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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Remember Those Red Darpa Balloons? We Helped Find Three Of Them

Posted: 11 May 2010 08:46 AM PDT

Remember the DARPA red balloon challenge back in December? DARPA launched ten red balloons across the country and offered $40,000 to the first group of people who could identify the exact locations of all ten. All sorts of teams with different strategies participated, with the winning team coming from MIT.

Well, it turns out that TechCrunch helped find three of those balloons, more than any other source. The way the MIT team, headed by Riley Crane from the MIT Media Lab, got people across the country to tell them where the balloons were was through simple economic incentives. Anyone who found a balloon got $2,000, and anyone who recruited a person who found a balloon got $1,000. The latter was us. We created a team which ended up signing up three of the winners.

The balloon challenge was supposed to expose the best methods of self-organization on the Internet. Well, all we did was stick a link in a post. If anything it just proves that a broadcast approach is still the best way to get a message out, even on the Internet.

But now we have $3,000 which we don’t really deserve. So we’ll give it away to charity. As it turns out, today kicks off the 1billionhungry campaign where the world’s online billion are being asked to do something about the world’s hungry billion. MIT set up a similar system for the the 1billionhungrycampaign to help people visualize their social reach to get the word out that there are so many hungry people in the world. Here’s my impact map I just set up. The big thing the campaign is missing, though, is an easy way to donate money to feed people.

So what is the best charity to alleviate world hunger? Tell us in comments so we can give away our balloon winnings.

Sobees Launches iPad App For Facebook

Posted: 11 May 2010 07:54 AM PDT

Twitter client Sobees, offers a number of social media clients on the market, including a native Windows client, a web-based client and a Twitter app for Android phones. Now Sobees is venturing into the iPad space with a native Facebook app. You can download the app here.

The app allows you to view friends' status updates, wall posts, pictures, videos and links; view your friends' recent photo albums; and manage events and birthdays on Facebook simply in a month calendar view. You can also update your status, comment and like a status from the app.

The app is free for the first month, according to Sobees founder Francois Bochatay. This isn’t the first Facebook client for Sobees; the Windows client includes support for Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed and LinkedIn.

Of course, Facebook doesn’t yet have a native iPad app but we are hoping the social network will release one, considering the immense popularity of its iPhone app. The current Facebook iPhone app in the app store is not universal and looks a bit junky when running scaled to twice its size on the iPad.

Udemy Launches Virtual Learning Academy

Posted: 11 May 2010 07:50 AM PDT

Online video education is a space that is growing rapidly, and even attracting the attention of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who thinks that web-based learning sites will revolutionize education. Today, Udemy is launching as a learning site that aims to democratize online education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online.

Udemy, which was incubated at the Founder Institute, provides the basic tools so anyone can create their own online course in minutes on any subject they like. Educators can upload presentations, videos, and write blog posts for their online course.

Udemy also enables instructors to engage with their users, providing participants with the ability to “subscribe” to courses so they are more engaged. They can also ask questions via the discussion boards and publish links and comments on course to Twitter and Facebook.

One of the most compelling features of Udemy is the live virtual classroom, where
instructors can host a live video conference with students using Udemy’s proprietary live video technology. Udemy Live has a whiteboard, presentation viewer, chatroom, and file-sharing component. Over 10 videos can stream on Udemy Live and 1000+ users can watch a session.

Founded by Gagan Biyani, Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar, Udemy hopes to become a portal for any education content, from a yoga class to a calculus seminar. While the online video education space includes a number of worthy competitors including EduFire and Myngle, Udemy ‘s live video technology is impressive and fairy simple to use. And perhaps as more universities and colleges offer online resources for students, video startups could license their technologies.

It’s Official: Lithium Technologies Acquires Brand Monitoring Platform Scout Labs

Posted: 11 May 2010 07:31 AM PDT

We scooped this news last week but it’s official. Brand tracking application Scout Labs has been acquired by social CRM company Lithium Technologies, according to a blog post on Scout Labs’ site. We initially reported the acquisition price to be in the $20 million – $25 million range, in a stock and cash transaction.

We first covered Scout Labs in late 2007 when it was still in private beta. More recently the startup updated their UI and improved on the product. It’s one of the more compelling tools in helping brands and companies track and monitor what is being said about them on the web. Plus, its pricing model was affordable for both large and small businesses.

Lithium Technologies was founded in 2001 and focuses on a broader range of social CRM solutions. To date though their product suite has focused on retaining and communicating with existing customers.

In the blog post announcing the acquisition, CEO and founder Jennifer Zeszut wrote that together, Scout Labs and Lithium will “create a true Social CRM platform with a lens on the whole customer.” Existing Scout clients will still be able to use the product at the same affordable prices, but now its application will gave the ability to include much more data for clients.

Rumor: Landor Associates Working On Upcoming iPhone Campaign For Verizon

Posted: 11 May 2010 07:18 AM PDT

The rumor mill is churning about a company called Landor Associates “working on an advertising campaign” for Verizon for the upcoming iPhone (you know, the one that the police knocked down Jason Chen’s door down to get generally more information about?). Ladnor has been working on Verizon branding since 2007 and is, according to a tipster, now hard at work preparing for the iPhone HD launch. The Verizon team there is led by Brad Scott.

Read more…

Vindicia To Provide Payment Solution For Boxee’s Upcoming For-Pay Premium Content

Posted: 11 May 2010 07:08 AM PDT

The future is almost here for Boxee. A few months ago the company annonuced plans to bring premium for-pay content to the platform. This goal is now one step closer thanks to an agreement with Vindicia who will handle the payment transactions. The goal is to provide a one-click payment scheme using Vincdicia robust CashBox system as a back-end. The powerful solution currently handles currency exchanges, VAT, and GST automatically, and allows users to pay via credit cards, gift cards, or PayPal. Other sites such as Blizzard's online gaming store, DeviantArt, Symantec already use the payment system.

NileGuide Acquires Localyte To Add Local Sherpas To Travel Planning Site

Posted: 11 May 2010 05:55 AM PDT

We’ve written previously about NileGuide, a one-stop travel planning site that allows you to create customized trip itineraries from over 30 different sources. Today, the startup is acquiring the technology of Localyte, a website and iPhone app that aims to connect travelers with locals in their destination to serve as guides or just to get advice. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The key assets acquired in the deal include the Localyte website and underlying technology platform, the community of member contributors (the site has nearly 50,000 contributors around the world), and the Localyte iPhone app, Pocket Sherpa. NileGuide will be integrating elements of the Localyte functionality into the NileGuide website, while also maintaining the Localyte website.

Localyte’s app and site lists tours and contact info in cities and also lists local travel guides in those cities who are available to answer any questions. For example, if you were traveling in Paris, you could ask "What is the most romantic restaurant near the Louvre?" Locals answer the questions fairly quickly, within a few hours at most. You can also access threads of previous questions that were submitted in your destination. And Localyte's mobile app has a built-in mailbox that lets you send and receive messages, and also lets you see local newspapers in the region where you are traveling.

NileGuide’s CEO and founder Josh Steinitz says that the acquisition makes sens to add the curated local content and perspective to the travel planning site. NileGuide wants to be the go-to guide for all local travel planning (meaning where to stay, eat, visit etc.), and Localyte’s growing number of contributors will help NileGuide become the defacto resource for travel advice from locals.

NileGuide’s mobile offering will also be expanded with the acquisition of Localyte’s Sherpa iPhone app. The company also recently launched a location-based itinerary planner and has a free iPhone app that integrates more of the travel itinerary-creation functionality that is included on the startup’s website.

While the travel app industry is a competitive space, NileGuide is wise to steadily build up its own offerings. Founded in 2006 and based in San Francisco, NileGuide has received $9.5 million in funding from investors including Draper Richards, KPG Ventures, Austin Ventures, and Tenaya Capital.

Former Mint.com Marketing Chief Joins Online Training Software Startup Mindflash As CEO

Posted: 11 May 2010 05:50 AM PDT

Following Mint.com’s $170 million acquisition by Intuit last fall, the personal finance site’s CMO, Donna Wells took a well-deserved few months to spend quality time with her family after a whirlwind two years with Mint. Today, she’s announcing her next venture, online training software startup Mindflash.com, where she will be its new president and CEO. Mindflash.com also launched today into private beta, and we have 750 invites for TechCrunch readers here. Mindflash will be adding people to the private beta in batches over the next two weeks.

Mindflash.com is a portal small businesses can use to train employees. Geared towards non-technical users, Mindflash allows participants to upload and share training documents or videos on the web. They can even include quizzes to test employees' comprehension of the content.

The platform then manages the entire training management process – from sending training invitations to tracking employees' progress to producing real-time progress reports. Wells says the main barrier to adoption of Mindflash’s platform is that small business owners may use tools like PowerPoint and email to employ training amongst employees. But Mindflash automates this and adds analytics to the mix so employers can ensure that employees are completing online training seminars. Mindflash.com investors include the Investment Group of Santa Barbara.

Prior to her role at Mint.com, Wells was Senior Vice President of Marketing at Expedia in the US. Wells also led marketing efforts for Charles Schwab, and Intuit and American Express.

Google VP Julio Pekarovic Departs To Become CFO At Quantcast

Posted: 11 May 2010 05:47 AM PDT

Audience measurement company Quantcast has poached Julio Pekarovic away from Google to become its new chief financial officer. Pekarovic worked at Google for the past seven years, most recently as Vice President, Global Sales Finance Operations.

In addition, Quantcast has appointed Michael Blum as General Counsel; he was previously at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West.

At Google, Pekarovic founded, developed and directed the organization responsible for supporting the operational finance activities of Google’s Global Sales Force and Business Development teams. He worked closely with the Global SVP of Sales and CFO of the Mountain View company.

Blum was a Partner in the Intellectual Property Group at Fenwick & West. According to the press release announcing both appointments, his practice focused on “structuring and negotiating relationships to turn technology and intellectual property into revenue; on developing strategic patent portfolios; and on assessing, valuing and allocating risk”.

Both roles are newly created and report to Quantcast Co-Founder and CEO Konrad Feldman.

Quantcast was founded in 2006 and raised over $50 million to date, most recently closing a $27.5 million round from Cisco Systems, Polaris Venture Partners, The Founders Fund and Revolution Ventures.

Perhaps they’re ramping up recruitment to prep for an IPO?

Firefly Video Launches A Targeted, Engagement-Only Video Ad Network

Posted: 11 May 2010 04:45 AM PDT

You know those big square display ads on Websites that show a snippet of video instead of a static image? Well imagine if when you clicked on one of those an ad took over the middle of the whole page with a video, a map, some interactive elements, and maybe a gallery of more videos. Those are the types of engagement ads a new video ad network called Firefly Video is launching with today. Firefly Video has already been working with 25 advertisers in private beta.

The ads will typically show a corner with a rollover message that will trigger the ad. Here is an example of a Mercedes-Benz ad. These are designed to allow advertisers to re-use their existing TV commercials they’ve already spent millions of dollars on. And unlike pre-roll ads, they don’t interrupt the online experience. They are not even shown in front of videos, but rather introduce video ads onto regular Web pages.

There is nothing terribly new about engagement ads. Videoegg has been pushing them for years. But Firefly’s entrance may signal that engagement ads are becoming more promising. It is betting its whole business on them, with the help of sister startup Tribal Fusion, one of the largest ad networks out there. (Both are owned by holding company Exponential Interactive).

Initially, Firefly will get ad inventory through Tribal Fusion, which reaches about 120 million uniques in the U.S. It will also use Tribal Fusion’s data to target the ads by any number of variables—geographic, demographic, time of day, content verticals, or retargeting people who have visited the advertiser’s Website. Firefly buys regular ad inventory at a CPM (cost per impression) rate, and sells it to advertises at a higher cost per engagement (CPE) rate, much like Criteo does with retargeted ads. So it’s got to get its targeting right in order to make sure enough people engage with its video ads to make up the difference.

Microsoft Plans Worldwide Launch Of Project Natal In October

Posted: 11 May 2010 04:09 AM PDT

In an interview with GamertagRadio, Microsoft Saudi marketing manager Syed Bilal Tariq reportedly spilled the beans on the launch date (well, month) of Project Natal, the Redmond company's motion-sensing camera for the Xbox 360. Not only did Tariq say that Project Natal would be hitting the market in October 2010, well in time for the holiday season, but he apparently also revealed that the launch would be global, or simultaneously in North-America and the EMEA region at the very least.

Real-time IT Performance Analytics Company Integrien Raises $8 Million

Posted: 11 May 2010 03:40 AM PDT

IT performance analytics vendor Integrien today announced that the company has completed a funding round of $8 million. The financing round was led by Clearstone Venture Partners and joined by the Acartha Group and Mariner Capital Ventures.

Japanese Mobile Gaming Giant DeNA Goes Global With iPhone Social Network MiniNation

Posted: 11 May 2010 03:34 AM PDT

Japan has two listed mobile gaming companies with a multi-billion US-dollar market capitalization, GREE ($2.7 billion) and DeNA ($4.2 billion), with both companies offering services in Japan only. But DeNA just yesterday rolled out MiniNation on the App Store, a social network for the iPhone based around games and avatars that targets a global audience.

MiniNation started out with a total of four (free) games in English [iTunes link], all of which are based on popular titles found on DeNA’s Japanese social gaming portal, Mobage-town (which boasts 18 million members). The avatar system is already in place, and according to DeNA, the first four games (Bandit Nation, Mini Solitaire, Mini BalloonHunt and Mini NumberPlace) are just the beginning.

MiniNation allows users to exchange mails, post messages on each other’s walls, create communities, befriend others etc. It’s also integrated with the OpenFeint platform for iPhone games (DeNA owns a 20% stake in OpenFeint provider Aurora Feint).

So far, so good, but it looks like DeNA is too late to make a real impact on the AppStore. MiniNation itself looks pretty slick, but the first batch of titles won’t be enough to get too many iPhone users excited, I’m afraid.

An action puzzler (BalloonHunt), a Sudoku game (Number Place), Solitaire and a Mafia Wars look-alike (Bandit Nation, which is very popular in Japan) playable in a social network environment would have been maybe great 1.5 years ago, but now? (Even though I have to admit I’m personally enjoying BalloonHunt and Bandit Nation so far.)

DeNA also has plans that call for sales of avatar-related and other virtual items to be introduced in the future. But the company will have to start offering fresh titles that weren’t originally designed for Japanese “feature phones” years ago to appeal to international users, especially considering the App Store counts tens of thousands of games already.

And then there’s the quality of the English in-game translations DeNA has come up with. For example, asking users after finishing a level on BalloonHunt “Is the ranking transmitted?” (instead of “Share your score online?”) is just embarrassing for such a large company. There are more examples (the “help” section in NumberPlace is even worse language-wise).

DeNA’s US subsidiary DeNA Global is still running MobaMingle, another “global/non-Japanese” mobile social network for feature phones we last covered back in December 2008.

Navigaya is One Ultra-Hot Content Platform (Exclusive TechCrunch Access)

Posted: 11 May 2010 03:16 AM PDT

What single adjective best describes Navigaya? Gorgeous? Stylish? Addictive? Having spent a few weeks playing with it, I’d have to concede, all of the above.

There really is just no way around it, Navigaya is one of the most mesmerizing content products I’ve seen in a while. Just watch the video demo above for a taste, or better yet, be one of the 1000 TechCrunch Readers to gain exclusive access and judge for yourself.

Designed completely in Flash, Navigaya’s intent is to immerse the user in a browsing experience that revolves around consuming content, specifically – for now – music. Six video engines are deployed to stream the music, or to be more accurate, the music videos: YouTube, Google Video, MetaCafe, Vimeo, MegaVideo and Navigaya’s own video engine, which natively supports 1080p streams. Video is streamed in HD quality when possible, but users can switch this off if the Flash player drives the CPU’s horses too hard (which may result in a choppy experience).

The user interface is quite rich and will take you a while to go through as you discover all the possibilities Navigaya has stitched together. Features include everything from drag-and-drop playlist creation to a browser (ensuring users don’t leave Navigaya for rudimentary Web surfing). There’s even a custom built-in Twitter app and video conferencing functionality with support for up to six simultaneous users.

Navigaya boasts a special ‘navicontent’ section which presents a full array of content, curated by the company’s editors. The section includes relevant news, video and supplemental content.

Navigaya’s offers a white-label version. This should work well for them, since not only does the interface have all the ingredients for a highly-engaging content experience for users, it also has all the hooks and product functionality to successfully tie-in the up-sale of music and video downloads, ring tones, concert tickets and merchandize. Navigaya’s backend is ready to hit the ground running with all functionality needed for such an offering. I can easily imagine MySpace Music or a future iteration of Spotify offer a Navigaya-based experience for their users, as an example.

To date, Navigaya has raised $800,000 from a private angel investor. The Israel-based team is already working on an HTML5 ‘mini’ version for iPhone & iPad.

We’ll follow-up with a full review once it’s out.

You Could See Swipely’s $7.5 Million Round On Blippy, But You Won’t On Swipely

Posted: 11 May 2010 02:21 AM PDT

While it’s easy to rag on Blippy for their controversial model (making credit card transactions social), and their security slip-ups (making credit card numbers social), it’s hard to deny that there is something compelling behind the idea. If there weren’t, no one would use the service. Enter Swipely, a service that also aims to make your purchases more social. But rather than focus on the money, they focus on the transactions themselves.

When Microsoft bought TellMe in 2007, co-founder Angus Davis was probably set for life. After all, that deal was rumored to be in the $800 million to $1 billion range. But Davis left Microsoft in May of last year because he was getting the entrepreneurial itch again. By the Summer, he had his plan to create Swipely. And by the Fall, he had many of his former TellMe colleagues with him, and about a million dollars in angel funding. Now his project is ready to be unveiled, and they’ve taken a new $7.5 million Series A round to make sure it succeeds.

As I alluded to, Swipely is similar to Blippy in that the idea is to make your everyday transactions social. But the two differ greatly in their execution. The key idea behind Swipely is to “add value to every swipe,” Davis says. What he means by this is that with every swipe of a credit card, Swipely wants to make that information more useful to both you and your friends. It’s not about how much you’re spending (Swipely doesn’t show that), but rather, where you’re spending your money and what you’re buying.

And rather than automatically posting each of these transactions, by default, you choose what you want to post. You can choose if you want to post just purchases made at restaurants, for example. When you do so, the hope is that it sparks up a conversation about the transaction. For certain items, Swipely can easily populate what you bought thanks to a large database of menus and store catalogs. For other things, you can simply leave a comment below a transaction, just as you see below items on services like Facebook. And yes, your contacts will be able to “like” anything you buy.

Davis cites a Nelson report in saying that “the word American’s associate with advertising is ‘false’.” The remedy for that, he believes is Swipely. If a person you knows bought something or can vouch for a certain store, you’re more likely to go there, is the line of thinking. And it works the other way. If there’s something a friend of yours wants to warn you to avoid, a Swipely note can begin a discussion as to why.

As I said, the core idea behind this just makes sense. And there are a number of potential business models that can pop-up from this (though Davis says the focus for now will be on growth and not a business model). And when you take out Blippy’s controversial money element, it may make sense to even more potential users. And, not surprisingly, Davis played up Swipely’s impressive security measures (see the slide below) to make it clear that they plan to have an episodes like the one Blippy had.

Swipely is launching today in limited beta, but they’ve given us 100 invites to give to readers. Simply use the code TECHCRUNCH, and if you’re among the first 100, you’ll get in.

The service’s $7.5 million Series A was led by Index Ventures. Greylock Partners and previous investor First Round Capital also participated. Danny Rimer of Index will join Swipely’s Board, and Reid Hoffman will join on as an observer. There were also a number of angels who participated in the round including Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital, Slide’s Keith Rabois, Ron Conway’s SV Angel, and Anton Commissaris, a former VP at Mint who is now a director at Intuit. There are other individual investors as well, including Davis himself.

Davis wouldn’t rule out the idea of Swipely ever showing the amount of money spent on transactions on Swipely, and even noted that it could be useful in some instances such as charity. But the key is the “story behind the purchase” not necessarily the purchase itself, he says.

Yelp Security Hole Puts Facebook User Data At Risk, Underscores Problems With ‘Instant Personalization’

Posted: 11 May 2010 01:21 AM PDT

As if Facebook’s Instant Personalization needed another knock against it, tonight comes news of a security issue that makes the feature even more unnerving.  Web security consultant George Deglin discovered an exploit that would allow a malicious site to immediately harvest a Facebook user’s name, email, and data shared with ‘everyone’ on Facebook, with no action required on the user’s part. This specific exploit has been patched, and no user data was compromised, but the security problems behind it remain.

The exploit took advantage of Cross Site Scripting to inject malicious code into Yelp. Normally such an attack wouldn’t have particularly broad implications for Facebook users, but Yelp is, of course, one of the three sites that have been deemed fit for Facebook’s highly controversial Instant Personalization feature. The feature grants Yelp immediate access to much of a user’s core Facebook data as soon as they visit the reviews site, without having to bother with logins or Connect buttons. But with that convenience comes risk — if a site with Instant Personalization is compromised, it can put almost any Facebook user in harm’s way.

Here’s a high level description of how the exploit worked:

The script in my example would capture the browser cookies set for Yelp.com, extract a key required to make Open Graph API requests to the Facebook API, and send that key to my site. My site would then make a request for your name, email, etc. and store it in a database.

In other words, if you visited the malicious site, it would immediately harvest any data that Yelp had access to. And Yelp automatically has access to a lot, including your email, name, profile photo, current location, friend list, and networks. You wouldn’t have to accidentally click anything. The malicious site could do this even if you had never been to Yelp. Also worth noting: Yelp is automatically given access to your email address, when all other Facebook Connect sites have to ask for special permission to access it.

Fortunately Deglin is one of the good guys. After being notified of the security hole, Yelp and Facebook shut down Instant Personalization for an hour or two until a fix was in place.

But this is unsettling nonetheless. Instant Personalization has only been around for a few weeks on a mere three sites, and one of them has already had issues. Given how common XSS vulnerabilities are, if Facebook expands the program we can likely expect similar exploits. It’s also worth pointing out that some large sites with many Facebook Connect users — like Farmville.com or CNN— could also be susceptible to similar security problems. In short, the system just isn’t very secure.

Here are the statements each company had regarding the issue:


We were notified of a bug with our Facebook implementation. We immediately turned off the feature and pushed out a fix and the functionality is again live. No user information was compromised.


We were notified of a bug with Yelp's Facebook implementation earlier today, at which point all related functionality was temporarily shut down before the issue was exposed. Yelp immediately investigated the issue, and the implementation is now back up and running.

Facebook has also had numerous other security issues, including a major cross-domain vulnerability and an issue that exposed users’ private Facebook chats.

KickApps And Adobe Partner To Create Customizable Flash-Based Media Player

Posted: 11 May 2010 12:01 AM PDT

White label social networking startup KickApps is partnering with Adobe to release an Open Source Media Framework (OSMF) Flash-based media player. Users of the cloud-based OSMF App Studio can create highly customized, full featured media player experiences with drag-and-drop functionality and the ability to integrated third party applications and content.

The KickApps platform allows web publishers and marketers to create sites filled with social media applications to better engage audiences through social networking, user-generated content, and widgets. The new Flash-based App Studio, will be incorporated into KickApps’ offerings.

The OSMF App Studio essentially simplifies the development of video players and is geared towards users with non-technical experience, hence the drag and drop interface. Users can create unique visual designs and assemble a wide range of components and third party services to produce high-quality, full-featured video playback experiences without having to spend the time and effort on writing code. KickApps says that users can create a compelling flash player in a matter of minutes. Subscriptions to the service start at $9.95/month.

Of course, considering the recent public battle between Apple and Adobe, it’s interesting that KickApps chose to integrate Flash for their platform and offering. KickApps’ CEO Alex Blum maintains that Adobe’s offering suits KickApps’ clients needs best, saying that “Adobe's Flash is an invaluable de facto standard that makes dealing with the multitude of browsers, devices and operating systems easy.”

KickApps has a number of media companies currently using its new video offering, including the Food Network, and NBC Universal.

Mobile Marketing Firm Adenyo Acquires MoVoxx

Posted: 10 May 2010 10:20 PM PDT

Mobile marketing firm Adenyo has acquired MoVoxx, a US-based mobile advertising company that counts multiple Fortune 500 companies as clients and reaches millions of users on both smartphones and more basic ‘feature phones’. MoVoxx was founded in 2006 and had previously raised money from Greycroft Partners, Khosla Ventures, First Round Capital and BV Capital. Terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed.

MoVoxx CEO Alec Andronikov says that the company has grown to reach 40 million unique users though in-app display ads as well as SMS, which can reach a much broader array of devices. The company recently launched a new GeoSense platform that sends location-based ads to users, even on devices that don’t come equipped with GPS.

Adenyo offers a SaaS mobile ad platform that serves over 1 billion ad impressions a month. It includes an analytics engine to determine which ads to serve to which users, as well as a system to handle payments and coupons. Adenyo CEO Tyler Nelson says that the company has built up a strong presence in the European market as well as Canada, but that “feature phones” in the United States are around 3-4 years behind, and that Adenyo hasn’t yet addressed them. MoVoxx already has a large base of users on these feature phones, and will give Adenyo a strong foothold in the United States. This, Nelson says, is important as clients look to launch global campaigns across North America and Europe.

Canada-based Adenyo recently raised $30 million in funding, and it sounds like it has more acquisitions in the pipeline.

How Yahoo Boosted Its Search Market Share With Pictures

Posted: 10 May 2010 09:18 PM PDT

At Yahoo, a picture is worth a thousand searches. After a year of steadily losing market share, Yahoo showed nearly a one-point jump in U.S. search market share, according to comScore’s April search numbers. Yahoo went from 16.9 percent share in March to 17.7 percent in April. How did it all of a sudden regain its search mojo? One word: slideshows.

It turns out people aren’t conducting more searches on Yahoo at all. Yahoo is conducting more searches for them automatically on Yahoo News and Yahoo Finance. On Yahoo News, for instance, the searches are tied to photo slideshows like the one pictured above. Each photo generates related search results which are shown below the photo. On Yahoo News alone, searches went from an estimated 17 million searches to 190 million searches because of this new auto-search feature. Analyst Jordan Rohan of Thomas Weisel Partners calls it a “navigational ploy” and think sit is “unlikely to tie to revenue growth.”

Overall, search query volume growth continued to slow down across the board to 5.6 percent (versus 7.6 percent growth in March). Google saw its share decline from 65.1 percent in March to 64.4 percent, while Microsoft saw a 0.1 percent uptick to 11.8 percent. But there were other changes in measurement affecting these numbers. Backing all of those out, Google gained some share, while Yahoo and Microsoft lost a little bit.

Square’s iPhone App Hits The App Store

Posted: 10 May 2010 09:18 PM PDT

A month after the iPad app launched, Square’s iPhone app is now generally available to users in the App Store. You can download the free app here.

Founded by Jack Dorsey, Square was unveiled last December as an innovative way to let people quickly and easily accept physical credit card payments from their mobile phone. This works by way of a tiny card reader that plugs into the headphone jack on the device. It takes finger signatures on the touchscreen, generates email or SMS receipts, calculates sales tax, and comes with an online accounting dashboard to keep track of sales. (You can watch our video of how the iPhone app works).

Square was originally designed for the iPhone and the company has been testing the app over the past few months with limited users, especially making sure the app is secure when it comes to protecting the financial information of users. We were told last week that the external credit card readers will begin shipping out as soon the app is live in the App Store. Square is sending them out for free to anyone who signs up for an account.

Now that Square is available to everyone, it should be interesting to see how widely the mobile payments app and service is used. We’ve already seen some compelling use cases for Square, which faces competition from VeriFone’s mobile payments offering.

Valued at $40 million even before launch, Square has been off to am impressive start. And startup has a number of notable investors. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, investor Ron Conway, Google's Marissa Mayer, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, Digg creator Kevin Rose, investor Esther Dyson and a host of others have invested in Square. The company also raised funding from Khosla Ventures.

Facebook Begins Testing ‘Offers’ Payment Option Beyond Games

Posted: 10 May 2010 05:40 PM PDT

Last month, Facebook started experimenting with a new payment option for a select handful of game developers: it began supporting Offers as a way to earn its virtual currency, Facebook Credits. Now, the site is beginning to expand that test — this morning I noticed that clicking the ‘Get More Credits’ link at the top of Facebook’s application page showed me a new option: “Earn for free by shopping”. Selecting that displays 38 different offers through a partnership with offer provider TrialPay.

In other words, Facebook is no longer restricting its Offers experiment to just games. We’ve confirmed that Facebook is currently testing this broader implementation of Offers, though it is currently only being shown to some users.

Offers allow users to ‘earn’ virtual currency without paying for it directly — for example, you get a bonus of 220 Facebook Credits for signing up for Netflix, or 85 credits for signing up for the latest Groupon deal — and they’ve proven to be very popular among app developers.

But Offers have also been a touchy subject for Facebook. Facebook is only now entering the arena itself, but Offers have long been available through an array of third parties, some of whom were tempting users with scammy deals from less-than-reputable sources. The problem reached a head during our 20+ post series on Scamville. Since then Facebook has cracked down on the bad players and the big names have cleaned up their act.

There’s too much money on the table for Facebook to ban Offers entirely, which is why the company is working with TrialPay and Peanut Labs to only promote its own line of officially-sanctioned promotions, all of which are from trusted brands.

Ping Pong Battle: Because All iPad Games Should Involve Backflips

Posted: 10 May 2010 04:34 PM PDT

Since the iPad made its debut, we’ve seen a handful of apps that let you link multiple Apple iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches using Bluetooth to play extra engaging (and spectacularly expensive) games. The most famous example of this is Scrabble, which lets you use your iPhone as a letter tray and your iPad as the main game board. Now we’ve come across an upcoming iPad/iPhone game called Ping Pong Battle that lets you use your iPhone as a virtual ping pong paddle and your iPad as a tabletop — and it’s aiming to make gameplay a bit more physical. In fact, the teaser video, which we’ve embedded below, shows one player doing a backflip as he does some kind of supercharged ping pong combo move.

When we first saw the video we were skeptical — it looks like it would be nearly impossible to tell where and when you’re supposed to be swinging your iPhone. Sure, for a fleeting moment you can see what direction the ball is going as it “passes through” the iPad’s screen, but using that to figure out the ball’s position in space as it virtually flies toward you doesn’t look feasible. As it turns out, the gameplay doesn’t actually rely on visually keeping track of the ball at all. Instead, everything is based on sound and timing.

When it’s your turn to hit the ball, your iPhone makes a ‘woosh’ sound, which tells you when to swing the device. You’ll never have to do any lunges or backflips to save a ball at the last second, but there is some benefit to using your iPhone to ‘slice’ the virtual ball and do other ‘special moves’ — they change the timing of when your opponent will hear their ‘woosh’ sound, so you may be able to throw them off.

So what’s the point of the iPad in all this? The game’s developers say that it helps add to the realism by letting you hear and briefly see the ball (it also shows the score). It also allows for gamers to use the device’s ‘video out’ feature to project their virtual ping pong tables onto a wall or the floor, which they say could help it go viral as users turn their matches into public spectacles. A future version will let you substitute the iPad for a third iPhone.

When it’s released in the next week or two (depending on Apple’s approval process), Ping Pong Battle will sell for $4.99, though it may have a special intro price. The game was developed by PepperGum Games in a partnership with marketing firm Lime Marketing. For more details, check out the app’s Facebook page.

if you like the sound of Wii-like iPhone games, you may also be interested in SGN’s series of ‘i’ games, including iGolf and iBowl.

The Long, Complicated Tale Of AT&T’s Exclusive (And Elusive) iPhone Agreement

Posted: 10 May 2010 03:53 PM PDT

The details of Apple and AT&T’s agreement in the U.S. for exclusive iPhone rights is a bit like a mythical beast. Every so often, someone comes along and says they’ve seen it. But when someone else starts to look, it vanishes again. Today, we have the latest sighting compliments of Engadget. But it appears that it may be a sighting of an old picture, rather than the actual live beast.

The gadget blog uncovered court documents from 2008 in which Apple confirms a 5-year exclusivity agreement with AT&T signed in 2007. Apple even cites this USA Today article which reported the news initially. The problem is that the case is still ongoing, and everything has been sealed since 2009. And there have been conflicting reports since then.

For example, in July of 2008 we had the very same USA Today reporting that, “Under the original iPhone contract, Apple had the right to offer the device to other carriers beginning in 2009.”

But instead, in 2008 Apple and AT&T apparently agreed to an extension — into 2010, USA Today reported citing “people familiar with the matter” who asked “to not be named because the terms are confidential.” The reason for the extension? The huge payout AT&T was giving Apple for each iPhone sold, apparently.

And then, in April 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T’s exclusive agreement “expires next year,” citing sources familiar with the matter (that’s inline with the latter USA Today report). They go on to note that, “Mr. Stephenson is now in discussions with Apple Inc. to get an extension until 2011.”

So if the initial contract had AT&T getting the iPhone exclusively through 2012, why would WSJ and USA Today report that it expired first in 2009, then in 2010? Well, either their sources were flat-out wrong, or (and I think more likely), the contract has changed over time.

While it seems that no one outside of Apple or AT&T has actually seen the contract, it doesn’t seem a stretch to believe that it’s loaded with clauses to change the terms based on things such as performance and sales. Maybe Apple built in provisions that if they hit a certain number of iPhone units sold or new contracts for AT&T, they could opt-out.

Remember, when the iPhone initially launched in 2007, it wasn’t a certainty that it would be a hit (just ask Steve Ballmer). And in some ways, AT&T was taking a risk by giving into Apple’s demands to have full control over the software on the phone — something which the carriers previously weren’t fond of (just ask Verizon).

Obviously, there are dozens of other clauses that could have been in the contract as well. For example, what if Apple built-in one to assure a certain network quality, that AT&T failed to meet? Or that they’d scale the network for a timely launch of new features (*cough* MMS, tethering *cough*).

And in fact, the second USA Today article has wording that suggests the first contract may have expired in 2009 because of an opt-out clause in the contract.

So where does that leave us?

Well, it would seem that Apple and AT&T had the contract at least into 2010. That seems obvious given that it’s 2010, and the exclusive agreement is intact. It’s not clear if Stephenson got his 2011 extension, but it’s possible that he did.

Remember that Apple clearly had to negotiate with AT&T for its iPad 3G wireless deal. The deal is so good ($30 a month for unlimited data — about half what it costs for a dongle with such access) that it doesn’t seem crazy to think that AT&T agreed to it to make sure they got something else back on the iPhone end of things.

That said, it could just be early access to the new iPhone HD (or whatever it will be called). Reports in the past few months have hinted that an iPhone for Verizon’s CDMA network could be in the works — but that it may not happen until the end of this year. That’s by no means confirmed information, but if true, it likely means that AT&T would still have the rights to see this new iPhone first for a few months. As I wrote in March, might this, and the iPad 3G be the parting gifts from Apple to AT&T?

When reached for comment about the 2012 report today, all AT&T would say was, “We have a great relationship with Apple. We don’t comment on the specifics of our relationship.

Given the numbers coming in that Google’s Android phones may be outselling iPhones, you can be sure that Apple is looking long and hard at the other carriers. At the end of the day, no matter what kind of crazy deals they get from AT&T, that’s the only way to realistically continue growing their market share against their heated rival.

Another contract extension with AT&T may boil down to a fundamental question: does Apple care more about market share or profits? It’s clear where they stand with computers. They made that decision long ago and stuck to it (despite a slip-up in the 1990s when Steve Jobs was in exile). Now it’s time to decide if they’re going to make the same call with mobile devices. The stakes couldn’t be higher: this is about the future of computing.

Bezos And Mohr Davidow Back Stealthy Paperless Billing Startup Doxo

Posted: 10 May 2010 03:21 PM PDT

Paperless billing is the digital future that never quite fully arrives. Even among people who otherwise embrace the digital lifestyle, and pay their bills electronically, many find it difficult to give up on the paper statement. They feel they need it for their financial records or it serves as a physical reminder to pay the bill. And meanwhile, businesses are stuck sending out paper bills every month which on average cost $10 per customer per year.

Stealthy Seattle startup Doxo is working on a way to increase the adoption of paperless billing. The company raised $5.25 million in a series A last November, which included the conversion of shares from a previous seed round. The round was led by Mohr Davidow, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also invested through his personal investment vehicle Bezos Expeditions.

The founding team (CEO Steve Shivers, VP Biz Dev Roger Parks, and VP Technology Mark Goris) comes from mobile payments platform QPass, which was sold to Amdocs in 2006 for $275 million. Doxos is working with private beta customers and aims to launch publicly later this year. Shivers is shy on details of exactly what the Doxos product looks like, but from our conversation earlier today I gather that it is a single-sign on system where consumers will be able to manage and store all of their paperless records.

Doxo is a cloud-based service which works in tandem with existing paperless billing systems, but aims to be much simpler and appealing for consumers. It will be a single place where all your most critical transactional records (bills, statements, explanation of benefits) will be stored on your behalf. And you can be notified any number of ways, via email, mobile apps, SMS, and so on. Shivers estimates that businesses spend $35 billion a year sending out these types of paper statements and bills. He thinks he can get a lot ,ore people to turn off their paper mail and help businesses save some of that money.

mSpot Beats Netflix And Blockbuster To The Punch With Mobile Movie-Streaming Service

Posted: 10 May 2010 02:31 PM PDT

Finally, a movie-streaming service for the iPhone. One that lets you rent and stream movies directly to your mobile device, anywhere with 3G or Wi-Fi. You would expect this to have come from Netflix, right? Or at least Blockbuster? To the contrary, the company that’s gracing us with this killer feature is mSpot, a Silicon Valley-based startup you’ve probably never heard of.

In fact, you’ve been able to stream movies to your mobile phone via mSpot for over a year, but you had to do it in your browser and it wasn’t available on many handsets. A few months ago, mSpot extended its streaming service to regular old PC browsers. It also works on iPad, but they’re definitely not the first on that device.


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