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Monday, April 19, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Bloomberg Realizes The Web Is Not A Terminal

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 08:48 AM PDT

There aren’t a lot of news sites with black backgrounds for the simple reason that it isn’t easy on the eyes (not to mention it is ugly). But that hasn’t stopped Bloomberg from taking its signature look from its old-style terminals to the Web. Its site sports garish gold headlines on a black background (see second screenshot below).

Somebody finally told them that the Web does not need to look like a two-tone terminal, so Bloomberg is trying out a new design (preview). At least the background is white, but it still seems like a work in progress.

The design is more bloggy, and less like a traditional news site, which makes sense since Bloomberg is more like a newswire. Headlines flow down the page in a blog-like manner, with one-sentence excerpts in preview-boxes. These are followed by a stream of even briefer headlines, with articles then broken out into different section boxes way down at the bottom of the page.

Video is highlighted and the search is supposed to be improved. If you click through to Bloomberg TV, you get three live streams (U.S., Europe, and Asia). The live video is probably the best part of the site, but it’s still a little bit hidden. Why not put a big video thumbnail prominently above the fold? Market data is on the right, and house ads for Businessweek (which Bloomberg now owns) and, yes, its bread-and-butter terminals are also there. And of course there are the now-ubiquitous Fan and Follow buttons for Facebook and Twitter.

Which version do you like better?

AdParlor Debuts Cost-Per-Install Pricing Model For Facebook Ads

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 07:56 AM PDT

Just in time for f8, AdParlor this morning announced a tool that allows developers of Facebook apps to purchase Facebook Ads on a “cost per install” basis.

With the launch of the new tool, developers can purchase ads in order to grow their user bases through Facebook directly, which AdParlor’s Ali Merali says means deeper targeting, higher levels of engagement and additional volume in application installs for their clients.

AdParlor, which offers a banner advertising network as well as a virtual currency monetization platform, says it has delivered well over 10 million application installs across other Facebook apps to date.

Their new product is built on top of the Facebook Ads API, and essentially allows app developers to buy ads on a fixed CPI by country. AdParlor also touts its optimization engine, which it says could not only result in the creation of “hundreds of ads” but also dynamically adjust bids to bring quality installs at a much lower rate than is the case now.

According to Facebook’s public stats, there are more than 500,000 active applications currently on the Facebook Platform, although only some 250 applications have more than one million monthly active users (despite the social network itself boasting more than 400 million users). Advertising on Facebook is one way to get more users to sign up.

Unfortunately, AdParlor is debuting the program to a select number of existing clients only. Based on the testimonials on its website, those include social gaming powerhouse Zynga and Omnicom Media Group’s PHD Network.

Ride the City Bike Routing Service Hits the iPhone

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 06:29 AM PDT

Friends of CG Jordan Anderson and Vaidila Kungys, creators of Ride the City New York just released their first Ride the City iPhone app [download] for NYC. The app, like the service, offers safe bike routes through New York and is based on the OpenStreetMap project. It costs $1.99. To use it, you simply enter your start and end points and then follow the route. The map takes into consideration low-traffic roads as well as dedicated bike lanes to get you from point A to a Russian bath house in the East Village. It also works on the iPad, but it will be hard to keep one hand free to signal when you're lugging your slate around.

Educational Technology Company Knewton Scores $12.5 Million More

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 06:25 AM PDT

Online educational technology startup Knewton has completed a $12.5 million round of funding led by New York City-based VC firm FirstMark Capital, after securing a $6 million Series B round of financing a little over a year ago.

Returning investors include Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, First Round Capital, and angel investor Reid Hoffman, who are bringing the total of capital injected into the company to just south of $20 million with this third round.

Knewton says it will use the new financing to accelerate expansion to meet demand for its adaptive learning engine, which uses proprietary algorithms to identify and address each student’s unique needs. The company’s platform tracks virtually every action by every student and accordingly prioritizes concepts for study each day based on which concepts a student is weakest in.

Subsequently, the Knewton system delivers those concepts in whatever learning modality is best for that individual student, such as bite size, media format, time of day, and the number and difficulty of accompanying practice questions.

When Erick Schonfeld reviewed the service in late 2008, he wrote:

Adaptive learning tests are taken on computers. The questions get progressively harder or easier depending on each student's answers. Thus, they adapt to each student's knowledge and abilities. Knewton is taking the adaptive learning concept and applying it first to online test preparation services.

The service combines live video chat with an instructor in a whiteboard environment, along with learn-at-your-own-pace sample questions and tutorials. Knewton finds the best teachers it can get and pays them $500 to $800 an hour. In addition to the virtual classroom, Knewton keeps track of each student's progress in mastering the thousand or so concepts that can be covered in each test. A "concept queue" keeps the students abreast of what concepts they have mastered and which ones they are weak on. They can click on each concept tag to dig deeper.

Read the full review here (it digs pretty deep).

Knewton has gone to market with a suite of adaptive-learning test prep products (it just unveiled one for the SAT test), and says it is now working on opening the platform for anyone to use.

Knewton faces competition from companies like Brightstorm and Grockit.

Bill Gates Goes Back To College, Livestream At 11

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 06:21 AM PDT

Bill Gates is spending most of his time these days with the Gates Foundation, which he started with his wife Melinda to take a new approach to philanthropy after leaving his day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft. Gates has been blogging occasionally and taking to Twitter.

Today, he is going back to college on a speaking tour to encourage students to take on big challenges like fighting poverty, improving world health, developing new energy sources, and combating climate change. His first stop will be at UC Berkeley, and we will livestream his speech here on TechCrunch, starting at 11 AM PT.

iPad 3G To Ship In the US By May 7th

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 06:12 AM PDT

Apple in the US has updated its online store today, adding a shipping date and pre-order buttons for the different versions of the iPad 3G. And it looks like Americans will be able to lay their hands on the the 3G variant of the device "by May 7th". As with the Wi-Fi model, each customer is currently able to pre-order a maximum of just two iPads online.

Investors Inject Another $8 Million Into Open Source Software Company Talend

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 05:18 AM PDT

Talend, a global provider of open source data solutions, this morning announced it has raised another $8 million in Series D financing. Their previous funding round was closed in January 2009, when the company raised $12 million.

Existing investors Balderton Capital, AGF Private Equity and Galileo Partners all chipped in again, bringing Talend’s total of funding secured to date to $28 million.

Talend says its flagship open source data solutions have been downloaded more than seven million times to date, and that 2009 was a killer year for the company. The company claims its paying customer base grew 140% to well over 1,000 customers in 2009.

The company says it will use the new funding to further develop and extend its range of open source data integration, data quality and master data management (MDM) solutions.

The three investors (all European, by the way) clearly believe strongly in the company’s ability to disrupt the market, which has historically been dominated by a handful of vendors adopting a traditional proprietary model. Talend chooses to take an open approach by publishing the code of its core and base modules under a GPL license, offering the developer community the ability to improve the product and make enhancements that can benefit everyone.

Balderton Capital, for one, knows the potential of such open source models well, as it played an instrumental role in growing MySQL’s business (the open-source database company was sold to Sun Microsystems for $1 billion in January 2008).

Viacom’s Epix Lands National Distribution Deal With Dish Network

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 05:15 AM PDT

Epix, the movie and entertainment streaming network that works across your TV, computer, and mobile phone, has landed another cable deal: Dish Network. In the past few months, the network also landed a deal with Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Mediacom Communications. We wrote about the service here and here. Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Jointly backed by Viacom, Lionsgate, Paramount, and MGM, EPIX provides access to over 15,000 movie titles. The company originally signed a deal with Verizon FIOS, which was somewhat limiting considering only some 2 million people use Verizon’s cable service. Epix is getting a much greater userbase with the deal with Dish Network, which has more than 14.1 million customers around the nation. This is also the first national distribution deal for EPIX.

Cox brings more clients to EPIX with its base of 6.2 million customers, which including 2.7 million digital cable subscribers. Mediacom, the 7th largest cable provider in the U.S., will bring with it a base of 1.3 million subscribers in 22 states. And Carter, which is the fourth largest cable provider in the U.S. will bring EPIX to 5.7 million homes by May 2010. With all six distribution deals, the company expects to reach 30 million homes.

One of our main issues with EPIX was that it was tied to Verizon FIOS but it appears that the company is steadily adding more cable providers to distribute its service. Unfortunately, the platform offers a sliver of available movies out there, since it only includes the movies available through the studios that are backing the company. But EPIX is useful because it transcends the TV and your computer and it’s fairly easy to use. EPIX also is creating original content; the company announced earlier this year that it would be creating a comedy series on Silicon Valley, based on Dan Lyons’ Fake Steve Jobs persona.

Now that EPIX has scored deals with Dish, Cox and Charter, I’m sure the company is looking to cross Time Warner and Comcast off the list.

For Reasons Unknown, Ukrainian Journalist Sends First Underwater Tweet

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 01:59 AM PDT

And you thought tweeting from space was an achievement?

Ukrainian TV journalist Julia Gorodetskaya (@gorodetskaya) has sent the first documented underwater tweet from the floor of a 19-feet deep dolphinarium in Odessa, Ukraine. The scuba tweeting session was broadcasted by local media (see subtitled video below) and documented by regional press.

The tweet was sent via a mobile phone sealed in plastic from the Twitter website, using the Opera Mini browser. Radio waves passed to the surface through an elongated antenna.

The preparation process and the actual underwater tweeting was also filmed and broadcasted live by Boris Khodorkovsky to his QIK account and published on YouTube and other social media services. You can find pictures of the whole thing on Flickr.

Gorodetskaya, who did not know how to dive or swim prior to the event, sent a total of four messages to Twitter. Below is the first one.

In English, it reads: "This is first in history #underwater_tweet. I told you, @netocrat."

The event was dreamed up and organized by a national mobile operator to tout the quality of its network. And I can’t help but think about the wonderful opportunity to raise awareness for a good cause in the process that was somehow overlooked, and therefor terribly wasted.

(Image via Flickr / NETOCRAT Communications)

Don’t Sell Out, Foursquare. Not Now. Not To Yahoo.

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 11:50 PM PDT

It is becoming alarmingly apparent that Foursquare is strongly considering a sale to Yahoo. As of the end of last week they had put the venture capitalists vying for their attention on ice. Those VCs happily provided term sheets valuing the company at $80 million or so. But in the meantime, Yahoo and maybe others expressed interest in the company, and are reportedly offering way above that $80 million.

There are so many reasons why this deal shouldn’t happen. Here are just a few:

1. It’s bad for Yahoo: Yahoo’s senior team is grasping at straws, and they desperately want to find a way to stay relevant. But this is not it. What the heck is Yahoo going to do with Foursquare that will somehow turn around their business? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. M&A for PR purposes is not what savvy executive teams do. Whatever tech cred they think they’ll get by buying Foursquare is in their imagination.

2. Yahoo is a horrendous choice for Foursquare. It’s where startups go to die. They’ve bought so many companies that were so promising, only to see them wither on the vine. And the founders always leave in disgust (see Flickr, Delicious and the rest in the left sidebar on their CrunchBase page – how many of these were successful?). And sometimes they buy companies just to shut them down entirely a year later. See Yahoo Kills Maven: From Acquisition To Deadpool In 17 Months Try to imagine what Facebook would be today if Yahoo had successfully acquired them in 2006.

3. You only sell now if you think your business doesn’t have legs. Aardvark did it because of very slow user growth and the founders got nervous. They were in a similar situation as Foursquare – lots of VCs ready to put in money at a great valuation, but they took the sale to Google instead. Now we’ll never know what Aardvark could have become had it stayed independent. Guys like Facebook and Twitter stayed independent despite outrageous acquisition offers. If the Foursquare team believes in their product, they should stay in the game.

4. The Dodgeball/Google debacle should have given founder Dennis Crowley enough of a taste of what happens to most companies when they get acquired. Dennis, remember when you wrote this“It’s no real secret that Google wasn’t supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us – especially as we couldn’t convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space.” You sold your startup too soon once before. Why do it again now?

5. You can hedge. Lots of startups take money off the table in a venture round instead of selling outright. The WordPress guys did it, for example. The Aardvark team had the option of doing it. You can ask your VCs to redo their term sheets and double the amount raised. Take half off the table and you, your children and their children will never want for anything material in their lives, even if Foursquare goes south right afterwards.

Foursquare has a destiny. It may be to go out of business. It may be to go public and be a huge force in our culture. It may be something in between. But selling out now is like dropping out of college to take up drugs. Whatever you would have become, that isn’t what you’ll become once you sell out to Yahoo. Call Caterina from Flickr and ask her if she wishes she hadn’t sold to Yahoo. Call Joshua Schachter from Delicious and ask him the same thing. My guess is both will privately tell you NFW would they have sold to Yahoo knowing what they were stepping into.

Facebook and Twitter hitting the geo space must be a scary thing for a small startup to contemplate. But there’s real momentum and that intangible buzz behind your product right now. Play this out. In ten years, you’ll be glad you did. Unless you’re broke then because Foursquare failed, of course, and bitter that you didn’t take the money from Yahoo when it was offered. But there’s a reason why you became an entrepreneur and didn’t just stay a mid level developer grunt at a variety of large organizations. You have the fire to change the world. So go do it.

#GeeknRolla Update – Not Even A Volcano Can Stop Us

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 11:49 PM PDT

Well folks, it's been an interesting weekend of email and phone calls, but the good news is that TechCrunch Europe's GeeknRolla is STILL ON tomorrow in London, and there is not one single damn volcano on the planet, however ash-filled, that can stop us bringing this awesome event to you. The very last tickets and DemoPit tables are available here. And frankly, we have to pay tribute to you guys. We have been hearing amazing stories of how people are getting to London for tomorrow's event - from hiring boats, airplanes and even keynote speaker Morten Lund driving to London in a banged up car from Copenhagen. And our live streaming partners Bambuser are on a "#volcanrolla" road trip from Stockholm, overland and sea. Speaker Cédric Giorgi just got the very last ticket available on Eurostar, and Jennifer Lee has been collecting people at Calais to take over by car ferry. Amazing. Of course, because of the airlines situation, there will be one or two changes to the line-up. But we are working hard to make sure it all goes smoothly. For breaking news about GeeknRolla we have fired-up the @GeeknRolla Twitter account to help people with information on travel plans, ticketing and anything else relevant to the event. And if you can't make the main day but want to party with us and SixNationState, hit the After Party which has a separate ticket. Here are some more details for you.

Facebook E-Commerce App Payvment Allows Retailers To Use Coupons To Attract Fans

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 11:49 PM PDT

Between music, virtual gifting, gaming and retail goods, Facebook is turning into a virtual online mall of sorts. We’ve written about Payvment, a startup that allows anyone to create and operate a retail storefront on Facebook. Today, Payvment is launching an innovative new feature for storefront owners on Facebook: the ability for retailers to provide instant discounts and coupons to users that become Fans or “Like” their Facebook page.

Payvment's Facebook App lets anyone create a retail store on Facebook. The app lets you set up products, categories of products (i.e. shoes, T-shirts, sweaters), import photos, list terms of service and shipping options and more. Once you set up your online shop on Facebook, it will show up in a separate tab on your profile or page under "storefront".

Called the Facebook Fan Incentive Pricing feature, the new functionality essentially bridges the gap between social interactions on the site and retail behavior using coupons and discounts. With the new feature, sellers can provide an electronic coupon or instant discount to potential and current fans by simply enabling the feature via Payvment's storefront application for Facebook.

The pricing feature allows users to choose the discount amount to be provided to anyone that becomes a Fan of their Facebook page and current Fans are automatically provided the discount. And when visitors that are not Fans come to a storefront, Payvment automatically prompts them to become a Fan to receive special Fan pricing.

Another compelling feature of Payvment's e-commerce app is the ability to allow shoppers to carry their goods with them across thousands of Payvment-powered storefronts on Facebook. It makes shopping on Facebook almost like shopping at Target, where you can visit multiple departments and buy all of your diverse purchases at once. Users can also add comments and reviews to Payvment-enabled storefronts.

As retailers flock to Facebook for both brand awareness and e-commerce, Payyvment’s free offerings are attractive because the platform is a one-stop shop for both efforts. However, Payvment isn’t the first to implement this strategy; 1-800-Flowers started offering discounts to users who became fans of its page last July. The startup, which just raised $1.2 million in funding, faces competition from BigCommerce, Alvenda and others.

It’s Official: Groupon Announces That $1.35 Billion Valuation Round

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 09:29 PM PDT

We reported the details last week here and here. But now it’s official. Chicago based Groupon has raised $135 million in a fourth round of financing. DST led the round, with participation from Battery Ventures. The valuation isn’t being announced, but we’ve confirmed it is in the $1.35 billion range from multiple sources close to the company.

We wrote an extensive overview of the company last year when they closed their last round of financing. Since that time the service has been extended to new cities – 54 total now offer a daily deal via Groupon. 4 million Groupons have now been sold, says the company.

Press release is below.

Investment to Support Rapid Growth of Social Commerce Globally

Chicago / Moscow, April 19 2010 – Groupon, the leading social commerce site, today
announced that DST, a leading global Internet investment group, will lead an investment
round of $135 million in the Company. A portion of the investment will be used to fuel
Groupon's global expansion, and the rest will be used to facilitate liquidity for employees and
early investors.

DST comprises the majority of the investment, with participation from Battery Ventures,
which is also a new investor in Groupon.

Groupon leverages group buying and social media to provide its millions of customers big
discounts on the best local businesses in more than 50 cities across the United States and in
Canada. To date, customers have purchased over four million Groupons on deals ranging
from spa treatments and golf outings to fine dining and skydiving and have collectively saved
over $150 million on these deals.

"Our growth is a reflection of the positive impact Groupon is having on consumers and
businesses at a very early stage of the market development," said Andrew Mason, founder
and CEO of Groupon. "We are very pleased and excited to welcome DST and Battery as
shareholders and we look forward to benefiting from their vast knowledge and experience of
the social media sector as we continue executing on our growth plans in North America and

"This investment underscores our view that social networking and community based activity
will drive, shape and define the web's evolution in the years ahead," said Yuri Milner, Chief
Executive of DST. "Groupon, with its strong management team, offering and vision, is
pioneering social commerce and is redefining the local advertising space. We look forward to
being long-term partners of a company that is on a path to becoming a global Internet

"We've followed the social commerce phenomenon for many years, and are thrilled to have
the chance to back such a visionary management team," said Roger Lee, General Partner,
Battery Ventures. "They saw a massive opportunity very early, and have executed flawlessly
to define it and take the leadership position. We think there is a lot of runway ahead, and are
energized to support the team in their quest."
Founded in November 2008, Groupon has been aggressively expanding to cities throughout
the United States, with plans to be in 100 cities by the end of 2010. Earlier today Groupon
announced that it has launched its service in Orlando, Fort Worth, Tucson and Toronto, its
first Canadian city.
* * * * *
About Groupon
Groupon, launched in November 2008 in Chicago, features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, eat,
see, and buy in more than 50 cities across the United States and in Canada, including Chicago,
Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. Groupon uses
collective buying power to offer unbeatable prices and provide a win-win for businesses and
consumers. The social commerce service is a project of The Point (http://www.thepoint.com), an
online community launched in 2007 for organizing group action. Groupon plans to be in 100 cities by
the end of 2010. For more information, visit http://www.groupon.com.
To get Groupon's daily free email for the best in your city, subscribe at http://www.groupon.com.
To learn more on how to become a featured business on Groupon, visit


About DST
Digital Sky Technologies and DST Global (together "DST"), is the largest Internet Company in the
Russian-speaking and Eastern European markets and also one of the leading internet investment
groups globally to exclusively focus on internet related companies. DST is backed by leading Russian
and Western financial institutions and also holds stakes in Internet world leaders such as Facebook
and Zynga.
For more information, visit http://www.dst-global.com.

About Battery Ventures
Since 1983, Battery has been investing in technology and innovation worldwide. The firm partners with
entrepreneurs and management teams across technology sectors, geographies, and stages of a
company's life — from start-up and expansion financing to growth equity and buyouts. Battery has
supported many breakthrough companies around the world, including: Akamai Technologies (AKAM),
BladeLogic (acquired by BMC Software), LIFFE (acquired by EuroNext), MetroPCS (PCS), Infoseek
(SEEK), and Omniture (OMTR). Its portfolio of Internet and Digital Media companies today includes:
Angie's List, Bazaarvoice, BlueKai, Exact Target, FreeWheel Media, Lotame and TrialPay. Battery
currently manages $4B in committed capital, including its current $750M fund, and invests from offices
in Boston, Silicon Valley and Israel. For more information, visit http://www.battery.com.

Spearheaded By Meebo, XAuth Looks To Make Social Sites Smarter

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 09:03 PM PDT

If you’ve ever tried using one of the many sharing widgets available on the web, you know that there are a lot of web services out there that support sharing. That presents a challenge for publishers, who often wind up showing widgets for the big players like Facebook and Twitter, while neglecting the smaller services their users may be members of. Now Meebo, in tandem with a roster of partners including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, MySpace, JanRain, Disqus and Gigya, has developed a new open standard called XAuth designed to put an end to this problem. And it has the potential to do much more.

Here’s how the official site, XAuth.org is describing the platform:

XAuth is an open platform for extending authenticated user services across the web.
Participating services generate a browser token for each of their users. Publishers can then recognize when site visitors are logged in to those online services and present them with meaningful, relevant options.
Users can choose to authenticate directly from the publisher site and use the service to share, interact with friends, or participate in the site’s community. The XAuth Token can be anything, so services have the flexibility to define whatever level of access they choose.

So what does that mean? Imagine visiting TechCrunch and seeing share buttons tailored to the services you use. If you don’t use Google Buzz but are an avid Reddit user, we could automatically hide Buzz and swap the appropriate Reddit button in. Yes, there are already ways to do this, but currently TechCrunch.com would have to issue requests to every popular sharing service each time a new user visited the site, which isn’t always practical — XAuth is more efficient, because it already knows which services you belong to.

But what about privacy? There is a central XAuth server that exists to facilitate data transfer between domains, but your personal information is never actually transferred through it. Instead, all personally identifiable information is stored in your browser using HTML5’s local storage — XAuth.org exists to verify which tokens a third party has access to. If you’re still wary, you can choose to opt out of XAuth using a control panel at XAuth.org.

When it comes to exploring XAuth’s potential, personalized sharing buttons are just the beginning— services can include whatever information they want in their token. Say MySpace decided it wanted to allow Meebo to automatically have access to its users’ friend lists. MySpace could include a session ID as part of its token that would grant Meebo access to that data, without any input required from the user. Using XAuth, MySpace could grant access to this token only to a select few partners on a whitelist, or it could open it up to any third parties who wanted it.

In effect, XAuth’s flexibility allows any social service provider to achieve the ‘auto-connect‘ functionality that we hear Facebook plans to launch soon.  That could be powerful, but it also has the potential to be creepy — do users really want their information pre-populated as they browse the web? The answer isn’t clear yet.

That said, most sites (particularly sites where security is a priority) will probably only use XAuth to inform third parties that the user has an account with them, without actually sharing any of their personally identifiable data (in other words, we’ll see the personalized button scenario discussed above).

Update: Here’s a video taken by Robert Scoble of Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg explaining XAuth:


Posted: 18 Apr 2010 06:03 PM PDT

It's taken this long to attempt to write something on the iPad. I took some notes at Google's Atmosphere event just to try out the system, but quickly discovered that the newly realtimed Google Docs were only available in read only mode. A Google PR guy told me they were waiting on a "real browser" before rolling the tool out to iPad users sometime later this year. I ended up in gmail draft mode. By now I've gotten the fundamental message, which is that Apple is rebuilding the Mac from the ground, or rather the pocket, up. The AppStore debuted with iPhone and iPad apps mushed together; now they are segregated as the iPad specific tools build out. The iPhone OS 4 announcements made clear that multitasking was the bedrock of the new OS, with the concurrent processes opening the door to sharing data between various services in realtime i.e. the network. Micromessages, popups, alerts, some kind of cross-app communication that makes realtime aware applications possible.

More Execs Walk Away From Fox/MySpace: Slingshot Labs President & EVP Resign

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 02:34 PM PDT

Slingshot Labs, a research and development arm for News Corp.’s digital properties, has lost its two top execs. President Josh Berman and EVP Strategy and Product Diego Berkadin gave News Corp Digital Chief Jon Miller their resignations last week, we’ve heard from multiple sources. Like a plethora of ex MySpace and Fox execs, they are likely to be starting their own company.

This leaves Slingshot Labs in disarray at a crucial moment. Their “LinkedIn Killer” product, internally known as WSJ Connect or Streetfeed, is supposed to go into beta testing next month. We first wrote about the project last year.

Slighshot Labs has also had a couple of other successful product launches. Daily Fill is still going strong. Another project, SocialPlan, is now the backbone of the new MySpace Events. MySpace even grabbed that team out of Slingshot and made them full time MySpace employees.

This also marks the departure of the last MySpace founder from News Corp. Josh Berman was the COO of MySpace at the time it was acquired. Chris DeWolfe (CEO), Tom Anderson (President), Aber Whitcomb (CTO), and Colin Digiaro (SVP Sales) have all now left to work on different projects. Except for Tom, it’s not clear what he’s up to these days.

Chatroulette Founder: All Your Chats Are Belong To Me

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 01:59 PM PDT

For a variety of reasons, too complicated to explain in this short intro paragraph, there’s no NSFW column from me this week. All will be revealed soon, but suffice it to say that any or all of the following are involved: 1) a semi-secret project 2) an unexpected career turn 3) the future of media 4) a plume of volcanic ash from Iceland.

What’s important, though, is that I don’t want this space to lie empty for the week. So how fortunate that on Tuesday Andrey Ternovskiy from Chatroulette stopped by the office to say hello. And in keeping with the new TC policy of pointing a camera at all of our visitors, I bullied him into a video interview.

Andrey, as you probably know, is from Moscow. And despite the fact that his English is far better than my Russian, his accent – coupled with my ineptitude as an interviewer – did not make for the most gripping viewing. However, there is one clip that stands out, both in clarity and in providing an insight into Andrey’s future strategy for Chatroulette. It came just after I asked Andrey what new features he was planning to add to the service using all the VC money he’s allegedly in town to raise…

As he explains in the video, Andrey is worried that when people meet on Chatroulette they frequently decide to keep in touch by exchanging Facebook or Skype details. This is something Andrey wants to discourage, preferring instead to add that functionality to Chatroulette. I asked him to clarify whether he means adding features that will make it easier for users to connect through third party services, or whether he literally means he wants to stop users leaving the site at all – preferring, Veruca Salt style – to keep them all for himself. Andrey was clear: “I don’t like connecting third parties” he said, citing the fact that many Chatroulette users would like to keep in touch with their new friends while retaining the anonymity the service affords them.

Given the general Silicon Valley obsession with openness and the decentralisation of the social graph, Andrey’s plan to build walls and lock users in, ostensibly for their own protection, seems odd. Even, one might even say, Soviet. It’ll be interesting to see if VCs in the Valley agree.

Another thing that stuck me as I spoke to Andrey was how similar his story sounds to that of an old friend of mine, Alex Tew. Alex, for those with short memories, was the kid who – while still at university – built the Million Dollar Homepage, and in doing so was feted as the web’s biggest marketing genius. VC’s courted him, media outlets around the world profiled him – but like all child stars, the fame was short lived and Alex soon has to return to the realities of running his business and figuring out what to do next.

Given the parallels, I couldn’t resist calling Alex on Skype and asking him, firstly, whether he thought Chatroulette would prove to be a sustainable business and, if so, how – especially given that the site is basically “a sex crime waiting to happen”. Here’s what he had to say…

I still think the Million Dollar Homepenis idea is a winner.

Normal column service resumes next week.

The Chinese Matrix and the War of Internet Addiction

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 01:51 PM PDT

Frank Yu is a Chief Product Officer with BokanTech in Beijing. He also writes the China Angle Column for the Game Developer's Conference website Gamasutra.

Sometimes in the bustle of news and product launches, we tend to overlook some significant events that emerge from the net until months later. One such item was a Chinese machinima video that came out in February of 2010 via online video sites in China called the The War of Internet Addiction. I heard about it back then but thought it was just yet another user generated parody adventure for cheap laughs. I was wrong. While we were chatrouletting in the West, something was brewing in the Chinese Matrix and a homegrown Neo/John Conner had spawned.

Using the game World of Warcraft, 100 volunteers, 3 months development time and lots of cigarettes and greasy lunch boxes, video blogger known as Sexy Corn 性感玉米, (age 26 from Hunan China) created a 64 minute machinima that touched a national nerve in China among not just online game players, but a whole generation of young people. The video won the Best Video award in the Tudou Video Film awards in Beijing on April 17, 2010, 3 months after it was first unleashed in China. Tudou, one of China's largest video sharing sites, holds the awards ceremony each year that has been described as China's version of Sundance to both honor and focus attention on China's emerging animation and film making talent.

To have what some consider to be one of the most emotional and widespread appeals by Chinese citizens for the end of government repression of the internet and its netizens winning a public award marks an incredible milestone in Chinese media. Getting the award also made me reconsider and watch it for the first time yesterday.

The War of Internet Addiction at one level talks about the various plans and rules that Chinese authorities impose on the common netizens in the guise of protecting them from pornography, sensitive topics and as the title implies internet addiction. At another level it mentions the failed government Green Dam content filters, the corruption and tainted food scandals as examples of the many injustices that the common people endur. One of the characters in the video makes a dramatic plea to let them play games and enjoy the virtual world of the internet without government interference. It was this plea that moved the video from being just a game parody but a manifesto for freedom with gut wrenching emotional impact.

The censorship and monitoring of domestic web sites and discussion groups are common in China. There is even talk of a new government bureau intended to monitor social network sites alone. Foreign sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot and Youtube are currently blocked. Flickr, Wikipedia and various Google sites are open now but have been blocked in the past and may be blocked again in the future. In this environment, many creative filmmakers, artists, musicians use "egao", a Chinese term for a kind of remix culture satire that criticizes without directly confronting, in their works in order to get past the censors and avoid prosecution. Creating a video in the guise of a game narrative gave the video makers a subtle and coded platform to get the message out to their audience and to fly it under the radar of the very people that the video makes fun of.

Much of the video alludes to Chinese memes and topical events, such as the bickering between the government regulating agencies for games and the operation transition of WoW from The9 to Netease. The writing and dialogue can best be described as sophomoric but the issues that they confront are not shock tactics to gain notoriety or to make money. The appeal is sincere, even naïve, and has struck a chord with many Chinese, old and young, gamer and non gamers alike.

The following is an English translation reprinted with permission by Kaiser Kuo and Jean Shao.

When we work hard for a whole day come home to an apartment with a monthly rent of 2000 RMB, we face such a distorted version (of the game as the fight for interests lingers on), all we can feel is helplessness. You make no mistake, yes, we are indulging, but not in the game itself. It's the feeling of belonging, and four years' friendship and entrusting (in this virtual community we cannot give up)…We persevered no matter what …

We know it's impossible, but we still swim tirelessly to the North Pole, to the edge of the (global) map, to the place where there is no water, but we still can't see that icy land! In the past year, I, just like others who love this game, diligently go to work on a crowded bus, diligently consume all kinds of food with no concern of whatever unknown chemicals (they may contain). We never complain that our wages are low, we never lose our mental balance due to those big townhouses you bought with the money you took from my meager wage. We mourned and cried for the flood and earthquake, we rejoiced and cheered for the manned space flight and the Olympics. From the bottom of our heart, we never want to lag to any other nations in this world, but in this year, because of you, we can't even play a game we love whole-heartedly with other gamers all over the world.

We swallowed all the insults (as we are forced to go to overseas servers and caused other gamers' inconveniences). Why can't we be entertained at the cheap rate 40 cents an hour? Just because we are here?"

You taught me since my childhood that a house of gold or silver is never as good as my own tumbledown home, but what's the reality? You forced me to live temporarily in my own country. Why is it so hard to grant me to simply dwell in my own country spiritually?

Thanks to all you so-called Brick Owners (砖家, a homophone for 专家, expert) and Shouting Beasts(叫兽, a homophone for 教授, professor), aren't there enough eulogies, cosmetics and anesthetics? Everyday, you have nothing else to do but enjoying your prestigious social status, and pointing at us from an ethical high ground. Have you ever wondered why five million gamers are collectively taking this Net poison (as you so describe our addiction to the virtual game), and the deep-rooted social reasons that are covered?

We naively believed that here there are only gardens, that we can touch the ideal if only we work hard enough. When we look up to those servers on the top of the pyramid, we are forced to hold the Happiness bestowed from you. We retreat into the so-called freest Internet on earth, communicate at low cost, and salve the pains in daily life with the game. It's just like this, but they, for the sake of interests, they are exploiting in every possible way…we are so accustomed to silence, but silence doesn't mean surrender.

We can't stop shouting simply because our voices are low; we can't do anything simply because our power is weak. It's okay to be chided, it's okay to be misunderstood, it's okay to be overlooked. But it's just I no longer want to keep silent.

Although there have been many other machinimas and remix videos released in China in the past few years, this video differs in that it is in some ways a call to arms, or more precisely a call to not remain silent, as a protest to current conditions.

Although flashmobs may technically be illegal in China, flash mobbing in games has proved to be an outlet by Chinese netizens for expressing dissatisfaction in the past. The winning of this particular video at the Tudou Video Festival this year in China is a window into this growing sentiment against staying quiet when it comes to internet censorship in China.

The User’s Manifesto: In Defense Of Hacking, Modding, And Jailbreaking

Posted: 18 Apr 2010 11:28 AM PDT

There’s a trend that’s been disturbing me lately. When the topic of modding or jailbreaking comes up — say, in the wake of the iPad announcement, or Sony’s restrictive PS3 update — there is an outcry. Who am I to tell Apple what’s best for their devices? How can I in good conscience urge others to void their warranties or break license agreements? And why should anyone care when only a small proportion of people hack or jailbreak their devices?

These questions are natural, because a few years ago they wouldn’t even be possible. What reason would you have for breaking open an first-generation iPod, or hacking an original Playstation? The question of “unauthorized software” on System 9 and Windows XP was plainly moot. But as the capabilities of the PC, console, and phone have expanded, so have their magisteria. And as their power grew, so did their chains. These chains were so light before that we didn’t notice them, but now that they are not only visible but are beginning to truly encumber our devices, we must consider whether we are right to throw them off. The answer, to me at least, seems obvious: no company or person has the right to tell you that you may not do what you like with your own property.

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