web 2.0

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Awareness Technologies Raises $6.5 Million For Threat Management Software

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 08:35 AM PDT

Enterprise threat management startup Awareness Technologies has raised $6.5 million from Brad Miller, the former CEO and Chairman of Perimeter eSecurity, and First New England Capital. Awareness develops InterGuard, a SaaS-based threat management platform that helps enterprises cover data loss prevention, web filtering, employee monitoring and laptop recovery. InterGuard allows businesses to limit access to certain software applications, PSP, chat, social networking sites and even tracks employee work output and productivity. The software also monitors, records and controls employee computer activity and detects and averts activities and data-flows that could put a company in jeopardy.

Paid iPhone Applications Tend To Top Rankings Longer Than Free Apps

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 08:14 AM PDT

(click image for a larger size)

App store analytics startup Distimo just released its May report, and zoomed in on the average number of days applications across various categories maintain their top rankings in Apple’s App Store. Analyzing data collected from November 2009 to April 2010, the company found that paid applications in the Top Overall, Games, Business and Entertainment categories stay in these categories for 27, 39, 59 and 38 days on average, respectively.

Free applications stay in the Top 100 for a significantly shorter time in those categories, with 19, 21 and 39 days on average, respectively. The exception to the rule seems to be the Entertainment category, in which free apps stay in the Top 100 for a slightly longer period of time than paid applications; 43 days compared to 38 days.

The likely reason: there are approximately three times as many paid apps for the iPhone than there are free ones, so there’s less competition in the gratis segment.

In the App Store, the majority of paid applications that have been in the Top 100 Overall during the entire period of 6 months measured fall into the Games and Entertainment categories. The paid applications that have been in the Top 5 for the longest period of time are Doodle Jump (140 days), RedLaser (73 days) and Skee-Ball (68 days).

The paid application that has been number one for the longest period of time is Skee-Ball (24 days). The free applications that have been in the Top 5 for the longest period of time are Facebook (12 days) and Paper Toss (7 days).

Zooming in on the iPad, the highest ranked paid iPad application in the Apple App Store in April 2010 was Pages, followed by GoodReader for iPad and Pinball HD. The highest ranked free iPad application in the Apple App Store was iBooks, followed by The Solitaire and Break HD Free.

FetchBack Fetches $40 Million From GSI Commerce

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 06:40 AM PDT

Let the ad retargeting acquisitions begin. This morning, GSI Commerce announced it purchased FetchBack, an advertising startup which specializes in retargeting. The size of the cash deal was not disclosed, but one source puts it in the $40 million range. FetchBack raised a single round of $1 million in January, 2008 led by Gersh Venture Partners, which is now Metamorphic Ventures (a New York City venture firm with strong ad-tech portfolio which likes to put in small amounts of capital in startups which become self-sufficient quickly). Angel investors Erik Matlick, 24/7 co-founder Geoff Judge, and Jeff Stewart also invested. The company quickly became profitable and never needed to raise another round. CEO Chad Little will continue to run the business within GSI Commerce.

The way it works is that if somebody visits an e-commerce site on the Web, FetchBack will show that same person related ads from that retailer or even the page they visited when they go elsewhere. The conversion rates are much higher than with standard display ads because they are being shown to people who have already shown an interest in the exact or similar products.

GSI Commerce powers many online retailers. Adding a retargeting capability to its marketing services is a no-brainer, since retargeting is basically a way to drive customers back to your shopping site after they’ve left. One of the biggest problems e-commerce sites have is shopping cart abandonment. Retargeting also allows retailers to present the items in an abandoned shopping cart in the form of a display ad. On average, less than one percent of visitors to e-commerce sites end up purchasing anything. With retargeting, Fetchback is able to get that number up to 8 to 10 percent. The trick is getting the analytics right and drilling down to what works and what doesn’t for each individual potential shopper.

Retargeting is a hot area right now in the ad world. French retargeter Criteo recently raised $7 million from Bessemer, and Google is getting into the game as well.

Crowley, Founder Collective And IA Ventures Put $2.5M In Realtime Data Startup Metamarkets

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 06:16 AM PDT

Realtime data startup Metamarkets has raised $2.5 million in seed funding. The round included an all star team of investors: IA Ventures (who led the round), Village Ventures, True Ventures, Founder Collective, Mike Maples, Stan Shuman (Managing Director at Allen & Company), AOL Ventures, Jim Pallotta, Josh Stylman, Peter Hershberg, and Dennis Crowley.

Metamarkets provides price data and predictive analytics to large-scale global media companies. Launched in late 2009, the company aims to solve the problem of ad price discovery on mobile and web platforms for media companies. Metamarkets aggregates billions of electronic media transactions to deliver dynamic price data, proprietary price and volume aggregations, and analytic media market views to sell-side media principals.

The startup serves ad server data, order insertion data, targeting data, audience data, conversion data, and more, enabling media companies and publishers to shift strategy in realtime based on how web and mobile formats are monetizing.

Founded by David Soloff, the former lead architect at ad startup Rapt (which was acquired by Microsoft in 2008), and Michael Driscoll, the founder of a data consultancy Dataspora, Metamarkets will use the new funding to build out the startup’s engineering team. While the company is currently serving its data to a number of media companies, Soloff declined to name which companies are using Metamarkets.

GeeksOnAPlane In Korea: 12 Demos From Local Startups

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 06:08 AM PDT

After geeking out in Shanghai and Beijing for a week, the GeeksOnAPlane (GOAP) caravan moved on to South Korea’s tech hot spot Seoul. The group spent the weekend in the city; an extremely short window of time, but enough to get at least a rough overview of what’s going in the country’s tech scene. And perhaps more importantly, we had the chance to interact and exchange ideas with a number of web and mobile entrepreneurs from Korea around the Startup Weekend Seoul event (the country’s first ever).

Overview of Korea’s tech scene

During the stay, our “host” in Korea, Chang Kim (one of the biggest star web entrepreneurs in the country), delivered a great primer on how the web industry evolved over the years.

There’s a number of interesting peculiarities in Korea, Asia’s fourth biggest online nation (37.5 million of the 48 million Koreans are online). For example, there’s the ubiquity of the Internet explorer (90%+ market share), the world’s highest broadband rate (which stands at a staggering 95%), or how certain social patterns in the real world are reflected on the web (distinct group behavior of Koreans in the real world facilitating viral marketing).

Here’s the presentation that Kim, now a product manager for Blogger.com at Google (the company that bought his startup two years ago), delivered:

The presentation follows up on Kim’s Tedx talk Kim gave last year and which I embedded below (it’s in English and contains a wealth of valuable information on Korea’s tech scene):

Demos from 12 Korean startups

Kim also organized a startup demo pad (separate from the Startup Weekend Seoul event, just like his primer), which was put together just for the GOAP group. Some of the Korean web entrepreneurs we met deplored the relatively small size of the industry, but the 12 local startups that showed their wares are building awesome stuff.

Here are thumbnail sketches on all of them. For more information, visit GOAP Seoul, the excellent mini blog Chang Kim thankfully put together just for the demo event (in English).

Startup 1: SundayToz
SundayToz is a four year old company that creates social games for Facebook, the iPhone, and NATE (the app platform of Cyworld, Korea’s leading social network that has 24 million users). The startup says it’s the country’s leading social game provider, currently seeing 500,000 daily visits daily. It now plans to expand to Asia, especially eying Mixi (Japan’s Facebook) as the first potential partner.

Startup 2: Flyfan (more info on the GOAP Seoul blog)
Korea’s e-commerce market is worth $17 billion, making it the world’s sixth largest. Founded in 2009, Flyfan launched Korea’s first “Etsy” (1forME) before officially launching their second product at the GOAP Seoul event. It combines a user-moderated group buying concept with heavy social elements. The idea is to let selected end users, for example “trusted” power mom bloggers, connect buyers (through giving product recommendations) with sellers (through finding customers for them) in a B2C2C model. Flyfan plans to launch the service in Korea this summer, with the US to follow later this year.

Here’s the complete presentation:

Startup 3: Fanatic.fm (more info here)
Fanatic.fm describes itself as a music branding platform, AdWords for music, and a “beyond-CD” music publishing tool for musicians. The service wants to answer the question how musicians get paid fairly online, especially when users listen to streaming music. Fanatic.fm enables fans and brands alike to financially support artists through ads that come “bundled” with the music whenever a song from those artists are being played. The startup is incorporated in California and has offices in Seoul.

Startup 4: Showstreet (more info here)
Provided by Seoul-based Rain.D, Showstreet combines self-developed, Google Street View-like technology with business databases and mapping information. The idea is to let users “pre-visit” destinations virtually before actually going there in the real world. House buyers, for example, can use Showstreet to “walk” along the street the house is located in and zoom in and “look” around inside the rooms. Through a joint venture with New Zealand-based WebConcept, Showstreet is mainly used by tourism agencies, real estate agents and small businesses in Australia and New Zealand.

Startup 5: TicketMonster
TicketMonster is a Korean Groupon clone that tries to capitalize on the country’s penchant for online shopping: whereas Koreans spend $24 billion to buy products on the web, real-world retailers see only $24 billion in sales per year. Another potential plus for TicketMonster is that because of the strong social element (group behavior) in Korea’s web, viral and word-of-mouth marketing works better than in other countries. As a result, TicketMonster says it spends just an average $0.47 to acquire a customer.

Startup 6: Kloseup (more info here)
Kloseup lets casual animators produce 3D animations, which can then be edited by other users from the community. Especially teenagers (the main customer base) are creating 3D movies centered around family and friends, parodies of popular TV programs, music videos, and even clips for school presentations. A mobile service called StoryMessage (built on top of Kloseup) makes it possible to send the movies to cell phones (as MMS) and customize the clips with text. Itonic, the startup behind the service, currently looks for new business partners in the US, Japan and other markets.

Startup 7: Twitcooler
Twitcooler is a Twitter-based social network for TV viewers. Users can tweet about a TV program while watching it on "three screens”, meaning on the cell phone (through a special iPhone app), on a PC site and their TVs (through an IPTV app). In the case of the IPTV app, relevant tweets will appear in a Twitter bar on the bottom of the screen. Twitcooler users can befriend each other and become fans of TV shows. The service is still in stealth mode.

Startup 8: Zimly (more info here)
Zimly is an Android app that was pitched as the “social media player” of the future. The app is already available (free download) and sees a pretty good number of downloads already. But the Zimly team is currently working on creating the “iTunes for Android”, just more open and with more social features. The idea is to make it easier to find new music by getting recommendations from people in your social graph.

Startup 9: Userstory Lab (more info here)
Userstory Lab is a quite international 10-man team based in Seoul whose mission is to “bring social search, recommendation engines and social layer to syndication channels in South Korea so it’s easier to discover, share, recommend web content, and purchase products and services online." The company builds social services around “objects”, which at some point in the future will be merged into one big network that users can access via a single account. At the moment, Userstory Lab is focusing on two objects, books and links, with Userstory Book (a social network for book lovers) and tweetmix (a Twitter-based last.fm for links).

Startup 10: Paprika Lab
Paprika Lab is a social game provider that distributes titles on Facebook, iTunes and other platforms. At the demo event, the company pitched a social RPG with what appeared to be rather high production values and “Final Fantasy-like” game mechanics. Dubbed Pirate Legacy, the title wants to offer something the vast majority of the social games out there don’t: actual playability and deepness. Pirate Legacy is currently in beta and attracted 10,000 players so far.

Startup 11: Wetoku (more info here)
Wetoku is a completely browser-based service that lets users livestream video chats over the web. After the broadcast, recorded videos can be stored on the site or embedded in blogs and other places. The service is designed to be extra-easy to use, and it’s ideal for conducting video interviews, for example. Here‘s a recent one between Wetoku co-founder David Lee and Robert Scoble about Korea’s web scene.

Startup 12: Pixelberry
Pixelberry is an in-browser 3D game engine whose Chrome demo at the event looked amazing, with the sample 3D avatar shown almost reaching photo-realistic quality. (The presenter asked not to take pictures or provide deeper information as it’s still work in progress).

More pictures from the event can be found here.

Startup Weekend Seoul

The Startup Weekend Seoul, which was attended by a whopping 103 people, showed one clear trend in Korea: this country loves Apple. The majority of ideas the ten teams presented (thankfully mostly in English) at the final day (Sunday) centered on either the iPhone or the iPad – which currently isn’t even available in Korea.

In the end, three services won the top (cash) prizes of the event. Quicket, which is short for “Quick Market”, is a mobile app that will allow users to easily list up stuff for sale by just taking pictures of the items and pricing them. MiCasa is an LBS for the iPhone with which users will be able to customize maps to play games (i.e. scavenger hunt) in the real world, combined with an RPG-like ranking system. Troasis is another iPhone app that will help drivers in traffic jams to communicate in real-time with each other to share traffic information.

The GOAP group also had the pleasure of meeting Korean wunderkind Todd Oh at the event. Todd not only helped putting the Startup Weekend Seoul together, but he’s also fully bilingual, writes for The Next Web South Korea, and founded a US-Korean startup called spotengine – at age 16. Follow his English tweets here.

Plenty of video interviews from attendees can be found here, more photos are here.

Many thanks to Chang Kim – who covers Korea's Internet landscape on his personal English-language blog Web 2.0 Asia – and the Startup Weekend Seoul organizers for hosting the GOAP in South Korea.

The group is currently in Singapore, attending the echelon 2010 tech conference (more on that in a future post). For information in real-time, follow the adventures of the GOAP via the #goap hash tag (the official Twitter account is here). GOAP pictures are being uploaded regularly over on Flickr.

Picture credit: Paul Papadimitriou

BodogBrand Bought Slots.com For About $5.8 Million, Intends To License It

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 05:54 AM PDT

BodogBrand, a venture capital and licensing organization with its head office in the Caribbeans, is the entity that successfully bid for the Slots.com domain name, the company revealed this morning.

We had earlier reported that the domain name went for $5.5 million in an online auction at Snapnames, but BodogBrand says it paid ‘over GBP4,000,000′, which currently converts to roughly $5.85 million. It’s the largest sum paid for a domain in 2010 and one of the top 10 ever.

Calvin Ayre, founder of the Bodog brand, in a fairly amusing statement said he was bidding millions for the gaming domain name from a bar stool in London’s L’Atelier restaurant, and ultimately won the auction.

Ayre says he considers Slots.com to be the second best gaming domain in the world, after Casino.com and way better than Poker.com “because there are no strong brands in this space”. He adds that Slots.com will serve to generate global traffic to Bodog branded properties but also to form a number of other targeted websites, including one that will be created by and for the female gambler.

In essence, this means that BodogBrand will license Slots.com to selected online gaming operators in a fashion similar to the way the Bodog brand itself is currently licensed to gaming operators worldwide.

The company holds the global rights to license the Bodog brand across a variety of sectors, and its mandate is to partner with and/or license the brand to licensees for an array of products and services including online gaming, music, and other entertainment properties.

Kudzu Interactive Raises $7M To Bolster Growth Of Digital Ordering Service Snapfinger

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 05:26 AM PDT

Kudzu Interactive, which ownes and operates online and mobile ordering and e-commerce service Snapfinger.com, has closed a $7 million Series B funding round.

The round was led by Norwest Venture Partners, with additional but undisclosed investors participating. The company, founded in 2004, has now raised $11 million total to date.

The funding news was announced by the company this morning, but the New York Times profiled Kudzu Interactive extensively over the weekend, reporting that the Snapfinger.com owner is already profitable and growing revenues fast.

Jim Garrett, founder and CEO of Kudzu Interactive, says revenues grew 420% in 2009 and that it has more mobile applications and more restaurants integrated into more point of sale systems than “all of its competitors combined”. Snapfinger enables users to access more than 28,000 restaurants in over 1,600 cities from chains like California Pizza Kitchen, Outback Steakhouse and Boston Market, as well as local independent restaurants currently in its network.

The Series B funding round is aimed to support Kudzu Interactive’s sales and marketing initiatives and expand the business in a number of different areas, including mobile and iPad product development and real-time transaction based marketing features.

Josh Goldman and Jeff Crowe, general partners at Norwest Venture Partners, will join Kudzu Interactive's board of directors.

StatCounter: IE6 Usage Falls Below 5% In The US, But IE8 Still On The Rise

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 05:01 AM PDT

Microsoft’s oft-lamented browser, Internet Explorer 6, may finally be put to rest. This will make many a Web developer happy – but also Microsoft itself.

Web analytics company StatCounter claims its latest global data set shows IE6 usage in the US and Europe has fallen to 4.7 percent of the market from 11.5 percent a year ago. That said, IE8 usage in the US increased to 30.5 percent in May (up from 8.5 percent a year ago) while IE7 is currently at 16.6%, so it’s not all bad news for Redmond.

Firefox 3.6 comes in second in terms of browser usage in the US, with almost 19.85%, while Google Chrome 4.0 only has some 6.5% of market share according to StatCounter.

Update: Results from Net Applications paint a similar picture, although different numbers: the firm has Internet Explorer’s overall share dropping to below 60 percent from 67 percent and Firefox at the 24 percent mark, up 2 percent from the same period last year. NetMarketShare has Chrome's usage at 7 percent in May, up from 3 percent a year ago.

Still according to Net Applications, Internet Explorer 8′s share in May surpassed 31% among Windows customers, the only OS on which Internet Explorer is available, and 28.94% share across all operating systems.

Undoubtedly, major Internet services dropping support for IE6 on an ongoing basis (YouTube, Google Docs and Sites, Google Reader, etc.) are advancing its impending death.

But the reason Internet Explorer 6 is still around in the first place is likely because of some large corporations still clinging on to it despite massive security issues with the ancient browser. StatCounter also adds that Africa and Asia, where IE6 still has 20.8% usage, are making it harder to kill support for the browser already.

Hopefully, everyone will soon see the light.

(StatCounter says the data is based on an analysis of 15 billion page views – 3.8 billion from the US and 4.3 billion from Europe – for May 2010 collected from a network of over three million websites.)

Cross-Border Ecommerce Ventures Formed By Taobao And Yahoo! JAPAN Take Off

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 04:35 AM PDT

A couple of weeks ago, Yahoo Japan (Japan’s biggest website) and Taobao (China’s largest e-retailer) agreed to launch a cross-border initiative under which both services will link their online shopping services starting June 1.

Well, today’s that day.

Taobao, the largest online shopping website in China and a subsidiary of Alibaba, and Yahoo! JAPAN today began operating complementary online shopping services that connect Japanese consumers with Chinese merchants and Chinese consumers with Japanese merchants. Japanese consumers can now buy goods from Taobao merchants in China through Yahoo! JAPAN China Mall, a new website section.

In turn, Chinese consumers can buy Yahoo! JAPAN Shopping goods through the equally new TaoJapan website opened as part of Taobao. Consumers of both countries will be able to buy products available in the other country exactly in the same way as they normally shop from e-commerce platforms in their own country, bypassing the usual barriers such as language, laws, delivery logistics, and payment issues.

Sidenote: Yahoo Japan’s largest shareholder, telecom giant SoftBank, happens to own a 33% stake in Alibaba Group, Taobao’s parent company.

The initial service includes tens of millions of items on Yahoo! JAPAN China Mall and about 8 million on TaoJapan. Both companies intend to expand the number of products over time.

When the partnership was announced, Masayoshi Son, Yahoo! Japan’s chairman, said the combined transaction volume would represent 290 billion yuan ($42.5 billion – yes, billion) and 260 million users for both firms.

China’s search leader Baidu announced in January a joint venture agreement with Rakuten, a top Japanese online retailer, to launch a virtual shopping mall targeting the world’s largest online population. Rakuten also recently acquired Buy.com for $250 million.

Clearly, the e-commerce market in Asia is heating up quickly, and eBay and Amazon better keep watching developments closely.

Zipcar Seeks $75 Million IPO To Pay Off Debts

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 04:17 AM PDT

Technology-driven car sharing and rental service provider Zipcar this morning announced that it has filed an S-1 with the SEC relating to a proposed IPO of shares of its common stock.

The number of shares to be offered and the price range for the offering have not yet been determined, but the filing reveals a target of $75 million.

Zipcar expects to use the net proceeds of the public offering to pay down certain indebtedness, and for general corporate purposes if any remain. The proposed offering will be managed by Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.

Revolution Living, Benchmark Capital Partners, Greylock Partners and Smedvig Capital hold a notable stake in the company.

Zipcar was incorporated in Delaware in January 2000 and is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It currently provides over 400,000 members with self-service vehicles, and operates its membership-based business in 13 major metropolitan areas and on more than 150 college campuses in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The company has reported net losses year after year, and acknowledges that the car sharing market is still nascent and that it may not be able to turn profitable by 2011 and beyond. For the three months ended March 31, 2010, the company incurred net loss of $5.3 million and reported revenue of $33.24 million.

In the filing, Zipcar also shared that it’s actively looking for more acquisitions in the space: the company has earlier merged with rival Flexcar (in 2007) and UK-based Streetcar (April 2010).

Zoho Adds Unified Search To Productivity Suite

Posted: 01 Jun 2010 03:40 AM PDT

Web-based productivity suite Zoho is getting into the search game today. The startup is adding an "actionable" search tool to its productivity suite, allowing a user to do a keyword search across an organization's entire suite, across multiple applications including email, documents, forums, contacts, and more. The search portal acts much like any search engine within a content site. Users can search by keyword or contact, and view results from multiple apps. Zoho Search indexes data from multiple Zoho Apps, including Zoho Mail, Docs, Writer, Sheet, Show, Notebook, Discussions, Accounts and more. Search results are grouped based on applications and filters are provided to view additional results from each category. From within search, users can reply to emails, edit documents, comment on forums, or update contact information.

Shop It to Me Gets New Look, Back Engine and Soon Expands to New Categories

Posted: 31 May 2010 11:59 PM PDT

I've long been a fan of Shop It to Me, a site that was early to the personalized shopping and promotion wave when it started back in 2004. It was a beautifully simple idea: Email newsletters that let you know when your favorite brands in your size were on sale. After some-six years of quietly building a business, Shop It To Me is finally invested in a new front end, back end and new retail categories. The users will start seeing changes today.

This is a site that execution-wise got everything right, which is why it has out-grown and out-lasted a few dozen companies that have had a near-identical approach. First off, it has great inventory—all the biggest designers and department stores. The site allows you to enter your size info on a brand-by-brand basis, recognizing that we all wear different sizes for different designers. The email newsletters contain all the information you want, you only click through if you have an intent to purchase. That means there's no bait-and-switch or overly goosed click-through rates for retailers.

You can even set how many times and what day you want to get the newsletters,and set whether you only way to see items that are, say 50% off or more.

A lot of Web sites either don't solve a big problem (ie, Plurk, Friendfeed in a post-Twitter world) or solve a problem in a far too complex, over-featured way. Shop It to Me fell into neither trap. It sought the simplest solution to solving the tricky problem of apparel discovery that the first generation comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com never came close to solving. It's comparable to Kayak, only better because Kayak was replacing the pain of going to four or five sites to find the best deal—Shop It To Me replaces the need for going to hundreds of sites.

The site has 3 million subscribers, which puts it the range of peers like DailyCandy, Groupon and others. It has only raised one round of funding and won't say how much, but this is a lean company with less than 20 employees. It doesn't hold any inventory or a large salesforce, which is one reason it has been so quiet—the only barriers to entry are size, scale and execution. I read it religiously twice a week and must have bought hundreds of items at huge discounts of the past two years.

But while Groupon and Gilt have been getting loads of press for novel demand generation sites, Shop It To Me has been pretty quiet. Its product has been featured on the Today Show and InStyle but not so much on sites like TechCrunch, where let's face it, the core audience isn’t exactly teaming with stylish women. That will start to change this week as the company rolls out the first of a series of changes that will take it from an in-the-know tool for stylistas to—it hopes—more of an ecommerce powerhouse ala Zappos. Today, it is launching a more modern and less-femme redesign, within six months a new back end will allow it to make better personal recommendations, and by the end of the year, it will be in at least one more new category—possibly housewares or even travel, says the founder Charlie Graham.

The curation aspect will be tricky. What's made Shop It To Me so great is that you say exactly what you want and you get it. The problem is too much of a good thing. The site offers up some two billion recommendations over email per month. During the recession the site got more stores on board and more sale inventory and users who loved the service, just didn't have the time to go through the pretty lengthy emails. People need a five-minute solution, Graham says.

There is a risk here the site veers off track by trying to be something more than it is now. Can the purchases of other women who also like Diane Von Furstenberg dresses and Tori Burch shoes really help inform what other brands I may like best? I'm dubious. But Graham says the site isn't straying from the approach of individually personalizing each newsletter, and after all, it only makes money when we click or buy, depending on the contract. If the changes don't result in more purchases, they won’t last. Whether you've heard of it before or not, this is a site big enough it has something to lose at this point.

My biggest problem with the site is still unsolved. While Shop It To Me compresses demand generation into an easy, consolidated experience, buying items still require you to go to each individual site, each requiring its own separate checkout process, user names and passwords. That is a huge friction point. It's a hard problem to solve since most retailers want to own the customer relationship, but Graham assures me they are working on a solution. The ideal would be some sort of one-click "ShopItToMe NOW!" purchase button, ala the Digg or ReTweet buttons. But nothing like that is in the offing anytime soon.

Yahoo Expands Yahoo Updates, Tiptoes On Privacy

Posted: 31 May 2010 09:00 PM PDT

Yahoo will soon be changing the way they handle status updates and social aggregation to make it easier for users to follow other people. But the PR fiascoes that have hit both Google (via their Buzz launch) and Facebook (via their most recent privacy changes) aren’t lost on Yahoo – they are taking particular care to explain exactly how changes will affect user privacy right up front, before the changes take effect.

Here’s the product expansion in a nutshell – currently to see status updates for others in Yahoo Mail, you have to have a mutual follow, meaning both people have agreed to be “friends.” You can then see that user’s Yahoo status updates as well as updates on third party services that they have added to their Yahoo profile as well. In the new version there will no longer be a requirement for a mutual follow. So, like on Twitter, users can follow whomever they choose.

This isn’t actually a dramatic change for Yahoo, since users can follow others in this way already on Yahoo Messenger. But Yahoo Senior Director of Project Management Cody Simms tells me that based on data that Yahoo has collected so far, they think they’ll see a massive increase in user adoption.

Yahoo will also suggest that you auto follow some users up front based on an algorithm that looks at your behavior, who your friends’ friends are, etc.

But Yahoo Chief Privacy Officer Anne Toth, who has been with Yahoo since 1998, says that there will be no privacy surprises for users, who can choose to turn sharing on, turn it off, or make more granular settings. One thing users will have to get comfortable with is the fact that most of this data is by definition public anyway. The privacy settings simply allow those users to decide whether others can follow you, and get notifications on new content you’ve created.

It’s not clear to me that users would suddenly revolt based on the changes. AOL implemented a similar product, Lifestream, earlier this year and there wasn’t a peep in the press about privacy. But Yahoo is implementing Updates deeply into the Yahoo Mail inbox, which is what got Google in trouble with Buzz.

One feature Yahoo left out is the ability to see who is following someone, and who you are following, which should ensure additional privacy, says Toth.

Loopt Star Keeps It Simple: Check-Ins, Specials, And Facebook

Posted: 31 May 2010 08:59 PM PDT

Back in January, we noted that Loopt was sending around a deck to advertisers showing off a new product. The product was focused on check-in specials (the kind popularized by Foursquare) and was entirely built on top of Facebook’s social graph. Finally, nearly 6 months later, that app is here.

Loopt Star is in some ways a simplified version of Loopt’s regular location-based service. Rather than being a service that is continually updating your location in the background, the focus here is only on the idea of the check-in. And naturally, those check-ins take place at specific venues — some of which Loopt has deals in place with to coincide with the launch of the new app. We’re talking big, national brands such as Gap, Burger King, and Universal Music.

Loopt Star is sort of like a “virtual loyalty card,” is the way co-founder Sam Altman describes it. “As you go about the world and check-in, you get discounts and free stuff,” is the simplified way he puts it.

The way Loopt pitched it to advertisers is interesting. Those guys are familiar with the “cost per impression” model of advertising, so Loopt described this as being a more valuable “cost per visit” model. This is basically the same idea that another location-based service, Whrrl, has been trying to sell to advertisers (pay-per-visit). It’s about “driving foot traffic,” Altman says.

Along with foot traffic in stores, retailers get to brand themselves their way in the app, with their own logos. These can be used to reward Loopt Star users with special achievements — similar to the Foursquare “badge” model.

Loopt Star will launch with four brands Altman says, but the service will add about two a week after that, so the company can put a special system in place to ensure there’s no fraud or gaming of this system. Obviously that’s a concern when these partners are giving away free and discounted goods.

The most interesting aspect to all of this though may be the use of Facebook Connect. Altman says Loopt has used several features from the new Open Graph to build this app. And that the plan is to use Facebook’s social structure for all Loopt products going forward. The new ability for third-parties to cache data was the key to Loopt switching over, Altman says.

While Facebook has clearly been working on its own check-in based solution, Altman expects it to be more of a basic feature, and believes the social network will be more interested in federating check-ins from all the other services already out there. If true, this should help Loopt and its competitors gain even more users.

Loopt Star will be iPhone-only at first, but it will eventually roll out to all the other major mobile platforms.

Update: And below, find a video Robert Scoble took of Altman showing off Loopt Star.

Who Needs Windows? Google Starts Putting Their Computers Where Their Mouth Is

Posted: 31 May 2010 08:43 PM PDT

I’m not sure Google has ever come out and said that they hope the future of computing doesn’t involve Windows. But we all know they’re thinking it. However, while they may think that way, it’s been hard to take that too seriously since most of the computers they do their work on likely run Windows. In the near future though, that may not be the case.

A new report tonight in the Financial Times suggests that Google is steering its employees away from using Microsoft’s dominant operating system in the workplace. In fact, the reports says that, “New hires are now given the option of using Apple's Mac computers or PCs running the Linux operating system.” And it states that getting a computer running Windows may require permission as high up as Google’s CIO.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of this downplayed by Google over the next few days (the sources are all anonymous employees rather than spokespeople). But I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s entirely true. Google does believe that it was vulnerabilities in Windows that lead to the infamous Chinese hacking incident earlier this year (which subsequently led them to pull out of China). They undoubtedly know that while they may have closed one hole, many others exist, and it’s only a matter of time until another incident happens again.

That is, unless they switch to one of the OSes much less popular with both users and hackers alike (and generally thought to be more secure): OS X and Linux. So that’s apparently what they’re trying to do.

Obviously, they’ll still have Windows machines around to test their services on. But what will be interesting to see is if Google continues their fairly standard PC-first, Mac/Linux-second roll-out strategy for new services (Chrome being one example). Google still needs their products to reach the most amount of eyeballs, and that still means Windows.

Google has been taking aim at Microsoft for years now. Google Docs, Gmail, Chrome, are some of their most obvious shots at Microsoft products. But even Android was originally sort of a way to attack Windows (by way of attacking Windows Mobile, and ensuring Microsoft didn’t maintain a foothold in the mobile space). And then, of course, there’s the upcoming Chrome OS.

Chrome OS will be Google’s most direct attack on Microsoft’s soul yet. It’s an operating system that you can run your computer off of without needing Windows at all. In Google’s mind, this is the future. Everything will be run through the browser, and besides a few locally stored things, everything will be in the cloud. There is no traditional software.

Such a future isn’t feasible for most users yet, but as Macs continue to gain popularity, a move to OS X increasingly is. By embracing OS X (and Linux) for work, Google seems to be leading by example. The message is that the alternative OSes are the preferred hold-overs until the Chrome OS dream can be fully realized.

Investors, Entrepreneurs Discuss NYC’s Rapidly Growing Seed Funding Community

Posted: 31 May 2010 03:30 PM PDT

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, some of New York City’s most notable investors and entrepreneurs took the stage to talk about New York City’s seed funding situation. The title of Startup Mecca still clearly belongs to Silicon Valley, but as panel moderator Erick Schonfeld noted, the number of startups making their way to the Big Apple is on the rise and dealflow in New York is quickly heating up.

The conversation touched on quite a few subjects, including what kind of companies tend to do best in New York. Betaworks CEO John Borthwick posited that many of the startups doing well in NYC — Tumblr for example — tend to focus largely on the UI and user experience. He says that many of the web’s building blocks (AWS, etc) are already in place, and many of the services that will do well are building off of those.

Blip.tv CEO Mike Hudack agreed with this, saying that we no longer have to classify all web companies as “technology companies”. Rather, they can be media companies leveraging online content. Jalak Jobanputra, SVP at the New York City Investment Fund, says that while a lot of the infrastructure has been built, there is still much work to do in mobile. She also noted that many people were coming out of Wall Street to start their own ventures.

Chris Dixon, who has blogged extensively on raising money and other topics, says he doesn’t like to think about investing in terms of NY vs Silicon Valley (though he does wish there were more startups instead of lawyers in NYC). Rather, he wants to bring an SV-like ecosystem to New York. He also said that the notion that finding real estate in NYC was an issue was a red herring (Hudack added that if you can’t handle the real estate, you shouldn’t be doing a startup).

Regarding the trend of taking seeding funding from large VCs, most of the panelists seemed to think that it was a bad idea, namely because it could lead to issues down the road if your VC does not decide to follow on.

For more, check out my live notes below and the video of the talk.

Watch live streaming video from disrupt at livestream.com

Here are my notes from the talk:
John Borthwick, CEO, betaworks

Chris Dixon, CEO, Hunch & Angel Investor

Mike Hudack, Co-founder & CEO, Blip.tv

Jalak Jobanputra, SVP, New York City Investment Fund

Erick – Percentage of companies we’ve covered that were from NY increased in the last 18 months.

JB: Betaworks is a holding company. We’re not a fund. We biuld stuff and we invest. Everything we’re doing is focused on the social, realtime web. This concept that there’s an emerging connected set of companies — we view it as a loosely coupled network of companies. We think a lot of the groundwork has been lain – AWS, etc. We think lightweight apps — they can  be huge — where a lot of the emphasis is on front end, UI, initial experience. A lot related to media business, advertising business and the like.

Why in New York?

CD: I think if you look at the 90′s, the big heavy companies were actually in Boston.

JB – We learn so much from the west coast.

MH- To the point about building blocks being bulit… A lot of businesses that are interesting are media, publishing, and communications.You don’t need to think of every company as web as technology company. Blip doesn’t think of itself as a tech company, it’ s a media company.

JJ-I think that with mobile, there is still a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built. I do think New York’s hard technology scene is still growing.

Erick: What about recruiting, office space in NYC? What are the things you need to know about balding a startup in NYC?

CD — I think the real estate thing is a red herring. Basically all these expenses are salaries for smart people. I think NY is similar to Silicon Valley in that almost nobody working there actually came from there. We recruit a lot of people MIT, CMU, Penn.

MH- Real estate is relatively easy. We found our first office on Craigslist.

JB – We went to a startup that had taken a space that was bigger than their existing capcaity and just rented some desks. If you can’t sort out real estate you shouldn’t be entrepreneur.

JB – We’ve been inspirred by West coast investors who understand value of syndicates. The value of of bringing in great investors, people who will help you at different times, different stages.

Erick – Is seed funding really challenging venture model?
CD – I think venture firms freaked out back in the 90s. Yale/Harvard was really succesful, and then everyone copied it, and there were a ton of bad funds. People really dont need that much money. These days we have more educated entrepreneur. They think about net dilution over time. There’s tons of issues with taking early money from big VCs. Biggest is that if they dont follow on you’re basically toast. Because if Sequoia gave you 500k, and they aren’t involved later, people wonder what’s going on — it’s the same signal is if I just got fired and want to find a new job, people are wondering what went wrong.

MH- I wouldn’t take that money.. Similar issues if you take a strategic investment and then aren’t acquired. People are asking what your strategic is doing.

Let’s talk about what each of you guys are doing .

JJ- I’m with the NYC investment fund. About a third of what we do is venture. I joined two years ago. We’ve set up our seed fund in response there being a dearth of seed money. We’d looking to help seed the entire ecosystem.

CD- The Founder Collective is a $40ish million seed venture fund. There’s about $15 million from entreneurs in the local area. Our thesis is that we’d rather have entrepreneurs betting on entrepreneurs rather than bankers. The advantage is that they can probably see the value better.

JB – Our model is a little different. We aren’t a fund, we’re a holding company. From investment standpoint, what we’re looking at has to be in beta — we want something we can look and feel and touch. I don’t like the abstraction of ideas, I like the real product. We love to see data, even if it’s from 50 users.

What about the second, third tier areas? Say, Pittsburg with CMU. Do you invest in any startups in those cities?

CD- Thing is, you need the critical mass.

MH- When we started Blip people had the same complaint about NYC. They said we had to move to Sf. That was only a few years ago. I dont see any reason why can’t happen in any of these cities. but it does take time.

JJ- I’m seeing a lot of entrepreneurs from secondary cities who actually are thinking of moving to NY, which does have critical mass.

JB – There’s a lot of great stuff happening in NY. Great stuff in London, Asia, and even out in the Middle East. What is happening is the wave of innovation from the first 10/15 years of Internet, which is washing through the rest of the world.

What do you think about if a VC will follow-on if they do participate in a seed round?

CD – I’ve sat in VC meetings, listened to the LPs. We’re doing this to get options.

MH-With the amount of money sunk in a seed round, your company is an option, but it isn’t a major sunk cost. They can drop you.

CD- That said, if Fred Wilson does a lot of diligence and invests 500k i think he will want to follow on. It’s the VC who meets an entrepreneur for 5 min and gives 20k — that’s bad.

Erick – If you have a first time entrepreneur, what are you looking for?
JB- At the end of the day, a lot comes down to the individual’s passion for what they’re building. Their belief in it, and understanding of the product and market. There’s a difference between someone who has had and is solving problem vs someone who comes top down, decides to look for a problem based on marketsize without having had it themselves.

BUZZMEDIA Signs Up 6 Major Music Sites, Including The Hype Machine And RCRD LBL

Posted: 31 May 2010 02:56 PM PDT

Entertainment media company BUZZMEDIA (formerly known as Buzznet) has just announced the addition of 6 music sites to its ever-growing list of properties, namely PureVolume, PopMatters, Gorilla vs. Bear, The Hype Machine, Concrete Loop and RCRD LBL.

The news was just released, but it looks like industry blog Hypebot.com jumped the gun, deeming the addition of the 6 sites an outright acquisition of the lot.

After contacting BUZZMEDIA we’ve learned that in reality, the deals with The Hypemachine, RCRD LBL and PopMatters are advertising partnerships while the others are straight-up purchases. Update: in the case of Gorilla vs. Bear, it concerns an acquisition in the form of an investment, with right to buy the remainder. All sites will retain editorial control, we were also told.

Digging a bit deeper, it looks like the acquisition of The Hype Machine for one had been rumored for a while, based on the mentioning of BUZZMEDIA in the site’s footer. But the site’s founder, Anthony Volodkin, responded to blog posts spreading that rumor in comments, saying they needed to be corrected because BUZZMEDIA does not in any way own but merely sells advertising on The Hype Machine.

From what we can gather, there are similar arrangements in place with PopMatters and RCRD LBL, the site that was started as a joint venture between Downtown Music and Peter Rojas of Engadget, Gizmodo and GDGT Web fame.

BUZZMEDIA’s current music properties include Lyrics.com, Stereogum, Buzznet, Idolator, Absolute Punk and the official websites for Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities such as Nicole Richie.

Together, these Web publications are said to reach more than 50 million pop culture, music and celebrity enthusiasts worldwide on a monthly basis, according to BUZZMEDIA’s website.

Here’s how they pitch the portfolio on there:

Its influential and authentic social media properties afford brand advertisers unique access to impassioned and engaged audiences through a blend of professional editorial, expert opinion, user contributions and customized marketing solutions.

Reads like a “targeted content at large scale” play to me (think Glam for entertainment).

BUZZMEDIA says the addition of the aforementioned music sites cements its Music division as the largest independent publisher of music content on the Web, as measured by comScore Media Metrix last month.

The company provides a surprisingly low amount of details about its business on its corporate website, but from what we can gather they’ve raised over $35 million in four rounds, from investors like Focus Ventures, Anthem Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Redpoint Ventures and Sutter Hill Ventures. Earlier this month, the company put out a press release announcing the recruitment of four sales & advertising people, all relatively notable people with backgrounds at Yahoo, MySpace, Fanscape, Time Inc. and other familiar names.

Earlier press releases tout the appointments of former founding general manager of TMZ Alan Citron as President, Mike Porath, former AOL News Editor-in-Chief as SVP of Programming and Alex Blagg, founding editor of MSN Wonderwall and Best Week Ever as Executive Editor of portfolio site Celebuzz.

This is a company steadily building a financial foundation while continuously adding experienced and savvy staff to its most important divisions as well as new sites to its publisher portfolio either through acquisition, joint-venture or advertising agreements.

In other words, one to keep a close eye on.

Yahoo’s Former Director Of Geo Lands At Nokia, Finds Yahoo Waiting

Posted: 31 May 2010 02:37 PM PDT

Earlier this month, we reported that Yahoo’s Director of Geo Engineering, Gary Gale, was the latest to leave the company. He declined to say where he was going at the time (except to say that it wasn’t Google), but how he has. In a blog post today, Gale has announced that he’ll be the Director of Ovi Places for Nokia.

What’s interesting about this is that Yahoo just announced a deal a week ago that aligns them with Nokia in the mobile space — which will obviously include geolocation. Gale notes this coincidence, but says he’s been talking to Nokia long before Yahoo was. Regardless, even though Gale is leaving Yahoo, it appears he’ll be working closely with his old co-workers on some projects.

Gale also used his post to say a few things about Yahoo. Having spent nearly 4 years at the company, Gale writes that “you shouldn't believe everything you read in the media about working at Yahoo! It's been an amazing experience and one I would willingly repeat if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all again.” Of course, he also notes some of the negative things about the experience — 3 of his “lows”:

  • People leaving the company as a result of the Microsoft bid; the unsuccessful Microsoft bid, something that never actually happened.
  • Reorganisations and new VPs; far too many of them. Six reorganisations in the space of twelve months and six VPs in the space of four years is too many by my reckoning and meant you sent more time rewriting your strategy than you do actually delivering and shipping product.
  • Teams that ship successful products in spite of the company not because of the company.

The second point in particular seems to go along with our recent post wondering what exactly Yahoo is now? Judging from the various answers from the top over the years, it’s a very fluid thing. That also seems to show in the fact that Yahoo was one of the early players thinking about the now red-hot location space, but doesn’t have much to show for it (at least from a front-end user perspective).

Following the news Gale was leaving Yahoo, another key player in Yahoo’s location plan, Tom Coates, announced he was leaving as well.

Hopefully Gale won’t experience the same sort of top level confusion and frustration at Nokia — even working with Yahoo again.

[photo: flickr/vicchi]

MobileCrunch Reviews The HTC EVO 4G From Sprint

Posted: 31 May 2010 02:08 PM PDT

Let's clear the air right away: The Evo 4G isn't the second coming. It's not the iPhone slayer. It might not even be the best Android phone available to date. But it is a solid phone with amazing hardware running the consumer-friendly HTC Sense Android release. That's a good thing.

Why UJAM Didn’t Win TechCrunch Disrupt

Posted: 31 May 2010 12:35 PM PDT

Something that I loved about TechCrunch Disrupt last week is that the top two startups that launched in the competition weren’t from the U.S. – winner Soluto is based in Israel, and runner up UJAM is a German startup. In our previous events we had lots of non-U.S. startups, too, but the winners have always been U.S. based teams. So to have startups from Israel and Germany win was a real treat for me personally.

The judges selected Soluto, which is software to make your computer run better, as the clear winner. The company has a proven team, lots of funding and has been working on the product for two years, they say. We take audience voting into account as well, and we will also put in our vote. But at the end of the tallying there just wasn’t much of a discussion. You can never tell how a startup will do until it actually launches (see, for example, Cuil, which had massive funding and a killer team but flopped on launch), but everything we saw suggests that Soluto is likely to go on to do amazing things. And they have a terrific business model. They deserved to win the Disrupt Cup.

But a lot of people watching from the audience and the livestream thought UJAM, which lets anyone create music, was much more exciting, and potentially very disruptive to the music creation process. If you haven’t seen their demo yet, which had a number of spontaneous breakouts of applause and yelling, you should. I’ve embedded it above.

At one point judge Chris Sacca even got up and tried it himself, and the audience loved it.

The judges also liked UJAM and there was some discussion about them winning. But the product is just so early, not even in public beta. And they haven’t quite nailed down their business model yet. There are lots of ways for UJAM to still blow it, however unlikely that is.

The whole Soluto v. UJAM situation reminds me of our TechCrunch50 event in 2008. Yammer, which gives businesses a private twitter-like service within the company, took the top prize. And a startup called Swype, with launched a new way to do text input on tiny mobile touchscreens, took a runner-up spot.

Yammer, like Soluto, isn’t a company that is all that exciting to talk about. But both startups provide a much needed service, and Yammer is ramping up their business nicely with revenue doubling every quarter. They’re likely to have a really nice liquidity event.

And like UJAM, Swype stole everyone’s hearts. People wanted to try Swype themselves, and you can see all the judges getting up from their seats after the demo to try it themselves. People were jumping up and down in the audience. Etc. Watch it all here.

Swype also had amazing founders, and since TechCrunch50 has gone on to do amazing things. Their software is now being built into tens of millions of mobile handsets a year, and they collect a fee for every install.

But at the time they just weren’t far enough along to win the show. Their first big licensing deals were ahead of them, and the judges felt more comfortable with Yammer as the winner. And like UJAM, a lot of audience members were really angry that Swype didn’t win it all.

The real frustration some people have at TechCrunch Disrupt is that there are startups with two years of development and $10 million in funding competing head to head with startups with no funding and less development time. Some people have asked that we limit the amount of funding or put in other rules to level the playing field.

We’re not going to do that.

The real win for companies is to simply launch at the event in front of so many people. TechCrunch Disrupt had 1,700 attendees in person, and another 100,000 people watched on the livestream. There’s just no other place in the world that can give a startup so much mainstream attention so fast.

The fact is that people are watching, and all the press is there, because of the way we hold the event. They want to see hot startups that are well funded and a little more full baked. Take those away and fewer people are interesting. There are separate discussions with popular technology leaders and investors, for example, which draw in the crowds and press. They stay to watch the startups launch. If we mess with that formula too much, or add too many more filters to the types of companies that can launch there, that careful balancing act could be thrown off whack.

So we do other things to help really young startups get going. Like holding the hack day before the event which lets people get stage time for their projects and get into the event for free. There were 300 engineers at the event that almost certainly wouldn’t have been there otherwise because of the Hack Day. And some of those engineers are going to be launching their startups in future TechCrunch Disrupt events.

Also, the awards are more of an audience pleaser than anything else. The audience seems to be uncomfortable if you don’t name someone the winner, even if, really, it’s just too early to be calling any of these companies winners and losers. So we ask the judges to do their best, and make a call. Sometimes the company that got everyone out of their seats doesn’t win.

But in the end, they really do.

Yoono Nows Plays Nice With YouTube, Chrome Extension On The Way

Posted: 31 May 2010 09:19 AM PDT

Yoono, a nifty browser plug-in and desktop application that serves as both a social network aggregator and media hub, is upgrading its offering today with YouTube integration, additional language support, and further Twitter functionality. Yoono aggregates and centralizes your online profiles, including IM tools like Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk and AIM as well as a wide variety of social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and more. The app also includes real-time search capabilities powered by OneRiot.

The new YouTube integration allows you to see all of your YouTube updates (new videos, comments) in your stream; access your Channels (subscriptions, playlists, favorites, uploads); search YouTube videos; playlists and channels directly from Yoono; and share, favorite, comment on and even download videos directly from either the plugin or desktop application. And Yoono now allows you to favorite tweets and reply all from the application.

Via a crowdsourced translation project, Yoono now has versions in Spanish, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish and Polish in addition to English and French. Yoono says that 22 additional languages are actively being worked on by the community.

Yoono, which has seen 4.5 million downloads, has also launched an alpha version of Yoono for Google Chrome, and is expecting the beta version of the browser plugin to hit the Chrome extensions gallery very soon. Given the popularity of Yoono on Firefox (the plugin is the most downloaded social networking add-on for Firefox), the extension should be popular among Chrome users. Yoono says that the next step is entering the mobile market with iPhone, iPad and Android apps in the works. And the startup plans to add more services to its hub, including Google Buzz, Foursquare, and Yammer.


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