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Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Brewing TV: When Homebrewers Attack the Web

Posted: 08 May 2010 07:57 AM PDT

If you’ve ever made your own booze you probably know about Northern Brewer, one of the best online brew supply stores. Well, those folks just started Brewing TV which consists of a dude in a hat talking with another dude in a hat about brewing as well as a video of some other dudes in hats. Generally, it’s just as you’d imagine, but so much more.

Once you roll past the intro, you get to see the guys at Fulton Brewing in Minneapolis and a few more interesting bits on brewing. A nice bit of visual distraction for the weekend and an interesting move by an entrenched, old-timey industry to enter the 21st century. Could these men in hats and ironic beards (see below) be the next Gary Vee?

Read more…

Is an MBA a Plus or a Minus in the Startup World?

Posted: 08 May 2010 07:01 AM PDT

A long time ago, I had to make a really tough choice: invest in an MBA from New York University, or make do with my bachelors. I was newly married, had a child on the way, and didn't have much in savings. The degree would set me back tens of thousands of dollars and take years to complete—especially if I did it part time. And I couldn't imagine doing anything but programming computers for a living.  So why learn finance, marketing, and operations management, I wondered? Well, I decided to enroll because my understanding of the business world lacked depth, and I harbored a deep-rooted desire to get the best education possible. My wife and I moved into a small one-bedroom apartment in North Bergen, NJ, and we made do with what we had.

For a couple of years after getting my degree, I wondered whether I had made the right choice. Even though I scored a great job at CS First Boston in its IT department, I was just writing code and designing systems. Yes, I started to enjoy reading BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal; but had the financial sacrifice and time away from my family been worth it? It didn't seem to have been.

Over time, I started rising through the ranks in IT. I went from being a programmer to becoming a project leader and then a vice president. I found that I could communicate effectively with user departments and my bosses; I could deliver projects on time; I knew how to manage and motivate employees; and I had the confidence to present business proposals to managing directors and board members. I was even able to help persuade IBM to make a $20 million investment in the technology that my team had developed. We spun off a startup called Seer Technologies, and I became chief technology officer. And that’s when my education really began to pay big dividends.

In the startup world, it’s simply survival of the fittest. You have to involve yourself with almost every aspect of the business—and use all skills. I would find myself having to develop and manage budgets; help market and sell; hire; assist in setting corporate strategy; and review legal contracts. As well, I still had to develop technology and deal with all the uncertainties and failures that come with a startup.

My MBA classes seemed to fit our business needs like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Even obscure topics like corporate finance came in handy, in IPO discussions with investment bankers and later, in raising capital for my own company.

So I have no doubt that my MBA was the best investment I've ever made, and my education helped me achieve success.  Which leads me to the reason for this post: a Twitter debate with Guy Kawasaki, Managing Director at Garage Technology Ventures. Kawasaki argues that MBAs are not needed in the startup world; in fact these provide negative value. He insisted that I was "in denial" when I challenged a piece he had written in Forbes several years ago:

What is the value of an MBA these days for young college graduates who want to start their own company?
Probably about a negative $250,000. (I have an MBA, and I was once a young college graduate.) I don’t think an MBA matters very much for starting a company. A much better educational background is an engineering degree. You can always hire MBAs, but if you don’t have the ability to conceptualize and deliver a product, you’ve got nothing.

In email exchanges, Kawasaki explained that his issue with MBAs is that they are "taught that the hard part is the analysis and coming up with the insightful solution". In other words: implementation is easy and analysis is hard. "But this is the opposite of what happens in startups. Implementation is everything in a startup." Kawasaki believes that MBAs aren't a good fit for startups, and engineering graduates are.

I agree that engineering degrees are important. They provide a level of technical depth and analytical capability that is invaluable in the tech-startup world. But not everyone needs to be an engineer. You need smart people coming up with creative marketing campaigns; managing finances; and selling your products. And the CEOs and CTOs need to master all domains.

In my experience, the most successful entrepreneurs have been those with a strong technical background who have been through some sort of "finishing school". (I am not talking about college dropouts such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs—I consider them to be outliers). Engineering degrees can be very technical and can actually narrow one's horizons. To innovate, you need to understand customers and markets. To build a successful product—one that actually sells and makes an impact, you need to understand distribution and finance. So even in the lower echelons of technology, a broader educational background is a plus.

Is the MBA the best degree for engineers? Maybe not. Programs such as the one I teach at Duke may be a better fit. The Duke Masters of Engineering Management program is a one-year program that teaches students marketing, finance, intellectual property and business law, and management. It's like a mini-MBA. Engineers don't need to learn how to price an option with the Black–Scholes Model, for example. They certainly don't need to learn how to create new types of financial products. There are also many other degrees that can provide the needed balance to engineers. These don't have to be tech or management oriented; even an education in diverse fields such as psychology can be a plus: anything that broadens your horizons and teaches you how to come up with "insightful solutions". The point is that education is the best investment that one can make. Unlike stocks and bonds, education never loses value; and when you add experience, it gains even more value.

Editor's note: Guest writer Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. Follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa

ReadWriteWeb’s Mobile Summit And The Long Shadow Of Apple

Posted: 07 May 2010 10:14 PM PDT

Amid rows of baked goods and gallons of orange juice and coffee, developers and entrepreneurs gathered today at the Computer History Museum for ReadWriteWeb's mobile summit. The meeting, organized as an "unconference," created an adhoc setting for a candid discussion of mobile trends, including augmented reality, mobile video, location based services, the internet of things (sensor, RFID data), and native versus browser based apps. CEO of ReadWriteWeb, Richard MacManus, believes that the number one mobile trend is the internet of things, and the growing importance of sensors and how that data can be leveraged: “It’s when real world objects get connected to the internet via sensors or RFID tags… I just think there is going to be so much data going onto the web and what people do with that data and what developers create based on that data is going to be a huge trend.”

It was a long day filled with dozens of group sessions and countless ideas, but there was a recurring theme that permeated many of my discussions: the long shadow of Apple (and often, other internet giants, like Google and Microsoft) and how it’s rivalries will impact the developer community. For example, the CEO of Skyhook Wireless, Ted Morgan told us, “What you’re seeing is an amazing platform war between Apple and Google and those two companies are fighting to carve up the Internet…those two guys are going to dominate most of what happens and then everyone else tries to figure out either how to supply them, get bought by them or be the third player.” To get a better sampling, see video above (pardon the quality, it was all shot on my flip cam).

YC-Funded Nowmov: Sit Back, Relax, And Watch An Endless Stream Of YouTube Videos

Posted: 07 May 2010 04:15 PM PDT

Online video streaming is great. But when it comes to zoning out in front of a flashing screen to kill a few hours, TV has it beat by a long shot — building an interesting playlist of YouTube videos simply requires too much effort. Nowmov, a Y Combinator startup that’s launching today, is looking to change that: visit the site, and you’ll find an endless stream of (hopefully) compelling YouTube clips — no brainpower required. The site has already built up an impressive roster of angel investors, including Jeff Clavier, Paul Buchheit, Shervin Pishevar, Ron Conway, Charles River Ventures, and Ashton Kutcher.

Nowmov’s site is very, very simple, at least from the user’s perspective. As soon as you browse to Nowmov.com, the site will begin playing a YouTube video. Move your mouse and you’ll see a basic set of controls that let you pause the video, jump to the next clip, and share the video you’re watching with friends (the site supports keyboard commands, so you can just tap your arrow keys to jump between clips). But for the most part, you shouldn’t really need these controls — the whole point of Nowmov is that you can lay back as if you were watching TV, without having to figure out what you want to watch next. Nowmov uses some trickery on the frontend to reduce loading times, so even when you do decide to skip to the next clip there isn’t a jarring pause.

Nowmov decides which videos to play by analyzing the Twitter public timeline and looking for commonly shared YouTube links (in the future, the site plans to use other sources to gauge popularity, and will also draw video from sites other than YouTube). For now the site isn’t doing any personalized recommendations — it constantly updates its playlist and uses cookies to ensure that you don’t see the same clip twice, but there isn’t an algorithm that learns which videos you like. That will change in a future version, when the site plans to produce personalized channels of content (think of it as a Pandora for videos).

The team has quite a bit of experience with video.  Two of the company’s co-founders  — Thomas Pun and James Black — were longtime Apple engineers working on video encoding and processing; the third, David Kelso, was a technical founder at two startups before this.

There’s definitely a need for this, but Nowmov isn’t the first startup that’s trying to solve it. ffwd has also tried to turn Internet video into a channel-surfing experience, and Magma is focused on video curation, though it isn’t really a  ’lean-back’ site. And YouTube is always trying to bolster its own recommendation algorithms to keep people watching.

Interesting sidenote: Ashton Kutcher is actually directly responsible for this site existing; the Nowmov guys were considering working on another idea until Kutcher told Y Combinator founders Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston that he wanted something like this. Kutcher decided to invest in and advise the startup, and Nowmov became a reality.

Report: Facebook Location Coming In A Few Weeks. But Is It Foursquare Or Twitter?

Posted: 07 May 2010 04:04 PM PDT

Yesterday, AdAge ran a story that Facebook was preparing to roll out its first true location-based service (beyond its for-fun Presence thing). The story said that the social network was partnering with McDonald’s for a special Facebook app that would allow people to check-in to restaurants and get deals. But apps that use location to emulate Foursquare on Facebook have limited appeal. Much more interesting is what Facebook itself is planning to do with location. AdAge offered a little bit about that in their story, but didn’t go too deep.

Today, they have a new story that, to be honest, seems more like a recap of yesterday’s, but with less of a focus on McDonald’s. According to their sources, Facebook will start allowing users to update their status messages with their location as soon as late May — yes, a few weeks away.

What’s still not clear from all of this is if this location ability will be more like Foursquare or more like Twitter? What I mean by that is, Foursquare is predicated around the idea of checking-in to a specific venue (as are Gowalla, Loopt, and others). Twitter, meanwhile, allows you to tag a tweet with your location — not really a check-in. To me, this Facebook location system sounds more like the latter.

That said, when tied in with the aforementioned McDonald’s app (and apps that other brands will undoubtedly build), the Facebook location plan could turn into more of a Foursquare-like one. We’ve heard that Facebook has been toying with a lot of potential ideas, including federating check-ins from Foursquare and Gowalla. There’s also been talk that they’ve been thinking about acquiring companies like Loopt and Foursquare (though they supposedly cooled on both of those ideas).

And there’s something else to consider. While Facebook may indeed be allowing location-tagging in status updates, it could open these up to other apps besides just the ones brands build. For example, you could use Foursquare to update your status and put your location in this new location field — just as it works on Twitter right now. Again, this would be the federated model.

Given what Facebook has been doing in recent weeks with its Open Graph initiative, on the face of it, this seems like the most obvious solution. Facebook doesn’t want to destroy startups, they want all startups to use them as a central point to distribute their services. They want to seize control of information on the Internet (not necessarily in an evil way).

Plus, with all the recent privacy concerns about Facebook, launching an inclusive location service seems like possibly the worst idea in the world. AdAge wonders if they would make it opt-in or opt-out — if it were opt-out I think the blogosphere would explode.

When I reached out to Foursquare for comment about Facebook’s supposed May location launch, co-founder Dennis Crowley gave me the vague, “First i’ve heard of it… looking fwd to seeing what they launch.

Facebook, meanwhile, gave me even less; “We don't have anything to share around timing.  We'll keep you posted when we do,” a spokesperson said in an emailed message.

I don’t doubt AdAge is on the right trail with the status update location feature, I just think they’re sources may be limited in their scope (as you might expect focusing on the marketing side of things) of what Facebook is planning. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook’s location play is more of a challenge to Twitter — which is supposedly thinking about adding place information as well.

If I were Foursquare (or Gowalla, etc) I might be more afraid of what it sounds like Google is doing with Latitude. They’re supposedly going to add the check-in feature — and Latitude is built-in to the Maps application on all Android phones. They’re now growing by 30% each month, and already have 3 million active users (3 times what Foursquare has).

It’s easy to be wary of the enemy you can see. But it’s the one you can’t that could pose the real threat.

Gadgets Of Days Gone By: The Round-Up

Posted: 07 May 2010 03:30 PM PDT

It’s been an emotional journey, friends, but I think we’ve found that our attachment to these gadgets of yore is not merely a sentimental one. Indeed, many commenters have chimed in to let us know that some of these devices are still in use in their households. Admirable! We’ll be adding to the series as time goes on and more of our tech lapses into “nostalgia” status, but here’s a little summary of our memories so far.

Continue reading…

Twitter To Get So Buck On Its Own Wine Tonight

Posted: 07 May 2010 01:54 PM PDT

We will sell no wine before its time. Well, it’s time.

Twitter headquarters has just been delivered two huge barrels of Fledgling Wine — the wine label it created in partnership with San Francisco-based winery Crushpad. I have a feeling the “tea time” that Twitter does every Friday might be a little crazier this week. It may be time to get buck.

In all seriousness though, Fledgling Wine is a fun endeavor Twitter undertook for a good cause. $5 from each $20 bottle goes to Room to Read, a non-profit to educate children around the world. The wine isn’t scheduled to be bottled until August of this year, so I’m going to assume this is an early batch that Crushpad sent to Twitter for them to try out. Again, buck.

Twitter employee Troy Holden captured the barrels on camera and naturally tweeted the picture out. This is the slightly classier version of the Facebook keg.

Twitter: I’ll be over around 5ish. Everyone else: you can still buy the wine (bottles or cases) here.

[photo: twitpic/troy]

The Founder Institute Launches In Boston, Now Incubating Startups In 10 Cities

Posted: 07 May 2010 01:50 PM PDT

On the heels of announcing the graduation of 25 companies from Adeo Ressi’s Founder Institute East Coast outposts, the startup incubator is launching in another East Coast hub: Boston. Announced in March 2009, the Founder Institute offers entrepreneurs and very early stage startups an environment designed to help foster their growth and education. The program, which is now active in ten cities worldwide, holds two four-month long sessions annually in each location, which include mentorship sessions from experienced tech entrepreneurs. The program also has a unique structure that allocates some equity to each of the founders involved, so that they have an incentive to work together.

Mentors for the Boston outpost include Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote; Craig Kanarick, Cofounder of Razorfish; and Jordan Greenhall, Founder of DivX. The Founder Institute will join fellow startup incubator, TechStars, which opened a outpost in Boston last year. Y Combinator used to have a presence in the city but shifted to being in Silicon Valley year round last January.

Founder Institute is also offering any TechCrunch reader that applies by the early admissions deadline on May 23rd in Boston a chance to to win one WiFi 32 GB iPad. Click here to apply, and write “TechCrunch” in the field asking, “How did you hear about the Institute?”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Being Played Out Live On Twitter And Foursquare. Awesome.

Posted: 07 May 2010 01:26 PM PDT

I can almost hear Ben Stein saying it right now. “Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?

It’s been almost 25 years since Ferris Bueller took his day off from school. And yet, the legend lives on today thanks to Twitter and Foursquare.

An account, @ferris_bueller_, started tweeting yesterday afternoon, noting, “Ugh… school’s really getting me down. less than an hour to go.” Bueller apparently went home and was quiet on Twitter until about 7 hours ago when he tweeted, “Really don’t feel like going to school today… Think I have a plan” If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens from here. If not, watch it now and starting following the account, the day is still ongoing — they’re at the baseball game right now.

This is a great idea all around. And whoever is behind it not only set up an account for Ferris, but for other key cast members as well, like Sloane Peterson (Ferris’ girlfriend), Jeanie Bueller (Ferris’ sister), yes, even Mr. Rooney — though Cameron is notably absent. Still, the length to which this role playing goes is impressive.

And it’s not just Twitter.

The Ferris account is also checking in at various places using Foursquare too. Here’s Ferris checking into to Wrigley Field to watch the aforementioned baseball game. Foursquare’s new rules that allow for fake check-ins but not to reward them points is obviously working here.

This is awesome. So awesome. But someone set up an account for Cameron please.

Update: Success! Here’s Cameron (no tweets yet) and Abe Froman too!

Update 2: Apparently there’s a badge you can earn on Foursquare by visiting some locations from the movie thanks to Explore Chicago. The fake Bueller account has not gotten the badge yet.

Update 3: And sadly, hours later it’s over — appropriately with this tweet: “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home…. Go.

Google Apps For Education Now Has 8 Million Users

Posted: 07 May 2010 01:14 PM PDT

In the wake UC Davis' announcement that the school was ending an Apps pilot for faculty because of privacy concerns, Google is celebrating a milestone. As of today, 8 million students, faculty and staff at educational institutions around the world are using Google Apps. Google says that the U.S. has about 16 million college students total, so the productivity suite is steadily gaining its piece of the pie. In total, Google has around 25 million Apps users, so education makes up a generous slice of the suite's userbase. Google has made a strong push to recruit educational institutions to use Google Apps, launching a new centralized site targeted towards recruiting educational institutions. It makes sense; not only is it a huge market for the productivity suite, but schools and colleges are where many people get trained, start relying on, and form brand allegiances to productivity apps.

We Demand Steam Rentals, Now!

Posted: 07 May 2010 01:05 PM PDT

Hey PC game publishers, want to know how you can eliminate piracy? Give us the option of renting the games! We were discussing in the chat room a little while ago how fantastically awesome it would be to be able to rent games from Steam. Allow me to explain.

Zynga Gunning Up (And Lawyering Up) For War Against Facebook With Zynga Live

Posted: 07 May 2010 11:59 AM PDT

The relationship between Facebook and its biggest gaming partner, Zynga, are at an all time low, we’ve heard from multiple sources. The level of stress, says one source, is “intense.”

Some of the frustration goes back to last year’s limitations on messaging users. But a much bigger concern now is Facebook’s force feeding of Facebook Credits as the only payment platform that Zynga and others can use. Facebook takes a massive feee – 30% – for Credits, and the big publishers like Zynga see it as little more than a protection racket.

To make matters worse, say sources, Facebook is trying to get Zynga to agree to a long term deal where Zynga remains primarily on the Facebook platform. During negotiations Facebook has taken some steps to punish Zynga, such as shutting off notifications for Farmville and other games, and Facebook has threatened, say multiple sources, to simply shut some of Zynga’s games down permanently.

Zynga has already taken steps to distance itself from Facebook in the event of a breakup, such as launching Farmville at Farmville.com. And they have been extra aggressive about trying to get users’ email addresses so that they can communicate with them off of Facebook.

On Thursday evening at 5 pm, we’ve confirmed, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus held an all hands meeting to tell employees that they may need to prepare for a break with Facebook. We received this email from one anonymous source, and we’ve confirmed it is largely accurate:

Pincus announced at a 5pm meeting yesterday at Zynga that Zynga was going to launch a social game network called Zynga Live. The Zynga Live initiative was a social gaming network. Facebook and Zynga has been negotiating on Facebook Credits and the talks turned for the worst. In the negotiation process, Facebook shut off Zynga\’s feeds and threatened to shut down games. Zynga in the process threatened to completely leave Facebook and prepared to do so in the previous upcoming weeks.

If Zynga does pull away from Facebook, I’d imagine they’d still let users log in via Facebook’s open graph as well as third party solutions from Twitter and perhaps MySpace. But Zynga would remain in control of their own platform and they certainly wouldn’t be forced to pay a 30% tax to Facebook for Facebook Credits.

Will this happen soon? “It could be tomorrow, it could be in six months,” says one source.

Zynga declined to comment on this story. We’ve reached out to Facebook.

Update: Facebook’s statement: “We have conversations with our large developers all the time and we don’t typically comment on specific discussions. But generally, our priority is to ensure a quality experience for Facebook users while fostering an innovative and dynamic environment that offers meaningful opportunities for all developers on Facebook Platform.”

Augmented Reality Dinosaurs Without QR Codes Or Other Weirdness? Yes, Please!

Posted: 07 May 2010 11:28 AM PDT

While I was recently attending the iCitizen 2010 Symposium, Noora Guldemond, Head of Marketing at Metaio—a company focused on developing Augmented Reality experiences—showed me a few recent AR examples her company developed. This Jurasic Park example curiously doesn't have the usual black and white "target" that I normally recall seeing in many AR demos. In fact, Noora indicated that is called Natural Feature Tracking and is one of their differentiators. Oh. Also... DINOSAURS ON YOUR PHONE!

Online Marketing Software Company WordStream Raises $6 Million

Posted: 07 May 2010 10:23 AM PDT

Search engine marketing software startup WordStream has raised $6 million in Series B financing, a little birdie informs us, with an announcement supposedly forthcoming early next week.

Investors are said to include Egan-Managed Capital and Sigma Partners, who have previously backed the company with $4 million back in January 2009.

We hear Egan-Managed Capital’s Frank J. Andrasco will be joining the company’s board.

We’ve contacted the company for confirmation.

WordStream provides software and services that helps businesses with their search marketing efforts. Its keyword management solutions help companies create and manage paid and organic search campaigns involving large numbers of keywords.

The company was founded by Larry Kim, previously at Adobe and Altova, back in 2007. According to his bio on the website, he bootstrapped WordStream by providing search marketing consulting services while managing a team of engineers and marketers to productize various search engine marketing tasks.

In September 2008, he resigned as President & CEO to focus on marketing and product management, appointing Rob Adler as the new chief executive. Adler previously served as co-founder and president of CCBN, an online financial services company Thompson Financial acquired in 2004.

OneRiot Leaves Beta With A New Engine To Find Trending Topics Before They’re Trending

Posted: 07 May 2010 10:17 AM PDT

It was almost exactly a year ago when OneRiot launched its realtime search engine. At the time, the playing field was much different. “Realtime” was just emerging as a hot buzz word, and Twitter had about half of the features that it has now. Facebook had just started going realtime, and I’d argue that FriendFeed was still the actual king of realtime (obviously, this was before Facebook bought them). A lot has changed in a year.

Today, OneRiot is rolling out a major revamp of both its site and some of its underlying architecture. The site itself looks much nicer and is better organized (sort of like a realtime Techmeme, in a way), but OneRiot’s site is just a fraction of what they do. That’s why the underlying architecture elements are much more interesting. In particular, OneRiot is today launching a new Trending Topics Engine, which it says is the fastest and most complete way to find the best things being shared on the web.

That’s a pretty bold statement given the competition. But OneRiot believes it has them all beat because of their new algorithms which hunt down items before they’re actually popular. Obviously, how this works is all technical, but basically they take a look at various streams of data from sources including Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and Digg (Twitter is just a fraction of their overall data, they say). They then look for certain key phrases including things like "interesting" and "emerging" and flag the links attached to those elements to be “Trending Topic Candidates.”

From here they assign weights to each of these items, and filter out the porn and the spam. Everything is then clustered together to make the data more readable. A lot of this is done through semantic calculation.

There are a few steps from here, but you get the picture. OneRiot’s blog has a full rundown if you want to know more.

While the obvious use for this is to allow people to find hot items on the web quicker, there are actually a few other reasons this speed is important.

One is helping content-producing websites be able to know what stories to write about before they’re actually popular (but well on their way). OneRiot will be licensing a feed of this hot data to certain sites for this purpose (they won’t say which sites). So those sites that comb hot Google search results and write about those in the hope of ranking highly in hot searches may have found a new best friend.

Another use for this new OneRiot Trending Topic Engine is to better target trending ads. One of OneRiot’s main products is RiotWise, its realtime ad placement service. If OneRiot is better at knowing what will be popular before it gets popular, obviously, this can only help these ads. And it’s a way to continue differentiating its product from the ad product Twitter recently unveiled.

While Twitter ads allow brands to serve up certain tweets as ads at their choosing, OneRiot’s method automatically serves up these ads from brands to make sure they catch on to hot topics as quickly as possible. Again, this new Trending Topic data can only help that.

The final way this new engine can help is with search results. While there are no shortage of services offering realtime search now (including Google, Bing, etc), the real key is knowing when a specific topic is popular enough to warrant it showing up. With this new data, OneRiot says its partners will be able to beat their competition to showing relevant realtime results.

OneRiot actually built a display at their headquarters which shows their trending topics versus how quickly these topics show up on Bing, Google, Yahoo, and Twitter. I have to believe they wouldn’t have told me about such a display if they didn’t constantly beat their competition on it.

From The Trenches: The Problem With Live Web Video And How To Set It Free

Posted: 07 May 2010 09:37 AM PDT

Editor’s note: Michael Seibel is the CEO of Justin.tv, the largest live video site on the Web. In this guest post, he addresses the challenges of live video on the Web and how to set it free (hint: it’s all about mobile).

I spend a lot of time talking about the challenges that live video will face in growing from an intriguing group of startups to an obvious part of the everyday web experience. Nearly everyone assumes that business challenges are what we need to overcome—bandwidth costs, copyright protection, premium content rights or monetization. They are surprised when my answers are product-focused, not business-focused.

Problem 1: Availability. The first evolution of consumer live video creation came in one flavor: broadcast from a computer with a webcam. Unfortunately, the interesting things that happen when you sit in front of your computer screen are few and far between. Being tethered to a computer is the single biggest problem in live video today. People need to be able to create live video from anywhere.

When something interesting is happening in your life, you should be able to grab your cell phone and show anyone else in the world what you’re seeing. Some companies have built apps that do just that, and when iPhone OS 4.0 launches this summer with video API support you’ll see even more. We’ve already seen mobile traction with our own iPhone viewing app. In the first month after it launched it has been downloaded over 1.4 million times, users cumulatively spent over 145 years interacting with the app and it accounted for 20% of our user signups. However, a mobile app isn’t enough because of the second problem . . .

Problem 2: Getting viewers. You need to enable your users to get viewers for their content, which seems like an even simpler problem than the first. It is actually a unique challenge for live video that is far from solved. When you make a 5 minute recorded video clip and upload it to YouTube, you can get viewers over the next day, month, even year. If you get 1,000 views in a week—about six views per hour—you are thrilled. When you broadcast live video for 5 minutes, you have—you guessed it—5 minutes to get as many views as you can. Most live video sites implicitly promise that you will get viewers during those 5 minutes. The truth is that’s really hard, and if your live broadcast doesn’t get any viewers in 5 minutes you’ve just had a terrible experience—probably your last.

There are two approaches to this problem. The first is to promote a new live video to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. That likely means users on the live video site and people in the live video creator’s social graph, including their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The second approach is to give viewers a great experience when the video they want to watch is no longer live. That means making discovery seamless for viewers, making it obvious what’s live and what’s recorded, and making it clear to creators that viewers can enjoy their video at any time. On Justin.tv, 50% of our video page views don’t have any video because the channel isn’t currently live. It’s nobody’s fault, but everybody loses: the creator misses the opportunity to gain a new viewer, the viewer misses an opportunity to watch something they like, and we miss an opportunity to delight a user. These things should be transparent to the user. They should be able to see what they intended to find, regardless of what’s live or not, with little to no navigation. Think of your televisions’s DVR, but smarter and personalized. They say good artists copy and great artists steal—the live video artists that win will use the best of what we’ve learned from recorded video and build the ideal live and post-live experience.

The live Web video industry is going to have a big 2010 and it’s going to play out on these two stages. Mobile and live go hand-in-hand and there has already been a lot of action in the mobile live video space, but the devices and mobile platforms are at a tipping point. iPhone OS 4.0, the arms race in Android phones and the quickly-maturing Android platform are going to make the mobile live video apps at the end of 2010 look nothing like the ones we saw at the start of 2010.


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