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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz On Stage At TechCrunch Disrupt

Posted: 21 May 2010 08:51 AM PDT

This will be fun. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz will be on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York next week for a one on one “fireside chat” with me. She’ll be coming to the event just after a press conference that Yahoo on Monday morning.

She joins AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, Google’s President Worldwide sales Nikesh Arora, AOL founder Steve Case, Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr and other amazing speakers at the event.

We’ll have lots to talk about. Yahoo’s stock price has increased since she took over the CEO role from cofounder Jerry Yang in January 2009, but the company’s valuation is still far short of the $40+ billion that Microsoft offered in early 2008.

I have been one of Bartz’s biggest critics over the last year, chronicling the executive team revolving door, Yahoo’ lack of a coherent product strategy and a few other jabs as well. It says a lot that she’s willing to appear on stage with me and talk about all these issues and more.

There are just a handful of tickets left for TechCrunch Disrupt. We’ll also be livestreaming the entire event for those who cannot attend.

Video Ad Network ScanScout Jumps On The HTML5 Bandwagon

Posted: 21 May 2010 08:47 AM PDT

Video ad network ScanScout, which provides pre-roll and overlay advertising formats to monetize online videos, is rolling out a video advertising format for HTML5-compatible devices. ScanScout joins a number of video startups who have jumped on the HTML5 bandwagon with Apple not supporting Flash on the iPad and iPhone.

ScanScout, which was the 6th most popular video ad network according to Comscore will now allow publishers like ABC and others integrate the startup’s pre-roll inventory for Apple devices that are not compatible with Adobe Flash.

ScanScout allows publishers using Ooyala, Brightcove and others to enable HTML5 pre-rollsand monetize their videos. And ScanScout aims to be a one-stop-shop to monetize videos in both Flash and HTML5 formats. Other video ad networks have also boarded the HTML5 train, including Break Media and MeFeedia. ScanScout just raised $8.5 million in funding last fall.

ConnectU Co-Founder Launches Professional Investment Community SumZero

Posted: 21 May 2010 07:55 AM PDT

You may recall Divya Narendra, who co-founded Facebook competitor ConnectU, was been embroiled in a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, and eventually settled the dispute (though according to reports this week, this may not be over). After graduating Harvard, Narendra worked as an associate at hedge fund Sowood Capital Management, where as an analyst he realized that the buy-side investment community was lacking a research-focused Wikipedia where users could share ideas and access data about hedge fund investments. Narendra teamed up with fellow Harvard alum and current hedge fund analyst Aalap Mahadevia, to fill this hole in the space. Enter SumZero, which is a community for buy-side investment professionals (which include hedge fund, private equity and mutual fund analysts) to share their research.

A buy-side analyst generally performs research and makes recommendations on how well an investment will perform and align with a fund’s strategy. Generally, these recommendations and analysis are not available to other funds or outsiders. Until now. Soft launched last year, the site has accumulated over 3,500 hedge fund, private equity, and mutual fund analysts as members, including analysts from some of the most prominent funds- SAC, Blackstone, and KKR.

A private network, SumZero allows analysts to apply to join the site, who are vetted to make sure they are legitimate professionals in the industry. Members can also invite other professionals in the industry. In order to access other buy-side investment professionals’ advice, analysts are required to submit ideas and research reports on the companies they are interested in buying or have bought stake in.

Similar to the LinkedIn model, each analyst has a profile that includes professional experience, educational information, and ideas submitted to the site. Currently, the network has accumulated over 2,000 detailed investment reports written by hedge fund, mutual fund, and private equity buyside professionals.

While these reports are private within the network, SumZero is making one investment recommendation per week from its community available to the public. While the hedge fund industry has been notoriously closed and secretive with its investments tactics, SumZero is opening this world up to any user. Anyone can sign up to receive a weekly recommendation made by these analysts. For example, last week’s recommendation was for China MediaExpress, an advertising company in China. The rec was a 1000-word, detailed report outlining why the company should perform well. Here’s an example of a SumZero report, which was published on Morningstar.

From the responses I’ve received from analysts and professionals using the site, it appears to be a hit in the buy-side investment community. SumZero member and investor Alan Axelrod finds the network as a valuable, daily resource for not only sharing investment ideas, but also to network and connect with other hedge fund and private equity analysts, sort of like a LinkedIn for the community. He also sees value in using the platform as a way to recruit other talent to his firm.

Investment professional Jay Kilroy uses the site to receive critical feedback on investment ideas he has, finding that fellow analysts are willing to point out any flaws in a strategy. “It’s a great resource for idea generation,” says Kilroy, “And the level of transparency raises credibility of the site.” He echoes Alan’s feelings that the site is one of the more addictive web resources he’s seen on the web for buy-side investment professionals.

In terms of competition, there’s the ValueInvestorsClub, which has a similar functionality. The main difference is that analysts can be anonymous and the site is much more exclusive with only 200 members. Narendra says that on the buy side, funds have never historically published their research, so the vast amount of high-quality research available on SumZero from hedge fund professionals is unprecedented in the community. Currently, Narendra says that the site is seeing five to ten investment ideas submitted per day.

While the site is still growing, the scale it has achieved in a community that has traditionally been very secretive about their analysis and research is impressive to say the least. Of course, Narendra and Mahadevia both have hedge fund backgrounds, which gives the site more legitimacy.

And there’s the question of a business model. Currently the team is evaluating what makes sense and declined to publicly state their strategy, but I can imagine there is a tremendous opportunity in terms of data availability.

Silicon Valley’s Girls In Tech Extends Its Revolution To France

Posted: 21 May 2010 07:52 AM PDT

Thankfully, it seems that the days of the male-dominated tech scene are behind us. Leading ladies like Google's Marissa Mayer, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and even Yahoo's Carol Bartz are a few names that often make the spotlight and somewhat balance the scorecard. And in France, the spotlight perhaps doesn't get any brighter than that of the Minister of Digital Economy, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. So it's hardly surprising that numerous groups are popping up to support and encourage women in entrepreneurship, innovation and technology - including Silicon Valley-based Girls in Tech, which will make its debut in Paris at the end of the month.

Cocodot Raises $2 Million For The Stylish, Prettier, More Social Evite

Posted: 21 May 2010 07:37 AM PDT

TechCrunch50 startup Cocodot, which launched its online invitation site last year, has just raised $2 million in funding from Anthem Venture Partners and Rincon Venture Partners. The startup had previously raised just under $1 million in funding from Anthem and William Morris’ Mail Room Fund.

Founded by former MySpace CMO Shawn Gold, Cocodot aims to be a eco-friendly, one-stop-shop for event planning and invitations; sort of a modern, more chic Evite. You can create a high resolution, chic, stylish invitation (that can be printed as well), a vertical event pages, guest management tools, seating charts, and a directory for event planning vendors. When you create event, you can build an event homepage that aims to be a social conversation hub. Once you create an invitation, you can import your contact lists from Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and other contact managers and email services. Cocodot also lets you send links to the event homepage and invitation to Facebook and Twitter.

Cocodot is also getting into the online greeting space, letting user create a simple “happy birthday” or “Thank you” online card. Users can adjust color and text, move the graphics and text and even offers a “copy concierge” to help people think of thoughtful sayings. And Cocodot offers high-end online wedding invitations and an event management platform.

Since coming out of beta last month, Cocodot has gained considerable traction. The site has been featured on The Today Show, Vanity Fair, People Magazine and other mainstream media outlets. And Cocodot has even gained a celebrity following, including Brooke Shields and Gwenyth Paltrow.

Cocodot faces competition from Pingg, MyPunchbowl, and others.

Jinni Is Building A Smart ‘Taste Engine’ For Google TV (Screenshots)

Posted: 21 May 2010 06:50 AM PDT

By now, I’m sure you’ll be aware that Google yesterday introduced Google TV, a platform with the potential of moving us closer to real integration between television and the Internet.

In the blog post announcing the new platform, Google mentioned that it has already started building strategic alliances with a number of TV technology companies, specifically naming Jinni and Rovi in the process.

The former is a small Israeli startup that we’ve been tracking for a while now, and with whom I’m acquainted because they were one of the 3 finalists at my Plugg startup competition event back in March 2009.

The startup, dubbed the ‘Pandora for movies’ by observers, bills its service as an intelligent ‘taste engine’ for movies and TV shows.

Its guide helps users choose what to watch next amid the abundance of available content (live TV channels, VOD, DVR, and Internet services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu). Based on semantic technology, Jinni essentially aims to filter the universe of content through the lens of the user's personal moods and tastes. It operates a fairly popular destination website in addition to API-based solutions for Internet content providers and TV operators.

The company, which has raised just over $3 million in venture capital to date, is now working with the Mountain View Internet giant to provide semantic search, personalized recommendations and social features for Google TV across all sources of premium content that will be available to the user.

Perhaps if Jinni plays its cards right, Google might be interested in buying them out somewhere down the line, provided the startup can prove its technology’s worth and wow Google TV users with its search features and personalized recommendations.

Either way, here are some preliminary screenshots of the service we’ve scored, although we should warn that the application is still very much under development at this point.

What Are The Top Brands On Facebook?

Posted: 21 May 2010 04:42 AM PDT

AllFacebook boasts a nice feature where you can see what the top performing Facebook Pages are – meaning which Pages have gathered the largest following to date. The problem is that there’s apparently a significant lag, and that the data presented is therefor inaccurate (for example, it undercounts the number of fans of the popular Texas Hold’em Poker page by nearly 1.5 million).

Enter Fan Page List, which is entirely dedicated to ranking the most popular Pages on Facebook as well as rankings for various categories, such as Actors, Politicians, Movies, Games, TV Shows, News, Athletes and more, in real time.

One of the categories that is the most interesting is the list of top brands on Facebook.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

The most popular brand on Facebook is … Facebook, with just over 9 million fans. The only other Internet / technology brands in the top 25 are YouTube (#4 with 5,082,029 fans) and Google (#21 with 1,269,926 fans). Food and clothings brands seem to do much better.

In case you’re wondering why Apple is nowhere to be found in the top brands ranking: the Cupertino company doesn’t even have a proper Facebook Page to begin with (it looks like facebook.com/apple was taken by someone else). Microsoft does, but only comes in at #99 with 117,444 fans. But hey, at least they still made the top 100 list, right?

Here are the top 10 brands on Facebook (for the full list, go here):

1) Facebook (9,024,542 Fans)
2) Starbucks (7,217,370 Fans)
3) Coca-Cola (5,529,595 Fans)
4) YouTube (5,082,221 Fans)
5) Disney (3,475,487 Fans)
6) Victoria’s Secret (3,436,811 Fans)
7) Converse (2,743,227 Fans)
8) McDonald’s (2,260,698 Fans)
9) H&M (2,045,964 Fans)
10) MTV (1,871,241 Fans)

PS: you can get that T-shirt here for $19.99.

Does Europe’s Yelp Now Have An Exit Problem?

Posted: 21 May 2010 04:27 AM PDT

So since TrustedPlaces announced its acquisition by Yell we've been digging around to try and find out the purchase price. Understandably, we respect the fact that co-founder Sokratis Papafloratos doesn't want to say, and Yell certainly won't. But this information would be very useful to startups out there wondering what the purchase price is these days for a company like this. And the fact it exited to a potential acquirer of Qype, effectively Europe's Yelp, is an issue ... for Qype.

Does Seesmic For iPhone Stack Up Against TweetDeck And Twitter For iPhone?

Posted: 21 May 2010 02:25 AM PDT

Seesmic, Twitter and the iPhone have all been around for a couple of years, but for whatever reason it took a while for French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur‘s latest venture to come out with a proper iPhone / iPod touch application.

As of this morning, it’s here, and it’s … great.

The application, which you can download from iTunes via this link, lets users manage their Twitter and Facebook accounts and update other social networks through Ping.fm integration (Seesmic acquired the company behind that service earlier this year).

I’ll let you read the blog post and watch the video embedded below for more details about the Seesmic for iPhone app, but I think people will be interested to see how it stacks up against Twitter for iPhone (which was also released this week and is the latest iteration of Atebits’ Tweetie app) and TweetDeck.

The short version: if you’re a fan of the latter clients, there’s a good chance you will not be compelled to make the switch. If you’re not and you find yourself constantly wondering which is the best between those two, Seesmic for iPhone is simply a really great third alternative.

And if you haven’t tried any of them, I’d recommend you start out with Seesmic.

Seesmic for iPhone is free, fast, smooth, and complete. The built-in Twitter client is well-designed and has all the functionality you’ve come to expect (timeline, replies, direct messages, geolocation support for new tweets, the ability to add photos, retweets, multiple accounts support, search, trending topics, lists, favorites, URL shortening and so on). But so do TweetDeck and Twitter for iPhone, of course.

But Twitter for iPhone only supports the ‘new’ type of retweeting, and doesn’t give you an easy shortcut for old-school retweeting, aka ‘quoting’ (you can, but it’s cumbersome). And Twitter for iPhone obviously doesn’t have built-in support for Facebook. TweetDeck does, but neither support the many other social networks users can easily update with Seesmic for iPhone (again, thanks to Ping.fm integration).

Granted, you can use dedicated apps for Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc., but for basic usage it’s simply a huge time-saver to be able to do all that from a single app.

Seesmic for iPhone also lets you save important messages and updates by storing them to Evernote in one tap, which is a very nice added bonus.

All this basically means Seesmic for iPhone is a worthy competitor to all the other apps when it comes to managing and updating your Twitter account, but definitely outshines both in terms of support for multiple social networking and other services – which makes Seesmic for iPhone stand on its own two feet as a very potent social hub rather than a mere ‘Twitter client’.

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

Yahoo To Throw A Hail Mary To Nokia — But The Football Will Be Tied To A Brick

Posted: 21 May 2010 12:34 AM PDT

Earlier today, Yahoo sent out an email to the press notifying us about a special event on Monday with CEO Carol Bartz. The event happens to be in New York City which is interesting for two reasons. 1) Foursquare, the subject of many Yahoo aqusition rumors, is based in NY. 2) Most of TechCrunch will be in New York for our TechCrunch Disrupt conference. So what is Yahoo up to? AllThingsD found out this evening. It’s definitely not about Foursquare. It’s about Nokia.

According to Kara Swisher’s sources, Yahoo will be announcing a deal with Nokia that will build Yahoo email, search, and other applications into their devices. At first glance, this is a very big deal. Nokia, after all, is still by far the largest mobile phone maker in the world. Recent reports give Nokia a 37.4% share of the global market (in Q1 2010). That’s far ahead of number 2, Samsung, which has about 20%. Where’s the much-talked-about Apple on that list? Number six, with 3%.

So this is huge right? Well, maybe short-term. But long-term this is Yahoo betting on the past, rather than on the future.

Simply put: the future is smartphones. Nokia, while it may dominate the overall market, is a smaller player in smartphones. Instead, they dominate in feature phones — you know the phones that people still mainly use to do things like make phones calls and send text messages. For now, thanks to the evolving markets in third-world countries, this remains a strong segment. But there’s indications that this could change sooner than some expect.

At Google I/O today, a number of questions at the press event following the keynote asked about Android phone reach in various countries. GigaOm’s Om Malik asked Andy Rubin why Android wasn’t focusing on emerging markets such as India, where feature phones rule? Rubin’s response was that they made a firm decision to bet on smartphones.

Today’s smartphone is tomorrow’s feature phone,” Rubin said. He said that Moore’s Law dictates that all phones will evolve quickly, and within the next 12 months, smartphones will be the devices making waves in the developing world. He went further. He said that those with “legacy positions” (a thinly-veiled reference to companies like Nokia) see it differently, but that the tide will shift — with or without them.

This project between Yahoo and Nokia has apparently been called “Project Nike” — after the Greek goddess of victory. In terms of nicknames, it's hard to think of one more presumptuous than that. Swisher also notes that at one point, Nokia and Yahoo were talking about a co-branded phone, but that’s apparently now off the table. That’s probably a good thing, as that wouldn’t have worked either and would have just cost both sides more money and time.

The point is, without a major shift in Nokia’s strategy, this is a short-term grab by Yahoo. It’s seems like a smart play for now, but in a year or two years, this may look like yet another failed idea. Mobile, at times, has been one of Yahoo’s few bright spots in the past several years. But again, a deal like this is not about the future, it’s about the present. Meanwhile, Yahoo’s rivals, are thinking the opposite way. It’s hard to come up with anything shown at Google I/O today that wasn’t about the future.

The future is what sells. It wins every time.

WSJ: Facebook, MySpace & Others Share Identifying User Data With Advertisers

Posted: 20 May 2010 10:00 PM PDT

A report in the Wall Street Journal this evening reveals that Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and a number of other popular social sites are passing along data that advertisers could potentially use to identify users who click their ads. The article is focused on Facebook in particular, which appears to have been passing along the most data of the aforementioned sites and has also been embroiled in a major privacy controversy.

The Journal article doesn’t get into too much technical detail, but it sounds like Facebook and the others are failing to scrub ‘referring’ URLs that are always passed along whenever a user clicks a link. This is actually normal behavior — typically when you click a link on a website, the site you’re being directed to will get to see where you came from. The issue is that these social sites include some identifying information as part of their URLs; when you visit a friend’s Facebook profile, the resulting URL might include both your friend’s username and your Facebook ID, which could be used to associate you with the ads you’re clicking on.

Update: Jessica Vascellaro, one of the writers on the WSJ article, has sent ReadWriteWeb more technical details on what Facebook was doing. Her explanation, in part (you can see the full thing here):

Facebook was making it possible for advertisers to see ids for users who clicked (not just the profile url). This was happening through a ref equals profile code getting passed through after a user clicked on their profile and then an ad. Facebook acknowledged that this could be used to identify users who clicked, not just the profile of the user on whose page an ad appeared.

That said, the Journal reports that the ad companies it contacted had not used the data:

Several large advertising companies identified by the Journal as receiving the data, including Google Inc.’s DoubleClick and Yahoo Inc.’s Right Media, said they were unaware of the data being sent to them from the social-networking sites, and said they haven’t made use of it.

However, the article doesn’t say that all ad networks that placed ads on Facebook were ignoring the data. We’ve reached out to Facebook to ask if it’s possible that smaller networks could have leveraged it.

The WSJ article notes that the discovery was pointed out back in August by researchers from AT&T Labs and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, but that the issue has persisted until this morning (Facebook and MySpace have now “rewritten some of the offending computer code”).

Update: The Twitter issue mentioned in the WSJ seems to be much less of an problem (it doesn’t even have ads yet).

Image via alancleaver

Google’s Gundotra Goes After Apple: The Video

Posted: 20 May 2010 09:37 PM PDT

At Thursday’s Google I/O keynote, VP of engineering Vic Gundotra repeatedly ripped into Apple, and he did it right off the bat. The video above, which just came out, shows the first ten minutes of his keynote where he discusses why the world needs Android. But that is not the interesting part.

The interesting part is where he goes after Apple in a not too subtle way. He extols the virtues of an open platform and contrasts it with a “Draconian future, a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.” Then he shows a poster of 1984, with the title, “Not The Future We Want.” The reference is to Apple and the iPhone. Gundotra uses Apple’s own iconic 1984 imagery against it to great effect right at about 3 minutes into the video clip.

I can’t wait for Gundotra to appear next week at TechCrunch Disrupt, where we can ask him why he thinks Android will prevail, not only phones but also now in TVs.

Meeting Space Booking Site eVenues Wins The Funded’s Founder Showcase

Posted: 20 May 2010 07:30 PM PDT

eVenues, a service to book meeting rooms online, has won the top spot at won the Founder Showcase, which is a quarterly open start-up pitch competition and networking event held by TheFunded.

eVenues aggregates, searches, and rents meeting event space by the hour or day. It’s sort of like Expedia but for meeting spaces. The service is designed to also help small businesses and organizations like art galleries, city and county governments, and non-profits rent their distressed space for consumers and professionals looking for affordable space. SnapShop, an augmented reality shopping app that places furniture from catalogs in your home, was the official Runner-Up in the showcase.

David Jennings, Co-Founder of eVenues, won a cash prize, Startup Alley tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt, and free legal advice from Cooley by gathering the most votes from the crowd and judge panel, which included George Zachary, Rebecca Lynn, Jeff Clavier, Phil Libin and Facebook’s Bubba Murarka.

The Funded’s Founder Institute just announced the graduation of 25 companies from the incubator’s East Coast outposts and launched in 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.

Google Just Shot Cable’s Franz Ferdinand

Posted: 20 May 2010 06:43 PM PDT

One could be forgiven for writing off Google TV. After all, there are precedents for web TV failures (Apple TV) and precedents for ostentatious Google windmill-tilting (Wave, Buzz, a dozen others), so I don’t blame the doubters. I’d be one but for the fact that this is too big to be an experiment; it’s a declaration of war. The question is: against whom?

Against Apple? Yes, to some extent. Against set-top boxes? In a way. But primarily, I think it’s against the TV providers. Not in a direct way: as many have noted, Google TV, being a delivery system, relies entirely on others for its content. No, Google is leaning on Comcast and DirecTV and all them indirectly. Like the music industry and Napster, or the mobile phone industry and the iPhone, it’s less a direct assault and more an ultimatum: “Change or die.”

Continue reading…

New Logo/Name, Same Result. Twitter Dominates The App Store

Posted: 20 May 2010 05:57 PM PDT

It’s amazing what taking one of the best iPhone apps, making it free, and giving it a better name will do. Actually, it’s not. Twitter for iPhone has rocketed to the number 1 app (free app, but undoubtedly overall as well) in the App Store following its release yesterday. And Apple has wasted no time heaping praise on the app in its own way, by making it the coveted iPhone App of the Week in the App Store.

Twitter for iPhone, of course, is the new name for Tweetie, the app made by the company Atebits (really, Loren Brichter) until they were acquired by Twitter in April. While Tweetie itself was already extremely popular (that tends to happen when you make the best-of-class app), its popularity is bound to hit a whole different level now. First of all, the app used to cost $2.99, but Twitter decided to make it free. Perhaps more importantly though, the new branding — simply “Twitter” in the App Store — makes it much more visible to the masses looking for the best Twitter app through search.

And that’s exactly why Twitter made the purchase — they needed a way to further their brand on mobile clients, so users weren’t confused, and got the best experience. On BlackBerry and Android phones, they built their own apps from scratch. But they likely realized it would be hard to top Tweetie, so they just bought it. Smart move.

The app itself remains the best Twitter client for the iPhone. There are a few small changes here and there, such as more emphasis on the new-style Retweets, which some people still seem to hate despite seemingly huge adoption. Search is better, the app seems faster overall, and again, the price is now 100% better. The biggest complaint people seem to have is about the new icon. But I, for one, kind of like it. It makes a lot more sense from a branding perspective than the old chat bubble.

Perhaps Apple giving Twitter the App of the Week was to make up for their odd half-roll out of the app a few days ago. The app was showing up in users’ app update area, but you couldn’t click on it for over a day. Or maybe they just love the app. Either way, it’s going to get a ton of downloads. It already is.

As a somewhat related side note, Apple is also featuring Square as the iPad App of the Week. Square is the mobile payment company started by Twitter creator and chairman Jack Dorsey. Apple is also featuring Square on the iPhone side of the store, as well. Now we just need a version of Twitter for the iPad so Apple can feature that too — and to make me happy.

You can find Twitter for iPhone here. And Square for iPhone/iPad here.

Is the Next Prius Going To Be A Tesla?

Posted: 20 May 2010 04:31 PM PDT

Toyota and Tesla announced a new partnership at Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto today, the auto makers will collaborate on technology, the development of new electric vehicles and Toyota will purchase $50 million of Tesla’s common stock (to be completed after Tesla’s pending IPO). The press conference featured the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk and TMC President, Akio Toyoda.

Calling it an “explosion” for California (I think he meant this in the positive sense, not the Terminator sense) Schwarzenegger framed it as a victory for California’s environmental agenda and the economy. He predicts it will create 1,000 jobs for the state’s embattled economy.

“Toyota is a company founded on innovation, quality, and commitment to sustainable mobility. It is an honor and a powerful endorsement of our technology that Toyota would choose to invest in and partner with Tesla,” Musk said in a statement. “We look forward to learning and benefiting from Toyota’s legendary engineering manufacturing, and production expertise.” The car companies will collaborate on future EV models, as Tesla move towards more affordable models. Musk told us he hopes to create a car in the $30,000 price range in the next few years (with Toyota’s help)— compare that to the roadster which retails for $100k-plus.

Significantly, Tesla announced that it will takeover the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) plant in Fremont and expects to produce the Model S EV at that location, starting in 2012. The NUMMI, which was formerly a joint venture of Toyota and GM, was shut down in April, leading to the elimination of 4,700 jobs. The hope is that once production truly ramps up for the Model S, Tesla will produce 20,000 EVs from the plant (Musk predicts it will take roughly 12 months, from the beginning of production, to reach this level). The company is currently adding 50 employees per month to keep pace with the expansion that will likely accelerate in the coming months. Over the next few years, he says it’s reasonable to expect Tesla to grow to 2,000 employees, with roughly half of that working in NUMMI.

Earlier today, Schwarzenegger unexpectedly announced (at a separate Google event in Mountain View ) that Toyota was partnering with Tesla to build electric cars in California, according to reports. The possibly accidental announcement took some thunder out of Tesla’s 5 p.m. PST press conference.

For Toyota, it’s a chance to curry favor in the California and larger US market, for Tesla, the car maker gets Toyota’s technology & resources to help it transition from a highly niche player to a more robust force in the domestic auto market. Succinctly: Tesla wants to be more like Toyota, and Toyota wants to be more like Tesla. Musk says the partnership was borne out of a meeting with Toyoda roughly six weeks ago. Musk offered Toyoda a test drive in a Tesla and Toyoda eagerly took him up on his offer—Musk was impressed by the executive’s bold driving skills (“he drove it like a real sports car”) and Toyoda was impressed by the car.

Of course, this is not Tesla’s first partnership with a big automaker. Last year, the company signed a deal with Daimler that gave Daimler a 10% stake and technology in exchange for roughly $50 million, according to reports. Musk said Daimler has been supportive of the new deal and had previously acknowledged that Tesla could use another large partner.

Tesla hasn’t had a lot of trouble attracting capital, with investors like Google’s Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Capricorn Management, Compass Technology, JPMorgan— it’s a really long list. Even the US Deparment of Energy threw down a $465 million low-interest loan for Tesla last year. Attracting money is one thing, the real struggle for Tesla has been building on that base. The company has recorded net losses for virtually every previous quarter—investors should expect further losses until Tesla really ramps up production and deliveries of its more affordable Model S sedan.

CHINICT: China’s largest tech conference will be livestreaming on TechCrunch

Posted: 20 May 2010 03:47 PM PDT

Preparations for the launch of TechCrunch TV continue apace: we’re getting ready to announce our launch line up shortly after next week’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York.

As well as our own exclusive roster of shows, we’re working hard to secure the rights to livecast some of the most interesting and entertaining technology events from around the world. One such event is CHINICT – “the largest conference on China tech innovation & entrepreneurship”, held in Beijing every year.

Annoyingly this year’s event falls a few weeks prior to our launch date so you’ll have to wait till next year for full-on TCTV coverage, but in the meantime we’ve convinced the conference’s organisers to allow us to show an uninterrupted feed of this year’s event right here on TechCrunch.com. Fittingly, it kicks off next Thursday; the day after Disrupt ends.

With much of the agenda in English – and with speakers including Dave McClure – the event promises to be a fascinating couple of days for Chinese and Valley entrepreneurs alike.

More importantly though, the conference reflects the reality that, increasingly, the big technological innovations are happening not in Silicon Valley but in emerging markets like China. Of course none of this will be news if you’ve been following TechCrunch roving editor Sarah Lacy’s travels around the emerging world (see her post here on why China isn’t simply “The Next Silicon Valley”). But just in case you’re still not convinced on the significance of what’s happening outside of the US, I asked CHINICT organiser Franck Nazikian to explain to us why TechCrunch readers’ eyes should be on Beijing on May 27th and 28th. Franck writes…

“For good or for bad, China is now challenging Silicon Valley’s supremacy on two fundamentals which once made Silicon Valley the global brand for tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

Firstly, China is challenging Silicon Valley’s supremacy by becoming a leading hotbed for tech innovation of global impact. In other words, tomorrow’s Microsoft or Google are on the verge of soon coming from China. Indeed, the era of the Chinese copy/paste model, if there ever was one, is definitely over: the Western propaganda arguing there is no innovation in China does not change the facts.

A silent yet very real tech revolution is coming from China. The Chinese companies leading this revolution are called Tencent or Innovation Works. You might have heard their names but perhaps don’t  know why – or if – they matter on a global level. Yet, Tencent, for example, has the 3rd largest market cap in Internet business right after Google and Amazon. And Tencent business model is no copy/paste from the West. Actually Tencent generates billions of dollars from Chinese consumers – by selling them virtual goods – which no company from the West has so far managed to do (watch Tencent’s head of R&D at CHINICT, May 27th at 11:30am Beijing time – 8:30pm Pacific). Another example of this tech revolution coming from China: Innovation Works. Led by former founding president of Google China and best selling Chinese author Kaifu Lee, Innovation Works has raised over 100 million dollars to develop from scratch the future IT leaders of China and beyond (Watch Kaifu Lee, May 28th, 9am Beijing time – 6pm Pacific).

2. China is challenging Silicon Valley supremacy as a magnet to attract top-tier entrepreneurs coming from all over the world.

China is now more and more frequently attracting top-tier entrepreneurs from all over the world; and venture capital is more abundant than ever (watch the Investors funding the China tech revolution at CHINICT on May 28th, 2pm Beijing time – 11pm Pacific). Meet for example Jameson Hsu, the CEO of MochiMedia, a Silicon Valley company just acquired by leading Chinese gaming company Shanda for over 80 million dollars: “I had the opportunity to sell my company to several major players in the US, including Google, but I chose Shanda to start understanding better the Chinese market – where I plan to start my new venture at some point”, says Jameson. Mark Suster and Dave McClure, two prominent entrepreneurs/investors/bloggers from Silicon Valley are also embracing this trend and are speaking at CHINICT to explain why.”

CHINICT will be held on May 27th & 28th at Crown Plaza Parkview Wuzhou Hotel, and streamed live on TechCrunch.com from 8:30am Beijing time (5:30pm Pacific) on both days. See the complete agenda here – and more background on speakers here.

Carriers Will Be Able To Decide Which Android Phones Have Tethering (And They Can Charge For It)

Posted: 20 May 2010 02:06 PM PDT

Today during its keynote at I/O, Google officially announced that the latest version of Android, called Froyo, will feature tethering and wireless hotspot functionality — a big win for Android users. When we broke the news last week we questioned whether or not carriers would be able to disable or charge more for this functionality given that it was baked into the default Android OS. Unfortunately, at least as far as consumers are concerned, it sounds like carriers will get their say. In other words, expect at least some carriers to charge more for tethering.

I asked Hiroshi Lockheimer, who heads up engineering on Android, about the issue and the answer was confusing to say the least. Lockheimer said that Android doesn’t do anything special to tag data that’s being accessed through tethering, though carriers could probably find a way to detect it if they really wanted to. But they probably won’t have to, because Android is making it easy for carriers to either charge extra for, or disable entirely, tethering on the phones they sell. It sounds like these would both require small modifications to the OS.

That’s straightforward enough — carriers and OEMs have been molding Android to suit their needs for a while now. But what about phones that feature the “Google Experience”, which is the term used to describe devices that ship with the stock Android OS (Google Experience phones include the Motorola Droid and Nexus One)? Presumably carriers wouldn’t be able to insert their payment switch if the OS is unmodified, which means these phones could potentially get tethering included in their normal data plans.  We’ll have to wait to find out — Lockheimer said that the answer isn’t clear yet.

Android Froyo Running Laps Around The iPad — Literally [Video]

Posted: 20 May 2010 01:48 PM PDT

Today at Google I/O in San Francisco, Google unveiled its new version of the Android operating system, 2.2, dubbed “Froyo.” While it’s not available just yet, Google put it all on display on the stage during the keynote. Perhaps the most impressive moment was when they demoed the performance increases in 2.2 compared to Android 2.1 — and compared to the iPad.

In the video below, 2.2 is the phone on the left, 2.1 is the phone on the right. And on the other side of the stage on the other screen is the iPad. All the devices have a 1 Ghz chip, and all are running the same (web-based) app (in which a creature races around a screen). As you can see Android 2.2 not only blows away Android 2.1, it destroys the iPad as well. In fact, it laps the iPad a few times over.

Obviously, this is just one app, presumably designed to show raw speed, but it’s impressive. Google claims that with Froyo, Android users will see a 2x to 5x speed increase (over the previous build of the OS). It looks like they’re telling the truth.

Brizzly Teases Upcoming ‘Picnics’ Feature

Posted: 20 May 2010 12:45 PM PDT

Not being a fan of memory-hogging desktop clients, I prefer to use Web apps in my browser of choice (Google Chrome) for most everything. For Twitter, I tend to use Brizzly, a product of San Francisco-based Thing Labs, which was founded by former Googlers.

It’s a nice Web app, apart from its annoying general sluggishness, and new features get added consistently so it has me sticking around for now.

This morning when logging in, I was greeted with a message saying that ‘Brizzly Picnics are coming soon’. Clicking through for more information, I found myself on this page, which talks a bit about what the new feature is or will be.

It’s all a bit cryptic, but here’s the whole message they’re trying to convey:

Friend is not a verb. Your real friends are already your friends. In Brizzly Picnics you can make sure they stay that way. Invite only the people you want to join you in a conversation. Much like you might do in real life. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Spam? What spam? When you’re in control of who you talk to, you won’t see unwanted messages. Brizzly Picnics put you in control of the guest list (just like a real picnic, or party, or conversation.)

The guy who bought your couch is not your buddy. I mean, he seemed nice and all when he answered your classified ad, but he’s basically a stranger. So why would he be in a list of people with whom you might share information with? We don’t think he should be. He won’t be, in Brizzly Picnics.

There’s a time and a place for Bieber. …and it’s probably not while you’re talking to your dad. If you care about celebrity news, there’s probably a good way for you to find out about it. It shouldn’t rudely interrupt conversations with your friends. Brizzly Picnics will keep news about teenage Canadian pop stars polite.

Your family doesn’t need a subject line. You’ve got a funny video, or an interesting news story, or a new website to share. Do you really need to open up a new email thread? Not if you’re using Brizzly Picnics. Just have a conversation.

You don’t want to hear about a pretend farm. You’re probably really happy your friend’s digital farm is going well and everything, but don’t want to hear about it every day. That’s why you should just invite them to talk. In a Brizzly Picnic. Coming soon.

You can cut the clutter from your conversations. Not everything you say needs to be broadcast. You might have different things to say to different groups of people. Brizzly Picnics will let you do this. Pretty easily, in fact.

Looking at past coverage, I noticed the startup talked about Picnics before, and even has a live example right here (a dead link to another one turns up in search results, too).

Sounds to me like a Twitter or Google Buzz type service but inherently private, for communication in small groups that doesn’t belong out in the open. Kinda like opening up a private chatroom or IM session – or is there more to it?

I guess we’ll find out more ‘soon’.

Though I’m hoping they’ll sort out the loading speed issues first …

Google TV Vs. Apple TV Is Android Vs. iPhone Round 2

Posted: 20 May 2010 12:33 PM PDT

During the keynote at Google I/O today, Google took a lot (and I do mean a lot) of not-too-subtle shots at Apple. Most of this was related to Android vs. iPhone, but it also delved into something else with the new Google TV platform. At the Q&A following the keynote, someone asked the question: what does this mean for Apple TV?

Google dodged the question a little at first. Their line is that the TV ecosystem is now ready for something like Google TV (that implies that it wasn’t before with devices such as the Apple TV). But they also noted that their idea is different from Apple because they’re trying to do this in a different way. That way, naturally, is the “open” way.

Whereas Apple TV is a device and a piece of software, Google TV is just a platform. Sony TVs will be called something different, for example, but they’ll have Google TV built-in. And this is an important distinction because it allows Google to take what makes current TVs popular — showing TV content — and build on top of it. Apple doesn’t do that with Apple TV. Instead, they created an entirely new way to get content (by download via iTunes).

Users shouldn’t have to choose between TV or the web — they can have both, is the way Google put it.

Google’s Vic Gundotra went further. He called the question about positioning against the Apple TV “eerily similar to the questions we heard about Android.” Gundotra suggested that everyone look at the success they’ve had with Android. Success in an open way, he made sure to emphasize. “We’ll have similar success,” Gundotra said.

So yes, put another way, this is Android vs. iPhone round 2. Or maybe it will be round 3, depending on if Chrome OS netbooks beat Google TV to market. Chrome OS netbooks will compete with the iPad — which Steve Jobs has said is Apple’s solution that’s better than a notebook.

A follow-up question asked if this was really Google telling Jobs “where to stick his OS?” Gundotra tried to dance around the question, but noted the full keynote video will be on YouTube. “I’m sure if he sees it, we’ll hear from him,” he (maybe half) joked.

Gundotra then tried to dampen the cries of war a bit. “We continue to partner with Apple in many areas,” he noted. He said Google TV isn’t directed at Apple only. “Only” being the keyword.

Regardless of what happens, my position is the same: Google entering this space is great news for all consumers. It’s going to force Apple to move the Apple TV beyond a self-stated “hobby” and into a real product. As I (quite eloquently, I think) wrote back in March:

We, as consumers, need a living room arms race between Apple and Google (and Microsoft, TiVo, Roku, Boxee, and the rest) to kick the cable companies' shitty television user experience to the curb.

Round 2. Fight.

[photo: 20th Century Fox]

Zendesk Apologizes For Suddenly Hiking Its Prices, CEO Hopes For “Make-Up Sex”

Posted: 20 May 2010 11:49 AM PDT

A lot of companies can learn a thing or two from how Zendesk has now dealt with the huge backlash from its customer base after the startup changed its prices overnight (which resulted in a lot of their users suddenly paying up to 300% more than what they signed up for years ago).

In a blog post, titled “Sorry. We Messed Up.”, the company doesn’t mess up its mea culpa:

When we decided to make a change to the Zendesk pricing structure for our existing customers, we tried to be as thoughtful, transparent, and straightforward as possible. We failed. We let you down. And we apologize.

While it’s refreshing enough to see a company stand up in the middle of a shit storm and unequivocally state that they indeed screwed up, Zendesk is also trying to turn the ship around.

As a result of the backlash, they are now killing the time limit of the half-baked grandfathering terms they tried to appease their earliest and most loyal customers with at first.

That basically means all customers will continue to receive the same functionality they’ve had in the past, in addition to the new community support and knowledge base features that were announced on Tuesday, all while paying the same price they’ve been familiarized with. Which sounds to me like the only correct way to go about this.

As an added bonus, here’s what Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane just e-mailed us:

Hey Robin and Leena,

We just rolled our price changes back for existing customers. It has been a hectic 48 hours talking to our customers. But it has also been a very educating process. We’ve had a very public argument. Despite our good intentions we understand we did wrong and we feel miserable. We hope our customers will accept our apology.

And we hope for make-up sex. But let’s see about that ;-)


I wonder how many customers effectively jumped ship and are no longer interested in make-up sex, but having seen the company’s response to the backlash I do hope many of them will take Svane and co up on it. Just don’t send us pictures, please.

Google’s True Secret Project: Google TV… Socks!

Posted: 20 May 2010 11:19 AM PDT

Today at Google I/O, Google once again made a splash by giving everyone in the audience an EVO 4G phone, the latest, greatest Android phone. It was the second time in as many years that Google had an “Oprah moment.” But that’s not all Google had up its sleeve in terms of giveaways. Behold. Google TV socks!

Yes, Google gave people leaving the keynote a free pair of socks. I don’t know why. At first I thought it was a phone holder. But whatever, free socks. Cool.

No word yet if Apple is working on a response for WWDC.

Eric Schmidt Presides Over The Marriage Of The 50-Year-Old TV And The Teenage Web

Posted: 20 May 2010 11:05 AM PDT

“We’ve been waiting a long time for today,” says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who is presiding over a power panel of CEOs helping to make Google TV possible. The panel, at Google I/O, includes the CEOs of Sony, Best Buy, Echostar, Adobe, Logitech, and, of course, Google. He needs all of them, as well as developers, to make his new Google TV a hit.

Google TV will be built into a new Sony TV coming out this fall in time for the holiday shopping season, as well a Logitech TV companion box which can be hooked up to existing TVs with an HDMI port. It is Google’s attempt to bring together the 50-year-old TV-watching experience with the Web. It does that in a variety of ways,from a universal search box which searches both TV and the Web to opening up the TV as an application platform for developers and media companies to enhance their video offerings. Its ambition is to bring the Web into the TV and have the same impact on TV as Android and other smartphones are having on mobile phones.

Brian Dunn, the CEO of Best Buy, calls it “an entirely new category: the smart TV. This is the first seamless experience that is able to pull up the things you care about in realtime. I think there will be an enormous consumer appetite to do this.” Schmidt needs Best Buy and its 180,000 “blue shirts” to sell this idea of a Web TV—which has been tried in the past and flopped—to consumers. And Schmidt knows this. He made a point of saying that people have to see this and have it demonstrated to them before they will buy. Best Buy is his surrogate Apple Stores, if you will.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer, who is “fairly giddy with excitement” about introducing a new kind of TV to the market, calls it “active television.” The Google TV experience as demoed today, includes a universal search box which scours both TV and the Web and delivers video from either source in the same user interface. That will be key to getting adoption.

Finally, there is the issue of Flash. Schmidt gave Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen a big bear hug, positioning Google as Flash’s friend (in contrast to that other Silicon Valley company which hates it and has been beating up Adobe lately). Schmidt threw Narayen a softball question, “Why are we fighting for Flash.” Narayen’s answer: “It is really about engaging content on the Web and getting it to any device. This is really about creating family harmony.” That’s right, “family harmony.” Way to drop the ball.

What he should have said is that Google Tv renders Web video in a browser on your TV and at that size the best way to get a clear picture right now is through Flash. But he didn’t say that.

Skyfire launches their first B2B offering: Skyfire Rocket

Posted: 20 May 2010 10:30 AM PDT

We’ve written about Skyfire before. Plenty of times, actually. It’s the smartphone browser that, by way of data-compression proxies (and tiny wizards), can chew through Flash video and other Rich media formats on Android, Windows Mobile, and S60 handsets. Thus far, Skyfire has been an entirely business-to-consumer operation.

Today, Skyfire makes the good ol’ jump to business-to-business with the launch of Skyfire Rocket.


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