Monday, July 11, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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HTML5 Game Maker Looks To Transcend Sleepy Chrome Web Store Sales On iOS

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 09:00 AM PDT

About a year ago, Lost Decade Games, an early-stage game development startup based in Palo Alto, entered Boing Boing’s “Games Inspired By Music Contest”. The created a game called “Onslaught! Arena”, an addictive 16-bit-arcade-style, HTML5-only fantasy shoot ‘em up. The game was popular enough that Google made it a launch title for the Chrome Web Store back in December.

But, aside from aggressive downloading of Chrome Angry Birds (which is now unreachable for me on Chrome, by the way), sales haven’t exactly been outsized.

As a result, Lost Decade Games Founders Geoff Blair and Matt Hackett were eager to go after the iOS market, but as the makers of an HTML5-only game, they were initially thwarted by the fact that HTML5 hasn’t really gotten up to speed (literally/figuratively) on mobile devices or tablets, thanks to a multitude of performance and audio issues. One of the attractions to building in HTML5, they said, is its portability, and they found it easy to move Onslaught! to the Mac App store for the desktop.

But, HTML5 was, at least when they began, a bomb on the iPad, as they were only able to play one sound file at a time, experienced latency issues, and so on. While audio in HTML5 is not an easy beast to contend with in the first place, HTML5 has seen rapid developer adoption in recent months, and the technology is becoming more and more optimized every day, as support for emerging web technologies catches up on mobile and other devices. “HTML5 is the future of web content, and we intend to be on the ground floor when it comes to games”, Blair said.

So, while Onslaught! on Chrome is great for playing the game on a desktop or laptop, the team would essentially have to rewrite their HTML5 game completely were they to optimize it for mobile, especially iOS. And as they are not exactly flush with cash from CWS sales, a time saver is critical. To solve their mobile woes, Lost Decade decided to partner with Game Closure, a startup we wrote about back in February, to become the first licensee of Game Closure’s mobile HTML5 engine.

Using the startup’s technology, Lost Decade is today releasing a full-featured version of Onslaught! for iOS, without having to rewrite the game. According to Blair, the development time for launching on iOS was cut by 75 percent, and as a result, they will be able to launch a subsequent Android version next week.

What’s more, they’ve been able to add some upgrades to the gameplay for the iOS release, including a much bigger playing area, four new environments, a new “Stage Select” screen to improve the game’s pacing and re-playability, a “Shop”, which features an HTML5 Shield, Speed Boots, Gold Armor, Whet Stone and more, and two types of controls.

Back in May, Game Closure displayed its HTML5-based cross-platform multiplayer gaming technology at Google I/O, by way of “Popstar Defense”, a game created specifically for the conference to show that it is indeed possible to write a single HTML5 game that works across browsers, iOS, Android, tablets and all. Lost Decade is doing the same, and with Facebook’s “Project Spartan” on the way, reportedly to bring the social networking giant into the HTML5 game on mobile, developers like Lost Decade are well-positioned to do just that.

Check out Onslaught! on iTunes here, and Game Closure here, and let us know what you think.

Also: The startup is also offering 20 free promo codes, which readers can take advantage of by following @LostDecadeGames on Twitter. Tweet this post and mention @LostDecadeGames, and the team will direct message the first 20 readers with a promo code. Enjoy.



It’s Not Scoble’s Fault, It’s The Algorithm’s

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 08:47 AM PDT


Robert Scoble
Google+ is seeing a noise effect I have never seen before. I totally see why I would block myself. tcrn.ch/q51Xp4

It seems I stirred the pot over the weekend with my post on why I blocked Robert Scoble on Google+. Some of the reaction clearly missed the point I was trying to make. It wasn’t a criticism of Scoble, whose work I like, but a criticism of Google+ algorithms that continually resurface content by those who are popular on the Internet.

I follow Scoble on Twitter and we just became friends on Facebook. Given the way Facebook and Twitter surface content, this hasn’t been a problem at all.

But Google+ continually buries content from my close friends. This is especially important right now when content from real friends is very sparse to begin with because of restrictions on invitations. The Internet famous all have their invites. My real friends are still waiting for theirs. The lack of transparency in the invite process is especially frustrating as I’ve had to do CRM for friends on Google’s behalf. “Did you send me the invite yet?” “Yes, I requested it right away. Google just hasn’t sent it out.”

Algorithms should normalize signals. If a post from Scoble gets only 20 comments, that’s a post that is probably not very important. If a post from one of my close friends gets 20 comments, that’s a Really Big Deal—it’s likely a birth, wedding announcement or job change. Those are the things that I really want to know about.

One of my favorite tech talks is Google’s Peter Norvig talking about the importance of data. He argues that large amounts of data can beat better algorithms. This is important given the current competition in social networks—right now, Google has neither more data nor better algorithms.

Facebook has years worth of data on social interactions among hundreds of millions of people. In market research, it’s commonly known that what people do is very different from what they say they will do. That’s how I feel about Circles. Even if you believe that people will go through the trouble of manually categorizing friends, whether they categorize people in a way that actually reflects their interests is a big open question.

Our explicit decisions often reflect who we aspire to be, not who we actually are. We’d like to think that we want to have dinner with Ban Ki-moon. But we’d rather have dinner with Paris Hilton. Our social networks should be smart enough to know the difference.



iriver Story HD Becomes The First Google eBooks Ereader, To Be Sold Exclusively At Target

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 08:30 AM PDT

There’s a new ereader in town, gals and pals. The iriver Story HD will soon be available at Target for $139.99. While by all accounts, it’s a fine piece of hardware — 7.3 ounces, first six-inch XGA e-ink screen, SD card slot, WiFi, six week battery life — it’s the Google Books integration that will likely spur sales. This might be the best anti-Kindle/Nook ereader on the market.

Ereaders need access to a massive book marketplace to be successful. The Kindle has Amazon and the Nook B&N. The iriver Story HD is no different. However, instead of having a marketplace named after a famous bookseller, the new ereader uses Google eBookstore. This newish Google service uses the cloud for easy and convenient book storage, which allows multiple devices to share content much like the Kindle’s Whispersync.

Read More



DataSift – The Little Startup (From Europe) That Could [TCTV]

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 08:26 AM PDT

When I first met and interviewed Nick Halstead in a tiny, unassuming office an hour’s drive from central London in October 2008, I realised I was meeting someone who was passionate not just about startups, but had the kind of deep technical knowledge that would stand him in good stead.

Unlike some paper-thin ‘MBA entrepreneurs’, Halstead could see what was happening with the underlying trends of the Internet ecology and its drift towards realtime. Long before Twitter’s firehose was released, Halstead was trying to fix the broken problem of RSS feeds and commenting systems with “Favorit”. But with with Twitter’s emergence he pivoted away from to create Tweetmeme, the consumer curated Twitter portal, which really took off and remains popular to this day.

But that experience let to him building a team to deeply analyse Twitter’s underlying data, and not in Silicon Valley, but from Reading, in the UK county of Berkshire. Thus was Datasift created, one of only two companies globally licensed by Twitter to re-syndicate its content.



CheckIn+ Brings Augmented Reality To Your Facebook And Foursquare Check-Ins

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 07:45 AM PDT

SHAPE Services, the company behind IM+ messaging applications, which allows users to connect to services as diverse as MSN, Yahoo!, Google Talk, AIM, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, and Twitter all from a single mobile app, is today launching a new app for iOS that brings aggregation to check ins.

According to TC’s own Robin Wauters, SHAPE’s IM+ apps currently have about 12.5 million registered users, and the startup hopes to leverage its broad mobile user base and instant messaging clients with a similar approach to check-ins — only with a heavy dash of augmented reality (AR).

CheckIn+ uses augmented reality technology to overlay a user’s current surroundings with places from select geolocation applications, allowing users to see each notable destination relative to its position in the real world, all as a live video image on their iPhone or iPad.

As a user moves about with his or her device, they can see which places (like a subway or bus stop) are nearby and what distance they are from various points of interest. In the case of the iPhone, simply by holding the phone vertically, the app transforms a traditional map view into augmented reality.

The main feature, though, is that the app gives users the ability to check-in on geolocation services like Foursquare and Facebook Places, allowing check-in to both services simultaneously with a single tap. With CheckIn+, users can discover cool local spots, and share highlights from bars, parks, venues, and more through a places search.

Users can also add new places on Foursquare, and gather loyalty points and badges just as you normally would with the check-in service, as well as share photos of favorite places, view friends’ activity streams, see where they are in realtime, and leave comments for them on their streams.

SHAPE Services CEO Igor Berezovsky told us that CheckIn+ will both be coming to Android phones and tablets and will be adding text and video chat features to the app in the near future.

The app is currently available in two versions, one free and one paid. According to Berezovsky, CheckIn Pro (the paid version) will include the same features, but will be ad-free.

For more of the visual experience of CheckIn+, check out the video below:



Finding The Common Link: Commonred Wants To Take The Awkward Out Of Networking

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 07:00 AM PDT

Vaporware Labs, a software company that makes social, mobile, and web apps, like Steve Young Football for the iPad and iPhone, and MEETorDIE, an an online tool that tells you how much money your company is wasting by having meetings and how it might be spending that money more productively. (You can read our coverage of MEETorDIE here.) Today, Vaporware Labs is launching a new product called Commonred, which is putting a new spin on professional networking.

Commonred wants to be the place you go to find a common link (the name is a shortening of “common thread”) with just about anyone — though they’ll need some user adoption to ensure that last bit. Essentially, the startup wants to take the cold call/email/approach out of the networking process. Or, another way of looking at it: Commonred is an attempt meld the meetup and “new people” discovery space, inhabited by startups like Sonar, Meetup, and LetsLunch, with professional networking sites/apps like Branchout and Hashable.

Vaporware Labs, like many others, holds a monthly meetup (called Startup Grind) that allows entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to meet each other, network, and share ideas. The motivation for Commonred was bred from these meetups and from the observation — that is endemic to all new meetup experiences — that giving entrepreneurs (and people in general) ways to more quickly find commonalities between themselves and the people they’re meeting leads to less awkwardness and a greater chance of building a strong(er) relationship.

According to Vaporware and Commonred Founder Derek Andersen, Commonred is an attempt to “streamline the serendipity of finding someone that you went to the same high school with or someone that has also lived in, say, New Zealand”. Since much of our personal information is scattered across the social networks, “or lives on our blog or Plancast profile”, he says, when one wants to build a working relationship with someone, the process can be akin to a scavenger hunt.

So, how does it work? Pretty simple. You connect all of your social profiles to Commonred, and the site takes your social graph data and builds a profile, taking a user’s social infrastructure and combining it with its own set of data. Commonred then presents its users with a snapshot of commonality they share with others — it’s not a fire hose of information, just the quick bullet points, like schools, places, hobbies, and companies, that help you quickly find things you have in common. You can compare your contacts to other individuals, which then appears in a tree-like view (which you can see to the right).

In turn, this makes you slightly less (or more, depending on how you look at it) creepy when you approach someone or email someone in hopes of networking.

Of course, the problem with this is that we all have a lot of collective contacts on Twitter, Facbook, LinkedIn, etc., but, in reality, we have 5 to 10 relationships that we value higher than the others — those people that we’d go to bat for in any circumstance. Commonred has created a “Board of Directors” feature that allows users to select their 10 most trusted (or most valued) contacts. This will not only allow other users to know how cool you are when Mark Zuckerberg shows up on your Board, but just another filter for finding commonality.

Commonred is offering 200 free invites to TechCrunch readers, which can be accessed here. Check it out and let us know what you think.



Fab.com Claims To Be Profitable On $1.3M In Revenue After 30 Days, Raises $1M

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 06:50 AM PDT

Exclusive - Fab.com, which started out as Fabulis, a social networking site for gay men, has not only recently changed its name but also started from scratch with an entirely new business centered around online flash sales of design items.

We’ve learned that the startup has completed a $1 million early-stage round of funding from investor/actor Ashton Kutcher, SV Angel, SoftTech VC and previous backers First Round Capital, Baroda Ventures and The Washington Post.

Jason Goldberg, serial entrepreneur and founder and chief executive of Fab.com, tells me that the recent change of course has turned out remarkably well for the company.

Only 30 days after the launch of its online design-at-a-discount store, Fab.com has already generated $1.3 million in revenue and already has more cash flowing in than going out with a workforce of roughly 45 employees. A pivot to profitability, in other words.

Since its June 9 debut, Fab.com boasts 300,000 members, with over 3.3 percent of them (10,000+) having made at least 1 purchase through the site, Goldberg claims. Currently, he adds, Fab.com members are purchasing 1,000 items per day on average.

We hear the company is in the middle of closing yet another round of financing, this time in the ‘double-digits’ of millions range, to spur further growth.



U.S. Venture Fundraising Up 20 Percent In First Half Of 2011

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:38 AM PDT


Dow Jones is reporting mixed numbers for venture fundraising this morning, releasing data that shows that capital raised for U.S. venture funds rose 20 percent over the same period a year ago, to $8.1 billion. But that stat comes with a caveat— the number of funds that held closings plummeted 38% to 50 funds. Seven firms were responsible for raising the bulk of the $8.1 billion, raising almost 80 percent of the total, or $6.3 billion. For basis of comparison, in the first half of 2010, 81 U.S. venture funds raised $6.8 billion. This trend was illustrated in this morning’s Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association report.

In the first half of 2011, a number of well-known VC firms closed significant funds. Bessemer closed a $1.6 billion fund, Sequoia closed a $1.3 billion fund, and Greylock added a $1 billion fund. In June, Accel closed two funds for a total of $1.35 billion in new capital. Andreessen Horowitz added a $200 million growth fund in April.

European venture funds didn’t perform quite as well in the first half of 2011, reporting the worst first half since 2004 in terms of fundraising. Fundraising for European venture funds declined 45% to $1.1 billion for 16 funds. During the same period last year, European venture funds raised $2 billion for 26 funds.

In terms of U.S. private equity, funds raised $64.7 billion in the first half, a 35% jump over the same period last year. European private equity funds collected $24 billion, a 48% increase over the year-ago period

Specifically, early stage funds saw a decline in funds raised in the first half of 2011. Twenty-eight early-stage funds raised $1.1 billion in the first half, a 48% drop since the same period last year. Dow Jones says if early-stage funds continue at this pace, they will collect less than half of the $5.2 billion raised in 2010.

By contrast, late-stage funds had their strongest first half since 2007. In the first half of 2011, seven late-stage funds raised $2.9 billion, well above the same period last year when two funds raised $150 million. Multi-stage funds raised $4.1 billion for 15 funds.



Report: Number Of VC Funds Raising Money At 16-Year Low (There’s A But)

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:27 AM PDT

According to Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association, United States-based venture capital funds have raised $2.7 billion in the second quarter of 2011, a 28 percent increase by dollar commitments compared to Q2 2010.

However, the number of VC firms raising money has declined significantly (from 48 tot 37 funds, or a 23 percent drop, compared to the second quarter of 2010).

Also see: U.S. Venture Fundraising Up 20 Percent In First Half Of 2011 (Dow Jones)

According to Thomson Reuters and the NVCA, 76 U.S. funds raised $10.4 billion in the first half of the year, a 70% increase by dollars compared to the first half of 2010.

Its analysis shows, however, also shows a 15% decrease by number of funds, marking the lowest number of funds garnering commitments since the first half of 1995.

In other words: there are fewer venture capital firms raising money than 16 years ago, but they’re raising much larger funds.

This is how NVCA president Mark Heesen puts it:

“The fact that the number of firms raising money successfully remains at such low levels confirms an ongoing contraction of the venture capital industry, which will serve well those funds that can obtain commitments — but that group is becoming more and more narrow.”

There were 24 follow-on funds and 13 new funds raised in the second quarter of 2011.

For Q2 2011, Accel Partners accounted for 50 percent of the fundraising total. Accel Growth Fund II raised $875 million during the quarter, while Accel XI raised $475 million.

Yes, that’s $1.35 billion in total.

The largest new fund reporting commitments during the second quarter of 2011 was New York-based Level Equity Growth Partners I, which raised $120 million in its inaugural fund.



DataSift Ingests $6 Million From GRP And IA Ventures

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:20 AM PDT

We are a few years into the era of realtime data. Everyone is producing and consuming it, but there is still a huge need to filter it. For that reason, Mark Suster of GRP Partners is doubling down on Twitter by investing in DataSift, one of two companies with rights to re-syndicate Twitter’s firehose of more than 200 million Tweets a day (the other one is Gnip). GRP and IA Ventures are investing $6 million in DataSift in a Series A.

DataSift was born out of Tweetmeme and launched at TechCrunch Disrupt SF last year. It provides the full Twitter firehose in a way that can be mined, chopped up, analyzed, and mashed up with other realtime streams such as Klout, PeerIndex, Facebook, WordPress, and others.

The bet that DataSift’s investors are making is that Twitter won’t enter this data syndication market itself and take it away like it did with Twitter clients. DataSift has a long-term contract with Twitter, but that doesn’t guarantee Twitter won’t replicate any services it sees to be especially profitable. On the other hand, if DataSift makes this work, it could become an acquisition target for Twitter.

DataSift is trying to create the basis for a realtime data mining and business intelligence business. It sees opportunities for products built on top of DataSift for financial services (realtime investing signals), marketing (sentiment analysis and influence trees), healthcare (looking for early signs of pandemics and other outbreaks), political campaigns (tracking voter sentiment), television (realtime feedback and social media monitoring), and news (breaking reports). DataSift won’t build any of these products itself, but rather sell the data to others.

If you want to see a fun little app built on top of DataSift, check out DataSift Invaders a Space Invaders game that shows a Twitter avatar every time somebody tweets @DSInvader. It then shoots the avatars based o their Klout score.



Industry Ventures Closes $400 Million Secondary Fund, Exceeds $1B Of Capital

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:03 AM PDT

VC firm Industry Ventures has closed its Fund VI, a $400 million secondary fund focused on providing liquidity alternatives for venture capital and growth equity investments.

Additionally, the firm recently closed a $155 million ‘Special Opportunities Fund’, bringing total capital under management to more than $1 billion.

The new fund, which Industry Ventures says was oversubscribed, will serve to address liquidity needs for employees, investors and founders across the lifecycle of a venture capital investment. Yes, that means helping them cash out prior to an exit event.

Says Hans Swildens, managing director and founder of Industry Ventures:

“The broader VC ecosystem has undergone a significant shift as structural changes impacted the ability for sub-$100 million revenue VC-backed companies to access the public markets, while simultaneously there are hundreds of VC funds that are at the end of their 10-year term or extension period.

These dynamics result in a need for growth companies and their investors to find capital and liquidity under new structures and is precisely the need our fund is fulfilling.”

Recent Industry Ventures exits include Ancestry.com, Broadsoft, JaJah (acquired by Telefonica), Pure Digital (acquired by Cisco), and Sourcefire.

Other noteworthy ‘portfolio’ companies include Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Chegg, Alibaba, BillMeLater, Zend, LoveFilm.com, MindJet, WhitePages.com, Shop.com and Drugstore.com.



Email Nightmare. Shortmail Fix. Funding Obtained.

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 04:40 AM PDT

Last week I quit email. It’s perhaps the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

Instead of spending a couple hours every morning, a few hours before bed, and many cumulative hours in between on organizing, responding (and not responding) to endless messages, I’m doing things like reading, writing, and living life. I highly recommend that everyone try it. Of course, I realize that most people can’t. In fact, the reality is that I really can’t. My email quitting is merely an experiment for a few weeks that will provide plenty of good writing fodder. For stories like this, in fact.

Shortly after I declared I was quitting email, numerous people pinged me about a service called Shortmail. While I had heard about it previously, thanks to this Fast Company article, I hadn’t tried it yet. So I signed up. And I immediately saw the appeal.

At its most basic, Shortmail is a new front-end service for email with one very key feature: a 500-character limit for each message. Yes, it’s like Twitter for email.

But it’s not just Twitter for email. There are other interesting elements of the service too. For example, you can set any Shortmail conversation to be private or public. The latter feature I tested out yesterday with 410 Labs (the company behind Shortmail) co-founder Dave Troy. Below, find my Q&A back and forth with him. (They don’t currently have embeds, so I took screen shots of it to include in this post. But you can find the thread live on the web here.)

As Troy notes below, 410 Labs has secured a $750,000 Series A round of funding. True Ventures, 500 Startups, Fortify Ventures, and The Mary Venture Fund drove the round. Individuals including Tim O’Shaughnessy (co-founder of LivingSocial), Jeff Ganeck (founder of Neustar), Abdur Chowdhury (chief scientist at Twitter), among others, participated as well.

So will I go with Shortmail when I come back to the land of email? It’s certainly a compelling option. Unlike other efforts such as three.sentenc.es (which we previously wrote about), Chris Anderson’s emailcharter.org, and AwayFind, Shortmail relies a bit more on force (you cannot send or receive a message over 500 characters) instead of self-policing or add-ons to existing email services. At the same time, it’s still a bridge since it works with current email protocols. We’ll see. I’m still of the mindset right now that the only way to fix email is to truly blow it up and start from scratch. But that’s obviously much easier said than done.



Local.com Acquires Screamin’ Daily Deals For Up To $32.5 Million

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 04:38 AM PDT

Online local media company Local.com this morning announced that it has acquired Screamin' Media Group, the company behind Groupon clone daily deals site Screamin' Daily Deals.

Local.com paid $12.5 million in cash, stock and debt, with the opportunity for the shareholders of Screamin' Media Group to earn up to an additional $20 million if certain – no doubt high-end – financial performance criteria are met during the two-year period following the closing of the transaction.

Founded in early 2010, Screamin' Daily Deals has approximately 60 employees serving “hundreds of thousands” of subscribers with deals from local merchants across 14 markets all over the United States. The company also recently launched travel deals.

The startup is said to have generated – unaudited – revenues of approximately $2.4 million in 2010 and $4.4 million during the first half of 2011.

Screamin' Media Group will relocate to Local.com's corporate headquarters in Irvine, California, where it will be absorbed by the latter’s group buying business unit Spreebird.

The startup's three co-founders, formerly president, CEO and COO, will become Spreebird's vice presidents of sales and marketing, product and operations, respectively.

Local.com just entered a two-year agreement with Google to implement “certain advertising and search services,” according to a recent filing to the SEC, causing shares to jump.

Also read:

Local.com Buys Local Search Company Krillion For $3.5M, Debuts Daily Deal Service

Local.com Aims To Raise $15.5 Million In Public Offering

Local.com Buys Domain Advertising Company OCTANE360 For Up To $11M



Samsung CTO Responsible For The Galaxy Tab Line Steps Down

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 03:10 AM PDT

Omar Khan, the Samsung CTO who was responsible for the rise of the GalTab and other Android-powered smartphones, is moving to Citibank to handle that company’s global digital banking initiatives. He will be replaced by Nick Dicarlo and Gavin Kim in “product and service spokesperson responsibilities for Samsung Mobile."

Clearly this whole hardware thing didn’t work out for him.

Read more…



Is Nothing Sacred? First Broadway Cam Surfaces

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 02:00 AM PDT

It seems the the Book of Mormon is one of the first Broadway musicals to receive the popular pirate treatment. As of yesterday, there was a bootleg version of the show floating around the sharing sites complete with instructions on how to improve your watching experience.

A bootlegger shot the show in March, 2011 on a video camera, thereby assigning it the BROADWAYCAM moniker – a CAM being a video shot surreptitiously by a pirates. Ironically, one could say that the rise of bootlegging came with the recording and distribution of live shows by audio-savvy bootleggers, leading to the regency of the Grateful Dead and other jam bands. Thus far, however, Broadway shows have been immune to this kind of wholesale theft although I suspect the next show to get this treatment will be that Spiderman musical.

To be fair, Book of Mormon is a perfect storm of pirate-able performance. The provenance, the hype, and the creators all make this a must-see in the geek set and the fact that tickets are sold out and that the only performance in New York will encourage folks to download it. While I doubt Cats or Mama Mia! will ever get a bootleg, I’m surprised the Monty Python musical didn’t show up as a shaky cam on the Interwebs a few years back.



Allen & Co.’s Chosen Startups: Airbnb, Dropbox And Quora

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 12:01 AM PDT

The Allen and Co. conference at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho is a peculiar beast. Press aren't allowed to attend or cover any of the panels and aren't allowed in the storied Duchin bar.

In addition, attendees are not allowed to talk to the press about the content of any of the meetings which makes for some interesting adventures in reporting.

Still, despite restrictions, attendance is totally worthwhile; After all it's the place where mythical investor Warren Buffett rubs elbows with Zynga founder Mark Pincus rubs elbows with actress Salma Hayek rubs elbows with Groupon CEO Andrew Mason rubs elbows with fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg rubs elbows with Facebook investor Peter Thiel and so forth.

And, more importantly, the wall of curtly congenial yet ultimately deflective PR people is nowhere to be found. For journalists hungry enough, it’s paradise.

The conference has been primarily media focused since the 1982,and only last year did the tech to media mogul ratio achieve parity. As an example of its commitment to all things Internet, Allen & Co investment bank throws another more tech-focused conference in Arizona early in the year.

It's amazing when the people who are doing new things (and that you're used to covering day in and day out) are literally put on the same podium as Oprah. The big draw this year was Bill Gates interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, and it was rumored that the talk show queen herself had changed her flight in order to catch the before-noon panel on Saturday morning. According to friend Gayle King she ended up missing the panel after all.

It's probably a good thing. From what I heard, Zuckerberg and Gates didn't say anything particularly newsworthy, with Zuckberg dropping talking points about Facebook's success and its user to engineer ratio (750 million users divided by 2,000+ employees) and his curious Law of Social Sharing. The highlight of the talk for one attendee (which consisted of questions along the lines of  "Do you like being CEO of Facebook?) was when Gates joked that Allen and Co. had brought together two of the best interviewers and then paused, "Oprah and Charlie Rose."

What's more interesting is that the investment bank has taken to inviting small startups to present at panels. Last year it was Square, Groupon, Pandora and oddly enough, the somewhat mysterious startup ThingD. This year it was Dropbox, Quora and Airbnb.

So why those three? Well Allen and Co. is an underwriter focused on building relationships with particularly lucrative clients and is seeking out the most promising of the Silicon Valley brood in order to whet the tech sector appetites of investor attendees and secure further business as the companies grow (Allen and Co. is said to be an advisor in Groupon's upcoming IPO and is an investor in Pandora). All three also presented at Allen and Co.'s Arizona conference in March.

The triumvirate gave their talks on Saturday morning, with 15-minute presentations of their products; CEOs Adam D 'Angelo and Brian Chesky presented examples of Quora questions and Airbnb listings and Drew Houston gave an overview of Dropbox. "Most people at the conference didn't know what any of the products were," said one participant.

While all three CEOs declined to give comment on why they thought they were chosen this year.  (None of them have the "Forget You" money of Eric Schmidt, who unabashedly talked to reporters for a crazy 70 minutes on Thursday) one investor had a theory, "Airbnb is printing money. They operate more rooms in Manhattan than all the [big] hotels combined."

The same investor theorized that Quora's invitation was due to the Facebook effect (Zuck essentially gave the keynote) and the fact that it has done a great job of giving people a venue to expand upon their online reputations. Dropbox has earned its place in the Sun Valley sun because the fact that it was one of the first champions of the cloud in addition to its impressive usership numbers – which makes it a prime acquisition target (and potential Allen & Co client).

In terms of where they stand regarding financing, Airbnb is about to officially announce raising $100 million at a $1 billion dollar valuation, Quora has a modest $11 million in funding (and is said to be raising more) and Dropbox is basically turning away term sheets, I’ve heard.

But even a 15-minute time slot on an agenda that includes King Abdullah of Jordan and New Jersey governor (and Republican Presidential hopeful) Chris Christie is huge; For the Sun Valley startups it means that that they get to pitch in front of idols Bill Gates, Mark Pincus and Mark Zuckerberg. But the benefits go both ways. Rumor has it that Dropbox was swarmed by potential investors at a BBQ during the conference’s first night.

Allen and Co. obviously doesn't share what criteria it uses to invite startups (which it does, quaintly enough through snail mail) but common sense holds that it’s probably what it thinks would be a good bet (and return). My predictions for next year's invite list: Instagram, UberCab and Spotify.



College2Startup Wants To Connect Startups To The Best Young Talent (And Vice Versa)

Posted: 10 Jul 2011 03:00 PM PDT

Those media experts among us may be familiar with “Help A Reporter Out”, or HARO, which brings reporters and bloggers to quotable sources, and helps small businesses promote their brands. It’s an interesting, if not completely proven, model. Now, what if you apply that model to startups, and the startup hiring process? This was Tolu Babalola’s thinking when he created College2Startup, a resource for startups looking to find quality collegiate or postgraduate talent.

Startups are always looking for talent, and it’s not unusual to see established companies acqu-hire a startup just to get access its talent. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg is making a company out of it. But, that being said, it’s no easy feat to find talent that is the right fit for your startup, especially with all the white noise coming out of sites like CareerBuilder, Monster, and Craigslist.

In creating College2Startup, Babalola did some quick surveys of those currently employed at startups and found that nearly two-thirds of them were hired based on referrals by friends, former colleagues, etc. It would stand to reason, then, that it can be pretty difficult for undergraduates and recent graduates to find openings at startups if they don’t happen to know someone who’s already inside.

Thus, College2Startup allows prospective employees to subscribe to a daily newsletter (that Babalola curates) to receive job opportunities. College2Startup’s daily newsletter is opt-in and meant to target only those that have job-specific talent. When a prospective employee receives the newsletter, he or she can scroll through the list of job openings to find the opportunity that best suits them, and click to apply right from the newsletter. And, once a user has signed up, they can filter results from jobs listings as well.

Of course, the model may not sound particularly mind-blowing, as sites like Mediabistro (and many others) offer the ability to get tailored email alerts for the types of jobs you’re looking for, and you can apply straight from those emails. So, while opt-in and apply-straight-from-an-email are cool features, the founder says that what distinguishes College2Startup is in how it treats the application process. The questions that companies ask prospective employees on the big job sites tend to be generic, and they don’t do a great job of finding out what the applicant’s specific skills are.

Babalola said that he wants to get the interview process rolling right from the first application, which is why candidates are asked questions about their specific skill sets. Once the user has clicked the “apply to” link in the email, for example, they are taken to an application page in which Babalola has arranged a series of questions he knows startups will be eager to see the answers to, before calling the applicant in for the interview. If the job is for a backend developer at Groupon, for instance, candidates will be asked questions like, “What languages do you code in?”, or asked to talk about (and provide links to) sites they’ve built in the past, links to their GitHub profile, or even provide a video introduction.

Babalola said that he thinks sending the answers to these questions directly to startups can help streamline the process and get the ball rolling faster, so that startups have a relevant sneak-peek at prospectives before interviewing. It also helps limit the often labyrinthine application process inherent to larger sites.

But the big goal with College2Startups, the founder reiterated, is to target a younger crowd that is desperate to work at a startup but may not yet have connections or people to refer them. While this may sound silly or even alien to talent in Silicon Valley, outside of the Bay Area, things aren’t quite so easy. “When I graduated”, Babalola said, “I looked for startup jobs everywhere and really struggled to find for 6 months before a friend referred me to a friend who knew someone. The same is true in my local Baltimore startup meetups. There is a lot of promising talent that doesn’t know where to find startup jobs”.

While I’m all in favor of resources targeting startups specifically and young talent that might go undiscovered otherwise, a potential drawback to College2Startups is that it charges $100 to startups that want to post a job on the site. InternMatch, which we wrote about back in April, charges a similar fee, while Internship.com is free and Urban interns charges $40. Yes, College2Startup is targeting real jobs, and not internships, but startups aren’t always flush with cash — every penny counts.

Another somewhat comparable and cool service to check out is RescueTime Introductions, which is like a CarFax for job candidates, and also targets startups and the tech industry. (In fact, College2Startups may be more similar in conception to Jobby, which the RescueTime guys sold to Jobster in 2006.)

College2Startups is obviously still in the very early stages, though it has racked up over 3,200 subscribers in lead up to the first newsletter, which went out last week. Check it out, and let us know what you think.



OMG/JK: Yes, Of Course You’re In My ‘Friends’ Circle. Swear.

Posted: 10 Jul 2011 02:57 PM PDT

Hey, we're here for a new episode of OMG/JK? I am Jason Kincaid in New York.

And I am MG Siegler. As you can see this is a little bit different. Jason abandoned ship and moved to New York. So this is how we're gonna do it, split screen now, I guess, which is kinda cool. You've got a nice bloody hamburger in your background. That's pretty awesome.

Could reach over and pat you on the head, almost.

And I'm sitting in your old seat so this is...

Yeah.

This is kind of interesting. But let's dive into what we're actually going to talk about. All right. Let's do this.

First thing is Google+. This was finally announced. This is Google's, of course, big social strategy. We've known a bunch of things that have been sort of involved in this for a while. We've leaked some things, but now it's all together and actually out there in the wild and people have been playing with it for a little over a week.

So what are your initial thoughts on it?

So, I think it's way better than what everyone was expecting. I think that Google has built something that's pretty compelling here. It doesn't have any clear privacy issues, the UI is much better looking than much Google products are. I think it's still too early to say whether or not this is something people are going to stick with think it's got all the, the tech people love it.

But they tend to love anythings that new and that they have early access to. So I think it's going to be another 60 days or so until we see if it really has staying power.

Yeah, I agree. I mean, right now we're seeing what we see with many services when they initially launch, is that almost everyone on it seems to be talking about Google plus. They are not actually using it as they might use another social network, you know, twitter, facebook or whatever they talk about, daily things, regular things that hopefully I'm sure what Google wants to be able to talk about right now it's all Google Plus.

And the one thing that I've noticed about it I usually do like a lot too. I think that it's way above like the expectations were which is not saying much because they were so low giving what happen with Buzz and to some extent Wave and some of the other things that they've done. But the one thing I will say is I really am not sold on the Circles idea.

I like the the concept of it and I like how you have to kind of use it in order to first, initially set up Google Plus. You know, you have to drag someone into at least, like, one circle to be able to follow them but I'm not just sure that a lot of people are going to end up using that. We're already seeing right now, everyone is posting to public and maybe that's because there's not that many people on the service, but I don't know if that's not going to be the way it always is.

Part of the reason why people are posting in public, I think a lot of the people that we're following tend to be those those people all go on twitter and so on, but I think you are right, as far as the circle model. I think it is really complex relative to what people are used to and, you know, Facebook did launch friend lists, which are very similar to what circles are.

Now, they did that years ago and people didn't use them. And part of that is probably a UI issue that the wasn't so true as this far as building on the list and the incentives to do so wasn't really made that apparent but at the same time I think there's a reason why Facebook has never moved to emphasize it despite the fact that they're getting all this privacy criticism over all these years and that's because it's pretty confusing.

I mean, by and large, I think all Google the way Plus approaches falling is very confusing. You don't necessarily have to understand how it works uses the surface? But the notion of, "I'm following someone and they're sharing with me and it's my incoming stream." It's just all very.

That's very, I totally agree. That's totally confusing, like, when you compare this to Facebook groups, which is, you know, the newer group thing that they launched last year, you know, some would say to get out ahead of ask his people knew that this kind of thing was coming from Google. If you compare to that, it's really interesting and I think Zuckerburg mentioned this in a press conversation and talk about that in a little bit, but, it's,it's the concept of the circles with the following.

I can share something to a bunch of people in my circle but they don't realize that they're in that circle so when they share back not sharing to that same people in that circle. And that's totally different from what a Facebook group is which is where everyone knows everyone else is in that circle.

So I think that that's kind of a complex thing that they really need to figure out how that's going to work.

I think that's the case, I think the use case for groups versus circles is still different so I don't know if there's going to be too much, I've seen one criticism of circles that I actually ran into is that, when you post something, even if you make it public, you don't necessarily realize that anyone is going to be able to comment on that post, so you start getting comment like I'll post a a goofy Justin Bieber fragrance commercial.

Allright. I don't mean, that's also interesting too, because they're in many ways this reminds me a lot of FriendFeed the way it was and still is but no one uses that anymore, but it's like, you know, you've got this stream of stuff. But it's a little bit better because FriendFeed was dominated by tweets coming in and Google Plus doesn't allow you to do that, so it's focused on things that people actually want to share which is good and that will lead to more interaction, I think on the content itself but the notion that when comments if bubbles backup to the top, it's really starting to annoy people.

I mean, I look at it and I see the same content over and over again.

Well, also the fact that everyone can comment like, I guess, this is my fault because I share it publicly, but it's still sort of a jarring moment when you share something that you think is goofy and then some random person starts criticizing your post.
Yeah.


Wait, this wasn't what I was going for when I shared this.

And the idea, and I know they've changed this now, they have a drop down thing to be able to lock this feature but anyone can re-share something that you've shared. So it's like, you can share it with a specific circle of people, but if someone else shares it with another circle, it's like, then who knows who's commenting? Who knows who's seeing it. It's really kinda weird. And they did fix that, and their, so their credit, their doing a great job I think of tweaking things on the fly.

There all, a lot of the team seems to be in there from Vic Gundotra on down. You know, kind of responding to things and just saying, like, "Oh, yeah, we're listening to feedback and they really are tweaking things on the fly". Also we have to mention My Space Tom using it he did a guess post for us about it -- and it's like, that's kind of hilarious how much he's involved in it.

I think one other thing we definitely have to talk about is the fact that the mobile app, at least on the Android is really well done.

And so I hear.
I there is no iPhone at yet. Supposedly it's in review?

Oh, there is an iPhone app. Apple hasn't approved it yet.

I mean there's no reason that they won't approve it, I assume. I don't think that it's doing . It's not going to have all the same functionality that the Android app will have like the, the instant share a thing which is pretty awesome.

I mean, actually, one point on that. It's really cool to understand it. To be perfectly honest, the first time I use it, I was suprised, because I was under the impression that it would automatically upload photos that you took within the Google Plus application. And what I've found is that it uploads those automatic but it also uploads a photo taken with any other camera app or at least the default camera app. Which sort of surprised me.

Because I was like, "Oh". Because the description when it tells you what instant upload is is doesn't really get into the "by the way, every single photo your taking on this phone is going to be according to Google servers." I would not be all surprised if we see some back-lashed unless Google preempts it with a really thorough explanation, a walk-through video saying "hey, you're uploading this.

It's really really cool but just be aware of it."

But they do to their credit, they do set it to a private album that's not shared with everyone at first right?

That's one of those things I just don't think people are going to recognize that it's private. I think they're going to post some photos they don't want on the Internet and they're going to see it on the Internet and they're going to freak out regardless if anyone can access it, I mean there's always on Google servers now, maybe the Google people are looking at it, or wherever, that sort of thing.

So I think we should move on to our second topic. Facebook, in substance, has countered the launch of Google Plus although, you know, they've been working on these features for awhile I'm sure. And the biggest of them was Facebook Skype-powered video chat.

Right.

Which I think we had the sense of this coming for a long time and it was really obvious speech integrate at the same time I think it's a pretty big deal. So what's your take on it so far?

So, yeah, I wasn't at the press conference. I know you were watching remotely live But I followed along right afterwards, and, you know it's like, we did know that a lot of that was coming. So I was a little bit disappointed that there were no huge surprises,they did a new chat thing were the chat is long the right inside which actually is pretty nice I think because that really spurs you to use it more.

But in terms of the video chat feature itself, I tried it out a few times. It does work very well. You have to download a plug-in which is a little bit annoying to have to do that but once you do that, it works very well. It's interesting how it's set up as opposed to a feature of Google Plus which is called hangouts which is also a video chat thing but it's really kind of different I think Mike hit on that in a post he did.

Right. Definitely, confirmed these different things. Hangouts is cool. I mean, to be perfectly honest, I'm still waiting for that, like my good friends who aren't in the tech scene. Like they say all the people I went to school with and on. I want to get to hang out with them.

And just kinda shoot the shit for an hour because I think that's really where the potential is. As far as the Skype integration on Facebook I don't, I don't think it's a feature that tech geeks like us are necessarily gonna get super excited about because we're fairly adept at using Skype and if one of our friends doesn't no how to use it we can probably walk them through the install process.

Right.

And this is something that Facebook emphasized during the
presentation: it's the easiest way to initiate a video chat. And yes, you still have install a browser plugin but I mean, it's quite streamline but at the same time it's not perfect right? Right. Back then you still have to click the installer that I'm sure some people are gonna be hung up on that you know, but we don't have the web based Skype yet.

Right.

But like I said, I, I think the power of this is not necessarily gonna be readily apparent to people who have been using Skype for years.

Yeah, what do you think about, like so, I actually have it open right now in my computer, you know,the side-chat thing, you think, that's something that will like, because obviously a big part of this is that people have to be looking at the chat window to see like whose online and lot of people had that just collapsed and now it's open by default or whatever you can see who you chat with.

I mean is that, do you think that's something that's actually going spur usage of this, this feature in particular?

I think that's the goal, I think, it annoyed me. When I log into Facebook, it's like "Oh by the way your chat window like you had closed for how many months now. Now, filling up like a significant person of your screen." I was sort of, "Thanks Facebook." And the funny thing is, it's actually unnecessarily difficult to get rid of that because not only do you have to say that you're not available, in other words, you sign out.

Right.

But a second time to minimize that window. It doesn't really take the hint. It still stays there. Oh, thanks, I really want that there.

I think it only shows that if your browser is wide enough to accommodate.

Yeah Both the main site and the chat window. Is it going to spur usage, I'm sure it'll get a lot of, one of the things they're doing is actually when that's, when that's open and you click on it,
it'll
actually prompt you to start a video call with somebody. It'll say hey here's a new video I got.

Right, right.

So, it, I do think it gonna introduce it to plenty of people. Do I think it's longer term it's going to make, the fact that that bar is there is going to shift a lot of people off like G Chat.

Right. What about this? So, they don't have a mobile component for this yet which seems natural thing. Obviously, they're going have to update their apps and working on it. They're going to wear an iPad and etc. Do you think that would be a big component? Now, it seems, you know, if they really want us to compete on a larger scale with Facetime then what Google is doing now with Android be able to do video chat from the mobile.

It seems like a pretty big component of this but again Facebook doesn't have their own Phones, so they have to do it through these applications. Do you think that's a problem for them to have to do that?

So, I think I'm in the minority here. I don't think video chat on mobile is that great yet? And I just, I think it's the sort of thing that you try.

Well, you have an Android phone, so we'll forgive you for that. No, I mean Android for several months now has had video chat available through the Nexus apps.

Right.

And through the tablets and I tried it out on both of them, but it this. Even though I have it available, you know, I have never felt compelled while walking down the street to video chat anyone.

Yeah .

Maybe this is something I might do with my family at some point, or I guess, with a really, really good friend. But it's not the sort of thing I just casually want to start doing. I think compared to say like Google Hangouts.

Yeah.

And be a bit more casual. I don't think it's going to be like a huge deal if Facebook doesn't launch a mobile version of this in the near future.

I agree with that. I think that you know, it will take something like this, where you know, 750 million users and by default now they all have this chat window open so many people will become more comfortable with using video chat. There really hasn't been anything like that that has made people comfortable using it and I think the key to that may be not only this and you know the one for the one-on-one chat, but even better is what you're saying the Google Plus Hangouts feature because they really thought about that, like why don't use video chat.

When I met with them to talk about this, it's like they were really thinking about then, it's like, " Well, you know, maybe we really need to rethink if from the ground up and using this kind of super social way of doing things for many people can be in the room and you cut between people as they're talking, that's really interesting and maybe that does for usage of video chat in general like on mobile devices I think one of the reasons why hangout is so, not that it jumps between multiple people and the fact that it's work based, but also because the way that you initiate the chat.

It's not this weird, because anytime I want to start a video chat with someone.

Right.

It's like a big social hurdle, if you want to call it that. It's,it's more than even a phone call. Right now if I get a phone call and I don't want it, I feel irritated. If I get a video chat invitation and I don't want it, I'm like, "What do you want?" So Right.

So, that's the nice thing about hang outs. Where it's just sort of like, "Hey, I'm hanging out" if you're bored.

Right, if you're interested, you click the button and you're all set to go. That's very true. Facebook could do a status option, where you can click, "I'm bored. Come video chat with me." I doubt that that will be that difficult for them, but I do think the way Google's done it is pretty smart.

So,let's, we'll move on then to the final topic.

Are you doing? So, please correct me where I'm wrong. I read a post and you're apparently giving up email, what is it, for a month?

Well,till the end of July. So, I'll give the back story here. We all hate email. You hate email as much as I do. It's a super large problem. Especially, those of us in this kind of blogging world, the journalism world. Because this is how so many people reach out to us, and try to contact us and especially when we're hooked into the Tipps Tech Crunch account.

We're seeing hundreds and hundreds of emails every single day.

So, I fully realize that the problem that I have is maybe more pronounced than what an average user would have. But I do, at the same time, I do think that over time this is going to be a problem that everyone has. And this is how this came to be. I came home one night. I was actually in Washington, DC to see the President the first visit...

Your just in DC seeing the president.

Just meeting the president, it was pretty cool. But so, I was coming home from that event and I'm just like I get bombarded by email. I hadn't checked my email in a few hours, and all of a sudden I had like, I don't know Eighty-five unread email messages. Many of which people wanted a response to about something like, "Hey, MG, do you want to check this out?

Blah, blah, blah." Over time, I've slowly just unfortunately had to not respond to many of those, because it's just completely untenable. I mean, I couldn't possibly do that without being it my full-time job.

So, anyway, so I started tweeting some things along those lines. If I were to answer all my emails that I just got right now, it would be a full-time job. And I get dozens and dozens of responses on Twitter coming back at me like, "Totally agree the system is broken." And we've all known this for a while, but it's like So, why don't I just do something about it?

So, why don't I just do something about it. Why don't I just do an experiment and see what happens, if I just don't look at my email at all for a month. Will anything really change? And so that's what I'm doing. I have some emails that I promised that I would get responses to. And so, I've been slowly working through those so I still have to check a few emails here and there.

But hopefully, in a few days I'll be completely removed from email whatsoever. And even just doing this limited amount that I had been doing, it's awesome. So much more free time. It is great.

Well, the rest of us pick up his slack. No, I'm just kidding.

Yeah, I mean there are going to be ramifications of this. Maybe the Tips account. I have this little auto responder set up saying like basically, I'm not going to be responding to emails for the rest of this month. If you really need to get in touch with me, I'm sure you can figure out another way.

If not, maybe you can at the Tips text, if you really need something.

Well, how many midnight phone calls this leads to or text messages?

Yeah, I mean so far, it's lead to a lot more DM which I think is great also, because DM is a white-labeled, basically messaging service where only people can DM me who I've chosen to follow. So, that's a very limited way so, more Facebook messages. Go ahead.

It's not necessarily white label, it's Twitter.

I don't know if Yeah right.

People necessarily messages.

Sorry, white listed not white white label, yeah. Right. White-listed.

So, yeah, I mean one of their, so, it's a white, you're saying, "Yes, email sucks."

Right. the reason why its so rad it's like no one came up with a better solution. Obviously, Google is actually, trying, they are doing a lot to make it better with Priority Inbox and so on. And
I think.
One thing we have to make clear is email's an issue for a lot of people. I think we are probably in the top like point five percent of people, in terms of the amount of email we're dealing with.

Right.

One interesting idea though, I saw recently. I think it's called ShortMail. I'm not so sure. It's a service where you sign in and you basically create an alternate email account, but it restricts the length of an email, it's 500 characters.

It's 500 characters.

I've been talking with those guys a bit and using that service in a very limited fashion. Right now, most people don't know. Like when I address there, so you know they're still reaching out on the other things. But something like that is totally compelling. And I've actually, I wrote a post several months ago asking Google you know like asking them for a feature.

I want Gmail light. That's what I really want. I want something that doesn't have all of the baggage of email systems. I mean these have been around decades now. And everyone's been using the same basic thing, where it's you have a person, an email address that you send it to. You have the subject line, maybe you have a CC and then you have a message.

And then you have to click this button. In many ways, Facebook I think has done the best job so far of getting people to a little bit, at least, move away from that with Facebook messages. People aren't using it enough, and it hasn't been rolled out enough. But I think as a communication platform, basic messages I find really unreliable primarily because it highlights the messages that are from your friends, but makes the ones that aren't from your friends so unintrusive that you're probably going to miss them entirely.

Yes.

They aren't even included in the unread account. Right, you have to click messages, I think, and then you'll see you have three other.

Ya.

Messages from people you don't know. But I mean those could well be important messages. You just haven't gotten a social connection with that person previously. So, I mean I think they're making some strides there. I could I never use Facebook messages instead of my email.

But at the same time they do even have email integration, like you can email someone at their Facebook.com address and that will get sent to them. But yeah, I totally agree they need to kind of rethink that interface for it, I guess. But I like the mechanism of it. I just love that that it has like a little sliver for the respond thing, so it's almost like a chat, an IM instead of a message, and if you click the little box to enable quick send And you don't even have to hit a send button, you just have to hit enter after you're done, and it's the little things like this I think that really do matter.

Okay. Stuff like that, I'd rather just not get messages I don't care about, but I guess I'll take what you can get.

I mean that's kind of what it, what it's all about really, me, not checking my email is providing a new filter for messages as they come to me.

This is an idea that I see come up every once in a while and I think Mike tweeted about it and some point got some flack for it. It was the notion having sort of like a postage.

Yes, right. This is the old Bill Gates. Bill Gates wrote about this in the 90s, I remember and got a lot of flack. It was like what if we made email message where you basically had to pay a penny or a fraction of a penny even, because the problem was to prevent spam which spammers where sending millions of messages, so pennies at a time leads to a lot of money that they would be charged but most people won't mind spending a penny or a fraction of a penny sending emails if it's important enough.

Right, which I actually think the more I think about it that would not work for us at all because most of the people who are trying to reach us are very driven. And they're willing to send us cake and stuff we don't we don't.

It's certainly going to be willing to pay.

They would just have a budget for the spam Tech Crunch.

Exactly. Well not, they probably wouldn't call it spam, they'd call reaching out or pitching or something.

Yes.

So anyway so I think that does it for this episode of OMG/JK. I'm going to be in the studio next time hopefully, so I'll look even better.

No hamburger, no hamburger in the background?

Yeah, that's actually exactly why I picked this room. I don't even what room I'm in. I'm in the AOL brand room, or something, that's what I do, I just barge into rooms. Join me next week.

All right, thanks.

We’re back for a new episode of OMG/JK, and, in the spirit of Skype’s new integration with Facebook, we’ve decided to try out this nifty video conferencing technology for ourselves!

Okay, so the split-screen action was primarily motivated by the fact that I’m now out in New York, but it’s certainly timely. In this week’s episode we discuss the new Skype/Facebook launch at length, and we also do a deep dive on that other social network that now has a heavy emphasis on video calling: Google+. I think that’s how it’s spelled.

We also touch on MG’s recent decision to ditch email for the month of July, which will only make his August that much worse.

Oh, and don’t worry — video quality for my half of the screen will be much better starting next week, as I’ll be beaming in from AOL’s studio.

Here are some recent posts relevant to this week’s episode:

Subscribe to us on iTunes!



Soap Media

Posted: 10 Jul 2011 01:01 PM PDT

Oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. That’s how I feel about the strange trip we’re on with our social studies. Used to be that I could just sit back and wish for a Mickey Mantle home run, and sure enough, it would be there. The powerful compact swing generating an arc unlike any other, still rising as it cleared the outfield wall.

At some basic level we’re trying to find a home we can invest in. The social networking landscape seems to be shaken by Google’s new network product, but in a way it’s become more solidified. The monolith, Facebook, remains undamaged. The experiment, Twitter, no less unsure about what it is but confident of its value. What’s left, Microsoft.

It’s way early to handicap anything along the scale of winners and losers, but many things are already obvious. Plus has conquered the media, but what of it? Unlike Apple, which changed the media with the iPad, Google has slapped a fresh coat of paint on the social chat room that was Friendfeed and provided a reasonably safe bet that the work we put in will be accessible for some substantial time to come. Worth investing in the stream of notifications as we remodel our graphs one more time.

Without the aggregation of citations, Plus is more an interactive manual for itself than anything disruptive. Google has the time and motivation to get everyone in their seats before starting the game, and we’re comfortable enough waiting while we check our old familiar streams to see what we’re missing. This time around, we’re dealing with a platform that won’t collapse when Track is turned on. The question is when, not if.

Twitter has already voted on this question by shutting down its firehose to Google Realtime Search. Basically, no way you get Track handed to you on a platter, just like no way we’re for sale. At stake: Twitter’s social graph and how it can be used to personalize the content stream. All the talk of overlapping Circles on Plus speaks to the same problem, how to derive signal on information other than how cool Plus is.

Does Twitter have a price at which it caves? Not really. The second such a price is established, the overall value of the entire market segment collapses. Let’s say Google acquires Track and lets us bind our content stream to Plus identity with one click. Suddenly Facebook (and Microsoft) have a huge problem, as we use Circles to obsolete the Facebook personal graph while selling our media preferences to the highest bidder.

So Facebook counters with a bigger number, which would be rejected because of Facebook’s scale. Back and forth, to the point where the numbers would be so far out of whack that only Microsoft could afford them and to what end? Whoever closes that deal loses an AOL/TimeWarner chunk of its value. In effect, Twitter would be acquiring a big chunk of either company that would evaporate on close. And what would they do if the deal was all cash? Nothing to buy into except the loser of the auction.

More likely, Google will continue to be successful at building out its alternate identity graph, starting with the (social) media and moving into the content aggregation space with brands. An interesting test case will be what happens with the All My Children/One Life To Live deal, where the two soaps are moving to the iPad platform. How they will monetize this with a projecting $50 million in production costs depends on just the kind of Track or @Mention targeting that Apple just announced with, wait for it, Twitter in iOS 5.

Coming as it does just in time for the new fall season, soap media may turn out to be the reason Twitter stays independent. With Netflix as the new upfronts, producers will launch on iPad and bankroll production with the streaming afterlife. It’s not coincidental that ABC retained the IP for the series, given Steve Jobs’s huge stake in the network. It also suggests broadcast will be used to launch shows and push them through the new soap media pipeline via iPad and AirPlay.

As long as Google keeps Plus open and builds content aggregation traffic through API connectors, the quality of the network will help unbundle Facebook identity. Plus Track will encourage Twitter to syndicate its data, and Facebook to emulate Circles, Hangouts, and even Track. Instead of puncturing the bubble, Plus is buying enough time for the social media networks to transition to the new dynamics of Soap Media.



A Groupon For Sports? Crowd Seats Brings The Daily Deal Model To Sports Tickets

Posted: 10 Jul 2011 12:00 PM PDT

Daily deal sites, by and large, seem like they’re here to stay, much to Rocky Agrawal’s chagrin, surely. Whether or not you agree with Rocky’s flurry of posts last month about Groupon and its claque of clones, the daily deals model is not perfect, and it’s certainly a worthy endeavor to make sure that small businesses and merchants are not coerced into structuring one-sided relationships with daily deals sites. Justin Cener, the Founder and CEO of Crowd Seats, agrees that the daily deal model is not ideal for every industry and merchants shouldn’t force the model just because daily deals are all the rage these days.

That being said, Cener thinks he’s found a niche that is suited well to the daily deal and group buying model: Sports tickets. The Crowd Seats founder told me that he thinks businesses with perishable inventory stand to gain the most from the daily deals model and that sports tickets are a prime example: If tickets to Sunday afternoon’s football game go unsold, those particular tickets can’t just be sold on Monday. Those tickets are lost. For good.

What’s more, businesses that make money on complementary goods and can create purchases that make up for the money lost in the discount stand to do more than just break even on these kind of deals. Generally speaking, when a discount comes out to be 75 percent or more, it’s a losing proposition for the merchant — depending of course on the deal provider’s cut.

The daily deal model can be successful in niche markets, Cener said, because in the case of sports tickets (and, really, any other ticket-selling business — movie theaters would be another), there can be “guaranteed overage” revenue generated from complementary sources, like parking, concessions, beer, souvenirs, and so on.

The niche focus is also a leg up for Crowd Seats (especially in the face of the Groupon haters out there). When a user signs up for the startup’s service, they are signing up to buy sports tickets — and sports tickets only — compared to Groupon, where a user might be interested in massage deals, or restaurant deals, or movie deals.

Targeting a niche market can also address the issue of long-term value; Groupon deals are becoming famously questionable as a means for creating loyal customers, but in a niche market, Cener thinks that sports fans are already rabid by nature. They’re also going to be encouraged to become repeat visitors, because they want to support their teams and get to as many games as possible, especially when they can take advantage of highly discounted deals. (Rates are negotiated on a game by game basis, and normally range from 30-45% of the total deal revenue, Cener said.)

Another point: Daily deals sites don’t do a great job of conveying extra value to the merchants they partner with, which is why Cener hopes that by including social media links to teams’ Facebook and Twitter pages, and encouraging its users to “like” and “follow”, teams can connect with their fans on their own terms. Crowd Seats also provides “best practices” for merchants, offering teams advice on how to retain new customers, like encouraging them to sign up for an email list, or including marketing materials and flyers at the point of voucher exchange, or even welcoming Crowd Seats users via Jumbotron signage.

The Los Angeles-based startup, which initially launched last month, offers discounts between 50 and 90 percent off the face value of sports tickets. At this point, the service is available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston, but Cener says that he wants to continue expanding to all major cities in the U.S.

As to how it works? Users sign up for Crowd Seats and confirm by email, whereupon they can the search for deals by city. Once a user chooses one of Crowd Seats’ deals, they enter billing information in a secure checkout and submit the order. They’ll then be redirected to their profile, or “My Stuff” page, which lists a user’s purchases and account information. Crowd Seats then sends the user an email, where they can view and print their tickets. Fairly straightforward.

Crowd Seats has not yet received any outside funding, it’s completely early-stage bootstrapping at this point, but Cener said he hopes to being raising a round of seed funding once the model gets some traction. It’s going to be tough for Crowd Seats in the early going, because of the deep resources of sites like StubHub, users will quickly become disenchanted when they find that their favorite sports team isn’t yet on board, offering deals.

But Crowd Seats seems to have picked a great niche market in which to leverage the daily deals model, and if the team can forge some early partnerships with big sports franchises, the startup could be headed for long-term viability.

Check it out and let us know what you think. Oh, and Cener also did some due diligence and research on early daily deal experiments among sports teams, and found that revenue from ticket sales plus supplemental revenue generated at the stadium averaged out to over $50K per deal — at least for those NBA teams that tried out daily deals. You’ll find more in the infographic below:



Justin.TV: The Movie

Posted: 10 Jul 2011 10:35 AM PDT


While the historical accuracy of Facebook tell-all The Social Network was questionable, the movie did tremendously well at the box office. And at the Golden Globe Awards and the Oscars. Now Hollywood producers are looking for the next big story around a tech company. Next up—Justin.TV.

LA-based production company Riche Productions has bought the rights to the story behind the development and founding of live video streaming startup Justin.TV. For background, the startup was founded by Justin Kan, Michael Seibel, Kyle Vogt and Emmett Shear, who were all buddies from college (Vogt went to MIT, the others graduated from Yale).

Prior to starting Justin.TV Kan and Shear founded an online calendar program Kiko, and even got funding from Y Combinator. Unfortunately the product failed and the pair sold the business on eBay for around $250,000.

Justin.TV got its start back in 2007 as Kan livecasted his life with a camera hooked up to a backpack that was loaded with batteries and modems, letting thousands of viewers watch his every move. It was basically the beginning of the live stream era. Even the Today Show took notice of Kan’s stunt .

Flash forwards four years, the Y Combinator-backed company has become one of the most popular live streaming platforms on the web. And Justin.TV has spawned a few businesses, including an Instagram for video, Socialcam, and a live-streamed gaming portal. You can watch our TC Cribs feature on Justin.TV’s office here.

So why did Riche Productions, which has produced Starsky and Hutch, Family Man, Bride Wars, and many other blockbuster movies, choose to buy the rights to the story of Justin.TV out of the thousands of other successful tech startups that have been launched by college kids? Peter Riche tells us in an exclusive interview that compared to some of the previous movies that have profiled tech startups (i.e. The Social Network), he wanted to find a story where success in the entrepreneurial tech world has helped bring founder friendships closer (as opposed to spurring lawsuits).

It’s true—despite the complications of founding a startup, and dealing with all of the challenges that fledgling businesses face in the tech space; Kan, Seibel, Vogt and Shear all remain close friends. And all are still actively a part of the company and involved in its day-today activities and development.

Riche says he still isn’t sure what will make sense for Justin.TV in terms of the format of a piece; and his company is evaluating whether a movie or TV show make sense.

While it’s impressive that the Justin.TV guys have been able to grow their friendship despite being on the roller coaster of creating and sustaining a startup, I have to wonder whether this would make a movie that would have the same appeal as The Social Network. I’m no filmmaker or screenwriter, but drama and conflict does seem important in developing a quality, dimensional film.

As my colleague Alexia Tsotsis wrote in her initial review of The Social Network, the movie was built around heavily dramatized controversy and the exposure of the cold, calculating (and fictional) Mark Zuckerberg. Despite the fact that Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the story included inaccuracies and fictional story lines, the drama, ruthless characters and arrogance were all part of what made the movie so fascinating to the mainstream public.

On the other hand, considering Riche’s experience in producing comedies, a comedic movie or TV adaptation of Justin.TV’s story could be interesting.

Would you watch a TV show or movie based around the Justin.TV story?



Power To The People

Posted: 10 Jul 2011 10:00 AM PDT

As I type this, a UPS beeps furiously behind me, over the growl of half-a-dozen diesel generators on the street outside. I’m in an Internet café in Leh, a city nestled in a Himalayan valley surrounded by 6,000-metre / 20,000-foot peaks, the fast-growing capital of India’s northernmost territory Ladakh. It’s clearly outgrown its electrical capacity; power cuts hit several times a day.

Power generation is a deeply unsexy but profoundly important subject in the developing world. Technology is busily transforming lives all around the globe even as you read this—but a dearth of reliable electricity is a massive obstacle even in major cities, much less faraway villages.

People do find various imperfect and ingenious ways to cope. I was once on a riverboat in Guatemala whose captain distributed newly powered phone batteries to inhabitants scattered along the river, and collected their old ones to charge when he returned to civilization. You’ll find stores selling small-scale solar power equipment in remote small towns throughout Uganda, and occasional microhydro generators in the Himalayas; and people everywhere burn through enormous (and toxic) amounts of scarce (and expensive) diesel to power generators when their lights go out.

But there has to be a better way: and, increasingly, there is. In particular, I’ve had my eye on Fenix International for awhile now. Their ReadySet battery has two cigar lighter and two USB outputs to charge radios, lights, and batteries, and can itself be recharged via solar, bicycle, or wall power. Plus, they’ve recently released a universal charger that can power up almost any lithium-ion battery via a USB plug. (I wish I’d known this before I’d set out on this trip; I could have left both of my camera-battery chargers at home.)

It gets better, and wackier. There is also this BioLite stove that charges your cell phone And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded $100,000 to a project that seeks to use soil microbes to power fuel cells, which, it is claimed, could be built from scratch, in a few minutes, for pennies. I have to confess I’m a little skeptical, but I’ll be watching with interest.

In the long run, of course, localized micropower projects aren’t enough for serious economic development; you need a sizable and stable electrical grid. But in the interim, a little power is a whole lot better than none, and can and does make a huge difference. So here’s hoping that those microbes are a megahit.



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