Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Pixable Adds Twitter To Intelligent Social Photo And Video Aggregator

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:59 AM PDT


Pixable, a startup that develops sleek social photo creation and categorization tools, is integrating images from Twitter into its intelligent social photo and video aggregation service today.

Pixable’s Photofeed a Facebook app and companion mobile apps intelligently sorts and categorize your friends’ Facebook, Instagram and Flickr photos as well as Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube videos.

Clearly, adding Twitter to the mix makes sense. So once you log-in to Pixable with your Twitter credentials, the service will stream the photos and videos shared by the friends you follow on Twitter in addition to those shared by your friends on Facebook. The app organizes photos into a customized feed pulling from Twitter's native photo service as well as content shared to Twitter from other services such as TwitPic, yFrog, Instagram, Picplz, Lockerz, Vimeo and YouTube.

Pixable founder Inaki Berenguer says that as social photo sharing continues to increase with the growing popularity of services like Instagram, and the deeper integration of Twitter into iOS 5, users need an intelligent platform that sorts through images and videos. Investors seems to think so too; Pixable just raised $3.6 million from Menlo Ventures and others.

Launch Date:

With hundreds of millions of photos and videos being shared every day it's easy to miss out on the ones that actually matter to you. Pixable finds the best...

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Use Yammer Connect To Integrate Log-Ins And Feeds Into Third-Party Applications

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:58 AM PDT


Enterprise social networking platform Yammer is expanding the reach of its network today, launching Yammer Connect. The new plug-ins allows users to bring their Yammer identity to other business applications and an Embed feature enables companies to embed Yammer feeds into their intranet or other apps.

Using a JavaScript API, developers can add the Yammer Login Button to their applications via Yammer Connect. The Login Button eliminates the need for Yammer’s more than three million users to maintain multiple user profiles across business applications. So similar to the way you use Facebook Connect to log into consumer apps, Yammer Connect allows workers to authenticate business apps with their Yammer identity, and all of their profile details will automatically be completed. And users can share activity from third-party applications with colleagues back on Yammer.

Using ‘Yammer Embed’, companies can actually add Yammer’s conversations and realtime feeds into other business apps where employees spend their time, such as company intranets or content management systems. Yammer Embed lets employees view, post and reply to messages in the context of their work without having to navigate to a separate application.

Yammer also recently added support for in-line videos within news feeds and badges to its communications application. Expanding the reach of Yammer to third-apps is yet another way that the company can become the Facebook for the Enterprise.

Launch Date:

Yammer is an enterprise social network, providing a secure way for employees to communicate, collaborate, and share information. The company was founded by David Sacks formerly the COO of PayPal....

Learn more Raises $1 Million, Moving HQ to San Francisco

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:32 AM PDT


E-commerce platform, which emerged from 2010′s Le Web conference as a sort of Twitter for e-commerce, has just raised $1 million from Aksoy Internet Ventures. The money will be used to relocate company headquarters from the Netherlands to the heart of Silicon Valley: San Francisco. bills itself as the easiest way to sell stuff online, since all you have to do to start selling is fill out a single form. The entire process takes just 60 seconds, the company says.

To use, you fill out the form, notify your friends on Facebook and Twitter, and accept payments via PayPal. The service supports both physical and digital goods and generates a page that can be embedded into websites. No account is needed to use the service, as everything is handled through your e-mail.

Says co-founder and CEO Melvin Tercan, the team is moving to Silicon Valley because “our mission is to conquer the world and there's no better place to start than here.” Chairman Taner Aksoy of Aksoy Internet Ventures, a Turkish-based investment firm, also commented that he thinks “will be a big hit globally.”

Launch Date:
1/1/2010 is essentially an e-commerce platform that enables people to sell physical and digital items in the easiest way that is possible. The best example is that you’re able...

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Point, Apple: Court Issues EU-Wide Preliminary Injunction On Galaxy Smartphones

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:27 AM PDT


A pretty sizable chunk of Europe was dealt a rather massive blow this morning in the form of a preliminary injunction on some Galaxy smartphones. Of course, this was at the behest of Apple. The tablets — the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Tab 7 — made it out of the court room alive, which is a pretty big deal for Samsung who just a few weeks ago had to deal with an EU-wide preliminary injunction on the GalTab 10.1.

The German court eventually lifted that ban temporarily across the EU with the exception of Germany. Ya know, since the court actually has the right to rule in its own country. Unfortunately, Samsung’s smartphones are now under attack, as the Hague court in the Netherlands issued an EU-wide preliminary injunction on the Galaxy S, Galaxy S II, and Galaxy Ace, which will go into effect in mid-October.

Unlike the Galaxy Tab injunction that was based on an intellectual property right (Community Design 003781832), this smartphone injunction is related to one patent: EP 2059868, related to photo management software. IP rights are granted by an agency of the EU, and thus don’t really fall under a single country’s jurisdiction. Patents, on the other hand, must receive approval from each country.

Here’s a copy of the order (be warned: Dutch/English dictionary required):

In this case, the patent in question was not made valid in a number of different European nations because Apple didn’t follow through with the application process and pay the related costs of approval. Countries in which the patent is not valid include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Spain, according to FOSS Patents.

So what does this mean? Well, as far as the legality of it goes, Samsung’s Korean parent branch will remain mostly unaffected by this. The Korean arm can ship its products to any of the European countries (patent valid or not), minus the Netherlands. However, three of its subsidiary branches, all registered in the Netherlands, will have to stop shipping and selling the three Galaxy smartphones named above.

What’s unfortunate for Samsung is that it’s European hub seems to be within the Netherlands, reports FOSS Patents. Though the company is still allowed to ship phones into Europe from Korea, or other subsidiary branches outside of the Netherlands, it will take a major reorganization of the logistics chain at Samsung.

Launch Date:

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer,...

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On The Road To TwitBook: Are Facebook’s New Sharing Features Defensive Or Preemptive?

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:25 AM PDT


Editor's note: This guest post is written by Tom Anderson, the former President, founder and first friend on MySpace. You can now find Tom on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

A few weeks ago I asked if Google+ was putting Facebook on the defensive. After yesterday’s Facebook announcement, I don’t think there’s any question. Many journalists have described the promised changes as giving users “new control over privacy” and suggested that Facebook is just giving us a chance to be more private like G+. Some have even suggested that this new focus on privacy is an “about-face” from Facebook’s former philosophy. I’d like to suggest that Facebook hasn’t changed their attitude about privacy at all. My gut tells me—and this is truly a hunch, no insider info here—that the announced changes are mostly significant because Facebook is actually preparing users for something much bigger. Facebook is being more reactive now then they’ve ever been, but it’s not just because of G+. It’s also because of Twitter.  Actually, it’s because Twitter offers a possible vision of G+’s future. Sound confusing? Let me explain.

G+ basically is a combination of Twitter & Facebook. Lots of journalists seem to have missed this pretty basic idea. They see G+ as a Facebook competitor and one that will be hard-pressed to pull users away from their friend networks. From where I sit (and only Google can tell us from checking their usage logs), way more people are interested in the Twitter-like public sharing side of G+ than they are in the private sharing among friends. In other words, G+’s popularity is being driven by Twitter-like activity, not Facebook-like activity. G+ probably has something near 30 million users at this point.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. But Twitter, of course, is orders of magnitude larger, and still growing like mad. The worry for Facebook then, is that G+ could become as large as Twitter and then G+ could start gradually pulling users into the more private behavior that typically occurs on Facebook. This possible future for G+ is even scarier for Facebook than Twitter’s present or future, because at least it’s assumed that Twitter will never try to do the “private” thing.

My guess, then, is that Facebook is announcing to users more front and center access to “privacy features” because Facebook is actually planning to make an even bigger push into the public, Twitter-like sphere. Consider this: when asked what he thought the most important part of yesterday’s release was, Facebook’s VP of Product Chris Cox reiterated that Facebook was a “sharing tool” and considering the audience you’re sharing with is important. He didn’t talk about privacy, except to say that nothing can really guarantee your privacy online. (That’s the pretty standard line on privacy for Zuckerberg.)

In practical terms, what does this mean for Facebook? I think it means we’re going to see Facebook get more “reactive” on its public side as well as it’s private, group-sharing side. I think it means we’re going to see Facebook push users towards public and “mass” sharing. More specifically, I think we’ll see changes to “fan pages” and the newsfeeds (maybe even the “dual newsfeed”) so that Facebook can allow its users to get the “Twitter-like” experience from the public figures, brands and sources of interest they follow on Facebook.

Facebook understood Twitter’s power early on, and incorporated Twitter’ essence—the “status update”—in a way that made a huge difference for Facebook. It incorporated elements of Twitter without detracting from their core. Gradually, the usefulness of Twitter has become less & less about following your friends, and more about following your interests. Twitter behavior evolved away from “what are you doing?” to “what’s happening?” In doing so, Twitter has become a credible threat to standard gatekeepers of news. My sense is that this is what Zuckerberg has always wanted for his “newsfeed”—Facebook shouldn’t just be about what your friends are doing, but it should also be a “sharing tool” in the grander sense. Facebook has not yet created a “newsfeed” that really gives you personalized news the way Twitter can, or Google+ now can.

So is G+ putting Facebook on the defensive? Yes, but only because G+ is a combination of Twitter & Facebook, and Facebook, at some level, may have always had a bit of Twitter envy in its blood. Now if Facebook can evolve to give us TwitBook, then they’ll beat G+ at their own game, creating the first massively popular all-in-one public-private “social network” before G+ can ever really get off the ground. This naturally begs the question: “Is this public-private combination in one service what people actually want?” Only time will tell.

Launch Date:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 500 million users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It...

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Launch Date:

Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006 (launched publicly in July 2006), is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to...

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A Google project headed by Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz, Google+ is designed to be the social extension of Google. Its features focus on making online sharing easy for...

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To Heck With iPad Stands, Help Kickstart Some Handmade Pens For A Change

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:15 AM PDT


This is what I like to see: people Kickstarting some really amazing stuff. How amazing? Try a handmade pen made of multiple pieces of wood spliced together and top-of-the-line clips and gel-inks. The pen, called the Exemplar, is half-length and costs a mere $100 (relatively cheap for a handmade pen, but still). However, it’s made by two North Carolinian lads, Cass Baltz and Bart Creasman, which adds a certain bit of old country panache.

$50 gets you a handmade wooden letter opener.

The pair are calling their company Baltz Fine Writing Instruments and, while pens have gone the way of the 50-cent milkshake, human kindness, and the Dodo, it’s nice to see two fellows so dedicated to a rapidly dying art.

Project Page

[via Gearpatrol]

StackMob, The “Heroku For Mobile”, Partners With… Heroku!

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-08-23 at 11.26.57 PM

We’ve written about StackMob twice, both times calling it the “Heroku For Mobile” in the title. Yeah, “X For Y” titles are pretty lame. But I mean, that’s pretty much exactly what StackMob is — and they embrace it. In fact, they embrace it so much that today they’re announcing a key partnership with… wait for it… Heroku!

StackMob is integrating with Heroku as a “Super Add-on” that extends the mobile platform to all Ruby developers on Heroku. This means APIs, OAuth, Push Notifications, and analytics for mobile are all coming over in the integration. With these easy-to-implement solutions, developers can spend less time worrying about backend development for both desktop and mobile and more time worrying about frontend implementation.

“As the mobile market continues to grow, we see not only more data-driven applications being built but ones with more complex data,” says StackMob CEO and co-founder Ty Amell. “These highly interactive apps require code to process data on servers instead of on devices. The Heroku add-on allows StackMob to extend its technology to Ruby developers so they can focus on building feature-rich applications.”

StackMob says that other features such as social integration and Node.js support will be coming soon. They’re also offering up a $1,000 prize for the best mobile app built using both StackMob and Heroku during the Dreamforce Hackathon.

Even though StackMob is still in private beta, all Heroku users that want access will get it with the partnership.

Motorola Atrix’s “Most Powerful” Claims Shot Down In U.K.

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:59 AM PDT

Image (1) Atrix.jpg for post 335940

There’s a fine line between a bold advertising campaign and playing fast and loose with the truth, and it looks like Motorola may have just tip-toed over it. According to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, Motorola has been banned from calling their Atrix handset “the most powerful smartphone in the world” in marketing and promotional materials.

While the Atrix launched domestically back in February, it made its U.K. debut as an Orange exclusive this past May. Unfortunately, that launch window put it right up against the release of the Samsung Galaxy S II, which packs a a 1.2 Ghz processor into its svelte frame. ASA officials took issue with the fact that the Atrix, in spite of the lofty claims surrounding it, actually has a slower processor than the Samsung Galaxy S II.

Motorola and their ad agency were apparently working with a different definition of the word “powerful”: Motorola’s angle called into the play the performance and flexibility of the Atrix when used with its lapdock.

The heart of the matter comes down to what exactly people define as “power” in a smartphone. The ASA’s official ruling states that they “considered most viewers would understand the claim ‘the world’s most powerful smartphone’, in context to a smartphone, to mean that the product had, among other features, a faster processor than any other smartphone.”

It’s a fair assumption for the ASA to make: Motorola’s definition deals more with the versatility of their handset, and the phone’s hardware is a limiting factor on how well the rest of the experience works. In common mobile parlance, the processor is where all the horsepower is, and that’s certainly what my mind jumps to first. Motorola has a bit of repositioning to do if they want to keeping pushing the Atrix in the U.K., but in light of recent developments, it may not rank too high on their list of priorities.

Google to Settle with U.S. Government for $500 Million

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:59 AM PDT


Today, regulators will announce a $500 million settlement with Google over charges related to advertisements for illegal online pharmacies. The pharmacies appearing in Google ads were operating outside the law, leading to a Department of Justice investigation into Google’s advertising practices – an investigation which decreased Google’s profits by 22%, reports the The New York Times.

The investigation began in May, with government officials trying to determine how illegal ads such as these continually showed up in Google’s search results. Google had previously noted in the fall of 2010 that it was struggling with the problem, equating it to a “cat-and-mouse game:”

…As we and others build new safeguards and guidelines, rogue online pharmacies always try new tactics to get around those protections and illegally sell drugs on the web. In recent years, we have noticed a marked increase in the number of rogue pharmacies, as well an increasing sophistication in their methods. This has meant that despite our best efforts—from extensive verification procedures, to automated keyword blocking, to changing our ads policies—a small percentage of pharma ads from these rogue companies is still appearing on Google.

But complaints that it just didn’t know how to stop the situation have not been good enough for the U.S. government, which is now holding websites liable for any illegal advertisements shown on their pages.

Obviously, such a decision has far-reaching consequences beyond those of just the illegal pharmacies, as Google faces threats from a number of illegal and malicious entities who want to leverage its search engine to expose unsuspecting users to their ads. Traditionally, Google itself has filed lawsuits against advertisers it suspected of breaking its rules, but this has clearly not been enough of a deterrent.

At the time of the government investigation, Google set aside $500 million in advance of the government’s ruling in the matter, which trimmed its net income to $1.8 billion, or $5.51 a share, in the period.

U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha of Rhode Island is holding the press conference on Wednesday to announce the final outcome.  The settlement means Google will not face further criminal prosecution for profiting from ads promoting illegal pharmacies.

Update, from the DOJ press release:

According to Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole; Peter F. Neronha, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island; and  Kathleen Martin-Weis, Acting Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA/OCI), this forfeiture is one of the largest ever in the United States, and represents “the gross revenue received by Google as a result of Canadian pharmacies advertising through Google's AdWords program, plus gross revenue made by  Canadian pharmacies from their sales to U.S. consumers.”

"The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable companies who in their bid for profits violate federal law and put at risk the health and safety of American consumers," said Deputy Attorney General Cole.  "This settlement ensures that Google will reform its improper advertising practices with regard to these pharmacies while paying one of the largest financial forfeiture penalties in history."

U.S. Attorney Neronha, added that this settlement was about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue on-line pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior,” and that this kind of forfeiture “will not only get Google's attention, but the attention of all those who contribute to America's pill problem."

Launch Date:
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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(Founder Office Hours) Napkin Labs: Should Startups Move To Be Close To Venture Capital?

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:56 AM PDT

Riley Gibson is the CEO and co-founder of the Boulder based Napkin Labs, a startup that helps companies manage and engage their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Napkin Labs launched an updated version of the service today (read, Napkin Labs Lets Brands Better Understand Their Customers (And Turn Them Into Collaborators). Prior to launch, Gibson flew to New York to get advice on building his company during Founder Office Hours with Hunch Co-Founder Chris Dixon and First Round Capital’s Managing Partner Josh Kopelman.

Based in Colorado, Gibson suspects his company might be at a disadvantage because it is not located near vast sources of venture capital. He wonders if moving will help. Kopelman doesn’t think so and responds by saying, “I am not sure it makes sense to move to be near a VC … I think you tend to move if you are finding that you are starved for talent, if you are not able to hire to fill the positions at the right levels. We’ve funded companies all over the country.”

Dixon chimes in with a tongue-in-cheek response that it is often better to move away from sources of venture capital.

Following the exchange, Gibson asks Dixon and Kopelman about raising money. The question is should Napkin Labs attempt to achieve certain benchmarks before raising money, or should it not worry about the benchmarks and just go for it? Dixon and Kopelman take a similar position, with Kopelman saying “it probably makes sense to have just a handful of conversations, test the appetite and responsiveness of investors.” He notes that you don’t turn fundraising on and off, but rather it is a continuous process of engaging backers.

Make sure to watch the entire video for additional insights along with prior episodes of Founder Office Hours featuring Dispatch.ioSchedit and Profitably.

Launch Date:

Napkin Labs makes it easy to discover insights from your fans, followers, and customers. Our online platform provides tools to make market research, brainstorming, and product evaluation fast, simple,...

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Josh Kopelman is a venture capitalist and Managing Partner at First Round Capital . Previously, Kopelman founded, which was acquired by eBay in 2000. He remained with eBay for...

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Chris Dixon currently works as the CEO and Co-founder of Hunch. He is also a contributing writer for TechCrunch. He previously was the CEO and Co-founder of SiteAdvisor, which...

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Dwolla Launches “Proxi” For Proximity-Based Mobile Payments

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:28 AM PDT

1. Home page proxi

Online and mobile payment platform Dwolla just launched a new feature called “Proxi” which allows users to send and receive cash-based mobile payments based on their current proximity to another connected device. The technology bypasses the need for special hardware, like Square’s plastic dongles or NFC chips built into a phone, in order to make mobile payments.

Instead, the interface provides a simple way for Dwolla’s users to find nearby contacts and send them money using only the mobile app itself.

Dwolla, for those unaware, is a company with a unique take on digital payments. Its vision is that consumers, not third-parties, should dictate how their payments network operates. What this means for Dwolla and its users is a payments network that’s devoid of personal information. And most importantly, Dwolla’s inroad to this planned disruption is cash, an under-represented market in electronic payments.

Dwolla’s “Proxi” Beta

With the new “Proxi” (beta) feature, Dwolla founder Ben Milne explains that the company is looking to accomplish much of the same thing that NFC makes possible, but without the need for expensive hardware. With NFC, there’s added security, because you have to be physically present to pay. Proxi uses GPS for that same reason.

When launching Proxi, the mobile app pulls up a list of those who are close to you and able to accept payments, including both nearby users and merchants.

And like everything else Dwolla does, Proxi considers users’ security first. For example, you can control whether you want to be visible only to your contacts or to a wider range of Dwolla users, you can control how long you will be visible, and you can control the distance at which you are visible, with settings for 300 ft., 1 mile or 5 miles.

The Proxi beta will initially be available on iOS, and will roll out to other mobile platforms (Android, Windows Phone) in the coming weeks. The beta is private for now, but TechCrunch readers can request immediate access here: There will be limited spots available, so access is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Pros and Cons of the Dwolla System

Proxi is the sort of feature that could take Dwolla from “interesting idea” territory to becoming a more practical application. Secure, person-to-person (or person-to-business) mobile payments without the high fees associated with PayPal, or the need for special hardware? Sounds good here.

The only drawback is that Dwolla doesn’t directly connect to your own bank account, in the same way that your debit card does, which could confuse first-time users who don’t understand why other financial institutions are involved. Instead, Dwolla has partnerships with The Veridian Group, a subsidiary of Veridian Credit Union, in Waterloo, Iowa, and The Members Group (TMG) another financial and credit union service organization owned by Iowa credit unions and their members. Through these organizations’, which hold the funds in Dwolla’s users’ accounts, people can send and receive money from their own bank accounts.

And while Dwolla is easy to use, it’s hardly available for use everywhere, the way that your debit would be.

Finally, although Dwolla’s fees aren’t outrageous, they are present. Dwolla has a flat 25-cents per transaction fee, regardless of the transaction amount. That’s lower than PayPal’s 30-cents per transaction fee. There’s also no additional percentage amount per transaction, even though PayPal currently charges an additional 2.9% for transactions under $3,000.

Dwolla currently has 40,000 users, with user-to-user transactions representing the highest volume of transactions and B2B transactions representing the highest dollar value. The company will be rolling out more technologies over the month of September, so stay tuned.

Launch Date:

Dwolla provides a free web based software platform which allows users to send, receive, and request funds from any other user. Dwolla’s maximum transaction cost is 25 cents per...

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China Never Received An Application For Approval Of Googorola Deal

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:19 AM PDT


The era of Googorola is nearly upon us, and the implications of such a deal are still greatly unknown to most of us. We could see some pretty amazing (and odd) gizmos and gadgets spawn from this little get together, and we can definitely expect a stronger Android platform than ever before. Other Android OEMs have remained relatively at bay thus far, but that could change in an instant when they see the first flagship Moto handset with a purely Android experience. In fact, an end to MotoBlur may be the most exciting result of Googorola, indeed (at least to us end users).

But there are a few things that need to happen first.

Google has obviously started on its trip through the obstacle course that is the United States regulatory approval system. In Google’s original statement on Wednesday, it claimed that the deal was subject to regulatory approval in the U.S., the EU, and other jurisdictions. Funny, one of those other jurisdictions happens to be one of the biggest in the world: China. And Google has yet to send China’s Commerce Ministry an application for approval.

Apparently the rules in China are as follows: If your company earns an annual global revenue of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.55 billion in USD) or your company generates annual revenue of 400 million yuan (US $62.6 million) inside China, you best get your butt over to the Commerce Ministry and get approval for any proposed acquisition.

“The ministry has so far not received any application for an anti-monopoly review,” said Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang in a Reuters interview.

Google has long had some beef with China. Over the past few years the censorship of results wore on the search giant, and with the cyber attacks that happened in January 2010, Google basically said it wouldn’t be playing by the rules anymore, even if it meant leaving China for good. Having to deal with the Chinese government likely isn’t the most pleasurable part of the merger, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right Googs?

Launch Date:
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...

Learn more

Fad Or Future? Booktrack Adds Music, Sound Effects To E-Books; Peter Thiel Invests

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:05 AM PDT


A new startup called Booktrack launched this morning (actually, the NYT launched it yesterday), in an effort to create a whole new genre of e-books.

Booktrack creates synchronized soundtracks for e-books that aim to “dramatically boost the reader’s imagination and engagement”.

The startup’s technology pairs music scores and sound effects with text, automatically paced to one’s reading speed. Booktracks can be downloaded for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, and Android apps are on the way. Check out the Booktrack Bookshelf for available titles.

The company has teamed up with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Park Road Post, and Full Fathom Five, and its technology is already fully integrated in the new novel ‘The Power of Six’ by Pittacus Lore (James Frey), published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Booktrack and publishers will share profits with participating authors, composers, and musicians, the company said in a press release.

Booktrack is backed by former PayPal and early Facebook investor (and longtime board member) Peter Thiel as well as authors who will be collaborating with the company. Other initial investors in and advisors to Booktrack include Mark D’Arcy, Director of Global Creative Solutions at Facebook, and Derek Handley, CEO and cofounder of mobile marketing and media company The Hyperfactory.

The latter will also serve as Booktrack’s chairman.

Paul Cameron, Booktrack’s co-founder and CEO, in the press release compares e-books in their current form with ‘movies with no soundtrack’, but I’m not sure I agree with that statement – reading is an entirely different way of consuming content. I’m not sure a soundtrack attached to an e-book can do anything but distract from the reading experience, actually.

Of course, I’ve only briefly tested Booktrack’s technology with a single e-book, so I haven’t entirely made up my mind yet about its potential to disrupt the e-book genre.

Wired’s Charlie Sorrel, for one, thinks the idea stinks. He makes a good case, but that won’t (and shouldn’t) stop the company from trying, evidently.

In the coming weeks and months, Booktrack says it will publish a specially-curated compendium of short stories from some of the top authors in the world, starting in September with ‘In the South’ by Salman Rushdie. Booktrack will also release editions of classics, including titles such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter Pan, The Three Musketeers, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Romeo and Juliet and more.

I’m very much looking forward to reading Paul Carr‘s thoughts on this one.

Napkin Labs Lets Brands Better Understand Their Customers (And Turn Them Into Collaborators)

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:03 AM PDT


Social networks like Facebook and Twitter act as truly effective channels by which companies can interact with their customers and receive near-instantaneous feedback on their products and brands. Of course, the information obtained by way of social networks can still be somewhat of a fire hose.

While social networks provide surfeit casual feedback for brands to take advantage of, they often lack the kind of deep insight into product development, design concepts, or what a company might be doing to better serve its customer base. Companies want to be more effective in communicating with their active user base and valued customers in a collaborative way that actually leads to better products and a better user experience, rather than the alternative.

Today, Napkin Labs is launching a new version of its platform that aims to tackle this problem by creating an online lab space that functions as a collaborative community in which customers can exercise their creative muscles and work together to make their favorite brands even more appealing.

Essentially, Napkin Labs is working to turn valued customers into a creative army by way of a platform that offers them a set of activities (read: apps) that integrate game dynamics and intuitive design that make it easy (and enjoyable) to incubate new ideas and let their opinions be heard. Not unlike IDEO, these apps work towards encouraging an efficient forum in which to spitball ideas about the design process, crowdsourcing that process in such a way that users are encouraged to become designers, marketers, and product developers all at once — giving customers the opportunity to become more intimately involved in the evolution of their favorite brands and products.

Each company or brand can create its own lab, in which Napkin’s apps lead customers through a series of simple questions intended to get to the core of a product’s intended experience, as well as allowing brands to solicit more nuanced and targeted feedback — or go even further by encouraging fans to create video renderings of their suggestions and using video to create fact-finding missions. These customizable app experiences enable brands to understand their customers from a variety of different perspectives and to drive home the idea of real collaboration between brand and customer.

And since every project is game-ified, contributors are rewarded with “influence points” for every suggestion they make, ranking them on a public leaderboard that can be viewed by every participating user. At the end of the design process, each user is offered a reward chosen by the company, whether that be cash, merchandise, or a merit badge.

Companies can further customize the user experience of their product development labs with welcome messages, logos, colors, and various backgrounds, as well as choosing the types of activities users can engage in — like refining an advertising campaign, for example — all in an effort to make the design process more enjoyable and more suitable to driving constructive feedback and iteration.

Another aspect that sets Napkin Labs apart from its competitors is that its platform is really an off-the-shelf solution that can be used by anyone from a single designer to large corporations. Napkin Labs offers a pricing scheme in which businesses pay $99 per month for basic features — all the way to $499 per month for a complete custom experience for individual companies.

The startup’s easy-to-use and clean UI encouraged companies like the Sony Design Center and Google to become early private beta customers of Napkin Labs. Google, for one, used the platform to test ideas for GoogleTV, especially in relation to how younger customers are using web TV in digital media’s changing landscape, according to Napkin Labs Co-founder and CEO Riley Gibson.

For smaller companies that can’t afford to hire a roster of designers and ad specialists for early-stage products, Napkin Labs creates an easy (and cheaper) solution by bringing customers into the game to participate in product iteration and ideation — an approach that may very well prove to be a great approach to building brand loyalty.

It’s an interesting platform. Chime in to let us know what you think. For more, check out the video below:

TCTV: Presenting The TechCrunch Gadgets Webcast

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 07:00 AM PDT

We’ve long wanted to put together a videocast for TCTV focusing on gadgets but, because we were too lazy, it never happened… until now. Please excuse the quality as we’re working out the bugs but we wanted to get something up this week, thereby ensuring we actually do this on a regular basis.

This episode is all about tablets. First we talk about Samsung’s belief that 2001 is prior art in the tablet space and then we talk about ten things to do with your brand new $99 TouchPad. Please: enjoy.

Credits: Music by voyageurs.

Mobile Enterprise Apps Developer Taptera Raises $2 Million From Salesforce, Angels

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 06:23 AM PDT


Taptera, which builds enterprise iPhone and iPad applications, has landed $2 million in Series A financing in a round led by well-known Silicon Valley investor (and former Oracle exec) Terence Garnett, who will also be joining the startup’s board.

Other participants in the round include and a slew of company CEOs and professional investors, including M.R. Rangaswami and former HP executive David Murphy.

Taptera’s first app, called Colleagues, is a mobile employee directory tool that will hit the market later this year.

The Taptera team includes cofounder and CEO Chris O’Connor, who previously spent eight years at Genentech, where he spearheaded the company’s move to empower its workforce with mobile apps. He’s joined by cofounder and chief product officer Dan McCall, also a Genentech vet.

Taptera’s CTO is Mike Janson, who joined the startup from its now-investor, where he directed teams that developed collaboration tool Chatter.

The company is based in San Francisco.

Launch Date:

Founded in 2011, Taptera builds fast, beautiful, secure off-the-shelf mobile apps for the enterprise. Headquartered in San Francisco, the leadership and development teams have a strong record of...

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Social Gaming Network PapayaMobile Hits 25M Users

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 06:15 AM PDT


Today, PapayaMobile, the social gaming network for Android, is announcing a new milestone: it has topped 25 million users, which represents over 940% growth since the beginning of last year. The company attributes the increase to both the growing demand for mobile social games as well as the rapidly expanding Android install base worldwide.

Papaya also released several other network statistics along with the user milestone figure, including the following:

  • More than 11 million paid transactions have occurred using Papaya's virtual currency.
  • ARPPU (average revenue per paying user) on the Papaya network is $22.60/month.
  • ARPPU across all Papaya Game Engine games is more than $10.00 per month.
  • On average, 1 in 5 users purchase Papaya's virtual currency in social games that use Papaya's Game Engine.
  • Popular titles earn on average over $20,000/month.
  • The most spent by a single user on the Papaya network is $4,440. <– Who is this crazy person?!
  • 93 million pMails have been sent to users across the Papaya network.
  • Users have engaged in over 874 million game sessions.
  • Regionally, the fastest growing market for Papaya is China which has experienced over 500% growth since January 2011. Europe is close behind at 224% and then the United States at 222%.

The company showcased a few of its top-performing applications on the network, too, like Treasure Fever which sees a monthly ARPPU of $10.33, and X-City, whose ARPPU is $9.17.

Both of these apps use Papaya’s Game Engine technology, which makes it easier to build social titles in a matter of weeks, the company says.

Papaya’s Sharp Words for Mobage

In addition, Papaya’s Head of Developer Relations, Paul Chen, provided his take on the recent Mobage deal from DeNA and ngmoco, which translated the popular Japanese mobile social gaming platform for Android into English and Chinese.

Says Chen, after analyzing a sampling of Mobage games:

“There is little market traction for these apps four weeks after launch. This is especially surprising considering the original versions of these titles were huge hits with millions of downloads on either iOS and/or Android. Much of the reason for the initial lack of traffic to the Mobage network stems from the fact that, in order to play a Mobage game, you not only have to download the game, but also the Mobage SNS application. This is creating a significant barrier to adoption for the Mobage platform as users do not wish to download two applications to play one game.”

Except for Pocket Frogs (10,000-50,000 installs) and We Rule (5,000-10,000 installs), the apps Chen examined (Paper Toss, Ninja Royale, Haypi Kingdom and Paradise Island) all have 1,000 to 5,000 installs. In total, Mobage has 25 games running on ngCore, its Game Engine product.

At the time of Mobage’s launch in July, DeNA/ngmoco said that it would release more titles, a Mobage iOS version and expand Mobage Global to more markets. Clearly there is some rivalry here, given each company’s focus on the mobile social gaming space.

Launch Date:

PapayaMobile is Android's leading social gaming network, offering a full suite of social gaming features, Android's most diverse set of monetization tools, and the fastest 2D OpenGL engine. ...

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ePals Acquires Media Personalization Platform Newstogram, News Site DailyMe

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 06:08 AM PDT


ePals, developer of a social learning network, this morning announced that it has acquired Newstogram, maker of a media personalization and content recommendation platform. Also included in the deal was news site DailyMe – both are businesses owned by a company called Nexify.

The transaction was in ePals stock and amounted to about $3 million.

ePals says the acquisition provides it with a robust platform for personalization of media and learning applications, and enhances its capability to match learners with each other based on interests, across its network of approximately 700,000 classrooms and ‘millions of users’ in 200 countries.

The platform will allow media publishers – including more than 20 media companies that currently use the Newstogram platform – to create ‘educational’ pages that highlight their content.

Newstogram / DailyMe founder and CEO Eduardo Hauser will become president of ePals’s Media division, while chief product officer Neil Budde joins at EVP.

Before starting Nexify, Hauser was EVP of Latin America for AOL and VP News and Information at Venevision. Neil Budde previously was the founding editor and publisher of The Wall Street Journal Online, and VP and Editor in Chief of Yahoo! News, Finance and Sports.

ePals CEO Miles Gilburne also used to be an executive at AOL, by the way. A venture capitalist, he served for five years as SVP of Corporate Development for AOL before stepping down from those duties in December 1999. He was elected to the board of directors of AOL in 1999 and continued to serve on the board of directors of Time Warner, until stepping down in May 2006.

ePals issued to Nexify 4,449,686 restricted common voting shares at a price of US$0.67 per share. In addition, ePals issued to Nexify warrants to acquire an additional 307,000 restricted voting common shares, at the same price. The warrants are exercisable up to 4 years from the date of closing.

Sequoia-Backed Inkling Updates iPad E-Textbook Platform With Collaborative Study Groups And More

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 06:00 AM PDT


Sequoia-backed Inkling, a startup that develops an innovative digital textbook platform, is is releasing version 2.0 of its technology, which comes with increased collaboration and sharing features.

As we’ve written in the past, Inkling's technology delivers interactive textbooks that include the ability to collaborate, add multimedia and communicate within content. The startup adds another layer to online textbooks by adding 3-D objects, video, quizzes, and even social interaction within the content. Inkling's sync technology lets students collaborate in real time by sharing their notes and highlights with one another. And students can see comments from their friends and professors right alongside their own notes.

The newest version of the platform has made established ‘Study Groups’ within tectbooks, where students can ask questions and add comments anywhere in the book with classmates, professors and others who are reading the same book using Inkling. Inkling has also added ‘expert’ notes to the book, allowing students to get access to their notes and comments.
All notes, highlights, bookmarks and links created by students are now saved in a designated notebook. And search results within Inkling’s platform from Wikipedia or Google appear directly in your book, which can also be saved to a notebook.

Currently, Inkling has fifty adopting educational institutions requiring the e-textbook platform. And the company announced funding and partnerships from some of the top educational publishers, including Pearson and McGraw Hill.

Of course, the e-textbook space is competitive with Chegg, Kno, Amazon and many others all competing in the arena. But Inkling founder and CEO Matt MacInnis isn’t too worried. While he admits that some competitors have more content, he believes that Inkling’s platform is the most interactive, engaging technology on the market. For now, MacInnis is sticking to the iPad as Inkling’s platform of choice, but will eventually expand to other devices.

The company has also attracted big venture money as well. A few weeks ago, Inkling announced a $17 million round, bringing the startup’s total funding to $32 million, including its Seed and Series A rounds as well as the multi-million dollar infusion from publishers.

Springpad Now Categorizes And Saves Your Facebook Friends’ Likes

Posted: 24 Aug 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Springpad_ a free app that helps you remember

Evernote rival Springpad is releasing a nifty new feature today, allowing users to discover the likes, check-ins and recommendations of all of your Facebook friends. So you’ll be able to see the movies, television shows, books, music and places your friends recommend in one place.

For background, Springpad’s multi-platform digital notebook allows you to jot down notes, save websites, images and more. Springpad will then categorize your saved content, and allows you to share your notes, set reminders and more. The app goes a step further to analyze your content and then serve you alerts to relevant news, offers and deals. Springpad’s semantic data technology allows you to save products, books, movies, recipes and more, and automatically get enhanced information, including price drops, local availability and coupons.

Not only does Springpad integrate all of your friends’ likes, but you can access this data by friend and information type, including places, Zipcode, restaurants, movies, television shows, music, books, wine and products. You can also search nearby from your mobile device for friends' likes and check-ins.

Springpad, which has over 2 million users, says that it will soon implement similar massive data integrations with music services like Pandora, as well as other social networks like Foursquare, and Google+.


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