Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Facebook, Twitter Saw Record Numbers Of U.S. Visitors In July

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 09:06 AM PDT

facebook

comScore’s July traffic numbers are out and similar to June’s findings, Facebook and Twitter both saw record traffic in terms of U.S. unique visitors in the month. In July, Facebook saw a whopping 162 million unique visitors, compared to 160.8 million unique vistors in June, and 157.2 million uniques in May.

Twitter also posted record traffic in its five year history; with 32.8 million unique U.S. visitors in July, up from 30.6 million unique visitors in June, and 27 million unique vistors in May. As we’ve noted in the past, the steady increase in traffic is a big deal for Twitter, which splits traffic between its own mobile clients and the many third-party clients that are used to access the network. And Twitter just completed the switch from the old web interface to its redesigned, feature-rich web app.

LinkedIn, which saw a traffic spike post-IPO, dipped slightly in terms of unique U.S. visitors in July, seeing 32.5 million unique visitors in the month compared to 33.9 million unique visitors in June. MySpace continued to bleed traffic, with 32.8 million unique visitors in July (tied with Twitter), down from 33 million in June.

While we once thought that Facebook and Twitter would duel it out for users and traffic, clearly that’s not the case anymore. Facebook’s U.S. traffic is five-fold to Twitter visitors. Twitter isn’t ‘killing’ Facebook, or vice versa, as Twitter is still growing in terms of traffic.

But with the new kid on the block, Google+ steadily gaining users, it should be interesting to see if the search giant’s social network will reach Twitter’s traffic. Already there are signs that Google+ traffic is slowing, but it’s still early and that could change.



Company:
COMSCORE
IPO:
3/4/2007, SCOR

“comScore is a global Internet information provider to which leading companies turn for consumer behavior insight that drives successful marketing, sales and trading strategies. comScore's experienced analysts work closely with...

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Weekend Wacky Jumble Picture: What’s Wrong With This TouchPad Ad?

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 07:41 AM PDT

scaled.2011-08-20_21-38-08_562 (1)


Hey, Kids! Can you find four things wrong with this advertisement in a 6th Ave Electronics flyer? Turn your screen over for answers!

sıɥʇ ɹoɟ ɹǝʌo uǝǝɹɔs ɹnoʎ uɹnʇ ʎןןɐǝɹ noʎ pıp ˙4
˙ʇno pןos ʎןqɐqoɹd s,ʇı ˙3
˙ʇı puıɟ uɐɔ noʎ uǝɥʍ 66$ sʇsoɔ ʇı ˙2
˙ɯɹoɟʇɐןd pǝןıɐɟ ɐ ‘soqǝʍ sunɹ ʇı ˙pɐdɥɔnoʇ ɐ sıɥʇ ˙1

[Thanks, Evan!]




ItsAlmo.st Time For A Decent Countdown Tool

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 07:16 AM PDT

itsalmost

There are a number of online apps that let you create a timer that counts down to a given date and time, but frankly, most of them suck. Enter itsalmo.st, an appropriately named Web-based tool that lets you quickly and easily create a countdown for essentially anything (e.g. Doomsday) and provides you with you a custom URL to share with your friends.

The app, which was hacked together last week by Type/Code, is squeaky-clean and works as advertised (above is a screenshot of the countdown to TechCrunch Disrupt SF).

You can’t tell from the screenshot, but a bar at the bottom of the screen lets you access all the countdown URLs you’ve created, start a new one or share it on Twitter or Facebook instantly.

A couple of suggestions for the guys who built it to make it even better:

- there’s a whole world outside of the United States and people who live there might be interested in using your handy little tool as well. Perhaps those users could be given an option to change settings somehow, so they can mark the date and time the way they’re used to.

- the bar at the bottom is pretty hard to notice at first glance – consider moving it up top, changing the color scheme to make it stand out and placing default, recognizable Twitter and Facebook sharing buttons under the timer once users have created a countdown.

- let people edit and thus decide what the countdown URL looks like.

- without touch the clean look, consider some themes for people to customize their countdowns.

- consider making countdowns embeddable and/or available as a spiffy widget.

You know you’ve made an app that brings value when users want to see it improved. Nice work.




How Discovery Will Drive Transactions

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 06:33 AM PDT

window shopping

Editor's note: Guest contributor Semil Shah is an entrepreneur interested in digital media, consumer internet, and social networks. He is based in Palo Alto and you can follow him on twitter @semilshah.

All year, I’ve heard some variation of this phrase: “A big shift, from search to discovery, is underway online.” I’m still figuring out what this means. I’d like to share my thoughts on it, and I’d like to hear what “discovery” on the web means to you.

First, I do not believe that there is a “shift” from search to discovery. “Shift” isn’t the right word, because people will continue to search based on specific intent for years. Second, although discovery won’t replace search outright, discovery can impact it significantly by changing how and/or where we search. Third, there are two types of discovery that matter: (1) discovery that leads to a transaction; and (2) discovery that does not end in a transaction.

With this working definition of online “discovery,” perhaps we can now say: “A big shift underway is that the act of discovery could come online, could impact how we search, and could help drive transactions.

Before social networks solidified, when we bought something online, it was likely the decision process that kicked off that transaction began offline (browsing Amazon and eBay for the fun of it notwithstanding). Discovery largely originated in the real world. Now that more folks are online (and logged into various social networks), the top of the “decision funnel” is starting to originate for many online, not offline. In other words, the origin of a decision to purchase something may be triggered while we’re online, most likely because we are actively interacting with or passively observing someone we know (friend) or someone we’re interested in (follow).

As discovery comes online, it certainly won’t replace search, but it could impact it over time. One of the main challenges is our current online behavior. Google is so effective at helping us find relevant information that skeptics caution that even if a user discovers something online to buy, he or she will likely visit Google to find it. Therefore, in order for discovery to have a meaningful impact, social networks that help users discover things by using data to personalize and target information, will also have to create strong incentives for users not to jump over to Google to satisfy their intent and find a way to make a purchase.

For instance, if the system knew what item we discovered, could it recognize the item and provide pricing options and store destinations, like a targeted advertisement? What if the user who helped another person discover something gets a piece of the search revenue? In this scenario, a user theoretically wouldn’t have to visit Google because the conversion from discovery to search to transaction would happen in-house. The site that ignites discovery would be rewarded with that search revenue, but in order to make a real impact, discovery would need to happen at scale for many people. That could take a while.

If discovery can scale, change behavior, and drive a different type of transaction in the future, could the transactions also be streamlined?

Say you’re on Facebook or Twitter. A friend appears in your feed, excited about a new album he’s purchased. This friend influences your own taste in music. Facebook or Twitter identifies the album and presents three options on the right rail for you to purchase the album from iTunes. You want to buy the album, and what if you could just click one button (like “Apply Facebook Credit”) and let Facebook or Twitter drive the transaction and settle payment through services like Sell Simply or Gumroad while you draw from another site’s inventory? In this scenario, the user discovers and purchases something in one swoop, never really leaving the site and bypassing traditional search.

All this won’t happen overnight, though it is undeniably underway. As someone begins to form a thought about a purchase and discovers something to buy, social networks provide extremely strong signals and filters that could influence and accelerate purchasing decisions. Learning about a new product from the right person at the right time within the right context, such as interests (explicit or implicit) or location (mobile), could bring the entire decision-making process online, from discovery to search to payment entirely within one site. The possibilities are so great, which is why sites like Pinterest, Everlane, and Svpply, among others, have generated so much interest from users and investors.

Ultimately, all of this will come down to what users find more convenient or delightful. While a user may want to hunt Google for the cheapest price for a product, he or she may be willing to pay a bit more if the product is recommended by someone they know and if they have reasonable assurance that they’re getting a fair price from a recommended merchant. Or, a user may prefer to stumble upon something new to purchase or impulse buy without ever going through the entire “normal” online decision process. With so many options for every little item, the noise and offers can be overwhelming, and true discovery can help both sides of the market find better signals.

Beyond this, it’s hard to predict just what will happen, or how long it will take to unfold. This is just one point of view. What does online discovery mean to you, and how do you see it evolving on the web?

Photo credit: Cougar



Company:
GOOGLE
Launch Date:
7/9/1998
IPO:
25/8/2004, NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of...

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Company:
PINTEREST
Launch Date:
2010

Pinterest is a social catalog service. Think of it as a virtual pinboard — a place where you can post collections of things you love, and “follow” collections created...

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Company:
SVPPLY
Launch Date:
10/2009
Funding:
$550k

Svpply is a social shopping site. The site allows you to register, start keeping track of products you like. Based on your friends on twitter and facebook you will...

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(Founder Stories) Kevin O’Connor: Having An “Exit Strategy Is Total Bullshit”

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 05:45 AM PDT

Kevin O'Connor

Chris Dixon wraps up his interview with FindTheBest (and DoubleClick) co-founder, Kevin O’Connor by asking him about his end goal for FindTheBest. O’Connor responds that an “exit strategy is total bullshit,” he is simply doing what he loves doing and notes that if you solve a big problem “you end up with lots of options.”

O’Connor also suggests that people are actually using the social web less intensely as its novelty fades and it becomes a regular part of their web experience.

As the interview concludes in the video below, Dixon inquires about O’Connor’s distribution channel for his “decision-making engine,” FindTheBest. They discuss how all the attempts to game Google makes it harder to be discovered. O’Connor tells Dixon most of his early efforts are directed towards SEO. Recognizing SEO’s flaws (with people trying to manipulate the system) O’Connor notes Google’s attempts to clean up SEO with Panda and says that Panda improved FindTheBest’s results by “25%” the day after Panda launched.

At about 4:25 into the video Dixon notes that the market FindtheBest is in has become flooded with B2C web sites. Dixon asks O’Connor if he worries “that there is so much noise out there that it makes it harder for you to compete?”

O’Connor responds, “our competitors are 10,000 niche sites, we literally do everything from summer camps to fractional aircraft programs to mercury levels in fish.” He goes on to say that their competitive advantage lies in the breadth of categories they compare and the big winner in the space will be “whoever can amortize their R&D expense across the biggest base.” He ends by saying, “for us to enter any one of these individual markets actually turns out to be very inexpensive.”

Make sure to watch episodes III and III of Dixon’s interview with Kevin O’Connor. Prior Founder Stories episodes here.



Company:
FINDTHEBEST
Launch Date:
5/2009
Funding:
$6M

FindTheBest, based in Santa Barbara, CA, and New York City, is an unbiased, curated, decision-making engine that gives users the ability to search through a broad range of topics—from...

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The Daily Show On How Chain Bookstores Can Compete With The Internet

Posted: 20 Aug 2011 04:36 PM PDT

Borders’ bankruptcy this summer has further underscored a major shift in the way people consume the written word, namely in pixels as opposed to print. As our chain brick and mortar bookstores inevitably go the way of our chain brick and mortar video stores and record stores, the ever-sharp Jon Stewart and author (and PC-dude) John Hodgman mull over various ways bookstores can stay competitive (video, above).

Their verdict: Don’t hold your breath.

John Hodgman: We have to face facts, Jon. The big-box bookstore has passed into history. And that's something we should embrace and be proud of. By preserving Borders as a popular historical attraction.

Jon Stewart: Like, uh, colonial Williamsburg?

John Hodgman: Well yeah, exactly! Bring the kids down to Ye Olde Borders Towne! Let them see what it felt like to paw through a clearance bin of Word-a-Day calendars. Or sneak a peek at pornography printed on actual paper! Right there on the giant rack of weird magazines you've never heard of. Including my personal favorite, Bookstore Magazine Rack Aficionado magazine.

Jon Stewart: You know, I think a bookstore preserve might appeal to a — a very small market.

John Hodgman: Well, it can't be smaller than the market of people who buy books.

Ba-dum ching.

Via/ Beyond Black Friday




Review: Energizer Dual-Zone Inductive Charging Pad

Posted: 20 Aug 2011 03:00 PM PDT

Energizer

Short Version: Energizer's Inductive Charging pad gets rid of the wires, looks nice, and just makes getting your charge on easier. Unfortunately, the accessories needed to use the charging pad make your phone fat and ugly.

Features:

  • Qi charging technology
  • Compatible with iPhone 3G/3GS/4 and BlackBerry Curve 8900
  • Dual-zone MSRP: $89.00
  • Single-zone MSRP: $54.99

Pros:

  • Qi: the universal standard for inductive charging (read: your next phone will likely be supported, too)
  • NO WIRES!!! (except the one that plugs in the pad)
  • USB port for additional charging

Cons

  • Takes a bit longer to charge than a wired method
  • The cases are fugly (at least my iPhone 3GS case was)
  • The price isn't super attractive, but Qi is, so that's mostly forgiven

Long Version:

Energizer's Inductive Charger is a top-notch charging accessory, no doubt. It was a piece of cake to get it unboxed and ready to roll, and it looks mighty nice on my book shelf. As far as design goes, it's light and pretty thin, and it's got a nice silver lining to mix it up amidst all the black. Then again, I get this feeling every time I set my phone down on the pad that I'm somehow a part of the future, yet the hardware doesn't really embrace that. It's not especially sleek or innovative in design, and I could do without those massive Qi symbols.

The case is its own beast, with its own pros and cons. Its major +1 would be the fact that you can toss your phone down on a pad and it's automatically charging. But that's really just a pro for the system as a whole. The cases, at least my iPhone case, added quite a bit of beef to the size of my phone. If I've learned anything about technology in my short 23-year life, it's that "thin and light" is where the money's at, while "bulky and heavy" is a serious no-no. Past that, the case really doesn't provide any protection for your phone, despite the fact that it seems thick enough to stop a bullet. If you drop your phone while it's in the case, you not only run the risk of busting your phone, but you could also mess up the case. And then where would you be?

All three cases — the iPhone 4, iPhone 3G/3GS and BlackBerry Curve 8900 — cost $34.99.

The charging pad features LED lights above both charging areas to let you know that your phone is in fact connecting to the device and receiving a charge. The Dual-Zone charger even has an extra USB port along the backside to give our gadget-packing friends an extra charging option. The Singe-Zone charger, which will launch later this year, does not have the extra USB port. This is also a magnet-free inductive charger, which means that you don't have to worry about exact placement when you plop down your phone. As long as it's in the right general vicinity, it'll charge.

Now to talk about Qi: First of all, it's pronounced "Chee," and it is the new universal standard for inductive charging. Anything that requires 5 watts of power or less (phones, iPods, cameras) can work with Qi technology and that will be our primary method for inductive charging going forward. That means you won't need a new charger when you upgrade to a new phone. All you'll need is the proper accessory (unless of course your cool new phone features Qi technology already, which it very well may).

As far as performance is concerned, it took me 3 hours, 23 minutes to get my phone charged using Energizer's Inductive charging pad. With a wired connection, it usually takes me an hour, maybe a little more if it's completely dead. Obviously, there's a big difference there. Time is money and nobody has three hours to wait around for a phone to charge. My fear is that because it takes so long, owners of the Energizer charging pad will resort to charging their phone through the night. This is also a serious no-no. Letting your phone stay plugged in after it's fully charged only kills your battery, and I'm sure no one needs any extra issues with battery life.

Conclusion: In the end, what you win with this device is also what you lose. You get the added convenience of a wire-free charge but the inconvenient three-hour wait to go from dead to a full battery. It really all depends on what you hate more: wires or waiting.



Company:
ENERGIZER
Launch Date:
4/2000

Energizer is to provide consumers with solutions to their portable power and personal care needs better than anyone else, and in a manner that rewards all stakeholders: consumers,...

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Revenge Of The Killer Script Kiddies!

Posted: 20 Aug 2011 11:01 AM PDT

minor-threat

They’re out there. Be afraid. They could be anywhere, everywhere, anyone. They are shadowy, deadly, mysterious, guided by intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic. Security consultants and antivirus firms whisper legends of them to their clients to scare them straight. They are the Voldemort of online security, except that everyone is all too eager to say their name: the Advanced Persistent Threat. Hide your children! You cannot stop them!

…well, actually you probably could, and pretty easily too, but apparently most folks can’t be bothered.

Vanity Fair just wrote breathlessly about “Operation Shady RAT”, which featured “a species of malware that had never been seen before: a spear-phishing e-mail containing a link to a Web page that, when clicked, automatically loaded a malicious program—a remote-access tool, or rat—onto the victim's computer.” Military-industrial standard-bearer Northrop Grumman is “constantly under attack by cyber-gangs.” A few months ago Security firm RSA’s SecurID systems were the victim of “an advanced persistent threat, a slow and consistent attack used by hackers to obtain specific information.” The Pentagon is alive to the APT threat, and says it is beginning to focus more on deterrence than on defence, because “each year, a volume of intellectual property exceeding the size of the Library of Congress is stolen from U.S. government and private-sector networks.” Why, just this week, San Francisco’s government-owned BART system was hacked by—

…waaaaaait a minute.

One can never be sure, particularly in this arena, but it seems that BART’s police database was hacked by … a teenage French girl, who reported: “They had zero security.” Here’s the link she allegedly used to hack them. Don’t worry, it’s no longer active. Take a good look at that URL. Remind you of anything? It should, if you’re an XKCD reader:

Ah, SQL injection, that old canard. But wait, it gets even worse:


Michael Meehan
BART's been hacked and it looks like they stored user passwords as plain text. Looks like they missed the class on Security 101 #opBART

Seriously? Seriously? Plaintext? Who runs security for these jokers, Mr. Bean?

OK, so maybe the BART hack was a script kiddie enabled by morons. But what about “Shady RAT”? So glad you asked. Vanity Fair’s clueless hyperbole makes it sound like no one in the history of the Internet had ever sent an email that linked to a page with a browser exploit before. Earth to their editors: you’re about a decade-and-a-half behind the times. The attacker then used steganography to communicate with the compromised machines. Ooo, steganography, scary and hard to pronounce! Sure, that might have been amazingly sophisticated…ten years ago.

The RSA hack worked in exactly the same way: emails to employees with an enticing-looking attachment, plus a zero-day Flash vulnerability. And the tech media went crazy about the deadly APT attack on a security company. Are you kidding me? That’s an example of an “advanced persistent threat”? Adobe products are legendary for their insecurity. If that’s an APT, so was News Corporation’s kindergarten-tech-level hacking of cell phones.

But don’t just take my word for it: "Is the attack described in Operation Shady RAT a truly advanced persistent threat? I would contend that it isn't, especially when you consider the errors made in configuring the servers and the relatively non-sophisticated malware and techniques used in this case," says Symantec security researcher Hon Lau. Or as IT World trenchantly put it, re APT attacks in general: “The striking thing is sophistication of the excuses of victims, not the techniques of crackers … Only 3 percent of attacks were considered too slick for the victims to have been able to stop. That leaves 97 percent of data breach victims trying to find something other than themselves to blame.

There are genuine, sophisticated, brilliant black-hat hackers out there. Some of them work in groups. Some even work for nation-states and militaries, including, very likely, the people who hacked Google eighteen months ago. But most hacks are made possible because the victims allowed them; and we shouldn’t forget that security companies have every incentive to make the dangers seem as deadly and sophisticated as possible.

Organizations everywhere put up full-spectrum firewalls, draft byzantine and Kafkaesque security policies, send delegates to security conferences to talk very seriously in hushed voices about APTs, and make endless pointless and/or disastrously counterproductive demands in the name of security theatre, such as forcing people to use impossible-to-remember passwords

while storing those incomprehensible passwords in plaintext on databases vulnerable to URL SQL injection, as their employees open poisoned attachments sent by strangers. That’s like being so worried about whether an enemy nation-state has fired a cruise missile at your house that you forget you left your car parked overnight with the door open and the keys in the ignition. In Oakland. Worrying about APTs directed by, say, China is very sexy—if blatantly sinophobic—these days, but maybe organizations shouldn’t start worrying about the enmity of the Middle Kingdom until they’ve first established their ability to handle bored teenage French girls with a bone to pick.

Image credit: “Public Enemy / Minor Threat”, believekevin, Flickr.




Gillmor Gang 8.20.11 (TCTV)

Posted: 20 Aug 2011 10:00 AM PDT

Gillmore Gang test pattern

The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, Seth Goldstein, John Taschek, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — sat in awe of Apple’s massive hammerlock on the tablet market. What the New York Times called 97% of the purchased category became crystal clear as HP folded its cards and went home to an uncertain future. @seth, founder of the viral music startup turntable.fm, seemed as thrilled with Spotify as he was with his own service. A complementary handoff from discovery to living in the new groove, with a tablet product on the way to supplement third party placeholders.

The session had a soft rhythm of exploration and dumbfounded amazement at what HP and RIM and Nokia were thinking when they jumped in with tablets for the remaining 3%. Did they have to try at least once before abandoning the PC, or play off the remaining 3 or 4 years on enterprise contracts, or believe in Windows Phone and Android activations? It would be laughable if real money weren’t involved, but instead these companies will have to turn to the record companies of all people for clues about how to finally make a transition into the Cloud. Or as @scobleizer pronounced it, iCloud.

@stevegillmor, @jtaschek, @seth, @scobleizer, @seth



Person:
STEVE GILLMOR

Steve Gillmor is a technology commentator, editor, and producer in the enterprise technology space. He is Head of Technical Media Strategy at salesforce.com and a TechCrunch contributing editor. Gillmor previously...

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Person:
JOHN TASCHEK
Companies

John Taschek is vice president of strategy at salesforce.com. He is responsible for corporate product strategy, corporate intelligence and market influence. Taschek came to company in 2003, bringing over...

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Person:
KEVIN MARKS
Website:

Kevin Marks is a software engineer. Kevin served as an evangelist for OpenSocial and as a software engineer at Google. In June 2009 he announced his resignation....

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Robert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. He is best known for his popular blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical...

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Person:
SETH GOLDSTEIN
Website:

Seth creates and invests in really awesome companies. Most recently he and Billy Chasen created turntable.fm, an addictive social music service. In 1995, Seth founded Sitespecific, which pioneered online advertising solutions...

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