Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

The Hackathon Never Sleeps

Posted: 11 Sep 2011 01:41 AM PDT


It’s been a solid 12 hours since the Disrupt Hackathon commenced, and things are getting a bit loopy. For the most part, this place is pretty quiet. We have a few sleepers in corners, and just about every cushy object in this building has been occupied. But the vast majority of hackers are wide awake, coding away.

And with good reason — $500,000 is at stake, among other awesome prizes.

Each table is littered with trash — Red Bull, Doritos, Snapple, and quite a bit of beer. The pizza has been absolutely demolished, and now Chinese food seems to be the main attraction. Unfortunately, a plate shortage led some to take matters into their own hands and rip up pizza boxes to use as make-shift plates.

Another development was the eruption of a massive bungee-dart war. According to the hackers “hundreds of darts were flying through the room.” In truth, I’m pretty sure there aren’t more than a few dozen darts in this building, but I bet it was epic nonetheless.

I’m getting ready to call it a night, but for these hackers this is just the beginning. Progress has been made, but many have also encountered a few hiccups along the way. The Ping Pong Hero app we mentioned earlier is having some Bluetooth issues, while Ryan Tsukamoto’s AR air drums have run into quite the obstacle — the iPad’s craptacular front-facing camera.

Still, determination seems to be the most dominant emotion in the room, and there’s no doubt in my mind that tomorrow will yield many success stories.

Who Said Hackers Don’t Have Style?

Posted: 11 Sep 2011 12:21 AM PDT


Hackers aren’t necessarily known for their sense of fashion. Usually, it’s all about the code. They might as well be wearing jumpsuits — or their birthday suits, for that matter. But here at the Disrupt Hackathon, some of our hackers are trying to prove the world wrong. There is some sartorial splendor afoot, and it’s coming in the form of headwear.

That’s right. Hats.

Just like these coding wizards at Hackathon, these hats come in many shapes and sizes, colors and styles. Whether they’re actually fashionable is something we can’t actually report on. We’ll leave that for the general public. But one thing is certain: hackers heart hats. A lot.

Below, without further ado, them hats:

The Beanie

Karriem Khan, Nicole Yang, Siamak “Ash” Ashrafi, Devin Foley

The Ball Cap

Brigham Hausman, Kevin Jhangiani, Raimundo Martinez, Timothy Wu, Omid Ahourai, Tom Puskarich

The Golf Cap

Justin Mahon, Brett Barrows, Phil Wee

The Hair

Raises Nebie, Christopher Vong

The Inexeplicable

Nick Pannuto

Honorable Mention, The Soviet Wonder

Danil Kozyatnikov

TCTV: Darts, Shower Caps, And Other Sights At The TC Disrupt Hackathon

Posted: 11 Sep 2011 12:07 AM PDT

We’re back with another look at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Hackathon, where hundreds of programmers are currently burning the midnight oil as they work to get their projects in demo-ready shape by tomorrow afternoon. This video, which we shot earlier this evening, gives a quick look at what some of the participants are working on, how they’re keeping fueled — and some of the quirky humor that emerges when I unexpectedly stick a microphone in their faces.

Also be sure to check out TC Gadget Chief John Biggs’ video tour, Roaming The Hackathon Hall, which covers a lot more ground.

Spotify And Ford Team Together To Showcase The Music Service’s First In-Car Integration

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 06:27 PM PDT

2011 Ford Fiesta to Receive New SYNC AppLink Cabability

Today at the TechCrunch Hackathon, Ford, the second largest automaker in the U.S., teamed with Spotify, the fast-growing Swedish music service that recently arrived in the states, to demonstrate the current opportunities for in-car app innovation as well as the new voice-activated Ford SYNC system. Just to clarify: This isn’t an “official partnership”, it’s just a cool hack meant to demonstrate how easy it is to integrate with SYNC. For those unfamiliar, Ford SYNC is the in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows drivers to make hands-free phone calls, as well as control music and other in-car entertainment with their very own vocal chords. SYNC recently added integration with AppLink (in 2011 Ford Fiestas for now) to allow hands-free use of smartphone apps in the car.

At Hackathon today, Ford offered developers the opportunity to learn more about SYNC’s API and demonstrate how to integrate apps like Spotify into SYNC. This is Spotify’s first in-car integration, and it’s still an initial hack, but it’s a pretty good start. We’re hoping this becomes a long-term Ford/Spotify strategy.

The tremendous growth of smartphone apps has created the need and the opportunity to provide the same voice-controlled solution for apps that drivers are now using in the car — but it also has to stay safe. “Look ma no hands!” is never something you want to hear while in a car with someone. SYNC provides users, through voice assistance, with the ability to easily control their car’s multimedia and app functions, and at at the Hackathon today Spotify is on board in the passenger seat.

According to Julius Marchwicki, the SYNC AppLink program manager, TC Hackathon was the perfect place to launch to give developers the information they need on Ford’s new API and SDK to get developers hacking on in-car entertainment and app goodness.

So just what’s possible for developers with SYNC AppLink at this point in its development? When working with SYNC-enabled smartphone apps, developers are able to create a voice user interface using SYNC’s in-vehicle speech recognition system, write information to the radio head display or in-vehicle touch screen, using the text-to-speech engine, the in-vehicle meny system to provide commands for their mobile app, and vehicle data, like speed, GPS location, and fuel economy. All good stuff to know, and it’s nice to see Ford, a company that didn’t look so hot a few years ago, getting in on the innovation train.

SYNC AppLink will be available in 10 models (of Ford vehicles) beginning in 2012, including Ford Fusion, the Fusion Hybrid, Mustang, Shelby, Fiesta, F-150, and more.

Company: Spotify
Funding: €183M

Spotify has created a lightweight software application that allows instant listening to specific tracks or albums with virtually no buffering delay. It was launched in the fall of 2008 and had approximately 10 million users by September 2010. Spotify offers streaming music from major and independent record labels including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal. Users download Spotify and then log onto their service enabling the on-demand streaming of music. Music can be browsed by artist, album, record...

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Company: Ford

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TCTV: Roaming The Hackathon Hall

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 06:14 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-10 at 6.13.38 PM

We ran through the Hackathon this afternoon, asking folks what they were working on. The results, obviously, were quite varied and very impressive. Our favorites? The dudes working on an air guitar pick for the iPhone and some other cats working on image-based logins and data sharing.

It’s a bit on the long side but everyone was quite interesting and, arguably, entertaining.

Meet Ten Disrupt Hackathon Hackers

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 03:37 PM PDT


Here are ten hackers we met at today’s Disrupt Hackathon. These folks have steeled themselves with snack food and coffee and are hacking away as we speak.

Rob Banagale

Rob Banagale is the founder of a new product launching at the Hackathon, so we’re going to let him debut the name. In the words of Rob, “it’s a new identity service that lets you represent yourself through a series of pictures.” We’re not quite sure what that means but we’re excited to see.

A couple of Rob’s tech heroes include Steve Jobs, and Arthur C. Clarke. His proudest moment of hackery was when he added Twitter integration to a live music chat room for live music fans. He seems cool, but his picture says it all. Blue Steel, baby.

He’s based out of Seattle, but if you want to get in touch with Rob, hook up with him on Twitter: @jetsetter

Conrad Rushing

Conrad has a bad case of carpal tunnel, but he’s still ready and raring to go. As CTO, he’s launching his new product at Disrupt’s Start-Up Battlefield. Obviously, he was a bit sparse with the details, but his launch isn’t the only reason he’s here.

Conrad is looking to hire, and he made a great choice in looking here. A couple projects he’s working on during the Hackathon are an auto-tagging system for language processing, and building a rudimentary webapp based on his API in time for the launch.

Some of Conrad’s heroes are Steve Jobs, Larry Wall, and Kevin Mitnick. Find him on Twitter: @crushallhumans

Monica To

Monica is a third-year student at UC Berkeley, and this is her first trip to Hackathon. She is here with a group of more experienced hackers, and said she felt she had to come. “Everyone tells me that the Hackathon is such a pivotal moment in people’s lives. I had to come.”

Her group is brainstorming through a few hacking ideas, but things are still up in the air. Luckily, most of the pressure is off Monica. She’s here for the experience, not the cash.

Want to get in touch with Monica? Check her out on Twitter: @monicato

Maria Nasioti

Maria flew quite a ways to come to our Hackathon (she’s from Greece), but she seems stoked to be here. And I’m personally pretty stoked she’s here, too. Maria is a designer for BugSense. They have a number of different products in the works/on the market, but today’s project is called Ping Pong Hero.

It’s basically a way to use your Android phone as a ping pong paddle, and play a virtual game of table tennis sans table, ball, or real paddles. The app will even share real time scores and stats to your friends who can’t see the action live. Very cool.

Maria’s point of pride is Bug Sense, a six-month old start up with over 1,000 active users. If you feel like chatting her up, visit her Twitter: @Maria_Nas

Guy Vider

Guy’s group was silly, and didn’t register. So he’s been waiting for them since the Hackathon started. Based in Sunnyvale, CA, Guy is all about safety — at the last Hackathon he built an app that alerts you of nearby wildfires. This time he’s switched things up, but we wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Guy’s hero is Bill Gates, which is a refreshing choice amidst all the Jobs fans. Follow Guy on Twitter: @traveltechguy

Joselle Ho

Josie is from L.A., and made her way to San Fran this weekend after a very successful stint at last year’s TechCrunch Disrupt. You may remember her product, People’s Choice Award winner, Miso Music.

Today, her plan is to build a gaming app, also based on music. You are asked a series of trivia questions related to playing music, or perhaps even put on the spot to play an “F” on the nearest instrument.

When Josie grows up, she wants to be like Angie Chang of Women 2.0 and Miso Media’s current CTO, Ryan Tsukamoto.

Interested? Follow Josie on Twitter: @joselleho

Ryan Tsukamoto

You may recognize the name, and if you don’t you obviously aren’t reading very carefully. Along with being one of Josie’s heroes, Ryan is also the CTO at Miso Music. While Josie works on her music trivia game, Ryan is focusing on an augmented reality app that lets you play musical instruments. Right now, the focus is on a set of air drums.

Ryan is originally from Hawaii, but is currently based in L.A. His hero is Alonzo Church, and his proudest moment is winning that People’s Choice Award last year. That would be my proudest moment, too.

Want to learn more about Ryan? @Misomusic

Danil Kozyatnikov

Danil’s company is launching this week on Start Up Alley. But today, his focus is on a product that has to do with the after world. We can’t go into too much more detail, but it’s definitely a necessity in today’s world.

It’s possible that Danil has come further than anyone here at the Hackathon — he’s from Siberia. Unfortunately, the rest of his team couldn’t quite get visas in time, so he’s skyping with them on a mid-sized LCD at his table.

Dan’s hero is Loic Le Meur, who you may recognize from Seesmic. If you want to know more about Dan, check him out on Twitter: @danilka

Zac Cunningham

Visiting for the Hackathon and for his brother Ben’s birthday, Zac came all the way from Tallahassee, FL. He and his group are still brainstorming, but one thing they seem to have ruled out is the overly common social networking angle.

Zac deals mostly with the back-end of the business, while his brother Ben is more the face of the company. His heroes include John Carmack, and his bro. Zac, oddly enough, doesn’t have a Twitter account, but you can get to know his brother Ben: @codeblue87

Jennie Lees

Last but not least among our Hackathon Hackers is Jennie Lees. She lives in the Bay Area, but her accent proves her English roots. The plan for today is to improve Hacker News for mobile, and eventually personalize it by bringing in other news sources.

A few of Jennie’s heroes include the oft-mentioned Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Hacker News’s Paul Graham. One of her proudest moments was surviving the Hackathon last year, and building something that worked: an app that rated start up pitches in real time.

If you want to get to know Jennie better, follow her on Twitter: @jennielees

The Disrupt Hackathon In San Francisco Has Officially Begun

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 01:04 PM PDT


Every hacker is different, and that’s exactly what we expect to see when this is all through. Something new, something different — all with the potential to disrupt.

So far about half of registrants have made it into the venue, with the rest still signing in. Laptops are already fired up, hackers are putting their heads together, and the energy in the room is palpable. I’d guestimate that about 90 percent of the laptops in here are Macs, and the great majority of those are MacBook Airs. Apparently that’s the hacker’s notebook of choice. A full snack bar, shown below, is ready and waiting, though these guys seem much more preoccupied with getting their hack on.

We’ll keep you posted with the coolest projects throughout the day, but for now check out the first few photos of the madness.

In Battle Over The ‘Tweet’ Trademark, Twitter Sues Twittad

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 12:19 PM PDT


You may remember that back in July 2009, Twitter made a big stink about developers using the term ‘tweet’ in their Twitter apps. Oddly enough, while Twitter has long been trying to register the ‘tweet’ trademark in the United States, it has so far failed despite its efforts mainly because one or more third-party developer(s) actually beat them to the punch in – successfully – filing for trademarks including the word ‘tweets’.

Now, Twitter has moved to sue one of those developers, online advertising service provider Twittad (see launch coverage), in an attempt to cancel the latter’s registration of the “Let Your Ad Meet Tweets” trademark.

In the complaint, which is embedded below, Twitter alleges as follows:

This action arises from the registration of the mark “LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS” by Twittad, LLC (“Twittad” or “Defendant”) in connection with online advertising services for use on Twitter. Defendant’s LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS registration unfairly exploits the widespread association by the consuming public of the mark TWEET with Twitter, and threatens to block Twitter from its registration and legitimate uses of its own mark.

In fact, it appears that Defendant has used LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS solely as a generic phrase to refer advertising in connection with Twitter itself, and as such it is incapable of serving as a mark, rendering the registration subject cancellation on that ground. Alternatively, if Defendant is able to establish use of LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS as a mark, its registration is subject to cancellation based on Twitter’s preexisting rights in the TWEET mark.

Accordingly, Twitter seeks cancellation of Twittad’s LET YOUR AD MEET TWEETS trademark registration under the Lanham Act 15 U.S.C. § 1052(d), § 1064 and § 1119.

Twittad originally filed its trademark application on July 2, 2008. From their website:

I have contacted Twittad, but haven’t heard back yet. Twitter comments:

“Twitter’s organic growth has taken many forms, including a widespread, dictionary-documented association of the word ‘Tweet’ with the use of Twitter. It is in the best interests of our users and developers for the meaning of ‘Tweet’ to be preserved to prevent any confusion, so we are taking action to protect its meaning.”

Dictionary-documented, really, you ask? Yup!

In a response to an inquiry made by back in March 2011, Twittad founder James Eliason acknowledged that Twitter had expressed “concern” over the Let Your Ad Meet Tweets trademark and “wanted us to assign our trademark to them.”

However, Eliason called the dispute “a timeline issue” and that his company acquired the rights “well before the word ‘Tweet’ became widely used in the Twitter ecosystem”. He also wrote:

“We firmly stand by our position of the legitimacy of the trademark due to the fact that our mark was cleared by the Trademark office in 2008.”

Fighting words indeed.

However, reading between the lines, it seems like Eliason is trying to cut a deal with Twitter, i.e. sway the company into acquiring Twittad’s U.S. trademark.

Doesn’t look that that’s ever going to happen, though. Notably, Twitter has not only sued them but also suspended Twittad’s @Twittad account. It’s also worth noting that, in the complaint, Twitter asserts that there have been “numerous attempts to resolve the dispute amicably”.

More as the story develops.

Company: Twitter
Funding: $1.16B

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 post their latest updates. An update is limited by 140 characters and can be posted through three methods: web form, text message, or instant message. The company has been busy adding features to the product like Gmail import and search. They recently launched a new site section called “Explore” for...

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Company: Twittad
Launch Date: January 7, 2008

Twittad is a 3rd party advertising service that utilizes the Twitter API. It is a place for advertisers and Twitter users to connect for a pay-per-tweet model. Advertisers benefit by being able to create fully customized opt-in campaigns targeting specific demographics of Twitter users and their followers. Twittad also has a Targeted Tweets model for advertisers to send @replies to potential clients who tweet keywords or if the Twitter user is tweeting near their business. Twitter users...

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Two Key Features Of Facebook Music: Scrobbling And Track Unification

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 12:18 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-10 at 12.11.01 PM

Yesterday, we outlined a bit of what we’ve heard about Facebook’s upcoming f8 conference. One big launch will be their official foray into music. Today, we’ve heard more about that launch.

One thing we’ve heard from a very good source is that a key aspect of the service will be “scrobbling”. The term, made popular by, means that when you listen to a song, it gets sent to your profile without you have to do anything. I assume there will be a way to turn this off, or a way for you to selectively share songs, but this is a key to the service.

Not that a post-music-to-profile feature should be surprising. Facebook’s core feature is the feed, and music will now make it even more robust. In fact, depending on how popular Facebook Music is, it could end up being one of the biggest sources of feed content.

And I think it will be pretty popular based on the second bit of information we’ve heard. Facebook Music will also apparently offer content resolution between all the different music partners involved. This means that if you’re listening to Rdio and a track goes up on your profile, a MOG user can click on the track and still hear the exact same song in full. Essentially, you’ll only need to sign up for one of the major music services Facebook is launching with to be able to access most content (there undoubtedly will be some songs available on one service but not another, so it probably won’t be fully seamless, but I assume you’ll be able to hear previews regardless).

This content resolution will likely be the most important aspect of Facebook Music. It turns Facebook into the great social music unifier. You can share songs without having to worry if your friends will be able to hear it or not based on what streaming service they use.

It’s not clear what partners Facebook has gotten to agree to this unification beyond Rdio, MOG, and Spotify. It’s certainly possible that while other services will be a part of Facebook Music, those three will be the key ones.

In terms of functionality, we’ve also heard that there will be a standard player that plays music without interruption from page to page as you browse Facebook. Om Malik previously reported on the persistent controls as well as a larger Music Dashboard area. Malik stated that the player would be at the bottom of Facebook, but we’ve heard that Facebook has been testing variations on this player, so it’s not yet clear where it will reside (top, bottom, etc).

Update: Inside Facebook’s Josh Constine has an interesting thought: what if the desktop software team at Facebook was working on a scrobbler that could also work with iTunes to import listens? Those tracks could then by matched and played via Spotify, MOG, Rdio, etc, on Facebook Music itself. Constine notes that he doesn’t have any inside information on this, but he did outline that possibility following our post from May on Facebook’s Seattle-based desktop software team.

Even if that isn’t a part of the initial roll-out, this makes a lot of sense down the road for Facebook Music. Or what about a partnership for the service? And what would Apple think of all this?

Company: Facebook
Launch Date: January 2, 2004
Funding: $2.34B

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 was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskowitz and Chris Hughes to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks. The original idea for the term...

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The Disrupt Hackathon Is Powering Up!

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 12:01 PM PDT


It’s nearly noon and the Disrupt Hackaton Hackers are converging on the Design Center Concourse like zombies hunting only one thing: caffeine. We’ll bring you posts from the floor as the festivities start but we thought it would be nice to see the building in its pristine state before countless cups of coffee, pizza rinds, and soda pop cans litter the landscape like the detritus from some wild-eyed steampunk-inspired Woodstockian bacchanal.

We’ve got volunteers, editors, writers, and other various staff members plugging, pulling, and untangling in preparation for a day of hardcore hackery. Here are a few choice shots from the show floor as we set up and, most important, we just discovered three old arcade games in a hidden hallway including the ever-popular Star Wars: The Arcade Game.

We’ll have updates throughout the night.

294 Patent Lawsuits Were Filed In August 2011; Mobile Handset Complaints Up 25 Percent Yearly

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 12:00 PM PDT


There’s no question that the cost of patents is rising. Google is paying $12.5 billion for Motorola mainly for its huge mobile patent portfolio. In July, an anti-Google consortium raised $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patents (and they overpayed). Interdigital, Kodak, and others are looking to sell their patent portfolios. As my colleague Erick Schonfeld wrote recently, we are in the midst of a patent bubble. One startup, Lex Machina, is aiming to help companies gain insight into data and analytics on patent litigation. And unsurprisingly, the company’s online patent litigation database is being used by most of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley.

The company is just did a study on mobile handset litigation. According to Lex Machina’s data, mobile handset lawsuits are up roughly 25 percent a year since 2006.  In fact, in August of 2011 alone, there were 294 patent lawsuits, 8 percent of which were mobile-related. Currently, Apple is involved in 97 open patent cases (here’s an example of one). Motorola Mobility is involved with 38 open patent cases.

We’ve known that there is a rise of patent trolls, taxing innovation and causing companies billions. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently pointed out some major flaws in the patent system, and believes that crowdsourcing is the future to reforming patents.  But until any reform happens, the flawed system is here to stay.

For background, Lex Machina was spun off of a partnership between Stanford Law School and the Stanford Computer Science Department. Initially, the research behind the company was funded by the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and companies like Apple and
Genentech. It was then spun off and funded by The Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs and ULu Ventures.

Lex Machina is announcing free access to its service for small mobile app makers who have been sued (not a bad deal considering access is usually $10,000 per year, per seat on the SaaS model). Companies who want to request access should email

Samsung Quietly Continues To Conquer The World

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 11:11 AM PDT


Is there anything Samsung doesn’t do? The same week I bought myself a shiny new Galaxy S II, they launched a solar-powered netbook for use in the developing world. Unlike any American or European company, Samsung Electronics manufactures smartphones and their memory chips, TVs and their screens, computers and their hard drives. They’re the only entity that’s both arms dealer and aggressor in the midst of the biggest arms race the tech world has ever seen. (Meanwhile, their sister companies in the Samsung Group build both ships and skyscrapers, sell life insurance, and operate theme parks.) Their revenue exceeds that of Apple or Microsoft, and their global reach is unparalleled.

Sure, they’re fighting a massive patent war with Apple around the world – but at the same time, every iPhone is 26% Samsung; even if they lose every legal battle, every iPad/iPhone/iTouch sale will still cha-ching in part into Samsung’s coffers. Their flagship phones and devices are Android, but they also maintain their own entirely separate Bada smartphone platform, and have even kept one finger in the MeeGo pie, while declining to acquire it. Oh, yes, and they’re also apparently launching a Windows 8 tablet any day now. Six months ago this seemed like a pointless lack of focus, and reminded me of William Gibson’s Josef Virek: “Aspects of my wealth have become autonomous, by degrees; at times they even war with one another. Rebellion in the fiscal extremes.” But now that Google has bought Motorola, and there’s a real risk of other Android vendors becoming second-class citizens, it seems like wise long-term thinking.

So does that solar-powered netbook. Developing markets are ripe for a massive boom in consumer technology, but are still hampered by shoddy infrastructure, especially power cuts and shortages. That means both rural areas and megacities alike will welcome tech whose lifespan is prolonged by solar power. Of course, the real action will be in cheap smartphones, as I predicted last year, and as shown in Kenya this year, where Huawei’s $90-with-no-contract Android phone has quickly become a bestseller. I expect that within the next six months, Samsung will launch its own bare-bones, cut-price Android phone — and maybe a companion solar charger — to join Huawei in targeting the five billion people who live outside the current “traditional” smartphone market.

And here’s another intriguing left-field prospect. Their products compete directly with Apple’s, in both the courtroom and the market, and now that Google has bought Motorola, they too have become half a competitor. But Samsung doesn’t have anything remotely like the software talent or online presence you find in Cupertino and Mountain View. If they wanted to expand into that space as well (admittedly a big if) they could take a half-step in that direction by acquiring poor crippled Yahoo!. It would be relatively cheap, by Samsung’s gargantuan standards; it would fit nicely into their megaconglomerate soup-to-nuts strategy; and I suspect it would also be the best thing to happen to Yahoo! in a long time.

Gillmor Gang 9.10.11 (TCTV)

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 10:00 AM PDT

Gillmore Gang test pattern

The Gillmor Gang — Danny Sullivan, Robert Scoble, John Taschek, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — rallied from big media’s confusion over how to grapple with reality. For @dannysullivan, the notion that Apple dominates the social moment (@stevegillmor says this) flies in the face of reality, or at least last years’s model.

For @scobleizer, Google+ is becoming the home of conversation, while @kevinmarks takes umbrage at the idea that Apple and iOS are only for rich people (@stevegillmor doesn’t say this.) @jtaschek spends some of his social capital reimagining new names for the AOL/Yahoo fantasy merger, and @stevegillmor sees blue sky ahead as iOS 5 and its push notification bus pulls into town.

@dannysullivan, @scobleizer, @kevinmarks, @jtaschek, @stevegillmor

Robert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. He is best known for his popular blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical evangelist at Microsoft. Scoble joined Microsoft in 2003, and although he often promoted Microsoft products like Tablet PCs and Windows Vista, he also frequently criticized his own employer and praised its competitors like Apple and Google. Scoble is the author of Naked Conversations, a book on how blogs are changing...

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Widely considered a leading “search engine guru,” Danny Sullivan has been helping webmasters, marketers and everyday web users understand how search engines work for over a decade. Danny’s expertise about search engines is often sought by the media, and he has been quoted in places like The Wall St. Journal, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, The New Yorker and Newsweek and ABC’s Nightline. Danny began covering search engines in late 1995, when he undertook a study of how they...

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Person: Kevin Marks

Kevin Marks is a software engineer. Kevin served as an evangelist for OpenSocial and as a software engineer at Google. In June 2009 he announced his resignation. From September 2003 to January 2007 he was Principal Engineer at Technorati responsible for the spiders that make sense of the web and track millions of blogs daily. He has been inventing and innovating for over 17 years in emerging technologies where people, media and computers meet. Before joining Technorati,...

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Person: John Taschek

John Taschek is vice president of strategy at He is responsible for corporate product strategy, corporate intelligence and market influence. Taschek came to company in 2003, bringing over 20 years of technology evaluation experience. Taschek currently is also the editorial director for CloudBlog - an independent blog run as an adjunct to’s web properties. He occasionally is on Steve Gillmor’s The Gillmor Gang enterprise web video-cast. Previously, Taschek ran the testing labs at eWEEK (formerly PC Week) magazine....

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Steve Gillmor is a technology commentator, editor, and producer in the enterprise technology space. He is Head of Technical Media Strategy at and a TechCrunch contributing editor. Gillmor previously worked with leading musical artists including Paul Butterfield, David Sanborn, and members of The Band after an early career as a record producer and filmmaker with Columbia Records’ Firesign Theatre. As personal computers emerged in video and music production tools, Gillmor started contributing to various publications, most notably Byte Magazine,...

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Applications For Paul Graham’s Office Hours Close Today. Get Your Applications In Now.

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 09:26 AM PDT


One of the most popular Disrupt sessions is Paul Graham’s Office Hours. (See video below). We are bringing it back to Disrupt SF on Monday, September 12th.

If you are attending Disrupt and would like to be considered, be sure you fill out the form below and fill it out soon. Applications are going to close this Saturday, September 10th, at midnight PDT.

We will consult with Graham to select the best candidates, based on which ones can get the most out of the interaction onstage and will provide insightful lessons for the audience. At the start of the session, Paul will select five companies from those finalists. All finalists need to be prepared and ready to walk on stage immediately.

Get your applications in now!

Paul Graham is a partner at Y Combinator. He is also the author of On Lisp (1993), ANSI Common Lisp (1995), and Hackers & Painters (2004). In 1995, he and Robert Morris started Viaweb, the first ASP, which in 1998 became Yahoo! Store. In 2002 he discovered a simple spam filtering algorithm that inspired the current generation of filters. Graham has a B.A. from Cornell. He earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Applied Sciences (specializing in computer...

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The Fragmented Mobile Information Race

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 09:19 AM PDT


Mobile devices are shifting many individual computing behaviors, perhaps none more significant than how we search for and receive information. Right now, it’s moving at warp speed. In between the time I finish this draft and its posted, it’s entirely possible another company or service launches in this space. Every time we “swipe open” our mobile devices, we seek out dopamine hits from receiving new emails, texts, notifications, or other bits of digital media. A good chunk of this current mobile activity revolves around the personalized search and Q&A space, which leverages these behavior in new ways.

By now, on traditional computers, we know how to find the information we seek, whether via sites like Google, Wikipedia, or through social networks. On mobile, however, our information needs and habits shift. On the go, we typically want smaller bits of information quicker, usually calibrated to our location. We are less likely to engage in longer discussion, and more likely to add questions in the hopes that machines, crowds, or some combination can produce relevant information. This shift has opened the floodgates of activity in the personalized search and Q&A space, with an impressive number of new applications vying for user attention in a crowded marketplace.

Currently, “normals” with smartphones predominantly search for information on their mobile devices through Google, Wikipedia, or, on occasion, various social networks (either via dedicated applications and/or through the browser). Other apps exist for certain needs, such as Yelp, Foursquare, or AroundMe for location-specific information and reviews, Greplin and Doat for personal search, or services such as Loopt, Quora, and even, which allow users to ask questions and (hopefully) receive good answers.

This crowded landscape is about to get even more fragmented. In the last month, Ness Computing unveiled their beautifully designed iPhone app, which applies machine learning techniques to search, filter, and tune results for restaurants, with the added benefit of learning about your tastes from your social graph and more frequent use of the app. They will eventually move into other areas. Alfred’s iPhone app, by Clever Sense, is somewhat similar to Ness without the social inputs. Loqly’s iPhone app lets users browse nearby, scrapes reviews (and menus), and encourages users to ask and answer questions. Gootip encourages users to ask questions linked to a specific location with tie-ins back into various social networks, as does Locql, which I presume Hipster will do, too, which is somewhat tangential to CrowdBeacon’s approach of offering location-specific information. Localmind’s iPhone app takes things a step further, asking users to connect major social networks to aggregate potential questions around locations. (This is a very crowded space, so was really hard to include everyone or even come close.)

In that app I happened to stumble into a Q&A thread where an employee from Quora had offered an answer. Which begs the question: How is Quora handling mobile? As I’ve speculated and as the company has hinted, it seems their iPhone app could be released soon. Mobile is a tricky play for Quora given how dense the site’s information is, though their mobile site has served users well so far. Their first version isn’t likely to include the ability to capture images and pose questions by picture. In the meantime, apps like Pupil offer a service whereby users can receive information about the pictures they upload, which is sort of what Peeqit will eventually do, too. Quora’s transition to mobile will meet similar challenges faced by other established Q&A sites with significant traffic, mainly Stack Overflow and Formspring, which each have a few third-party iPhone apps available but seemed to have paused on native solutions. One of the newest entrants, Jig by Tasty Labs, is set up as a lightweight Quora-style interface where users can post their “needs” and the community can make suggestions to “fill” those needs. They have hinted at a mobile app soon, too, perhaps one tied to SMS integration.

The importance of asking and answering questions on the go isn’t lost on the incumbents. In December 2010, Twitter acquired Fluther with the hope of capturing Twitter’s question-related activity, though results haven’t emerged yet. Facebook has the infrastructure in place for a "Questions" feature, allowing users to distinguish posts between "updates" and "questions," as well as a slightly hidden feature of asking specific friends to answer, all backed by a topic ontology that is almost as impressive as Quora’s. (It’s fair to wonder, also, if they’ll release a separate mobile app for “Questions” as it has for “Messages” and is poised to for pictures.) LinkedIn “Answers” generates decent traffic. Google purchased Aardvark last year for similar reasons, but recently announced it was killing the project, though it remains uncertain if they'll bake some type of Q&A feature into future G+ versions.

The competition in this space is incredible, reminiscent of the mobile photo-sharing wars of 2010. It's safe to say that no one really knows what’s going to happen in Q&A, though it does seem really smart folks have decided that, perhaps one day (or sooner), Google's traditional search on mobile may need to have more layers of signals in order to continue to provide relevant results for users on the go.

Let's take it a step further. What about next-generation technologies that can make the experience for the everyday mobile user more magical? Perhaps Apple will integrate technology from its acquisition of Siri and transform the iPhone? Perhaps another handset maker will nail a Nuance-like speak-to-text integration? Perhaps we can simply take a picture of where we are and receive tailored information immediately? Perhaps Google, after its acquisition of Motorola, will reign in Android and potentially even give away free handsets to ensure Android’s growth? Or, maybe it's something as simple as Instagram or as wild as Color, which captures rich metadata around most of the iPhone’s sensors in order to implicitly paint a digital image of one’s physical and social whereabouts.

The sheer level of competition is amazing. No doubt the folks who built Yahoo! Answers must be shaking their heads, especially since they’ve redesigned their own interface. And, in mobile, users’ search behaviors could change so dramatically if given the right tools, so much so that it could eventually threaten search incumbents’ traffic and brand.

In particular, Google has trained us to search by keyword for over a decade now, but in real life, we aren’t wired to search this way as humans. Rather, we often search by posing questions to others around us, an activity that is inherently social, and are influenced by many social signals. And now that the social layer is permanent, and now that many apps can leverage a device’s location (and other) sensors, it’s possible to combine these variables and use a mix of crowdsourcing, curation, and machine learning to provide users with more robust and more relevant information. This paradigm poses a long-term threat to Google from many angles.

To be clear, we are not there yet. Google search will dominate for some time. Google has a powerful, global brand, and now that they are moving to controlling more of the mobile stack with their purchase of Motorola, it’s not out of the question that they will do whatever they need to do to keep Android relevant, perhaps even giving away free phones in exchange for building and maintaining a G+ account? Whatever the outcomes may be today, mobile search and specifically the mobile Q&A market is wide open, up for grabs, and will continue to be an outpost in the multifront war Google is currently fighting. And while all of us keep asking questions, I wonder who or what will provide the answers: will it be humans, or machines, or a bit of both?

Semil Shah
Holy Q&A! And, now local. Next post will address this fragmentation. If we're all asking so many questions, who will provide the answers?

Photo credit: Brian Solis.

Company: Ness Computing
Funding: $5M

Ness Computing's mission is to make search personal. By applying its expertise in search, recommendations and social networking to human behavior, Ness helps people discover experiences they'll love. The first category Ness supports is restaurants.

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Company: Loqly
Launch Date: January 9, 2010

Loqly is a location based social Q&A service focussed on local businesses. Ask for business recommendations around you. Ask questions about local businesses. Receive answers from other locals in real-time.

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Company: Localmind
Launch Date: December 12, 2010
Funding: C$650k

Localmind allows you to send a question to any place in the world, and get an answer from someone at that location in real-time. Localmind connects you, temporarily and anonymously, to someone at the location you are interested in, allowing you to ask any question you want, and get an answer in real-time. You can find out how crowded it is at a bar, how long the line is at a club, or how many tables are open at the...

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