” model where you can share one-way with people, but they don’t have to share back. It’s kind of like the Circle of Trust in Meet the Fockers (watch the video clip in the third slide), only not quite as funny.



I’m Quitting Email

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 10:36 PM PDT

It started as an idea. Well, a Tweet, really. What if I just stopped responding to email?

Sure, at first it was said in half-jest after a few drinks. It was me channeling my inner Peter Gibbons — “I’m just gonna stop going” — while I’m sitting here in Washington D.C. completely buried in email after not getting to it all day. But the motivation behind the Tweet and the idea is very real. Email is the absolute devil. And the only way to not be corrupted is to… run away. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

For the rest of this month, I’m not going to respond to any emails. None.

Yes, this sounds sort of like a pampered problem and perhaps somewhat of a dick move — I should be so lucky to get so many emails, right? But the reality remains: email is an absolute nightmare in my life. I dread it in the morning, I dread it more right before I go to bed. It’s always in the back of my mind, lingering.

Following my initial Tweets, Colleen Taylor of GigaOm sent me a link to this old post in Emily Magazine that pretty much sums it up:

When people at parties ask me what I do I think I am just going to start saying that I'm an "emailer."

It’s both sad and true.

And I’m hardly alone. The tweets I sent out on the topic tonight were met with near unanimous agreement (I’ll paste a some of them below). It seems that most everyone I know wants to quit email. They’re just afraid.

The truth is that I’m afraid too. What happens if I just stop responding? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I think it’s one of those things where if I thought of all of the potential ramifications, I wouldn’t do it. So I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to do it.

If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment. We all talk about our hatred for email — and we have for years — but few people actually quit. Some try half-heartedly. Others are sure a solution is always just right around the corner. But I’m done waiting and making excuses. I’m just going to do it.

Will I have to cheat? I sure hope not. That would be pretty disappointing. But I really don’t think I’ll have to.

My plan is to still check my inbox from time to time just to make sure that there isn’t some emergency. And I’ll forward things along as need be (without typing anything beyond an email address). But for everything else, I’ll simply set up an auto-responder along the lines of “No longer responding to email, if you need me, you’ll figure out a way.” (Kudos to Shervin Pishevar who wanted to test a similar idea earlier this year, but I chickened out.)

That’s the key to all of this. It’s not that I really want to blow people off. It’s that email blows. There has to be a better way. And I think there is! If people really need to get ahold of me, they’ll know how. There are many options. And all of them are better than email in its current state (come on Gmail Lite, come on!).

That doesn’t mean I’ll respond to all of these alternative communications either — I suspect they’ll build up quickly too. But at least it will be a nice big barrier to entry that will help to alleviate my inbox overload. And the great thing about some of the other messaging platforms out there is that many of them follow the “stream” idea. That is: when you send a message, maybe there will be a response, maybe there won’t. With email, a huge problem is that people expect a response every time. With tweets, people don’t.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited. I have absolutely no idea what will happen next. I’ll respond to some of the emails I currently have in my inbox, but then it’s lights out for the rest of July. Will the world end? Will TechCrunch implode? I suspect not. I think that the ultimate result of this experiment will be much less shocking: fewer emails will be sent.


MG Siegler
It's the times that I travel that I really, fully realize that answering email could be a full time job.

MG Siegler
What if I were to channel my inner Peter Gibbons and just stop responding to it (email) entirely?

MG Siegler
I honestly do not think I'd miss much. People would figure out other ways to get stuff to me if absolutely necessary. Or I'd reach out.

MG Siegler
My life would be at least 30% better. Maybe more like 50%.

Lichan Cheah
@ You have…. One… Thousand… Four hundred… and Twenty Three… New Emails. That's what would happen.

Tom Biro
@ is this a bad time to pitch you a startup? #sarcasm

drew olanoff
hey @ Do it for charity, and for every email that goes unresponded to we'll find a company to donate a sum of bux!! #blamemgsemail

Colin Weir
@ I've wondered the same about the multitude of mediums I use daily

Ben Parr
@ Could be life-changing, or life-shattering. There is no middle ground, MG.

Dustin Curtis
@ I stopped responding to email for 30 days once. Life went on.

I responded later with "Your message went to spam! Sorry!"


Keith
@ I think some kind of canned response would be better. I know I get kind of pissed when I take the time to email and no response.

Joe Keller
@ That seems like a bit of a dick thing to say, to be honest.

Devindra Hardawar
@ May not be worth giving up on email full turkey if people just end up calling you instead

Saurabh Bhasin
@ unfortunately, the corp world isn't ready for this yet. I couldn't get away with it. Would love to replace it w/ twitter.

renee berry
@ love it, have for sure thought about doing the same :)

Anthony De Rosa
@ worth a short experiment at least

Zachery Schiller
@ You will probably find that you get lots and lots of mentions and DM's on here. More than usual at least.

Mathew Ingram
@: no, MG — don't do it! (just wanted to be different)

Rob Abbott
@ more melted chocolate gifts would arrive at TC offices

Om Malik
@ i have a simple solution. select all, right click. mark read. boom. go to sleep. cc @

Chris Sacca
@ It didn't have my name in it, but in '08 @ wrote a post about my "I probably won't respond to you" email away message.

Jeff Bernard
@ your blowing your chance to marry a Nigerian princess?

Michael
@ try it for a week and see how it goes.Would make a great article.Some jobs have email free day.They say productivity increases

Travis Beauvais
its become the cool thing to do to complain about email. youre gonna get messages one way or another cc: @ @ @

Buzz Andersen
@ I feel like a dick saying so, but I've gotten to the point where I treat email as a stream, not a queue. I answer what I can.

Trammell
@ @ Ditto. Almost everything is a stream now. The only inboxes that guarantee action/responses: Twitter DMs, SMS, and my face.

Karen Hartline
@ best OOO response I got was from a speaker on vacation. It said he'd delete all emails and to email him again when he returned.

Annie Heckenberger
@ best OOO I've heard was Danah Boyd on sabbatical. If it was really important, call her mom & she'd decide. Her mom is a chatter.

Pat
@ DO IT! I'd leave a default message, saying you are conducting an experiment in the name of tech.

David Prager
@ clearly you couldn't replace email w twitter cause it took you a dozen + tweets just to get that last point across

Matt Silas
@ @ Yeah, I think it was @ who taught me that. Priority inbox – 719 unread. Inbox – 7747. Used to stress me out.

SN
@ tweet you ? Lol btw did you get my invite? Will u be back on town?

Greg Bussmann
@ It's hard to do without looking like a jerk, I think. And won't the same problem just come to the next platform? Get an intern.

Ben Roberts
@ none of them have the guts to try it themselves. Lord knows I don't!

Matt Ranney
@ I wouldn't say I've been MISSING it, Bob.


Say What? Thanks To Digital Music, Album Sales Up For The First Time Since 2004

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 06:49 PM PDT

SoundScan, Nielsen’s report that tracks point-of-purchase music sales across real and digital sources, was released today, and at long last contains a few rays of hope for the beleaguered music industry. The midyear sales data shows that, among other things, for the first time since 2004, album sales actually increased in the first half of this year. Now, before you fall out of your chair, total album sales are only up 1 percent, so it’s not as if sales are blowing the roof off, but at least they’re no longer plummeting.

Yes, according to SoundScan, 155.5 million albums were sold in the U.S. in the first six months of 2011, compared to the 153.9 million albums sold at this time last year, resulting in that slim 1 percent hike. Of course, when one includes single-track downloads (generally speaking, 10 songs are the equivalent of an album) the number of albums sold comes to 221.5 million, resulting in a 3.6 percent rise.

I was going to say these numbers aren’t exactly something to “write home about”, but for an industry that acted like a petulant child in the face of the digital revolution, this might very well be something to write home about. Prior to 2004, album sales had decreased every year since 1999. Which, of course, happens to be the same year Napster was founded. Though that has to be a coincidence. And, to that point, guess what the catalyst is for the bump in music sales data? Yup, it’s digital music sales.

According to Nielsen, “digital album sales are up 19 percent through the first six months over 2010 and are on pace to set a new sales record at the end of the year”. More than 660.8 million digital units were sold in the first half of 2011, an 11 percent increase from the summer of last year.

This comes on the heels of a Pandora IPO, as well as Google, Apple, and Amazon getting into cloud music hosting and purchasing, with Google Music, iCloud, and Cloud Drive, respectively. Earlier today, we covered Amazon ramping up its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player offerings, throwing in unlimited storage for music.

It’s actually a very exciting time for music fans, with these industry-changing cloud music services that will only continue to expand functionality and integration with existing web and mobile wares. Not to mention the fact that sites like Turntable.fm, exFm, and umpteen others are making music discovery easier and more exciting, which in turn leads to users going out and buying tracks and albums from iTunes, Amazon, etc.

That being said, according to CNET, the major internet service providers are poised to add some strict new rules intended to discourage digital pirating of both music and video copyrighted content, so we’ll just have to wait and see how much we (and the music industry) have learned our collective lessons.

Lastly, not that I want to make any further sweeping statements about the state of the music industry, but I will point out that “E.T.” by Katy Perry tops the chart for the best selling digital song for the first six months of 2011, with 4.1 million downloads. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from this fact.

Excerpt image via James Grahame



Mark Zuckerberg Explains His Law Of Social Sharing [Video]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 05:16 PM PDT

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg punctuated his “awesome” announcement today by revealing that users are now publicly sharing around 4 billion “things” (status updates, images, etc) on Facebook a day.

Zuckerberg explained that in accordance with Facebook’s data, social sharing functions exponentially, so that the amount of stuff you shared today is double the amount of stuff you shared a year ago and the stuff that you will share a year from now will be double the amount you’ve shared today. In Mark Zuckerberg’s Law of Social Sharing, Y = C *2^X — Where X is time, Y is what you will be sharing and C is a constant.

Holding that most people intuitively misunderstand the profundity of exponential growth, Zuckerberg provided the example of a piece of paper folded upon itself 50 times. “If you took a piece of paper and folded it on itself 50 times, how tall would it be?” He continued, “Most people would say a few feet … Turns out it goes to the moon and back 10 times … I mean it’s 2^50 * the height of the paper. It’s a small base doubling many times.”

Whether Zuckerberg’s concise prediction of human sharing behavior is accurate remains to be seen. As Chris Dixon points out, it seems kind of absurd that people will be sharing 1,048,576 (2^20) times the items of information they are sharing today twenty years from now.

But who knows? Maybe automated sharing will hyper-accelerate social sharing beyond what we can share manually? In any case the law is remarkably self-perpetuating.



Amazon Cloud Drive Now To Include Unlimited Music, But It Will Cost $20/Year

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 04:22 PM PDT

Back in March, Amazon beat Apple and Google to the “music locker” punch with their “Cloud Drive” and “Cloud Player”, which offered 5 GB of free storage space and an accompanying music player, respectively. At the time of release, both the Cloud Drive and the Cloud Player were only available on the Web and Android.

Today, Amazon is announcing a few nifty enhancements to its cloud-based music locker, including storage plans that offer unlimited space for music, free storage for MP3 purchases, and Cloud Player has finally come to the iPad.

While the 25 million-plus iPad owners may be excited to test Amazon Cloud Drive, there will be a price to pay for Amazon’s new enhancements — albeit a small one. The Cloud Drive and Cloud Player will cost, at the very least, $20 a year, which seem to be a very reasonable price for unlimited space for for music storage. To clarify, according to Amazon, this offer is available starting at the lowest price grade, $20/year, which includes 20 GB of file storage and unlimited space for MP3s and AAC music files.

As to the terms of these storage grades, they will remain much the same as they were when Cloud Drive launched in March, with customers beginning at 5 GB of free cloud storage, which will allow users to begin uploading their digital music libraries, and presumably get them hooked on the service before opting for more. And, for a limited time, customers who purchase any Cloud Drive plan will receive unlimited storage for no additional cost, so if you want to test out Cloud Drive, the time is now. Amazon has not yet made it clear when it will lift this “limited offer”, but we’ll be sure to update.

And though Amazon’s new enhancements are certainly targeted at unlimited music listening, it should be noted that the basic Cloud Drive storage provides support for multiple kinds of digital files, including photos, videos, and documents — a la Dropbox. Amazon also said in its press release that those who qualified for 20 GM of free storage from earlier promotions can upgrade at no cost.

For the iPad, Amazon says that the Cloud Player for the Web has been “optimized to offer customers streaming playback of their Cloud Drive music using Safari”. Those interested in checking it out, can go here to learn more.

This announcement comes hot on the heels of Apple’s iCloud offering 5 GB of free online storage along with synchronization for music, photos, apps, documents, iBooks, contacts, e-mail and calendars. Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have all now jumped into the cloud storage game, which will you choose?



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