Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Analyzing And Reporting Data Only Sounds Like A Boring Chore – Wondergraphs Sexes It Up

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 09:16 AM PDT

Always a pleasure to find that there are innovative startups building really cool stuff in my own backyard. Meet Wondergraphs, a bootstrapped company that is building Web-based software that lets people do beautiful things with data. Suddenly, analyzing corporate – or publicly available – data and creating graphs for reporting purposes becomes much more exciting than what it sounds like.

The Wondergraphs tool lets you easily and rapidly upload data you want to base your reports on and churn out great-looking charts in a flash (video demo). The tool lets you aggregate, group and filter any data you throw at it, using drag-and-drop, and enables you to create clear charts on the fly.

You can simply import data from Microsoft Excel through copy/paste, via CSV files or straight from online services like Google Spreadsheets and Factual. To fit the needs of developers, Wondergraphs also links to database systems like MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQLServer and MS Access, and offers an API upon request to boot.

Any reports generated through Wondergraphs can be viewed online, or can easily be exported to Microsoft PowerPoint. The team is also building an impressive iPad app to add to the output line-up.

One caveat: to create reports and analyze data, one must have Flash player 10 installed, although Flash is not required for viewing reports.

Pricing varies from free to $25 per month or $100 per month for customers with lots of data to process (and they do have some current clients in that category)

Wondergraphs has offices in Leuven, Belgium and Sunnyvale, California.

The company has been developing its software for a few years now, and hasn’t raised a dime in outside funding yet. Wondergraphs co-founder and CEO Dirk Stevens tells me they’re currently looking for “the right type of early-stage investor” to step in and spur further growth.

I have a feeling investors – particularly the few seed investors we have here in Belgium – will soon be kicking themselves for not finding out about this particular startup before this post.



Google Staffing Up On Patent Lawyers And Experts

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 09:11 AM PDT

It’s no secret Google is searching for more patents to add to its portfolio. The search giant recently lost the bid for Nortel’s 6,000 mobile and wireless patents to a consortium of tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and Sony. As my colleague MG Siegler wrote at the time, Google controls less than 1,000 patents, which is low compared to some of its competitors. Google currently owns 701 patents in total whereas Microsoft was granted 3,121 patents last year. Unfortunately, because Google doesn’t own a large number of patents, the company will continue to be vulnerable to patent lawsuits.

Maybe that’s why Google is staffing up on patent lawyers, clerks and legal experts. On its legal job listings page, Google is looking to fill six patent-related positions including a patent agent, patent counsel, patent docketing clerk, patent litigation counsel, patent paralegal, and a strategic patent licensing and acquisitions manager.

For example, the strategic patent licensing and acquisitions manager evaluates and values potential patent acquisition and licensing opportunities, and negotiates these deals (a.k.a. finds more patents for Google).

Besides looking for new patent opportunities, Google also has a major patent lawsuit to deal with—the Oracle suit. In August Oracle sued Google over its Android mobile operating system, alleging that Google has infringed on seven Java patents related to the OS and its Dalvik virtual machine. Oracle is seeking an award in the billions from Google, and it’s undoubtedly bad news for Google and Android if Oracle wins this.

Photo Credit/Flickr/walknboston



Twilio’s Streamlined Shortcode API Now Open To All

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 09:08 AM PDT

The world of SMS and telephony is filled with logistical hurdles. San Francisco-based startup Twilio‘s goal is to make them a lot less daunting, by offering an API that lets developers send texts, place calls, and do other common functions using some basic and initiative commands. And today they’re opening a new portion of its API to the public: The Twilio SMS shortcode API.

Shortcodes, which are typically used for sending huge volumes of text messages, are nothing new, but the process involved to acquire one can be lengthy (and it requires a long term commitment). Twilio’s looking to help with this. It can’t make the process go any faster, but once a developer submits their application, Twilio will handle all the negotiations involved with the carriers. Developers can then get started building their apps using standard 10-digit numbers, and can then switch over to their new 5- or 6- digit shortcode once it’s approved.

The API has been available to developers for some time via a private beta program (Twilio says it’s already processed over 100 short code applications). But Twilio says that, as of the beginning of the year, there were over 1031 short codes still available in the US. That may not sound like a huge opportunity for Twilio (after all, Twilio already has tens of thousands of developers using its SMS API) , but there’s a lot of money involved for each shortcode.

Short code leases run $1500 per month for a custom code, or $1000 for one chosen at random — a chunk of these fees go toward acquiring licenses from organizations like the Common Short Code Administration. And customers also pay one cent per outbound and .5 cents per inbound text message sent via the API. Remember, these short codes are optimal for sending a lot of text messages, so those per-text charges can translate into a significant amount of money for Twilio. Twilio is also allowing developers to lease shortcodes on a per-quarter basis, as opposed to a standard annual contract.



TechCrunch Redesign: The Early Reviews

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:35 AM PDT

Since we launched the new TechCrunch redesign, we’ve been receiving a lot of feedback from our readers. We even provided a handy copy-and-paste template for your reviews. Some love it, some really hate it. The logo has become a Tetris game. Even Hitler weighed in.

The TechCrunch team is busy following the comments and critiques. While we have gotten a lot of positive feedback, here’s a look at some of the typical negative comments we’ve received:

  • Jesus christ the new techcrunch looks awful! wow i can't believe they would launch with it looking the way it does. ugggh.!
  • I really hate the redesign, and it's driving me away from Techcrunch. This is one of my favorite sites, and I tried to work with it, but really have been spending less time here since the change.
  • One word Unsubscribed
  • Absolutely terrible. The real content is just so burried now. I'd be careful about pissing some faithful readers off with this design.
  • What a crap site redesign, TechCrunch layout was better before this new junk, please turn back
  • The reputation of TechCrunch is in pretty grave jeopardy, and if I were an advertiser paying $7,500 a month, I'd be asking why the site I'm advertising on is now the black sheep of the design and tech world.
  • I really don't understand why this re-design was needed. I loved the old design better and got used to it. Sometimes companies do a re-design just because some internal frustrated Art Director wants to "do something new". I wonder how many would drink a new re-designed Coke if they decided to re-design the taste. now seriously, what was wrong before? did anyone complaint about the way the site looked? I personally liked it much better before.
  • Maybe it's because I'm used to the old design, but when I hit the homepage, my eyes don't know where to go. It's a bit frustrating.
  • The old design was a showcase of how great a website can look, this just looks plain mediocre
  • Gotta love how Arrington is beta testing on a live site
  • I'm sorry but I think I will only read the feed from now on
  • Just gross… looks like something I'd do, not something you hire a pro designer to do
  • Violates a lot of traditional usability
  • When I read everyone's comments (and I do, every single one), it makes me hate that techcrunch guy. I mean, really, really hate him.
  • For me TechCruch is all about the writing, the opinion and insight behind the headline, and the original format seemed to reinforce that.
  • Please I beg you guys put back the old design it was clean and not busy
  • The design is ugly. you guys had a great format before
  • I miss the old format dearly — that ease of reading the article direct and simple is sorely missed.

The logo has also been harshly criticized:

  • Like the new design, but not a fan of the new font used in the logo, bring the old one back!
  • Unfortunately, the first logo type was much more elegant.
  • PLEASE go back to the old design. I'm not sure why you changed your logo too
  • It's a little too white for my tastes (curse you Google!), and I miss the old TechCrunch logo a little (the new one is growing on me though, so ignore that complaint).
  • The only change I don't like: the logo.

Actually, all these comments are not about the latest TechCrunch redesign. They are earlier reviews to TechCrunch redesigns in 2008 and 2006. The criticism five years ago was so harsh the designer quit and Arrington wrote a post called “I’m an Asshole, and other breaking news.” (Dave, please stay with us!) Compared to those redesigns, the reaction to this one seems pretty mellow.

The website redesign that some commenters really hated 3 years ago turned out to be the same design they are sadly missing today. Some STFU is in order. I have a hunch history will repeat itself with the latest design. And whenever we have our next change, commenters will fondly miss today’s version.

The folks at ZURB have been reviewing TechCrunch redesigns past and present. Here’s their take on the freshly revamped site.

Note: As of now, you can’t see the old comments in the 2008 redesign post. But, we have saved them and hopefully they will re-appear soon.

Here’s a look at our past Designs.
2005

2006

2008



Virgin Mobile Confirms Price Changes, Will Drop BlackBerry Fees

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:28 AM PDT

Ah, last week — you’re but a distant memory now. Remember that one time when we all hung out and broke the news that Virgin Mobile was shifting up their plan prices, as well as dropping the mandatory $10-per-month fee for BlackBerry users? Yeah. Those were good times.

Virgin Mobile’s reminiscing a bit this morning, stepping back to confirm that the new plans we listed last week are, in fact, the real deal. To jog your memory:

  • The 300 minute plan, which was $25, will now be $35.
  • The 1200 minute plan, which was $40, will now be $45.
  • The Unlimited minute plan, which was $60, will now be $55 (!).
  • All plans still come with unlimited data, texting, and web.
  • BlackBerry users will no longer be charged the $10 a month BlackBerry fee.

These new plans will go live on July 20th.



This Wild Machine “Grows” Electronics

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:14 AM PDT

HumansInvent has an interesting piece on a laboratory at Oxford University that can “grow” electronics using a process called Molecular Beam Epitaxy. The system, which uses devices straight out of Dr. Bizarro’s Lab, creates a thin substrate of molecules and then builds it up over time, creating circuit boards, solar panels, and the like with lasers.

The system operates in a complete vacuum and can make almost any piece of electronics, including devices that can’t be made by hand.

James Holland writes:

A laser, for example, requires layers of material to be applied with molecular precision to a wafer, or substrate. It's the nature of that material which gives the laser its colour, and is the building block for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray and many other electronics.
Red lasers, like those used in CD and DVD players, are built on top of gallium arsenide wafers, while blue lasers for Blu-ray devices require a sapphire base on which to grow.

You can read more about the system here and check out photos below.

MBE-1-300x168 MBE-2-300x168 MBE-3-Stuart-Hooper-300x168


Hands On With The Sony S1 And S2

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:03 AM PDT

It’s official folks! That foldable dual-screen S2 tablet from Sony that we’ve been absolutely desperate to get our hands on is headed to AT&T. Of course, pricing and availability were missing from the press release, although Sony did promise that we would see the Android 3.0 Honeycomb-powered S2 “later this year.” We also got to go hands-on with both the S1 and S2, which was basically the most exciting part of my week.

We’ve never had a chance to see the S2 completely folded up, and its portability is something we’ve been wondering about. To give you some perspective, the S2 entered the stage from the breast pocket of an executive’s sport coat and was much smaller than I expected it to be. It would fit easily in a pocket, both pants and jacket, as well as a purse.

Unfortunately, Sony was super stingy about specs, but we did hear that this tablet will have both WiFi connectivity and 4G support from AT&T. However, there are a couple tidbits of new information that may be of interest. For one, Sony has implemented some new technologies on both the S1 (folding-design 10-incher) and S2 tablets. “Quick View” is a user-managed setting that helps load websites faster than your average tablet by loading pictures first, and java script afterwards. In a demo, an S1 with Quick View turned on loaded pages three to five seconds faster than an S1 with Quick View turned off. The other technology is called “Quick-Touch Panel” and is a special software that increases the perceptiveness of the touchscreen for both scrolling and multi-touch gestures.

The S2 will have access to Sony’s Qriocity media platform, with an e-reader app pre-loaded as well. We also learned that the S2 will be pre-loaded with Crackle, Pinball Hero and Crash Bandicoot. Both the S1 and S2 are Playstation-certified devices, so users will have access to genuine PS1 and PSP titles, with more information on what exactly will be available coming in August. All the core apps, as well as the pre-loaded apps, have been optimized for the S2′s 5.5-inch dual screens.

Owners of the Sony S2 will have the option to choose pre-paid and post-paid rate plans, rather than a contractual agreement with good ol’ big blue. Check out our hands on pictures with the S1 and S2 in the gallery below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Location-Based Q&A Platform Localmind Raises $600K

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Location-based Q&A platform and Robert Scoble’s 2011 SXSW favorite pick Localmind has raised $600,000 in angel funding led by Granite Ventures with Real Ventures, iNovia Capital, Ian Sobieski, Peter Bordes, Ty Danco, Zach Aarons, and Ash Jhaveri participating.

Localmind actually differs slightly from fellow Q&A apps like Opinionaided or Locql, because Localmind’s real-time, location-based platform sits on top of existing check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla. Localmind actually allows you to ask questions of users checked-in at any location or venue.

Users signup using their Foursquare, Gowalla, or Facebook Places account. Every time they check in with their location-based service on Localmind, they can be sent a question about that location. The startup’s iOS, Android and web app will show you who has checkin to a given location using LocalMind, and you can send questions about a venue to users.

Questions are sent to the user using a push notification or SMS. Users can send follow-up messages, and also accrue karma points for helping others. For example, you could use Localmind to find out how crowded the bar is, what the specials a restaurant is offering, or whether the local Starbucks has a line.

Localmind’s co-founder Lenny Rachitsky says that the platform, which launched at SXSW, took off at the convention because people wanted to know how long lines were at parties and which parties were fun. Currently, the apps collectively have 20,000 users, but is seeing a high rate of questions that are answered, with 70 percent of Localmind questions answered. Localmind also recently opened up its API to let startups leverage its realtime Q&A platform for their products.

The startup plans to use the new funding for hiring and product development.

Here’s the demo video Scoble took of Localmind at SXSW.



Microsoft Licenses GeoVector Patents For AR Navigation, Digital Watermarks

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 07:32 AM PDT

GeoVector just announced a partnership with Microsoft to bring their patented AR technology to Windows devices. The company specializes in AR-based navigation and has a special “building recognition” software that can identify sites based on their shape and size. For example, as you see in their patent info, you could point a phone at the capital and identify various buildings and tag them with URLs.

The company currently has an AR-based iPhone app called World Surfer that allows you to hold up a compass-capable phone to any scene and ID points of interest, stores, and restaurants.

According to a release, “Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has entered into a licensing agreement with GeoVector Corporation, the world leader in Augmented Reality and pointing-based local search solutions for mobile devices. The non-exclusive multi-year agreement gives Microsoft rights to use concepts covered by GeoVector's patents.”



Kindle 3G with Special Offers Sponsored By AT&T, Now Priced At $139

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 07:06 AM PDT

The Kindle 3G is now available for a lower price. That is if you don’t mind seeing AT&T ads. Amazon and AT&T just announced that two have teamed up to offer the Kindle 3G for $139. That’s a price drop of $50 off the retail model and $25 lower than the previous offer. All you give up are the standard literary greats screensavers for AT&T adverts. The rest of the Kindle 3G is the same. It’s the same e-ink screen, long battery life and slender design.

Amazon announced a few months back an ad-supported WiFi-only Kindle for $114.99 and then a $164 Kindle 3G. These models features ads placed at the bottom of the homescreen and sponsored screensavers as well.

"Kindle 3G is more convenient – customers never have to hunt for or pay for a Wi-Fi hotspot – they simply download and read books anytime, anywhere. Kindle 3G customers read 20 percent more books, and take advantage of twice as many special offers," said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon.com. "A big thank you to AT&T for helping to make the new $139 price possible."

"Kindle 3G is by far the fastest-growing connected device on the AT&T network. We consistently hear from customers how much they enjoy the freedom of not being tied to a Wi-Fi hotspot and instead being able to download and read new books anytime, anywhere on AT&T's fast, reliable network," said Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. "We are excited to sponsor Amazon's best Kindle – Kindle 3G with Special Offers – at the new lower price of only $139."

This might be what a lot of people have been waiting for. The Kindle 3G is the top of the line model, but previously, and I guess still does, featured a price just shy of $200 at $189. It can now be attained for $139. That $50 drop, just above 25%, might be significant enough to get more people off the fence and into the world of ereaders.



Initial Capital Launches to Invest in Seed Deals in Israel and Brazil

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 07:00 AM PDT

In February, we wrote about Lool Ventures a new Israeli seed fund looking to fill the country’s surprising void for true seed-stage funding and mentorship. Today, another one is launching. It’s called Initial Capital, but it has a strange twist: The firm will also be investing in seed deals in Brazil.

There aren’t many obvious synergies between those two markets. Israel has a deep entrepreneurial culture; while Brazil is only recently associating entrepreneurs with something other than the villains in telenovelas. Meanwhile, Brazil has a massive market full of domestic opportunities, while Israel typically has to build companies for other markets.

So what gives? Simply put, the team that’s come together around the firm happens to be located in Israel and Brazil, and they saw holes in both markets at the seed level. Initial Capital’s Israeli managing partner Roi Carthy will be a familiar name to readers. Carthy has been a long time contributor to TechCrunch and was most recently working at past Disrupt-winner Soluto as head of products. The Brazilian partner is Daniel Carneiro da Cunha, previously a partner at DealMaker, a Sao Paulo-based boutique M&A and advisory firm.

The structure of the firm is a bit different too. It doesn’t have a traditional, 10-year fund with limited partners; one single backer is putting up the capital, and there’s no set limit on how much the firm will invest. That backer is Elad Cohen, a low-key Israeli entrepreneur who founded Playtech, a publicly-traded software platform for online casinos.

The typical investment size will be in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, but the firm will have the capacity to write bigger checks if a company is doing well, Carthy says.

While Initial is only now officially launching the firm has already done three investments: iPad point-of-sale company Pose, video player plugin company Wibbitz, and iPhone baby monitor company Evoz.

The fund is good news for both countries. Brazil has a dearth of local early stage investors, particularly relative to the market opportunity. And while Israel has 30 times the venture capital per capita of Western Europe, several foreign investors have started to pull back on the market, as returns have waned over the last ten years. Israelis filling the void with new firms is great news for the market.



RIM Promises Seven New BlackBerries This Year

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:59 AM PDT

RIM announced at a shareholder’s meeting that they would release seven new models this year including the Bold 9900, the 9860 and 9850. We could also expect a new Curve and a new (shudder) Torch. We can also expect a 4G PlayBook by the fall.

RIM also admitted to failing to sell the PlayBook correctly at retail and admitted that it was their first “retail” product on the shelves and, as such, did not have the might of carriers behind it.

According to IntoMobile, RIM president Jim Balsillie closed the session by saying “If there's anything I can do to make you sleep better at night, I'll do it.”

Good on ya, Jim.

Img via Crackberry Kevin



Google AdSense Founder Raises Cash From Lerer Ventures And Others For Stealth Startup Scopely

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:50 AM PDT

Google AdSense co-founder Eytan Elbaz is announcing a round of funding from a group of all-star investors for his stealthy startup Scopely. Investors in the round (the amount of which was not disclosed) include Lerer Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Howard Lindzon, Terri Semel’s Windsor Media, David Cohen, Dave Tisch, Gil Elbaz, and Evan Rifkin.

For background, Elbaz co-founded Applied Semantics, which he sold to Google for $100 million in 2003. Applied Semantics ended up becoming Google AdSense, and Eytan stayed on as Head of Domain Channel for Google. He left Google in 2007 to pursue other projects.

Eytan declined to reveal exact details on what Scopely will focus on, but said that the startup will disrupt the social space that is “ripe for innovation.” He says that social networks have grown up quickly and Scopely’s product, which is being programmed in Node.js, will play in this arena. He adds that online advertising will play a part in Scopely as well.

The angel investment will be used for product development and expanding the engineering team. Currently, the Scopely team includes 12 senior engineers and product managers from companies including Playdom, MindJolt, Warner Brothers, and Saatchi and Saatchi. The startup is even offering some lucrative referral incentives in case you are interested.



Dear Netflix, Thanks For The Customers! Signed, Redbox

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:40 AM PDT

Talk about backlash. I’ve yet to see one comment anywhere supporting Netflix’s price hikes and for good reason. Netflix announced a new pricing scheme yesterday that effectively raised the price of a popular subscription plan by 60%. Instead of costing $9.99 for streaming and DVD rental, Netflix separated the services and priced them each $7.99, which results in a combined cost of $16.

But it’s not the $6 people are ranting about. Most of us would spend half of that amount on one silly coffee drink every day if we weren’t lactose intolerant. It’s that Netflix raised the prices without adding any value. There simply isn’t any way of spinning this as a benefit to the consumer and backlash is the result.

We all know the history of Netflix: The rent-by-mail DVD company morphed into the leader in streaming video and did so slightly ahead of the curve. VOD and streaming technology hit the big time a few years back, and Netflix embraced it from the start, producing apps for nearly every hardware platform available. There was suddenly less of an interest to wait for their DVDs when some of the content was available instantly.

But the DVDs still served an important function for some consumers as Netflix’s DVD library is about 5 times larger than its streaming library. In other words, the DVD served as a back-up device in case Netflix didn’t have a particular title available for streaming. It was worth the $2 per month additional cost — at least to me.

Then yesterday Netflix announced its new plans. Suddenly the cost to rent a DVD shot up, going from a nearly unnoticeable charge to almost double the cost. It didn’t make sense to keep the option and so I canceled it right away. Netflix’s own announcement email and blog post noted it’s easy to cancel, which, while honest, doesn’t inspire confidence in their pricing.

Instead, I believe I’ll be waiting in line up at Krogers to use Redbox’s DVD rental service the few times a year I need a particular DVD. I just wish I could see Netflix’s internal numbers. No doubt Netflix’s dedicated DVD customers will stick with them and continue to suck Netflix dry by renting countless DVDs every month. But I wasn’t costing Netflix any money; it was probably quite the opposite. Consumers like me — consumers who probably rented 2 DVDs last year — should have been valued by Netflix for paying for a service they rarely use. But instead they’ve drove us away. Oh well. Redbox is just as cheap and convenient and that’s all I care about anyway.



Apple Acquires iPhone4.com And WhiteiPhone.com Domain Names

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:29 AM PDT

In our ongoing quest to keep track of which domain names Apple owns – and doesn’t own – we picked this up over at Fusible: the Cupertino tech giant has apparently acquired the domains iPhone4.com and WhiteiPhone.com quite recently.

Both domain names have already been forwarded to the iPhone 4 product page, which apparently a lot of people mistake for a 4G phone (according to a Retrevo study).

As Fusible points out, Apple is not the owner of iPhone5.com, iPhone6.com, iPhone7.com (and so on) although it’s always possible they’re simply not interested in registering them or obtaining ownership by filing a dispute. They’ve never owned iPhone3GS.com or iPad.com either, by the way.

The iPhone 4 was introduced at WWDC on June 7th 2010 and is the most advanced smartphone currently sold by Apple (and, as I’m sure MG Siegler would argue, probably the most advanced smartphone, period). The white version of the device became available last April.



Amazon’s Endless.com Debuts Free International Shipping To 50+ Countries

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:11 AM PDT

Endless.com, the shoe and accessories website built and launched by ecommerce juggernaut Amazon back in 2006, this morning announced free international shipping on orders of $100 or more and $10 shipping on orders under $100 for customers in over 50 countries.

Customers from a variety of European countries to Bahrain, Malaysia, Mexico and New Zealand to Japan can now shop from a selection of shoe, handbag, jewelry, watch and designer styles for men, women and children with free shipping, bolstering the Amazon subsidiary’s ability to compete with local ecommerce sites.

Current worldwide Amazon.com customers can use their existing username and password to log in to Endless.com. More information is available here.



Pinger To Bring Free Texting To Europe With The Help Of Gamification

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:03 AM PDT

Pinger's disruptive Textfree service is heading to Europe, and it’s doing it with the help of hottest buzzword around: gamification.

Pinger has managed to build a huge userbase in the United States by offering free text messaging without any major catches: users are given their own, real phone numbers, and they can send and receive text messages with any phone. And, most important — the app works on the iPod touch, which doesn't otherwise have SMS functionality built-in. Pinger also launched a free voice calling service in December but lets users make free phone calls and earn minutes by completing basic offers. Pinger makes money off of these offers and by running ads in its mobile apps— to the tune of billions of impressions a month.

But the SMS situation in Europe makes international expansion a difficult affair. Cofounder Greg Woock explains that in the US, when a text message is exchanged both the sender and recipient 'burn' one of their texts — in other words, they're both paying for it. Things are different in Europe, where only the sender pays for the text. The recipient pays nothing, but the carrier of the recipient does pay the sender's carrier a few Euro cents. Yes, it's a little confusing.

Woock says that this model doesn't normally lend itself well to a free texting model, because Pinger could wind up owing carriers boatloads of cash if its users are receiving more texts than they're sending. We’re talking many many millions of dollars owed if it could build a userbase as sizable as the one they have in the US.

But Pinger came up with as solution: it's going to use game mechanics to ensure that users are sending and receiving the same number of text messages. That way Pinger will be paying European carriers the same amount the carriers are paying Pinger. The net result: Pinger can run a texting service that's free of charge, and it can place ads on top of it through its mobile applications, the same way it has in the US. In theory Pinger could actually use the game mechanics to ensure users are sending more texts then they’re receiving, which would wind up with Pinger actually making money from the carriers.

The game mechanics themselves sound pretty straightforward: users are presented with a meter that’s at 100% when you’ve sent and received an equal number of text messages. If you send a message, that percentage drops a bit. Receive one, and it goes up. Pretty easy.

But what happens when you’ve dropped to 40% and are worried about being able to send more texts? The trick, Woock explains, is to tap into your social graph (he says the company consulted with Zygna for advice on this front). Textfree will prompt users to post updates to their Facebook News Feed inviting their friends to send them text messages, which in turn will boost their meter. I’d imagine this would be a little weird to see initially (“hey guys, please send me text messages!”) but no more so than a Zynga game that prompts you to ask your friend for helping watering some virtual plants.

I asked Woock how the European carriers felt about the model. He says that all of the carriers they’ve spoken too have been very supportive and see an opportunity for incremental revenue. And he adds that Pinger has applied for patents on the meter system that drives the equal flow of texting.

Pinger’s mobile app will be launching in a small test in Germany in the coming weeks (they want to make sure the model works). Assuming that goes well, it will be expanding throughout Europe in the near future.



eBay And Rubbermaid Put $6 Million In Order Fulfillment Company Shipwire

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Shipwire, a company that offers retail businesses a service for order fulfillment, has received a strategic investment from e-commerce giant eBay and Newell Rubbermaid, the company behind the Calphalon, Rubbermaid and Goody brands. Existing investor
Meakem Becker Venture Capital also participated in the round. While the company declined to reveal the investment amount, we hear the round’s value is $6 million.

For online merchants, the process of selling and delivering a product can be complicated. Sellers need to know where all of their available inventory is at one time (a seller may have multiple channels where inventory is being shipped from). Once retailers knows where this inventory is, they have to display the lowest possible shipping rate to a buyer. The entire process can be complicated to automate via software. Instead, many merchants can outsource all of this Shipwire.

The company's SaaS platform gives businesses on-demand access to warehouses in the U.S., Canada and Europe allowing merchants to access inventory closer to buyers so that they can cut shipping costs and delivery times.

The startup’s newest product, Shipwire Anywhere, allows merchants to manage inventory and route orders to anyplace a seller has inventory stored e.g. a warehouse, garage, office closet, retail store, storage unit. The application essentially allow SMBs to manage orders and inventory regardless of where it is sold or where it is stored. The only cost associated with this inventory and order management software is the cost to actually print out the labels through Shipwire.

Shipwire is currently being used by Rovio to ship its Angry Bird merchandise.

eBay as a strategic investor is a big validation for Shipwire’s technology. And the investment is interesting considering that eBay’s competitor Amazon is also a competitor with Shipwire. Amazon offers its Fulfillment by Amazon service, which allows online merchants to outsource their shipping to Amazon's fulfillment centers. Interestingly, eBay is planning to launch its own fulfillment service later this year, and I wonder if Shipwire and eBay will become competitors when this happens (or eBay could just acquire Shipwire).

The new funding, says Shipwire, will be used for the expansion of the Shipwire global warehouse network into new countries, and for additional product development efforts.

As part of the investment, a Rubbermaid exec and Jean-Francois Van Kerckhove, Vice President and Head of Corporate Strategy at eBay, will join Shipwire’s advisory board. And the former president of FedEx Ground, Ivan Hoffman, will also join the Shipwire board of directors.



GENWI Launches iPad App Publishing Solution And Enhanced Mobile CMS

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

We first covered GENWI back in 2007, when the company was a social feed reader that allowed users to organize their content feeds by category and share with friends. GENWI has gone through several variations since, most notable among them the launch of iSites, a quick and easy mobile app development platform for iOS and Android, which led to a $1 million investment from Inventus and Quest Venture. Today, the startup is announcing a rebranding, which is really a return to the GENWI name, folding iSites and iSites.us into the GENWI umbrella.

The cloud-based smartphone and tablet app publishing platform continues is also continuing to push forward in the mobile app development space, today launching an iPad app publishing solution and mobile content management system (CMS). As the company’s evolution has led it to a focus on providing media publishers with tools to create and manage newspaper, magazine, and catalog apps for iOS and Android, the iPad app solution is a logical extension to prior platform iterations — especially with the escalating adoption of tablets, specifically the iPad, as a content production tool and a source for some of the best (and most well designed) media apps.

As such, GENWI’s iPad platform will allow publications and media companies (and everyone in between) to create cloud-backed iPad apps on the fly. According to GENWI Co-founder Raju Sagiraju, the solution is customizable and offers a branded experience for publishers. Adding new content and updates to apps is obviously extremely important to publishers, so GENWI’s solution offers flexible client architecture, just as it provides optimized templates and themes (a la WordPress) that enable businesses to shorten the app design process and duration.

To that end, GENWI also offers an “Advanced Option”, which allows publishers to perform custom design development using HTML5 and CSS to create a unique design experience from scratch. With these tools in place, the solution’s goal is to provide media publishers, broadcasters, etc., with a platform that allows them to turn their print publications, newsletters, and podcasts into customized apps.

As to the new mobile CMS, or mCMS as GENWI is calling it (apparently under trademark), allows publishers to add content in a bunch of different formats, including Media RSS, iTunes RSS, ATOM, XML, Restful APIs, CSV, InDesign, and PDF. The mCMS then aggregates content from these sources in realtime and pushes them out over the mobile landscape in such a way that is intended to be device-specific. And, like any other CMS, GENWI enables publishers to curate the aggregated content for each device.

GENWI is currently serving 1,500 active apps on the iPhone and Android smartphones, from more than 30K publishers, according to Sagiraju. But, what will likely be most appealing to publishing companies and their developers is that GENWI apps do not have to be resubmitted to app stores for reapproval, and users don’t have to upgrade apps when small tweaks are made to the app’s design. This, then, is essentially akin to the capabilities of a SaaS product in the web space — a useful enhancement to the mobile app development space to be sure.

Among other features, the GENWI platform also includes built-in monetization features like an ad and coupon management, analytics, and in-app subscriptions based on the iTunes payment system.

In terms of cost, Sagiraju said that this will depend on usage and app interactions, but an iPad, iPhone, Android, and HTML5 app can be developed and launched at about $500 per month. This would include a limited version of GENWI’s mCMS, with advanced features and higher levels of usage involving further fees. Depending on the size of the publisher, these fees could hamstring them a bit, but many will likely be willing to pay for the ability to easily manage and publish apps across platforms.

Check it out and let us know what you think.



Atlassian’s Bonfire Allows Developers To Quickly Test Applications For Bugs

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:58 AM PDT

Product development software company Atlassian is releasing a new offering today, called Bonfire, which allows developers to perform rapid-fire testing and reporting of web applications for bugs.

Bonfire, a web plug-in, integrates with Atlassian’s bug and issue tracker JIRA, and essentially allows developers to test web applications and report any bugs while on the same page as the application, without leaving the screen. With Bonfire, developers can submit bugs directly from the browser, add annotated screenshots with each bug, and setup test sessions to track activity against a requirement or user story.

Bonfire users can also create bug report templates to pre-populate meta-data and repetitive content from reporting, and the plug-in works in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE. Bonfire free for 30-days but will then be $10 for 10 users.



Is Sony Ditching Component Video On Future PS3 Models?

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:57 AM PDT

Component video’s glory days are behind it. Sony might even be getting rid of it on future PS3 models. But, if this is true, it’s likely more to do with the Blu-ray’s restrictions than Sony’s hatred of the average consumer.

Kotaku posted a screenshot of what is supposed to be info on a new PS3 release. The important thing to note is the statement that indicates the PS3 will no longer support HD video over component. Instead, consumers are going to have to use HDMI, thus this retailer memo states that the salesmen should sell an HDMI cable every time. (that sounds about right)

As long as Blu-ray has been around, the industry has fought over its DRM scheme. The latest revision, which applies to all players sold after December 31, 2010, states that Blu-ray analog video output must be limited to interlaced standard definition. (480i/576i) Then no player sold in 2013 can output encrypted video over analog sources like component at all. Note: The retailer’s memo doesn’t say that the PS3 will ship without component outputs but rather component outputs will not be able to transmit HD videos and thus probably has to do with the AACS Final Adopter Agreement. That doesn’t mean that Sony won’t drop component support altogether in the future.

HDMI is now the golden child, capable of passing a higher quality video single and HD audio over its one, easy to use cable. Movie studios and the like favor HDMI for its robust DRM support. Where analog video, like component video, can be captured from countless retail devices, it’s notable harder to do so with HDMI. They like the control.



Sony’s 3D Experience Brings Free On Demand 3D Programming To Sony Bravia HDTVs

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:36 AM PDT

Sony has long been on the front lines of the 3D adaption battle. The latest release is a small, but still important part of the 3D ecosystem as it address the current lack of content. Plus it’s free.

Sony’s 3D Experience is at it’s core a novelty. It’s nothing more than trailers, promotional video clips and trial content. But the service, which is free and accessible with a high-speed internet connection through a Bravia HDTV, allows users to see and experience 3D content as soon as they hook up the TV. It’s instant gratification in 3D!

Previously, owners would be roped into buying a 3D set complete with the experensive 3D glasses only to get the TV home from Best Buy and have nothing to watch in 3D. Now they can hook up the TV, don the glasses, and experience 3D content like the Green Horent trailer, highlights from the FIFA 2011 Women's World Cup Germany or promo clips from 3net, Sony, Discovery, and IMAX’s 3D station. The plan, at least according to the note we received this morning, is to “further expand the content line-up and promote "3D Experience" among content holders as a forum through which to showcase their 3D offerings”

3D Experinece launches today in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and France and can be accessed only on 3D capable Sony Bravia LCD TVs.



DJ Solutions Company Scratch Music Group Raises $3.3 Million

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:24 AM PDT

Music and technology company Scratch Music Group, which provides DJ services and operates a DJ and music production learning center co-developed with Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, has raised $3.3 million in funding.

Contour Venture Partners led the financing round – the company’s first – with additional funding from the New York City Investment Fund and angel investors Jason Finger and Todd Arky, of SeamlessWeb, and Jacob Pechenik, co-founder and CEO of YellowJacket Software.

Founded a decade ago, Scratch Music Group has become one of the leading service providers in the DJ space, representing over 700 DJs across the United States.

To date, the company says, Scratch has provided DJs for more than 15,000 events and over 50 national tours for brands, including MTV, Vans, Bloomingdale’s, ESPN, Pepsi and H&M. Over the past year, the company has expanded its services into the wedding market, offering couples a mix of customer service, personalized music choices, social network-enabled playlist software and more.

Scratch plans to use the proceeds of this financing to fund the growth of its Scratch Weddings business in addition to its Scratch DJ Academy, Scratch Events and Scratch Software businesses.

Scratch Music Group recently moved its corporate headquarters to the iconic Village Voice building in Manhattan’s East Village. The company also has offices in Miami and Los Angeles.



Video: Japanese Robot Talks Like A Human

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:03 AM PDT

We’re one step closer to the Robocalypse: a research team at Japan’s Kagawa University has developed a robot that’s able to “speak” like a human being. While talking robots are not new by any means, this model isn’t using software but a set of mechanical, human-like vocal organs, for example artificial vocal chords or a tongue and lips that are made of silicone.

The key element to make the robot speak like a human is an air compressor: the robot uses a set of pressure and control valves, eight resonance motors, and a resonance tube (the throat) to convert airflow into sounds. Those sounds are then recorded via a mic, collected and passed on to be processed by a computer to make them as human-like as possible.

Here’s a short video of the robot in action:

Here’s a longer one:

Via Japan Trends and Akihabara News



Visually Launches To Automate The Making Of Infographics

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 04:55 AM PDT

The whiz kids behind Mint’s infographics, Stewart Langille and Lee Sherman are today launching the first startup that solely focuses on mass producing infographics, Visually. Users who visit Visually this morning can see over 2000 infographics uploaded by designers like Jess3 and Dave McCandless as well as upload their own in a myriad of topics ranging from Science to Sports to the Economy.

In its first launch iteration, Visually has partnered up with The Atlantic, GOOD Magazine CNNMoney.com, Ebay, The National Geographic and others to provide infographics content in exchange for sharing links — On Visually each participating publication gets to upload its own graphics, which are embedded and shared using an code generated by Visually.

Visually plans on monetizing eventually by letting publications subscribe to its offerings via a monthly fee. “Everyone needs to create a graph or a chart or something, and the software that’s currently out there is more focused on business intelligence” Langille says. “There is a definite need to create simple visualizations for people. Within three clicks you can create visualizations for the sites.”

Langille hopes with Visually to create a community of designers a la Dribbble or Forrst, but also hopes to rope in infographic producers that are concerned with issues like exposure and monetization. If and when the basic infographics part of the site includes advertising he wants to incorporate artist friendly business practices like revenue sharing.

In addition to letting people upload and download infographics today, Visually has created a Twitterize Yourself widget that allows Twitter users to compare themselves against celebrities like Lady Gaga and Michael Arrington and create an infographic out of the experience. While there isn’t much practical benefit from this, it is pretty delightful.

This automated process is a harbinger of Visually product developments to come, as eventually Langile is about to introduce an interface where customers will be to be able to enter in data and have the visuals come out, with the choices of various artist’s styles baked in to the service.

The duo have almost 500K in seed funding to make this dream come true. Langille tells me, “It’s already the largest collection of infographics on the web.” Nice.



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