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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

AT&T’s Yelp-Like Social Local Listings Platform Buzz.com Launches To The Public

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 08:53 AM PDT

Buzz.com, AT&T’s take on socializing local business listings, has received a considerable amount of press, even though the site has been in private beta. And thanks to sharing a name with Google’s recently launched social communications tool, Buzz has received even more attention. Today, Buzz.com is opening up its Yelp-like local recommendations platform to the public.

Buzz, which implements Facebook Connect to tap into your social graph, aims to personalize local search, based on the recommendations of people they know and trust. On the site, you can “Heart” your faves and build a personal list of favorites bars, restaurants and businesses. You can also add a Twitter-like comment to any recommended listing.

The central feature of buzz.com, is personal search. When you search for a business or listing, you can see how many of your friends, friends of friends, and the entire buzz.com network have recommended or “faved” each spot. Business listings are leveraged from AT&T’s business directory, YellowPages.com

You can also ask fellow Buzz members questions about by asking a question about where to go to dinner, which bar to frequent and more. You can publish these questions to your Facebook wall or on Buzz.com.

Now that the site is open to the public, it should be interesting to see if it can actually attract users and take on the leaders in the space, Yelp and Citysearch. The site seems like it could also compete with Facebook, but AT&T has said in past reports that it doesn’t want to re-create a social network.

Symantec: 51 Percent Of All Malware Ever Was Detected In 2009

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 08:43 AM PDT

It is an absolute miracle that I have never had a virus, trojan, or other form of computer bug on this PC. I mean, if we're to believe Symantec, then fully 51 percent of the viruses, trojans, and every other form of computer malware ever was spotted in 2009. That means that from 2008 going back to when Symantic first started keeping track of such things, all of those years only make up 49 percent of the viruses and so forth, while 2009 on its own accounts for 51 percent. That's pure madness. It's madness, but it's probably not too hard to believe when you try to break things down for even a moment.

Pew Internet Report Reveals What Everyone Already Knows: Teens Like To Text

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 08:22 AM PDT

If you've seen a teenager in the last two years, then you've seen a teenager texting. Seriously, I can't think of a situation in the last couple of years where I saw a teenager without a cell phone. The teenagers in my extended family send text messages seemingly all day long, every day. Now the Pew Internet and American Life project has released a pretty comprehensive analysis of teen texting behavior. According to the report, 88% of teenagers with cell phones are texters. "Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month." I usually send less than 100 texts per month, so these kids are really texting!

Taggable Extends Facebook People Tags To The Whole Web

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 07:50 AM PDT

Get ready for something you’re really going to like.

Ok, ready?

Late last year we wrote about The Start Project, a Silicon Valley based business incubator that is putting together new products and companies and then building teams around them. Today they launch their first product, Taggable.

You know how you can tag your Facebook friends in pictures and pages on Facebook? Taggable extends that out to other websites as well. Want to tag a picture of your friend that’s on Flickr? Use the Taggable bookmarklet, sign in via Facebook Connect, and tag away. A link to that photo will then be published in the news stream of those users (just as it does when you are tagged on Facebook directly).

If a user doesn’t like the tag they can remove it, or opt out of Taggable tags directly. But since it’s only your friends tagging you, presumably spamming is kept to a minimum, and data quality is likely to be very good.

Taggable isn’t just limited to users with bookmarklets added to their browser. Publishers can also add the feature to their sites. For blogs and photoblogs it’s particularly useful becasue people you may be friends with could be in the content. Tag ‘em and move on. They’ll probably appreciate that you’re organizing their personal data for them. High fives all around. Here’s a sample blog post showing user created Facebook tags at the end.

Those publications will then show the tags added by users, and those tags link back to a taggable page showing tags in a stream, by user, etc. You can also filter by all people, just your friends, or just one friend.

My first thought on Taggable – it’s an insidiously effecient way to get yourself tagged all over the web via a third party Facebook Connect integration. If you’re still confused, whatch this demo video that we recorded with Narendra Rocherolle last week.

Google Spent $1.38 Million On Lobbying In Q1, Up 57 Percent From Last Year

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 07:49 AM PDT

As Google increasingly faces criticism over privacy practices from governments around the world and faces a possible blockage of its acquisition of AdMob by the FTC, the technology giant has been spending money on lobbying efforts. It’s of no surprise that Google is increasing lobbying spending and, according to a release issued today, lobbying expenses in the first quarter were up by a whopping 57 percent over the previous year as it paid $1.38 million to influence lawmakers and regulators, according to public records filed today. You can access the filing here.

Lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Senate Office of Public Affairs show Google spent $880,000 in the first quarter of 2009. Lobbying expenses for all of 2009 totaled $4.03 million. First quarter spending in 2010 was up 23 percent from the $1.12 million the Internet giant spent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Google’s lobbying disclosure form includes both money it spent itself and money paid to outside firms to lobby on its behalf. The amounts received by lobbying firms will be revealed as they file their individual reports throughout the day.

Of course, Google is facing a timely challenge over its $750 million acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob. It’s safe to assume that the search giant is probably allocating considerable lobbying efforts towards influencing lawmakers to approve the deal, which is in jeopardy if the FTC blocks the acquisition. In fact, in the filing, one of the lobbying activities Google discloses is towards the “Regulation of online advertising; privacy and competition issues surrounding online advertising” and “Openness and competition in the online services market.”

Other issues Google is lobbying for include consumer privacy issues, cybersecurity as it relates to cloud computing, health information and privacy, renewable energy policies, censorship, tax reform, cloud computing for small businesses and open internet access. Google has also spent considerable resources towards lobbying on freedom of expression issues as related to Google’s decision to cease operations in China.

Google Rolls Out Virtual Keyboards On Non-English Search Portals

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 07:46 AM PDT

This hasn’t been formally announced by Google yet, but industry blogs are picking up on it and so are our readers: the company has started to include buttons that open up virtual keyboards when doing a search on non-English search portals.

You can see the buttons when you run a search on Google’s main search service pages for Russia, Israel, Poland, Croatia, Palestine, Czech Republic and plenty more.

Clicking the button opens a virtual keyboard (see screenshot above), which can be dragged to anywhere on the screen by clicking the blue bar at the top. You can also use the up and down arrows to show more characters commonly not present on physical keyboards.

The basic idea behind the virtual keyboard is that users can enter the precise search terms they want, regardless of the language keys on their real keyboards. As Google points out on its support pages, this can prove particularly helpful to people who use one of the many non-Latin script-based languages that require special characters such as Arabic, Greek, and Thai.

(Thanks to Luboš Loužensky for the tip)

Google Escalates The Location War With Google Places

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 07:19 AM PDT

The Location War going on right now has many fronts (Foursquare, Twitter, search, mobile), but it is being funded by one thing: convincing local businesses to spend money on online advertising.

Google is escalating that war today by making a big push to become the de facto directory for local businesses on the Web.

Its Local Business Center is being renamed Google Places and it is introducing a whole bunch of new features including local search and map listings, realtime updates, custom QR codes and coupons, and even photo shoots for businesses.

While Geo startups like Foursquare, Gowalla, and even Twitter (and soon, Facebook?) are taking a social approach to local business listings, coupons, and offers, Google is approaching from the search side.

One out of every five searches is location related, but local search still represents a relatively small portion of Google’s revenues. Google wants local businesses to claim ther Places pages (4 million have already done so), update them and buy local search advertising.

For $25 a month, local businesses can buy “tags” which will turn up their listings in local searches, including on Google maps. They can print out custom QR codes (2D barcodes) which are readable by cell phones with cameras and QR readers and will pop up a mobile version of their Google Place page or a mobile coupon.

Businesses can also add realtime updates to their Places page (a feature that was switched on earlier this year), define the areas they serve, and even schedule a photo shoot for better pictures for their page.

Google Places is designed for one-off searches, and is powerful as a search tool a far as it goes. What is missing, however, is the social aspect. Why can’t businesses add their Twitter streams or Facebook pages? How do they establish an ongoing online relationship with customers? The location war is far from over.

Friends vs. Strangers: What’s Next for Foursquare? And ChatRoulette?

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 06:58 AM PDT

The recent chatter about a possible FourHoo / YaSquare deal notwithstanding, there’s another nagging question these days:  is foursquare a fun diversion, or could it deeply impact users? How will being Mayor of TechCrunch impact deals local merchants offer me? Or how I talk to friends? Will the marriage of mobile and social Web truly affect where I go, what I buy, who I know, and, uh, everything?  Or are we actually moving towards services that embrace randomness, strangers, and the general weirdness of the Internet, after a sunny stay in Facebook-powered friendland? Is the future a walk through a socialized world of augmented reality, or a stranger-fest a-la ChatRoulette? And who’s going to make money off of all this? We will explore these questions at Disrupt, our media and technology conference May 24-26 in NYC.

Disrupt’s speakers include foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley and other innovators disrupting behaviors and getting venture investors excited. (And I’d be lying if I said the purpose of this post weren’t to convince you to buy tickets, this very minute, right here. Early-bird discount runs to April 30.) Also on hand at Disrupt will be Gowalla CEO Josh Williams, whose service  fits the trend ignited by that Harvard undergrad in 2004: to see the Web not as a formless mass of strangers but rather as a comfy room of people with things in common. To connect people based on interests (and location), to build loyalty and relationships.

Fair enough. But one could also be a contrarian and argue that the random Web is making a comeback. Exhibit #1: ChatRoulette’s absurdity-powered popularity, the responsibility-free voyeurism users just can’t turn away from. Teenage founder Andrey Ternovskiy says he has plans to add social features. Oh, really? Isn’t the point that I’m not friends with any of these people? Ternovskiy –you guessed it! –will be speaking at Disrupt.

We’ve invited Ternovskiy not only to discuss ChatRoulette’s anonymous thrills, however. We’re more interested in the future of online audiences, and what technologists will do with the huge traffic they’ve created. That’s why we’re also happy to announce angel funder and DailyBooth CEO Brian Pokorny is speaking at Disrupt. DailyBooth, along with Twitter, was a platform and catalyst for the U.N.’s recent anti-malaria campaign. Users wrote “end malaria” on hands and arms and friends picked it up and did the same. DailyBooth represents a middle ground between the two poles discussed above: the friend-Web and weirdo-Web. You may “follow” the photo streams of plenty of “friends,” but they may be friends about whom you know little. As with Twitter, the relationship is as low-commitment as one would like. So, how will Pokorny and investors make money off these anti-malarial warriors–and can they work with premium-content folks and brands that call Madison Avenue home? Find out at Disrupt.

Frank Quattrone is also speaking at Disrupt. It seems there isn’t an influential tech company whom Quattrone hasn’t advised, taken public, or both, including Apple, Google, Amazon.com, Cisco, and others. We’re looking forward to hearing his thoughts on what’s going on now. See downpage for more details on him.

We are grateful to Disrupt’s sponsors, who enable us to make it happen. Yahoo is a partner. Zoosk is hosting a party, a live match-making event for VCs and attending startups, during Disrupt on Tuesday night. SecondMarket will be providing secondary-market info and hosting a voting app for our audience using virtual company stock.

We’re happy to count Inuit, SCVNGR, and theladders.com as product sponsors. SCVNGR is making Disrupt more fun with a check-in app for our Startup Alley that will help tabulate popularity among those exhibitors. (Are you a young startup looking for visibility? More info on exhibiting in Startup Alley is here.Mojiva, DeHood, TweetShare and Zong are exhibit sponsors. And there’s more TBD.

Dennis Crowley, Co-founder, foursquare

Dennis Crowley is a co-founder of Foursquare, a location-based social networking service. Previously, he co-founded Dodgeball, a network of the same nature which sold to Google in 2005. He has been named one of the "Top 35 Innovators Under 35" by MIT's Technology Review magazine (2005) and has won the "Fast Money" bonus round on the TV game show Family Feud (2009). His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Time Magazine, Newsweek, MTV, Slashdot and NBC. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

Brian Pokorny, CEO, DailyBooth

In March 2010 Brian Pokorny became the CEO of Dailybooth. Brian Pokorny was previously a general partner at SV Angel, where he focused on consumer-Internet investments including within social media, mobile, and real-time data companies. Brian is an angel investor in Twitter, OMGPOP, Square, Tweetdeck, Dailybooth, Bump, Blippy, Milo, Posterous, Chomp and has advisory positions with Ooyala, Spotzer, Stitcher, and Rupture. Prior to SV Angel, he was a founding team member and partner at Baseline Ventures, a leading seed-stage investment firm, and earlier spent 3.5 years at Google within various positions. (Extended bio on CrunchBase.)

Frank Quattrone, Founder, Qatalyst

Frank is a founding member and CEO of Qatalyst.  Frank has advised technology companies since 1981, and successfully built and led global technology banking franchises for Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse.  Over the past three decades, Frank and the teams he has led have advised on more than 400 mergers and acquisitions with an aggregate transaction value over $500 billion and on more than 350 financings that raised over $65 billion for technology companies worldwide. Frank led the IPOs of Amazon.com, Cisco, Intuit, Linear, Netscape, ST Microelectronics, Synopsys, SynOptics and Xilinx, among many others. He advised Apple on its $400 million acquisition of Next (which resulted in Steve Jobs' return to Apple); Ascend on its $3.7B acquisition of Cascade and its $24 B sale to Lucent; Brocade on restructuring and completing its $2.6B acquisition of Foundry;  Data Domain on its $2.4B acquisition by EMC; Google on creating an alternative to Microsoft's $45B hostile takeover of Yahoo!, among many other transactions.

Andrey Ternovskiy, Founder, ChatRoulette

Andrey Ternovskiy is a Russian teen and student who founded and built Chatroulette!, a video chat with random (site-chosen) users, originally for him and his friends to meet new chat buddies. The micro-social site has attracted a range of attention, notably from musician Ben Folds, who improvised a musical line-up based on the ChatRoulette users that appeared on his screen during a concert in March 2010.

Josh Williams, CEO, Gowalla

A visual designer by trade, Josh Williams is co-founder and CEO of Gowalla, a popular location-based mobile application that aims to  inspire people globally to express themselves and communicate about the everyday places and the extraordinary settings they enjoy. Prior to Gowalla, he was Principal at Firewheel Design, a boutique user-interface consultancy, where his clients included Microsoft, Samsung, Hewlett Packard, Thompson Reuters and Causes. Josh lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two daughters. Josh is also the CEO and Co-founder of Alamofire, the creators of  Gowalla. Prior to Alamofire, Josh was the founder and CEO of Blinksale, which has since been acquired by Doublewide Labs.

Wibiya Raises $2 Million For Customizable Web-Based Toolbars

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 06:46 AM PDT

Wibiya, a Israeli startup that develops customized web toolbars for websites, has raised $2 million in additional funding from Primera Capital. Previous investors in the company’s last two rounds include Yossi Vardi, Oded Vardi and Jeff Pulver.

Wibiya opened up its platform for creating customized web toolbars earlier this year. Wibiya's toolbar for blogs and publishers integrates services, social media sites, applications and widgets, including Facebook, Twitter, Cooliris, and Tinychat.

Everything is customizable, giving publishers the ability to add Facebook Connect, enabling Twitter alerts, and more fairly easily. The toolbar has a fairly in-depth integration with Twitter, Search, latest tweets, Tweets about each page and more. Publishers can also bring their Facebook Fan Page stream to the toolbar. Interestingly, Wibiya has an "app store" of sorts, where publishers can customize their bars with a variety of apps, including Google Translate, YouTube, games and more.

Wibiya faces competition from Conduit, Meebo, MySpace, Yahoo, Digg and others.

Measuring The Value Of Social Media Advertising

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 06:35 AM PDT

Nielsen and Facebook recently joined forces to develop ad effectiveness solutions to determine consumer attitudes, brand perception and purchase intent from social media advertising.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, immediately after the two companies announced their strategic love affair, Nielsen started publishing glowing reports about Facebook and how much time people are spending on social networks in general.

Today, the companies are releasing the first insights from their alliance on the effectiveness of brand advertising on social networks, and lo and behold: the take-away conclusion is that apparently, Facebook ads work well in terms of campaign effectiveness.

Note that we’re not saying the report is bogus, but it’s something to keep in mind if you decide to download it for yourself.

(On a sidenote: are you a fan of TechCrunch on Facebook already?)

According to Nielsen, the report leverages six months of research consisting of surveys of more than 800,000 Facebook users and more than 125 individual Facebook ad campaigns from some 70 brand advertisers.

Nielsen looks at advertising from a “paid” and “earned” media perspective, whereby the second is considered advertising that is passed along to or shared among friends.

The company took a look at 14 Facebook ad campaigns that incorporated the "Become A Fan" engagement unit and sliced the effectiveness results three different ways, by each of the types of ads available on Facebook:

1) Lift from a standard "Homepage Ad"
2) Lift from an ad that featured social context or "Homepage ads with Social Context"
3) Lift from "Organic Ads," newsfeed stories that are sent to friends of users who engage with advertising on a brand.

Nielsen found that the first type of ads on average generated a 10% increase in ad recall, a 4% increase in brand awareness and a 2% increase in purchase intent among users who saw them compared with a control group with similar demographics or characteristics who didn’t.

According to Nielsen, that increase in advertising recall jumped to 16% when ads included mentions of friends who were ‘fans’, and 30% when the ads coincided with a similar mention in users’ newsfeeds.

Intent for purchase climbed 2% higher among viewers of homepage ads vs. non-viewers but went up 8% either from social ads or when ads appeared alongside organic mentions of the brand in the news feed. Brand awareness went up 2% from just a homepage ad, 8% with a social ad and 13% when a homepage ad appeared along with a mention of friends who were brand fans in the users’ newsfeeds.

In an interview with AdAge, Jon Gibbs, VP Media Analytics at Nielsen, reiterated that the company did not incorporate actual purchases because the research is still young. Gibbs added that, in next generations, he would “assume we will start incorporating offline purchase and other transactional data as part of the analysis.”

Now that would be slightly more interesting in my opinion, although I wish other measurement companies would get the same access to data as Nielsen does so we can compare different angles and research methods with one another.

Fear Not: iPad 3G Coming April 30

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 06:30 AM PDT

Just when you thought you iPad 3G was going to arrive on May 7, Apple turns around and says they will be available at retail stores at 5pm on Friday, April 30, and pre-orders should arrive the same day. Not a lot more to say other than Apple sure got behind the negative spin quickly, especially considering they're forcing Europe to wait for their sweet, sweet iPads.

Open Network Lab: Japan Gets “Y Combinator” For Incubating Global Startups

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 06:13 AM PDT

Can you name a web service you use that originates in places like Japan, China or Singapore? Chances are you can’t, and there is a good reason: there are hardly any Asian Internet startups that made a splash outside their home territories – even though Asia by far boasts the largest chunk of the worldwide Internet user base (42.4% or 764 million people). None of the seven domestic companies in Alexa’s top 10 for China, for example, are really active outside China.

But movement in Asia to produce the world’s next Twitter or Facebook has been picking up steam lately, with Silicon Valley, to some extent, serving as a role model. For one, some of the most prominent initiatives in recent months are largely based on the Y Combinator model of funding multiple early-stage startups in return for ownership. And some American entrepreneurs and investors are helping with brain power and dollars, too. (Y Combinator itself isn’t involved in any of these activities in Asia.)

Late last year, for example, Japan’s international model investor Joi Ito launched Neoteny Labs in Singapore, a combination of a seed-stage venture fund and an incubator initially focused on the city-state. Yesterday, three major (listed) Japanese web companies announced Open Network Lab [JP], a very similar concept with a focus on startups based out of Japan, the world’s third largest Internet nation.

Open Network Lab: Japan’s first attempt to mass-produce global startups

As Japan’s first attempt in this space and a potential blueprint for other Asian countries, Open Network Lab (ONL) deserves a closer look. It’s jointly run by major incubation company Digital Garage (where Ito is Director of the Board), Kakaku.com (whose eponymous price engine is Japan’s biggest) and e-commerce firm Netprice. The idea is to choose those entrepreneurs from a pool of applicants the ONL partners think are capable of producing a prototype of a web service within 3 months. The main bullet point is that the product (a prototype or alpha version is enough) must be “globally competitive”, mainly targeting markets outside Japan.

Some details are different from the Y Combinator approach: Each ONL team can have a maximum of three members, and (after passing screenings) receives a maximum of about $10,000 in funding. In return for the money, mentorship, free usage of office space and other perks, the ONL founders get the right to receive a combined 5% ownership stake (they’re free to decline). In the US, Y Combinator invests $11,000 + $3000 per founder in each startup and gets back 6 or 7% in stock options.

Another difference to the American model: If the startup chooses a designated mentor, it will have to give away another 2% of stock options. ONL’s mentor line-up, assembled via the Neoteny Labs connection (both labs are partnering), is pretty impressive though, including big names such as Reid Hoffman, Napster founder Shawn Fanning, or Tim O’Reilly.

Successful ONL teams then get the chance to pitch their product to angels and VCs from Japan, Singapore and the US, probably after September this year (when the first batch of startups will graduate from the program). In other words, if the program pans out as promised, the Japanese entrepreneurs involved are rewarded with a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Whether the Open Network Lab (or Neoteny Labs, for that matter) will actually succeed in producing globally competitive startups, however, depends on how much energy, time and money the founders themselves, the mentors and VCs are ready to invest. Unlike Y Combinator and similar incubators in America, neither ONL nor Neoteny Labs are backed by people who run the firm full-time, meaning there’s the danger of those labs turning into some kind of side project at some point in the future (Ito, for instance, holds positions in 11 different companies, according to CrunchBase). In addition, ONL is run by partners from three different companies, covers two continents, and involves mentors and investors across three regions of the world (the situation is similar for Neoteny Labs).

But from an Asian perspective, both incubators do carry the potential to make a significant impact and inject life into the startup scenes in Japan and Singapore, respectively. And one can currently observe even more efforts in Asia to build up a Chinese Twitter or Japanese Facebook, particularly on the venture capital front. These are all baby steps, but it seems Asia is finally getting ready to create an ecosystem of global startups that can keep up with what’s coming out of America.

GetJar Revs Up Analytics, With Or Without Apple

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 06:00 AM PDT

App store GetJar has released a new conversion tool to help developers of all open platform stripes track user engagement. It’s a simple, automated process that tells developers whether a user who downloaded an app has actually opened and engaged the app. All that incoming data can then be broken down by phone, country and even network, becoming a potentially powerful diagnostic tool for developers who need to know how their apps are operating across various devices and networks.

This is how it works: a developer signs up for an account on GetJar. The developer adds GetJar’s conversion code into their app (it’s free), which is then published on the site. When a user downloads and then opens the app, the app pings GetJar about the event. Statistics on engagement show up on the developers dashboard:

What’s neat about this service is the statistical breakdown and the ability to tailor the feedback system. GetJar lets you measure conversion at four critical points. The first one, as I mentioned, is when a user opens your app for the first time. You can then customize the last three options to fit your analytics appetite, for example, maybe you want to track how many users register for a certain option or pay for a service, all of that can be gathered and organized by GetJar.

Billing itself as the “second largest app store,” GetJar specializes in the world outside of the iPhone. Of course, there are some iPhone apps on GetJar, but the site is better known as a vault for all types of apps (Android, Blackberry, Flash, Windows Mobile, non-smartphone, etc.). There are more than 68,000 apps on GetJar and more than 896 million downloads to date. When I talked to the VP of Product, Chris Dury, about the iPhone OS 4.0’s new terms of service (which will apparently block GetJar’s new conversion tool) Dury seemed unfazed: “We will continue to serve developers across all open platforms, regardless of Apple…”

Charter Fund Acquires DreamBox In Partnership With Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 05:53 AM PDT

DreamBox this morning announced that it has been acquired by a new partnership between Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and the Charter Fund, a non-profit venture capital firm. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, although we know the agreement includes a $10 million R&D investment and newly appointed board members.

Dreambox Learning was backed by $7.1 million in funding from angel investors. The funds will be used to develop new e-Learning content across a variety of disciplines, as well as technology enhancements to the DreamBox Learning Platform.

Hastings in a comment said:

"I have evaluated many companies in the K-12 e-Learning marketplace and DreamBox Learning clearly stood out. They have already shown strong results in a short period of time, and the DreamBox Learning Platform has the best underlying adaptive technology, giving every student the opportunity to thrive through innovative online learning. My end goal of bringing DreamBox Learning and The Charter Fund together is to fuel the movement of e-Learning and help millions of students."

Since the company's launch in April 2008, DreamBox Learning has released a series of online math products for the school and home environments, targeting young students in kindergarten through third grade.

Its core product assesses each student's mathematical understanding on an ongoing basis, providing the most suitable hints and encouragement at the right pace for that child, and offers the next personally appropriate activities as subsequent choices.

This sounds similar to Knewton and its adaptive learning platform (the company just announced $12.5 million in fresh funding yesterday), although that company focuses on an older demographic.

Reed Hastings will serve as DreamBox Learning Chairman of the Board, while his executive role at Netflix will remain unchanged. The newly appointed members of DreamBox's Board of Directors are Kevin Hall, CEO and President of Charter School Growth Fund and John Danner, Co-Founder and CEO of Rocketship Education (and former CEO of the public firm NetGravity).

Social Media Analytics Startup Networked Insights Raises $5 Million

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 05:28 AM PDT

Networked Insights, a Madison, Wisconsin-based social media analytics company, has just announced a $5 million Series A funding round led by Kegonsa Capital Partners.

Which confuses me, because according to its CrunchBase profile, the startup had already raised $4 million in Series A financing from the same investor back in 2007, based on this article on the Wisconsin Technology Network.

Either way, the market research company has now raised $9 million to date, a considerable amount of money for a company operating in a space increasingly littered with startups and established audience measurement companies alike, all vying for a piece of the same pie.

The company says it will use the funds to bolster its SocialSense platform, which it refers to as a tool for “social media listening”, and launch new product offerings based on the product’s architecture. SocialSense provides a segmented look at the conversations and interactions happening online, which sounds pretty much like the boiler plate for any social media analytics provider out there (and there are plenty).

Networked Insights claims it’s able to mine data from 300 million people and 1.5 billion online conversations on a monthly basis – data that enables marketers to harness insights and streamline research for future advertising campaigns. The company recently signed up IDG as a customer, and also cites P&G, Kraft, Fox, McDonalds, Walgreens and Cisco as some of the brands that they’re partnering with.

Time will tell if they’ll be able to stand their ground in an increasingly competitive market.

Adgregate Markets’ ShopFans Brings Social Retail Storefronts To Facebook

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 04:59 AM PDT

Transactional advertising network provider Adgregate Markets, a finalist at the 2008 TechCrunch50 conference, is extending its e-commerce technology to Facebook today, with the launch of ShopFans, a social shopping applications.

ShopFans is an e-commerce application on Facebook that allows retailers to set up a storefront on the social network. Similar to Payvment, the app allows consumers to purchase goods and make secure purchase transactions directly in Facebook.

ShopFans also allows brands to to leverage Facebook’s social streams , including the ability for consumers to post News Feed stories promoting "Wish lists", "I want this!", "Likes", "Shout outs", gift registries, private and exclusive sales, and more. The idea is that the application is not only able to sell goods on Facebook but is also able to add a social element to shopping. And users can promote and share the brand's message and products on Facebook, creating a viral advertising channel.

Shoppers can share product ‘Likes’, share recent purchases with friends, rate and review products, register 'wish lists' and 'gift registries,' and receive "fan-only" special promotional deals from ShopFans’ storefront’s sales.

Adgregate’s mobile commerce and advertising offerings have gained considerable traction since it’s launch a few years ago. Adgregate just launched ShopAds, which enables customers to shop and complete secure transactions within Flash-based ad banners. the startup struck a deal with NBC Universal, recently acquiring widget business Gydget and scoring a deal with distribution deal with Google’s DoubleClick, enabling advertisers on that platform to integrate ShopAds widgets with just a few mouse-clicks. The startup also recently launched its own shopping cart platform, ShopCloud.

Fuze Box Nabs Streaming Media Inventor Alan Lippman As Its New EVP

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 04:32 AM PDT

We don’t cover most of the career moves or recruitments in the industry here at TechCrunch (we mostly keep track of those through CrunchBase), but some of them are just too noteworthy to not write about.

Case in point: Fuze Box, the provider of Internet and mobile unified communications solutions born out of the ashes of once publicly-listed CallWave, has appointed streaming media veteran Dr. Alan Lippman its new Executive Vice President, Media Technology.

Lippman is credited as one of the fathers of streaming audio/video and digital media hub technologies in the press release, and hyperbole it is not. Get a load of this bio:

Dr. Lippman holds a BSM in Mathematics from the University of Washington, which he received at the age of 14 and graduated four years later with a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University. Dr. Lippman has since augmented his career through pointed and specialized media partnerships.

As the Chief Engineer at RealNetworks, he was a key architect of RealAudio and RealVideo software that today is still downloaded millions of times per week. Upon founding Trusted Media Networks in 2001, Dr. Lippman established international standards for network management currently in use by Sprint, Verizon and AT&T.

Fuze Box currently markets a wide range of products, including web conferencing platform Fuze Meeting, IM service aggregator Fuze Messenger, media collaboration software package Fuze Movie, TweetShare, Internet Fax, Voicemail-To-Text, Internet Answering Machine, and HD Audio Conferencing.

Lippman will head a team that will focus on perfecting Fuze Box’s video capabilities across fixed web and mobile devices, and also work to optimize HD video management and delivery.

He and his team of developers specialized in video and audio technologies will be the first employees working out of Fuze Box’s new Seattle, WA location.

(Picture via Seattle-PI)

Diapers.com On Its Way To Selling Half A Billion Diapers, Raises $20 Million Debt Round

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 04:11 AM PDT

“This year we will sell half a billion diapers,” Marc Lore, the CEO of Diapers.com tells me. That is a hell of a lot of diapers. In fact Lore believes Diapers.com sells four times as many diapers as the next largest seller of nappies online, Amazon. In 2009, Diapers.com pulled in $182 million in revenues, up from $89 million in 2008, he says. And this year, Diapers.com is on a run rate to bring in $275 million in revenues. The company may one day become the Zappos of diapers and baby gear. (Zappos, by comparison, pulled in $1.2 billion last year and is now part of Amazon).

The Montclair, New Jersey-based company is announcing today its latest financing round of $20 million in debt from Pinnacle Ventures. (Actually, the company name is Quidsi. Diapers.com is just the brand name). Last October it raised $30 million in equity from NEA, Accel, and Bessemer in a series E financing. The total capital raised since 2006 is now $78.5 million.

Lore and his co-founder Vinit Bharara keep plowing the money they raise into marketing, going from a $15 million budget last year to $30 million in 2010. They say they are currently operating at break-even.

Diapers.com sells a lot more than just diapers. It also sells, formula, cribs, strollers, car seats, and toys. The website carries 12,000 baby items, going up to as much as 60,000 by the end of the year. The site is selling 10,000 car seats a month, for instance, making it perhaps the largest retailer of baby car seats online. Diapers is also the exclusive e-commerce partner for BabyCenter.

“We wanted to create a relationship through consumables,” explains Lore, but then start selling higher-margin goods than just the diapers, wipes, and formula. “The incremental cost to ship the high margin stuff is small because we are already shipping diapers,” he says. In fact, shipping is free with orders of $50 or more, and 80 percent of orders are more than just diapers. The average order size is $100.

In order to squeeze every penny out of operations, Diapers.com develops its own supply-chain management systems and box selection software. The box software figures put how many boxes of each size Diapers.com should carry in inventory based on the cost of cardboard, filler, and UPS shipping. Choosing the right boxes alone adds up to about a point of margin savings. Add the bigger-ticket items and the magic of high-volume commerce, and you can see this business growing up real fast.

Union Square, Spark Capital Double Tumblr’s Funding To $10 Million

Posted: 20 Apr 2010 03:30 AM PDT

Microblogging startup Tumblr, based out of New York, has raised $5 million more from the same investors who’d already bankrolled the company with a little over $5 million over two previous rounds, namely Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital.

The financing round, Tumblr’s third, was first reported by MediaMemo and comes at a time when the three-year-old startup is starting to push a bunch of buttons to try and generate revenue from the lightweight blog publishing and management service.

Tumblr recently rolled out paid themes, the second premium feature it added in a considerable amount of updates the service has unveiled in the past few weeks. Those include the ability to add static pages to Tumblr blogs, photo replies, video uploads, and even comments (sort of). Karp says there are a "dozen more in the pipeline."

Tumblr recently surpassed the 4 million registered users milestone, and founder David Karp (23) tells MediaMemo that the service is now generating 1 billion page views a month, up from 2 million Tumblr bloggers and 420 million monthly impressions half a year ago.

The growth in users and usage is clearly there, and the startup is now looking at ways to generate some coin with the service. Whether it will succeed in doing that in a sufficient way to justify the +$10 million in venture capital it has raised to date, remains the question.

And Now For A Moment Of Reflection And Zen In A Harried Day

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 11:36 PM PDT

Narendra Rocherolle, a hippy-type who lives up in Marin County and lives life to the fullest, had a zen moment today while contemplating his dog’s toilet. Dogs, he realized, have been playing foursquare forever. We’re just trying to catch up to our four legged friends.

Steve Jobs Reiterates: “Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone”

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 10:40 PM PDT

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is on a roll. While he’s probably had better days than today, he’s lately been shooting off emails left and right in response to customers’ concerns. We just were sent what appears to be one such Jobs response, sent last week surrounding the whole Mark Fiore situation. And it’s a good one.

When questioned about Apple’s role as moral police in the App Store, Jobs responds that “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Better, is what he said next: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.

Last week, another Jobs email about the Fiore situation was published in which Jobs called the situation a “mistake.” He noted the same thing in this email, but the porn/Android link is the key here. Assuming this email is legit, this isn’t the first time Jobs has suggested users try Android if they want porn. Earlier this month, during a Q&A session after the iPhone 4.0 OS event, Jobs said:

You know, there's a porn store for Android. You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That's a place we don't want to go – so we're not going to go there.

This is noteworthy both because it’s funny, and because Apple and Google are in the early stages of a war that’s brewing between the iPhone and Google’s Android platform. Jobs is apparently going to keep taking these jabs from what he considers to be the moral high-ground.

Read the full back-and-forth below:

Matthew Browing, an Apple customer wrote the following to Jobs:

I was converted to Apple products with the announcement of the iPhone 3G. (My friends have been trying to convince me for years.) Since then I’ve purchased 4 iPhones, 2 computers, several routers, and miscellaneous other items. Unfortunately, I’m really starting to have a philosophical issue with your company. It appears that more and more Apple is determining for it’s consumers what content they should be able to receive. For instance, the blocking of Mark Fiore’s comic app (due to being political satire) or blocking of what Apple considers to be porn.

I’m all for keeping porn out of kids hands. Heck – I’m all for ensuring that I don’t have to see it unless I want to. But… that’s what parental controls are for. Put these types of apps into categories and allow them to be blocked by their parents should they want to.

Apple’s role isn’t moral police – Apple’s role is to design and produce really cool gadgets that do what the consumer wants them to do.

Thanks for listening


In response, Jobs replied:

Fiore’s app will be in the store shortly. That was a mistake. However, we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and Android phone.

Yes, Jobs apparently made a typo (and -> an), but we checked the IP headers on the email and they are legit. Of course, these can be faked, but it seems hard to believe that someone would go to all the work of sending us an email in which they changed all the IPs or manipulated all the time elements only to attach their real name and real email address to send it to us.

And no, the email doesn’t end with the usual “sent from my iPhone” or the new favorite, “sent from my iPad,” but again, looking at the header information, that’s because it was sent using Apple Mail. Jobs has been known to do this in the past (and recently) as well.

GeeknRolla London: Live Stream And Agenda For The Day #gknr

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 10:39 PM PDT

Well, we know some of you have gone through a lot to be here for GeeknRolla in London, the startup conference from TechCrunch Europe. And some have had to hang around in London long longer than you thought. But we know everyone is here to make this a great day to discuss the wonderful world of tech startups, so here's our programme for today. Below you'll find our live video stream. We're also live blogging on TechCrunch Europe.

Hitler Is Very Upset That Constantin Film Is Taking Down Hitler Parodies

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 09:10 PM PDT

For my money, memes on the Internet don’t get any better than the Hitler one. You know, the one in which you take some current event (the more mundane, the better) and shove it into the scene from the German film Downfall in which Hitler is told in his bunker that he cannot win the war. The key to these (assuming you don’t speak German, of course) is to replace the actual subtitles with ones of your choosing about a different topic. Facebook/FriendFeed, Twitter, MySpace — all solid gold stuff. In fact, just this past January, while reviewing the iPad version, Erick called it “the meme that will never die.” But sadly, it looks like it may in fact die, at the hands of the studio behind it.

Earlier today, someone attempted to upload a new version surrounding the massive iPhone 4G (or iPhone HD, whatever) news. Unfortunately, as you can see on YouTube, that video has already been removed with the message, “This video contains content from Constantin Film, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.

Constantin Film is the German film production and distribution company behind the film Downfall (Der Untergang in German). The uploader of one of the Hilter parodies notes in the comments of his video that, “Constatin Films has filed a copyright infringement claim against this video, right before it was about to reach 500,000 views! Even though it falls under Fair Use, I suspect this video will be taken down soon. Sad face.

Sure enough, many of the other Hitler meme parodies have started disappearing as well (Hitler on Xbox Live, for example). But as of right now, there are so many out there that are subtly different enough that plenty are still up. Still, you can probably expect YouTube’s smart content system to hunt down and find all of these clips sooner rather than later. Now may be the time to appeal to Constatin Film. Downfall is a great movie, but it’s also in German which sadly means that many people outside that country will never watch it. But I’d bet these clips have sparked an interest in the film beyond what any type of traditional marketing could have done.

Mostly, I just really want to see Hitler’s reaction to the stolen iPhone 4G. Also, someone really needs to make a video about Hilter being upset that Constantin Film is DCMAing Hitler parodies.

Google-Backed Pixazza Extends “AdSense For Images” To Home, Travel And Sports Sites

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 08:55 PM PDT

Pixazza, a Google-backed photo tagging service that has been compared to an “AdSense for Images,” is expanding its service beyond entertainment websites to now include home, travel and sports publishers as well.

Pixazza allows publishers to identify, tag and match products found within online images on their sites and then link them back to the inventories of Pixazza's network of advertisers. The service, which can be integrated in a site by adding a single line of code, allows consumers to browse the photos featured on a site and mouse over it to reveal information and pricing about similar products, and if desired, click to purchase. Additionally, Pixazza shares advertising and affiliate revenues with publishers. More than five million products are available through Pixazza's service today from retailers and merchants.

Pixazza’s technology launched last year with an inventory of listed products catered to entertainment and fashion blogs (Access Hollywood and OK Magazine use the product). And today, the startup is announcing that it has scaled its vast database of products to include images and tags related to the travel, home and sports industries. So, a home decor blog could implement Pixazza on its site. Pixazza’s tagging technology is also compelling; the startup crowdsources workers to list products and tag them with the appropriate link to a retailer.

IPixazza's web service currently serving 5 billion image views per year and seeing more than 19 million unique visitors a month, 70 percent of whom are in the U.S. And the startup says that its images are moused over 14 percent of the time on sites in which its technology is implemented.

Pixazza caught the attention of newly launched Google Ventures last year; the startup raised $5.75 million from August Capital, CMEA Capital, and Google Ventures. Pixazza faces competition from Like.com, Image Space Media, GumGum and others.

McClure: Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars For The Web’s Foursquares [Video]

Posted: 19 Apr 2010 07:38 PM PDT

Angel investor, Dave McClure, kicked up some dust this month with his post, “Check-Ins Are Coupons. Game Mechanics Are Bullshit.” His thesis: location based services (LBS) will have to offer real economic incentives if they ever hope to be a mainstream success. Foursquare, with some one million users, is signing up 10,000 to 20,000 new members each day— not too shabby, but it’s certainly no Facebook (try +400 million users). If you need a visual analogy, that’s the equivalent of weighing a male guinea pig (approximately 2 lbs.) against an adult grizzly bear.

McClure predicts that Foursquare, Gowalla and others will have to pony up roughly $5 to $10 per user and $50 to $100 per offline business to bulk up fast. But he’s not condemning the sector, in fact he’s quite bullish. Very bullish. McClure says the location based services market should be worth north of $20 billion and the best LBS could realize valuations of several hundred million dollars based on the potential of the market. All of a sudden, Yahoo!’s rumored $125 million offer to Foursquare sounds downright quaint.

He predicts that it will take two to five years for an LBS to reach a critical mass of users and small businesses. “It’s no small task to sign up a lot of businesses large or small in 50 metros across the country,” McClure says. That will take years for many people….The advantage in those situations is going to go to the larger brands, more recognized brands, like Google, Apple and Facebook and maybe Twitter.” Speaking of Facebook, McClure still sees Zuckerberg’s portal as the ultimate LBS winner, whether that’s through a hefty acquisition or in-house products.

I don’t fully agree with McClure’s conclusions. For example, I don’t think Foursquare, Gowalla, etc., will have to shell out $5+ per head (and $50+ per offline business) to solidify their user base— there is an obvious incentive for offline businesses to get into the LBS game and voluntarily offer users coupons. However, I do think Facebook is the most logical, future king of LBS (barring the fact that they are unfashionably late to the party) because of their huge installed base and high level of user engagement. It’s theirs for the taking, if they want it.

See my full video with McClure above.

Image Source: Flickr/bivoir


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