web 2.0

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

YouTube Launches Campaign Toolkit For Politicians

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 08:38 AM PDT

YouTube has become an integral tool for political campaigns across both national and local levels. And Google moderator has also been used in a variety of ways to host community town hall meetings. Today, Google is launching a 2010 Campaign Toolkit and an upgraded Google Campaign Toolkit.

The toolkits aim to provide political candidates with the resources to successfully use both YouTube and other Google products to engage constituents and citizens. On YouTube, campaigns will have access to features like a Politician channel (which allows campaigns to brand their channel and upload longer videos), Google Moderator, and analytics tool YouTube Insight. The toolkit also includes paid advertising campaigns, such as in-stream ads and Promoted Video. The Google toolkit shows how products in the Google Apps family like Docs and Gmail, can keep staff and volunteers connected.

The offerings are sure to be particularly useful for politicians and candidates who are running for office in the coming year. Long-winded politicians should love the fact that video time limits are longer than normal, and they can run the same 15-second and 30-second TV ad spots in YouTube. President Obama notably used YouTube for both his campaign efforts and now within the White House. The White House also uses Google Moderator and App Engine.

Spotify Already Has 30,000 U.S. Users – So Why The Launch Delay?

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 08:36 AM PDT

European music startup Spotify has all its "ducks lined up" for a U.S. launch, we've heard from multiple sources. It has servers ready to go in the US and, crucially, users already there, even though it has not yet officially launched. It fact it has 30,000 users in the U.S., according to the chatter coming out of the Stockholm tech scene where the company has its main development arm. But these users have been told to keep quiet. So why isn't Spotify launching in the U.S. right now?

MasterCard Takes On PayPal With MoneySend iPhone App

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:57 AM PDT

MasterCard is taking on PayPal with a new app for the iPhone and iPad users, called MoneySend. The free app allows anyone to transfer money to another account in the United States.

MoneySend, which is partly powered by Obopay, allows users in the U.S. to send or request money via an iPhone app through banks and credit unions. Senders and receivers can either use an existing MasterCard account or a bank account. Users can also create a virtual prepaid account through Bancorp Bank that is linked to an existing MasterCard credit card or checking account.

The user designates an account for the MoneySend transaction, and then users can manage and trigger the exchanges through the app. Users who transfer money will incur a transaction fee and recipients don’t face any additional fees.

Of course, there are security concerns with storing financial information on a device or app, but MasterCard assures that personal and financial information is never stored on the iPhone or iPad.

This is the second instance of MasterCard encroaching on PayPal’s territory over the past week. Last week, MasterCard announced a definitive plan to open up its credit cards payments platform to developers to build innovative online and mobile apps. This has been the territory that PayPal has basked in, thanks to a much hyped launch of its API, PayPal X. Clearly MasterCard is making a big push to get into the mobile payments space; but PayPal is a tough competitor with massive reach. It should be interesting to see if MasterCard can compete with PayPal.

MyPunchbowl Makes Online Invitations Look Like Fine Stationery

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:50 AM PDT

While the design of online invitations has evolved since Evite first launched nearly ten years ago, these invitations still don’t capture the same quality as fine stationery. Until now. MyPunchbowl, a start to finish party planning site, is unveiling a new Digital Invitation Studio that helps you create online invites and e-cards that look and feel like you created customized stationery from a store. The startup hasn’t opened the site up yet (it is expected to be rolled out to the public sometime over the summer), here’s a special preview site for TechCrunch readers.

MyPunchbowl Digital Invitation Studio offers hundreds of stylish and modern invitations and save the dates, each with companion customizable envelopes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. You can add envelope liners, customized postage stamps, and personal photos. The result is a sleek custom online invitation with a matching envelope that replicates the act of opening a traditional paper invitation.

Invitations can be emailed and guests can RSVP directly from the online invite. The studio also includes a number of compelling new features including suggestions for wording your invitation and the ability to upload and re-size multiple photos to your invitation. Powered by Flash, the technology is easy to use and intuitive.

The startup already had a compelling e-card creator, but this offering is impressive. And free. MyPunchbowl’s platform also provides tools that let you find supplies, organize an after party and even set a date, via an algorithm that recommends the best date for your party. The site also allows you to set up gift registries, save-the-dates, message boards, integrate Google Maps' to display the location, and share comments, photos, and videos.

Launched in 2007, MyPunchbowl has turned into a all-in-one party planning site in a matter of two years. The site added birthday reminders, ecards, wedding planning tools, and also just acquired a local business directory to boost vendor listings. Competitors to MyPunchbowl include Socializr, Pingg, Someecards, Cocodot, and MySpace, Facebook and Evite.

Netvibes Is Prepping An iPad (Web) App, And We Have Some Early Screenshots

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:45 AM PDT

Netvibes, which has been making start pages more personalized and more ‘real-time’ for users for years now, is working on an iPad application website.

The alpha version of the site will be available later today (screenshot below), but users will have to wait a couple of more weeks for the launch of the more polished version (screenshot above). The site you’ll be able to visit later today will not enable people to create or edit Netvibes accounts and won’t allow users to share content via Twitter, Facebook and the like, among other limitations.

What both versions will have, is synchronization with the Netvibes desktop version. That means users will be able to from their desktop or notebook computer to the iPad and continue to consume content, while already read and unread posts will be marked as such on both.

Truth be told, I think this iPad-specific site will be appealing to existing users, but there are a bunch of dedicated feed readers out there for the iPad that offer mostly the same, if not a better, experience than what Netvibes will have to offer. Check for example the Pulse iPad app, created by two Stanford grads, that I recently wrote about.

I’m also left wondering why Netvibes isn’t looking at creating experiences for iPhone and Android first (they tell me they’ll come, eventually).

LeNewz Is A Handy Realtime Coverflow-style iPhone News Reader

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:29 AM PDT

leNewz, developed by Paris-based Triviumsoft, offers a more visual way of browsing news on the iPhone. A "DemoPit Audience Choice" at the recent GeeknRolla event in London, the app is built on Triviumsoft's 'Eaagle' text mining and mapping technologies to deliver a real time keyword map of the most important topics in each of six news categories: Sports, Economy, Politics, Life, Technology and Celebrities.

Want To Advertise On Spotify? BigAudioAds May Be The Answer

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:26 AM PDT

Kieron Donoghue, the guy behind ShareMyPlaylists, appears to be riding the Spotify wave again. Today he launches BigAudioAds.com, a service designed to make it easier to produce a professional sounding audio ad ready for 'broadcast' on ad-supported music streaming services such as Spotify and the UK's We7. Although, of course, the resulting ads can be placed anywhere. Right now Spotify is available in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France, Spain and the Netherlands, with a US launch "planned".

Mobile Startup Rummble Raises Cash To Boost Product, Team

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:19 AM PDT

Rummble has raised $800k from m8 Capital. The social mobile location startup will use the new funding to further develop its recommendation engine for "finding places nearby", focusing in particular on User Experience. The round follows on from Rummble's previous angel investment. Notably, it's also the first investment of London-based m8 Capital, a majority-owned affiliate of AGC Equity Partners, which is targeting mobile startups and technology. As a result, m8's Joe Kim will be joining Rummble's board as Chairman.

Former Macromedia CEO And Adobe Board Member Rob Burgess Joins Syncapse Board

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:16 AM PDT

Social technology startup Syncapse this morning announced a big score with the appointment of Rob Burgess to the company's Board of Directors.

Burgess was Chairman and CEO of Macromedia from 1996–2005, when Adobe Systems acquired the company for approximately $4 billion. He currently also sits on Adobe’s board.

Burgess joins Ian Giffen, Chairman of The Descartes Systems Group, and a former board member of Macromedia, on Syncapse's inaugural Board of Directors. Giffen's appointment was announced earlier this month together with a round of private equity funding to the tune of $3.3 million.

The company offers community building, technology solutions, and digital measurement products. Founded by entrepreneur Michael Scissons in 2007, Syncapse has offices in Toronto, New York, London and Portland.

Previously, Scissons served as the Canadian Director of Facebook media sales within the Interpublic network where he worked with companies to integrate their marketing into Facebook starting in early 2006.

Thomson Reuters Acquires Compliance Software Company Complinet

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:02 AM PDT

Thomson Reuters is acquiring compliance and risk software company Complinet. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2010, were not disclosed.

Complinet’s technology helps companies in the financial services industry handle governance, risk and compliance. In an age where the sector is being regulated more than ever, Complinet helps these institutions navigate regulations, risk and compliance. Of course, since Thomson Reuters caters to the financial services industry, Complinet’s software will be used to offer clients an option to manage compliance.

Thomson Reuters also recently bought analytics company DiscoveryLogic and acquired Breakingviews, a site that provided commentary on UK and European breaking financial news. Thomson was rumored to have paid close to $18 million in cash for the site.

TechStars Boston Graduates Ten New Startups In 2010

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:00 AM PDT

Editor's note: The following report comes from Don Dodge, who blogs at Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing and is a Developer Advocate for Google. TechStars is a seed accelerator program that selects about ten companies and provides funding of $18,000 per team, as well as support and mentorship. Dodge covered the last Boston TechStars class in September, 2009.

TechStars has now been operating for four years. According to results data that TechStars has published, six of the first twenty companies to go through the program have been acquired by larger companies, and about 70% of its companies have been funded and/or are now profitable. This week, TechStars debuted ten new startups from the second Boston class. The teams presented on Tuesday to about 250 VCs and angel investors for the first time. These companies are about three months old and have two or three founder employees. Don was in attendance and these are his notes on the startups that presented.

Just nine months ago, I attended the inaugural Boston TechStars demo day where companies such as oneforty and Localytics presented. Since that time, TechStars has shifted the Boston program to operate in the spring instead of the summer, so ten new companies presented. Below is a summary of each one.

Mogotest is a front-end testing tool to help companies ensure that their web sites render properly across various web browsers and platforms. MogoTest can spider your web site or test individual pages to help you spot browser inconsistencies. The company demoed a very easy to use comparison tool that visually puts two browsers side by side so you can quickly spot inconsistencies between various browsers. It works with all browsers and all platforms including mobile browsers.

Monkey Analytics powers mathematics and data analysis in the cloud by providing on-demand computing resources, analysis tools, and a socially driven marketplace for analysts, algorithms, and data. Today, complex math and data analysis is commonly done in applications such as Matlab and R. Monkey Analytics is bringing those sorts of analysis tools to a cloud based system so that it can be accessed by anyone from anywhere with at scale and on demand.

Marginize augments pages on the web with an independent space owned by the visitors where they can meet each other and interact freely. For example, you can see what people are saying about the Marginize homepage here. Marginize cleverly makes use of existing Twitter content about each page, and allows visitors to "check in" to the page and comment. The most active community member becomes the “curator” for that site, and other recently active users are shown after they check in, hinting at possible game dynamics to come in the future. Investor Dharmesh Shah agreed to fund the company on the spot.

Appswell is a mobile crowd sourcing system that allows people, companies, and brands to harness the wisdom of crowds. Appswell is their own first client of the platform, with a crowdsourced contest for iPhone app ideas and has redeployed the platform to power Brightidea Mobile. Appswell is now working with interactive agencies to offer turnkey crowdsourcing solutions for brand advertising campaigns, which can be launched quickly and cost effectively.

Loudcaster lets anyone create interactive online radio stations quickly and easily. Their model is to sell Internet broadcasting tools to DJs and to generate revenue by aggregating their audiences and inserting advertising. Loudcaster has been running a stealthy limited beta, working with 100 DJ’s, and there are 200 more waiting to use the product. The company plans to officially open to more DJ’s by June 30th.

SocialSci helps academic and professional researchers source and survey participants for their scientific studies. Today, universities and researchers find study participants offline and they’re overpaying to do so. SocialSci helps source them more efficiently online, and delivers the research studies to them through their own integrated surveying tools which are designed to be secure and private. Currently, SocialSci is tracking over $5 million being paid out by live research studies and is operating a private beta of their online research platform with several major universities.

Sparkcloud introduces you to interesting people who are around you in realtime. The company has several early applications to demonstrate how developers can leverage Sparkcloud to more easily create their own real-world social applications ranging from urban gaming to location-based dating. SparkCloud will introduce you to 12 new people every day based on profiles, preferences, and social data.

StarStreet is a sports stock market that allows sports fans to make real money based on their skill in trading players and their knowledge of sports. It works similar to the real stock market. You buy shares in a professional sports player. If the player does well the value of the stock theoretically goes up as more fans want to own that stock. You sell your shares and make money. As we know from the real stock market, you can also lose money.

TutorialTab lets non-developers add interactive help systems that make web sites easier to learn. For example if you hover your cursor over a text input field it will pop up a text box that explains what you should enter in that field. TutorialTab makes it easy for web sites to create hands-on tutorials to guide their users. They are currently pre-launch, but you can see a preview video on their site.

UserMojo is an emotion analytics platform that measures the quality of user experience to help site owners understand not just what their users are doing, but also why they’re doing it. The company records emotions from users via a simple feedback mechanism, and then allows customers to see heat maps of emotional response to various pages over time and to understand what’s driving actual user behavior. When users hover over any area of a web page they are presented with emoticons that relate to how they feel about that content. The web site owner can see the results visually on the page.

Buzzd Aggregates Check-Ins From Foursquare, Gowalla And Others In Social City Guide

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 07:00 AM PDT

We’ve written about the social city and nightlife mobile app, buzzd, which pulls its data from Twitter and other buzzd users, for a bigger picture of the places that are hot in a given location. The startup just released an Android app in December and today is launching a new version of its iPhone and BlackBerry apps that integrates location-based services in the mix.

The buzzd network compiles information from its base of over a half-million users, Twitter, and other real-time sources to provide users with activity updates for almost half a million venues across the United States, the U.K. and Canada. You download the app and it will bring up a list of venues close to you that are currently popular based on people talking about them on Twitter and Buzzd. And the app now aggregates over 500,000 check-ins per day from Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt, Yelp, Whrrl and many other real-time location -based services sources to present activity at bars, clubs, restaurants and other points of interest. The new data will be added to the app’s "buzzdmeter," which gives you a real-time measure of activity at popular bars, restaurants and nightclubs in your city.

The integration with these services makes a lot of sense for Buzzd, as the app essentially tells you where the most frequented places are within your location. As Foursquare, Gowalla and other location-based social networks continue to attract more users, these services increasingly provide a comprehensive way to see where your social graph

With the new versions of the apps, users can now find their Facebook friends and Twitter followers on buzzd as well as simultaneously post their buzzd ratings to their Facebook wall and/or Twitter feed. And users can see what their friends are up to in the new “feed” section. Buzzd has also created a rewards program to encourage more people t broadcast their ratings of venues to friends.

Currently, Buzzd is tracking over one million active users/month across its apps, which is solid growth for a niche app that was only released a year ago. Buzzd originally launched an app on the BlackBerry as one of the original BlackBerry Partners Fund recipients. While the startup is expanding to the iPhone and Android platforms, Buzzd is also adding nifty features, which should help increase its userbase.

BanxCorp Files Antitrust Complaint Against The NYT, Fox, CNN, Dow Jones, Others

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 06:51 AM PDT

BanxCorp this morning announced that it has filed a federal antitrust complaint against nine firms, including Dow Jones & Co, Fox News, The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC.

The company alleges (PDF) that the nine companies engage in “unlawful per se horizontal market division, customer allocation, and price fixing agreements” with its competitors in the market for bank rate websites throughout the United States.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, and accuses the firms of entering into “a conspiracy in restraint of trade and forming a cartel” with their competitor Bankrate.com together with approximately a hundred competing bank rate website operators including some of the largest media conglomerates in the United States.

The complaint estimates that the damages caused by the “price-fixing cartel” may exceed $500 million, to be trebled under the antitrust statute.

BanxCorp, which operates competing bank rate website BanxQuote.com, indicated that other members of the ‘cartel’ may also be joined.

Currently included: Dow Jones & Company and Fox News Network (both News Corp.-owned), The New York Times Company, CNBC, Cable News Network, MSNBC Interactive New, AOL, LendingTree and Move.

AdSafe Reports Rise Of Online Advertising Exchanges, RTB And DSP Platforms

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 05:23 AM PDT

AdSafe Media, which uses algorithmic modeling and human verification to rate the brand safety of content on commercially supported Web pages via a proprietary system, this morning released its Q1 2010 analysis (PDF) of the online display advertising industry.

The report provides an analysis of the key display advertising brand safety metrics and industry insights observed by AdSafe Media throughout the first quarter of the year. One of the key findings: 47% of traffic was served by exchanges, real-time-bidding (RTB) or demand-side (DSP) platforms, a significant increase in the use of these channels from last quarter.

According to AdSafe, premium brand advertisers appear to be shifting a larger percentage of their display adverting spending to exchanges, RTB and DSP platforms because of increased media efficiency and broader reach afforded by these channels.

Just yesterday, we reported that Google reportedly acquired demand-side advertising startup Invite Media, and this morning one of its competitors, LucidMedia, raised $4.5 million in funding. Clearly, there’s some momentum going in this space.

Other key findings cited in the report are:

- 752 was the AdSafe Safety Index for Q1 2010, a metric which trended down from last quarter’s Index of 814, indicating that overall brand safety in the display advertising ecosystem decreased slightly
- 2.89% of inventory was served outside campaign Geo-Targeted specifications
- 86.5% of AdSafe observed inventory was transparent, meaning it was IAB Category I, II or III inventory

Flash Sales Site HauteLook Raises $31 Million

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 05:17 AM PDT

Flash sales site HauteLook has raised $31 million in Series C funding, led by Insight Venture Partners. The startup previously raised $10 million in Series B funding last year.

Thanks to the immense popularity of members-only, online sample sales, HauteLook has grown to 2.5 million members since launching in 2007. The site has partnered with more than 1,000 brands to date, offering more than 2,500 sale events in women's fashion, men's fashion, accessories, kids' clothing and toys, home and beauty.

The basic idea behind the online sample sale model is this: big designers, such as Marc Jacobs or Versace, place excess inventory on a sale site at 50 to 70 percent discounts over a several day period. The sales are private, available only to members, with upcoming sales from brands announced via emails. Products include clothing for men, women and children as well as jewelry, handbags and home accessories. You can get invites from other members or request invites via the site.

The new funding will be used toward member acquisition strategy and to expand to new categories such as gourmet food, wine, and other services. The company is also looking to boots its social media and mobile offerings.

The flash sales space is definitely competitive; and the amount raised isn’t surprised The amount raised isn’t surprising considering that similar startups in the online sample sales space like Gilt Groupe, and Ideeli are all raising huge amounts of money, growing their user base at a rapid pace and turning a strong profit. In fact, Gilt just raised $35 million in funding a few weeks ago. VC firm Kleiner Perkins recently invested in One Kings Lane, an online sample sale site for home decor and accessories, which we wrote about here. The concept has even attracted retail giants like Saks and Neiman Marcus, which are now jumping on the bandwagon to offer their own private sales.

Fwix Expands Its Geo Index Via Local Widgets And A Broader API

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 05:13 AM PDT

Up until now, fwix has stuck to indexing and serving up hyperlocal news from neighborhood blogs and news sites. Its main competitor in that respect is Outside.in. But fwix is moving beyond local news to create a broader geo index via publisher widgets and its API.

In addition to its existing local news API (which is already being tested by the New York Times Co. and the UPI), fwix is adding geo-tagged status updates (from Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Brightkite), geo-photos (from Flickr, yfrog, Smugmug, and Twitpic), local events (from Eventbrite, Eventful, Upcoming, and Zvents), nearby reviews and restaurants (from Yelp and Citysearch), concerts (Songkick), local crime and government data, weather, listings (Oodle, Trulia), and deals from local merchants (Groupon, Town Hog, and Living Social). A little map pops down you tell you where these places are.

Publishers and sites can pick and choose whatever data they want and create widgets with a customized local feed they can place in a sidebar. These could include Tweets about about the publisher’s business, Flickr photos, check-ins, or Yelp reviews. Widget publishers can also opt to include ads in the widgets targeted to the same location and content on their sites and split the revenues with fwix. Affiliate links to group buying deals is another source of revenue.

“What we are building is this massive geo index,’ says CEO Darian Shiraz. Developers can use the API to pull in localized status updates, photos, and more. Publishers can create their own widget from any of the given geo streams. Mobile apps can also use the data. Fwix is at first exposing all of this new data only through its widgets and APIs. Eventually, fwix will roll it out on its own site as well.

After Facebook, eBuddy Second Mobile App To Reach 50 Million Downloads On GetJar

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 04:59 AM PDT

App Store GetJar announced today that web and mobile messaging service provider eBuddy has surpassed the 50 million downloads mark for its eBuddy Mobile Messenger app. At the time of writing, the product page shows 50,655,934 downloads to date.

eBuddy thus joins the ranks of Facebook as the second mobile app to exceed 50 million downloads on GetJar.

Notably, the milestone was reached less than 15 months after hitting 10m downloads.

GetJar, which dubs itself the ‘Walmart of mobile apps’, says it is currently the second largest app store worldwide, after Apple’s iTunes. It offers more than 65,000 mobile applications across all major handsets and platforms to consumers in more than 200 countries.

The company recently launched a mobile advertising distribution platform that offers developers the opportunity to bid for premium catalogue placement per download in GetJar's store and distribution channels. App developers and publishers can set their own maximum daily budgets, and only pay when consumers successfully download the advertised application.

eBuddy says this pay-per-download solution helped making GetJar its number one external source for downloads, particularly in key countries like India (GetJar’s solution allows developers to geo-target campaigns by country, handset or even carrier), although most of its growth is organic.

WOWIO Raises $1.7 Million, Acquires Online Community WEvolt

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 04:32 AM PDT

eBook marketplace WOWIO announced today the close of $1.7 million in private financing and the subsequent acquisition of WEvolt, a social networking platform.

WOWIO CEO Brian Altounian led the financing round, which follows a seed round of $1 million completed in October 2009. According to the press release, the financing rounds will be used for WOWIO to pay off legacy obligations and set the stage for more acquisitions down the line.

WEvolt basically enables comic book artists to create and share their work with their fans. Its online platform will soon allow creators of comics, and soon other media, to generate revenues by participating in ad sales and other activities such as merchandising. Users can create and submit their original material for broader distribution consideration, or they can simply use the site as an aggregator of their favorite online content.

WEvolt was created by Jason Badower, a comic artist from Australia who has illustrated and colored several Heroes graphic novels, and Matt Jacobs.

(Via press release)

Online Advertising Startup LucidMedia Raises $4.5 Million

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 04:19 AM PDT

LucidMedia, provider of an online advertising demand-side platform (DSP) with integrated real-time bidding, this morning announced that is has secured $4.5 million in funding, led by MMV Financial (MMV).

The news comes merely a day after word got out that Google reportedly acquired rival Invite Media in a “$70 million range” deal (still unconfirmed at this point), which would significantly narrow down the exit possibilities for LucidMedia.

Either way, LucidMedia plans to use the funds to expand its recently launched self-service DSP platform, which enables agencies and advertisers manage their online advertising campaigns. The DSP leverages LucidMedia's contextual targeting technologies, which the company says are patent-protected, to provide more than 14,000 categories.

This funding follows a December 2008 investment from investors like Lake Street Capital and Redleaf Group. LucidMedia has now raised $13.3 million in total, according to CrunchBase data. The company was originally founded in 1999.

(Via press release)

Lending Club Surpasses $10M In Monthly Loan Fundings, Makes Key Hire

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 03:23 AM PDT

Peer-to-peer lending network Lending Club this morning announced it passed $10 million in monthly loan fundings for May 2010. The company claims that the milestone marks the first time any U.S. peer lending company has funded that amount of loans in a single calendar month.

Main rival Prosper is closing in on $200 million in personal loans funded in total – last time it has broken out the monthly statistics was for February 2010, when the company announced it had reached roughly $1.7 million in loan volume for that month.

In related news, Lending Club has appointed Scott Sanborn as chief marketing officer. The new CMO comes from publicly traded ecommerce company eHealth, where he served as chief marketing and revenue officer. Prior to his role at eHealth, Sanborn was the CMO and interim president of e-commerce and catalog retailer RedEnvelope, where he oversaw the sale of the business to Provide Commerce.

Lending Club, which originally started out as a Facebook app, recently secured a $24.5 million Series C financing round led by Foundation Capital. In total, the amount of capital raised by the company exceeds $52 million.

Facebook Investor DST Taps Another Senior Goldman Sachs Banker As Partner

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 03:09 AM PDT

Global investment group Digital Sky Technologies (aka DST), who has famously invested in major Internet companies such as Facebook, Zynga and Groupon, has made another key hire. The latest finance whiz to join the Russian investment firm as partner is John Lindfors, who will start there next September.

BookRenter Raises $10 Million To Be The Netflix For Textbook Rentals

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 02:50 AM PDT

Textbooks are an incredibly expensive investment. And the majority of the time, you only need the textbook for a short duration. College textbook rental startup BookRenter is trying to make the process of buying textbooks more affordable by loaning books to students for a fixed duration. And today, the company is announcing that it received $10 million in a Series B financing round led by Norwest Venture Partners with Storm Ventures and Adams Capital Management participating in the round. This brings the startup’s total funding to $16 million.

The idea behind Bookrenter’s service is simple; it essentially aims to be the Netflix of textbook rentals. Students are able to save money by loaning textbooks for a fixed duration, usually a semester, and end up spending only the fraction of the cost of outright purchases. The system is simple: a student searches for a book on the website using a title or ISBN, and places an order by selecting a rental period and delivery option. The book(s) are delivered complete with return UPS labels for easy shipping.

The startup also made an effort recently to expand its userbase by opening up its platform to other sites to allow any college or business to launch its own online textbook rental store. Partners, such as universities or campus bookstores, will be able to use BookRenter to set up a virtual store on their sites. Partners have access to the same selection of textbooks available on BookRenter's site (which are electronically sourced from the largest textbook suppliers.)

Since March, BookRenter has enabled 75 bookstore partners serving more than 1.3 million students. Schools with bookstores currently offering a textbook rental store on the BookRenter platform include the University of Texas at Austin, North Carolina State University, the University of Memphis, the City College of San Francisco, and the University of San Diego.

BookRenter, which faces competition from Chegg and Barnes and Noble, claims a competitive advantage over its competitors by offering more flexible loan schedules and faster delivery (they offer next-day delivery on many titles, and use UPS). Chegg and BookRenter recently got into a tussle over a trademark to the phrase “#1 In Textbook Rentals."

Invites To Pleet – Like A Plancast For The Near Future, With Offers

Posted: 03 Jun 2010 02:11 AM PDT

According to the theory of the Third Disruptive Wave the next phase of innovation will be around mobile platforms, the social graph (particularly Facebook, but it could be any kind) and commerce. So if mobile applications are combined with social and then combined with social/flash ecommerce then in theory you have a killer combination. That at least is the pitch of an interesting new startup which I've seen a preview of, called Pleet (Pleet.me). You can sign up for access to the Alpha version here or log in with a Twitter account. The simplest way to describe Pleet is that it's a cross between Plancast and Tripit with voucher style offers. Think an "Urban Tripit" for shorter journeys and time spans designed to be a new way to "Plan and Meet" (hence "Pleet"). Initially Pleet plans to launch in the UK and US markets.

Microsoft Rolls Out Impressive Enhancements To Windows Live Essentials Suite

Posted: 02 Jun 2010 09:14 PM PDT

The picture above is a complete fake. But more on that in a minute.

Microsoft is giving a preview of a variety of enhancements to its Windows Live Essentials suite – a set of online and desktop services that includes hotmail, messenger, sync, movie maker and photo gallery. Most of the desktop versions of these services are available only for Windows users, although the online components only require a browser from any operating system.

These enhancements come after Microsoft’s preview of the online version of Office, which is also within this suite. I had a chance to sit down with Brian Hall, GM of the Windows Live Business Group, today to see some of the changes.

Many of the changes are fairly minor, but at least two are going to be big crowd pleasers. First, Microsoft has made changes to their Movie Maker video editing software that allows for the creation of Animoto-like video clips containing photos and videos. They’ve added a variety of transition and effect options, as well as the ability to add music and text, to these clips.

But the really interesting changes are around Photo Gallery. Previously Microsoft had a facial recognition feature to allow you to quickly add names as tags to photos. But they are now adding facial recognition as well, and it takes a guess as to the person in the photo. In the demo it worked very well and saves time with tagging – a lot of time. The application also has one click sharing of photos to Facebook and other services and the tags go with it.

But by far the most impressive thing I saw today was the Photo Fuse feature that they’ve added. The general idea is you can take a bunch of pictures and turn them into a single photo that’s better than any of the originals. And it only takes a few seconds.

The best use case is clearly group photos that you’d take a a wedding or wherever. Someone always has their eyes closed or is looking away. With Photo Fuse you can take the best parts of a number of photos and create that perfect group picture.

Hall spent a lot of time today showing me Photo Fuse, which I zeroed in on among all the other new features launching. We even took a few pictures of Hall and his PR people – Michael Celiceo and Bonnie McCracken – and ran them through Photo Fuse.

This was the final result – a picture that was never actually taken (the top image – you just can’t tell). The working photos that are real are below it. There’s also a video of the whole process. Fascinating stuff.

The new suite will launch in a few weeks, says Microsoft. In the meantime we’ll give away 100 accounts now – details in the next post.

More screenshots from the new products:

Citysearch Recasts Itself As CityGrid Media

Posted: 02 Jun 2010 08:59 PM PDT

Ever since the launch of his CityGrid local advertising network at the beginning of the year, Citysearch CEO Jay Herratti has been putting most of his efforts into building out CityGrid as the largest network of local advertisers and local apps. Citysearch is now simply a flagship publisher on the CityGrid network. To reflect this shift in focus, the Citysearch business unit of IAC (which includes CityGrid, Citysearch, Urbanspoon, and Insider Pages) is changing its name to CityGrid Media

All of the local listings in Citysearch are available through CityGrid’s APIs so that anyone creating a mobile app or local Website can grab business listings, addresses, phone numbers, photos, reviews, and more and build their own apps around them. CityGrid also matches local advertisers with these local publishers.

The geo-local market is developing so quickly that Herratti knows he cannot predict which mobile app or approach will win out in the end. Instead, he wants to scale CityGrid to become the largest network of local advertisers and publishers so that no matter what turns out to be the hot Geo app of the moment, CityGrid ads and content will be at the center of it. CityGrid already has 700,000 paying local advertisers, and is on its way to a million. Some Citygrid partners include YellowPages.com, SuperPages.com, Bing.com, MapQuest, and Loopt.


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