Friday, May 11, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Facebook Fleshes Out Privacy Policy To Comply With Data Protection Audits

Posted: 11 May 2012 09:22 AM PDT

Facebook Terms and Policies Hub Image

Today Facebook will start sending the first of three billion notices to users about proposed changes to its privacy policy, which were made to comply with a Spring deadline for implementing recommendations from an audit by the Irish Data protection Commissioner. The three biggest changes Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan told me about when we spoke this morning were:

  • Facebook may use your data to serve you ads outside of Facebook.com while you’re on other websites
  • A detailed new chart of how Facebook uses cookies to improve Facebook but not track you across the web
  • Rather than storing data about you for 180 days it will “retain the data as long as necessary to provide you services” whether thats less or more time

Facebook’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for users to understand how their data is used, and how that’s changing. So Facebook is also launching the “Facebook Terms and Policies Hub” to house its 10 policy documents, including a redlined changes version showing today’s privacy policy (known as the Data Use Policy), and explanations of those changes. Facebook will hold a live-streamed Q&A about the changes on May 14th.  Users will have seven days from now to give feedback on the changes before they’re implemented baring major objections.

The changes should make users feel more comfortable browsing Facebook because if they ever have questions or are confused about how their data is being used, they’ll have a single place to find answers. By complying with the audit recommendations, Facebook shows it’s willing to work with government agencies to protect its user base of over 900 million people. The detailed documentation, and the Facebook Terms and Policies Hub should inspire other companies to provide easier access to data use and privacy information.

As Facebook only provides the documents for download right now, I’ve embedded the redline changes and explanation documents below. We’ll have more analysis shortly.



Here’s How Nexon Has Quietly Outperformed Zynga Since Both Of Their IPOs Last Year

Posted: 11 May 2012 09:11 AM PDT

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Here in these parts, we may write a tad too much about our Silicon Valley gaming brethren like San Francisco’s Zynga and Redwood Shores’ Electronic Arts.

But there’s actually a company that’s worth quite a bit more and has outperformed both since its IPO last December. It’s Nexon, a free-to-play gaming company that started out in South Korea and quietly grew a handful of titles into multi-billion dollar franchises over the last decade (see the chart below). The Tokyo-based company went public the same week Zynga did in December. Its shares have climbed 15 percent while Zynga’s have fallen more than 20 percent since their debuts. Now Nexon’s worth $7.9 billion while Zynga has a $5.5 billion market cap.

We caught up with Nexon’s chief financial officer Owen Mahoney just as the company came off its first earnings call yesterday. The company grew revenue by 46 percent year-over-year to $379.9 million (or 30.4 billion yen) with $154.8 million in net income. (Yeah, freemium gaming companies in Asia have ridiculous profit margins.)

Nexon takes a long and slow approach to building games. Many of its most lucrative hits are five to 10 years old and just keep chugging along, thanks to continuing servicing and content updates. Dungeon Fighter, for example, has done more than $2 billion in revenue since it launched in 2005. Nexon also has a direct relationship with most of its customers and doesn’t have to go through any platform (like, cough, Facebook) where it has to give up a 30 percent revenue share.

As for this last quarter, the real standout was China, Nexon’s biggest market by revenue. Revenues there almost doubled from last year to $190 million in the quarter (or 15.2 billion yen). It helps that there was Chinese New Year, which gives the same seasonal bump that you’d see during the holidays in the U.S. and Europe.

“I’d like to say it was because of a major strategic move or because we did something radically different, but it was just really solid execution by the teams responsible for building the games,” Mahoney said. “It was doing content updates that the market took really well.”

North America was down a little bit to $17.4 million (or 1.4 billion yen) because of a hacking attack during Christmas that the company is still recovering from. ”We feel like the situation is more stable than it was,” he said. He added that he expects Nexon expand a lot more here. Two other Tokyo-based gaming companies, GREE and DeNA, have made a big push on the West Coast through spending more than a half billion dollars on acquisitions of U.S. gaming startups like OpenFeint, Funzio and Ngmoco.

“North America and Europe are really emerging markets for online games,” he said. “Korea really shows the future that’s in store for the U.S.”

In Japan, Mahoney said Nexon is fairly immune to the regulatory crackdown that has sent GREE’s shares down by more than 30 percent over the past week. Earlier this week, the Japanese consumer affairs agency said that it was taking a closer look at a special kind of game mechanic that’s popular in many of GREE and DeNA’s titles. It’s called kompu gacha. It’s kind of like a random lottery where a user pays a little bit to pick up a random item. If they collect many special, rare items, they’ll get an even more valuable and rare item. Under pressure from the government, six of the big Japanese gaming companies this week said they’re abandoning the practice.

Mahoney said the tactic is more popular in mobile games, and not the kind that Nexon builds. ”It’s going to have little to no effect on our business,” he said. Indeed, Nexon’s shares are basically flat from a week ago when the story broke.

As for the future, Mahoney said the company is really interested in building and publishing for the Android and iOS platforms. They are looking at acquisitions, but they’re not looking to buy the hot flavor of the moment or a gaming company that’s throwing off a lot of cash.

“We do not go and buy revenue. We are very focused on teams and intellectual property that we think we can grow over time, and that’s where we’re looking today.”



Happy Mother’s Day: Punchbowl Partners With Amazon For Digital Gift Cards

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:57 AM PDT

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When party-planning service Punchbowl expanded into digital greeting cards last fall, it emphasized creating a beautiful experience, just as it did with its party invitations. But CEO Matt Douglas says that for some users, a key piece was still missing — you often don’t just want to send a card, but a gift too.

That’s where the company’s new integration with Amazon.com comes in. Punchbowl is now an authorized reseller of Amazon Gift Cards, so you can include a digital gift card of between $25 and $500 (without an expiration date) along with your digital greeting. The news is coming out just barely before Mother’s Day (that’s this Sunday, for the delinquent among you), so if you need a last-minute save, this could be the right option.

And it continues Punchbowl’s attention to detail and presentation. As Douglas showed me yesterday, when you receive a Punchbowl/Amazon combo, the greeting opens up to reveal the gift card within, almost as if you’d slipped a physical gift card inside a physical greeting. Plus, the gift and greeting card designs match.

This is a smart way for Punchbowl to monetize its free greeting card business. The company also has paid memberships for additional features, and it’s offering 25 free, yearlong Platinum memberships (a $99 value) to TechCrunch readers. Just go here and enter the code TCMOM25.

You can browse Punchbowl’s collection of Mother’s Day greeting/gift cards here.



TechCrunch Giveaway: Last Chance To Win Tickets To Disrupt NYC #TCDisrupt

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:49 AM PDT

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Happy Friday! In less than one week, my colleagues and I (along with many, many others) will be flying to New York to gear up for one of the biggest conferences of the year, Disrupt NYC.

We have revealed the full agenda for the conference, as well as certain speakers and judges like: Adrian Grenier, MC Hammer, Michael Arrington, MG Siegler, Dennis Crowley, Marissa Mayer, Chris Dixon, Roelof Botha and tons of others.

This is your last chance to win a free ticket to the show. There will be two separate winners. The tickets, each valued at $2,995, will get you into the full three days of the conference, plus Startup Alley, Hardware Alley, all of the after parties, and more.

Want to come with us? To enter just follow the steps below.

1) Become a fan of our TechCrunch Facebook Page:

2) Then do one of the following:

- Retweet this post (making sure to include the #TCDisrupt hashtag)
- Or leave us a comment below telling us why we should pick you. Do you dance? Sing? Hack? Be creative.

The contest starts now and ends May 13th at 7:30pm PT.

Please only tweet the message once or you will be disqualified. We will choose two separate winners at random and contact them once the giveaway is over. Anyone in the world is eligible. Please note this giveaway is for Disrupt tickets only and does not include airfare or hotel.

Good luck!



Tagstand Is NFC-Enabling A Giant Cocktail Party, Will Let Guests Facebook & Tweet From Their Wristbands

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:45 AM PDT

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Tagstand, the YC-backed company focused on making NFC a more mainstream technology, is getting some action at a pretty big black-tie event in New York this weekend which will see its technology used to enable some nifty actions for the 3,500 guests, like tapping to tweet, posting pictures to Facebook and registering “likes” for the cocktails they’re drinking. Sounds like (kind of geeky) fun!

The event in question is New York’s big cocktail party for the opening night Gala at The New York Public Library, which is offering up 30,000 different cocktails, created by over 150 different bartenders. (Now you can see why “liking” a particular cocktail might come in handy – that’s a lot to remember.) In fact, after a guest likes a cocktail, they’ll be able to receive the drink recipe via a personalized email courtesy of foodie guide Tasting Table.

But to back up and explain how all this works: guests at the party are getting this Digital Goodie Bag which includes an NFC-enabled bracelet which they’ll tap on the NFC reader stationed at the top of each bar to like their drinks. Even cooler, guests can link up their NFC bracelet with their Facebook and Twitter accounts, enabling them to automatically upload the pictures they take at the party’s web-connected photo booths, they can tap to check in on Facebook Places, and they can tweet by tapping on the Library walls – all magically enabled via NFC.

Oh, and there will even be some guys roaming around wearing Bonobos clothing, who guests can tap to indicate that they like the ensembles, which automatically registers them for a chance to win the outfits. (Party hosts are requesting that all taps are waist-up, however. Given there are 30K+ cocktails to choose from, though…umm. Good luck!) There’s also an NFC-enabled giveaway, where guests can tap to register to win Virgin Atlantic Airways tickets and hotel stays and more.

According to Tagstand co-founder Kulveer Taggar, the client (ClearHart Digital) was already sold on the benefits of NFC and reached out to Tagstand for this event. It’s the first event like this that Tagstand has ever done like, but they already have more in the pipeline, Taggar says.

While a bunch of interactivity showiness/goofiness isn’t a first for the events industry, the notable thing here is how NFC could encroach into RFID’s territory when it comes to solutions like this. Tagstand built custom hardware, software and the wristbands for the event, but its readers are much cheaper than the ones on the market today. Plus, says Taggar, their reader has “a bigger read range, connects to wi-fi, has local storage in case of wi-fi problems, and, most importantly, we can re-purpose them for other use cases like loyalty, security, ticketing, etc.”

There’s also another benefit: using an NFC wristband to post pictures, check-ins and tweets saves party-goers from having their nose stuck in their phones all night. Imagine that – a party where you actually talk and interact with people, not your iPhones? Could such a thing really exist?



Foxconn Chief Confirms The Apple iTV

Posted: 11 May 2012 07:41 AM PDT

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In an interview published by China Daily today, Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn, confirms the massive manufacturing company is making preparations for an Apple television set called iTV. Gou also states that neither development nor manufacturing has begun. Apparently, per China Daily at least, the television set will have an aluminum construction, Siri voice controls and FaceTime video calling.

This is the most solid report to date of the long-fabled Apple HDTV. The product has been rumored for the last several years. So far both Steve Jobs and now Tim Cook have called the Apple TV, the company’s set-top box, a hobby. But it seems the company is almost ready to turn its avocation into an occupation.

Gou’s claims published in today’s China Daily report line up very nicely with previous rumors including Cult Of Mac’s claims from last week. The iTV, or as I have long called it, the Apple HDTV, seems like it would be an iMac designed for the living room. An Apple HDTV will likely use a very similar branding and design plan as the iMac with near-edgeless glass and aluminum frame. It would also hopefully have a similar I/O port design, allowing consumers the luxury of having all the ports located in one location. China Daily also indicates that Foxconn is teaming up with Sharp to produce this set, which makes sense given Sharp’s dominance in LCD manufacturing.

But as China Daily indicates, production nor development has started on this product yet, seemingly indicating that it won’t hit the market in 2012. It’s been also rumored that Apple is trying to line up more content partners to bolster iTunes’s library or even perhaps cobble together a legitimate alternative to cable TV. Whenever it hits, the iTV, Apple HDTV, or whatever it will be called will likely be the biggest TV news (albeit perhaps not the most popular selling unit) since the Beatles appeared on Carson.



Docphin’s Dashboard For Doctors Expands Nationwide

Posted: 11 May 2012 07:39 AM PDT

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Docphin, a medical news and research service which we once described as a “Bloomberg for doctors,” has been growing quickly since its beta launch in November. Since then, the startup was selected to participate in Rock Health’s incubator and announced its forthcoming iPhone app. This month, the company also hit a major milestone: its nationwide expansion to 10 more academic medical centers, bringing the total to 13. And the company has redesigned its platform with HTML5, partnered with Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to feature content from MedEdPORTAL, and introduced a number of new features to the service.

For those unfamiliar with the service, Docphin helps physicians organize, bookmark, read and track medical news and research from a variety of sources, all within a single dashboard interface. The resulting product has a very consumer-like feel, especially with features like a Twitter widget for tracking medical societies’ tweets, bookmarking, commenting and social sharing. But the content is all medical-focused.

Initially available at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan and the University of California-San Diego, Docphin has now rolled out to Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, New York University, Stanford University, University of Chicago, University of Washington, and Washington University in St. Louis.

It has also moved to an HTML5 platform and has added features like a “Trending” section that shows what others are reading, sharing and discussing as well as a new “Search” page that lets doctors filter content from Docphin’s news sources and journals and more. For the old-school doctors (or rather, just the busy ones), the company is adding a free, personalized email service with direct links to articles based on their interests. And finally, the Docphin iPhone app is on track for a summer launch.

While in beta, Docphin was open to the public with limited access, but now it will only be available to its partnering institutions with free full-text access to journal articles. Co-founder Mitesh Patel says news of the service has also spread via word-of-mouth, and now its user base is evenly split between doctors, residents, and medical students alike.

As for the burning questions about how the company plans to make money? Patel isn’t ready to reveal all the details yet, but tells us that Docphin will introduce a cloud-based SaaS model for its enterprise product which will launch later this year.



Connected Moms: Nielsen Says 54% Own Smartphones; 75% Use Facebook; 5M Visit Pinterest Monthly

Posted: 11 May 2012 07:34 AM PDT

whistler's mother blogger

Nielsen has been running some research into different demographics and their impact in the digital world, and their latest — quite possibly as a hat-tip to Mother’s Day this weekend — is a look at U.S. moms, a group that you might have assumed would be technical luddites, but actually are holding their own very well, thankyouverymuch.

It turns out that mothers are above average smartphone users, big fans of Facebook and Pinterest, and that the concept of a “mommy blogger” is actually a reality. The results also show that they are some of the most engaged consumers online.

Nielsen says that some 54 percent of U.S. moms are using smartphones: considering that the U.S. population this last month just tipped 50 percent for smartphone ownership (50.4 percent to be exact) that means that mothers have above-average smartphone ownership.

When it comes to social network usage, they are equally active. Some 75 percent of mothers use Facebook, and more than one-third of Pinterest’s monthly audience, or around five million users, is made up of mothers. That works out to mothers being 61 percent more likely than an average consumer to visit Pinterest, notes Nielsen. At least some of this active usage of social media is down to that heavy mobile usage: Nielsen also notes that over half of mothers’ social media use is via mobile devices, compared to 37 percent in the general population.

It also turns out that mothers are not just consumers of content but creators as well (we’re so creative, moms). Nielsen says that of all the bloggers in the U.S. roughy one in three is a mother. That helps contribute to another interesting fact: 52 percent of all bloggers in the U.S. are parents with young kids still living at home.

They also engage a lot more online, it seems. In the last 30 days, Moms were 38 percent more likely than average consumers to become fans of a brand or follow it online. And they were much more avid e-tailers: 35 percent were more likely to shop for clothes online; 50 percent more likely to buy toys, 29 percent more likely to buy music and 23 percent more likely to purchase e-books.

If anything, that seems to indicate that there is an opportunity for e-commerce companies to expand what they do online to target mother consumers. In the UK, online grocery shopping is a huge business (it’s the only way I “shop” at grocery stores these days), but perhaps because that doesn’t seem to be as prevalent in the U.S., stats on that usage are not included in Nielsen’s findings.

[photo: Mike Licht, Flickr]



Halfbrick’s iOS Hit ‘Jetpack Joyride’ Touches Down On Facebook

Posted: 11 May 2012 07:20 AM PDT

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Here’s a little something to file away for when your weekend gets dull — the Australian devs at Halfbrick have brought their premier flying-around-and-dodging-things game to its new home away from iOS.

Starting today, users looking to waste a few minutes playing Jetpack Joyride don’t need to look any further than Facebook for their fix.

If you haven’t yet played the game, think of it as a more graphically rich version of that classic helicopter Flash game, except you control guy with gatling guns strapped to his back. Distance is the name of the game here, and by snagging coins along the way you can purchase new bits of clothing and gear to help you soar even farther (the truly impatient can also buy coins in bulk with Facebook Credits).

Be warned though — the game is currently still in beta, and it certainly shows at times. After I spent a few moments mucking around with the game, for instance, the game window seemed to resize itself within its frame. It was sort of cool in a way — the game’s obstacles and assets would load faster the background — but it tended to make playing the game much more difficult than it needed to be.

You mileage with that particular glitch may vary, but a quick peek at some of the comments that users have left on Jetpack Joyride’s Facebook page point to a handful of other issues. Still, early hiccups are to be expected at this stage, and the game is still just as fun (and addictive) as ever when things finally gel. Just make sure you’re running the latest version of Flash in place before you try to take it for a spin, or else your plans for cruising through the air and snagging coins could stall before you know it.



TenderTree Rolls Into Beta To Help You Find Reliable Senior Caregivers

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:55 AM PDT

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It’s always refreshing when a startup tackles a real-world problem instead of building another photo-sharing/local reviews/social calendar service. Case in point: TenderTree, a company that’s trying to improve the way people find reliable care for their aging family members, and then pay them for their work.

A recent participant in the latest 500 Startups batch with less than a million in funding, TenderTree is launching now into its beta, targeting the San Francisco Bay area to start.

Founded by Aaron Ginn, Andy Agrawal, and Dana Wu, the idea for TenderTree came out of Ginn’s own experience, and subsequent troubles, with finding care for his godmother who lived in another city. He says that although there are brick-and-mortar agencies for this, as well as sites like Care.com, these competitors don’t really meet everyone’s needs. Agencies will send out a few different caregivers to interview, but they don’t have the selection of a larger marketplace, like Care.com does.

However, not all online services go the extra step to provide the essential steps of running background checks on applicants (or don’t do so for free), nor do they all check for caregivers’ CNA accreditation. And they don’t check their references, or test them on their skills.

TenderTree, though, verifies all the caregivers on the site – even going so far as to quiz them on their skills (are they really “good at cooking” or are they just saying that?, e.g.). The site also has a $3 million liability insurance policy which it provides to anyone who continues to use the platform after the hire has been made. That’s not hard to do, given that TenderTree generates contracts automatically, handles the taxes, allows caregivers to submit their time cards online, and then allows the employers to pay via the platform.

(^^ Nice. For the record, I’ve now begged them to expand to child care, but that’s not TenderTree’s focus at present).

The service is also considerably cheaper than home care agencies, explains Ginn. “They charge, on average, about $30/hour. On our site, it’s about $15 because we remove a lot of the overhead, we remove the franchise fees, we remove a lot of the taxes, and we remove a lot the manual labor that goes into how they provide in-home care,” he says.

TenderTree is kicking off its launch in San Francisco with over 1,000 caregivers on the site. By year-end, they plan to arrive in L.A. Beta users can now sign up here.



Viddy Confirms $30M Round From NEA, Goldman, Khosla & Battery Ventures

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:49 AM PDT

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Alexia said this was coming a few weeks ago, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but… Viddy announced this morning that it has closed a $30 million Series B funding round. The new financing comes from investors that include NEA, Goldman Sachs, Khosla Ventures, and Battery Ventures, and the round closed just a few months after Viddy raised $6 million in a Series A round back in February.

The investment was made as the race to become the next “Instagram for video” heats up, especially after Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion just a few weeks ago. With that in mind, Viddy, Socialcam, Klip, Mobli, and others have been trying to attract users who wish to share their personal mobile videos with each other.

Viddy allows people to shoot and upload 15-second video clips, and has received a huge boost in popularity ever since launching a Facebook Timeline app earlier this year. It claims to have more than 27 million registered users now, according to Venturebeat, and is adding 500,000 users a day.

That said, the race to emulate Instagram in video form is far from over, but having a fair amount of money and some industry backing should help. Viddy has now raised close to $40 million. Its Series A round had investors like Battery Ventures, Greycroft Ventures, Qualcomm, and Bessemer Ventures. Viddy has also attracted an all-star list of celebrity backers, including Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Omniture founder Josh James, Skull Candy chairman Jeff Kearl, Roc Nation, Overbrook Entertainment, ShoeDazzle founder Brian Lee, professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, soccer star Gerard Pique, and Shakira.



IBM’s Chess-Playing Computer, Deep Blue, Celebrates 15th Birthday

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:43 AM PDT

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It was 15 years ago today that a computer – a conglomeration of transistors, memory, and storage media – could beat a world-class chess player. Called Deep Blue, the machine was part of a mission that culminated in IBM’s creation of a supercomputer that beat chess master Garry Kasparov two wins to one. While the concept is delightfully antiquated today (after all, IBM now makes a computer that can beat us all in Jeopardy and our phones can understand us to an extent unimagined even a decade ago), it was an important turning point in the climb down into the uncanny valley.

Deep Blue, in short, made computers personable.

You can read more about Deep Blue here but the computer won its games in 1997, just at the cusp of the dot-com revolution. Until that time, computing was the purview of a certain group of hard core geeks. The concept of a “game playing” computer that could beat human players was still fanciful at best and even though the video games industry was well entrenched, there was still nothing to encourage the average person to see PCs as anything other than a way to print out spreadsheets. Then, quite suddenly, computing became cool.

Deep Blue was more than just a brute force chess-playing machine. It was the true triumph of hardware over humanity and paved the way for us to implicitly trust our computers, for better or worse. Deep Blue also opened up other vistas including genetic analysis, new biotechnologies, improved AI, and, ultimately, the rise and preponderance of the networked world.

It’s easy to see this computer as a gaming machine. It wasn’t. It was the first machine that scared us enough to learn all we could about computing. It was our turn of the century wake up call.

Happy birthday, Deep Blue.



Fly Or Die: Olympus OM-D E-M5

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:28 AM PDT

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is arguably the best micro four-thirds camera Olympus has to offer. We’ve had issues with past m4/3 iterations like the EP1 and EP3, like awful color reproduction and slow auto-focus. The same problems don’t persist here, and anything that impresses John on the photography front is a rare gem certainly worth consideration.

In terms of specs, we’re looking at a 16-megapixel sensor with removable flash, a digital viewfinder, and obviously interchangeable lenses working with a retro design. It’s compact, and in the words of John, we “really like the solidity of the device.”

In his testing he also found that it’s quite fast to shutter, and that color on this thing is a huge improvement from past iterations. Our one issue of resistance would be the price point, but the best of the best deserves a high price point, which in this case is $1,000 for the body alone ($1,200 with lens).



A Dreamy Look At A Would-Be Nokia Lumia 850

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:22 AM PDT

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This Nokia Lumia 850 is not real. It’s just a concept. But I would be proud to carry that phone in my pocket if it was real.

The concept comes by way of The Nokia Blog, a fan site that found the concept made by Luxembourgish designer, BrianMFB. The 850, that once again is just a mockup, shows a slimmed down Lumia 800 that still regains a lot of the original character. The backside has tappered edges and flush mounted side buttons. The screen is a modest 3.8-inch as a 950 would likely have a larger screen.

Nokia hit the 800 and 900 out of the park. Even Siri points out that the 900 is current the best cell phone on the market. Nokia will need an equally impressive showing to succeed the current lineup. However, if Nokia is smart, and yesterday’s rap video speaks against that thought, the company would let the current generation sit on the market for awhile. The 800/900 are amazing phones and do not need replacing anytime soon. Nokia’s money would be better spent in stronger marketing and bringing the phone to other carriers like Verizon.



Amazon To Launch Color Ebook Reader Later This Year, Says Report

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:07 AM PDT

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A color Kindle might be on the way. Industry watchdog publication, Digitimes, says Amazon will launch one in the second half of this year. The report goes on to state that the new models will forgo the traditional infrared touchpanels used in the current model for multitouch capacitive panels. Digitimes expects Amazon to adapt E Ink’s upcoming color EPD panels in their ereaders so don’t expect LCD displays.

This move, if true, would put the Kindle in a strange spot between a full-scale tablet and a tradition b/w ereader. Amazon has so far been very successful in marketing the Kindle’s grayscale screen against full color tablets like the iPad. The Kindle Fire showed that there is a demand for color ereaders as well, though. A color eink display might be the start of a larger content push from Amazon.

Magazines are a hard sell on grayscale ereaders right now. The publications lose all the flash they work so hard to curate. Amazon knows this. However, at $200, the Kindle Fire is still out of reach for a lot of consumers and Amazon’s primary goal with its Kindle line is selling content, not hardware. A color eink Kindle would likely allow Amazon to make a big push into digital zines and perhaps even textbooks.

Color eink screens have been floating around industry tradeshows for several years now. But they have so far been unable to make it to the market. If this report pans out, which seems likely, Amazon might release the first color eink ereader — if not, the company always has the glowing Kindle that we know is on tap.



No Tablet News From Nokia, But It’s Launching A Reading App Powered By OverDrive

Posted: 11 May 2012 05:02 AM PDT

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There are still some big question marks over what Nokia plans to do in tablets — a market where it is now possibly the only major smartphone maker yet to make a device — but at least Nokia is moving ahead with the launch of tablet-friendly services. Today, it said it would begin the global roll-out of Nokia Reading, a Windows Phone app originally announced back in February for reading e-books on a Lumia device.

The company says that initial countries that will get the app are France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the UK, with others following later this year. It is compatible with all four Lumia models: the 900, 800, 710 and 610.

Having a decent reading app on a smartphone is basically table stakes at the moment, so in that sense this app probably should have come as standard with the phones when they first started to get rolled out last year.

Nokia is perhaps hoping that its international approach will make up for launching it only now: the app will launch with a selection of titles in local languages (French, Germany, Italian, Russian, Spanish in addition to English). This is in contrast to, say, Amazon, which has taken its time in rolling out versions of the Kindle and its Kindle bookstore in languages outside of English. Indeed, as Nokia points out in a blog post on Reading, “While eBooks are becoming a common sight in countries like the US and the UK, they are still in their infancy – or basically unavailable – in many parts of the world.”

Nokia doesn’t give specific numbers for how many books it will offer in its local-language catalogues, except to note that there will be “thousands” of international classics available for free (as they are on Amazon’s Kindle store), as well as a “wide range” of local titles available in addition to translations of best-selling English-language titles. These will be include The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; One Day; and The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, and the list is growing, Nokia says.

Reading is being powered by OverDrive, also Amazon’s Kindle Library Lending partner. We were originally tipped this information, and now Nokia has confirmed it: “Overdrive are the main global aggregator, then we work with other local aggregators and deliver the service over our own backend,” a Nokia spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The app is also featuring some discoverability elements. Similar to how Nokia steers people to certain apps through its “Collection” widget, in Reading the company is also pointing people to Top eBooks and New Releases, which will be categorized by genres. There is also a predictive search function in the app. And to try to make the process of reading on a smartphone a little less onerous, Nokia has also worked in features like text re-sizing and using fonts that are especially small-screen friendly.

Nokia says that other enhancements like audiobook functionality and a News Stream reading service to aggregate new feeds a la Flipboard are “already in the pipeline” and will appear as free updates.

“We have built a reading service that focuses on how people read on their mobiles,” Nokia’s product manager for the Reading app, Rhidian Williams, wrote in the post. “It's a service that recognises that people read different kinds of content at different times of the day, and it brings this content together in a reading hub that will encourage readers to come back to it frequently.”

The big question is how and if the Barnes & Noble JV with Microsoft — which sees, among other things, Microsoft paying B&N a fee to develop e-books content specifically for Windows 8 and Microsoft taking an equity stake in B&N’s Nook tablet business — will also have an impact on what Nokia does in e-reading devices and e-books content.

So far that kind of detail has not been made public, and Nokia has declined to comment on how that relationship between Microsoft and B&N will impact its own business.



Qype, The Yelp Of Europe, Claims Top Dog Status With 860,000 Places Reviewed, Expands Daily Deals

Posted: 11 May 2012 03:14 AM PDT

qype logo

Just as we get news of some consolidation in the local content market in the UK, some news of expansion, too: Qype, the Yelp of Europe (and Yelp’s closest competitor in the region), today announced that the number of places reviewed on its site has reached 860,000, with the number of monthly unique visitors now at 25 million. It claims that this makes it the biggest reviews site in the region, about five times bigger than its closest competitor, the U.S.-based Yelp.

And while companies like Groupon are trying to move beyond the daily deal to become the platform for local commerce, Qype is doubling-down on the concept, expanding its own deals offerings with a free service to attract more local businesses to the concept.

Qype is selling this newest class of daily deals — available from next week in Germany and then rolled out “rapidly to the UK and France — as part of its “Platinum package”. Businesses pay a fee for a premium listing on Qype’s site, and in addition to that they are given the ability to send out a free daily deal through the site’s QypeDeals service. By free, Qype means the business gets to keep all of the revenues for purchased deals — rather than paying Qype a commission on each.

QypeDeals is the product of Qype’s acquisition of Cooledeals a year ago, CEO Ian Brotherston tells me. “This is now the completion of the process of fully integrating that business,” he says.

Over the last year, Qype has moved beyond offering basic user-generated reviews of restaurants, events and other local businesses, and has been growing the number of services it offers to business users. Revenues from advertising on the site has grown by 500 percent in the last year, Brotherston says.

Brotherston says that this move for more monetization is inevitable as reviews businesses like its own and Yelp’s continue to mature.

He also points out that this trend may have been part of the reason behind UpMyStreet getting sold on to Zoopla: “It seems to reflect a view that if you are in the local space now, you need to be monetising,” he says. “I always felt that UpMyStreet had good, interesting data, but was never sure how they made money – whereas Zoopla had a much stronger monetization proposition. Local businesses need to provide great data to consumers within their area; but they need to be real businesses as well.”

As for Qype, the number of paying business customers on its books is now 400,000 and is growing by 10,000 each month, and revenues have grown by 93 percent. Brotherston says that Qype is on track for similar growth this year, too — but the company is not yet profitable, and doesn’t report revenues in actual terms.

There are some other significant numbers that Qype is hitting, however. Qype these days says that it is seeing some 25 million unique visitors monthly to its site. And its mobile business now contributes one-quarter of all its revenues: its mobile apps are now installed on some four million devices — about six times as many as Yelp has in Europe. Mobile is also becoming an important platform for users to contribute to the site, too: some 30 percent of reviews are now written from mobile devices, the company says. Its user-generated reviews are continuing to expand, with a new one posted about every 30 seconds across some 166,000 cities and towns in its database.

“The reality is that we are becoming a full-service provider for our small to medium businesses,” he says. That is being driven by QypeDeals but also includes other kinds of business promotions on both its web and mobile sites.

Brotherston says that a lot of the interest in its own deals service comes from businesses that tried Groupon or another service but have found it lacking in functionality: businesses, he says, “want to have more control over how, when and what they promote through deals. [Our] approach gives them more control and is more efficient for us.”

Under QypeDeals, businesses can create a single a one-day deal, and can specify details like the number of deals available. The only requirement, Qype says, is a minimum discount of 50 percent. Subsequent deals after the first are not sold on commission, either: businesses are instead charged on a fixed fee basis, Qype says, regardless of how many get sold.

 Qype has received $22.5 million in funding since 2005 with investors including Advent Venture Partners, Wellington Partners and Partech International.


Consolidation Hits UK Local Sites: Zoopla Buys UpMyStreet, Folds It Into Its Own Property Pages

Posted: 10 May 2012 11:38 PM PDT

zoopla home page

The UK housing market has been on shaky legs for a while now — with tight lending conditions, unemployment and general consumer confidence all playing their part in slowing things down — and that is having the inevitable knock-on to sites built up to serve that sector: today brings news that Zoopla, one of the UK’s bigger property sites, is buying up a smaller competitor / data supplier, UpMyStreet, and folding the latter company’s business into its own.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it looks like the acquisition means curtains for the UpMyStreet brand, one of the oldest local-listings sites in the UK: if you visit that URL now you will see that the site now automatically redirects to Zoopla’s pages, with no sign of UpMyStreet branding to be seen.

There is a quick splash, however, that appears on some pages that announces the sale:

Prior to the sale, UpMyStreet had switched owners a few times. In 2003, it was bought by USwitch, a consumer price comparison site, when the company had run out of cash. USwitch then got bought by E.W. Scripps, and subsequently sold to the Forward Internet Group, leaving UpMyStreet behind at Scripps.

UpMyStreet had already been a strategic partner of Zoopla’s before the acquisition, providing supplementary information about property locations alongside Zoopla’s core real-estate listings service. "Zoopla has had a commercial relationship with UpMyStreet.com for some time and this acquisition is a natural fit for us and allows us to further extend our audience and reach for the benefit of our members,” said Alex Chesterman, founder and CEO of Zoopla, in a statement.

Providing extra data alongside real-estate prices is an important way for these sites to further set themselves apart from their competitors: it’s an approach that we’ve also seen in the U.S. with companies like Zillow pioneering all kinds of data analysis to make their basic house price service into something a little more special and unique.

GigaOm points to sources saying the acquisition could have been for less than £1 million ($1.6m).

This is not the only bit of consolidation underway for Zoopla, which has raised $10.7 million in funding from Atlas Venture, Octopus Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank.

In April, the company was finally given the go-ahead by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading to complete a proposed merger with A&N Media (DMGT)-owned Digital Property Group — a deal that was first announced in October 2011. The deal should complete any day now, the companies say, and create a property powerhouse to better compete against Rightmove, currently the market leader in the UK.

Founded in 1998, UpMyStreet was one of the first sites to pop up in the UK focused on giving users location-based information. Its earliest iteration worked very simply: you entered a neighborhood — or even better, a postcode — and a category of business, and you were given in return a list of relevant businesses, ordered in terms of distance. It was simple and often very helpful.

UpMyStreet may have been a first-mover but with sites like Google and Qype picking up the idea of local listings and running with it, UMS had to look at ways of offering more enhanced information — and monetizing it.

So, later, the company expanded to include lots of other information that made it, as a service, less about local information for residents of a certain area, and more about information for people considering moving to certain areas. That included housing prices, local school information and local crime statistics. It was around this time that it began partnering with sites like Zoopla to provide this information to supplement that company’s wider database of real-estate listings.

However, on its own site, UpMyStreet didn’t seem to be killing it with traffic: Nielsen reported in March that the site had 600,000 unique users in March — a drop in the bucket considering that competitor Qype says in a typical month it gets 25 million monthly visits in its footprint.



Startups Court Dev Bootcamp’s Ruby Grads: 88% Have Offers At Average Of $79K

Posted: 10 May 2012 09:29 PM PDT

Screen shot 2012-05-10 at 9.19.40 PM

There are no two ways around it, there’s a high demand for developers and engineers not only in the Bay Area, but around the country. There’s a war for talent, as we touched on here, and it’s well worth finding a new approach to not only courting that talent, but producing it. A computer science degree from a private college today could mean a stellar education, but the cost is high. Alternatively, there are services like CodeAcademy that will teach you for free, or engineering courses on Lynda.com for a fee, and many more. There are more than enough accelerators, but that’s not where you go to learn how to code from scratch, so, when it comes to the full immersion, there aren’t too many choices.

That’s why Shereef Bishay started Dev Bootcamp, a 10-week program designed for both beginners and experienced programmers with headquarters in downtown San Francisco. The program focuses specifically on Ruby On Rails, and, as its name would suggest, puts learners through the ringer — 400+ hours of intense technical training. The cost, with a $1K discount for signing up early, is $11,200, which can be paid in a lump sum or in monthly payments over two years. While that may sound like a lot, compared to the cost of a 4-year education, it’s minimal. Of course, it’s all about the value and what you get for what you pay.

The goal of Dev Bootcamp is to have developers job-ready at the end of the program. Its first session, which ended on March 30th, had over thirty employers on hand to “speed date” the class of newly minted Ruby developers. And in terms of the value, judging by the responses from the community on Hacker News, there were more than a few who said that, of those they knew who had both studied independently and gone through Dev Bootcamp, the latter was “way more productive,” according to HN user shawndrost.

Of the approximately 200 applications that Dev Bootcamp received for its first session, 20 were chosen to participate in the program, who ranged from teenagers to those in their 40s. As to the selection process, Bishay weeds through the applications submitted and arranges Skype interviews with the applicants to get a sense of how passionate they are, how ready to learn — and whether or not they’re willing to submit themselves to 2.5 months of cramming technical knowledge in between their ears.

There’s no assurance from Dev Bootcamp that its students will be hired after the program is over, but if they are, Bishay receives a finder’s fee for the hire, which he puts back into the program, and reimburses the student with $5K-worth of their total tuition.

But here’s the real kicker: Of the 17 developers that were ready to go to work at the end of the program, to date, 14 of them have secured job offers — that’s 88 percent — with the average salary being $79,000. As to who did the offering? One participating student told us that ThoughtWorks, Ooyala, DailyKos, Inigral, MochaLeaf, Zendesk, Milyoni, and GeneralThings all made offers to Dev Bootcamp students, and had confirmed that students had accepted junior positions at the latter four startups.

Not bad for 2.5 months of work.

The second session of Dev Bootcamp, which runs from June 11 to August 17 is already full, but applications for the fall session (October 1st to December 7th) are currently open. Bishay said that the process by which the team is educating its developers is becoming more and more efficient as they go, as the learning curve flattens out. For the second round, they’ve opened it up to 40 students, with five teachers among them.

But with the kind of talent it already seems to be drawing, and the ROI that’s already evident in the number receiving job offers, it won’t be long until the waiting list is around the corner — or until Bishay begins thinking about launching this in other cities, or countries.

It’s a great model, and Bishay and his team of four other teachers have done a lot to minimize the impact on the wallets of their students, while still managing to have established the potential for a lucrative operation for those involved.

It’s enough to make me think seriously about taking a dance with Ruby.

For more, check out Dev Bootcamp here.



Pay To “Highlight” Your Facebook Status Updates To More Friends – A Reckless New Ads Test

Posted: 10 May 2012 07:11 PM PDT

Highlight Featured Image

Only 12% of your friends see your average status update, but Facebook is testing an option called “Highlight” that lets you pay a few dollars to have one of your posts appear to more friends. Highlight lets the average user, not Pages or businesses, select an “important post” and “make sure friends see this”, but not color it yellow as Stuff wrote when it first spotted the feature. A tiny percentage of the user base is now seeing tests of a paid version of Highlight, but there’s also a free one designed to check if users are at all interested in the option.

Highlight could show Facebook’s willingness to try more aggressive ways of making money, which should delight potential investors. But Facebook is playing with fire here. The service has always been free for users, and a pay-for-popularity feature could be a huge turn off, especially to its younger and less financially equipped users who couldn’t afford such narcissism.

The official statement from Facebook on this is:

“We’re constantly testing new features across the site. This particular test is simply to gauge people's interest in this method of sharing with their friends.”

I doubt Facebook is going to see positive reactions to Highlight, but if it did it could turn into an unpredicted revenue stream. Just the fact that Facebook would test this could bolster confidence for potential IPO investors. They want to know the company is interested in striking a more advertiser-friendly balance between a pure user experience and the goals of advertisers. That’s especially important now, as yesterday Facebook had to warn investors that its ad business is in jeopardy as more users access via mobile where it doesn’t show nearly as many ads.

[Update: I understand what Facebook was going for with this. Sometimes you have a post you really need people to see, like "I need a kidney donor", "I'm renting out my apartment", or "I'm moving to New York, come say goodbye tonight". If Facebook wants to give people the option to boost the visibility of the occasional post, it should let people Highlight one post a month, or apply some other frequency cap. But if people can pay to Highlight posts as often as they want, it could do more harm than good.]

The problem is the potential for Highlighted updates to reduce the general relevance of the news feed. Facebook’s news feed sorting algorithm is designed to show you posts by your closest friends or that have received a lot of Likes and comments. Highlight distorts this, and will encourage news feed spamming club promoters, musicians, small businesses, or anyone else with something to gain from more clicks.

How Highlight Works

If you’re in the test group and post a status update, you’ll see the “Highlight” option next to the Like and comment buttons below it. If clicked you’re shown the prompt above. Depending on what version of the test you’re seeing you’ll either get a free Highlight, or have to pay a dollar or two for the extra news feed prevalence. Facebook’s testing different price points, but users always pay with a credit card or PayPal, never with its virtual currency Credits.

Highlighted posts may appear higher in the news feed, stay visible for longer, and appear to more friends and subscribers. However, they’re not colored differently to make them stand out. And to be clear, this is not like Twitter’s Promoted Tweets which is designed for businesses. Facebook Highlight is for the end-user.

Luckily Facebook doesn’t seem to be betting the farm on Highlight, since the user who leaked the test was in New Zealand — a more isolated but English-speaking location where Facebook seems to test features it doesn’t want too many people to know about. That’s smart because it could erode the site’s sense of community. On Facebook, what’s supposed to matter is how interesting your posts are, not how deep your wallet is.

Other Big Facebook News:

Facebook Launches File Sharing

Find Great Facebook Apps In The New App Center

Facebook’s Messenger Mobile App Now Shows If Someone’s Read Your Message



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