Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch


The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Solyndra Execs Won’t Testify At Congressional Hearing

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 09:20 AM PDT


Executives at the now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra won’t testify at the Congressional hearing which is looking into allegations of improper dealings between the green tech company and the White House. Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and CFO Bill Stover have announced they will plead the Fifth during questioning, on advice of their legal counsel.

The company, the first to be financed by the government’s stimulus plan, has left taxpayers on the hook for $535 million in federally guaranteed loans, and is being held up by some as a high-profile example of President Obama’s failure to properly manage government subsidies.

Solyndra first applied for its loan in 2006, during the Bush administration, but was not awarded the funding until 2009, under Obama. The President also came to the company’s Fremont plant in May of 2010 (video), praising the company as innovative example of how green tech could bring new jobs and aid in the country’s economic recovery.

Fifteen months after receiving federal funding, Solyndra shut down its plants, laid of workers, and was the subject of an FBI raid, due to the questions surrounding whether it had misled federal officials regarding its financial situation. With the public failure, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into how this company was awarded the funding in the first place.

The largely Republican House Energy and Commerce committee believes there could be a link between the White House’s decision to grant the loan and the involvement of Obama fundraisers George Kaiser, whose family was Solyndra’s biggest investor, and Steve Spinner, a top official in the Energy Department. Although Spinner’s role in the Energy Department was to oversee the $25 billion in government-backed loans, Spinner was not involved with the Solyndra decision specifically because his wife’s law firm represented the company.

The White House claims that Solyndra’s failure was created by a drop in prices and demands for solar panels, however. It denies that Solyndra was given the loan for political reasons. Solyndra itself cites heavy competition from Chinese solar panel makers, which drove down its prices.

Even though Solyndra’s top execs are choosing to not answer direct questions at the upcoming hearing on Friday, the hearing is still being held. McDermott Will & Emery, the firm representing Solyndra in the hearings, says it advised its clients not to talk, due to the ongoing Department of Justice investigation.

“This is not a decision arrived at lightly, but it is a decision dictated by current circumstances,” Walter F. Brown Jr., the lawyer for Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison wrote in a letter to Congress.

“On September 8, 2011, federal agents executed a search warrant at Solyndra's facilities. Moreover, the United States Department of Justice has initiated an investigation into Solyndra,” he said. Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R.-Mich.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who chairs the oversight and investigations subcommittee, retorted via a statement, “who exactly are Solyndra’s executives trying to protect and what are they trying to hide?”

“We have many questions for Solyndra’s executives on their dealings with the Obama administration, their efforts to secure federal support for a project that appeared doomed from the outset, and why they made certain representations to Congress regarding their dire financial situation just two months ago,” the statement read.

Social Commerce Network Lockerz Acquires Personalized Video Curation Platform Vodpod

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 09:10 AM PDT


Exclusive-Flush with $45 million new funding in new funding, Kleiner-backed social commerce network Lockerz has acquired personalized video curation platform Vodpod and all related assets from parent company Remixation. This acquisition does not include Vodpod’s social video app, ShowYou. ShowYou will remain independent from Lockerz and was not acquired. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Vodpod allows users to create socialized, hand-crafted channels with anyone. Websites and users can easily pull and organize video into channels (and this feature will continue uninterrupted for publishers and users). VodPod originally launched as a YouTube competitor with some social bookmarking features. Then, VodPod decided to disable user-uploaded videos and to concentrate on its bookmarking functionality and launched a widget that allows bloggers to include their most recently bookmarked videos into their sites.

In 2007, VodPod launched an API that allowed sites to manage their video content, drawing from videos that they'd either bookmarked on VodPod or uploaded themselves. And in 2009, VodPod launched VodSpot to allow publishers to create dynamically updated, customized video portals that can aggregate video content, as well as pull in new bookmarked content.

As we’ve reported in the past, Lockerz revolves around the idea that influencers within a social network can become brand and content advocates and affect the behavior of their friends. The network, which says it is seeing 45 million monthly uniques, is primarily targeted towards men and women ages 13 to 30, attempting to build a community of trendsetters and tastemakers who love to shop, play and connect on the Web. Users can earn points and discounts on brands by sharing content on the site. Founded by Kathy Savitt, a former Amazon and American Eagle Outfitters exec; Lockerz eventually wants to be the go-to commerce homepage for teens and young adults.

In January, Lockerz acquired photo sharing app Plixi as a way to boost photo sharing on its platform. And in July, Lockerz bought social sharing platform AddToAny.

Lockerz says the addition of Vodpod’s technology will allow Lockerz members to create personalized channels featuring video content from anywhere on the Web, including the Lockerz library of thousands of popular videos. Lockerz members will earn Lockerz points for setting up their own video (Vodpod) channels, which can be redeemed for discounts on fashion, entertainment and electronics brands sold on the Lockerz Shop.

Savitt says that Lockerz’ existing video offering is among the most popular activities on the site, generating nearly 400 million views in the past year. The library includes thousands of music videos from the likes of Katy Perry, Coldplay and Snoop Dogg, as well as three Lockerz original content series.

Lockerz has been making agressive moves in terms of acquiring companies to fill ‘holes’ in its own offerings and help increase user engagement. The company is also nearing closure on a $45 million funding round from DAG Ventures, Liberty Media. Kleiner Perkins and Live Nation. And Savitt says that the company will be making more acquisitions in the near future.

Andreessen Horowitz Leads $40M Round In Smartphone Security Company Lookout

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 09:00 AM PDT


Lookout, a company that offers security services for a number of smartphones, has raised $40 million in new funding led by Andreessen Horowitz. Current investors Khosla Ventures, Accel Partners and Index Ventures also participated in the round. Andreessen Horowitz’s Jeff Jordan from will join the company's Board of Directors. This brings Lookout’s total funding to $75 million.

The fact is that as more and more consumers adopt smartphones (a number in the billions by 2015, according to Gartner), these devices are at risk for mobile app malware, phishing scams, drive-by downloads and malicious sites on mobile browsers. Similar to the way consumers protect their computers, there is a need for an application that protects smartphones. Lookout has basically dominated this market with an easy to use offering.

For background, Lookout's web-based, cloud-connected applications for Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry phones help users from losing their phones and identifies and block threats on a consumer's phone. Users simply download the software to a device, and it will act as a tracking application, data backup and a virus protector much like security software downloaded to a computer.

Lookout also offers a mobile browsing application that will automatically check every website a user visits, from an app, email, or browser on a mobile phone, to prevent phishing sites from stealing personal data and malware from being installed on a device. It promises the same sort of security that many browsers offer on the desktop (but enhanced for mobile devices).

In the past year, Lookout has grown to 12 million users, and is now adding 1 million users a month. Lookout’s app is actually powered by Lookout's Mobile Threat Network, which constantly analyzes global threat data to identify and quickly block new threats with over-the-air app updates. Threat detection that would have taken days now happens in minutes; effectively protecting users before they even know a threat exists.

The Mobile Threat Network is powered by a dataset of over 700,000 mobile applications that grows daily as more applications are added to app stores around the world. On average more than 1000 apps are added to the Mobile Threat Network daily.

The company has been able to tap into an enterprise business by offering this threat network through an API. Basically, Lookout's Mobile Security API can extend its protection available to any app store or download site.

Verizon was the first carrier to use the Mobile Security API to provide customers with V CAST Apps with real-time protection against threats to the applications they download from Verizon's mobile storefront. The API works on the backend of the App Store, to determine if any apps contain malware or other security threats. Sprint, and T-Mobile are also using Lookout’s API. And considering that three of the top four U.S. carriers are now using lookout, perhaps the fourth (AT&T) will join soon.

Jordan says of the investment: Mobile is rapidly becoming the dominant computing platform and as users do more with these devices, security is essential to keep them safe…Lookout understood from the beginning that mobile security would require a dramatically different approach. By moving security detection and analysis to the cloud, they have delivered a great user experience while building the fastest and most robust security infrastructure. Its tremendous growth is a testament to its success.

Khosla Ventures’ Vinod Khosla mentioned Lookout on stage last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, as one of his more exciting companies he’s invested in. He said…”if you don’t have it, download it…Two years ago we invested one or two million dollars…Now they have eleven million users, they are scaling rapidly, we are happy to keep investing.”

John Hering, CEO and co-founder of Lookout, tells us in an interview (you can watch below) that the new funding will be used to expand to international markets, for product development, hiring and to develop similar carrier partnerships outside of the U.S. “The goal now is how do we get to 100 million users,” says Hering. And he believes that can happen soon.

“We’re orders of magnitude bigger than our competitors including Symantec, McAfee, and our growth in revenue is substantial,” he explains. “We are generating real revenue from consumers and the enterprise.” Hering declined to reveal revenue for the company. He added that Lookout will be announcing a number of new operator partnerships in the future.

AT&T’s Galaxy S II Will Launch On October 2 For $199.99

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:59 AM PDT


Sprint’s version of the Samsung Galaxy S II was the first to hit the streets, but AT&T isn’t far behind with their own model. While it’s not available just yet, AT&T has announced today that their version will launch on October 2, with a $200 price tag on contract.

Like the Sprint model, AT&T’s Galaxy S II runs on Samsung’s own 1.2 GHz dual-core Exynos processor, but sports a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display instead of the 4.52-inch display found on both the Sprint and T-Mobile variants.

While the slightly smaller screen may give some customers a mild case of display envy, there’s an upside: all three versions at the same 800×480 screen resolution, meaning AT&T’s version gets a higher pixel density.

A remarkably solid 8-megapixel rear camera, 16 GB of internal flash storage, and a revamped version of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI round out the package. Customers will have to settle for AT&T’s kinda-sorta-4G though, as Samsung hasn’t deigned to give this beauty an LTE radio. With this and the new iPhone looking at a launch window next month, it looks like Halloween won’t be the only reason this October will be worth looking forward to.

A Look At Who’s Winning The Global Internet Speed Race [Infographic]

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:55 AM PDT


In July, we covered a study released by Pando Networks, a digital download delivery company, that outlined some striking disparities in the current quality of internet access and speed across the U.S. Among the study’s more revealing findings was the size of the gap between those at the front of the pack in terms of connectivity speeds and those at the back — a difference of tenfold. Interestingly, Rhode Island came in as the state with the fastest download speeds, compared to Idaho which brought up the rear with an average speed of 318KBps.

Today, Pando Networks has released another study that reveals the speed and reliability not just of the U.S. but of the global landscape in an attempt to provide a comprehensive look at the accessibility of the world’s data. Interestingly, the average global download speed is 580KBps, showing among other things that Idaho’s speed pales in comparison to worldwide average. But what may come as a surprise to some is that the U.S. ranked in at 26th with an average speed of 616KBps, compared to South Korea, the world speed champion, which came in with a blinding average speed of 2,202KBps.

Coming in behind South Korea are the surprise runners-up: The small eastern European nations of Romania at 1,909KBps and Bulgaria at 1,611KBps. Bet you didn’t see that coming. Especially considering that North America is so far down the list in comparison to eastern European nations, which dominated the rankings with Lithuania coming in fourth at 1,462KBps, Latvia in fifth at 1,377KBps, and Ukraine in eight at 1,190KBps. Compare this to the U.S. in 26th place, Canada in 31st, and Mexico in 86th.

In terms of the completion rate for measured downloads, Pando’s study found that they were closely correlated with average speeds, with South Korea again taking the cake with a 94 percent completion rate. closely correlates with average speed, South Korea again taking top prize with a 94% completion rate and most of the other speedy countries not far behind.

Developing nations in Africa and Asia unsurprisingly brought up the back of the pack, with the Congo showing the slowest average speed at 13KBps, the Central African Republic at 14KBps, and Comoros at 23KBps. (Other countries of note include China at 245KBps and Australia at 348KBps.)

Also of not is the study’s breakdown of global data to the city level, which yet again found that the fastest six cities are located in South Korea. Andover, Massachusetts and Bucharest, Romania were the only two cities outside of the gaming powerhouse South Korea to slide into the top 10.

Obviously, on a global level, just as it is with the U.S., the disparities between the fastest and slowest countries is jaw-dropping. Not to mention that one might expect developed countries like the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, China, and Canada to round out the top 5, while none of them even managed to break the top 20. Instead, as CEO of Pando Networks Robert Levitan said, the fastest speeds were found in markets like Eastern Europe, where “focus on infrastructure development and favorable geography promote an incredible level of connectivity”.

For more, check out Pando’s nifty infographic below or visit Pando at home here.

Excerpt image courtesy of

Company: Pando
Funding: $31.9M

Pando Networks is a provider of peer-assisted media distribution services that enable content owners to cost-effectively distribute full-screen, HD media via the Web, RSS, Email, IM and portable devices. Pando’s patent-pending hybrid peer-to-peer platform combines commercial-grade content control with the network-effect of consumer super-distribution.

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HP Board Mulls Firing New CEO

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:49 AM PDT


Rumor has it that HP isn’t quite happy with Leo Apotheker’s plans for the company and that he may be fired less than a year after taking the job.

As you’ll recall, Apotheker’s background is in SAP and massive business apps and, because when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, he figured HP could make all sorts of cash selling the same software to businesses while killing and spinning off various parts of their hardware business.

As Dan Frommer writes:

Looks like not everyone is thrilled about the whole "dump the world's biggest PC business and try to become an enterprise software company" approach.

According to Bloomberg, eBay CEO Meg Whitman is in the running for the position. HP’s stock has dropped by nearly half since Apotheker came to power, from $42 to $22 and the investors expressed “near universal opposition” to his acquisition of Autonomy Corp., an information management company.


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A First For Home Shopping Network: Selling An Online Storage Product. Guess Which One!

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:44 AM PDT


Exclusive - Starting today, Home Shopping Network will begin selling – for the first time – an online storage product on air. With a reach of about 89 million households per week in the United States, this could be quite a big deal for the online storage provider in question.

So who is it? Dropbox? Mozy? Carbonite?

No Sir Ree Bob, it’s MiMedia (earlier coverage)!

Sure, HSN has sold electronics before, but this is actually the first time they’re selling an online file storage service on the air, so consider this a sign that this type of product is going mainstream.

MiMedia tells me Home Shopping Network had a number of parameters they needed to adhere to, namely: a ‘lifetime’ service that costs no more than $50.

Also, the product needed to be tangible and shippable. Wait, what?

Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous to sell a 100% digital service as a physical product, but HSN knows its audience very well, so MiMedia complied with everything they asked.

What they came up with is an offering that comprises 25 GB of storage, ‘for life’, which will be sold for $49.95. To achieve a shippable product, MiMedia will be sending buyers a USB drive with a software loader pre-installed. Yes, still kind of ridiculous, but who knows, it might just work for them.

Company: MiMedia

MiMedia brings you a totally new approach to online storage – a way to protect, access, enjoy and share your digital life all in one place. MiMedia will back up and protect your files in a secure online storage account. Beyond online backup, MiMedia also provides instant on demand access to your files from anywhere. With MiMedia, you can listen to your music, watch your latest videos, view any of your photo galleries, and access your other files all in...

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3Defy: Turn Photos Into Interactive 3D Scenes

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:32 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-21 at 10.52.32 AM

While there’s a bit of a learning curve, 3Defy is a great demo of, at the very least, the latest in Flash programming. It’s basically a site that lets you add 3D effects to 2D photos that you upload or link. Using a fairly rudimentary set of brushes and tools, you set an object in a scene and try your darnedest to push, pull, and bend it until it looks realistic.

It’s a bit wonky right now and there’s a ridiculous sign-up process just to play around, but the resulting images are fairly striking and you can embed them in web pages or link them out to friends and neighbors. I made this one. It’s horrible.

The site isn’t very feature-rich but it’s an interesting exploration of what you can do with a Flash interface and, more important, what HTML 5 apps will be up against. The founders built the app as a demo in order to build potential business and they’re actively accepting application updates in their forums and are considering a full open source release of their code. If you’ll recall, YouTube was supposed to be a test of Flash’s video capabilities and this is clearly a test of its on-the-fly image editing facilities.

The founder, Chris Wallace, writes that it’s mostly about the technology.

“I’m sure you’re aware that Flash Player 11 will be launched very soon. Flash 11 provides GPU-accelerated 3D graphics rendering capabilities, making it possible to deliver sophisticated 3D experiences directly in the browser. We believe that these capabilities have the potential to transform the web, and we took full advantage of them in 3Defy. Our software works fine with the current Flash Player versions, but it really accelerates under Flash 11,” he said.

Obviously this site offers limited utility but if you’re into exploring 3D vision it may be a good trinket to play around with while your ray traces render.

AdRise Launches Ad Platform For Connected TVs And Devices

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:15 AM PDT


AdRise is launching today as an advertising platform for connected devices and TVs. AdRise is a real-time bidding platform that allowing advertisers to reach audiences via Internet-connected TVs, and publishers to earn ad revenue.

AdRise says that because a billion connected TV sets will be sold by 2015, and more than 50% of Netflix usage is on connected devices, there’s a huge opportunity to create an ad network that serves these devices. 

For publishers, adRise's SDKs integrates into all major connected device platforms, including Roku, Google TV, Yahoo TV, game consoles and other platforms. For advertisers, adRise claims to targets TV viewers with web analytics accuracy, and offers create interactive and HTML5 ads formats.

Founder Farhad Massoudi, who compared AdRise to the AdMob for TV advertising, 
believes that this will be a fast-growing platform. He explains”connected TV advertising is holy grail of advertising.” In private beta, AdRise has doubled impressions in past three months every month. The company has raised funding but is not disclosing the funding or investors.

Canon Gets In On The AirPrint Fun, Allows For iOS Printing On A Three Printers

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:15 AM PDT


AirPrint allows for iOS printing on a select number of HP printers. Well, that list just got a little more competitive thanks to a Canon. This marks the first non-HP option for AirPrint. Previously, users had the choose of HP laser printers or HP all-in-ones or, you know, HP photo printers. Now, the PIXMA MG8220, MG6220 or MG5320 all support wireless iOS printing, which makes the world a better place.

Canon also announced that from here on out, AirPrint will be supported on the majority of PIXMA inkjet printers. This follows Epson’s release stating that its Printers would be AirPlay-friendly in the near future as well.

Next up, hopefully, is universal wireless print support for Android devices. Hopefully. Maybe. Probably not.

Company: Canon
Launch Date: September 21, 2011

Canon Inc. is a multinational corporation that specialises in the manufacture of imaging and optical products, including cameras, photocopiers, steppers and computer printers. Its headquarters are located in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan.

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Vimeo Launches Audiosocket-Powered Music Store To Bring Tunes To Video

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:10 AM PDT


At F8 on Thursday, The Social Network will by all accounts be making its official foray into music, with scrobbling and music content galore headed straight for our news feeds. Ahead of Facebook’s new music service, Vimeo is announcing its own musical news, thank you very much, that has some interesting implications for artists and filmmakers and music technology. You may know Vimeo as the quality YouTube alternative that’s long been a place for semi-pro videographers, filmmakers, and Vloggers to host, share, and present their video content. Today, Vimeo is taking its long-awaited leap into the music world with the “Vimeo Music Store” — a custom-designed music licensing solution that will allow Vimeo’s video buffs to search for, discover, and license songs for both non-commercial and limited commercial use.

Powering the nuts, bolts, and backend of the Vimeo Music Store will be Audiosocket's Music-as-a-Service (or MaaS) platform, a cloud solution designed to allow digital media companies to easily integrate music search, discovery, and licensing. The Vimeo Music Store, which represents the first commercial implementation of Audiosocket’s solution, will allow users to take advantage of all the benefits of a music library that contains more than 100 categories of integrated metadata, all from inside the friendly confines of Vimeo’s platform.

Vimeo users will also have the benefit of access to Audiosocket’s library of 33,000+ legit songs in the new music store, enabling the video platform’s users to select and license a wide variety of tracks that they can use as soundtracks for their video productions, with the ability to then distribute them over the Web, and film festivals, and so on, without worrying about an RIAA SWAT team descending from the roof.

On the flip side of the partnership, Audiosocket's music artists will now have the benefit of a sizable new distribution channel (along with guaranteed royalty payments on licensed music) and exposure to Vimeo’s audience of more than 50 million monthly visitors — many of them semi-pro and professional filmmakers.

On this note, obviously the real key to Vimeo’s music store is that it opens the door for musicians to monetize their work in personal video creation: An area that’s traditionally been tough for artists to make any significant profits. In this way, Audiosocket’s MaaS platform could prove to be a great way for indie musicians to receive both widespread, multimedia exposure (with attributions) and make some extra income, potentially turning Vimeo into an even more appealing musical alternative to YouTube for the world’s melody makers. (Especially as Audiosocket’s catalog specifically features content from emerging bands, composers and record labels, making it a great tool for indie music discovery.)

It’s also great to see the evolution in the relationship between music and technology — and now the cloud — as Audiosocket’s MaaS platform, which is designed for integration into video and photo sharing platforms, virtual worlds, online games and social networks, could have a disruptive effect on the way music is licensed in digital media. And we all know how much music licensing has been in the need of workable, affordable solutions (really, innovation). Just ask Napster.

After all, when you get down to it, amateur filmmakers really have no idea where to start when it comes to music licensing, and vice versa; both parties want to take advantage of the benefits without the hassle, but they’re by and large clueless on where to start.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Vimeo users will be willing to pay to license Audiosocket’s music content, the pricing structure of which currently stands at $1.99 per track for personal, non-commercial, and web-use for casual users and $98 per track for commercial, web-use licenses for professional users. Thankfully, much of the content will be available for free thanks to Creative Commons Licensing, but professional users may be heard issuing a few groans.

Nonetheless, this could really be a real future-altering partnership for Audiosocket and is no doubt a great bonus for Vimeo users, but it also seems as if the video platform will need to go bigger with its song catalog if it’s to truly make waves.

For more, readers can check out an embeddable widget which includes sample tracks from Audiosocket’s library here and for a look at the Vimeo Music Store, check it out at home here.

Company: Vimeo

Vimeo is a cleanly-designed video sharing website that allows people to publish their videos for public consumption or just for friends and family. Vimeo launched support for high definition video in October 2007, further establishing itself as a leading video hosting platform. The website is owned by the media conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp and operated by Connected Ventures.

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Company: Audiosocket
Funding: $1.25M

Audiosocket is a music media and technology company that provides artists with the opportunity to monetize their work through both traditional and new media licensing. Placing high standards on the quality of their catalog, Audiosocket is very selective about the content it delivers to the market place. The company only works with artists, bands and composers that are active and creating culturally relevant content. When accepted onto the roster, artists have agents working to deliver their music to the market...

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Social Discovery Meets Gaming Discovery: Tagged Buys WeGame

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-21 at 3.23.47 AM

As everyone is well aware by now, a key part of every social network is gaming. Even when Google+ launched amid fanfare this summer, everyone quickly wondered: where are the games? And they quickly came. Now Tagged, the social network that few people seem to talk about (but is still alive and well) has made a purchase to bolster their own gaming prowess: WeGame.

Terms are not being disclosed, and it’s not yet clear how the two services intend to work together (if at all). But again, social + gaming, it’s a key matchup. WeGame will remain open for now while the team begins work on new projects and integrations on Tagged. The plan is to talk about how Tagged will use WeGame’s technology “in the coming months”.

The WeGame deal is also the second acquisition that Tagged has made in the past five months. Back in April, they bought the IM client Digsby.

Tagged has over 100 million users. WeGame, which only has four employees, seems most excited about reaching that audience. And they’ll be working under a company that has somehow managed to survive and even thrive in the social networking space in the age of Facebook. Of course, pivots help make that possible.

WeGame had raised $3.5 million from True Ventures, The Hit Forge, SoftTech VC, Felicis Ventures, and others.

Social Performance Platform Rypple Comes To iPhone

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 07:58 AM PDT


The Web-based social performance platform Rypple is now available on the iPhone, the company is announcing today. Like the desktop-sized website, the new mobile application will allow managers to give real-time feedback to staff, provide coaching, track goals and publicly recognize colleagues for doing great work.

The idea behind Rypple, which sees itself as a “Zynga for the enterprise,” is to use social software in the enterprise environment to build a great work culture. It does this by allowing managers to track projects, guide their team and give kudos to deserving staff for others to see within an online Web application.

The software also employs various game mechanics, like badges, which can be custom-built to reflect a company’s own values. And, as in gaming, employees can rack up “skills earned,” in a method reminiscent of building up a character in a virtual world or MMORPG, for example.

With the new iPhone application, users can track the company feed for news, update teams on the status of a project, post “thanks” and hand out badges.

The app will be available as a freemium offering. There’s a limited free version, a $5 per user per month version that offers access to goals, real-time peer feedback, 0ne-on-one coaching and recognition, and a $9 per user per month version that includes Rypple's rapid performance review application, Loops, support, rollout and integration into existing company work systems. The app is available here in iTunes now.

Company: Rypple
Launch Date: August 5, 2008
Funding: $7M

Rypple is a social performance management platform built for the way we work today—in real time. Managers who adopt Rypple can quickly and painlessly provide their teams with the continuous feedback and coaching they need to learn faster, stay on track, and achieve their goals more consistently; teams who adopt Rypple can easily share key priorities, update the status of goals, and recognize one another for great work, which makes managing performance both easy and meaningful. Rypple's customers are...

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Pandora Rolls Out Its Slick HTML5 Player To All Users (And No More 40-Hour Cap!)

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 07:48 AM PDT


Popular personalized radio service Pandora, which went public in June, has just announced that it’s rolling out its overhauled, HTML5-based music player to everyone. The service has been testing the player since July, and it’s a huge improvement over the old Flash-based experience. Everything looks much more modern, it’s faster, and it’s easier to use.

The other big piece of the news: Pandora is removing the cap on how much music ‘free’ users can listen to every month. Historically Pandora has let users stream 40 hours of music a month, at which point they were prompted to upgrade to a premium ‘Pandora One’ account (which run $36 a year). Starting today, that cap is gone, so users can listen to as much as they’d like. There’s still a significant incentive to upgrade though, as Pandora One users never have to deal with ads.

It’s also worth pointing out that the player is launching the day before Facebook’s f8 conference. Pandora was among the first services to sport Facebook’s ‘Instant Personalization’, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if it’s deeply integrated into whatever Facebook is launching tomorrow. Pandora is also making its own social features more prominent, with the integration of a new social feed as part of today’s update. From the Pandora blog:

Discovery of Music with Friends – Enhanced listener profiles and a new music feed offer a centralized place to find, like and comment on what friends and like-minded listeners are discovering and enjoying on Pandora. The music feed will roll out slowly over the course of the coming days. In addition to the prominent new “share” button, stations now have their own URLs, making it super easy for listeners to share favorite stations via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Company: Pandora Media
Launch Date: January 1, 2000

Pandora Radio is an internet radio service, recommendation service, and the custodian of the Music Genome Project. Users enter a song or artist that they enjoy, and the service responds by playing selections that are musically similar. Users provide feedback on approval or disapproval of individual songs, which Pandora takes into account for future selections. While listening, users are offered the ability to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. As part of the Music Genome Project, over...

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Digital Loyalty App Chatterfly Partners With San Mateo Chamber Of Commerce

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 07:09 AM PDT


The San Mateo Chamber of Commerce has partnered with digital loyalty app Chatterfly to create a neighborhood rewards program for its 1,000 members. Participating local businesses will leverage the app to reward customers for visiting their business, making in-store purchases or sharing news of their visit on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Along with the partnership, the company is also launching a new version of its mobile app today on both iPhone and Android, with plans for BlackBerry and Palm (Palm? What?) planned soon. In version 1.5, there’s now a QR code button for instant scans and “check-ins,” an instant alerts feature that tells you when rewards are nearby and “vast enhancements” to the interface. the company claims.

Sadly, these enhancements seem more subtle than vast, I’d say:

Maybe I’ve just been spoiled on the Instagrams and Foursquares of the mobile app world, but I don’t enjoy this app’s design at all, despite the changes. It’s an improvement, yes, but that tiled homescreen with black & white icons needs to go.

In any event, good for Chatterfly for moving forward based on its concepts surrounding digital loyalty, if not its actual implementation. The company says that more partnerships with local business networks and chambers are on their way, too.

Chatterfly was founded in June 2010 by Charles Michael Yim, formerly in business development at Fortify Software. It is privately funded.

Company: Chatterfly
Launch Date: January 6, 2010
Funding: $300k

Chatterfly is a mobile loyalty rewards platform. Essentially, Chatterfly provides neighborhood loyalty reward programs through the convenience of a consumer’s smart phone. Think frequent flyer miles but for local neighborhood businesses. We focus on providing a true business solution to the local business community and on enabling consumers to support their local economy. Basically, keeping local dollars local. Founded in June 2010 and privately funded Chatterfly is based centrally on The San Francisco Peninsula in San...

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Hey, Did You Happen To See The Nerdiest Watch In The World?

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 07:09 AM PDT


No? Well here it is: it’s the Click watch and it’s a standard digital timekeeper with either DIP switches or a tiny rotating switch that you use to set the features. Thats right – you need a small stylus or paperclip to look at the date on this thing.

I get a kick out of nearly everything about this watch except that I can’t imagine when anyone would wear this in real life. The band looks like an IDE cable and it comes in multiple colors and styles including midnight black (for those late night LAN parties). It costs about $150-$175 and is available now at Watchismo.

Click Watches have ingeniously re-appropriated these ‘retro-tronics’ into an entirely new way to show digital watch functions. Each mechanical switch activates a different function of the watch as seen in the diagrams in the product pages. Functions ranging from bar graph metered time display, 12 hour and 24 hour digital time display, month, date, day of week and backlight. Stainless steel casing 42mm x 35mm.

As aBlogToRead notes, these features are for when you “really want to step it into Comic Con mode.”

Product Page

Startup Incubator TechStars Raises $24M, Increases Funding For Each Company By $100K

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT


Startup incubator and network TechStars has raised $24 million in new funding from the Foundry Group, IA Ventures, Avalon Ventures, DFJ Mercury, SoftBank Capital, SVB Financial Group, RRE Ventures, Right Side Capital Management, TechStars Alumni, and several individuals. TechStars is actually already directly funded by over 75 venture funds and angel investors, but this new funding will be used to offer every single new TechStars company an additional $100,000 in funding in the form of a convertible note immediately upon acceptance into TechStars.

TechStars, which launched in 2007, is a "startup boot camp" for tech entrepreneurs in which selected startup receive up to $18,000 in seed funding (or $6,000 per founder up to three founders in exchange for 5 percent of the company), three months of mentorship from successful entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists at the end of the program.

One of the differentiating factors in TechStars is that it takes a mentor and community-driven approach to incubating startups and supporting founders. The company pairs at least 10 mentors in the local technology industry with each startup to give founders access to both seasoned entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

The incubator has programs in Boston, Boulder, New York, Seattle, and recently launched a new thematically focused business kickstarter, dubbed TechStars Cloud.

Earlier this year, TechStars also open sourced its model, recently announcing the TechStars Network as part of the White House's Startup America initiative to spur entrepreneurship. The incubator’s model is now being used by over 20 programs globally, including Chicago’s Excelerate Labs.

TechStars co-founder David Cohen says of the news “Acceptance into TechStars now means an additional $100k of funding from a diverse group of top tier investors. This additional funding will allow TechStars companies to stay focused on making progress during the three-month program instead of spending that valuable time on early fundraising in order to make ends meet. It’s also enough funding to entice a broader spectrum of would-be entrepreneurs to consider TechStars.”

The important message with this news is less about the funding for TechStars and more about the extra money each incubated startup will receive for participating in the program (which is on top of the potential $18,000 startups are given). Yuri Milner and SV Angel teamed up earlier this year to offer the companies housed in fellow startup incubator Y Combinator $150,000 in convertible debt.

Because of this move in January, the incentive to join Y Combinator was strong. But now TechStars has leveled the playing field somewhat for startups and it will be a harder decision to choose which incubator to join (not to mention the fact that TechStars has programs in a number of cities in the U.S.)

Similar to Y Combinator, TechStars has been able to produce a number of impressive startups via its incubator. We’re told more than 70% of TechStars companies go on to raise venture or angel capital after the program ends and 7 of the first 20 companies incubated have now been acquired. The incubator is also subject of a documentary "reality TV" show on Bloomberg TV, which debuted last week and will run six episodes through October 18th. We’ve embedded the trailer below.

TechStars is funding approximately 60 companies per year, and this additional level of funding applies to the incubator’s 2012 (and future) programs.

Company: TechStars
Launch Date: January 10, 2006
Funding: $10M

TechStars is a seed fund. It offers $6,000 per founder to companies that make its list for up to 3 founders. In return, TechStars takes 6% equity in the company in common/founders stock. Company founders spend their whole summer in Boulder, Colorado working in a common space and collaborating when appropriate. TechStars mentors everyone accepted into their program with business and other advice. Many times over the summer guest entrepreneurs will speak to...

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Apple’s iPhone 5 Makeover Won’t Carry Over To The Next-Gen iPod Touch

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 06:58 AM PDT

iPod touch

In the past few months, have you felt like something’s missing? Apple’s new Fall release strategy has made it seem like someone just knocked Christmas right off the calendar, and so of course we’re all thinking: “You’ve made me wait, Apple — this better blow my mind.”

Well, have hope for the iPhone 5 because apparently the next-gen iPod touch isn’t much to get excited about. According to sources from MacRumors as well as separately leaked info from a Concord Securities analyst, many of the hardware changes we’ll be seeing on the long-anticipated iPhone 5 won’t be showing up on the next iPod touch.

We’ve been expecting (based of course on rumors, speculation, and minor leaks) that the iPhone 5 may perhaps be a bit wider, with a larger edge-to-edge display, a thinner body, and an 8-megapixel shooter. The sources claim that none of this will carry over to the iPod touch, but instead the next-gen device will come out in a white model as well as black. The sources also said that an oleophobic coating would be added to the display to keep it smudge-free, along with an enhanced ambient light sensor.

The sources expect the next-gen PMP to be announced alongside the iPhone 5, which we expect to go down on October 4. Past that, the next iPod touch should be pretty similar to its predecessor, which begs the question: What’s going to happen to the iPod touch line?

Standard Apple procedure has always been to launch their latest and greatest iPhone in the Summer, with the next-gen iPod touch following along in the Fall. With rumors that this generation might not get the full makeover, and the dual-launch strategy being imminent, it’s possible that Apple is slowing things down with the iPod touch. Though sales aren’t bad per se, the iPod touch isn’t flying off shelves like it used to.

Company: Apple
Launch Date: January 4, 1976
IPO: September 21, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007. Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with...

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Microsoft And Nokia Release Windows Phone Porting Guides For Symbian Developers

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 06:45 AM PDT


Microsoft and Nokia have teamed up on a package of new tools aimed at getting Nokia developers prepared for the transition to Windows Phone. Announced today are three jointly developed tools and guides, the most notable being the addition of Symbian Qt to the Windows Phone API mapping tool.

The Windows Phone mapping tool, which already supports iOS and Android, serves as a translation dictionary between the Windows Phone platform and other mobile operating systems. With it, developers can pick out the API calls in their apps, then look up the equivalent classes, methods and notification events in Windows Phone.

To be clear, this is not a direct porting tool – it doesn’t do the work for you. Developers can simply reference the guide to aid in porting their applications.

Included in the mapping tool are the core libraries for Qt 4.7 for Symbian (QtCore, QtGui, QtLocation, QtNetwork, QtSensors, QtSql, QtXml, QtWebKit, QML Elements and QML Components). Sample code and tutorials are available, too.

Microsoft and Nokia have also released a 100-page white paper to serve as the de facto guide for Symbian Qt Application Developers interested in learning about Windows Phone. Within its 8 chapters, the companies detail Windows Phone guidelines, C# programming, the application life cycle, porting procedures and more.

Today also heralds the start of a series of developer events called the “Nokia Windows Phone Training” roadshow, with the first event being held in Paris. The events will then be held throughout Europe and Australia on the following days: Milan, Italy (Sept 26)Madrid, Spain (Sept 29)Berlin, Germany (Oct 4)London, United Kingdom (Oct 10), Sydney (Sept 24-25[SOLD OUT], Oct 8-9), Melbourne (Oct 8-9[SOLD OUT, wait list]) and Brisbane (Oct 8-9).

The U.S. dates, including the Silicon Valley dates, are not yet available.

Symbian isn’t a dead operating system just yet – after all, it received a big update just last month. But Nokia has publicly stated it plans to phase it out over time. Windows Phone is what’s next for Nokia, and it’s not surprising to see these tools and guides launch just prior to the release of the first Nokia Windows Phone, expected by year-end.

Company: Microsoft
Launch Date: April 4, 1974

Microsoft, founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, is a veteran software company, best known for its Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft Office suite of productivity software. Starting in 1980 Microsoft formed a partnership with IBM allowing Microsoft to sell its software package with the computers IBM manufactured. Microsoft is widely used by professionals worldwide and largely dominates the American corporate market. Additionally, the company has ventured into hardware with consumer products such as the Zune and...

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Company: Nokia

Nokia is a Finnish multinational communications corporation. It is primarily engaged in the manufacturing of mobile devices and in converging Internet and communications industries. They make a wide range of mobile devices with services and software that enable people to experience music, navigation, video, television, imaging, games, business mobility and more. Nokia is the owner of Symbian operation system and partially owns MeeGo operating system.

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Video: Kawasaki’s Power-Assist Robot Suit Helps Humans Lift Heavy Objects

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 06:16 AM PDT


Japanese tech powerhouse Kawasaki is working on the so-called Power Assist Suit, a wearable robot that helps humans carry objects weighing 30-40kg without any effort from the muscles. The suit is actually one of quite a few similar models currently available in Japan.

The Kawasaki robot features a total of four motors in the parts covering the hips and knees (see picture below). The control unit and lithium battery are placed in the part placed around the lower back.

According to Kawasaki, the self-supporting robot is designed in a way that wearers don’t feel the weight of the suit itself when moving around. The Power Assist Suit can be adjusted to the length of the wearer’s legs and doesn’t take more than a minute to put on and off, Kawasaki promises.

The company wants to commercialize the robot after testing it out in its own factories for one to two years.

Here’s a video that shows a human walking around with the Power Assist Suit:

Via Robonable [JP]

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