Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Ustream Says Russian Citizen Journalist Is The Focus Of Today’s DDoS Attack

Posted: 09 May 2012 09:18 AM PDT

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Developing story: Ustream has sent out some details on the DDoS attack that is currently attacking its system — which was reported on earlier by GigaOm, along with another DDoS attack on Bambuser.

A Ustream spokesperson says that the attacked is targeted on user “reggamortis1″, a prominent protestor’s live Ustream channel.  ”He has been broadcasting from a large protest at the ‘China Town’ metro stop in Moscow.” Ustream says that this is the third major DDoS attack on Ustream in the last six months related to a Russian citizen journalist, and the site is now gradually coming back up.

Refresh for updates.



‘May The VCs Be Ever In Your Favor’ — Meet The Next 500 Startups Accelerator Class

Posted: 09 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

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Dave McClure’s 500 Startups crew is at it again, with another group of companies joining its Accelerator program. The fourth group of startups in the 500 Startups Accelerator follows a lot of the same trends from previous participants, as McClure & Co. continue to bet big on female entrepreneurs and international startups. There’s also the continued focus on revenue-first startups, rather than those which need to hit “critical mass” before monetizing.

But before I get into all that, check out this video. Seriously. Watch it. This story will still be here when you’re done:

Ok, so now that you’ve gotten your fill of 500 Startups’ hilarious take on the Hunger Games, let’s talk about the companies themselves. Of the 27 startups in the program, seven have at least one woman founder, and more than half of the startups are from outside Silicon Valley. Of those, 12 are from outside the U.S., hailing from locations such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Slovenia, and the U.K. Others come from U.S. cities that include Austin, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Putting investment in non-Valley startups isn’t the only somewhat contrarian move from this Silicon Valley-based incubator. The current class also has a bunch of startups focused on unpopular market segments like parenting and education, small- and medium-sized businesses, and subscription e-commerce.

That’s because big wins on companies like Instagram are rare, and McClure’s not trying to hit a home run every time he comes up to the plate. Instead, he’s focused on singles and doubles. That means helping along startups that might not be sexy, but bring in revenue.

So what do the participating startups get? As with previous classes, all 500 Startups Accelerator participants get investment of $25,000 to $250,000 in exchange for five percent of equity. They also get some swank office space, access to hundreds of mentors, help in marketing, business development, administrative stuff… And, of course, help with future fundraising.

The Accelerator actually kicked off on April 2, so the program is already well underway, with demo days scheduled for July 17-18 in Mountain View, and July 23 in New York City. In the meantime, check out the next 27 companies to participate in this class:

  • ActivityHero – Yelp for kids activities
  • Bluefields – Intelligently organizing recreational sports
  • Bombfell – A monthly subscription service for men’s clothing
  • CardFlick – Create and share beautiful digital cards
  • Chalkable – An app store for school and a platform to make those apps work
  • Fontacto – Virtual phone system for entrepreneurs and SMBs in Mexico & Latin America
  • Groupiter – Adds group conversations to the files you share on Dropbox
  • Happy Inspector – An app to revolutionize inspections
  • Ingresse – Brazil's first social ticketing company
  • Monogram – Flipboard for fashion
  • PocketOffice – An app to help grow your small business from your smartphone
  • PublikDemand – Helps consumers launch viral complaints against big companies
  • ReClipIt – Social catalog for coupon and deal lovers
  • Sqoot – Provides a daily deal API, like Twilio for local deals
  • Storypanda – Next-gen interactive iPad kids books
  • Teamly – Helps teams by stay focused, collaborate better, and celebrate their achievements
  • TeliportMe – Lets users create high-res panoramas anywhere
  • TenderTree – Helps families find a caregiver for the elderly or disabled
  • TieSociety – A try-before-you-buy subscription service for men's neckwear
  • Timbuktu Labs – An iPad magazine for you and your children
  • TokyoOtakuMode – A place to share Japanese otaku culture, like manga and anime
  • Toshi – Super easy personal finance manager and bank data aggregator
  • TwitMusic – Helps musicians effectively share & promote their music on Twitter
  • UmbaBox – A monthly subscription service for discovering handmade women’s goods
  • Uscoop – A social commerce platform for young style influencers
  • Wanderable – Honeymoon registries for couples who want experiences
  • Yogome – Fun & educational games for kids aged 6-12 on the iPhone & iPad


Cloud Storage Service Pogoplug Goes After Business Users With Launch Of “Pogoplug For Teams”

Posted: 09 May 2012 08:32 AM PDT

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Cloud storage service and device maker Pogoplug is expanding beyond the consumer space today, to focus on the more potentially profitable business market. With a new offering dubbed “Pogoplug for Teams,” the company is introducing a service that will turn a file server or spare PC into a private cloud for storing data onsite. The idea, like most of what Pogoplug offers, is to provide a DIY cloud storage alternative to third parties like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box.net.

The company, known best for its hardware devices that plug into your router to instantly create your personal cloud, has been rolling out hardware-free options like desktop applications and mobile apps to funnel users into the Pogoplug Cloud without the need for extra equipment.

To use the new “Teams” service, a business installs Pogoplug Team software onto any machine running Windows, Mac or Linux, and then assigns various folders on the computer to the employees needing access. Upping the storage is a DIY process, too – you just add another hard drive to your computer or server.

Pricing for the Teams offering is competitive with third-parties – actually, it’s even lower (unless, of course, you have to go out and buy a server to get started!). For example, a shared cloud with 4 TB of storage and access by 10 people (400 GB/person) would be $150/year on Pogoplug Team, but $2,400/year on GDrive ($20 / month * 10 employees = $200 / month), $1447/year on Dropbox Teams ($795 / year + $125/year * 5 additional employees)  -  200GB / user – 400GB requires more money), $1,800/year on Box ($15 / month * 10 employees – only 100GB per employee – for 400GB requires a custom plan and more money) and $539.88/year on Egnyte  ($44.99 / month – 100GB / user – no visible plan for 400GB / user).

For 2TB and 5 people, the cost is $75/year. On GDrive, that’s $600/year, Dropbox Teams is $795/year, Box is $900/year, Engntye is $539.88/year.

Also, because it’s locally-hosted, there aren’t file size limits, and onsite transfers will move at LAN speeds, not cloud speeds. Remote access lets users view and download from any PC, web, or mobile/tablet device. The user interface can also be customized and branded to better match the organization’s other online services. And, again because it’s on an onsite computer, the Pogoplug server can be backed up as usual via whatever backup system is already in place at the office.

There’s a bit of geekiness to a DIY cloud solution in the era of everything-as-a-service, but geekiness still has a place in many small groups and teams, which often need an under-the-radar solution that doesn’t require a big line item expense approval from the powers-that-be. Pogoplug, which says it specifically that it’s “not focused on enterprise,” could easily be that quick fix solution for budget-conscious users. More info will be available here (at noon ET).



Final Nail In The Joost Coffin: Adconion Rebrands, Folds Video Service Into Smartclip

Posted: 09 May 2012 08:22 AM PDT

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Looks like the final frame has been reached for Joost, the online video service originally started by Skype founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis and then eventually sold to the Adconion Media Group: Adconion today announced that it would fold in and rebrand Joost Media into smartclip, a video advertising company that it bought in November 2011.

The company says it is making the move in order to better serve the U.S. market, where it is now launching services, and presumably believes that using one brand is stronger than using two.

Smartclip is a multi-screen video and brand advertising platform that offers ad formats for PCs, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, set-top boxes and connected TVs. Adconion claims that smartclip is already the leading European digital video advertising company, and it has more recently made inroads into Latin America and Australia. Adconion does not give details on how wide the reach is for smartclip, or how wide it was for Joost but does note that overall its wider video advertising distribution platform has a potential reach of 687 million unique users.

As part of the deal, Adconion says that Joost’s existing clients and partners will all be rolled into the smartclip platform.

Adconion, which first started in video advertising in 2008, bought Joost in 2009 to enhance that platform. The service was originally formed by Zennstrom and Friis in 2006 with the intention of becoming a peer-to-peer-based premium video distribution platform.

On the strength of the founders’ popularity and that of its other P2P products, Skype and KaZaa, the pair got funding of around $45 million from investors including Sequoia, Index Ventures and CBS; lots of premium content deals; and some one million sign-ups to its beta. But with sustained traffic and business models failing to materialize, the service began to fizzle and was eventually sold to Adconion for an undisclosed amount. Adconion had actually, quietly suspended the Joost service at the end of April.



Sprint’s ‘Tri-Fi’ Mobile Hotspot Plays Nice With 3G, WiMax, And LTE

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:54 AM PDT

tri-fi

Talk about covering your bases. In addition to outing the EVO 4G LTE’s release date, Sprint (along with hardware partner Sierra Wireless) has pulled back the curtains on their new Tri-Fi mobile hotspot, which the carrier will launch for $99 after a mail-in rebate on May 18.

Hotspots aren’t usually the most interesting things to write about — either they do a good job hooking you up to a carrier’s wireless network or they don’t — but Sprint’s Tri-Fi has a little something else going for it. If you haven’t yet guessed from the name, the Tri-Fi allows Sprint customers to use any of the carrier’s three wireless network technologies to bask in the glow of the internet on-the-go.

Up to eight people can jump onto the Tri-Fi at any given time — that is, if you’re alright having 7 other people mooching off of your data plan. On top of that, the truly bored can pop a microSD full of goodies into the Tri-Fi to share files with other users sharing that internet connection. The Tri-Fi is definitely worth a second look for Sprint customers in dire need of access to cat videos at the drop of a hat, and right now it’s the only option available for those looking to hedge their bets when it comes to Sprint’s network plans.



Angry Birds Catapults Itself To One Billion Downloads

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:46 AM PDT

Angry Birds

A little footnote — no, actually, a big footnote — to Rovio’s news earlier this week that revenues had increased by more than tenfold in 2011: the games developer says that its Angry Birds games have now passed the one billion download mark.

Finland-based Rovio notes that this is taking into account the full range of games, including the original Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio, and the newest, Angry Birds Space.

The company has been milking the Angry Birds brand since first launching its iOS version of the game in December 2009, and in addition to a number of versions of the original game, there is now also an extensive merchandising operation that contributed 30 percent of all of Rovio’s sales for 2011.

But the company is also looking ahead. Many believe that it will be later this year that Rovio will launch a new franchise, while continuing to develop the huge Angry Birds brand at the same time. It is expected that the company will IPO in 2013 listing in New York and/or Hong Kong.

And yesterday, its Finnish neighbor, Nokia, announced that it would be investing in a new team of developers with Rovio to develop games for the Windows Phone platform — another sign of how the company is evolving, since the vast majority of its business today is on two platforms: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

In a run-down of its 2011 earnings earlier this week, Rovio noted it made $106.3 million in revenues in 2011, some ten times more than its estimated 2010 revenues.

The short and sweet video Rovio made in honor of today’s news is below. And I should also point out that the blog 148apps is making an interesting connection here: they’ve spotted that the little boy in the video below looks a lot like the character from Casey’s Contraptions, and he speculates that it may be that Rovio is developing that game as its first post-Angry Birds project. I’ve reached out to Rovio to ask about this and will update as I learn more…



Disrupt NYC 2012: The Agenda

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:33 AM PDT

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Good morning everybody! It’s beginning to look a lot like NYC Disrupt time (seriously, Disrupt is a force of nature in more ways than one). For those of you wondering why we haven’t been returning email/phone calls/telegrams/carrier pigeons, TechCrunch Disrupt NYC is happening in two weeks, starting May 21st and going through the 23rd, preceded by our Red Bull-ified Hackathon.

We promised you a great show and that is exactly what we are going to give you; First and foremost bringing (some of) the band back together, with our illustrious founder Michael Arrington and former colleagues MG Siegler and Jason Kincaid also taking the stage.

We are expecting more than 1,500 attendees this year and that even more startups from around the world than last year will battle it out for the Disrupt Cup and $50,000 prize. After sitting through a slew of rehearsals all week, we’ve seen some amazing contenders; And promise you that these startups will not disappoint.

And, this is the last call for early-stage startups to participate in Startup Alley. If your startup is less than 2 years old and has under $2 million in funding, the Startup Alley package gives you the opportunity to demo Monday or Tuesday of the conference and 2 full admission passes to the conference. The audience-choice Startup Alley company of the day gets to present on stage at Disrupt and earn the chance to fight for the top $50,000 grand prize. Startup Alley packages close Monday, May 14, so act fast or email Gene McPherson for details (gene at techcrunch dot com).

We have already announced many of our special speakers and guests, but there are more coming so stay tuned. Tickets are on still on sale here, and the initial agenda is below.

Monday, May 21st

8:50am – 9:00am
Register for TechCrunch TechRecs

9:00am – 9:10am
Opening Remarks

9:10am – 9:20am
Welcome

9:20am – 9:40am
Fireside Chat with Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures)

9:40am – 10:00am
Founders Stories with Jason Goldberg (Fab)

10:00am – 10:25am
Building the NY Startup Ecosystem: David Tisch (Tech Stars), Jake Schwartz (General Assembly), Brooke Hammerling (BrewPR), Ben Lerer (Thrillist), Alexis Ohanian (Y Combinator)

10:25am – 10:35am
A Special Product Announcement

10:35am – 10:50am
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

10:50am – 11:15am
When Will Fashion Tech Just Be Fashion?: Neil Blumenthal (Warby Parker), Ashley Granata (Fashism), Jennifer Hyman (Rent the Runway), Alexis Maybank (Gilt Groupe)

11:15am – 11:35am
Power Play with Tom Katis (Voxer)

11:35am – 11:55am
Fireside Chat with David Karp (Tumblr)

11:55am – 12:15pm
Engineering on the Best Coast

12:15pm – 12:30pm
Power Play with Andrew Keen

12:30pm – 2:00pm
LUNCH and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

2:00pm – 2:30pm
How the Battlefield Works

2:30pm – 3:30pm
Startup Battlefield: Session 1

3:30pm – 3:45pm
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

3:45pm – 4:45pm
Startup Battlefield: Session 2

4:45pm – 5:00pm
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

5:00pm – 6:00pm
Startup Battlefield: Session 3

6:00pm – 7:30pm
Browse Startup Alley

9:00pm – midnight
After Party

Tuesday, May 22nd

9:00am – 9:10am
Opening Remarks

9:10am – 9:30am
Fireside Chat with Jeff Jordan (Andreessen Horowitz)

9:30am – 9:50am
Power Play with John Borthwick (Betaworks)

9:50am – 10:20am
How Many Angels Can Dance on Term Sheet?: Ron Conway (SV Angel), John Frankel (ffVentures), Fritz Lanman, Harjeet Taggar (Y Combinator)

10:20am – 10:40am
Fireside Chat with Keith Rabois (Square)

10:40am – 11:00am
Fireside Chat with Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital)

11:00am – 11:20am
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

11:20am – 11:30am
A Special Product Announcement

11:30am – 11:55am
New Media: Where We Go Now That We’ve Won: Jonah Peretti (BuzzFeed), Gabe Rivera (Techmeme)

11:55am – 12:30pm
UX/UI: Design Office Hours

12:30pm – 2:00pm
LUNCH and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

2:00pm – 2:20pm
How Social Advertising is Working: Tim Armstrong (AOL), Melissa Brenner (NBA)

2:20pm – 2:30pm
How the Battlefield Works

2:30pm – 3:30pm
Startup Battlefield: Session 4

3:30pm – 3:45pm
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

3:45pm – 4:45pm
Startup Battlefield: Session 5

4:45pm – 5:00pm
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

5:00pm – 6:00pm
Startup Battlefield: Session 6

6:00pm – 7:30pm
Credit Suisse Networking Reception

6:00pm – 7:30pm
Browse Startup Alley

9:00pm – midnight
After Party hosted by AT&T
Hudson Terrace
621 West 46th Street
Conference badge required for admission

Wednesday, May 23rd

9:00am – 9:10am
Opening Remarks

9:10am – 9:40am
Brooklyn Makers: Ayah Bdeir (littleBits), Duncan Frazier (Bit Banger Labs), Amol Sarva (Peek), Peter Semmelhack (Bug Labs)

9:40am – 10:00am
Founders Stories with Cyrus Massoumi (ZocDoc)

10:00am – 10:25am
Revolutionizing Beer with Churchkey Can Co.: Adrian Grenier, Justin Hawkins, Ryan Sowards

10:25am – 10:50am
Government Innovation: Why Tech Companies Need To Pay Attention with Greg Ferenstein

10:50am – 11:00am
Special Product Announcement

11:00am – 11:20am
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

11:20am – 11:40am
Fireside Chat with John Lilly (Greylock)

11:40am – 12:00pm
Power Play with David Lawee (Google)

12:00pm – 12:30pm
Investing: It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst of Times: Mike Abbott (KPCB), Josh Kopelman (First Round Capital), Charlie O’Donnell (Brooklyn Bridge Ventures)

12:30pm – 1:30pm
Charity Auction hosted by Outbid

12:30pm – 2:00pm
LUNCH and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

2:00pm – 2:20pm
Fireside Chat with Dan Huttonlocher (Dean of Cornell University Tech Campus)

2:20pm – 2:30pm
Hackathon Highlights

2:40pm – 2:55pm
Startup Battlefield Alumni

2:55pm – 3:15pm
Fireside Chat with Marissa Mayer (Google)

3:15pm – 3:30pm
BREAK and BROWSE STARTUP ALLEY

3:30pm – 5:30pm
Startup Battlefield Finals

5:30pm – 7:00pm
Cocktail Reception hosted by Hatch/IAC

7:00pm – 7:30pm
Closing Awards Ceremony and Passing of the Disrupt Cup

9:00pm – midnight
After Party

Startup Battlefield Judges: Mike Abbott,  Michael Arrington, Jon Auerbach, Adrian Aoun, John Backus, Cyan Bannister, Roelof Botha, Tracy Chou, Chris Dixon, Shana Fischer, Chris Fralic, John Frankel, Pat Gallagher, MC Hammer, Josh Kopelman, David Lee, Marissa Mayer, Stephen Messer, Charlie O’Donnell, Ron Palmeri, Shervin Pishevar, David Roseblatt, Bijan Sabet, Dave Samuel, Fred Wilson, Michelle Zatlyn



1000Memories Brings Its Photo-Scanning Shoebox App To Android, Revamps iPhone Version

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:32 AM PDT

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1000Memories, the startup that’s helping consumers get their old-fashioned printed photos online, is bringing its ShoeBox mobile application to the Android platform today, while also rolling out a completely revamped version of its iOS app. Both apps allow you to scan your old photographs simply by snapping a photo of them using your smartphone’s camera. Once scanned, the photos can be organized into virtual “shoeboxes,” which can then be shared with others or posted to Facebook.

According to 1000Memories founder Rudy Adler, the service has been doing amazingly well since the launch of its redesigned website last month, which first introduced the concept of the online collections called “shoeboxes.” The company has seen a 500% increase in photo uploads and is now approaching 300,000 photos uploaded to the site since the relaunch.

“Shoeboxing as a way to share old photos definitely seems like the right structure,” says Adler. “And with the new mobile integration, we expect another big boost this month.”

The new mobile apps now also bring the concept of shoeboxes to the iOS and Android platforms, allowing users to organize their scans and then share them directly from their mobile phones – no need to login to the desktop-sized website. As before, integrated tools allow you to straighten and crop the edges of photos and then color correct them. You can also annotate photos with the same type of notes that, in the analog era would have been scribbled on the backs of photos. That includes things like dates, names, and locations, for example.

For previous Shoebox for iOS app users, the most noticeable change (besides the icon’s color going from blue to red, that is), is the redesigned user interface itself. Explains Adler, they’ve tried to simplify the experience with new design so people will focus on the scanning flow and putting their scans into shoeboxes. You’ll notice that the scan button is now big, red and centered in the bottom of the screen.

Adler also notes that photos themselves display bigger and faster now, and when you tap a photo, it expands into a full screen view. From there, you can just thumb through all your Shoebox photos. It’s actually a nice experience, and is reminiscent of how you browse through photos using the default iOS Photos app, in fact.

Another big shift is the drop of the “following” and “followers” model, which has now been replaced with the Shoebox organizational model to better reflect the changes online. Today’s mobile rollout now makes the web and mobile apps very complementary.

On a personal note, while I cover a lot of startups, 1000Memories is one that I’ve really been starting to use. Although I quickly realized that I had too many photos to scan in via the app itself, when the company launched its partnership with ScanCafe last month, I bit, and sent boxes filled with old photos in for digitization. I’ve got hundreds of photos on the site today, but am now anxiously awaiting the batch organization tools (which Adler promises are coming soon), so I can move photos around between the collections more easily.

Although 1000Memories is focused on photos from times’ past for now, given its use case – sharing photos more privately between family and friends, then only selectively sharing them to Facebook or other social services as you see fit – the company could move into the broader photo-sharing market if it ever chose to. But the “digitize the past” angle has a lot of appeal for those who didn’t grow up with our baby pictures on the web, and who still balk a little at the thought that Facebook should house our every photo from here to eternity.



Facebook Enhances Its Suicide Prevention Outreach, Adds Services For Vets And Military Personnel

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:01 AM PDT

Screen shot 2012-05-09 at 15.18.16

Facebook’s role as a social network for close to one billion people can be a weighty responsibility, and today the company took one more step in the kind of social outreach activities that befit a company with that kind of audience. It has formed a new partnership with Blue Star Families and the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a special set of services aimed at vets and other military personnel, to help prevent suicide.

Engineers at Facebook have developed a special solution, the company says, that will be able to identify military families and military personnel on the social network. What it will mean is that when friends and families of those military people report harmful or suicidal content, posters of that content will receive information specifically related to crisis services for U.S. military people.

These will include links to services such as the Veterans Crisis Line, where people can communicate with people by phone, online chat or text messaging to talk through their issues and get further help. This will further enhance existing services that Facebook offered for suicide prevention outreach, which let people report/flag potentially suicidal content posted by a Facebook contact. That reporting triggers an email to the poster with support information from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Creating services targeting military personnel are significant on two levels for Facebook. For one thing, the social network has very high usage among military families — some 86 percent of military families that are on Facebook say they use it daily. For another, there is almost as high an incidence of suicide contemplation among families of military people are there are among military people themselves: respectively, 10 percent and nine percent of them have considered suicide, according to a new survey from Blue Star. Altogether there are some 2.2. million military families in the U.S.

As Facebook continues to gear up for its IPO, the company has been making other moves to enhance its social responsibility profile. These have included an initiative to encourage organ donation by letting users identify themselves as organ donors.

The company will host a Facebook Live event tomorrow at 3PM EST with Blue Star Families, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Wounded Warrior Project to talk more about this new development and the wider issue, as part of Military Appreciation Month, it says.

[photo: WisGuard Pics, Flickr]



RankBoards, A Pinterest For Opinions, Brings Ranking Into The Imagery Equation

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

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There are quite a few Pinterest clones out there, and to be quite honest with you, there’s nothing wrong with a clone if it adds value in a fundamentally different way than the service it’s cloning. This is why I’m totally amped to tell you about RankBoards. Yes, I know, it does borrow a bit from Pinterest in terms of large-scale representative imagery, but it brings in a new layer of awesomeness in the form of ranking.

Ranking is something inherent in us, whether we talk about it or are conscious of it. When someone asks you about your favorite tech blogs, you may list off six or seven, but in your heart you know that TechCrunch sits right at the top of that list. (Wink.)

RankBoards takes our natural push to rank things and throws it up onto the Internet. Basically, you create boards in the same way you would on Pinterest, but instead of a collage of categorized items, you’re asked to rank them from best to worst, favorite to least favorite, etc.

You can create private boards that no one can tamper with — these are essentially representations of yourself — or you can create public boards, which is where things get really interesting. Users are allowed to vote on any public boards to change the ranking. So perhaps you feel that Ellen Degeneres is a funnier female comedian than Tina Fey. You have the option to vote for Ellen on that board once a day, and you can vote on any other public board once a day too.

RankBoards also generates a visual history of your activity, displaying all the images you’ve posted (regardless of rank, category, or board) in chronological order. A bookmarklet is also in the works right now, according to founder Glen Moriarti, which should make seamless and instantaneous pinning a much better experience.

RankBoards currently uses Skimlinks to monetize through affiliate links, but the potential here is big if the service can pick up traction. Imagine what marketers and brands could do with the data generated on RankBoards, where all your favorite things are actually organized and ranked from best to worst. That’s about as streamlined as it gets.

RankBoards launched itself out of beta today, so if this seems like something you might get into, head on over to the site and sign up.



Brazil’s Startup Industry: Impressions, Insights & Lessons from Israel (Part II)

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Brazil

This post is co-written with Daniel Cunha, my partner at Initial Capital.

In Part I, we outlined some of the challenges facing the Brazilian startup community as it sets-out to reap the massive opportunity the local market has to offer. In Part II below, we’re going to suggest a course of action, and how it could benefit through the experience of the Israeli startup industry.

Step One: The nascent Brazilian startup community must embrace the fact that it’s going to take approximately 10 years and a lot of work and coordination to become competitive with the likes of Silicon Valley & Israel (and there aren’t any guarantees).

There are no shortcuts. Accelerated 1/3/6-month programs are a great start, but they can’t produce an entire workforce, or accelerate the accumulation of plain old experience.

Let’s look at Israel for a moment… Traditionally, Israel’s forte has been enterprise technologies. The fact that it has been able to push out consumer startups in recent years is not taken for granted. It took thirty years to get to this point. Israelis know ‘consumer Internet’ doesn’t come naturally to them and that they are competing with the best in the business, namely, Americans. Getting to where it is didn't come easy, and staying there will remain a continuous challenge.

For Brazilians to get to this point will take time, experience, coordination and a general improvement of the business environment.

It will also take resilience. Consider that the Brazilian start-up scene back in 1999 / 2000 almost vanished after the tech-bubble burst, and was resurrected only in the past 18-24 months.

The stakeholders will have to grow tougher skin and persevere through both good and bad times if a true Internet industry is to be formed.

The good news is that the Brazilian startup ecosystem seems ready to buckle-up for a lot of hard work ahead – there is potential, talent, capital and entrepreneurial passion already in play. And frankly, 10 years go by pretty quickly in the startup world.

Step Two: If a supporting ecosystem is accepted as pivotal, physical proximity is a prerequisite to achieve it. If Brazil wants to establish a true startup industry, a critical mass of ecosystem players will have to converge on a single physical location – a Brazilian startup epicenter if you will.

While we were impressed with the quality of entrepreneurs and startups in all three cities we visited, unquestionably, it was in Belo Horizonte that we sensed the highest level of community. To share an anecdote, Belo Horizonte was the only city where entrepreneurs that came in and out of our Office Hours meetings knew each other – a subtle, but telling sign.

Again, let’s take Israel as an example… The gross majority of startups are located in two cities that are 10-minutes apart, Tel-Aviv and Hertzeliya. True, Haifa, 90km to the north also has some startups. It’s also home to the Technion (Israeli’s MIT), as well as Google’s, Yahoo’s & Apple’s R&D centers, but the honest truth is, the odds of a consequential Internet startup coming out of Haifa are small.

Consider that most entrepreneurs and investors I know are in San Francisco more often than they are in Haifa.

The same is true for the US – while Boston has its place on the Internet entrepreneurial map, it’s in Silicon Valley that gravity’s pull is felt strongest.

Is this fair to other cities? Not at all, and yet, it’s an absolute must. And as nature takes its course, secondary centers will rise, increasing competition and improving the Brazil’s Internet industry across the board. Call it ‘Geographic Darwinism’, but it’s a harsh reality that the Brazilian startup community must internalize as well.

Step Three: The establishment of an ‘umbilical connection’ between the Israeli and Brazilian startup communities.

If there is one key insight we learned, it’s that entrepreneurs become such *in-spite* of Brazil. Similar to their Israeli counterparts, Brazilian entrepreneurs are battling against all odds. It’s this similarity that has driven us to ask ourselves what role can Israel play in helping the Brazilian startup community grow. And how can we at Initial Capital put our skills and connections to use for the benefit of Brazilian entrepreneurs.

Here  are the key areas we see as a basis for this so called ‘umbilical connection’:

  • Traffic: Israelis are mavericks at all forms of web-traffic acquisition and monetization, an expertise we noticed a current Brazilian deficiency in. A foundation of our ‘umbilical connection’ strategy, we are already mapping Israeli-based media players that are running ad traffic in Brazil.
  • Funding: We’re going to ring-in our co-investor network on our deals. These will include private and institutional investors from Israel, Silicon Valley and Europe.
  • Product & Technology: Logistically tricky, but we’re confident that an effective knowledge transfer can occur between Israeli & Brazilian entrepreneurs in areas such as UX and development methodologies. We see this being manifested via webinars and face-to-face events.
  • Legal & Accounting: No real Israeli connection here, but we’re going to work with leading Brazilian commercial law and accounting firms to offer entrepreneurs ‘startup specials’ in the form of discounted fees, and free pre-funding consulting.

Ultimately, Brazilian entrepreneurs will have to prove their worth by way of execution. That means forming strategies that fit the local market, and then implementing with excellence, efficiency, foresight, and a strong orientation to cash-flow.

For us at Initial Capital, this means a commitment to working closely with our portfolio and the local startup community et large, to build-up a winning entrepreneurial culture to go along with the lucrative potential Brazil has to offer.

Mãos a obras, e aquele abraço!



Instacanvas Launches Global Marketplace For Instagram Prints

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

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Given that it’s pretty hard to take a really bad photo with Instagram, it’s only natural that some users would want to turn their images into physical objects to hang on their walls. There are a few companies out there that allow you to print your Instagram photos on canvas, but Instacanvas is probably the first site that focuses on letting Instagram users sell their own images on canvas to other users. The LA-based graduate of MuckerLab‘s startup accelerator launched its beta just eight weeks ago and is officially coming out of beta today.

The site already features over 30,000 galleries and currently sees about 1.1 million unique monthly visitors.

As Instacanvas’s CEO and co-founder Matt Munson told me yesterday, the instant success of the site took the four-person team by surprise. When it first opened up its doors after the team invited a handful of Instagram users to try it, the site quickly went viral and Instacanvas signed up over 4,000 users in its first 72 hours.

Artists can set up their own galleries on the site within minutes, though because of the current demand, there is currently a waiting list (users can skip ahead of the line by having their friends request their galleries, though). Prints start at $39.95 for 12″ x 12″ frames and go up to $79.99 for 20″ x 20″ canvases. Instacanvas pays out 20% of the sale price of each item sold.

The company will ship internationally (though international shipping, of course, is costly). It’s also currently testing printers in Europe and Asia to make things easier and cheaper for its international customers. As Munson stressed, though, the actual image treatment in done in-house – only the printing itself is outsourced.

You can, of course, also have Instacanvas print your own pictures and there’s no waiting list for that (those prints start at $31).



It’s Official: HTC’s EVO 4G LTE To Hit Sprint Shelves On May 18

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:59 AM PDT

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Pre-orders for Sprint’s new EVO 4G LTE have been open for a few days now, but Sprint has finally gotten around to announcing when we’ll actually be able to get our hands on one. Starting on May 18, you’ll be able to shell out $199 through your sales channel of choice in exchange for the carrier’s new flagship Android phone.

The release date hasn’t been the most carefully guarded secret these past few days — third-party retailers like Wirefly have been strongly hinting at a May 18 launch when they kicked off their pre-orders — but it’s always nice to hear it straight from the source.

If you’re a Sprint customer pondering your next upgrade, don’t forget that the Ice Cream Sandwich-powered EVO 4G LTE sports (among other things) a 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 display running at 720p, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, and an 8-megapixel rear camera bolstered by HTC’s ImageSense tech.

As is the case with the rest of HTC’s One series, the Taiwanese company’s less-cumbersome Sense 4.0 UI sits atop the stock Android interface. At it’s core, the EVO 4G LTE is the same device as the HTC One X that AT&T just recently began selling, albeit with a few thoughtful additions — namely, a discrete camera button and that nifty crimson kickstand that Sprint seems so fond of.

For what it’s worth, I got the chance to go hands-on with the new EVO last month and came away enjoying the device much more than I’d anticipated. Even though there’s nary a bar of Sprint LTE signal to be found, there’s no shortage of solid LTE devices for Sprint customers to take the plunge on — between the EVO 4G LTE and the Galaxy Nexus, Sprint has a hell of a hardware lineup prepared for when that new network goes live later this year.



AngelHack Plans A Bicoastal Hackathon, With Funding For the Winners

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:59 AM PDT

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Covering the tech scene in San Francisco, it sometimes seems like there’s a hackathon every weekend. But the folks behind AngelHack are thinking a little bigger than normal for their summer event.

They’re calling it the first hackathon “to unite startup communities nationwide.” On the weekend of June 23-24, AngelHack will be hosting four simultaneous hackathons in the New York City, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle areas. The top 20 teams will then get three weeks of mentorship from AngelHack partners, including Lean Startup Machine (a workshop on lean startup methodology).

The goal is to create a real product that the teams can bring to Palo Alto on July 12, for the grand finals, where they’ll present to a panel of judges that Microsoft VP Scott Guthrie, Right Side Capital’s David Lambert, and, uh, me. The two big winners will receive $25,000 in seed funding from Right Side and Instanta Capital.

Oh, and apparently my fellow TechCrunch writer Rip Empson will be hosting the July event. Though to be clear, as far as I know, there’s no official relationship between TechCrunch and AngelHack — it just so happens that Rip and I both said yes. Anyway, it’s a nice surprise, since I never see that guy.



Spire.io: A New Platform For Serverless Apps That Work On Web & Mobile

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:47 AM PDT

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What do you do when you’re a consumer apps company with apps that never hit the big-time, but whose development forced you to solve the same problems over and over again? Well, if you’re Border Stylo (makers of Glass, Retrollect, and Trivia Together), you turn your knowledge of developers’ needs for backend infrastructure into your new business.

And that’s exactly what Border Stylo is doing with its new company called Spire.io, which has been working on the idea of “serverless” apps. The company launched its first realtime messaging API in beta this January, and is today rolling out its second addition, an identity service for web and mobile.

Founded in 2008, Border Stylo had taken in around $7 million in funding, which is now helping the team pivot spinoff into Spire.io. The same investors are in the new company, too: Eric Bergasa of Tagua Capital and Francisco Ortiz Von Bismarck. Over the years, Border Stylo had built up its engineering team, and had created an infrastructure to help build their apps.

“We were getting good at the engineering side, but were having trouble really nailing it in terms of the actual product design,” explains Spire.io CTO Dan Yoder. “One of the things we began to realize is that we were building the same things over and over again, or we would build things so that we wouldn’t have to build them over and over again. And when we were done, we looked at it and said, ‘hey, this might make sense as a product all by itself’ – so other startups don’t always have to build out messaging, and login, and so on,” he says. And then, the realization: “let’s build the picks and shovels, instead of panning for gold.”

So what does Spire.io actually do? It’s a backend service provider, but its emphasis is on so-called “serverless” apps.

“We see the world creating truly server-less applications, where developers do not need to worry about building/maintaining/updating backends,” explains Spire.io CEO Diego Prats. “Most competitors are doing point solutions (they may do real-time messaging for apps) or they may be device-centric (backends for mobile), but to truly create a serverless world, our infrastructure must support web and mobile,” he says. “Consumers want products to work on their iPad and desktop, they don’t care about different backends. We want to help companies be closer to their consumer and eliminate some of the engineering complexity. We want apps to worry about what matters (consumer experience) and let us worry about the rest.”

The company initially launched its real-time notification service for apps in the beginning of the year, which would enable apps like chat, collaborative editing, or multi-player gaming, for example. Today, the company is launching a new identity service. With this addition, developers can now add login and registration to their apps, whether web or mobile.

“The problem before with doing this on the web is that you would have to put an API key in your JavaScript, which could be easily downloaded,” Yoder explains. “By integrating the identity component where you have to register or login first, it limits the amount of damage somebody can do – they could be registering users for you if they really wanted to, but they can’t use your API key to build their app,” says Yoder. However, while that wasn’t as much of a problem on mobile, the interesting thing about Spire.io is that it works on either web or mobile.

Going forward, Spire.io plans to release a different service every few months. Data storage and asset management are on the near-term roadmap, for example. They’re also working on a processing model for serving data from far away – it will help to move processing to the edge, similar to how CDNs work.

There are now 12 fulltime people at Spire.io, mostly engineers, and all who have worked together for two years. Most of the team is in Los Angeles, but Prats works mostly out of San Francisco in RocketSpace. Dan Yoder works from Coloft in Santa Monica and the L.A. office. There’s also one developer in Austin and another in Spain.

Spire.io is a freemium service, pricing info is here. To get started, go here.



LittleBigPlanet For The PS Vita To Enter Beta Soon

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:40 AM PDT

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Three months after launching the PS Vita is still a hard sale. There simply isn’t a killer title yet. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is boring, the racing games fall flat, and the best game so far, Ninja Gaiden, is tepid at best. Worst yet, several of the Vita’s relatively strong titles are simply ports of smartphone games. In the age of $5 iPad games, spending $50 on a port is downright ludicrous.

Sackboy and LittleBigPlanet might be the ace the the PS Vita so desperately need. And it’s about to hit beta.

Sony just posted the details on its Playstation blog. While no exact dates were given, interested players should put their name down on this sign-up list to reserve a spot. As Sony states, the developers are looking for last minute feedback prior to the game’s launch next month.

We played an early version of LittleBigPlanet last June at E3. It was easily the best title at the show and cleverly takes advantage of the Vita’s multiple controls and social connectivity. But still, the game will likely debut with a $50 price tag, which as I previously stated, is a lot to swallow when equally immersive games can be had for dramatically less on hardware you already own.



AOL Beats Street, But Revenue, Display Ads Dipped

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:27 AM PDT

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AOL reported first quarter earnings this morning, which saw it posting higher revenues than expected by analysts, with $529.4 million in revenue during the quarter, beating the $527 million consensus. However, this represented a 4% drop from a year earlier. Meanwhile, net income rose fourfold from the same quarter last year, with net income at $21.1 million (22 cents per share), up from $4.7 million (4 cents per share) in this quarter last year.

Although total ad revenue increased by 5% to $330.1 million, AOL reported that U.S. display ads fell 1% to $118.9 million – representing the first decline in the last five quarters. AOL owns several online properties, including TechCrunch, as well as Engadget, local news source Patch, and the Huffington Post, among others.

Globally, the display revenue was driven by growth in international display advertising, particularly growth in both the U.K. and Canada. The domestic display advertising revenue declined primarily reflecting a decline in reserved impressions sold, but this was partially offset by growth in reserved inventory pricing and Patch revenue. (Yes, Patch!) According to AOL’s report, “Patch grew traffic and advertisers over 40% year-over-year and revenue over 100% year-over-year."

Other areas doing well in the product/consumer space included video (videos, video views, video ad impressions, and video revenue grew at double-digit rates), and traffic was up over Q4 2011 to 108 million uniques.

In April, AOL agreed to sell more than 800 patents to Microsoft for $1.06 billion, and that transaction is expected to close by year-end. In today’s statement, AOL said Microsoft might have to pay $211.2 million if the deal is terminated.

In a statement, Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, said: “AOL is a much stronger company today than a year ago and began 2012 by growing advertising revenue, lowering expenses and improving Adjusted OIBDA trends. In 2012 and beyond we are simultaneously focused on the continued successful execution of our strategy and on creating and unlocking value for our shareholders.”



Social Ad Startup Adaptly Raises $10.5M From Valhalla And Time Warner

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:06 AM PDT

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Adaptly, a startup that manages ad campaigns across multiple social networks, just announced that it has raised $10.5 million in a Series B round of funding. At the same time, it’s launching a new product called Evergreen to help advertisers promote their social network content.

The round was led by Valhalla Partners, with participation from Time Warner Investments and Vivi Nevo — all three are investing in Adaptly for the first time. The company previously raised a $2.7 million round from First Round Capital, Charles River Ventures, Lerer Ventures, and others. Adaptly says all of its previous backers invested in the new round.

Among other things, the money will be used to fuel international expansion, says CEO and co-founder Nikhil Sethi.

As for the new Evergreen product, Sethi says that brands have worked and spent to build large followings on Facebook and other social networks, but that doesn’t mean those fans are actually seeing the content that the brands create — for example, Facebook estimates that an average post on a Facebook Page only reaches about 16 percent of that Page’s fans. For companies who want to reach a bigger percentage, Facebook announced an ad product called the Reach Generator, where companies pay to promote their content. Sethi says that Evergreen has a similar idea — using advertising to build on the organic reach of your content — but it works across multiple social networks, and is accessible to smaller advertisers. (Though initially Adaptly is focusing on Facebook, and the first customer it’s announcing is Kraft Foods.)

One of the more “forward-thinking” features, Sethi says, is the fact that Adaptly is pushing advertisers to promote content that’s actually good. More specifically, “We won’t let an advertiser put money behind a piece of content that doesn’t pass an organic threshold of engagement.”

Sethi also argues that this is part of a larger shift in the social advertising world, away from what he calls “the CP-something model,” where advertisers measure their success using metrics like eyeballs (CPM), clicks (CPC), and actions (CPA). Instead, Evergreen is closer to the traditional TV, radio, and print advertising, where the metrics are more focused on reach.

“Some people will argue that it’s a shame that [this model] is reappearing, but for the social space, it’s necessary to become more validated against the marketer’s budget,” Sethi says.



First Round Capital Closes Another $135M Fund, Bumps Up Phineas Barnes, Kent Goldman To Partner Level

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:01 AM PDT

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Two big pieces of news today for First Round Capital — a sign of more growth, and more opportunities, at the early-stage VC firm: the company has closed on another fund, and it has created two new partners, Phineas Barnes and Kent Goldman. Previously both had been principals with FRC, which they each joined in 2008.

The move signifies the focus that VCs are keeping on early-stage investment and the efforts they are making to find the best entrepreneurs and startups to fill out their portfolios by putting strong talent into their teams. Barnes and Goldman will join existing partners Chris Fralic, Rob Hayes, Josh Kopelman and Howard Morgan.

Kopelman notes that the new fund, First round Capital IV, will be the same size as its last fund, $135 million, and that the investor base will also remain the same.

“Every single one of our existing institutional Limited Partners has recommitted to our new fund – and we are honored and thankful for their continued support,” he wrote in a blog post. We first reported on this fund back in April when we noticed the SEC filing announcing it.

He also notes that the company will continue to remain focused on seed-stage investments. “We believe that the first 18-24 months of a company's life are a special time – where the DNA of a company gets established.  And seed-stage is the only place we play.”

Meanwhile, Barnes says that there are no new specific investments being announced alongside the news, and that in large part it will be business as usual for him and Goldman: the two will continue to work on firm initiatives like Office Hours and the Plus Startup speaker series, in addition to their core investment activities.

“In many ways the change in status reflects a title catching up with the reality of our responsibilities,” he told me earlier. “We will maintain our focus on helping them build great companies by leveraging our time, our personal networks, and the fantastic products, services and events available through the First Round Network and our active community of world class entrepreneurs.”

Just as FRC itself has grown from being a single office outside of Philadelphia to a business with additional offices in San Francisco and New York, funding some 185+ companies, the market for seed and early-stage investment has also boomed in the last several years — both in terms of the VCs offering it, and the startups seeking it.

“I think this is good,” Barnes told me. “More access to capital at this stage means more ideas get funded, but it also forces the sources of that capital, including First Round, to innovate and provide meaningful value beyond the check that we write.”

Barnes notes that at FRC this has translated into a lot of activity around what FRC calls the “Platform,” run by Brett Berson, which includes engineers on staff that build products and a team dedicated to other services and events to help portfolio companies.

He says that these extras are essential value-adds in today’s world of easy funding, where a VC has to stand for something more: ”When a watch can raise $7 million on Kickstarter, investors have to add significant value to be relevant to the smartest people who are building the stuff that will change the world.”

In terms of what companies are exciting Barnes and Goldman (and the rest of FRC) these days, it seems to be a moving target based on how the target customer is being engaged. “I tend to start with the end user and if there is magic in that interaction, if a company is creating an experience that changes the way the end user does something (the way they learn, the way they buy, the way they manage their money, do their job or engage with their health) I am inspired and want to learn more,” he told me.

The respective experience that the two have are nice bookends to the life of a tech company: from startup stage to huge global entity. Barnes was the founder of ResponDesign, an independent video game company. Meanwhile, Goldman spent years at Yahoo (before it, in the words of Michael Arrington, it started to get “ridiculed” in 2008).

First Round Capital has already made a pretty big impact in the startup world, as evidenced by some of their portfolio companies. They include car service Über, mobile payments company Square, social network Path, and Simple, as well as a number of e-commerce investments like Warby Parker, Birchbox and Fab; and a few B2B properties, too, such as Monetate.



ThingLink Acqu-hires Pixboom To Double Down On Fashion

Posted: 09 May 2012 05:01 AM PDT

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ThingLink, which has a platform for tagging things inside images, has acquired Pixboom, an interactive image tagging service for the Swedish fashion industry. The terms of the deal were undisclosed but we understand it was an ‘acquhire’ in that ThingLink, in the main, wanted to bring the Pixboom team on board.

Founded in 2008 by entrepreneurs Jonas Sujkerbuik and Daniel Aspers and based in Stockholm, Pixboom already powers interactive images on hundreds of Swedish fashion blogs. You may not know this but fashion blogging is quite a big deal in Sweden. Suijkerbuijk also joins the ThingLink advisory board as the startup doubles-down on its growth into the fashion industry.

Since launching in 2010, ThingLink has amassed 20,000 publishers for its platform which allows people to share content and links to commerce or entertainment via online images. Brands and publishers are tending to use it as a way to drive traffic and marketing campaigns.

Back in October last year they launched ThingLink Labs which is an internal incubator the first project of which is Rich Media Notes, a printed version of ThingLink images, which will also include NFC tags.

ThingLink CEO Ulla Engeström told us at the Next conference in Berlin that “Sweden leads the way in fashion blogging, and we're excited to merge our collective expertise.”

Whether this really does help scale ThingLink’s footprint is slightly neither here or there. Acquiring one company with a lot of images it can tag does work to some extent but won’t give ThingLink a super-boost – however, the expertise it gets in terms of the wider fashion industry is clearly valuable.



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