web 2.0

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Ning Goes Premium

Posted: 04 May 2010 08:06 AM PDT

The past two months have been tumultuous for social network platform Ning. In March, longtime CEO Gina Bianchini was replaced by COO Jason Rosenthal. And less than three weeks ago, Ning’s bubble burst — the company laid off 40% of its staff and killed off its free service. Today the company, which ended its free service a few weeks ago, is rolling out the different paid models for its platform, Ning Pro, Ning Plus and Ning Mini.

Ning will be ending promotional links and will also offer a completely ad-free experience, with the option to run your own ads if you like. Ning is ending Ning ID and and will allow network creators to add Facebook and Twitter sign-in. The network will also offer API access to enable mobile and desktop application development. Creators will be able to add more homepage text boxes and RSS modules, provide access to premium content, as well as have improved header and footer control. Users can charge for membership and accept donations and will have access to analytics around member usage, content and demographics. Ning will now have 3 pricing plans, ranging from $3/month to $50/month. Here’s the breakdown of the plans:

* Ning Pro: Ning Pro Networks offer unlimited membership, full control over branding, multimedia options including music uploads and branded players, and advanced customization. Price: $49.95 / month or $ 499.95/ year

* Ning Plus: Ning Plus Networks provide unlimited membership, full control over branding, and features including events, groups, chat, pages and Ning Apps. Network Creators using Ning Plus will also have advanced customization options that include the ability to edit CSS, add Javascript and make use of a Language Editor. Price: $19.95 / month or $199.95 / year

* Ning Mini: Networks using Ning Mini have access to Ning's core features including, blogs, photos, forums and video embeds, and the added ability to run custom advertising. Price: $2.95 / month or $19.95 / year

The tiered plans will be rolled out in July. Ning says that the new model will allow users to select which premium services they’d like to use, and possibly save users money as well. For example, the current premium model costs $55 per month and includes the option to Use Your Own Domain, Remove Create Links, and Run Your Own Ads. With the Ning Plus, you'll be able to have them all for $19.95/month. Ning will also offer current Network Creators a one-time annual pricing discount. And for Ning Creators who use the free service that want to move to another service, Ning will offer a tool to export all of content.

Ning has also partnered with an education company that will be sponsoring Ning Mini Networks for educators in primary and secondary education, making Ning’s services free for certain educational institutions. Details on this partnership will be released soon.

Rosenthal says that 75 percent of traffic comes from users who are using premium services, and is confident that this new pricing structure will satisfy users’ needs. The subscription model is a start to opening up revenue streams, says Rosenthal. He adds that Ning will be rolling out new ad share models and premium advertising in the next few months that should add additional revenue streams. He says that the DIY social network arena focusing on subscription model could represent a $4 billion plus revenue stream and with the new features, Ning is providing the most meaningful platform to capitalize on this market.

Sysomos Audience Puts A Dollar Value On Each Site Visitor

Posted: 04 May 2010 07:32 AM PDT

Social media monitoring firm Sysomos is launching a new service for marketers to measure the dollar value of each person who visits their company’s website. It is called Sysomos Audience (currently in private beta). Sysomos Audience is an analytics tool which at first looks similar to Google Analytics, but with one big difference: it goes beyond measuring visitors directly from referring sites and tries to determine where else a visitor has been on the Web, including competitor’s sites, blogs, and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It then estimates the ROI of each visitor by putting a dollar value on each one based on the other sites that person has been to recently.

For instance, someone who visited a competitor’s site and read three blog posts on similar topics to your company’s product (based on keywords each customer provides during setup) will have a higher estimated “engagement value” than someone who just came from a news article. If that visitor fills out a form on your Website or requests more information, they get an even higher score. Sysomos takes those engagement scores and organizes visitors as leads much like you would see in a CRM app, with a data snapshot of their estimated dollar value and where else they’ve been.

It also lets you drill down by site and see the traffic from that site along with the overall engagement value by site, with the idea that marketers can use the data to target their advertising to those sites which deliver the most value. An online kitchen retailer might discover that a particular cooking blog delivers much more engaged visitors and potential purchasers than a bigger recipe site, for instance, even though the number of visitors may be smaller.  The screenshot below shows the estimated engagement value of TechCrunch to Sysomos over the past month.

So how does Sysomos know the browsing history of people who come to a particular site? The company won’t reveal its secret sauce, but says it does not use any place any cookies on people’s browsers and uses only anonymous data unless the visitor voluntarily fills out a form, in which case they use that information as well. Rather it uses a javascript tag on each customer’s site and clever tracking techniques which somehow taps into parts of each visitor’s browser history. The company wouldn’t go into much more detail than that, but it just goes to show that anything you do online can and will be tracked.

Nielsen Acquires Online Video Analytics Company GlanceGuide

Posted: 04 May 2010 07:26 AM PDT

Analytics and audience measurement giant Nielsen has acquired video analytics company GlanceGuide. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

GlanceGuide's analytics and measurements provide insights into how consumers interact with the video they watch online. GlanceGuide's analytics have been already been integrated into Nielsen's online video measurement tools to “deliver more actionable daily insights to media publishers, agencies and advertisers.”

Nielsen will now be offering enhanced video metrics to the online video advertising industry, which aggregates key measures like viewing duration, video visibility, and audio volume to provide a composite 'score' for a piece of video content or advertising.

Nielsen has been trying to boost its online video measurement analytics over the past six months, so an acquisition of a company makes sense instead of trying to develop the technologies in-house. Plus, GlanceGuide has been a Nielsen partner previously, so the company was familiar with the offerings they were buying.

Interlude Makes Videos Truly Interactive

Posted: 04 May 2010 07:20 AM PDT

(This is a review of one of the 7 startups that presented today at Techonomy 2010 in Tel Aviv. To read about the others, browse all posts tagged ‘techonomy’.)

Apparently musician Yoni Bloch is, besides a really nice guy, something of a celebrity here in Israel. He’s also very much a geek, and the combination of both passions led to a startup called Interlude. The central part of the business can be essentially summarized as ‘choose your own adventure’ technology for online videos.

During an interview I had with Bloch and his partner yesterday, and today at Techonomy, they showed off what the technology is capable of by way of a custom-produced interactive music video. Unfortunately, it isn’t online yet, so you’ll have to take my word for it: very impressive.

Basically, every now and then you would get the opportunity to change the course of what happens in the music video, by selecting a person and following their path in a crowded apartment where a party was being held. The beginning and ending are always the same, but there are a total of more than 250 combinations you could put together thanks to the Interlude integration (there were 29 scenes, and it only took one night to shoot the video).

Yes, you’ve seen stuff like that before on YouTube and other video sharing platforms, but Interlude makes the experience of picking a storyline an integral part of the video without interrupting the experience or cutting the audio. Again, you need to see it to get why there’s a wow element here.

After the video stops playing, users have the option to create a new version, download the combination they’ve put together, or share their ‘personalized’ video with others on Twitter and Facebook. Fun guaranteed.

They also showed other demos, like a car commercial where you could dynamically choose the color of the car depicted in the video, or a TV show (the Israeli version of American Idol in this case) where you could switch between different singers performing the same song. It’s quite easy to think up other use cases.

In the works: an iPhone and iPad application.

The business model for the startup revolves around licensing the technology to media companies, video production companies, brand advertisers and agencies, in addition to revenue sharing agreements. Key element to convince clients: data that supposedly shows the engagement and time spent interacting with the video content increased up to 3 times on different occasions.

I’m not surprised, and hopefully the fledgling company will soon come out with more material so we can actually show our readers what it’s all about. For now, just believe me when I say there’s apparently much more that can be done in terms of making video content truly interactive.

By the way: the audience voted Interlude best of show, and this in competition with some very impressive startups.

SharePoint Competitor Central Desktop Launches Microsoft Office Collaboration Tool

Posted: 04 May 2010 07:08 AM PDT

Central Desktop, a SharePoint-like SaaS collaboration platform for the enterprise, is launching a new tool that allows for cloud-enabled document collaboration for Microsoft Office users. Central Desktop's tool allows users to simultaneously co-author Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents in real time, as well as open and save files directly into the cloud. Central Desktop for Office leverages technology from OffiSync and is compatible with any version of Microsoft Office including 2003, 2007 and 2010. Once installed, Central Desktop for Office adds a new toolbar in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint that enables users to open, save, edit and co-author files stored in the cloud - directly from within Office. The new tool allows users to comment on files, manage subscribers and track version history. Central Desktop's co-authoring feature enables more than one user to edit Office files, simultaneously, by tracking and syncing all changes made by collaborators and merging them correctly into one updated version.

Enquisite Raises $5.2 Million For Search Marketing And Optimization Platform

Posted: 04 May 2010 05:58 AM PDT

Enquisite, a company that provides search marketing and optimization solutions to businesses, has raised $5.2 million in new financing led by Rho Canada Ventures with Castile Ventures, Formative Ventures, Retro Venture Partners and The Entrepreneurs' Fund III participating. This brings Enquisite’s total funding to nearly $17 million.

Enquisite provides a web-based software allows businesses to optimize their presence online, including SEO and social media campaigns, and access analytics to help monetize through optimization and markteing. Enquisite will use the financing to fuel product and marketing initiatives.

Enquisite faces competition from from DIYSEO, HubSpot and others.

Cloud Syncing Startup ZumoDrive Releases New Apps For Android, iPhone And Palm

Posted: 04 May 2010 05:57 AM PDT

File syncing and storage startup Zumodrive is updating its mobile offerings today, releasing new versions of their applications for iPhone, Android and Palm smartphones. ZumoDrive, which spawned from Y Combinator startup Zecter, has a different take on file syncing. Similar to other services, Zumodrive creates a drive on your device that is synced to the cloud. But service includes a slightly different twist-ZumoDrive tricks the file system into thinking those cloud-stored files are local, and streams them from the cloud when you open or access them.

The new mobile apps allow users to upload and download files to ZumoDrive directly from their smartphones, which was not available as a feature in the previous versions of the applications. With the new apps, users can get any of their playlists, photo albums or other files on their devices without taking up local disc space and without having to use wires to physically sync their files. You can also now share content directly from iPhone, Android, Palm devices. Other new features to the apps include improved media streaming on Android and Palm devices and a password protection to lock the iPhone app.

ZumoDrive has been gaining traction over the past year. Fresh off of a $1.5 million funding round, the startup scored a deal with HP in January to to power the backend of the technology giant's CloudDrive on all HP Mini netbooks. And the startup is seeing considerable growth in international markets, with the application’s user-base in over 150 countries. ZumoDrive is also available in eight localized versions: English, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Chinese. While nearly half of ZumoDrive usage is in the US, a growing percentage is coming from Asia and Europe with Japan and the UK leading the pack.

Last year, ZumoDrive released a new version of its system that wirelessly syncs playlists between devices, auto-detects content, and lets users link file folders on their devices to ZumoDrive only once so that changes in that folder will always be linked to ZumoDrive. The service was also upgraded to integrate well with media applications, like iTunes, so users can play entire music libraries saved in ZumoDrive on multiple devices without manually syncing content. We initially reviewed Zumodrive here.

Zecter previously launched a product called Versionate, an office-wiki product, that we first covered in July 2007. We wrote about them again a year ago. ZumoDrive faces competition from Dropbox, SugarSync, and Box.net.

End The Abuse! GeoBrand Is A New PPC Monitor For Nervous Brands

Posted: 04 May 2010 05:55 AM PDT

WatchMouse, the website performance monitoring company, has launched its new GeoBrand service today. It's designed to detect "brand abuse" in search-based keyword advertising and follows the recent European Court ruling on the LVMH vs Google case which places the onus on the brands themselves to monitor for trademark infringements. The service targets pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft Bing in over 30 countries and offers an automated way for brands to be alerted that a competitor is purchasing keyword advertising which potentially infringes on their trademark, listing offenses by country and specific search engine.

MoSync Considers $14 million Term Sheet For Its Mobile Apps Magic

Posted: 04 May 2010 05:44 AM PDT

MoSync is a Swedish company which aims to create tools for mobile developers which allow them to do that mythical 'write once and run many' thing with mobile applications so that they will work across any platform. Of course, we all know what Apple thinks about Flash apps being converted to run that way, but this is not about to deter MoSync. Or, it appears, their potential investors. For we have heard on the grapevine that MoSync is entertaining terms sheets for a $14 million (11m Euro) financing round.

Tungle Adds Search, A User Directory, And Group Meetings To Scheduling Application

Posted: 04 May 2010 04:57 AM PDT

Tungle, a scheduling and calendar sharing tool we wrote about during its launch in 2008, is rolling out a new version of its meeting scheduling platform, Tungle.me, that taps into your social graph and simplifies the process of finding and connecting with friends and colleagues. Tungle.me now includes a public directory, search functionality, and group meeting capabilities.

Tungle offers users a free web-based application that lets you share calendars across companies and platforms, schedule meetings with individuals or groups inside or outside their company and propose multiple meeting times in invitations. The service currently syncs with Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple iCal, Entourage for Mac, and Lotus Notes.

Tungle.me users can now opt-in to be included in a public directory on the site, allowing users to see colleagues’ schedules. On a users’ personal scheduling page, you can view their availability and schedule meetings with them without signing up for Tungle.me. Visitors can search for users by name or company name without needing to upload contacts or create new friend lists.

The new Group functionality for Tungle.me allows users to create and name private or public groups,
browse public groups in the directory, and save group aliases to contact lists. Non-users can also
schedule meetings with public groups without having to register for accounts. Groups can be created for associations, organizations, committees, departments, conferences, and more; making it easier to view others' availability and schedule meetings between members.

Tungle also recently partnered with social planning application Plancast to integrate the Tungle.me widget into Plancast profiles. The startup has enhanced personalization with LinkedIn integration as well.

While Tungle’s vice president of marketing Jonathan Levitt declined to reveal the number of users Tungle currently has, he did say that Tungle.me is being used to schedule meetings in over 30 percent of Fortune 100 companies, over 700 Universities, and in more than 100 countries. Tungle’s main competitors are TimeBridge, and Jiffle.

Evernote Zooms Past 3 Million Users

Posted: 04 May 2010 04:15 AM PDT

If there is something everyone needs help with now and then, it is remembering stuff. Evernote does that very well via the iPhone, the iPad, Android phones, Blackberries, Windows PCs, and the Web. It just crossed the three million user mark in about 60 percent of the time it took to get to two million. Evernote took 447 days to get its first million users, 222 days to get to its second million users, and 134 days to get to its third.

Evernote lets you take pictures of things with your phone camera or clip pages on the Web and stores them in a searchable, chronological tape of geo-tagged notes. A full 79 percent of its daily mobile usage is on the iPhone OS, including the iPhone itself (63 percent), the iPod Touch (7 percent), and the iPad (9 percent). Android makes up 12 percent of daily mobile usage, and Blackberry is only 2 percent. On the desktop, Windows rules with 49 percent of daily desktop usage, followed by the Mac client (38 percent), and the Web (13 percent).

The key stat for Evernote’s business is how many people it can convert to its premium service, which costs $45 a year for more storage and features. There are now 59,000 paying Evernote subscribers, up from 35,000 when there were two million total users. It is still a modest number, but it is steadily growing and the conversion rate keeps getting better. But in order to justify the $25.5 million investors have put into the company, it is going to have to figure out ways to get more than 2 percent of its users to pay.

Fiddme Lets Foodies Share Their Favorite Dishes With The World

Posted: 04 May 2010 04:01 AM PDT

(This is a review of one of the 7 startups presenting today at Techonomy 2010 in Tel Aviv. To read about the others, browse all posts tagged ‘techonomy’.)

Fiddme, publicly launching in beta today, is a social network for foodies that love to share their ‘food experiences’ with the world, which I think is code for notably good or bad dishes. The service, which comes in the form of both a Web and an iPhone application, lets people share their favorite dishes in restaurants or other places by taking a picture of said food and adding a short caption, where it is being consumed and even recipes.

This can prove to be a fun and valuable service for documenting and sharing specific food recommendations rather than suggestions or reviews of local eateries as a whole.

If that sounds a lot like what Foodspotting is all about, that’s because it’s largely the same offering.

That’s not to say there’s no room for both – quite the contrary. Things Fiddme has going for it is the great user experience and design, the location-based approach – it’s like checking in, but based on what you’re eating where – and the viral nature of the whole thing. Fiddme is very visual and enjoyable to use (there’s no learning curve), both on the Web and on the iPhone.

Time will tell if they’ll be able to turn the service into a business, but as far as I’m concerned I think a lot of people are going to like using it.

SircleIt Makes It Easier For You To Get Help From Friends And Family

Posted: 04 May 2010 03:31 AM PDT

(This is a review of one of the 7 startups presenting today at Techonomy 2010 in Tel Aviv. To read about the others, browse all posts tagged ‘techonomy’.)

Questions about the meaning of life? Stuck with an overweight dilemma? Sure, you could reach out to the masses who are following you on Twitter or Facebook, but what are the chances of getting answers only from the few people whose opinions you actually care about? And what if it concerns a private matter?

Emailing a specific group of people could do the trick … but then again, it could make the problem-solving process even more complex and long-winded.

Enter SircleIt, which lets you group your Facebook contacts into lists of people based on pre- or self-defined categories (e.g. ‘beer buddies’, ‘Giants fans’, ‘male chauvinist pigs’, etc.) and enables you to address your questions or share your problems with those people and those people only, which is especially useful if you wanna get few but relevant answers from your subsets of your social graph, or if it concerns a delicate matter that can’t be thrown out into the open just like that.

When you sign up for SircleIt, using Facebook Connect, the service checks which friends are already a member, or you can invite them to join. You’re also supposed to let the company know what your specific skills are, so people can determine easier what it is you can help them with. The UI is clunky, but on the flip side makes it extremely easy to both algorithmically and manually create clusters of friends, family members, classmates, and so on.

Once you’ve grouped people in ‘sircles’ (social circles), and you can ask them questions or even poll them on a given subject. Users you direct your question to get a notification by email that you’re looking for their help, and they can log on to the platform and lend you a virtual hand. Watch the demo video below for more info.

In a way, SircleIt sounded to me a lot like Aardvark (recently purchased by Google) and Quora, although SircleIt’s founders insist that there’s much more to their service and that it does not revolve around social search but rather social yet targeted Q&A and problem-solving.

Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.

HelloCotton Launches A Social Platform For Women’s Blogs

Posted: 04 May 2010 03:27 AM PDT

Paris-based HelloCotton (HelloCoton en Français), a French social platform for discovering and sharing women's blog content, is launching in the US today. Initially launch in France in April 2008, the platform counts roughly 3 million monthly unique visitors who use HelloCotton to discover and share lady-oriented blog content - about fashion, health, beauty, you-name-it. And oddly enough, despite being oriented towards women, this start-up was founded by two men - Hubert Michaux and Victor Cerutti - who were formerly part of the Netvibes team; the founding duo decided to launch the platform hoping to capitalize on the hyperactivity of the female blogosphere that seemed to be contrained by traditional and fragmented online distribution channel. Thus, with a bit of Netvibes sauce, the team developed a platform ressembling a mashup of women's magazine content with web 2.0 social features: think Elle Magazine à la Twitter and Facebook.

Disposable Content On The Non-Disposable iPad

Posted: 04 May 2010 03:15 AM PDT

The iPad has now been out in the U.S. for exactly one month. So where does it stand? Well, it’s an initial hit out of the gate with a million units sold in less than half the amount of time it took Apple to sell a million iPhones. It’s still too early to tell the long-term impact it will have on the various industries it touches, but having used it for the past couple of weeks outside of the initial launch hype, I keep coming back to the same few thoughts. One of them is the way it alters media consumption.

Yes, this was talked about ad-naseum before the device even launched. Depending on what you read, the iPad would either be the savior of print media, or the final straw that destroyed these companies. But now, having actually used the device to consume media these past few weeks, I’m more intrigued by this idea than I ever have been. And particularly disposable media. That is, newspapers and magazines.

When I was younger I used to love reading magazines. I would come home from school, open one up, and not put it down until I was finished. I loved the mixture of (relatively) current news, professional prose, and engaging visuals. But the Internet changed everything. I can’t even remember when the last time was that I picked up a magazine. It’s too bad because while the web is better in some regard (timeliness of the news), it’s much worse in others (the presentation).

The same is true with newspapers. They up the current news and downplay the visuals, but it’s the same idea. I rarely read those anymore either — maybe if I’m on a plane. Both have been getting murdered by the Internet.

And yet, I actually do read a lot of content from magazines and the web, I just read it online — for free. But I’m not necessarily opposed to paying for content, as I used to do with magazines or newspapers, I’m just opposed to paying for content as it currently stands on the web. If some time and effort was put into the presentation, I would pay again. And that’s where the iPad comes in.

A few of my favorite early apps on the iPad have been the magazine and newspaper apps. While New York Times and USA Today keep things relatively simple with stripped-down versions of their actual papers that they give away for free as apps, The Wall Street Journal will gladly give you the whole thing — provided you pay for it. WSJ wants you to pay $3.99 a week (just over $200 a year). With it, you get access to not only that day’s paper (in iPad-form, of course), but also a 7-day archive of content, and special content.

The app has been in the top 20 apps on in the App Store for the past month. While the app itself is free, the amount of free content you have access to is limited, so it seems hard to believe that people would download it without wanting to pay for the full version. That suggests that the paper might be doing fairly well so far with the app.

But then there are the nearly 2,000 reviews of the app, which give it an average of two stars (out of five). Nearly 1,200 of those are one-star reviews, the majority of which seem to be pissed off about the subscription pricing. Others complained about the clunky subscription system. I have to agree there. Unlike the elegant in-app purchasing systems set up by many other apps, WSJ’s feels foreign and arduous. Naturally, WSJ uses this because it ties into the same system that they use to charge for regular web access to their site as well.

Then there are the magazines. My two favorite apps of this nature are Time and Popular Science. Whereas the newspapers tend to be more straight-up versions of the paper ported to the iPad, both of these magazines clearly had a lot of effort put into them to make them look and perform great on the device. Both, for example, provide a slightly different, but still tailored experience depending on if you are using the iPad in landscape or portrait mode. Both also contain rich media that looks great. Time, in particular, makes great use of videos that add to the content. This is obviously something that would be impossible in the print version. It should go without saying that the presentation is much better than it is on the web.

Something else these digital magazines do well: advertisements. I never thought I’d see myself write this, but I actually do not mind the ads in these apps. In fact, most of them are interactive in some way, and I can guarantee you that I’ve interacted with them more than I have with a web ad in years. Whereas almost all web ads look like absolute garbage, these look like fairly nicely done print ads that have this extra element to them. I still can’t believe I’m writing this — especially since the norm nowadays is that if there are ads, the content is likely to be free. But that’s not the case at all with these magazines on the iPad. And yet, I’m still paying, and still happy with the result.

It’s funny, at first, when I looked at this price of these magazines (both Time and Popular Science are $4.99 an issue) I thought there was no way I would pay for either. Then I thought about it for a second. Actually, that’s about the exact same price I would pay on a newsstand. So why was I so hesitant? Because I’m not used to paying for content on a computer device. And not only that — while I’m used to paying for apps on my iPhone and iPad, I’m not used to paying for apps that I’m just going to delete when I’m done with them.

The idea of disposable apps hasn’t really come up yet in the App Store. But because Time was creating a new, stand-alone apps for each new issue, that’s exactly what it was creating. That is, until this week when they wisely launched a singular Time app that allows you to download new issues as in-app purchases. This is what Popular Science uses as well. This method is much better. This way I don’t have to delete an app each time after I use it. Or worse, keep them and have them clutter up my screen.

Still, I’m hardly the only one who has suffered from initial sticker shock. Whereas the WSJ had two stars, the Time app has 1.5 stars. Why? Hundreds of people giving the app one star because they say the price is outrageous. The same is true for Popular Science. The same is true for Men’s Health.

The problem is that fans of these magazines often subscribe to them, and end up paying something like a dollar or less an issue when all is said and done. But there isn’t yet a subscription system in place for these magazines. So a year of Popular Science will cost you $60 on the iPad, rather than $12 if you subscribed to it regularly. But help is coming. As Apple 2.0 detailed over the weekend, in the next month or so, Apple will allow these magazines to start offering subscriptions. The plan then, is to sell a year’s worth of Popular Science on the iPad for $30 — half off.

The other problem, of course, is that most of these magazines have their content (at least some of it) available online, for free. Hell, you can just point the Safari web browser on your iPad there and take it all in for free. But again, I think there is something to be said for the presentation these apps offer. And remember, this is just the very first generation of them — they will get even better.

And none seem certain about the right pricing model either. Plenty of the commenters in the App Store are suggesting digital issues of magazines should be only a dollar or less considering there is no print, and there is no postage. Of course, there is still extensive graphical work, and writing, that has to be paid for. And the ads, while cool, are undoubtedly nowhere near paying for all of that.

But maybe it’s not a bad idea to cut prices and try to get circulation way up. If Apple’s App Store has taught us anything, it’s that micro-transactions are an after-thought. A $4.99 app I may worry about a little, but a $0.99 in-app issue, I wouldn’t think twice about.

The problem with that is that if one publisher does it, all of them will likely have to do it. And if it doesn’t work for one of them, the great iPad experiment could end quickly.

Again, this is still the early days for all of this. And I do believe these publishers (moreso in the magazine industry, but we’ll give the newspaper industry some time to catch up) are onto something. All I know is that I haven’t read this much print media in years. Or, let me rephrase that: I haven’t paid to read this much print media in years. And yet I’m happy to do it. It’s a weird feeling.

AVG Takes 20% Stake In Zbang, Makers Of The Ultimate Social Inbox

Posted: 04 May 2010 02:15 AM PDT

(This is a review of one of the 7 startups presenting today at Techonomy 2010 in Tel Aviv. To read about the others, browse all posts tagged ‘techonomy’.)

Such a silly name for such an amazing product. Those were my thoughts after interviewing the founder and CEO of Zbang, an Israeli startup that is building the communication platform I’ve been genuinely longing for. Think of it as a universal social media inbox, like Threadsy, Inbox2 or MailSuite but an inch closer to perfection.

Zbang is a desktop application that enables users to aggregate updates from their email inboxes and social networking accounts into a single, well-designed interface that reminds a lot of Microsoft Outlook. More than simply aggregating messages, Zbang is also capable of managing and sharing a variety of files through a number of cloud sharing services, and lets you collaborate and communicate with people the way you desire, provided you connect to apps like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn … you get the drill.

I’ve seen a live demo of the product twice now, and it is exactly what I need. Unfortunately, the company isn’t quite ready for launch yet, and isn’t even accepting private beta users anymore. A full launch is expected for next July, although we should note Zbang will not be available for all platforms upon launch, and it will also not have a full-fledged mobile offering yet. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to their debut, and I’m definitely going to use this one.

Zbang was founded by Eidan Apelbaum, who has previously worked as Director of Product Management and Strategy at Yahoo! He has been responsible, among others, to the Front Page of Yahoo! and managed the Business Intelligence group that oversaw strategic development of Yahoo's client-facing applications (Mail, Messenger, My Yahoo!, Groups etc.).

The company realizes full well that its biggest challenges will be distribution and gaining user trust in terms of security and privacy. Hence, it makes a lot of sense for the company to set up a strategic partnership with AVG, which is exactly what they did. The security software maker has purchased a 20% stake in the company for an undisclosed amount (although we hear they got a good chunk of the startup for relatively little cash).

As part of the investment partnership, AVG will collaborate with Zbang on current and future product development and provide the more than 110 million AVG customers worldwide with the cross-application platform. The collaboration of the two companies will also mean that the Zbang.it console will be wrapped in a security layer, with AVG technology providing protection against malware, phishing, identity theft, as well as added functionality from other technologies developed or acquired by AVG.

Million dollar question if this is a product that is only impressive for social media power users like myself, or if it will also be able to appeal to mainstream consumers.

Sedo Sold More Than $23 Million Worth Of Domain Names Last Quarter

Posted: 04 May 2010 01:45 AM PDT

In its highest quarter for domain sales since 2008, Sedo has sold close to 12,000 domain names via its online marketplace in Q1 2010, accounting for more than $23 million in transactions.

Based on numbers presented in its Q1 2010 Domain Market Study, this represents an 18.6 percent increase in the number of sales compared to Q4 2009 for the AdLink company.

Sedo attributes the jump in sales to the recovering economy and an increased marketing spend, particularly among larger corporations, in addition to the recent introduction of one and two-character domains and IDN domains that use non-Roman scripts.

During the first quarter of this year, Sedo witnessed a surge in both generic and country code Top Level Domains. Some of the more high-profile sales include the one of Poker.org ($1 million), Credit.fr (€587,500) and Pilot.com ($300,000).

Unsurprisingly, the .com extension remained the most popular generic Top Level Domains, accounting for more than 42% of all sales on the Sedo marketplace and 76% of all gTLD sales. The average price of a .com domain was quite modest, particularly considering the total of $23 million in transaction recorded for the quarter: $2,373.

The .com TLD was followed by the .net, .info, .biz and .org extensions, respectively.

Sedo's complete report can be found online here.

JibJab Re-Creates The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Now Starring Your Friends

Posted: 04 May 2010 01:00 AM PDT

The Force is strong with JibJab. The humor site, which often puts together goofy animated adventures that you can customize with photos of your friends’ faces, has really outdone itself this time: in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back, the site has gotten the rights to re-create the original Star Wars Trilogy. Except instead of the familiar faces of Han, Luke, and Leia, you’ll be watching your friends take on the Empire.

There are three clips available — one for each film in the original trilogy. The videos take footage from the original films, condense each into a whirlwind two minutes of wisecracks, and insert your friends’ faces wherever possible. The end result is hilarious.

There’s obviously a big monetization opportunity here, which JibJab is taking advantage of. You’ll be able to create your own clip for The Empire Strikes Back for free, but only paid members will be able to make clips based on A New Hope or Return of the Jedi. We’ve embedded all three clips below, starring some of the TechCrunch writers.

This is by far my favorite JibJab video series, but they’ve had plenty of other good ones. Recent features include the keyboard cat tribute to play off 2009, and the ever-popular Elf yourself.


Learn All About Internet Marketing Stuff: SMASH Summit On May 12 In San Francisco

Posted: 04 May 2010 12:55 AM PDT

If you want to get into the nuts and bolts of social media marketing, check out SMASH Summit in San Francisco on May 12. The event is being organized by Dave McClure (500 Hats) and Stew Langille (Mint) and Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) and has an excellent group of speakers with lots of on the ground experience.

We’re giving away five tickets to the event, chosen randomly. Just retweet this post with the #SMASHsummit hashtag and the winners will be picked at noon PST on Wednesday, May 4. You can also get a 20% discount on tickets by entering in the code TC.

See you there. Well, not me, I live in Seattle now. But TechCrunch will be there!

We Estimate Zynga Revenues Around $270M In 2009 And $240M In 2010 YTD

Posted: 03 May 2010 08:56 PM PDT

This is a guest post by Jeremy Liew, a managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners where he invests in the internet and mobile sectors. His investments include Flixster, Living Social, Playdom, Rockyou and Shoedazzle. He blogs at lsvp.wordpress.com.

There has been a lot of speculation about Zynga’s revenue. Last week Business insider said:

Zynga, the social gamesmaker behind Farmville, has a revenue run-rate around $600 million, a source close to the company tells us. Another source confirms that Zynga is doing well over $1 million in revenue a day.

Businessweek says:

More than 120 million people play Zynga’s online games. Employee headcount has almost quadrupled in the past year, to 775. Revenue for the three-year-old company should surpass $450 million in 2010, according to two people who have been briefed on its financials.

We thought that we would estimate Zynga’s revenue ourselves by looking at publicly available info. Here is what Linus Chung and I did:

  • Focused on only top games on Facebook
  • For each game, pulled daily active user (DAU) numbers on first of every month since 1/1/09 from Developer Analytics.
  • To get the average DAU for each month, took the average of the first of the month and the first of the following month. So for March, the average DAU for the month is the average of DAU on 3/1 and DAU on 4/1.
  • Inside Virtual Goods published a monthly ARPU range (low and high end) for each game genre. In general, we used the average of low and high, with some exceptions:

    - For virtual gifts, we used the high end: $0.50. This only affects Friends for Sale.

    - For simulation games (e.g., CafeWorld, PetVille), we used the low end: $1.00. These games have been wildy popular in terms of users. We assumed that the recent increase in users results in lower monetizing users being added.

    - For poker, we used the low end: $2.00

    - For FarmVille, we estimated ARPU at $0.50 due to its scale

  • Mapped each game to its game genre, and multiplied average DAU each month with the ARPU.

This estimate is likely to be inaccurate for many reasons, notably (i) the coarse estimates of revenue/DAU (rounding to the nearest 50c), (ii) the low end of range estimates for many of Zynga’s most popular games, and (ii) the fact that we ignore revenue from MySpace, Zynga’s websites, and mobile. None the less, it shows some interesting results:

Again, note that these are all estimates. However, our estimates show that revenue ramped fast over calendar 2009. The H1 ramp was driven by Poker and Mafia Wars, and the H2 ramp driven by Farmville, Cafeworld and Fishville. Our estimates show that revenues have been flatish since the beginning of 2010, with a decline in older games compensated for by the launch of Treasure Isle.

Feel free to see the details and play with the assumptions yourself – the spreadsheet is here. It is a read only Google Doc so that your changes won’t affect others who are later to check it out, but you can download the spreadsheet to change assumptions. Note that there are four tabs to the spreadsheet (at the very bottom of the page). To download, click File–> Download as –> Excel.

Play with the assumptions, and let us know what you think.

4INFO Adds New Execs To Fuel 100% Growth/Quarter

Posted: 03 May 2010 07:51 PM PDT

The mobile advertising space got white hot last year when Google agreed to purchase AdMob and Apple bought Quattro Wireless. Suddenly all eyes were on 4INFO, which has been described as the AdMob of SMS. They dominate that space, and the service is doubling in size every quarter now.

I interviewed CEO Zaw Thet in February to better understand the 4INFO business. 4INFO offers customers a publishing platform, which is tools to manage SMS subscribers and send them content. They also run an ad network for SMS ads, and a SMS gateway to handle the carrier relationships and charges. 4INFO's larger publishers pay as much as $15,000 per month to use the platform. Those publishers can run their own ads, or use 4INFO's ads with a revenue split (self service customers have no choice but to accept 4INFO's ads).

At the time of the interview, just three months ago, 4INFO was sending about 200 million text messages per month. That will be 500 million/month by June, Thet tells me, based on growth from new publisher products and international expansion. And that doesn’t include traffic from mobile display ads, a new product 4INFO launched in December 2009.

The company has hired two new senior executive to help handle the growth, says Thet. Julie Shumaker has joined as Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and Rob DeMillo, who is also currently the CTO of Revision3 (he will become a technical advisor to Revision3).

Thet says that DeMillo and Shumaker signal 4INFO’s intention to be more than the “King of SMS” (as I labelled them). “DeMillo is clearly all things mobile advertising (Third Screen Media, mQube, Transpera run the gambit from mobile display to messaging to video) not just SMS, and Shumaker is a digital advertising pioneer, as the first to launch games as an advertising vehicle at EA,” says Thet.

Kindle Update Starts Rolling Out. Twitter, Facebook Included. Color, Touchscreen Not.

Posted: 03 May 2010 07:23 PM PDT

I have a confession to make: today was the first day I touched my Kindle in weeks. And I only did it to check if I had received the new Kindle 2.5 software update (I hadn’t) that is beginning to rollout to users and will continue to do so throughout this month. And even that was only to chuckle at the update.

The reason why I haven’t used a device I paid several hundred dollars for in weeks is probably obvious: the iPad. As even the most diehard skeptics note, the iPad has absolutely made the Kindle obsolete. Sure, there’s e-ink, but you don’t even really hear that argument anymore. In fact, I feel like praise of the device’s weight has become the Kindle-apologists only real line of defense left. Still, this impending doom isn’t stopping Amazon from trying to update the device.

Software update 2.5 contains a number of new features. The biggest one is the Twitter and Facebook integration. “Share book passages with friends on Facebook and Twitter directly from your Kindle,” the feature page notes. That’s somewhat interesting — provided the passages are short enough for Twitter. Actually, it’s more interesting that Amazon is apparently letting users use their baked-in cellular connect to send out this data.

Other updates include the ability to organize your books into collections (read: folders), popular network-wide highlights in books, more fonts, pan & zoom in PDF viewing, and password protection for you device. No, I’m not kidding.

Absent from the list of updates are a few key features that would actually help the device compete with the iPad. First, a touchscreen. Second, a color screen. Third, the ability to play other media (the “experimental” MP3 support is laughable). Fourth, a somewhat usable browser (the current “experimental” browser is even more laughable). Fifth, apps — ahh, forget it.

Amazon was wise to make an iPhone app for its Kindle books. It was even wiser to make an iPad one (which is great, by the way). The fact of the matter is that while they may try to come out with some sort of touchscreen, color Kindle, Amazon is unlikely to be able to compete in hardware with Apple. And the fact that Apple has 200,000 apps at their disposal, while Amazon has none, just makes it even more daunting.

And really, Amazon should probably be more concerned at this point with making sure the book publishers stay with them rather than jump ship to Apple’s new iBookstore. They’re working on that. Or at least trying to outsell Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

A $259 device that does one thing well (the Kindle) versus a $499 device that does a dozen or more things well (the iPad) is not a fair fight. Yes, even with this software update. Though I am interested to see what fonts they’ve added.

Nearly 5 Years Later, Gmail Set For A UK Comeback

Posted: 03 May 2010 05:15 PM PDT

Since October 19, 2005, Gmail has been known as “Google Mail” in the UK. The means that everyone who signed up since that point was forced to use the cumbersome @googlemail.com address rather than a @gmail.com one. But soon, Gmail is going on a UK comeback tour. And the better news: all those with @googlemail.com addresses can “upgrade” to a gmail.com one.

So why the change? Well, initially Google had to stop using Gmail in the UK because of a legal dispute. As they explain here, it was a trademark issue. Rather than offer no service to UK users, Google made the call to go with Google Mail while it fought for the Gmail name. “We are still working with the courts and trademark office to protect our ability to use the Gmail name, but in the meantime, we want you to have an email address you can rely on,” they wrote at the time.

In announcing that soon (new sign-ups can get their addresses later this week) Gmail will be available for Google’s use in the UK again, the company doesn’t get into specifics. So it’s not clear if they settled with the owners to obtain the name, or if they won their case after all these years. I’ve reached out to Google for clarification. Back in 2005, they noted, “We have tried to resolve this dispute through negotiations, but our efforts have failed.”

Naturally, Google is pumping this up more than just a branding win — “Since “gmail” is 50% fewer characters than “googlemail,” we estimate this name change will save approximately 60 million keystrokes a day. At about 217 microjoules per keystroke, that’s about the energy of 20 bonbons saved every day!,” they note.

And yes, if you choose to, you’re welcome to still keep your @googlemail.com address.

Update: It looks like Google was able to reach a settlement on the name.

After engaging in legal proceedings at the trademark office, we were able to reach a settlement with the party with whom we had the conflict. We are happy to have resolved this issue, and look forward to offering @gmail.com addresses to users in the UK,” a Google spokesperson tells us.

Android OS Distribution Chart Updated, Inches Slowly In Right Direction

Posted: 03 May 2010 04:49 PM PDT

Google has just updated the pie chart on its Android Developers site that shows just how many Android users are running each version of the mobile OS. The latest stats: 32.4% of users are on the most recent version, Android 2.1. That’s a rise of 5.1 percentage points since mid-April. But the bulk of users are still running earlier versions — 29.4% are on 1.6, and 37.2% are on 1.5.

This data is important to developers because it indicates how fragmented the market is, and which operating systems they should ensure their applications are compatible with. As we’ve noted before, the fact that over two thirds of Android users are still tied to an outdated operating system is a serious problem — for example, anyone who isn’t on 2.1 can’t run the official Twitter app. (Google may address this at its I/O conference later this month).

One other reason this is interesting: Google is now updating this OS pie chart more frequently. There was a four month gap between the previous updates that stretched from January 2010 (before the Nexus One was released) until mid-April. The latest updates came only a few weeks apart.

Spell It Out: Co-Founder Of reCAPTCHA Leaves Google For Facebook

Posted: 03 May 2010 03:53 PM PDT

In September of last year, Google made a smart and obvious acquisition: reCAPTCHA, the service helps secure websites while at the same time helping computers learn to read old, scanned text. Google had reportedly been working on its own CAPTCHA solution, but found reCAPTCHA’s better, and were undoubtedly happy to welcome the talent behind it. Today, just seven months later, one of those key team members is defecting to Facebook.

Ben Maurer was a co-founder of reCAPTCHA and its chief architect. As he announced on his blog today, he’ll be joining Facebook’s infrastructure team. “With all the growth Facebook has seen comes unique challenges in scaling systems. I’m looking forward to working on this,” Maurer writes.

So why leave Google for Facebook? Well certainly, Facebook is getting a lot of buzz right now as a company that can potentially rival Google in the years ahead. Also, Facebook is not yet a public company, so the move probably makes sense for monetary reasons. Most importantly though, Maurer used to be an intern at Facebook a couple of years ago, so he’s returning home, so to speak.

And the Facebook he’s re-joining is undoubtedly different than the one he left. As the service approaches 500 million users, saying they have “unique challenges in scaling systems” is putting it mildly.

Meanwhile, reCAPTCHA (at least the technology) will live on. “It’s been over 3 years since we started working on the crazy idea of getting millions of people to digitize the world’s books in their spare time. I’m looking forward to seeing reCAPTCHA continue to grow,” Maurer writes.


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