web 2.0

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Apple Files For “iTunes Live” Trademark

Posted: 09 May 2010 07:18 AM PDT

Apple has been filing applications for quite a number of trademarks lately, most of which get rigorously tracked and dissected by sites like PatentlyApple.com, among others. But somehow, the most recent applications filed by Apple trademark correspondent Lisa G. Widup have gone unnoticed. Until today.

Looks like Apple earlier this week filed for trademarks for iTunes Live, which might mean nothing but could also be an indication that the Cupertino company is about to ramp up its featured live music sessions offering on iTunes, mainly live performances pre-recorded at special concerts at Apple Stores around the world (so far there have been in-store gigs in London, Montreal, New York, Tokyo, Sydney and Munich).

The mark consists of the stylized words “iTunes Live” (see image up top) and was filed under two separate classes:

- Online retail store services in the field of entertainment featuring prerecorded musical, audio and audiovisual content

- Entertainment services, namely, arranging and conducting of concerts and live musical performances

Might not mean anything, but that shouldn’t stop music fans from hoping for more in-store concerts on iTunes in the near future.

Making Lemonade out of Bureaucratic Brazilian Lemons

Posted: 08 May 2010 07:19 PM PDT

I wrote before that Wall Street has a far bigger fascination with Brazil than Silicon Valley has. But since I got back from Brazil two weeks ago, I’ve had several conversations with Silicon Valley-based investors mulling scouting trips down South. Indeed, I've heard that at least one company I wrote about from my last trip to Brazil is deep in some funding negotiations as we speak.

If the left side of the coast of the US is getting serious about doing business in Brazil, there's someone they need to meet: Edivan Costa. He's taken one of the biggest threats to Brazilian entrepreneurship, and fittingly, turned it into a startup itself.

Sure Brazil is a growing market, but it's not easy to build a company there. The government takes one-third of revenues in taxes, and Brazil has European-like labor laws that prevent companies from flexibly hiring and firing—a big negative for a startup ecosystem. But Costa's company SEDI is helping with one big hurdle new companies face: Bureaucracy. On average, it takes 150 days to open a business in Brazil, requiring dozens of licenses and in many cases those licenses have to be continually renewed. SEDI specializes in making that painless, and Costa has spent 18 years learning how to get the process down to 30-to-40 days—without paying any bribes. He has 90 employees in twelve branches in Brazil.

It's one thing to start a business in an area other people are ignoring. It's quite another to start a business out of something everyone else sees as the exact thing that's thwarting entrepreneurship. Costa always had that entrepreneurial edge—growing up in Rio's favelas he spent his youth collecting scrap paper and selling it to recyclers to pay for his school books. He thought he'd found his way out through every Brazilian kid's dream—professional soccer. By the time he was 18, he was playing in the equivalent of the minor leagues in Sao Paulo, when his father fell ill and he had to move back home. He wound up splitting some office space with an attorney, doing his clerk work and eventually started offering that service to other attorneys and companies.

Costa's story is remarkable for a guy that grew up with few advantages. He was largely uneducated, had no investors and as an Afro-Brazilian he takes issue with the idea that Brazil is free from racism. Soon after starting SEDI, he was driving a nice car with a blond girlfriend on his arm, and a guy in a convenience store asked him if he was a Samba player, a soccer player or a criminal. He says he still gets confused for a security guard in malls, because he wears a suit everywhere he goes. (That’s him in the dramatic picture above.)

But the only color that Costa’s clients care about is the red tape he helps them cut through, by keeping up to date with the myriad of changing regulations. Customers include WalMart, TelMex and Carrefour, along with a lot of other big national brands. He specializes in retail businesses with hundreds of stores spread throughout the country. SEDI did over $3 million US dollars in revenue last year, down from 2008 thanks to the financial crisis. But already in 2010, business is up 25%, Costa says. He serves about 8% of the top 500 companies in Brazil, so there's clearly a lot of room to grow– or if he’s not careful for a competitor to eat his lunch.

SEDI is a services business that likely won’t be the next big Brazilian IPO. But it could easily enable that company to open its doors. People always say the key to Silicon Valley's startup infrastructure is the network of professionals skilled at getting a company up and running in a matter of days. Brazil still has a long way to go to get there, clearly, but SEDI helps. This seems like a no-brainer service every emerging market needs.

The Unified Database Of Places Is Coming Soon. Or Maybe Never.

Posted: 08 May 2010 06:23 PM PDT

Last month, Erick wrote a post calling for the creation of an open database of places. As location-based services continue to gain popularity, each of them is building up these massive databases of places themselves, and this is going to become an issue as services like Twitter and potentially Facebook attempt to federate all this data. And Erick is hardly alone in thinking about this — nearly all the companies involved in the space talk about such an idea enthusiastically, and regularly. Yet no one seems to be doing much about it just yet.

Back in March, I moderated a panel featuring key members of Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Twitter, and Plancast. When I raised the idea of a unified place database, all seemed to be in agreement that it would be a good thing. Even when I brought up that their own place databases were a way to keep their users around, everyone seemed to think there were better ways to do that, and that the benefits of a unified place database would outweigh any costs. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley reiterated that to Erick last month, saying that a “‘Facebook Connect of places’ would be amazing.

This past week, at Web 2.0 Expo, the discussion started up once again, with a different group of people in the space. This time, key members of Twitter, Google, and Brightkite talked about the idea. Of those, Martin May of Brightkite seemed to be the most adamant about it. When moderator Brady Forrest asked if Brightkite could build such a database, May responded with, “We could.” He went on to say that they’ve spoken with several other companies about such an open place project.

May also hinted that Brightkite may open up the data they’ve gotten from Check.in, their service that allows you to check-in to Foursquare, Gowalla, and Brightkite via one application. Because that app has to search each of those services’ databases to find the correct place to check-in at across all three, Brightkite likely has some interesting data tying at least some of these places on the different databases together.

Steve Lee of Google (working on Latitude) jumped in to say that he likes what Brightkite is doing with Check.in, but thinks that it’s still too cumbersome. “There should be a standard, but it’s not without complications,” Lee said. These include technical challenges and licensing issues, Lee noted, saying that it would be difficult for Google to do this because so much of their [place] data is licensed from third parties.

Google is interested in solving the problem, but it’s not easy,” Lee concluded with.

Twitter’s Elad Gil (who came over when Twitter bought GeoAPI) was more much more optimistic about a solution. In fact, he’s positive it will come, and thinks that all of the various location applications need to be prepared when it does with ways to truly differentiate themselves. “All these applications have ot think about how to differentiate. It’s hard to build out the database of locations, but fundamentally the technical problems will go away,” Gil said.

That rings true. But the question remains: who will build it? Twitter seems to be passing the buck to Google, who seems to be passing it right back to Twitter. Brightkite clearly wants to, but will any of the other players really trust a rival with their data? If not, will they start to restrict their APIs to make it harder to access the place information in bulk?

The obvious solution is to have a completely open database, as Erick laid out. But again, that is easier said than done. We’ve seen that time and time again with a number of different initiatives. “Open” sounds great until someone has to actually do it, be in charge of it, and get users to use it.

That leaves the 800-pound gorilla: Facebook.

As they get ready to unleash their location-based component, one that will supposedly integrate with venues, I wouldn’t doubt that they’ll be not-so-slowly gathering up and organizing a massive database of places. They’ll open this up, via the Open Graph API, but everyone will complain that it’s not really open. Then Twitter will step up with their solution (they’ve been accumulating the necessary data for some time now). Then Google will too. It’s amazing what a little competition can do.

Of course, if that happens, we’ll be left with the same problem, just at a higher level. And the dance will continue.

[photo: flickr/pedrosimones7]

Zynga’s Struggle For Independence: Bailing On Tagged, ZLive To Launch Soon?

Posted: 08 May 2010 03:25 PM PDT

Yesterday we reported on Zynga’s plans to launch a social gaming network called Zynga Live as part of its efforts to distance itself from Facebook.

Zynga is also pulling away from other social networks, it seems, including Tagged. They announced the imminent shutdown of YoVille on Tagged earlier this week, and announced plans to let users play the game directly on YoVille.com shortly. Zynga has also launched Farmville.com independently, last year, but its other games remain siloed in other social networks.

In the initial notice, Zynga told players “As a thank you for playing, Zynga would like to offer Yoville players a generous Welcome Package to get started on Zlive.” That was the first time, as far as we can tell, that Zynga publicly stated that there would be a Zlive site. Zlive.com isn’t currently resolving.

A blog post by Zynga announcing the change was later updated to remove the references to Zlive.

Zynga PR isn’t commenting.

An Early Look At Twitter Annotations Or, “Twannotations”

Posted: 08 May 2010 02:40 PM PDT

During a presentation in London today, Twitter engineer Raffi Krikorian offered up an early glimpse of what Twitter’s highly anticipated new annotations feature (or, as he refers to them at one point “Twannotations”) will look like. “Threw together a quick, and extremely preliminary view on what @twitterapi has been working on — and what I feel has the ability of being a game-changer on the platform — Annotations,” he writes on his Posterous blog. Krikorian also posted his deck, which I’ll embed below.

Of note, Krikorian says that every tweet annotation will have a “type,” and each type can have several attributes. This information will apparently have same “visibility policy” as tweets themselves, which seems to mean “public” unless you set your account to private.

More significantly, Krikorian notes that you’ll be able to put anything you want in annotations. Twitter will have some suggestions to help developers get started, but they won’t be restricting anything, apparently. Twitter will also apparently be publishing annotation stats to the public. There will be some sort of “Explorer” product that will give stats about most used, most adopted, and trending annotations.

Check out the full deck for a few other tidbits of information, including about the APIs.

Why Media Companies Should Become More Like Merchants

Posted: 08 May 2010 01:32 PM PDT

Editor’s note: Should media sites become group buying sites as well? Guest author Dave Chase thinks so.  He was a marketing executive and general manager at Microsoft in the 90's including starting Microsoft's healthcare business. After leaving Microsoft, he has been involved in Internet startups including a social commerce company in the health sector that is in stealth.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Internet it is that if a middleman doesn’t add enough value, their days are numbered.

Media companies may not have thought of themselves as middlemen—but that’s what they have been for marketers. When I used to buy advertising a decade or so ago, I felt it was my job to do what I could to get the media provider out of the middle between my company and the customers we desired. For example, we did a lot to drive a direct relationship including encouraging them to register with us so we could communicate with them directly later—first through e-mail, now it would be via a Facebook page or Twitter.

Back then, there was more than enough ad revenue for the media company to sustain their business—so much profit, in fact, that some companies got complacent. Just as railroad companies should have realized they were in the transportation business rather than the railroad business (and thus they missed the opportunity to get into the auto or air transportation business), media companies should recognize their business purpose is to connect their audience with products and services the audience desires. Without that business purpose, they can’t fulfill their editorial mission.

The traditional mission of a media business is to collect a loyal audience with high quality information, and let the advertisers worry about how to sell stuff. The media companies sold the audience.

Retailers historically aggregated consumers for product makers—for example, giving Proctor & Gamble a way to sell to people in Poughkeepsie . But most didn’t add a lot of value beyond offering consumers product selection and price. Retailers such as Best Buy have realized that and have started to add other value to the experience (e.g., the Geek Squad). Meanwhile, one of the retailers’ biggest costs has been advertising—circulars, broadcast advertising or something else.

Today, media companies on the Web aggregate consumers around specific interests and product niches (technology, cooking, travel, music, movies, sports, finance) much more efficiently. I believe today’s media companies will need to get directly involved in commerce to ensure a sustainable business model. The Times (UK) and Burda (Germany) are both reported to be realizing a substantial portion of their profits from direct commerce enabled from their websites selling 3rd party travel packages and other goods and services. Local media companies such as the Washington Post are either partnering with group-buying sites such as LivingSocial or rolling out their private label competition to Groupon and LivingSocial.

Some traditionalists may shudder at this blurring of church and state lines. However, the trusted relationships media companies and retailers historically aspired to have is more important than ever in this age of transparency. A company that shills for inferior products will be outed immediately. Conversely, a company that provides entertaining, inspiring and informative content and allows consumers to more easily find and complete a transaction for the best products and services is providing a great service to their readers.

The byproduct for traditional media businesses unwilling to make these moves is self-evident. It’s not hard to see this in action as you pick up your ever-shrinking newspaper that isn’t covering the topics it once did. In other words, their editorial mission is suffering due to sticking to their traditional ways.

Once again, traditional media run the risk of being slow to adapt. In some regards, smart media companies need to think more like retailers. That is, get directly involved in the transaction that they are only indirectly touching today. Rather than let the next eBay or craigslist form independently, they should get actively engaged in some of these new models:

  1. Private Sale business: Companies such as Gilt Groupe and Ruelala are experiencing phenomenal growth. These insider-ish member based businesses borrow from outlet-mall sample sales to create great value for the consumer. In a nutshell, they have a member list to which they send “flash sales.” Those sales are typically 72 hour in length, and the consumer gets access to curated merchandise at 50-75% off of retail. Yet another example is private sale pioneer, France-based Ventee-privee, which is approaching $1B in annual sales and like the others is highly profitable.
  2. Group Buys: Groupon and LivingSocial are seeing tremendous growth tapping people’s social networks to present consumers with great deals that still make sense for merchants. Group-buying sites have also gained investor interest because of their compelling economics as you can see for Groupon and LivingSocial.

While these trends can span both local and national media properties, I believe that the private sale business is a great fit for a national publication. National publications tend to be focused on a particular topic area whether they are gadget blogs, design site, or parenting magazine. Here are a few examples:

  • Wouldn’t Zulily (a private sale site geared toward young children's clothing) bolted on to Parents Magazine grow far more quickly and still be a good fit with Parents Magazine’s audience mission?
  • Vogue has partnered with Gilt Groupe to "shop the issue" at http://vogue.gilt.com/.
  • Daily Candy has launched their own Sample Sale.

Meanwhile, local media is a natural fit for group buys—the group-buying phenomenon is largely local. Already we have seen Groupon work with Metromix and LivingSocial partnering with the Washington Post. Group-buying programs can grow much faster by piggybacking the daily or regular habit most consumers already have with various local news properties.

National media will have to be more careful not to cross journalistic lines. It will be relatively easier for local media as most of the group-buying categories don't directly relate to their editorial focus with the exception of special sections such as travel. The value of the local media isn't terribly different than the traditional model – i.e., aggregating a large, local audience. However, they are taking the additional step of closing the transaction.

Those of us who have sold media understand how successful private sale and group-buying programs can avoid the common scenario of trying to explain to an advertiser that the media property achieved the agreed upon objective (i.e., exposing consumers to the merchant’s offerings) but it may have been the merchant who didn’t do their end of the bargain very effectively. These social commerce programs can avoid a common problem with ads – the lack of measurability, and the inevitable disagreements between the merchant and the publisher over the effectiveness of the ads.

Some believe this model of commerce will die out as the economy recovers. I disagree. Product purveyors have always had extra inventory they need to unload. Further, the private sale approach allows them to do it in a way that they don't perceive damages their brand even if they have premium positioning.

Likewise, in the local arena where popular group-buying categories such as restaurants and service providers (spas, dentists, etc.) are having great success, those organizations previously employed the "spray and pray" method of advertising with little idea whether it was working or not. With group-buying, they not only get a directly measurable transaction closed, they get what amounts to free advertising even for people who don't purchase, since the group-buying sites amount to a quasi city guide. Groupon states in their marketing that 9 out of 10 businesses who have used them state that Groupon customers are among their "new regulars". That puts this model in the no-brainer category for many local media.

Photo credit: Flickr/ Tilo Driessen

Welcome To The Cloud, Microsoft

Posted: 08 May 2010 11:38 AM PDT

This guest post was written by Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of Box.net. Box.net was founded in 2005 with the goal of helping people and businesses easily access and share information from anywhere. He has a few suggestions for how Microsoft can better embrace the cloud. In the coming days, weeks, and months, Microsoft will articulate and evangelize its cloud strategy. It will unveil its Office 2010 product line, and we'll see if Steve Ballmer can stand behind his claim that Microsoft is truly "betting our company" on cloud computing. Honestly, I hope he can. Yes, my small company, Box.net, competes with Microsoft's SharePoint product, but I believe that a more innovative, open, and user-centric Microsoft benefits the technology industry at large, not to mention its massive customer base. By rethinking its entrenched but rather stagnant product line and embracing the cloud, Microsoft has an immense opportunity for reinvention. And because the cloud becomes more compelling to businesses as mature platforms and meaningful integrations proliferate, Microsoft's entry can be a boon for other vendors, partners, resellers and developers. But in order for its move to be a force for good, Microsoft needs to be serious about going "all in." And if it is, there are some major challenges ahead: Designing software for the web. I'm going to make a blanket comparison here. In just over a decade, Google has amassed an army of web engineers and evangelists. In over 20 years, Microsoft has built a closed culture around a software model that is fast becoming extinct. They haven't commercialized a single major web technology innovation that I can think of in the past decade (okay, maybe Bing, but even that is more evolutionary than revolutionary). Apple brought us a new generation of connected devices with the iPhone and iPad; Google brought us open mobile operating systems, a new breed of apps, and a scalable business model for the web; Facebook made social the underlying fabric of software; Salesforce.com commercialized SaaS.


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