Friday, March 23, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 09:30 AM PDT
I’m personally waiting for some of LG’s, shall we say, more ambitious handsets to make to their way to our shores, but until that happens, we’ll have to make do with devices like the LG Lucid 4G.
This Verizon-bound handset was first spotted a few weeks back a long with an unconfirmed list of specs, but a newly-leaked LG document has confirmed the goodies to come nestled in the mid-range device.
Originally known as the Cayman, the seemingly Gingerbread-powered Lucid 4G will indeed sport an unnamed 1.2GHz processor, 8GB of internal memory, and a 4-inch WVGA NOVA display swathed in a protective layer of Gorilla Glass. Oh, and who could forget its support for Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and the ability to share that high-speed connection with up to 10 additional devices. All of that (plus a 1700 mAh battery) is going to be crammed into a frame that’s .45-inches (11.4mm) thick, so it’s shaping up to be a bit of a handful too.
As is usually the case, the Lucid’s middling specs are expected to be accompanied a low price tag, though how low is still in the air. Given that the 2-month old LG Spectrum still runs users around $200 (depending on the deal you’re able to nab), I think it’s very likely we’ll see this thing debut in the $99 to $129 range — any higher and the companies and involved are kidding themselves.
I don’t see much appeal in this little guy, but it could buck expectations and turn out to be a solid little mid-range smartphone. Recent reports put the Lucid’s release date near the end of this month, but I’d advise you to hold off for a bit — next month looks like when the real fun is set to start.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 09:14 AM PDT
We’ve already seen Microsoft try to buy the love of carrier retail employees, but it would seem that Nokia is the one coughing up cash this time around. According to WPCentral, Nokia could be paying up to $25 million to get AT&T retail staff to use a Nokia Lumia 900 as a “Company Use” device.
This would basically mean that when you walk into an AT&T store, where you’d normally see guys in blue shirts tapping away at an iPhone or Android device, you’ll instead see guys in blue shirts holding colorful Nokia Lumia 900s. They’ll have to effectively give up their current device to get the free Lumia 900, but those who choose not to abandon their existing platform can do so. They’ll just have to pay for that phone at a discount, rather than receive a free Lumia.
On a general level, this makes a lot of sense strategically. The average buyer trusts salespeople with gadgetry purchases, and seeing that this or that phone is the one your sales rep actually uses can make a big difference.
The problem is that WP7 was way late to the game. While Apple and Google were revolutionizing the smartphone arena, each offering something varied from the competition, WP7 came late and gave nothing truly original to achieve hype. Sure, the platform is compelling, and the hardware is excellent to boot. But when Android and iOS have mind share like they’ve had, Microsoft really needed to bring something amazing to the table.
Instead, they brought something different, good, and cheap. This works, too. There are still plenty of people in the world looking for their first smartphone and the WP7 platform truly does make the most sense for many of them.
It would have been nice if this came about more organically, but based on the timing, I’m glad to see the Nokiasoft partnership fight for sales. If they can pick up enough momentum, the mobile landscape may look very different in the next year.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 08:54 AM PDT
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TechCrunch went big in 2011 and turned a huge 133,000 square feet working pier in New York City into a unique conference venue for the startup community. After a year of experience and thoughtful planning, we’re heading back to Pier 94 in Midtown Manhattan for NYC Disrupt. And this time, we have an all new floor plan and production acoustics that will make the energy flow and startups shine.
So mark your calendars for the main show, from May 21 to 23, and get your tickets now. Extra Early bird rates end THIS Friday, March 23!
AND… for all warranty voiders, Occam’s Razor wielders and digital duct tapers out there, we’re excited to announce details for the 3rd annual Disrupt New York Hackathon.
Where: Pier 94 - 755 12th Ave (at 55th St. & 12th Ave), New York, NY 10019
When:  May 19-20, 2012
Saturday, May 19th: Doors open at 12:30pm, and the day will begin with workshops by industry leaders on best practices for using APIs. Hacking begins in the evening. You’ll have overnight to divide, conquer andbuild something awesome from scratch with NYC’s best and brightest.
Sunday, May 20th:  You thought building a product overnight was difficult? Did we mention that you’ll have 30 seconds to present to our panel of elite judges front of hundreds of fellow hackers & spectators?
The Details:
We’re in the process of finalizing details for the workshops and the competition judges, so stay tuned. Until then you can click HERE for the current schedule of events.
In the meantime, all you Hackers be sure to register for the event NOW at EventBrite.  Tickets are free and space is limited.  Don’t delay, the event is sure to sell out.
For day-of questions or details, view the wiki here.
Not a hacker but want to get involved?  We are looking for fun sponsors to treat our hackers right with pizza, beer, food trucks and entertainment.   Sponsors may also offer prizes or show off your API platforms too.  If you’d like to learn more about sponsoring awards and in-kind prizes, please contact  Spectators may attend the Sunday Hackathon Presentation and free tickets will be available on May 1st on Eventbrite. Hack on!

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 08:46 AM PDT
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Design shopping site Fab is turning into a case study success story which tech entrepreneurs would be unwise to ignore. Founded in February 2010 as Fabulis by CEO Jason Goldberg (formerly of XING AG in Germany, socialmedian, and Jobster) with design industry veteran and Chief Creative Officer Bradford Shellhammer, the Fab guys flew in for London Web Summit this week to outline just what is going on at the company which is making huge waves in commerce right now.
Among some of the key data the guys are pulling out includes the amazing news that some of its best customers are mobile users, especially via the iPad.
If that’s also true in Europe then looks like design-lead startups like recently launched Llustre and MyDeco in London are going to be ‘quilts in’ (badum-tish).
Fab has found that over 40% of usage has come from mobile applications, prompted perhaps by mobile notifications for flash sales. But that’s not the only news from the company, as you’ll hear from our TCTV interview below.

They also took the trouble of uploading their fascinating slides.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 08:19 AM PDT
Following up on disturbing reports that some employers are asking applicants to turn over their Facebook usernames and passwords, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer on Policy, Erin Egan, hints that the company is looking into drafting new laws to protect users from violations of their privacy like this.
Writes Egan on the company’s Privacy page:
“Facebook takes your privacy seriously. We'll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”
The issue involving employers asking for users’ Facebook credentials recently caught the attention of the ACLU, which had previously become involved in a similar case back in 2010. The case was also cited by an AP report on the trend earlier this week.
During a reinstatement interview at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Robert Collins was asked to provide his Facebook username and password, which the agency said they needed to check for gang affiliations. Although Collins said he was shocked by the request, he felt he had no choice but to comply because he needed the job. The agency later reconsidered its policy, asking applicants to “voluntarily” provide their username and password instead.
“Voluntarily,” however, is still wrong, and Facebook seems to agree.
Egan points out that all of this is a violation of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which explicitly states that users cannot share or solicit a Facebook password. The pertinent section reads:
You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.
He also notes that, by requesting such information, employers may be unknowingly be putting themselves in other potentially troublesome legal hot water, too. Perhaps they’ll discover someone is disabled, an ethnic minority, LGBT, a senior citizen, etc., and then get into trouble for not hiring them.
“For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person,” writes Egan.
In the announcement’s conclusion, however, comes the key part: Facebook will look into ways to see this practice of password-sharing stopped, even if it involves litigation or new laws. Facebook says that it will engage policy makers on the matter, initiate legal action and even shut down applications that abuse their privileges.
That latter part involving rogue apps isn’t really related to this employer abuse situation, but falls under the larger umbrella of protecting Facebook users’ privacy.
The full announcement is available here.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 07:43 AM PDT
Vitrue New Logo
Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram, earlier this week spelled out a few ways that Instragram might, one day, make revenue through marketing and advertising around its photo-taking, filtering and sharing service, which now has 27 million registered users. But for now, another company is using some of the big buzz around the mobile startup for its own business gain:
Vitrue has launched an Instagram “tab module” for brands to use on their Facebook pages, using Instagram’s API to automatically import a selection of pictures based around a specific tag and create albums. The social media marketing company claims that this is an industry first. Perhaps more importantly, it is also a sign of how marketeers are trying to incorporate more visual elements into their Facebook campaigns to make them more engaging with users.
The albums work much like the Instagram albums that may already appear in your own personal timeline if you happen to post pictures to Facebook: users will be able to like, comment on and share the pictures with their friends. Vitrue says it is also going to incorporate a voting element into the mix as well, which will let brands run contests around the Instagram content.
And there are some other key features. The tagging element will let brands create albums around specific campaigns; the album creation is automatic and requires no “posting” from the users; and Vitrue is selling this as a product to its customers, as part of its Social Relationship Management platform, which also includes analytics to measure how well these campaigns do.
“There is no revenue sharing with Instagram in this,” says John Nolt, Vitrue’s director of product management.
The addition of Instagram comes in the wake of Vitrue integrating another hot social media property into the SRM platform, Pinterest. Nolt says its Pinterest integration was launched a couple of months ago and has around a dozen brands using it already.
Vitrue’s first customer for the new Instagram feature is the consumer electronics accessory giant Logitech, which used it to import music pictures from the SXSW event earlier this month. Nolt says that Vitrue is also working with around half a dozen other brands at the moment and expects to see their Instagram feeds go live on their Facebook pages in the next 15-30 days.
Although Hipstamatic and Instagram are now beginning a new partnership that will see Hipstamatic becoming the first company to import images to Instagram’s own social network, Nolt says there have been no conversations between his company and Instagram either about the new Facebook service, or about any potential marketing partnerships on Instagram’s own platform.
Although Facebook is probably the world’s biggest cloud-based repository of images at the moment, it’s unclear whether it has any services like this — catering to marketers, filtering those images — up its sleeve. But with the layout of Facebook still largely being text-driven, it’s fair bet that brands, craving more visually-led methods of engagement, will probably be on the hunt for more like it.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 07:41 AM PDT
Palo Alto-based Who’s Near Me Live, abbreviated as WNM Live, is a two-year old company that’s found moderate success by launching first on Windows Mobile and Windows Phone, before porting its mobile app to the iPhone, where it arrives today with a more limited feature set. The service, essentially a location-based chat similar in some respects to the newly acquired Yobongo, now boasts 400,000 users across its mobile, web and Facebook applications combined. Almost all of that user base is coming from mobile, however.
The most unique thing about this app is one of its least-used features: on Windows Phone, it supports 3G/Wi-Fi calling. Yes, with phone calls with strangers. The new iPhone version, unfortunately (fortunately?) won’t have the same option at launch, so it’s safe to use for now.
The decision to grow WNM Live’s user base first, before heading to the iPhone, was a conscious strategy on the part of founder Brian Hamachek.
“I knew if I had launched this on iPhone right from the get-go, you have to have a user base or it’s just not interesting,” he says. “Instead of launching on iPhone and Android as most people were doing, we looked at Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 because we knew there wouldn’t be any competition, the users would probably be a little more forgiving and would put up with having a little bit smaller user base for the time being.”
Today, about 85% of the users are on Windows Phone and 90% are on Windows Phone or Windows Mobile. The majority (75%-85%, estimated) are in the U.S.
The app, which lets users post updates and reply to those posted by others, is differentiated from the new “ambient location” (i.e., people-stalking) apps like Banjo, Highlight and Glancee, because it’s not about aggregating and tracking check-ins or geotagged tweets, nor is about running the app in the background to ping you when friends are nearby.
In fact, it’s not about tracking your friends at all – it’s about meeting new people.
So, like dating?
No, not that either.
WNM Live, says Hamachek, isn’t geared towards dating, it’s more for “helping normal people meet normal people.” (Oh burn, Skout users.)
It’s also heavily moderated with a zero tolerance policy for spam and inappropriate content to help keep the crazies out, too. This hasn’t apparently been much of an issue so far, as they’ve only had to ban close to 1,700 users to date.
Users can post updates which can be cross-posted to Facebook, plus engage in one-on-one IM-like chats and picture message exchanges, although with the latter, the app requiers that at least five text messages have been sent first without the sender getting blocked…you know, to cut down on the “here’s a picture of my junk” kind of thing.
There’s also that above-mentioned, pretty out-there feature (or maybe I’m just old) that lets users actually phone other users via the app. There’s no toggle for this, either. You can accept, reject or block a caller, but you can’t turn the setting off. When the app is open, you’re open to calls. On Windows Phone, the calls go over both Wi-Fi and 3G, but Hamachek expects restrictions when they get around to porting this feature to iPhone. It will probably only support Wi-Fi calls at that point, he admits. The feature doesn’t seem very popular right now – the app sees less than 1,000 voice calls per day.
One thing (OK, besides getting calls from strangers) that does concern me about WNM Live’s direction: Hamachek says he doesn’t use the app himself.
“Myself, personally…this isn’t something I have a need for in my life,” he says. “There are use cases for me, like finding a tennis partner. But on a day-to-day basis, I don’t need to find a tennis partner,” he explains. “There’s a use case for someone like myself, but my personal motivation is to build something that’s used by so many people.”
OK, then.
WNM Live is available on iPhone here.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 07:10 AM PDT
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When Gidsy secured a $1.4 million seed investment earlier this year it wasn’t the clutch of high profile VCs and Angels that attracted everyone’s interest so much as the presence of Ashton Kutcher in the financing round, who seems intent on making Berlin his personal investment project after doing similar with SoundCloud and Amen among others.
If Airbnb sorts out your accommodation when you hit a city then Gidsy will find someone to help you do something there not unlike SideTour, Vayable or MyGuidie. But it’s not just limited to travel, as CEO and founder Edial Dekker explained to me this week at London Web Summit, but workshops or any activity.
And no folks, it’s not just his vast Twitter audience that Ashton is bring to the party says Dekker, who outlines in the interview below that Kutcher is actually pretty good a product and regularly flies the startups he’s invested in over the to US to shoot the breeze. Oh Ashton… you are spoiling them. Do it on Skype dude…

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Rovio is back! After seemingly resting on the success of the original games, Angry Birds Space launched yesterday with much fanfare. And you know what? It’s a great game. I choose to fling birds through space last night rather than sleeping.
With every great cartoon franchises comes merchandise. Angry Birds Space is no different. Rovio embraced the lucrative power of plush toys since the first game and just put a host of space-themed items up for pre-sales. These six plush toys are just the start of what will likely turn into a full-on invasion from space.
Prices start out at $16 for the 5-inch model. The 8-inch is $20, 12-inch $38, and 16-inch is $75. The first batch is expected to ship out in late May or early June and includes all six angry space birds including my favorite, Lazer Bird.
Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka detailed to TechCrunch’s Jordan Crook that more goods are on the way. Angry Birds Space is Rovio’s biggest launch, he said, and the company is attempting to position the game specifically well for the Chinese market. Expect to see Angry Birds Space everywhere — expect on Windows Phone devices.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 05:47 AM PDT
Zynga has just released a new S-1 in connection with its secondary offering. Among the details: a confirmation of the $180 million sale price for OMGPOP that we’d heard earlier this week, and new details about how the company is planning to let employees sell shares bit by bit.
First, about those shares. The company is looking to sell up to 43 million shares (42,969,153 shares to be exact). Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus will sell 15 percent of his shares, which is worth around $227 million based on yesterday’s stock price. Pincus’ voting power post-sale will go from 36.5 percent to 35.9 percent, according to the filing.
Investors IVP, SilverLake, Union Square Ventures, Google, Reid Hoffman are also selling in the offering, as is board member Jeffrey Katzenberg. Owen Van Natta, General Counsel Reggis Davis, COO John Schappert and CFO Dave Wehner are selling shares as well (see chart below).
Other employees (larger shareholders) who hold an aggregate of approximately 114,000,000 shares will be released from lock-ups to allow them to sell shares, on closing of the offering. But these employees will still be subject to a blackout period and won’t be able to sell until after the company’s first quarter earnings release in the last week of April.
As we reported a few weeks ago, Zynga is trying to manage the lock-up period for employees that could negatively affect the company's share price. The company says it's doing this to "facilitate an orderly distribution of shares and to increase the company's public float," basically trying to avoid a situation that has happened to other companies with recent initial public offerings. Employees would dump stock all at the same time, and share prices would plummet as a result.
While Zynga’s plan gives investors and executives a way to liquidate relatively early, the fact that it locks them up for so long will also make it easier for employees to sell at higher prices.
Another interesting tidbit from the filing: we know Zynga bought OMGPOP, the maker of massive Pictionary-like hit Draw Something, as the company announced this week. In the filing, Zynga states that it bought the game developer for a “purchase consideration of approximately $180 million in cash.” On Wednesday, we’d heard that OMGPOP was sold for $180 million plus $30 million in earnout. It’s possible that the $30 million may be just be retention for the startup’s employees, which is why it is not mentioned in the filing.
The company also said that its top three games accounted for 83%, 78% and 57% of its online game revenue in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Zynga’s share price closed at $13.74 in yesterday’s trading.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 05:12 AM PDT
ipad LTE icon
There has been some anecodotal evidence about how WiFi is by far the most popular way to connect on a tablet, but some numbers out from Localytics spell out just how little traffic is coming from 3G (and now 4G) networks on the most popular tablet of all, the iPad from Apple.
Using data from apps that run on its mobile analytics platform, Localytics says that in the last week, since the introduction of the new iPad, only six percent of all sessions on iPads were coming from cellular networks, with the rest coming from WiFi. That’s a testament to how consumers by and large don’t seem to be particularly interested in having 3G or 4G on their devices: not great news for carriers that were hoping for more traffic and purchases of data plans on their cellular networks.
However, Localytics also found those tablets that do have cellular chips are seeing a very even amount of use between WiFi and cellular networks.
Overall, Localytics found that just over 10 percent of all tablets running its platforms’ apps were cellular-enabled. That figure supports data released by mobile analyst Chetan Sharma earlier this week, who noted that in the U.S. at the moment 90 percent of the tablets in use are WiFi-only.
Of the iPads that do have cellular connectivity, Localytics said 8.8 percent of them are 3G-enabled.
And although the new iPad — the first with 4G — has only just hit the market, it already accounts for 1.5 percent of all iPad tablets in terms of traffic on the Localytics platform. Apple said it sold more than 3 million units of the new device on its opening weekend.
Consumers by and large may not be interested in ponying up the extra money for cellular access, but for those who do buy tablets with 3G or 4G, they are actually using that connection quite a lot: on 3G devices it accounts for 45 percent of all usage; on 4G it accounts for less at the moment: 36 percent.
However, it looks like even those that have paid for the privilege to have mobile data access may soon start to sour against the idea unless carriers sort out better usage plans.
A report in the WSJ earlier this week noted how the introduction of 4G has actually been both a blessing and a curse for users: the faster speeds make watching video fantastic, but it has also led to people, perhaps unwittingly, burning through their pre-alloted few gigabytes of data usage in as little as one day.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 03:43 AM PDT
Angry Birds Space app screeshot
Update: The CEO of Rovio, Mikael Hed, has dismissed reports that the company is not developing its latest Angry Birds game for the Windows Phone platform. “We are working towards getting Angry Birds Space to WP7,” he told Reuters. Original post follows below.
Yesterday, the day that Rovio launched its newest game, Angry Birds Space, it also said it has no plans to develop the game for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform. An analyst today has taken that news one step further to suggest that the impact of this decision will be far greater than WP7 users missing out on this one game.
Richard Windsor, a mobile analyst with Nomura, calls Rovio’s decision a “worrying development” for Windows Phone because it suggests a lack of confidence in the future of the platform from a key influencer in the industry. And he also says this will have an inevitable, and negative, knock-on effect, not just for Microsoft but for its biggest and most crucial platform licensee, Nokia.
His thinking, from a research note: Angry Birds (version 1) is already the number 1 on the Windows Phone App store, so if the most successful developer on the platform isn’t investing the time and money to put a new game on it, “it gives a strong indication that no one else will expect to be making money writing for this platform, either.”
And given that Nokia is banking its future on the success of the platform, that will mean problems for the handset maker, too:
“It’s early days, but Rovio’s lack of confidence in the platform may cause some to think twice about the likelihood of Nokia’s recovery in smartphones,” he writes.
Ironically (or perhaps intentionally?), the launch of Angry Birds Space happened on the same day that news broke that Microsoft now has 70,000 apps the Marketplace app store for Windows Phone devices, up from 60,000 in December.
But in an interview with Bloomberg yesterday, the Mighty Eagle at Rovio, Peter Vesterbacka, called developing for Microsoft’s mobile platform a “big undertaking”: “You have to completely rewrite the application,” Vesterbacka said. The app is available on Android and iOS platforms, as well as a Mac app and a Windows PC app and has already proven to be a huge best-seller quickly getting to number-one in app store rankings in some 28 countries as of yesterday.
But Windsor at Nomura puts a more blunt point on where Angry Birds Space is missing: “Without a very strong certainty of sales, [publishing on WP7] is a sure-fire way to risk losing money.”
He doesn’t completely dismiss the platform, but effectively thinks that its best hope is for a “halo effect” from the wider launch of Windows 8 later this year. Windows 8, he notes, looks just like Windows Phone, and that will represent a bigger collective opportunity for developers, similar to Apple’s success in attracting developers to iOS across both the iPhone and iPad.
For now, he says the situation is in a chicken-and-egg state: “no apps means no users and no users means no apps.”
Windsor notes that in the past Nokia has paid developers to port apps to platforms it uses on its devices, although that tactic has “largely failed to bring any life back to the platform.”
Rovio, a Finnish company like Nokia, has been a relatively prolific publisher on the Symbian platform, with 12 games currently listed. It’s unclear whether Rovio would have been one of the paid to write any of those games, or if it was paid to port Angry Birds to Windows Phone 7.
The latest figures from Gartner (Q4, 2011, published February) gave Microsoft only a 1.9 percent share of the smartphone market. Nokia’s Symbian platform accounted for 11.7 percent, but that is less than half of the 32 percent share it had a year before
Windsor says Nomura remains cautious on Nokia.

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 02:57 AM PDT
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Suddenly ‘social discovery’ is all the rage with apps like Highlight and Glancee being thoroughly tested during SXSW by 30,000 hot and sweaty social media gurus. But the past-masters at this for the last couple of years has been Badoo, which long ago created a location-based app and now has more users than any of the newcomers behind. Meanwhile, brand new startup Luluvise has created a (somewhat controversial, but all the same fascinating) niche social network built around so-called “girl time”. And they too now plan a mobile app. At London Web Summit I caught up with Alexandra Chong (Luluvise) and Jessica Powell (Badoo) to talk about this new wave of apps and also building a startup outside Silicon Valley from London.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 08:38 PM PDT
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In the age of endless sharing, super cookies, social search results, and that ever-present social graph, it’s comforting to know that there are some who are still prioritizing privacy. (And a few of them are former Googlers no less!) In October 2010, Google engineer Brian Kennish created Facebook Disconnect, a Chrome extension that disables all traffic from third-party sites to Facebook servers but still allows you to access Facebook itself. The extension was an immediate hit, racking up 50K active users in two weeks (it now has 200K+), prompting Kennish to leave his job at Google to focus full-time on helping the average web user take back control of their data.
Shortly thereafter the former Google engineer launched Disconnect, applying the same method behind Facebook Disconnect to other major third-party sites, like Digg, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo, enabling you to disable data tracking while you browse.
Now collectively attracting over 400K weekly active users, Kennish tells us his privacy-protection tools ended up being much more popular than he ever expected. As a result, he decided to turn the side project into a real company, co-founding with another ex-Google engineer, Austin Chau and consumer rights advocate Casey Oppenheim.
The company, which officially launched late last year, is founded on a simple premise: Personal data should belong to people, not corporations. So, the team is building into a full-fledged platform that allows users to control who does what with their data online, Kennish says. The first step is to help users stop the free flow of personal information to third-parties, he says, while step two will be giving users customized controls that allow them to share personal info when and how they deem fit. (To give you a sense of how big he thinks this problem is, watch this video here.)
To help them in their crusade, the team has raised $600K in seed funding, led by Highland Capital Partners with participation from Charles River Ventures, and angels investors like David Cancel, Mark Jacobstein, Ramesh Haridas, Vikas Taneja, Chris Hobbs, and Andy Toebben.
Both to celebrate their new raise and to provide users with a response to Google consolidating its privacy policy (which, in fact, rolled 70 different policies into one, allowing the company to combine all data it has on you into a single profile), the team is launching Google Disconnect and Twitter Disconnect for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
These extensions are similar to Facebook Disconnect and follow the recent addition of Facebook Disconnect to Firefox and Safari. And, of course, some may also be familiar with Kennish from Frictionless, which he built with Nik Cubrilovic to take having to download a Facebook app out of the process of reading news on the social network. (Read John’s coverage here.)
The app was an awesome solution to a grievance many have experienced when reading social news, and Kennish says he expected the extension to get some traction, but it only had about 3K active users at its peak, and with Facebook iterating on its UI, Kennish said they had trouble keeping up, and decided to put the app “in hibernation.” Although, with some pressure, we may be able to convince the guys to bring it back.
In the meantime, is going to be focusing on protecting you from the thousands of companies that track, analyze, and auction off your browsing and search histories without so much as a peep to you or the millions of other web surfers out there. And, by the way, doesn’t collect your IP address or any personal info, unless you want to give them your email address, of course.
This also especially relevant given this post from Gizmodo today about nuking your search history and the case against Google.
For more, check them out at home here.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:54 PM PDT
scoople screenshot
If you’re a news junkie who wants to make the experience a little more active, Scoople may be the iPhone app for you.
The app was created by a startup called Dygest. When you’re using it, you get a stream of news stories, and each story has an associated poll. For example, you can read a story about the iPad’s new Retina display, and then fill out a poll about whether you’ve preordered the iPad already, earning points in the process. You can also vote on what you think the majority of Scoople users will say. There’s even a leaderboard of those who do the best job of predicting the the larger response.
Eventually, the polls are closed and the final tally is posted in the “results” section. The most interesting polls are also turned into infographics posted on the Scoople blog.
Behind the scenes, Scoople’s technology is following various news sites and automatically aggregating multiple stories into a single Scoople article (with links to the original sources, of course). Then a member of the Scoople team (which includes some journalism grad students) turns that news into a poll.
Scoople actually launched late last year, but has been relatively under the radar. As for a business model, CEO and co-founder Alain Mayer says it’s still to be decided, but will probably have something to do with the enormous amount of poll data that the site is collecting.
You can download the Scoople app here.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:16 PM PDT
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To some TechCrunch readers, a blog post about human resources may sound like a bit of a snooze (well, unless “talent war” is in the headline). But for others, it’s the heart of their business, and of course there’s a big industry built around HR services and products.
That’s why there’s a community of blogs devoted to the topic, and it’s also why marketing agency The Starr Conspiracy and ad company have teamed up to create an ad network aimed specifically at HR bloggers — called, predictably, The HR Blogger Network. There are 50 sites in the network at launch, including The Women of HR, Jennifer McClure, Charlie Judy, Lance Haun, Steve Boese, and Laurie Ruettimann.
"There are over 1 million HR professionals in the United States, and traditional media reaches only about one-third of them," Starr Conspiracy founder Bret Starr said in the press release. "These numbers will continue to decline as print media gives way to online content."
The aforementioned HR services and products are willing to pay good money to reach those readers, especially folks with titles like chief human resource officer, HR senior vice president, and director of HR. In fact, the blog network says it’s seeing a jaw-dropping $500 CPM.
Interested bloggers and advertisers can sign up here.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:48 PM PDT
Glassdoor has taken a look at how Google and Facebook compare in the eyes of employees and job candidates, and has extracted a number of interesting data points related to CEO approval, benefits, perks and more. For background, Glassdoor is a jobs and career community where employees can anonymously rate companies and CEOs.
First, Glassdoor says that so far in 2012, Google has overtaken Facebook in employee satisfaction company ratings. In fact, this is the first time Google has overtaken Facebook in the past four years, says Glassdoor. In 2012, Google's company rating reached a 3.9, surpassing Facebook's 3.7 rating. From 2009 through 2011, Facebook received a higher company rating from its employees (2009: 4.4; 2010: 4.7; 2011: 4.2), than Google did from its employees (2009: 3.8; 2010: 3.7; 2011: 4.1).
For 2011′s rankings, Facebook ranked two spots higher on the list than Google, taking the third spot. Facebook actually slipped from the top spot in 2010 to number 3 on the 2011 list and Google had moved up to the fifth slot from number 30 on 2010's list. Ratings are based on at least 10 reviews per year per company and on a 5-point scale: 5=very satisfied, 3=OK, 1=very dissatisfied.
Glassdoor also reports that Google CEO and founder Larry Page is currently rating slightly higher than Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Google employees are giving Page a 94% approval (6% disapproval) rating, which is just a tad bit higher than what Mark Zuckerberg earned from his own employees, which is a 92% approval (8% disapproval) rating.
Among employees' company reviews on Glassdoor, a larger percentage of Google employees talk about the food as a 'Pro' of working at the company (Google: 29%, Facebook: 25%). When it comes to benefits, the breakdown is as follows: (Google: 21%, Facebook: 17%) and perks (Google: 21%, Facebook: 12%).
However, when it comes to a favorable opinion on salary and compensation, it is neck and neck (Google: 9%, Facebook: 10%). Specifically, Glassdoor says that long hours and work/life balance are the biggest downsides of working at Facebook. More Facebook employees mention long working hours as a 'Con' than Google employees (FB: 9%, Google: 3% of employees). However, more Google employees cite politics and stress as 'Cons' over Facebook employees.
It’s still only March, so this is hardly an indicator of how things will stack up for Facebook and Google for 2012′s overall ranking. But in light of the talent wars in Silicon Valley, especially amongst these two companies; it is interesting to see Google’s employee satisfaction rising. Stay tuned.
For more data, check out the infographic below.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:46 PM PDT
Y Combinator-backed Leftronic is launching a new service allowing companies to create custom dashboards that visualize all of your company’s important data.
With Leftronic, you can pull data from a number of services, including Google Analytics, Twitter, Chartbeat, Mixpanel, and Zendesk, and then customize the layout with a drag-and-drop interface. These dashboards are designed for large screens, so companies can set up a display that’s visible to everyone in the office — that way, everyone knows when traffic spikes, or when the website goes down, or whatever. For example, there’s a Leftronic display in Y Combinator headquarters with stats from YC’s Hacker News website.
The company was actually part of the incubator’s Summer 2010 class — in fact, I wrote that it was one of my favorite companies I saw at that demo day. Co-founder and CEO Lionel Jingles tells me that the model has changed since then, and the company is taking the private beta label off the new service today.
Originally, the company worked directly with its customers to help them build their “dream dashboard.” Now it has a self-serve model, where companies can create the dashboards for themselves, allowing Leftronic to lower its prices considerably. There’s a free version that lets companies to create a dashboard with their own custom data. After that, pricing starts at $49 per month. Customers include research firm SRI International and shopping site Wiggle.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go convince someone to set up a Chartbeat dashboard in the TechCrunch office.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:10 PM PDT
Amazon’s Kindle team seems have had their hands full these past few days — a Retina Display-friendly update was just pushed to the iOS App Store last week, and now the Android version is getting a nice little bump too.
One of the biggest additions to this build is support for Amazon’s relatively new KF8 ebook file format. Originally revealed back in October 2011 (and officially released this January), KF8 allows publishers and content creators greater flexibility when it comes to text formatting and image integration into ebooks.
With support for those KF8 files firmly in place, the updated Android Kindle app can access more of Amazon’s selection of comic books, graphic novels, and image-heavy children’s books — there’s plenty for parents, children, and otaku alike to enjoy here. On top of that, Amazon notes that “thousands” of other titles will now benefit from richer formatting since the app displaying them can finally interpret all the HTML5 and CSS-based layout tweaks KF8 files are privy to.
Also tucked away in the new update is the ability for users to send documents directly to their devices by emailing them to their “Send-to-Kindle” email address. Yeah, it’s not exactly groundbreaking — iOS Kindle users could do this in December — but it’s always nice to see feature parity between platforms.
The new update is live in the Google Play Store right now, and if you’re already a Kindle for Android user, all these goodies can be yours with a single touch.

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 03:56 PM PDT

The Crowdfund Act, a bill to reduce restrictions on regular people investing in privately held companies, passed through the United States Senate today with flying colors in a 73-26 vote, having passed through the House of Representatives this past fall. But legislative matters are by definition quite complex (which is, of course, ostensibly why we elect people to deal with them on a full-time basis.) So we talked to Chance Barnett, the founder and CEO of, to get an idea of what this really means for startups, potential investors, and the technology community at large.
You should certainly watch his full interview above, since he has personally been involved in the effort to make crowdfunding a reality for years and is very knowledgeable about both the legislative and business sides of this issue. But here are some of his key points:

Crowdfunding is not Kickstarter

Many people may think that we already have crowdfunding, through sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. That’s not the case. Today, most regular people are prohibited from investing in private companies unless they become an accredited investor. In order to become an accredited investor, a person has to prove that he or she has a net worth in excess of $1 million, among other requirements.
Kickstarter and the like are actually based on a donation model, Barnett explained: People who give money to projects and companies on those sites are “donors”, not investors. They may get a gift such as a t-shirt or free products in exchange for their donation, but they do not actually get a stake in the company in return for their money. The Crowdfund Act would allow any individual to give money to a company and become a full-on investor — someone who stands to benefit financially if the company is successful (and lose their money if the company tanks.)

Angel and VC funding don’t have to die

The advent of crowdfunding does not have to mean that the existing models of funding tech companies will go away. According to Barnett, does not want to compete with the likes of AngelList, since crowdfunding can actually complement angel investors and venture capital firms. Startups will always need the mentorship that those more established players are able to provide, but crowdfunding will help small, very early-stage companies bridge the gap between just starting up — say, just after they’ve graduated from a startup accelerator — and being able to attract more dollars from more heavyweight backers.

It’s not a done deal yet

Although the Crowdfund Act has indeed gotten the green light from both arms of Congress — the House and the Senate — Barnett says there is still a ways to go before it actually will go into action. Now, the bill needs to be reviewed once again by the House of Representatives, since it has been amended since the last time they saw it. Assuming it gets the rubber stamp there, the bill will go to President Obama’s desk, which should be speedy as he has already pledged support for crowdfunding. But then, the Securities and Exchange Commission needs to give it a look, to ensure that it has enough protections for potential investors.
In the end it could take weeks or months before regular people will be able to invest in startups — and actually gets up and running in earnest. But once it all happens, it could be a big change for the technology industry, and the larger business ecosystem in the U.S.

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