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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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BirdHerd Simplifies Twitter For Groups And Teams

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 08:40 AM PDT

When brands and companies use Twitter to reach consumers, more often than not multiple users are managing a single account by sending Tweets, monitoring streams for mentions of a brand, and responding to Tweets. There are a number of brand management-focused platforms that help advertisers and marketers manage social media, such as HootSuite, PeopleBrowsr, CoTweet, and ScoutLabs. BirdHerd, which is in private beta, is also part of this group and offers a lightweight tool for groups to manage a single Twitter account. We have 300 invites for TechCrunch readers; you can use the code “TechCrunch300″ when signing up for the service.

BirdHerd makes it easy for companies, brands, development and support teams, and other groups to update a single Twitter account. Using oAuth, administrators don’t have to give the contributors a Twitter log-in, they can use the service completely through DMs. Once an administrator adds the approved contributors to a Twitter account on BirdHerd, users can DM the main Twitter account with directions and updates, such as posting a new message, following a twitter user, replying to tweet, and more.

One of the virtues of BirdHerd is that it allows contributors to update a Twitter account from another client, such as TweetDeck, Seesmic or even Twitter. Another compelling feature is the ability to allow users to share all DM actions and who sent them on a given account with other users. And the service prides itself on its simplicity as a platform; BirdHerd isn’t nearly as comprehensive or feature-rich as some of the other brand-focused clients.

Of course, BirdHerd’s main competitor may be Twitter itself. Twitter has been rolling out its own contributors feature, which allows multiple people to tweet from one account (with individual attribution below the tweet).

The Volcano That Shut Down Europe (Flickr Pics And YouTube Vid)

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 05:05 AM PDT

Eyjafjallaj√∂kull has become a curse word in Europe as the Icelandic Volcano continues to delay flights across the Atlantic. The cloud of volcanic ash is creating havoc for travelers and European startups who can’t get anywhere. But entrepreneurs in London at least are coping with impromptu meetups.

If you haven’t seen images yet of the volcano up close, there are some on Flickr and YouTube. Reader Baldvin Hansson sent us the photos below (here is his entire set), which he took in a small plane near the volcano (presumably upwind).

It’s Time For An Open Database Of Places

Posted: 17 Apr 2010 07:22 PM PDT

With last week’s declaration by Twitter that it intends to start identifying places based on the coordinates of geo-coded Tweets, the location land rush is in full swing. A long list of companies including Twitter, Google, Foursquare, Gowalla, SimpleGeo, Loopt, and Citysearch are far along in creating separate databases of places mapped to their geo-coordinates.  Mapping businesses, in particular, to the GPS locations near where people are checking in, Tweeting from or pegging a photo is the first step to be able to show them geo-targeted ads, which could help fuel local mobile online advertising in a major way.

Here is the problem: These efforts at creating an underlying database of places are duplicative, and any competitive advantage any single company gets from being more comprehensive than the rest will be short-lived at best. It is time for an open database of places which all companies and developers can both contribute to and borrow from.  But in order for such a database to be useful, the biggest and fastest-growing Geo companies need to contribute to it.

I put this suggestion to Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley the other night at a party, and he was enthusiastic about the idea. Foursquare is building up its own comprehensive database of places, which it calls “venues,” through its users who add places they want to check into, if they don’t already exist. Foursquare matches their GPS lat/long coordinates to its database of venues (businesses, points of interest, even people’s homes). Later I followed up by email and asked Crowley, “Isn’t the quality of your places directory, built by your users, a competitive advantage?” His response:

yeah, but so was the social graph. but facebook connect showed that things work better when we all play nice. the “facebook connect of places” would be amazing. not sure who will build it – goog, fbook, twitter, etc – but i bet you it’s a problem that’s mostly fixed by next year. there’s a lot of people working on this problem.

For what it’s worth, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey also happened to be in the room that night, and his reaction was a little bit more lukewarm and cautious. (I should note that Dorsey was not speaking in any official capacity for Twitter and this was just idle cocktail chatter).  But given Twitter’s recent moves to claim more parts of the Twitter eco-system for its own and the resulting controversy, it strikes me that Twitter could regain some lost developer goodwill by creating such an open database of places. I suspect Twitter does indeed want to create the “Facebook Connect of Places,” and open that up to developers through its APIs.  Mixer Labs, which it acquired, was certainly going in this direction with its GeoAPI, which Twitter is still supporting.  Hopefully, all the places data from geo-coded Tweets will go in there as well.

A Facebook Connect for places doesn’t quite go far enough.  Crowley’s analogy falls short because Facebook still controls the social graph. It exposes that social graph (the connection of its members to each other) to other Websites and developers, but other Websites cannot add to that social graph on their own. A truly open database of places should allow both give and take. It should be one that everyone can contribute to and nobody necessarily owns. Foursquare should be able to update it as easily as Twitter or Google, or any other Geo startup. The best data should prevail.

The counter-argument is that somebody—Twitter, Google, Facebook—needs to be in control of the database in order to ensure its quality.  If you let any random developer with a geo app update the database, it could end up being filled with inaccurate geo-data or worse, geo-spam.  I got the feeling Dorsey’s hesitation was partly due to such concerns.  But surely there are ways to design a places database which rewards good data over bad.  Maybe a place doesn’t become official until two or three contributing databases agree it is the same place, or based on the overall trustworthiness and historical accuracy of the source.

An open places database would also self-correct over time.  And companies could choose to refer to it only when a specific business or place is missing from their own vetted geo-directories.  In other words, let the best data prevail.  And instead of a dozen companies all building the same geo-directories, thousands could be innovating on top of an open database with new Geo services, advertising, and apps. It should just be part of the basic fabric of the mobile Web.

Image: Flickr/Nate Bolt

Seesmic, TweetMeme Say Twitter Ecosystem Is Just Fine, Thank You

Posted: 17 Apr 2010 06:02 PM PDT

Yesterday we showed a teaser of our conversation with Loic Le Meur of Seesmic, and Nick Halstead of Tweetmeme. Here’s the full video, in two parts.

This is a debate around the recent decision by Twitter to compete directly with third party developers who are making Twitter applications that Twitter has deemed to be mere “hole fillers.” A variety of third party apps are now competing directly with Twitter.

Most developers we’ve spoken with are upset, and say that Twitter gave them guidance that they wouldn’t compete with them. And in the past Twitter has been consistent in saying that they want to provide the plumbing for the Twitter ecosystem. Now it’s quite clear that they want to build on top of that plumbing, too.

Halstead seems unworried by the changes. He says that new features in Twitter’s API will allow new types of apps to be built by third parties, and the existing stuff isn’t as relevant (tell that to the guys who’ve just been hit). And his Tweetmeme app isn’t in much danger because he has actual code on tens of thousands of websites. Even if Twitter competed directly, it would be hard to get publishers to replace that code.

My chief rebuttal to Halstead is that the new API features, such as geo, are great. But developers building around those features are simply providing the research & development effort to figure out what works. Once they do, Twitter will call them hole fillers and compete directly.

Loic Le Meur has been all over the place on this. He said Twitter would never compete. They he said he knew all along they’d compete. More recently he just yelled “Fuck You” at everyone.

He says Seesmic will be able to continue to compete because (1) Seesmic is focused on more than just Twitter, and (2) Twitter has promised to only use the same APIs in their apps that they provide to developers.

That troubles me, too, and I use a Windows/Office analogy in the debate. The Office team theoretically only uses the same tools to build on Windows that everyone else does. But they have special access, and an official stamp of approval, and countless other advantages that make it impossible for anyone to build an Office suite on top of Windows effectively.

John Borthwick has been the most effective at communicating the problem from the developer standpoint. Developers need to know the rules that Twitter is playing by. Calling something a hole filler after the fact isn’t reasonable.

Lastly, talk about holes and filling holes in platforms is misleading at best. Take a list of emerging to mature companies — great companies … Is Groupon a hole in Facebook? Facebook a hole in Google?? Google is a hole in Microsoft??? Microsoft in IBM???? Maybe it's holes all the way down? Innovation — building great companies — is about finding, filling and even creating holes.

John also said something similar in a comment to a TechCrunch post a couple of days ago:

Over the past few years a set of platforms have emerged online that give startup's a foundation to get a kick start to building their audience and/or their business. Adsense/Adwords were probably the first scaled examples of this. And as these platforms mature its important for their to be clear boundaries between what the platform provider does and doesnt do. Granted these boundaries shift over time — but they have to be sustained for long enough for the platform provider to achieve scale and trust and to get a critical mass of applications running on it. To play out the Google example take the UX of Google. They understood they werent in the content business — they were in the navigation business. Now after 10 years the line is getting hazy in some areas — this is why the local search stuff, the yelp conversations resonate with people — Google has for what ever reason decided that local is something it needs to wrap more of an arm around local. How long is that arm? How detrimental is it to local players? im not sure? — but if i had to put a dollar down I would bet that Yelp and say Opentable etc. will do just fine. So — clear sustained boundaries are necessary. The second point is that people bootstrapping on these platforms should also try to spread their relevance — beyond the underlying platform –so yelp should extend its business model beyond adsense, zynga beyond facebook etc. etc. That is what Stocktwits has done, same for bit.ly, Tweetdeck, Someecards, OMGpop etc… all of these services have a leg in multiple platforms.

At some level — one person's innovation is clearly another persons hole. Take a list of emerging to mature companies — great companies … Is Groupon a hole in Facebook??? Facebook a hole in Google?? Google is a hole in Microsoft. Microsoft in IBM?? It's holes all the way down (or up) — thats much of what innovation is. After 30yrs of personal computing history we have a lot of platform history to draw from, Apple understands this very well, so does Google, so does Amazon, so does Ebay. Once again — great businesses will emerge out of these new and emerging platforms.

That, to me, is the key issue. Twitter is now making a new set of promises to developers. Will they break that promise too in a year or two? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Halstead says in the video that the opportunity is too large to ignore, damn the risks. Perhaps that’s so. But it seems like the best developers may choose to spend their time on something else, where they don’t run the risk of Twitter changing their mind again.

Subtitles Starting To Show Up On Netflix Instant Viewing

Posted: 17 Apr 2010 04:50 PM PDT

There's always been a few annoying little issues left to be addressed on Netflix Instant viewing. I mean, you can't get 1080p, there's not 5.1 sound, and most importantly, there's no subtitles. As someone who has family members with hearing disabilities, I've been keenly aware that Netflix has been lacking in that regard. There's good news though, Netflix has been working on that particular issue, and just started rolling it out to the public.

CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap Surges On Wikipedia-Like User Passion

Posted: 17 Apr 2010 04:35 PM PDT

Many people describe CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap project as “Wikipedia for maps,” and they aren’t far off. The project allows anyone to add and edit map data around the globe, and the project is now a viable open and free source of mapping data for third party developers.

In some parts of the world, OpenStreetMap’s data is far more detailed than the data provided by TeleAtlas to Google and Navteq to Microsoft and Yahoo, for their respective mapping applications.

The number of contributors to OpenStreetMap has grown steadily over the years. A year ago 110,000 individuals had added or edited data. Today it’s up to 245,000 individual mappers. An average of 7,000 edits an hour are made to the data.

The project only started in 2004, and most of the data has been added over the last couple of years. Perhaps the most stunning case study is Germany. In 2007 it was a blank canvas. Today, the level of detail goes far beyond what any other service provides. It includes all major points of interest (even trees are now being added by users), the entire road network and turn by turn navigation:

Third party developers eat this stuff up. There are few alternatives – Google, Microsoft and Yahoo will allow developers to embed maps into applications but there’s no deep dive into the data. CloudMade has allowed entire new classes of applications to be possible. In Germany 150,000 people have paid to download skobbler, which is based on data from OpenStreetMap. Countless other apps also use the data. One notably creative one – a gay cities app that shows the gay areas of cities around the world, with points of interest.

CloudMade adds paid services on top of the OpenStreetMap data that developers can choose to take or leave. And they’ve recently launched a location based advertising product that actually bring revenue to developers, too.

OpenStreetMaps is a triumph of properly channeled crowd passion. Most people add data for the love of the project, and together all those hundreds of thousands of people are bringing decent mapping data to places that the big guys won’t be focusing on for a long, long time.

If you’re an iPhone user (and who isn’t these days, you lemmings) and want to participate in the project, start here.

Roving Slovenian Hackers Turned Away By Facebook & Google, But Welcomed At TechCrunch

Posted: 17 Apr 2010 03:55 PM PDT

Yesterday afternoon, we received a tip via Twitter that a ragtag bunch of Slovenian hackers were on their way to TechCrunch headquarters for an unscheduled meet-and-greet. We really didn’t know what to expect, but I grabbed a Flip camera to document this monumental event in Slovenian/Silicon Valley diplomatic relations. In the video below, you’ll hear about the arduous journey of these Slovenian hackers, which included a stint in Compton and, later, being escorted by security out of both Facebook and Google.

The group hails from the Information Science Student Society from the Computer and Information Sciences division at the University of Ljubljana. They also have a blog, which you can read a translated version of here. As for the offer the group talks about in the video, feel free to leave your ideas in the comments, but we can’t vouch for their coding skills and can’t take any responsibility for what you cook up.

The group will be in the area for the next week (and they’ll be heading to New York later on), so if you’ve got a startup and want them to stop by, reach out to dsi at fri.uni-lj.si OR ales.rosina at gmail.com

First Round Capital holds a ‘Volcano’ Office Hours in London

Posted: 17 Apr 2010 02:30 PM PDT

The ash cloud over Europe is proving a nightmare and a boon for some startups. It's certainly a nightmare for startup teams traveling to events, like GeeknRolla on Tuesday. (And on that note, please now follow @GeeknRolla where we will sharing information on the event and helping you get to London). But if you are in London tomorrow (Sunday) you have a rare opportunity, and it's thanks to the ash from Iceland. First Round Capital, are one of the lead/premier early-stage VC funds in the US. One of their managing partners, Chris Fralic (@chrisFRC) is stuck in London because of the volcanic ash's effect on the airlines. So he's planning to host one of First Round's famous "Office Hours" events. This is when anyone/everyone is welcome to pop over and meet and chat with him (usually entrepreneurs wanting to pitch). This will be the Volcano Office Hours.


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