Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

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The Latest from TechCrunch

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Costolo: Advertising Is Key, Promoted Tweets In Stream Coming Everywhere, Including Third-Parties

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:49 AM PDT

dick-costolo-web_1733079c

Today at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, CEO Dick Costolo sat down with some members of the media to talk a bit about the state of the company. He rattled of plenty of stats, and also gave the all-important update on the state of the business.

Of note, Costolo confirmed that Twitter is in the process of rolling out Promoted Tweets in the stream to everyone — whether you’re following a particular advertiser or not. And that doesn’t just mean on Twitter.com (where this roll-out is starting), these Promoted Tweets will be going everywhere Tweets flow, Costolo said. Yes, that means not only Twitter’s own mobile apps, but third-party services as well.

This will allow Twitter to make money no matter where or how people are using the service. Costolo said this is important. “We would prefer you view the Tweets here instead of there because there’s more money over here — we don’t want to think of it that way,” he said.

It’s important to note that Twitter isn’t just blindly shoving these ads (which, let’s be clear, is exactly what they are) in everyones’ faces and hoping they stick. Twitter is still using signal analysis to determine which Tweets should be shown where. But it’s also important to reiterate that users will not have to be explicitly following these advertisers (as was the case previously) to see these Tweets.

This all plays into the broader message Costolo shared today: advertising is key. While he noted that Twitter has a few revenue sources, such as “fire hose” access, there is no plan to scale that business. “Our advertising method is the only one we need to be a big business,” he said.

In terms of the that platform, Costolo said that Twitter would begin testing a self-serve advertising service in the future. This will be white-labeled, open to trusted partners at first.

Costolo did leave a small window open, noting that the company will likely experiment here and there with other revenue-generating ideas. But again, it’s all about advertising. “We don’t think there’s anything more we need to do to make money,” he reiterated.



Eyeing An IPO, Cloud-Based Phone System RingCentral Raises $10M From Cisco And Others

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:30 AM PDT

ringcentral

Cloud-based phone systems provider RingCentral has raised $10 million in new funding from new investor Scale Venture Partners and Cisco. The company previously raised $45 million in funding from Cisco, Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, DAG Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank.

RingCentral markets an advanced, cloud-based replacement for legacy phone systems in the form of a hosted business phone platform with voice and fax functionality. The platform includes auto-receptionist, multiple voicemail boxes, call routing, business answering rules, extension dialing, call transfers, and integration with Smartphones. RingCentral’s phone systems basically make their clients appear bigger than they are.

And earlier this year, RingCentral began powering the cloud business phone system solutions for a number of wireless carriers including AT&T and Roger's Canada, who offer RingCentral's cloud phone system solution to their customers. The company currently has over 200,000 customers.

RingCentral CEO Vlad Shmunis tells us that the new funding will be used for expansion and towards the delivery of new products and services. And he explains that RingCentral is playing in a $50 billion market, where there is plenty of room for growth. “It’s a matter of educating businesses that they can save thousands up front by going with the cloud,” he explains. “We see the cloud has a winning business function for any market.”

Interestingly, RingCentral has also been flagged as an IPO candidate as well. Shmunis confirms that an IPO is a viable future possibility for the company.


Company:
RINGCENTRAL
Funding:
$34M

RingCentral delivers hosted phone systems that are designed for mobile and distributed businesses, and is the market leader in cloud computing-based telephony. RingCentral helps small businesses manage mobile, fax and...

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Twitter Has 100M Monthly Active Users, And 40% Of Active Users Don’t Tweet

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:29 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-08 at 9.30.31 AM

We’re at Twitter HQ listening to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo talk about the state of Twitter as business. Costolo begins the talk dropping some recent user numbers, wanting to give a “complete picture” of Twitter usership.

Costolo said that Twitter.com is now seeing 400 million monthly uniques according to Google analytics, which is up from 250 million at the beginning of the year, "There's still a lot of people who log into Twitter but don't use it every day,” he said.

Costolo confirmed that Twitter now has 100 million global active users, which he defined as anyone who logs into Twitter once a month, with 50 million users active or logging in every day.  He also revealed that 40% of active users don’t tweet, which means that they haven’t tweeted in the past month. 55% of active users are active on mobile, which has seen a 40% quarter on quarter growth.

Twitter wants to be on over 2 billion devices eventually he said.

Costolo emphasized that the fact that 40% of users are logging in and not Tweeting doesn’t mean that those users aren’t doing anything, and brings up the example of Twitter investor Fred Wilson’s son, who only follows NBA players or his family friend who follows chefs like Mario Batali and Daniel Brooks, “It’s fun to see the conversation around people you view as celebrities,” he said.

He also said that the statistic represents Twitter’s potential, and that Twitter will be making changes in order to move those people from a consumption to a production experience.



Company:
TWITTER
Launch Date:
21/3/2006
Funding:
$760M

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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Bartz Calls Yahoo’s Board A Bunch Of “Doofuses”

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:17 AM PDT

BArtz

What does former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz think about the Yahoo board that summarily fired her? Going out in typical, feisty Bartz style, she minces no words: “The board was so spooked by being cast as the worst board in the country,” she tells Fortune’s Patricia Sellers. “Now they’re trying to show that they’re not the doofuses that they are.”

Her old pal, chairman Roy Bostock did the deed over the phone, reading from a prepared script. “Why don’t you have the balls to tell me yourself?” she asked him after he was done, meaning in person. “I thought you were classier,” she added.

It’s not a huge surprise why Bartz was fired. The company is muddling along without a clear sense of how it will grow. The deal with Microsoft helps Yahoo transfer the cost of running a search engine, but doesn’t really help with what Yahoo needs: revenue growth. Yahoo still does not know what it wants to be.

And while the company has many financial options, the biggest thing it needs is clear leadership and a sense of direction. It needs to reinvent itself like Apple did when Steve Jobs returned. Before that can happen, though, I am with Om in that the next people who need to be fired are the board. It sounds like Bartz might also agree on that one.


Company:
YAHOO!
Launch Date:
1/1/1994
IPO:
12/4/1996, Nasdaq:YHOO

Yahoo was founded in 1994 by Stanford Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang. It has since evolved into a major internet brand with search, content verticals, and other...

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Person:
CAROL BARTZ
Website:
Companies
Yahoo!

On January 13th, 2009, Carol Bartz was named CEO of Yahoo, succeeding outgoing CEO & Founder Jerry Yang, and she held this position until September 6, 2011. Prior to joining...

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Who Needs An API? Powerinbox Adds Google+ Client To Its Email Platform

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:00 AM PDT

PowerInbox-logo

Powerinbox, the new email platform that lets you run apps for Facebook, Twitter, and Groupon inside your inbox has today added support for Google+. Despite not having access to an official Google+ API (application programming interface), the company was able to analyze the Google+ protocol by tracking the requests between the official Google+ client and server. Powerinbox then created its own internal API and built its Google+ client app on top of it.

Now, when you receive a Google+ notification via email, you can use the Powerinbox app to immediately add that person to one of your Google+ Circles. Support for commenting and status updates is coming next.

In case you’re not familiar with Powerinbox, it’s one of the most practical applications I’ve come across in recent months. The idea behind the startup is to innovate on top of email by augmenting the messages sent to you by various services, essentially turning your emails into apps.

These apps run within the body of your email message by way of a downloadable Web browser extension. Currently, Powerinbox supports Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo mail, but it plans to add support for Outlook soon.

So, for example, when you receive a message that someone followed you on Twitter, you can use the Powerinbox app to see their tweets, follow them back, send them an @reply or direct message. For Facebook notifications, you can view the photos and posts from your friends and comment back, all without having to visit Facebook.com.

Groupon emails display a real-time counter indicating how much time the deal has left, how many people bought the deal and whether the deal has tipped.

It’s the sort of functionality that, had email been invented today, you would expect it to include.

In the future, Powerinbox plans on adding support for more apps, including Dropbox, Netflix, eBay, LinkedIn, airlines, news and even games. (Need to water those crops again? Have at it!)

Given the more established nature of these other services, we wondered why Powerinbox moved to support Google+, a brand-new social network which doesn’t even have an API for developers yet, unless you’re one of the anointed few.

Explains Founder and CEO Matt Thazhmon, the answer is simple: it’s what people wanted. According to the results of the survey the company was running on its website, requests for Google+ beat out LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, PayPal and half a dozen other services.

Powerinbox raised $1.1 million last month, mostly from AngelList investors, including  Atlas Venture (Jeff Fagnan), Longworth Ventures (Jim Savage), Correlation Ventures (Trevor Kienzle), and angels Alan Phillips (where.com), Chris Lynch (Vertica), Joe Caruso (Bantam Group), Leslie Murdock (MurdockMartell), Mark Rose (SpareChange), Mike Santullo (RocketMail) and others. The additional funds will be used to expand the platform and hire engineers.

The company’s addressable market is worth noting too: 4 billion email users by 2014. That alone is reason enough to try to improve the email experience.


Company:
POWERINBOX
Launch Date:
1/1/2010
Funding:
$1.1M

PowerInbox, a Boston, MA-based open app platform for email. Powerinbox's service, which has been made available to the public today, enables users to run apps from inside their email...

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Google Acquires Zagat To Flesh Out Local Reviews

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:30 AM PDT

zagatproducts_printedGuides

Google has acquired Zagat, one of the most well-known names in restaurant reviews. Zagat is best known for its small guidebooks (the dead-tree sort) that offer reviews and recommendations on restaurants around the world. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Zagat was founded back in 1979, and, according to the company, now includes ratings and reviews submitted by 350,000 ‘surveyors’ — its own consumers submit content for use in future guidebooks. In recent years the company has moved its reviews online as well, and it offers mobile applications for the top smartphone platforms. Much of their online content was locked behind a paywall for some time, but Zagat relaunched its website in Feburary to include far more free content.

In 2008 Zagat reportedly put itself up for sale with an asking price of around $200 million, but subsequently took itself off the market (at least, until now).

The move is part of Google’s mission to improve its local products, which are now run by Google VP Marissa Mayer (Mayer has long been one of the most public faces at the company, and was head of Search for a decade).

Google had previously been in talks to acquire Yelp in late 2009, but those discussions fell apart and Yelp walked away from some $500 million. Since then, the relationship between Google and Yelp has been tenuous, as Google borrowed liberally from Yelp’s database of reviews to flesh out its Google Places pages. Google has toned down the practice in the last few months, and is now clearly looking to boost the number of reviews it can call its own using features like Hotpot and through deals. Hence today’s acquisition.

From the Google blog:

So, today, I’m thrilled that Google has acquired Zagat. Moving forward, Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering—delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world.

With Zagat, we gain a world-class team that has more experience in consumer based-surveys, recommendations and reviews than anyone else in the industry. Founded by Tim and Nina Zagat more than 32 years ago, Zagat has established a trusted and well-loved brand the world over, operating in 13 categories and more than 100 cities. The Zagats have demonstrated their ability to innovate and to do so with tremendous insight. Their surveys may be one of the earliest forms of UGC (user-generated content)—gathering restaurant recommendations from friends, computing and distributing ratings before the Internet as we know it today even existed. Their iconic pocket-sized guides with paragraphs summarizing and "snippeting" sentiment were "mobile" before "mobile" involved electronics. Today, Zagat provides people with democratized, authentic and comprehensive view of where to eat, drink, stay, shop and play worldwide based on millions of reviews and ratings.



SOS Online Backup Secures $3 Million Series A Round

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:28 AM PDT

sos

SOS Online Backup, a company that markets cloud-based data backup and protection solutions, has raised $3 million in Series A funding from Splashpond Investors. The financing round brings the total of capital raised by the company, which is obviously operating in a saturated market of online backup solutions, to $10 million since its inception in 2006.

SOS Online Backup, which competes with the likes of Carbonite, Mozy and Nomadesk, says it currently boasts more than 500,000 users.

The capital injection will serve to support the roll-out of several new products and cloud-based data backup solutions for a wide range of devices and platforms, the company says.



Dear All Photo Apps: Mobli Just Won Filters

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:25 AM PDT

NYC_Filter

In my previous post about Mobli, I claimed it would be the break-out photo sharing app of the year. I went to say that like Instagram, it has something special in between the pixels. I backed that up with a starting figure — users were spending an average of 33 minutes on the site. (The latest stat the company shared with me is that on average, there are 3.4 pictures added per user per day.)

Stats aside, today Mobli is kicking it up in a major, major way by introducing a new breed of photo filters that not only put every other photo app’s on the defense, they set a new bar for user convenience and possibilities for brands. Let’s dive in:

Server-side Filter Effects:

Maybe it’s the geek in me, but I’ve found it surprising to learn that most people around me didn’t realize that applying and switching back-and-forth between filter effects within photo apps is a major battery guzzler. Well, it is folks. See, applying filter effects puts a computational strain on any CPU and/or graphics chipset, which means of course, sucking more power to make that happen.

What Mobli is doing is pushing the computational heavy lifting server-side. This has two major benefits: First, it means less power-guzzling on smartphones’ already lacking battery packs. Second, it means that adding additional filters no longer requires an act of download of any sort on behalf of the user. New would filters just ‘appear’ in the app.

The new version of Mobli features 22 free filters.

Location Filters:

What’s really exciting about pushing the filters server-side is that doing so kicks the doors wide-open to brand-new filter possibilities. Examples? Think filters that are geo-based, venue-based, time-based, etc. Let’s look at a couple examples:

Say you’re at a conference, where folks regularly take photos of the stage, the exhibition floor and other attendees. With Mobli’s location filters, the app would recognize that users are at Disrupt, for example, and bango, there would be a ‘Disrupt’ filter. See the screenshot below to see how that would like.

Now say you’re at the Camp Nou to watch FC Barcelona annihilate Real Madrid (again)… Barça could work out a deal with Mobli for filters that would frame photos taken in the stadium in club colors, or stamp them with images of team players like Messi, or newly signed Cesc Fàbregas.

Clearly brands could have a field day with the possibilities presented with Mobli’s location-based filters.

Of the 22 filters, 7 are location-based, including: TechCrunch Disrupt, Silicon Valley, Vegas, NYC, LA, Omaha, and Canada. A few examples are at the bottom of the post.

In other Mobli news, with the new version being released today the company is also leveling the cross-platform playing-field. Brand new Android and Blackberry versions are now available, and are identical in terms of functionality to their iPhone app predecessor.

For the developers in the crowd, Mobli has also been working on an API. It’s still behind lock and key, but you can apply for access, here.

To all the other photo sharing apps: Your move.

Company:
MOBLI
Launch Date:
1/8/2010

Mobli is a real-time visual media platform made up of subject-based channels such as people, places and topics. Mobli enables users to see the world through other people's eyes!

Learn more



GE And Others Invest $22 Million In Green Builder Project Frog

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:12 AM PDT

Project_Frog_SFRA_3-800x0

GE is leading a $22 million investment in San Francisco-based green builder Project Frog, which helps speed up and reduce the cost of traditional construction by using a combination of new technologies. The company improves on current methods by combining semi-custom designs with a pre-engineered kit of energy-efficient building materials. The end result are building that use at least 25% less energy than the strictest building codes in the U.S., and as much as 80% less energy in some parts of the country.

GE was joined by other investors including Claremont Creek Ventures, Greener Capital Partners and RockPort Capital Partners, but the investment amount for each participating firm was not disclosed.

In addition to the creation of the prefab materials, Project Frog also performs advanced 3D modeling to analyze buildings in each location. This process allows customers to optimize their building kits for the greatest energy efficiency.

Project Frog’s kits take one to six months to produce – less than half the time as required for traditional construction – and are delivered to project sites ready for assembly. This helps keep construction costs down while finishing projects more quickly than before. Typically, projects take 6 months, says the company.

The new investment will be used to expand Project Frog’s sales, execute on orders and will help pay for the installation of one of the company’s prefab buildings at GE’s Learning Center in Ossining, N.Y.

Project Frog was one of the winners of GE’s smart grid challenge in June, which awarded 10 startups with ideas on how to reduce energy usage $63 million to split.


Company:
PROJECT FROG
Funding:
$35.5M

Project FROG is a venture-backed company founded in 2006 with the mission of designing and manufacturing smart buildings – high-performance, green building systems that are healthy, quick to deploy,...

Learn more


Smartphone Got You Down? Verizon And Motorola Have Some Good Advice

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:07 AM PDT

shutterstock_68696722 (1)

Are we in the post-PC era or aren’t we? A tipster sent in this Verizon “quick tip” that suggests the best way to keep you smartphone fresh and fun is to reboot it once a day.

Your phone has capabilities that make it almost as powerful as a computer, so like a computer, for optimal performance, give it a fresh start by rebooting it once a day. Turn it off for one minute, then restart it. Rebooting refreshes your phone software and your connection to the nearest cell tower. It can also help extend your battery life.

Now this is wrong on many levels, the least of which is technical. The smartphone is not “a computer,” it is a mobile device and, as such, it should be designed to run unhindered for days if not months at a time. To suggest that it needs to be “refreshed” with a reboot is to admit that the software consistently fails on a daily basis.

Android, for example, runs a Linux variant at its core. The garbage collection, process handling, and storage control features should run seamlessly and without complaint. If Verizon is suggesting their products – and I’m pointing to both Android and iPhone devices here – are unable to perform in this regard, then they are essentially admitting they are selling junk.

Why am I harping on this point? Well, considering it’s an actual Verizon/Motorola suggestion – and one that their sales representatives may cite when someone comes in to complain about a device – it shows a wildly irresponsible level of ignorance and a certain disrespect of the consumer. Suggesting that your phone needs a good hard reset every day is akin to admitting that all of the problems associated with various smartphones – random reboots, overheating, battery run-down – aren’t the manufacturer’s fault (or even Verizon’s fault) – they’re your fault.

I’ve heard – and experienced – far too many phone horror stories to accept that the manufacturers aren’t to blame. They rush undifferentiated, untested garbage to market, depend on untested builds of an OS, and then blame us for their failures. Then frustrated users get to hear bored techs mumble something about “rebooting your phone” and, although there is something wrong at the core of these devices, consumers accept their fate.

In a post-PC era, we should be able to trust our mobile devices. A PC, in theory, shouldn’t be rebooted every day and a cellphone should never be rebooted unless you’re replacing a SIM card or a battery. For Verizon to suggest this is like a Geek Squad hack sucking his teeth for a minute and then saying “Well, we need to reinstall Windows if you’re getting a memory error.” It allows the manufacturer to fob off claims of failure with the age-old tech support technique of “rebooting the damn thing.”

[Image: Valeriy Lebedev/Shutterstock]



Samsung Nexus Prime Support Page Pops Up, Rumored Specs Trickle Out

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:01 AM PDT

android-ice-cream-sandwich-aka-android-4.0

If the model number GT-i9250 means nothing to you, you best brush up on your mobile news. It’s supposed to be the next Google phone, the Nexus Prime, and the first phone to run the much anticipated Ice Cream Sandwich. But the rumor mill has had its way with this one. We’ve heard juicy bits that seem entirely plausible and others that are downright false. Today’s bit would be a dummy support page for the i9250 as shared by an unidentified GSM Arena tipster.

The page itself is pretty barren, with a couple How-to and FAQ links that don’t even belong to the Prime. But the tipster seemed to know quite a bit about the phone, including information that squashes earlier rumors. This is where we get out our salt-shakers and proceed with caution.

The first thing we need to know is that that leaked user agent profile that everyone believed to be for the Prime was actually the UAP for the Nexus S. That’s not to say that the Prime doesn’t exist or anything drastic like that, but more likely that they’re using the Nexus S Profile as a placeholder for the Prime. That said, the tipster claimed that “Nexus Prime” is merely a codename, and that the official Google phone moniker for this model will be the Samsung Galaxy Prime.

When that User Agent Profile leaked, the first thing everyone made a huff about was the 800×480 screen resolution. No worries guys. First of all, the flagship Ice Cream Sandwich handset will most certainly have a more impressive resolution than phones that have been launched over the last two years. But past that, GSM Arena‘s tipster also mentions that the Prime will sport a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD display, which could mean that we’ll see the same resolution as we do on the Galaxy Note: 1280×800.

The tipster also mentioned that the Prime will take on the same contoured display as the Nexus S, and have a waist line of just 8.8mm. Oddly enough, the source said that Samsung has opted for an entirely metal chassis on this little guy, which is quite the deviation from its usual plastic casing. We’re not sure how much that’ll affect the weight, but it could be a nice step up if they can keep it light.

Finally, the tipster expects a launch around the end of October. This matches up nicely with Eric Schmidt’s promise of an October/November time frame for Ice Cream Sandwich, which could very well be the best part of the Prime. Drool on, fellow phone geeks. Drool on.



Facebook E-Commerce App Payvment Launches Premium Version For Larger Retailers

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 08:00 AM PDT

payvment

Payvment, a startup that allows anyone to create and operate a retail storefront on Facebook, is releasing a new version of its social commerce platform that aims to meet needs of larger retailers, brands and agencies.

Payvment's Facebook App, which launched in November of 2009, lets anyone create a retail store on the social network. The app lets you set up products, categories of products (i.e. shoes, T-shirts, sweaters), import photos, list terms of service and shipping options and more. Once you set up your online shop on Facebook, it will show up in a separate tab on your profile or page under "storefront". The company also offers a virtual shopping mall of all of its storefronts on Facebook.

The new paid versions, Payvment Premium and Payvment Platinum, inclue advanced analytics on Likes, comments and Tweets on a product-by-product basis. Retailers can also create an automated and product-specific social promotion, allowing users to schedule posts to their Wall and Twitter feeds to promote key products and deals. And sellers will also be able to run promotions on individual products using coupon codes.

Premium versions also support multiple storefronts and administrators from a single dashboard. Payvment Premium, which includes all of the existing features of Payvment's free application as several new features listed above, will be available for $29.95 per month or $299.95 yearly. Payvment Platinum is a customized version of the e-commerce platform that includes an unlimited number of storefronts, account administrators, 1:1 training and priority customer support.

Payvment now has over 60,000 active storefronts using the free version of its social platform. The company is now beginning to monetize so it should be interesting to see how much traction the startuo can get among paid customers. As Facebook continues to evolve as a destination for e-commerce, more retailers are looking for ways to sell their products on the social network. Of course, Facebook, which is reportedly ramping up e-commerce initiatives, could also be playing in the space soon.



Motorola’s New Facebook Phone Revealed

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:58 AM PDT

EX225

Motorola’s no stranger to shoehorning social media into their devices (I’m looking at you, MotoBlur), but a new device passing through the Bluetooth SIG website reveals just how serious Motorola is about Facebook integration.

Before we go any further, I’ll have to ask you to lower any expectations you may have about a Motorola Facebook phone. A little bit more. And… there we go.

The EX225 is Motorola’s first phone with a Facebook button, joining the illustrious ranks of the HTC ChaCha/Status, HTC Salsa, and the, erm, Vodafone Blue 555. Unfortunately, the EX225 seems to skew toward the Vodafone as far as execution goes, as it seems to lack any smartphone DNA and only has a 2.4-inch display. It’s tough to tell given size of Motorola’s image, but UnwiredView thinks it’s running a BREW-based OS, which makes sense given Motorola’s recent feature phone offerings.

It’s a GSM device, and the fact that a dual-SIM variant (the EX226, naturally) exists likely means the device is going to get some global play. No word yet on domestic availability, but I’ve got a hunch the EX225 will end up positioned as a quick messaging device with an ostentatious name on AT&T.

Big Blue still wants to be able offer token devices for customers who don’t necessarily want smartphone data rates, and the EX225 has just enough appeal to act as a transition phone. Users will be able to get a taste of data, and once they’re hooked, a full-blown smartphone will likely be in their futures.


Company:
MOTOROLA SOLUTIONS, INC.
Launch Date:
1928

Motorola Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MSI) is a data communications and telecommunications equipment provider that succeeded Motorola Inc. following the spin-off of the mobile phones division into Motorola Mobility Holdings,...

Learn more


Fingerprint Grabs $1.4 Million, Taps Veteran Team To Create Mobile Learning Network For Kids

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:55 AM PDT

Fingerprint Logo

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it thousands of times: Children are the future. Both literally and figuratively, that’s a hard one to debate. Now then, if adults are adopting digital technologies at an astounding rate, to better their own lives, connect, and learn, why not the world’s whippersnappers? Some might balk at the sight of a five-year-old on an iPhone, but when digital devices and technology become means not just to make money off of young people through games or carrier contracts, but tools of early education, the critics quiet down significantly. We’ve covered a few cool young startups, like Motion Math and Launchpad Toys, which are mixing some serious learning with more than an ounce of fun — in an effort to make mobile devices educational resources for kids.

Today, Fingerprint, a new startup based in San Francisco, is joining in on the wave of mobile education for kids — with a round of early funding and a team well-versed in children’s entertainment and education to boot. In an effort to build a network of learning and entertainment apps for kids, the startup is today announcing that it has raised $1.4 million in seed funding from K2MediaLabs, THQ, Reed Elsevier Ventures, and Suffolk Ventures.

As to its team, Fingerprint was co-founded by CEO Nancy MacIntyre, who was executive vice president of product and marketing at LeapFrog Enterprises, and Kevin Wendle and Daniel Klaus of K2Media Labs. It also has Heather Regan (the former COO of Everloop) as well as Darren Atherton on board, who was formerly Head of Production and Online at LucasArts and previously worked at both EA and Mattel. According to Fingerprint’s website, the team collectively generated over $4 billion in revenue, 500 million downloads, 200 video games, 100 interactive books, and 12 technology patents.

Even if these numbers are bloated, the team is familiar with the space to be sure. But, so what? As the market for education and gaming apps for kids grows, there are still plenty of challenges to be faced; namely, parents have a tough time finding appropriate (and truly educational) content in overloaded app stores, let alone staying engaged in their kids’ digital play experience once they find suitable apps.

Within a few years, millions of kids will be using Android and iOS devices, so Fingerprint is aiming to make sure that kids from ages three to eight — and their parents — are provided with a shared fun and educational experience, while delivering a platform that allows developers to showcase clean, well-designed apps.

To do this, Fingerprint will be launching applications that include features that enable social sharing and communication between kids and adults, gameplay snapshots for parents, a recommendation engine for new games based on users’ patterns of play and progress, as well as a virtual reward system that encourages kids and parents to stay engaged.

Of course, to build a truly robust and meaningful platform, Fingerprint needs to offer compelling business opportunities for developers — so the startup has created a distribution network for third-party developers that enables them to design and deploy their games so that they can easily be discovered, downloaded, and shared by Fingerprint users. To this end, the team says that it will allow developers to “fingerprint” their games, which means that they’ll be able to easily tap into sharing and engagement features that expose their apps to new audiences and reduce customer acquisition and support infrastructure costs.

To kick things off, starting in October, Fingerprint will be launching four flagship applications, which users can get an early taste of here, whereafter it will begin working with third-party app developers to design and distribute new titles.

Touch devices present an incredible educational opportunity for young people (hell, PCWorld even called the iPad the Toy of the Year in 2010), and while there are some interesting startups out there making headway, the market remains largely untapped. It’s not a zero sum game, and educational app developers have the opportunity to create cross-pollinating and collaborative communities (or networks) of apps that provide distribution and innovation opportunities for developers, as well as amazing resources for kids. It will be interesting to see how Fingerprint positions itself going forward. More to come, to be sure.

For more, check out Fingerprint at home here.


Company:
FINGERPRINT
Launch Date:
7/2010
Funding:
$1.4M

Fingerprint is building the first mobile learning and play network for kids and their grown-ups.

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DreamIt Ventures Launches Its Fall 2011 Philadelphia Class

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:39 AM PDT

dreamit

Startup accelerator DreamIt Ventures is introducing its Fall 2011 Philadelphia class today, which includes five minority-owned companies selected in collaboration with Comcast Ventures. In May, DreamIt and Comcast teamed up to provided seed funding, training and mentoring to minority-led startups, starting with DreamIt’s fall program.

The current class includes students and alumni from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Duke, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and MIT. Startup founders have past work experience at Google, Yahoo, Intel, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.

Five of the companies were selected together by DreamIt and Comcast Ventures, the venture capital affiliate of Comcast Corporation, as part of its Minority Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (MEAP). This program provides an extra $350,000 on top of the funding DreamIt offers for minority-led startups. The current group includes owners who are African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Indian.

MEAP is the first initiative from the $20 million fund created by Comcast as a part of the acquisition of NBC Universal. The fund will also be used to invest in other minority-led startups and initiatives outside of DreamIt in the future.

The 15 startups in DreamIt’s new fall class include the following companies (note, links were provided when available):

  • Cloudmine, Philadelphia, PA: The world's simplest mobile backend-as-a-service provider.
  • ClrTouch, Brooklyn, NY: Enabling consumers and publishers to port web content into a custom tablet interface.
  • ElectNext, Philadelphia, PA: It works like a dating site, for your elections. Compare candidates and find the perfect fit. (MEAP company)
  • FeedbackTrail, West Chester, PA: Building a better app experience through feedback.
  • Grassroots Unwired, Philadelphia, PA: Mobile applications that provide the
  • accountability and efficiency of real-time tracking and reporting for political campaigns and non-profits that capture data in the field.
  • Kwelia, New York, NY: Quantitatively derived analytical tools that will facilitate decision-making for residential real estate. (MEAP company)
  • Metalayer, Washington, DC: A visual search company that turns the real world into sortable data. Turn your pictures into 1,000 words. (MEAP company)
  • Nopone, Chatanooga, TN: Bringing together contractors, builders, project managers, DIYers, and building material suppliers. List it. Supply it. Build it.
  • Oneaway, Philadelphia, PA and Palo Alto, CA: An app that introduces you to new people.
  • Polin8, Philadelphia, PA and New York, NY: Mobile platform media studio specializing in pioneering apps that engage users with high-concept visual, sound and touch interactions.
  • Qwite, Los Gatos, CA: A location-based service, taking you where you want to go – from intent, to experience and memories. (MEAP company)
  • SnipSnap, Philadelphia, PA: The first app to scan and save coupons to your mobile phone.
  • Spling, Summit, NJ: A social broadcasting network that allows you and your friends to easily share, discover, and experience media on the Internet.
  • Technology Startup (Name Being Finalized), Washington, DC: A platform that will help friends make their plans more easily. (MEAP company)
  • TraRoma, Taiwan and New York, NY: A dating site with a female point of view.
Now in its fourth year in Philadelphia, the DreamIt program will again be located at the University City Science Center, where the participating companies will work out of 6,000 square feet of shared office space.

Financial-organization:
DREAMIT VENTURES
Launch Date:
2007

DreamIt Ventures is a venture capital firm specializing in incubation and seed investments. The firm seeks to invest between $10,000 and $30,000 in each company. The organization was founded...

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Andreessen Horowitz Leads $5.7M Round In Analytics Platform For Hadoop Data Platfora

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:29 AM PDT

Platfora

Platfora, a startup focused on bringing businesses intelligence from big data, raised $5.7 million in Series A funding 

led by Andreessen Horowitz with intelligence technology company In-Q-Tel participating. Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Scott Weiss is joining the board as part of the investment.

Ben Werther, founder and CEO of Platfora, explains that 

Hadoop one of the best options for businesses that manage huge amounts of data because it is low cost and provides a massively scalable data infrastructure. But, he explains that it lacks the interactivity, intelligence and sophisticated reporting capabilities needed by business users. Basically, there needs to be a layer that helps retrieve intelligence and analytics from this data.

For background, Hadoop is a Java software framework born out of an open-source implementation of Google's published computing infrastructure which is fostered within the Apache Software Foundation. Hadoop supports distributed applications running on large clusters of commodity computers processing enormous amounts of data. For example, Facebook uses Hadoop.

Platfora works with existing Hadoop clusters, including Cloudera, MapR, and Amazon EMR, among others, and automatically turns these huge amounts of data into dimensional and predictive dashboards, reports and insights. The company's server architecture enables sub-second report delivery, analytics overlay, and drill down performance.

Platfora eliminates the need for traditional data warehouses, ETL tools and the legacy BI products of the past. The company, whose product will go to market in 2012, believes that it can serve a number of companies in industries including web, advertising, finance, telecommunications, logistics and federal intelligence.

Weiss says that Andreessen Horowitz has been sitting on sidelines of making a big investment in Hadoop for some time now. He says that it has been hard to find something valuable to help make Apache Hadoop useful and usable. “This is our big bet on Hadoop, ” says Weiss. Any company that is taking in large amount of data, whether that be from a network, email, or other infrastructure, gaining intelligence from this big data is key.

Weiss also cites the strength Werther as a key factor to the investment. He was a former product head of Greenplum, an analytical database company acquired by EMC.

The venture firm has been generally bullish on big data so the investment in a company that helps make sense of big data isn’t surprising. Andreessen Horowitz led a $25 million round in database company Factual last year.



Sony Ericsson 2011′s Xperia Line Will Get ICS, But Where’s Everyone Else?

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:03 AM PDT

xperiaics

With an October/November launch window more or less confirmed, the next burning question is which devices will get to benefit from the Ice Cream Sandwich treatment first. Motorola’s Sanjay Jha mentioned last month that he’d like his company to be first to market with an ICS device, but now another vendor has thrown their weight behind the latest update.

Today, Sony Ericsson has announced their support for the forthcoming version of Android, with all of their 2011 Xperia smartphones shipping with support for Ice Cream Sandwich.

Of course, this announcement says nothing about the actual logistics of the situation. Sure, flashy handsets like the Xperia Ray and the Xperia Arc will be privy to an ICS update, but SoMobile’s Sony Ericsson source makes no mention of availability dates. All devices that will get the Ice Cream Sandwich update will reportedly be upgraded to Android 2.3.4 first, which is curious since Sony mentioned that process would start as a phased rollout in October. Unless Sony Ericsson plans to stick very tightly to their timelines, that likely would push their ICS update window into November or beyond.

However murky the plan may be right now, at least Sony Ericsson has made it known. The competition, on the other hand, has remained largely quiet in the face of an Ice Cream Sandwich war during the coming months. How will their ICS rollouts play out?

Samsung’s in a good position here: their Nexus S handset was the first in the world to run Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and recent buzz points to them carrying that same distinction for the Ice Cream Sandwich update. That said, if their Gingerbread rollout track record is any indicator, it will take a few months for ICS builds to start making their way onto their other devices.

While Gingerbread first hit on Samsung’s Nexus S in December 2010, Motorola scrambled for months to get their Gingerbread builds out to their devices. In fairness, a majority of Motorola’s devices run custom interfaces that required a bit more fine-tuning, but that could all change now. Thanks for their new relationship with Google, it stands to reason that Motorola may be in a privileged position when it comes to ICS access. Sanjay Jha’s wish for being first to market probably won’t come true, but with Google’s support, those updates may come at a much faster clip than before.

UPDATE: Sony Ericsson has come out and denied any Ice Cream Sandwich update plans. In a statement to SlashGear, representatives from SE said that “when it comes to future platforms of the Android OS, we will make them available to consumers in a timely manner, as long as they improve the user experience and are viable from a hardware point of view."



Smule’s MadPad Turns Your Life Into A Video Soundboard

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:01 AM PDT

Main Soundboard

From the “click-clack, click-clack” of your car’s turn signal to the honking of a passing bus, life is a symphony of sound — there’s just no one conducting.

This morning, Smule (makers of many a fine/remarkably clever iPhone app, from Leaf Trombone to I Am T-Pain) is looking to change that with their latest iOS app: MadPad. By capturing short, everyday sights/sounds and arranging them for playback at your fingertips, MadPad turns the world into your beatbox.

Their demo video probably explains it better than I can (though I’ll do my damnedest in a second):

Make sense? MadPad lets you capture those fleeting sounds (that turn signal click-clack, that bus honk, a barking dog, a finger snap, or anything else) and arrange them into a video soundboard. Each sound (and its accompanying recorded video) is laid out at your fingertips, and tapping any of the soundboard’s squares fires off its paired event. A few dozen taps and a good bit of experimentation later, you’ve gone and turned those random sounds into something resembling a melody.

Recording each sound is remarkably easy — far more so than I expected, actually. After you set a button to record (and set the ambient noise level), the app can automatically monitor for a volume spike and intelligently edit down your clip accordingly. Or you can just do things manually and hope for the best.

Once you’ve figured out your grand arrangement, videos can be recorded and exported to YouTube with just a few clicks. Who knows! Maybe you’ll be the next Jack Conte (minus the sweet beard.)

Interestingly enough, this app wasn’t actually built entirely in-house by Smule. It began its life as a project of Stanford student Nick Kruge, only to be adopted a few months later as Smule’s first trip into the publishing world. While it’s not nearly as graphically rich as some of their in-house efforts , it’s just as polished and well-built as anything else we’ve seen come from Smule. Plus, it’s really friggin’ fun.

The app is available now, and can be found for $0.99 for the iPhone and $2.99 for the iPad


Company:
SMULE
Launch Date:
2008
Funding:
$13.5M

Smule is a creator of Interactive Sonic Media for mobile platforms. Smule’s first product, Sonic Lighter, is a virtual lighter iPhone application that launched on September 24, 2008....

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Mashape Turns Down Acquisition Offers; Raises Seed Round From Big Name Investors

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT

43071v4-max-250x250

APIs are hot. Twitter attracts 15 billion API calls per day, and Saleforce.com receives 50 percent of its traffic through its API, to site a few big name examples. So here’s a simple thought: If everyone and their mother is beginning to take advantage of APIs, why not create a marketplace where developers can easily discover, distribute, and consume all things API? This was the thinking employed by a young Italian startup (transplanted to San Francisco) named Mashape. As we wrote in our original profile of the startup in June, simply put: Mashape wants to be a little bit Etsy, a little bit Github by offering a unified, all-in-one marketplace where users can find, sell, distribute, and hack on APIs.

When the startup arrived in the U.S. in 2009, it quickly raised $100K from several angels and VCs. And now more investors are buying, and their names are familiar in the world of tech investing. The company announced yesterday that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding led by New Enterprise Associates, with participation from Index Ventures, Charles River Ventures, Ignition Partners, and Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors. Several angels also contributed to the round, including Amazon President and CEO Jeff Bezos.

It’s an impressive list of investors, especially considering the fact that Mashape launched in private beta last June and has still yet to officially launch publicly. Mashape CEO Augusto Marietti also tells me that, prior to its seed round, the startup had received acquisition offers from both a “big public company” as well as a “medium size” company (of around 200 employees). The founders turned down both offers, and thus were not willing to share names, in pursuit of raising venture and angel investment to allow it to continue to operate as an independent entity.

What’s more, Marietti said that the startup has already begun to generate revenue, and in three months has jumped from 110 APIs to nearly 200 — both public and private.

What do I mean by public and private — and where is that revenue coming from? The APIs listed on Mashape are both free and for charge, hence the public and private, and Mashape’s incipient monetization strategy. But the company also wants to help developers monetize, too. Mashape offers a simple (and free) tool that enables users to monetize JSON APIs, for example, by allowing them to list an API and then set up billing with a single click to choose monthly charges, API call limits, and give a price per additional call.

“If we take a look into those startups that have more than 30 people”, Marietti said, “we notice that most of them are hiring two new positions: API evangelists and API engineers. These positions would never have existed 3 years ago. A new market is on its way”.

APIs are without a doubt maturing, but Mashape also wants its marketplace to take advantage of the other maturing facets of Web 2.0, 3.0, or wherever the Thought Leaders want to put us. Thus, Mashape is building a social layer on top of its APIs, in order to address the discoverability and trust issue inherent to a growing API marketplace, allowing users to see what their friends are using.

Bigger sites like Twitter haven’t yet bought on to Mashape, and granted the startup is playing in a market made of enterprise solutions, but with these features in place, the startup is poised to take advantage of a community built from startups, SMBs, to the big guys — whenever they finally decide to take the bait.

In another newsworthy note for startups and developers: Mashape announced today via its blog that it will be a partner in Rapleaf’s new “Personalization Fund”, a $1 million fund “dedicated to supporting developers creating projects around data and personalization”. Mashape community members will receive priority access to Rapleaf's fund resources, according to Marietti.

As VentureBeat initially reported, Rapleaf is looking to fund between 50 to 100 startups with its new initiative, which offers $15K in cash grants, free data, and services. Startups chosen to participate will receive access to Rapleaf’s network of partners, its customers, and joint marketing opportunities, the company told VB.


Company:
MASHAPE
Launch Date:
7/2009
Funding:
$1.6M

Mashape provides a world-class marketplace to manage, distribute and consume any kind of API in the world, both cloud and internal, both existing or just born, targeting every developer,...

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Company:
RAPLEAF
Funding:
$16M

Rapleaf wants every person to be able to have a truly personalized experience. To achieve this, Rapleaf helps leading brands, companies, and agencies personalize customer interactions through deeper customer...

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Sharethrough Debuts Social Video Ad Analytics Dashboard For Agencies And Advertisers

Posted: 08 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT

Sharethrough

Social video advertising startup Sharethrough is debuting ‘Sharethrough HQ,’ an analytics dashboard designed specifically for social video campaigns.

Sharethrough’s ad network basically takes video advertisement from brands and helps agencies and marketers distribute these videos through social ad formats. For example, Sharethrough allow you to Tweet a video, Share the content on Facebook, and more from within the ad unit. The startup has run campaigns on publisher sites behalf of a number of high-profile brands, including Sony, Microsoft, General Motors, Victoria's Secret, Nestle and LEGO.

Sharethrough HQ gives media agencies and brand advertisers the ability to track the performance of their online video content, gain insight into the media generated for their campaigns and make real-time campaign optimization decisions from a single interface.

Marketers can access video viewership metrics such as average view length, Sharethrough rates, social engagement metrics. Sharethrough HQ also includes a real-time social activity feed that aggregates all of the online conversation around each video across multiple social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

And the startup continues to grow as more brands look to advertise through video. Sharethrough says its average campaign size has nearly tripled year-over-year and overall company revenue has grown by over 100 percent year-over-year. According to comScore, the video advertising platform’s current U.S. reach at 97.5 million viewers.


Company:
SHARETHROUGH
Funding:
$6M

Sharethrough is a leading social video advertising platform and distribution network. The company provides advertisers with a repeatable, scalable and transparent approach to distributing creative brand video content that...

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