Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Report: LTE Connections To Hit 90 Million By Year’s End, 1 Billion By 2017

Posted: 17 May 2012 09:11 AM PDT

Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 12.22.30 PM

By now, we’re pretty familiar with the term 4G LTE. But that in and of itself is somewhat surprising. It took 12 years for GSM wireless technology to reach one billion connections, and WCDMA took 11 years. But LTE will hit the same mark in just seven years of existence, according to a new report by Strategy Analytics.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a brief explanation would be a faster fourth generation connection using “long term evolution” (LTE) technology, which means operators will be able to build upon the technology faster and more easily than implementing brand new systems.

We’ve already seen a plethora of LTE devices hit the U.S. market, and now that the technology is established in major markets like Korea, Japan, and the U.S., the growth trajectory for LTE will only continue to rise. Strategy Analytics expects over 90 million LTE connections to be activated before the end of 2012, and that figure should reach the 1 billion mark by 2017. This is far and away the fastest implementation of new wireless technology to date.

At the same time, however, previous technologies were born into a world with far fewer overall connections. LTE launched with over 6 billion connections in existence in the world, whereas CDMA was first revealed at a time when less than 1 billion connections had been activated.

“The race is on for mobile operators to reduce cost per GB to match the rate at which revenue per GB is falling,” said director of service provider analysis Sue Rudd, in a prepared statement. “LTE is one of the key tools to deliver this improvement, with the early volume in LTE devices an encouraging sign for operators looking to maximize return on their LTE investments.”

To her point, we certainly wouldn’t mind a reduction in data costs, considering that we’re more data hungry than ever and unlimited data has basically been nixed across the boards.



Eduardo Saverin Backs Mobile Wallet Contender Crowdmob

Posted: 17 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

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Eduardo Saverin may no longer be a U.S. citizen. But that’s not stopping him from investing in American companies.

In fact, he just closed a deal. He’s backing Crowdmob, a startup that’s blending app promotion with discounts from local merchants. The startup’s long-term ambition is to play in the mobile wallet space, where phones may eventually become a mainstream way of paying for real-world goods and services. (That is, if they can become easier to use than a credit card or cash.)

The company, which already took some earlier seed investment from Andreessen Horowitz, has a couple products up its sleeves. One is something they’re calling ‘Appy Meals,’ which combine a paid app for free with a discount on a real-world good like the Starbucks Frapuccino below. It kind of mimics the way you’d buy a hamburger and a get token toy, except that toy is now a digital one like a game.

Crowdmob’s co-founders Damon Grow, Alex Han and Matthew Moore, who is an ex-Googler, say that games are a good way to lure in consumers, who are already comfortable with using their phones to pay for apps or virtual currency. Games and social networking apps have the highest engagement on iOS and Android, according to research from mobile analytics companies like Flurry.

They’ve built several variations on the same idea of mixing real-world commerce with virtual goods. With another product, they take the same “appy meal” mechanic and apply it to in-app purchases instead of paid apps. Gamers can buy virtual currency and gift cards for real-world goods like Starbucks or movie tickets inside an app (see below).

Yet another variation on the concept called Loot lets gamers watch video ads in exchange for virtual currency that can be redeemed for gift cards. Loot was built because the team knew that only a small percentage of mobile app users actually pay for things in games. So there had to be a free alternative.

“Not everybody is going to pay because many users have limited budgets,” Grow said. “So we knew that we had to disrupt ourselves  by having a feature where consumers didn’t have to pay and that was Loot.”

All of this goes toward building a payments network. Whenever a user makes a purchase, they’ll be able to pay with their credit card or PayPal. Then they can redeem the deal with their phone, which will show a barcode, confirmation number or send an SMS (whatever the merchants’ preferences are). They’ll have to create a CrowdMob account, so that’s how the company picks up payments information on consumers to grow out a network for a mobile wallet. Users manage their rewards in this mobile wallet and it’s synchronous across all the user's CrowdMob accounts, whether they earned a gift card through watching ads or purchased it as part of a virtual happy meal in another game.

“We want to win consumer mindshare,” said Moore. “Doling out all of these gift cards will help us get on more phones. When consumers redeem these, we’ll be able to show the merchant that we drove them to the store.”

Then there’s an open API lets any partner create tasks for users to earn credits. Merchants and gift card providers can also create their own rewards for users to redeem. Crowdmob earns a cut whenever they drive installs or purchases for a mobile developer or whenever they drive sales for a merchant.

The race to build a ‘mobile wallet’ is incredibly complicated right now. Google Wallet’s team fell apart over the last several months as the original technical team that built the product chafed with newer middle management brought over from Paypal. The carriers are collaborating on their own wallet offering called Isis, but when have the carriers ever cooperated on a successful consumer product? Then Visa recently introduced V.me and Mastercard launched its PayPass Wallet Services in the last month.

Saverin shied away from doing an interview for this story, but he did pass us this statement: “I really like the team at CrowdMob and their vision to create a mobile wallet that is embedded in an overall social loyalty platform where virtual and real goods can be exchanged; this platform is an important next step in a fully integrated mobile society.”

He did do an interview with The New York Times yesterday where he said his decision to relinquish his U.S. citizenship had nothing to do with the lower tax rates that Singapore has. Saverin has amassed a little bit of a portfolio here in the U.S. with investments in Jumio, ShopSavvy and Qwiki. Since all of these investments have happened in the last year or two, it’s still too early to tell how his deals will pan out. It will be nearly impossible to top the investment that made him a billionaire, but you can never rule anything out in this business..



YouTube Expands Its Merchandise Store To All Partners, Not Just Musicians

Posted: 17 May 2012 08:31 AM PDT

merch-store

Last year, YouTube announced the ability for its music partners to begin selling merchandise, digital downloads and event tickets through a new YouTube feature called the Merch Store. Today, the company is expanding that effort and is making the option available to all YouTube partners, not just musicians.

Also rolling out today, is a new merchandise provider, which will help beef up YouTube video producers’ Merch Store offerings: CafePress.

With the initial rollout of the Merch Store in October 2011, YouTube announced partnerships with a number of companies, including Topspin for merchandise sales, concert tickets and experiences, SongKick for concert tickets, plus iTunes and Amazon for music downloads. Google Play is also now involved, of course.

The Merch Store feature was gradually rolled out to YouTube music partners following the announcement, and YouTube then began taking a small, undisclosed cut of merchandise sales. Artists, however, see the same revenue no matter if they went through the Merch Store or through the affiliate on other channels, YouTube said. That same deal holds true today.

Starting now, and again, gradually rolling out over the next few months, the same Merch Store feature will arrive on YouTube partners’ channel pages unders a new tab called “Store.” This will become available to partners in good standing, YouTube says – meaning those whose AdSense accounts are properly linked to their YouTube accounts.

You can see the Merch Store live now on the following channels:  PomplamooseGeek & Sundry and DeStorm.



Slide.ly Is Bringing Back The Mashup With Its Social Slideshow Service

Posted: 17 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

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The lowly photo slideshow is not dead yet, or at least that’s the hope of the team at Tel Aviv-based EasyHi, which is debuting its new product Slide.ly today, backed by $1 million in seed funding. The company aims to pick up where Slide.com (acquired by Google in 2010) left off. It’s building a slideshow creation tool for the new age, using sources like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Pickplz, and Picasa, as well as Google Images, photos from your friends or those from your computer. You then mix that content with music from SoundCloud and YouTube and add – you guessed it – Instagram-like effects.

Although there’s no space on Facebook to “embed” your glorious creation permanently, as Slide.com’s shows were once pinned on dizzy MySpace pages, the resulting slideshows can be shared to your Facebook TimeLine or page, tweeted or emailed.

EasyHi, founded in 2010, is led by CEO Tom More, who has 12+ years experience in building internet apps, but whose personal passions for music and photography made building something like Slide.ly a good fit. “Creative self-expression is in our DNA,” he says of EasyHi, now a team of ten.

The company’s value proposition, at first glance, sounds a lot like that of instant slideshow tool, Animoto, photo collection-sharing service Erly, or many others competing in the space with DIY or automated tools that let you make jazzier, more social-infused alternatives to PowerPoint presentations and online photo albums.

But More says that his vision extends beyond slideshows. “We look at this space as a mere starting point. What we are here to create is a new way of telling a story, and there's usually more than one photo for every story,” he explains. “The stories we’d like to help users capture are personal (as many similar services attend to), but are also topical stories that mix your own photos with related media, group stories that combine photos (and soon videos) of you and your friends, fan stories that mesh personal photos and video with your favorite music and local stories or real-time events.”

Ah, so that sounds more like Storify, it seems, even if Slide.ly is starting out focused on the consumer photo-sharing space.

EasyHi, which already has 500,000 installs of its e-card application, plans to grow Slide.ly’s user base by tapping into its current audience. Once established, the eventual business model is to offer a freemium service where things like custom themes and templates could be in-app purchases.

Slide.ly is still in closed beta, but there are 100 invites for TechCrunch readers here. Just use the code “techcrunch” when signing up.



Shortform Launches Bookmarklet And Facebook Open Graph For Seamless Video Curation And Sharing

Posted: 17 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

shortform_logo

Video curation platform Shortform is launching a few new features that will make it easier for its video jockeys (VJs) to curate and share content with friends and followers. The hope is that by introducing a browser bookmarklet, as well as implementing Facebook Open Graph, the startup will be able to continue its hockey stick-like growth in video minutes consumed.

Shortform is introducing a bookmarklet for adding videos to their channels. The bookmarklet will work with all modern browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer), making it easier for VJs to instantly update their playlists without having to open a new tab, copy and paste the URL, etc. In addition to adding videos to their channels, the bookmarklet will also find all videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and CollegeHumor that are on a given page so that users can choose between them.

In addition to the new bookmarklet, Shortform is also rolling out Facebook Open Graph integration, which will seamlessly share the channels that users are watching. Shortform already had launched a connection with Facebook that let VJs and viewers to share what they were watching with friends on the social network, but they had to click a share button to do so. The new social feature will automatically share channels and VJs that viewers are watching, so long as they opt in.

According to Shortform CEO Nader Ghaffari, the choice to share channels and not individual videos was not just meant to avoid spamming user news feeds, like some other high-profile video startups have over the past few weeks. It was also because Shortform is, at its core, about curated collections of videos, and it hopes to highlight those collections rather than individual pieces of content.

The goal is to grow its user base, but also to increase engagement — that is, the amount of time that user spend watching videos through Shortform channels. Since the beginning of the year, the startup has seen a 400 percent increase in the time spent per month, with users watching more than 16 million minutes of video in April.

One way it’s currently doing that is by encouraging its VJs fighting for viewers’ attention. The site runs a weekly VJ competition, where it rewards the top 50 VJs, as determined by the total amount of time users spend on each of their channels. Shortform is awarding a total of $2500 to the top channels every week, with the first-place VJ getting $600, second place getting $400, third place getting $200, and so on down the line.

While the competition is one way to reward the VJ who are driving users to the service, it’s just one step toward providing them with more money. In the future, Ghaffari says he’d like to have a more formal revenue-sharing agreement with VJs as the startup ramps up its own monetization.



The Facebook Stats Game: Brazil Has The Highest Active Reach; Bangkok Tops The List Of Cities

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:53 AM PDT

facebook-world-map

Facebook says that it generated half of its revenues outside of the U.S. and Canada in the first quarter of 2012, and some numbers out today underscore just how extensive its reach is in different markets, with active usage in some countries outstripping that of Facebook in its home market.

According to figures from Nielsen — some of the latest numbers to come out in the battery of data that is being fired out in the final day before Facebook goes public – Brazil has the highest active reach of Internet consumers using the social network from home/work computers. Some 38.1 million Brazilians visited Facebook during March 2012, equivalent to 76.7 percent of all people who were  of those who were active online that month from home and work computers in the market.

When you take into account people accessing Facebook from other sources like tablets and mobiles, Nielsen says New Zealand has the highest active reach, with nearly 80 percent of all consumers accessing Facebook in one format or another.

However, when you look at actual numbers, the U.S. is still running away with the most users: Nielsen reports the figure in the U.S. 152.8 million users — which it bases on usage from computers as well as mobile devices. The active reach in that market is 69.6 percent, it says.

Nielsen notes that Facebook’s active reach in Japan is only 24 percent, with “blog sites” proving more popular in the country. Today Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten announced that it was leading on a $100 million investment in Pinterest, which it noted was picking up huge traction in the country: Rakuten wants to ride that wave with e-commerce integration. Facebook’s low-ish reach in that country underscores the opportunity for another social network to come in and make a mark.

But while it can be useful to see what percentage of active internet users are accessing Facebook, Nielsen’s numbers, rather confusingly, do not tally exactly with those released by Facebook itself. Facebook in its latest S-1 does not break out many individual countries but it does point to numbers for a few: it says that it had 45 million monthly active users in Brazil as of March 31, 2012 (Nielsen’s figure: a lower 38 million).

Facebook also points out it had 51 million MAUs in India — a country not included in Nielsen’s numbers. The U.S., Facebook says, had 169 million MAUs (again, Nielsen’s numbers are lower, this time by nearly 17 million).

Confused? Another analysis group, Social Bakers, also breaks out country numbers — and cities, too.

It notes that Bangkok is currently the Metropolis with the most Facebook users: according to its latest figures, Thailand’s capital had 8.7 million active users in the last month.

While Nielsen ranks countries based on the active reach among active internet users, Social Bakers seems to look at overall penetration, and so the numbers become significantly lower for some of the brightest stars in Nielsen’s rankings: Brazil, for example, has Facebook penetration of 23.4 percent of the population; New Zealand has penetration of 51.4 percent.

The very highest penetration for Facebook in Social Bakers’ rankings is for Monaco, with penetration of 124 percent (more than one account?) but representing only 38,000 users.

Overall, Facebook’s own, most current figure puts its global active monthly users at 901 million.



YesterdayMe: A Site That Tracks Yesterday’s Alcohol Consumption

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:38 AM PDT

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Every few days something really amazing dumps over the transom here at TC HQ. Today it was YesterdayMe.ru. Built by Vladimir V. Tuporshin and partner, Ilja Razinkov, the site essentially allows you to enter yesterday’s alcohol consumption. Why? Because, that’s why.

While the Russians are known for their heavy-duty drinking – although they’re moving from vodka to beer and wine these days, perhaps to prevent liver death – this site is ingenious in that it offers a very simple, hangover-proof interface for registering how much you sucked down. By sliding little drink indicators back and forth, you can tell the world or just yourself that you had too many beers.

The site existed as a Russian-only tool until yesterday. Tuporshin wrote: “It was 1312's hobby project, which we thoroughly developed during it's first year, and then switched to the Pocket Lists project. Now we are dating with YesterdayMe again!”

The company, incidentally, has an interesting post about selling a simple To-Do list app on their blog as well, so you can come for the booze tracking and stay for the analysis.

Sadly, the sliders on the site only go up to 10 shots, which suggests that they may need to offer a freemium “bottle drinker” offer for folks like me.



Facebook Quietly Launches Pages Manager iOS App, But You Probably Can’t Use It Yet

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:31 AM PDT

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Carefully cultivating your Facebook presence can be tough enough when you only have your personal profile to deal with, but it’s a completely different story when you’ve got a full-blown Page (or three) to manage on top of it.

To help those particular users stay on top of things, Facebook has begun to roll out a new app (called, imaginatively enough, Pages Manager) in a small handful of markets, though we in the U.S. can’t play with it just yet.

As far as the design goes, the Pages Manager app should be familiar territory for anyone who’s ever used the standard iOS app, though a few thoughtful additions make the prospect of keeping tabs on multiple Pages a little less hairy. All of the Pages a user has admin rights to can be accessed from the app’s left pane for quick access, and those admins will get notifications whenever a user interacts with a Page under their purview.

Thankfully, notifications can be handled on a Page-by-Page basis, so it’s easy to enough tune out trolls if need be. Perhaps most importantly, the app allows provides on-the-go access to Page Insights — the metrics that track Page performance and user engagement through likes — so admins will always have an idea of where they stand.

For now, it seems as though only users in Australia and New Zealand can access the new Pages Manager app in the App Store, though SiliconRepublic reports that it’s slowly becoming available to users in Ireland as well. No news yet on whether or not an Android version is coming down the pipeline, though considering the slow-and-steady approach they’re taking with this early iOS release, it may be a while before we see it making the rounds.



Facebook’s Prospects In Asia

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:28 AM PDT

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Editor’s note: Benjamin Joffe (@benjaminjoffe) is the CEO of the Asia-based digital research & strategy firm +8* (Plus Eight Star), a speaker in 100+ conferences including TEDx, SXSW, LeWeb and Stanford GSB. He is also a founding partner of Cmune (@cmune), the Beijing-based makers of Facebook's largest first-person shooter UberStrike (@uberstrike), who just announced its first funding from Atomico.

Facebook’s IPO story is a lot about mobile, international growth and Asia.

I am not Asian by birth but have been living there for a dozen years and researching key Asian markets since before Facebook was created. Here are my views on Facebook’s prospects.

From Facebook's S-1 filing:

“In countries such as Japan, Russia, and South Korea we estimate that we have penetration rates of less than 15%; and in China, where Facebook access is restricted, we have near 0% penetration”

While that sounds like a lot of room for growth, let's look at the reality of it.

First, There is no Asia

With its variety of languages, religions, GDP, population sizes, web and mobile infrastructures, regulations and incumbent players, 'Asia' as a word is little but the remain of a Western concept. The only realistic way to look at Asia is by looking at countries on by one.

China

Why China first? It is the elephant in the room and still growing fast.

Facebook has been blocked there for years, and there is simply no way around the local definition of what constitutes objectionable content. Any web or mobile company who does not self-censor faces shut down if it local, and blocking if not.

While I’ve heard local entrepreneurs say it is not worse than dealing with Sarbanes-Oxley, the enforcement is roughly equivalent to how other governments might deal with terrorists, drug dealers, pedophiles, and organized crime (the “four horsemen of Internet apocalypse”), or how mass media deals with touchy topics that could upset the powers that be, or their advertisers. For foreign companies that offer content – published either by themselves or by users – it is a pretty big headache, compounded by the double set of constraints they have to deal with: those at home and those in China.

The PR headaches are – as Google experienced – pretty solid. And the question is: is it worth the effort? Assuming content is managed, China is not a walk in the park anyway: it is easily the most competitive market on the planet, simply because there are so many entrepreneurs and so much venture money. Social networks? China already has TWO listed on the stock market: Tencent (worth $53.4 billion) and RenRen (listed in May 2011 on the NYSE and today valued at $2.43 billion).

While RenRen called itself "the Facebook of China" and even went IPO a year before its Western cousin, it has a number of key differences with Facebook. Looking at revenue, RenRen is far from being Facebook: they made only $118 million last year, half of it from ads, the other from games. However, setting aside the sale of their stake in the travel portal eLong for $50.9 million, the year would have ended with a net loss.

RenRen is overall a very opportunistic company experienced at executing on proven concepts and raising capital. They even launched one of the numerous Groupon adaptations and spent tens of millions operating and promoting it, with limited results so far. Third-party developers hardly make money with RenRen, which even develops and operates its own games.

Meanwhile, at Tencent

Tencent is an entirely different game: $4.5 billion in revenue in 2011 (that’s 20% more than Facebook at $3.7 billion), $1.6 billion in net profit (62% more than Facebook’s nice and round $1 billion). Tencent operates TWO social networks (or three if you count their IM service QQ as another one).

Tencent counted 576.7 million active users on Qzone, 214.5 million on Pengyou and 751.9 million on their IM QQ. It also runs the largest microblog service in China with 425 million registered user accounts and 67 million daily active accounts, but we won’t talk about it as it brings no significant revenue.

The majority of Tencent’s revenue is derived from online games, web games, social games and avatars ('Internet value-added services'); a mere 7% comes from advertising. Their revenue split is thus vastly different from Facebook’s. Which also means that Facebook’s model is unlikely to deliver good results immediately – and this is provided they can launch and acquire users in China!

Japan

After some initial resistance due to Facebook's design (“as long as it’s square and blue!”) and real-name policy, Facebook has been growing well in Japan. The movie “The Social Network” definitely helped get more visibility and make it more mass market. But Facebook's users there stand at less than 10 million.

The benefits of addressing the Japanese market, whose population is less than half the one of the US (128 million people), are:

(1) A high GDP/capita

(2) Very good IT infrastructure (actually, far better than the US, according to Akamai).

Being the second largest online advertising market in the world, it makes sense for Facebook to go after it, and Facebook opened an office there some time ago.

Japan also has this interesting fact that it sports two mobile gaming platforms-cum-social-networks GREE and Mobage, by the company DeNA. Those two are on track to over 2 billion dollars each in revenue in 2011 from the Japanese market, with about 25 million registered users each. (GREE's sales were $795 million in the year to June 2011, while DeNA's were $1.8 billion – GREE's sales were $575 million and DeNA's were $526 million in 1Q2012), with healthy profits.

Of course, this did not happen overnight, but it means two things:

(1) There is lots of money spent on mobile social games in Japan

(2) Facebook could potentially make money there, and in other markets, by learning a thing or two from Japan.

South Korea

According to Akamai, South Korea has the world's fastest Internet. You could even argue it had its very own Facebook 10 years ago when Cyworld was launched and pioneered the micro-transaction model on its social network.

Unfortunately, had Facebook been born 10 years ago in Korea, it would not have been able to raise enough capital or grow internationally until the glorious moment of its IPO.

While Cyworld dominated Korea for a decade, Facebook finally started to register more page views than its local rival sometime last year. Cyworld has been around since 1999 but lost most of its youthful startup spirit after it was acquired by SK Communications in 2003 (for a whopping USD$ 7.14 million- that was all before MySpace boomed and “social network” was even a term).

Is there revenue in other Asian markets?

Here I can share some first-hand experience from a company I helped co-found named Cmune, the Beijing-based makers of UberStrike, Facebook’s largest first-person shooter. You read that correctly: a cutting-edge free-to-play multiplayer 3-D shooter inside Facebook. Made in China, where Facebook is blocked. Oh, the irony.

UberStrike's user base is global (China excepted) and our number 1 market is the US. You might wonder: why not launch in China first? Well, the revenue share offered by local social networks Tencent and RenRen and the market size for social games were not so motivating. RenRen offers on average 50%, and the revenue (as seen above) is not great, while Tencent used to offer 90/10, unfortunately the 10% was for developers. We now hear it’s a 70/30 split (30% for you), though your mileage may vary. Overall, about a dozen social game companies make real money in China, with over 10 million MAU, but the revenue per user is generally 1/5th to 1/10th of a US user, so better grow in the US first.

China aside, and after disappointing results on Cyworld (Korean social platforms do not have their social gaming act together quite yet), we got a few surprises in Asia, which I will try to explain.

UberStrike registered many users from the Philippines and Indonesia. Unfortunately, most seem to be kids in Internet cafes and not eager to spend $20 on powerful guns, so they mostly play for free. Maybe when the country will reach over $5,000 GDP/Capita there will be a real market there.

On the contrary, Singapore and Malaysian players, while much less numerous, monetize really well. Singapore is easy to explain: English-speaking, wealthy, with great IT infrastructure and lots of credit cards. So despite its rather small population (5 million), it brings valuable revenue.

How about Malaysia? Though not often on the “developed countries” list, Malaysia is no third world either: over 28 million people, though Malay dominates in this Muslim country, most educated people speak fluent English regardless of ethnicity. It has a decent GDP/capita, largely concentrated among ethnic Chinese who represent 20% of the population.

When I asked Ganesh Kumar Bangah, CEO of the e-payment company MOL, who bought Friendster (yes, Friendster is Malaysian now) before selling back its SNS patents to Facebook for a hefty sum and partnering with them for Facebook Credits distribution (they also own 3.5 million shares of Facebook), 70% of the revenue they collect is from those 20% of ethnic Chinese – still a solid 5 to 6 million people, a similar size to Singapore.

Other Asian markets? I have yet to see social gaming or mobile companies making hundreds of millions in Thailand, Vietnam or other emerging markets. Even India – depending where you place your “Asian” frontier – has poor infrastructure, low GDP/capita, numerous languages and poor payment systems, which make it unattractive for app developers to localize fully.

Sure, Indonesia is the fourth largest Facebook country with 42 million users (behind US, Brazil and India), but most of them are on mobile (with feature phones) and pay nothing.

So How Big is the Potential?

China is going to be an uphill battle if it ever happens.

Japan might eventually bring in good revenue, but it’s competitive, especially on mobile.

Korea can turn into a decent market and competition is weak on the web, but users are not the next billion.

Other countries might bring users, but revenue will take years to come, if no local competitor emerges like in China or Russia.

As for mobile, the spread of Android ($100 and soon $50 mobiles, not the $500+ iPhone) is going to help gather many across “emerging Asia.” Money-making will only start when Facebook has something to sell on mobile, integrated with proper payment platforms. Even then, let’s keep it real: it is not going to be raining gold because of the hard barrier of GDP/capita.



Reuters Agrees: The Next iPhone Will Be Larger

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:17 AM PDT

large iphone

The Wall Street Journal made waves yesterday. Citing unnamed sources, the Journal reported Apple is ordering larger touchscreens for the next iPhone. Now, citing its own unnamed sources, Reuters somewhat confirmed the reported. Prepare yourself, iPhone diehards. All signs point to a larger iPhone.

The thought of a larger iPhone clearly scares people. Read the comments on my post yesterday, “It’s Time For A Larger iPhone.” They say 3.5-inches is the best size. You don’t have to move your thumb to navigate the whole screen, they say. A phone with a 3.5-inch screen fits in my hipster jeans!

But really, the main underlying thread seems to be some people are afraid that, just perhaps, Apple will adopt something from Android like the trend of a larger screen. Scary, I know.

Change is hard. Apple has used the same form factor for 4 iPhone generations spanning 5 years. The iPhone 4, and the 4S for that matter, is still one of the best looking phones on the market, with an impossibly thin design and stunning good looks. But it’s time for a change. Besides, logic and other credible rumors point to an internal change that might be forcing Apple’s hand in using a larger screen.

Along with a larger screen, the next iPhone is said to have 4G data connectivity. This requires a new mobile chipset, which, as proven by the new iPad presents a new set of challenges. Instead of growing the iPad’s height and width (and therefore the screen size), the new iPad was made a bit thicker to accommodate the larger battery needed to power the 4G chipset and retina display. Apple doesn’t have that luxury with the iPhone. The next iPhone cannot be thicker than the current iPhone. But it can be taller.

4G chipsets are generally not as mature as their 3G counterparts. They require more power and thus require a larger battery. Instead of making the iPhone thicker, logic suggests that Apple would then make the phone a bit taller, making room for a larger, likely retina, display.

This change will likely upset the Apple diehards. As the screen size increased on Android phones, iPhone users took to Internet comments and forums to defend the smallish iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen. It seems sooner versus later now, Apple will use a different screen for the iPhone. Change is hard.

[image via Mark Wilkie/Flickr]



Moglue Makes It Dead Simple For Anyone To Create And Publish Interactive Ebooks

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:08 AM PDT

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Creating and publishing content-rich, interactive ebooks without programming skills or distribution power: that’s the problem New York- and Seoul-based startup Moglue is trying to solve. The TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing finalist offers two products: MoglueBuilder (a desktop app that makes it dead simple for authors and artists to create and publish interactive ebooks) and MoglueBooks (an ebook store on iOS for users who just want to browse and consume content).

MoglueBuilder (download for Windows and Mac) has been in open beta for a few weeks and was downloaded by more than 20,000 creators worldwide so far, according to Moglue. With the new version that just launched, authors and artists can create interactive ebooks using a drag-and-drop-based UI and directly publish them to MoglueBooks to reach their audience – no programming required.

Moglue is currently focused on children’s books, but the platform is suitable to make any kind of content interactive.

It’s possible to spice up texts with images (backgrounds, characters, etc.), effects, sounds, and animations. For instance, a bird appearing in a children’s book could start flying up into the air and chirping when touched by the reader’s finger to make the story more appealing to children.

All elements can be customized in the property editor to, for example, determine how high the aforementioned bird should fly on the given page when touched. Creators can also record and add voices to each page to tell the story: all that kids need to do in that case is to listen, interact with the elements and touch the screen to turn pages. MoglueBuilder offers a whole range of other bells and whistles, i.e. background music, that can be uploaded and added to the ebooks.

With Moglue, amateur authors can create interactive ebooks that actually look and sound fantastic. Just check the 11 sample ebooks that are currently available in the MoglueBooks iOS app (which is the store that creators publish to). These selected ebooks (interactive versions of Pinocchio, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, etc.) are available for free for the next four weeks.

All books published to MoglueBooks must be set to free by authors between now and the next four weeks. As in the case of the aforementioned sample ebooks that are currently free, Moglue uses this measure to kick-start demand on the platform: after the four weeks, authors can start charging for their ebooks freely.

Creators using MoglueBuilder can publish to MoglueBooks for free during a promotion period, which ends this summer (publishing details and pricing plan here).

23-year old Moglue CEO Taewoo Kim tells me that starting around the same time, authors will also be able to publish directly to the App Store, under their own developer account. From summer, it will also be possible to publish books as individual apps to Google Play and Amazon’s App Store through MoglueBuilder (MoglueBooks for Android will be rolled out during that time, too).

The startup has raised about US$450,000 from Korean investors last month, following a US$540,000 seed round in October 2010. A big distribution deal has been closed in April, too: Kyobo, Korea’s largest offline and online book store as I’ve been told, chose Moglue as the platform to expand its business to interactive ebooks.

With Kyobo covering the domestic market, the startup is now planning to keep focusing its energy on the global market for interactive ebooks. Moglue is, for instance, thinking about expanding the platform to other categories such as educational books, manuals, visual novels, etc.



From TC50 Winners To A $7.4M Round And A Home Depot Acquisition, Redbeacon Tells All

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:08 AM PDT

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I’ve been on a journey through the past as Disrupt NYC (tickets here) draws closer, sifting through past Disrupt and TC50 startups with the hopes of getting a clear update on the accomplishments, the trials, and the milestones between then and now. The stories have been amazing, but one of the most incredible tales of growth and success I’ve yet to hear lies with Redbeacon.

The company first won top prize at TC50 in 2009, and has since gone on to raise a $7.4 million round led by Mayfield Fund and Venrock (purely bootstrapped up until then), and ultimately found themselves in the midst of an acquisition by Home Depot.

I spoke with co-founders Aaron Lee and Yaron Binur to hear the impressive tale straight from the horses’ mouths.

Here’s the interview in its entirety:

TechCrunch: So tell me what’s happened between TC50 and now? What was the TC50 experience like?

Redbeacon: Well, the interesting part of TC50 is that you have to launch on stage. We had an awesome product and we were excited but no one had used it up until that moment.

We launched in the Bay Area and spent the next 8 months iterating. Even though we launched at TC50 with no users beforehand, we started collecting data which was extremely useful. We skipped the whole angel round with the small amount of money we could raise, including our TC50 prize, and then eventually raised $7.4 million.

I think there were three factors that went into getting that $7.4M round: our willingness to put in our own money, the great data we were generating, and our win at TC50.

The experience of launching our product on stage with TechCrunch and getting interest and appetite from investors made that first round of funding a lot easier to get. It opened up a lot of doors for us. When you have all those things come together — great data, a great team, a great product, and TechCrunch — it makes that round easy to raise and it makes it easy to get a lot out of it.

TC: Did you feel like, after TC50, you kind of had your choice when it came to shopping for investors?

Redbeacon: Absolutely. We were very picky and felt like we had a lot of choices with investors. Our investors were rock solid. Without them, the acquisition with Home Depot would have been impossible.

Once we got that money, up until then we only had three or four people in the company. We could then finally grow the team and grow geographically. We went from the Bay Area to 11 different metros, and as we scaled and grew we arrived at one of the most important things we could learn.

With the growth of our team and product we needed to focus on new products. We had originally launched a very generic product. All services. What we saw from the data as we scaled was that 80 percent of our requests were for home services, and not the other categories.

As a consumer, they didn’t understand the idea of local services. They couldn’t make a connection between wedding planners and roofers. By focusing on home services, we had a clearer brand and could specialize our product in useful ways. Redbeacon then became all about my home or maintaining my home.

That was obviously a huge shift for us. From that point we started seeing a lot of traction and growth. We started introducing key features that were only possible with that focus.

We also went mobile, which was huge, both on the consumer and the provider side.

We saw huge growth on the revenue side throughout 2011. And in January of this year, Home Depot understood the opportunity and that the space is huge. They also saw that Redbeacon is best to take it over. One thing you can see in the marketplace is that a younger generation is moving from DIY to do it for me.

Since the acquisition in January, we’re already scaling and leveraging the business. It’s integrated with the shopping experience at Home Depot, and we have a lot of interesting things in the pipeline too.

TC: One thing I notice during Disrupt is that the Q&A is particularly brutal. A company’s entire stance can quickly be brought down by an Arrington or a Wilson or a Mayer. How did you guys feel about the Q&A experience, and do you think that session might have actually improved your product in the early stages?

Redbeacon: We learned three main things from the Q&A. The first was the chicken and the egg rule. We had a two-sided marketplace and it’s hard to bootstrap and scale the business keeping things even on both sides. That was a big worry for them. But that put it in context in a way that was really useful: we learned that the provider side is much easier than the consumer side. They list themselves, we know how to get a hold of them, so if we come to them with real jobs and work they’re very interested in engaging.

That session helped us identify that issue and while we spent eight months iterating we were trying to figure out how to balance out both sides before expanding.

Another thing that came out of the Q&A was going mobile. This was back in 2009, so the idea was still relatively new, but it turned out to be key. Our engagement on mobile is huge.

The last thing we learned was how we should roll out and scale: should it be city by city, nationally by one vertical? We tested out a lot of different ways, but a local business can’t go national in one day. It was useful to hear their concern about that and think through it.

TC: We have a ton of entrepreneurs and hackers heading out to New York today and tomorrow. You’ve been there before; so what advice would you give to these guys getting ready to launch on the Disrupt stage?

Redbeacon: Along with having experience at Disrupt, I’m also an angel investor and a mentor at 500Startups. A few things to learn is to keep your product and do less rather than more. Launch and iterate quickly. And do tons of interviews early on. Understand how people are using your product and run lots of tests. Don’t make it a stealth product because there’s not enough feedback that way.

It’s also important to remember that raising money is great but it’s a means to an end. Stay focused on the product and the users.

TC: So generally speaking, how do you think that Disrupt helped build Redbeacon?

Redbeacon: I think there are four main ways. It helped us raise money, as I said before. It also helps early on with business development. It’s hard for large companies to trust you when you’re running on your own money. But having won Disrupt opened doors and gave us credibility. Some of our early partnerships told us that after hearing about us on TechCrunch, it instilled a lot of confidence in the team and the product.

Disrupt also helped us with media relations, not only with TechCrunch but across the board. And it also helped with hiring and recruiting. People were excited to be a part of a team that had won at TC50.

Disrupt NYC is set to be one of our biggest shows yet, with returns from Michael Arrington and MG Siegler, along with a variety of big names like Marissa Mayer, Sarah Tavel, Fred Wilson, and David Lee and more. It’s going to be huge.

If you’re interested in checking out Disrupt and/or the Hackathon yourself, tickets are still on sale here and info on the Hackathon can be found here. Companies who want to join the Battleground can apply for the last remaining spots in Startup Alley. You can find the full agenda here.



Buffer Acquires ShareFeed, Brings KISSmetrics CEO Hiten Shah On As Advisor

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:07 AM PDT

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Buffer, the little service for scheduling your social media updates, has some big news today: it’s acquiring competitor ShareFeed, and is bringing its CEO Hiten Shah on board as a mentor and advisor. ShareFeed was launched in 2009 as a side project from Shah’s company KISSmetrics, which is backed by True Ventures, SoftTech VC, Polaris Ventures, and other angels. Of ShareFeed’s team of three, only Shah will be working with Buffer going forward, and will advise the company on how integrate some of the technology the ShareFeed had previously developed.

While terms of the deal were not being disclosed, ShareFeed’s main contribution to Buffer, outside of Shah’s mentorship, appears to be the technology itself and the data the company had previously collected on social sharing.

“The most crucial parts that Buffer will use is the user flow and engagement data that Hiten and his team have collected through the ShareFeed userbase,” explains Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich. “This includes retention and activation metrics and how Hiten managed to build a product with so little drop-off. Also, the technology around individual scheduling of updates, is something that we will work with and potentially integrate into Buffer, it’s a feature we currently don’t have,” he adds.

Given that the deal has just closed Buffer doesn’t yet have an ETA on when the results of that integration will be complete. However, one feature that Buffer has already implemented, which came directly from Hiten’s ideas for ShareFeed, is to spread the smarter sharing button across the web, including on Twitter.com, Facebook.com, and Google Reader. The company rolled out its improved Buffer browser extension last week, which lets users “buffer” (can we verb it now?) directly from the websites themselves – the ones that host the content Buffer users want to share.

The extension places a “Buffer” button next to the “Post” button on the Facebook status update box, for example. It also lets you buffer re-tweets, new tweets, and blog posts you’re sharing using the “Tweet” button, among other things.

Currently, Buffer has 200,000 users (up from 180,000 just last month), 25% of whom are active. Every day, those users post 100,000 updates through Buffer to services like Twitter, Facebok, and LinkedIn. Widrich says Buffer is growing at over 20% every month, and is confident that the learnings from the ShareFeed data can top up Buffer’s growth rate “significantly.”



Netflix’s Former Customers Are Returning After Rebranding Fiasco

Posted: 17 May 2012 06:55 AM PDT

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At a J.P. Morgan conference held in Boston on Wednesday, Netflix CFO David Wells said that the company was looking up and, more importantly, customers who cancelled the service because of the Qwikster rebranding, plan repricing, and subsequent poor PR are now returning.

The company drove users away due to a considerable price hike on its cheapest disk plan – from $9.99 to $15.98 – as well as its ham-handed decision to split the company into a streaming arm – Netflix – and a disc-in-the-mail arm – Qwikster. Wells said:

We think there’s room to grow, but the improvements in retention and our growth in Q1 and Q2 since Q3 and Q4 of last year make us feel pretty good. Rejoined or folks rejoining the service still remain about a third of our new subscribers that are coming in. Even streaming-only subscriptions, who should not have faced an impact, reacted to last year. We think that's a result of the negative PR, the swirl that was around the brand and the company will dissipate over time. We even saw that in Canada, which you could argue should not have seen it.

Netflix pricing is currently set at $7.99 a month for one DVD (not Blu-Ray) disc out at a time or unlimited streaming, and $16 for unlimited streaming and one disc. The steady return of disgruntled customers is a testament to the breadth of Netflix’s streaming selection and general economic improvements.



Still Smiling, Eduardo? Senators Schumer, Casey Want To Collect Your $67M In Facebook Taxes Anyway

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:28 AM PDT

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Another development in the ongoing story of how Eduardo Saverin has given up his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying $67 million in taxes related to Facebook’s IPO: the U.S. government doesn’t want him get away with it quite so fast.

Today, Senators Charles Schumer and Bob Casey are expected to announce a plan they have to re-impose the taxes on Saverin, part of a bigger scheme to go after expatriates who give up citizenship in order to avoid taxes. On top of that, they want to make it official that people who avoid paying their taxes by renouncing citizenship will be permanently denied re-entry into the U.S.

The plan, the offices of the two Senators said, will be announced today at 11am Eastern in a press conference at the Senate Radio-TV Gallery in the U.S. Capitol building.

Called the “Ex-Patriot” act (short for “Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy”, according to ABC News), the act proposes to re-impose a mandatory 30 percent tax on the capital gains of anyone who renounces citizenship — even if they are no longer resident in the U.S.

In Singapore, where Saverin currently resides, individuals do not need to pay capital gains taxes, so it’s thought that Saverin is using his residency there to avoid paying a minimum $67 million tax bill — more if the share price rises — on shares that he sells in Facebook after the company is expected to IPO tomorrow. He is expected to make $3.84 billion once Facebook goes public. Saverin has lived in Singapore since 2009 and renounced his citizenship in September 2011.

It’s not clear how many other ex-pats might be liable for such hefty bills if the act gets passed. Facebook, which is expected to raise at least $16 billion in the IPO, is one of the biggest IPOs of all time and is getting an extra level of scrutiny as a result, with the debate ranging from accusations of Saverin being plain wrong in his approach and others, if not exactly supporting him, pointing out the other side of the debate and how he’s just being a good old, gambling capitalist.

Well, Schumer (D-NY) and Casey (D-PA) are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. They will call Saverin’s $67 million tax “duck” an “outrage” today in their press conference when they detail the rest of the Ex-Patriot act.



The Weather Channel Beautifies And Socializes Its iPhone App

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT

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In an effort to streamline its digital offerings, The Weather Channel has today announced that its popular iPhone app has undergone a major redesign. It started with the launch of the iPad app, and just a few weeks ago The Weather Channel followed suit on the web. But the iPhone marks a major portal between TWC and its consumers, in that mobile and weather undoubtedly go hand in hand.

The redesign reminds me a bit of HTC’s Sense 3, with the home screen offering up a weather-themed background based on the weather outside. The user interface seems much more navigable, but the features themselves are getting a bump as well.

The revamp streamlines the TWC app in a big way, in that you can have as much or as little weather as you’d like when you hop in the app. You’ll obviously get automatic weather updates, but the ability to save more locations or expand more detailed information within the app makes it a much more friendly user experience.

It’s clear that The Weather Channel is trying to unify its digital products. The company added social sharing features to the web site, which will also be available on the iPhone app. This includes the ability to upload a photo of your local weather and publish it to iWitness, Facebook, or Twitter.

We spoke with EVP of digital products at The Weather Channel Cameron Clayton about the direction in which these products are headed.

While this release represents possibly the biggest improvement in The Weather Channel App for iPhone to date, it's just the start of what we're setting out to accomplish. Yes, we've staked a claim with the accuracy of our weather forecasting with our TruPoint technology, but soon we'll take that to the next level and tell users when rain will start and stop, as we do on the new weather.com. But we also plan to expand the social functionality during severe weather events and beyond to allow people to connect through weather at all times. Additionally, we're in the infancy of our global expansion on mobile, which we will rolling out over the coming months and years.

According to that, sounds like quite a lot of work has yet to be done, but either way the new TWC iPhone app is a huge improvement over the last version. So if you’re interested in downloading the app, head on over to the Apple App Store and check it out.

Click to view slideshow.


AppHarbor Launches Its Azure Competitor In Europe

Posted: 17 May 2012 04:01 AM PDT

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Heroku was a hit with Ruby developers because it was an easy-to-use development platform. Others have tried to do the same with other languages such as PHP Fog, dotCloud. Then last year AppHarbor, a ‘Heroku for .NET’ out of Y Combinator launched.

And today AppHarbor has extended its service to European developers. EU applications will still run on Amazon’s infrastructure, but they’ll be running out of the EU-West region (Dublin) instead of US-East, where all current applications are located.

The startup raised $1.4m last year though the amount was not announced at the time. Backers include Accel, Ignition, SV Angel, Y Combinator, Quest, Start Fund and Salesforce and there are plans to raise a Series A soon.

“We have spent a lot of time making sure the AppHarbor platform is modular and scalable and this paid dividends when time came to spin up our new EU location. New applications are created in either the US or EU and existing applications cannot be moved, but we’re already thinking about how to turn this up another notch to make AppHarbor a zero-configuration, multi-region, geo-load-balanced application platform,” cofounder and CEO Rune Sørensen told us.

Add-ons in the the AppHarbor add-on catalog will work with EU-based applications. Some (such as SQL Server) will provision resources based on where your application is located. For add-ons that do not currently support the EU, a warning will be displayed when they’re provisioned to an EU application.

AppHarbor is designed to address Microsoft Azure limitations such as being locked into Microsoft’s own database, and its non-support of Git.

They now claim to be 15-20% of Azure’s size in terms of number of users – not bad for a six person startup. Offices are in Copenhagen and San Francisco.

In terms of competition Meerkatalyst claimed to be doing similar bett never appeared while and Moncai has yet to launch.



Rakuten CEO On The $100M Pinterest Round: We Want Pinterest Users To Pin Images And Buy Using Our ID

Posted: 17 May 2012 03:46 AM PDT

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Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant leading a $100 million investment in Pinterest, valuing the company at $1.5 billion, will be making two major contributions to the image-based social network as it gears up for its next stage of growth: the funds to take the image-based social network into new international markets, and a business model.

First up, Rakuten’s home market of Japan, where “Pinterest is growing very fast,” notes Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, in an interview with TechCrunch. He wants Rakuten to grow right there with it by using Rakuten’s services to become the basis for buying things off the site.

There are already some building blocks in place for this. First of all, Rakuten already pins on Pinterest through at least a couple of official accounts: Rakuten Commerce and Rakuten Travel.

On the other hand, there is Rakuten’s existing e-commerce presence in the country. Mikitani notes that 75 percent of Japan’s internet population — equivalent to about 80 million people — already have a Rakuten ID — this is similar to an Apple ID, or an Amazon ID, in that there are payment details associated with it.

It is this ID that will pontentially become the lynchpin of a commercial service on Pinterest: “We want to enable our users to pin their own images with our ID,” he says. “Users can click and buy with it, and in the future we can create more new services.” He notes that the “rich, graphic social network” can be used for “so many interesting ideas using the Rakuten ID.” One other area, TechCrunch understands, is for users logged in with Rakuten IDs to pin images and then use those pins to buy items away from Pinterest, on Rakuten’s own Rakuten Ichiba site.

And because Pinterest is so buzzy right now, it can be used as a way of reigniting some of Rakuten’s legacy business. The company has a lot of “sleeping customers,” as Mikitani calls them. These are people who have IDs but are not regular users of Rakuten’s services. “This is a good way of getting them to start using those Rakuten IDs again.”

The other area where he would like to see more development is in the area of mobile commerce. Mikitani tells me that already, 25 percent of all Rakuten sales in Japan originate on a mobile device, and that proportion is growing. “There should be a huge synergy with Pinterest there,” he says. “We are going to promote their app using our presence here in Japan.”

International growth. The $100 million investment, which was led by Rakuten with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, and FirstMark Capital, as well as a number of angel investors, will also give Pinterest the financial muscle to extend its service into new international markets. Pinterest, perhaps above all social networks, has a lot of potential as an international product — one that can work across borders– because while sites like Facebook and Twitter are text-led, Pinterest is focused around images, and therefore less limited by language barriers.

Of course, a lot of Pinterest’s growth today and in the future will be non-commercial, but the potential for commerce is very much there, too. (We wrote just the other day about another example, Curalate, which has created a social marketing service for brands to visually track how and where their images are getting used across the site.) Within that trend, Rakuten is looking at how to leverage its Pinterest investment in its international business outside of Japan, as well.

Mikitani points out that while Facebook is an “extremely powerful social network”, when it comes to shopping and e-commerce, Pinterest’s image-led service “has stronger potential.”

Facebook and Twitter, he says, are about connecting you with your friends and contacts, while Pinterest is about connecting people with the same interests via graphic images. Apart from the fact that products are put right there for you to see, you can also imagine how that social set-up can be developed into a commercial model (group buying is one that comes to mind here).

Rakuten has holdings that extend well beyond Japan, and include properties like Buy.com in the U.S., Kobo e-reader and e-books, Priceminister in France — in all, operations based in 10 countries and extending to 17 countries in total. Mikitani says that he is hopeful that the kinds of groundwork it wants to lay in Japan will also be extended to the rest of its footprint.

For example, Mikitani points out that Kobo already has a “great partnership” with Facebook to encourage people to post excerpts and read more using Kobo, which it would like to extend to Pinterest, too: “Facebook is why Kobo is growing so fast right now,” he says. “We will see more of Kobo in Pinterest, too, I think.” And buy.com — which is slowly, gradually, getting rebranded as Rakuten — is another site you could imagine could get linked up more closely with Pinterest.

But this is not to rule out other partnerships with other e-commerce players. “We are totally open to other e-commerce partnerships,” he says. “Pinterest should work with them.”



Quora Investor Peter Thiel: “The Samwers Are Never Going To Clone Quora,”

Posted: 16 May 2012 10:52 PM PDT

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There’s been a lot of armchair valuation punditry across the Valley this week. As the Facebook IPO looms, our intricately entwined ecosystem of startups and investors seeks to benefit from the domino effect of a population feeling flush with cash. This is the picture that the WSJ painted in its Quora funding announcement yesterday, headline: “Former Facebook Hands Capitalize on Buzz.” Okay, sure, smart people will always adapt to a favorable environment — but the WSJ missed a deeper and more long-term dynamic at play.

“We intend to use some of this funding as a cushion in case of macroeconomic changes,” wrote Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo in an answer to a question about what the company would do with the financing. Sure, in layman’s terms this could read, “We’re getting while the getting’s good,” but a startup stocking up for a potential winter does not necessarily mean overvaluation. Especially when you consider that a “large portion of this money” will go to Amazon Web Services for EC2 and other bills… at least until something less expensive and more robust gets invented.

“We wanted to extend our runway,” D’Angelo wrote, about raising as optimally as possible. “[We wanted to] focus on long-term growth and quality, and lets us avoid making short term tradeoffs like many other companies.”

Earlier today I spoke to proto-Facebook investor and Quora board observer, Peter Thiel, extensively about his personal investment in the startup. He reinforced the fact that Quora has a 20-year, 50-year, 100-year future if it manages to scale in a way that could maintain the quality of site discussion. Thiel admitted that the site had not yet reached the apex of its founders’ vision, but maintained that this kind of careful “slow growth” is a good thing in terms of keeping out irrelevant and spammy content.

"There's a good chance that some day a majority of questions asked will be on the [Quora] platform," Thiel said, explaining that its success fit his vision of a world where an emerging technology didn’t have to beat or destroy something else to be successful. Rather, it could just be. Imagine a layer of Quora’s intelligent discourse across all communication, where the knowledge contained on the site went beyond Q&A and attempted to solve grander problems than being a threaded platform for Silicon Valley squabbles.

In response to media criticism of the site’s valuation, Thiel referred to the technological prowess of Quora, and the breadth of talent retained by its 30-person team as its core appeal. Thiel — who told PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy that “we’d be better off if people focused on doing unique things” — implied that the startup was indeed this sort of “unique thing” — independent of, and not competitive with, Wikipedia, Facebook and Google. More importantly, he implied that it wasn’t trying to be.

Aside from the team, Thiel — who uses Quora himself to keep up on Silicon Valley news — was impressed by the complicated technology behind the site, and held the fact that it was not easily replicable as being one of its primary drivers of value.

“The Samwers are never going to clone Quora," Thiel said, resting his case.



Disney Video Launches In Beta, Bringing Kid-Friendly Clips And Trailers To All Your Devices

Posted: 16 May 2012 06:48 PM PDT

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There’s a new product that just came out of Disney Interactive Labs — a video portal for clips, movie trailers, and even a collection of curated YouTube videos, all designed to be watched online or on any of your mobile devices. The new Disney Video site, located at video.disney.com, combines the best of Disney past and present, with a whole lot of content that might not be found anywhere else.

It’s too early for us to know a whole lot about the site — we checked out the portal after it was announced on Twitter by Henry Work, Senior Software Engineer for Disney Interactive Labs. But at first glance, it seems like a pretty cool example of what a major media company can do with a huge library of content that it hopes to bring to multiple platforms and devices.

First of all, let’s talk about the content. The site is broken down into movies, shows, collections and YouTube, and highlights a wide range of content across Disney’s family-oriented media properties. In the movies section, Disney Video features trailers, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with stars of upcoming and recent feature films like Frankenweenie and The Avengers. Its shows page puts the spotlight on popular clips from the Disney Channel and related cable networks. Collections organizes its video library into themes, like Disney Fairies, for instance, or content available from Disney Theme Parks.

But the most interesting section might be the YouTube channel on the site, which provides a curated page full of kid-friendly content. The YouTube page is the result of a deal that Disney struck with the video site late last year, through which the media companies will cross-promote each other’s content. YouTube will get some original kids programming from Disney, while Disney is making YouTube clips available on its new portal.

As for the multiplatform aspect of the site — as far as we can tell, it’s formatted to work on web browsers, delivered via Flash, as well as on mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Android handsets and tablets. That’s a huge step for Disney, as it seeks to make its content available on whatever device kids are using.

There’s no real long-form content on the site — for now it’s all promotional clips and trailers — but it is designed to keep viewers watching, with an autoplay feature that loops new videos in ten seconds after the last one has been completed.

Interestingly, the Disney online video portal is being launched at the same time that some analysts are questioning the effect that Netflix is having on the ratings for cable TV networks like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. While the portal isn’t as kid-friendly as Netflix’s Just For Kids implementation online and on some connected devices, Disney no doubt hopes that its large library of content will keep kids coming back.



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