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Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Startups: Poverty is Underrated. Be Glad That You’re Not Rich

Posted: 05 Jun 2010 07:00 AM PDT

Raising millions of dollars from VCs is still the tech entrepreneurs' dream. Entrepreneurs believe that a hoard of cash in the bank will give them the luxury of developing better products, marketing the heck out of them, and reaping the rewards with big sales and an eventual IPO. But more often than not, the money is a curse. When a company is running on a tight budget, it will usually perform far better than a company that is well capitalized. In my experience, having too much money always leads to bad habits.

First, the CEO will feel pressure from investors to upgrade the management team and bring in “grown up” supervision. This doesn't always work out as planned. Seasoned managers want bigger salaries and larger chunks of equity. VCs usually expect a portfolio company to use a preferred headhunter to find the rockstar VP of sales. Naturally, the headhunter also wants an equity stake, on top of a finder’s fee in the neighborhood of six figures.

When the rockstar manager arrives, often coming from a big company, he/she may expect rockstar perks—a secretary, first-class travel, a limo to the airport, etc. These factors can serve to disrupt what must be the core focus of any startup—pulling in revenues as quickly as possible to forestall death. When employees see their bosses spending freely, they too stop worrying about keeping costs down and don't care as much if a sales cycle stretched out longer. This attitude can kill a company.

Second, outside money usually brings expectations of very rapid growth and a de-emphasis on profitability. VCs wants a home run, not a single or a double. And they want the home run within five years or less. Founders, not VCs, know the proper pace of growth for a company. And a founder is far more likely to drive a company toward profitability if he's is about to lose his life’s savings. A founder in this position turns every person in the company into a salesperson, and that’s the best model for a scrappy startup. In the end, this creates a company DNA emphasizing profitability above all else. That’s critical for success.

This happened in both of my startups. When my company accepted outside money, I immediately saw in board meetings and in company decisions that the focus was on growing revenues quickly but not necessarily sustainably. It was harder to maintain customer relationships built on trust when we also faced expectations to sell as much product as possible as quickly as possible, regardless of customer needs. Yes, sales guys should be hungry. But they should also have a long-term view on customer relationships and focus on profits rather than on top-line growth.

Third, outside money means that management itself spends less time thinking about customers and more time thinking about keeping the board of directors happy. Founding management is invariably far closer to the customers than the board is. And the more time and focus management can direct toward customers, the better. The outside money blurs the perception of who pays the bills. In the short run, that may actually be the VCs who have just sunk a chunk into the company. But in the long run, it's always the customers.

This was exactly my experience as a startup CEO. As soon as venture money came in, I began spending significant amounts of time worrying about justifying my actions or framing my decisions to gain the support of the board. Pleasing board members became an unnecessary priority. That made it harder for me to focus on pleasing my customers.

Academic research also shows that undercapitalization isn't necessarily a bad thing for startups. Professors David Townsend of NC State University and Lowell Busenitz of University of Oklahoma studied 79 companies that were funded during a 10-year period. They found, not surprisingly, that the combination of strong management teams with strong technologies correlated with success. But moderate levels of undercapitalization—even capitalization ratios as low as 20% of the venture's initial goals—are not statistically related to a venture's probability of surviving.

So, are rockstar management teams, boards, and VCs bad? By no means am I suggesting this. They can all be huge assets and major contributors to your success. And sometimes big capital is required for fast growth. In startups that actually need to produce a physical good, a huge capital ramp is usually necessary to get the factories rolling, even if they are on a contract basis. Bringing in rockstar management can make it easier to raise capital, for example, when the company is truly running on fumes and is almost out of options.

The point is that money by itself won't make you successful; it may well cause you to fail. I will take an inexperienced, hungry, cash-strapped startup team over a well-oiled team of Google or Microsoft veterans any day. Hungry companies figure out ways to keep eating because they don’t know whether there will ever be another meal. Veterans and serialists worry less about failure and are therefore more likely to fail. This, in a nutshell, is why it's so hard to find examples of people who have grown more than one company to considerable size. And this is also why less money means more chances for success at most startups. Capital starvation leads to innovation. Slim bank accounts are the best way to motivate sales people. So don’t worry if you think you don’t have enough capital. Instead, be grateful for your sense of urgency.

Editor's note: Guest writer Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. Follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa

Petition To Enable Paid Android Apps In More Countries Draws Thousands

Posted: 05 Jun 2010 05:07 AM PDT

Next August, it will be 2 years since Google first announced Android Market, its mobile application store. First opened to users in October 2008, the company needed until February / March 2009 to add priced application support to Android Market for both developers and users in the US and the UK.

Today, supported locations for merchants now also include Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands and Spain. People living in a handful of other countries, like Switzerland and Japan, also have the opportunity to purchase applications, but developers can’t sell their apps there either. As for the rest of the world – incl. Belgium (lol), where I live – tough luck.

While users and developers in most countries are free to buy and sell apps through third-party marketplaces such as SlideME, priced application support for Android Market is inexistent.

And this irks plenty of Android developers and users all over the globe tremendously.

Swedish mobile app developer Mobisle Apps has been particularly vocal about the slow international roll-out of priced application support. They’ve considered setting up a business in the UK for the sole reason of being able to make money off their apps at some point, and more recently the small startup set up an online petition while saying they are getting so tired of the situation that they’re considering moving to other platforms altogether (cough iPhone OS cough).

The petition has so far collected more than 3,600 signatures in a matter of ten days, nearly 1,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and hundreds of tweets. While many of the people who signed the petition live in Sweden or neighbor countries and are not necessarily affected by the lack of more international support for paid Android apps in Market, likely hundreds of those come from frustrated developers. Meanwhile, Google claims it is “working hard” for more support, but can’t provide any guidance on timing whatsoever.

Frankly, I’m not really sure what is taking Google so long to roll out paid app support in more countries, and developers don’t seem to understand either. Technically, it must have something to do with the Google Checkout merchant service and infrastructure. I’m sure they have their reasons for the delay, but it’s kind of insane that Android Market will soon be two years old and they’re still being sluggish about this.

We all know how important the success of Android is to Google, and worldwide sales of Android-powered handsets are booming.

What’s up with holding back international monetization efforts at scale for Android Market (which would benefit users, developers but also Google)?

Gardening For Dummies: SproutRobot Sends You Seeds And Tells You When To Plant Them

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 06:20 PM PDT

It’s no secret that home-grown fruits and vegetables are usually really good, handily beating what you’ll find lining the aisles at your local supermarket. But If you’re like me,  gardening has always seemed like something of a dark art — you put seeds in the ground, add water, do some other stuff, and a few weeks (or months?) later you have some tasty fruits and vegetables. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I’m guessing that there are a lot of people who aspire to start growing some of their own food, but just have no idea where to start.

Fortunately, there’s a new startup called SproutRobot that’s looking to clear things up for the masses: you tell it what you want to grow, and it sends you high quality seeds, automatic email updates instructing you when to plant them, and a guide to handling everything else.

To get started, you tell SproutRobot your zip code. From there you’re given two options: you can elect to either sign up for a free email version of the service, which tells you when to plant your seeds but doesn’t actually send you any (in other words you have to go to the store and buy seeds yourself). Or you can sign up for the premium option, which runs from $20/year for three varieties of seeds to $70/year for ten types of seeds.

Eventually you’re asked to choose what you want to grow. Again, this is pretty straightforward. If you want carrots, you click the box next to carrots — there aren’t a dozen kinds of each vegetable to confuse you. There are around thirty types of  fruit and vegetable seeds available, covering everything from beets to winter squash. All seeds are from Seeds of Change and are certified organic.

Once you’ve signed up, SproutRobot will send you bags of seeds at the appropriate time, and will tell you exactly when to plant them based on your local weather patterns. Erik Pukinskis, who heads the one-man company, says that this is based on the last five years of weather data, and that he hopes to include current weather conditions as a factor too. This would allow SproutRobot to shift planting dates if there was, say, an unusually dry month or cold snap.

The site still has a ways to go. It does tell you when to do things like plant your seeds or transplant your broccoli (whatever that means). But when you click on the online directions, the site sometimes kicks you to a different website, like eHow. Sure, these pages appear to have the proper directions, but this information should probably be included on SproutRobot itself. Pukinskis says that printed instructions are included with the seeds themselves in comic-form, and he’d like to eventually have SproutRobot cover every single step of the growing process.

One thing to note: Pukinskis says that the site is still in beta, and it may have a few quirks and slowdowns. He also says that SproutRobot is still perfecting the planting calendar (he noted that some users growing tomatoes were told to plant them a bit too late), though all paid users have their calendars checked by hand to ensure accuracy.

What Google Chrome Might Look Like On An iPad

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 05:45 PM PDT

The iPad offers a great web browsing experience — maybe the best on any device (assuming you don’t want to go to a site that uses Flash). But it could still be better. For example, it would be nice to have actual tabs, rather than the bogus window system the iPad uses. That system makes sense on the iPhone where there isn’t much screen real estate, but there’s plenty on the iPad. Undoubtedly it’s a memory issue just as much as anything else, but it’s one of the things designer Markus Schmeiduch was thinking about when he decided to do some mock-ups of how Google Chrome might run on an iPad.

Schmeiduch acknowledges that due to the restrictions on JavaScript engines, Chrome for the iPad is not likely to be a reality anytime soon (not to mention the relationship between Apple and Google at the moment), but that hasn’t stopped him from dreaming. On top of real tabs, his Chrome for iPad gives us Google cloud-synced bookmarks, gestures, and even some Chrome OS features.

Obviously, Apple let the Opera browser on the iPhone recently, so they’re some indication they’re not opposed to competition on the platform for Safari. But you almost have to wonder if they let Opera on the iPhone simply because it’s not very good (and yet would still appease people). Chrome, especially with any Chrome OS features, would likely be a different story. Still, Schmeiduch’s mock-ups are interesting.

Check some of them out below. You should also go here for full-sized renders and look at them on the iPad to see exactly how it would look.

Yahoo Wants HuffPo Badly

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 03:56 PM PDT

Yahoo is clearly positioning itself to become a stronger player in the online content game, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of Associated Content. But we are hearing that the real prize they want is the Huffington Post. The two companies are currently in negotiations over a deep content partnership, according to sources close to the situation. There are also rumblings that Yahoo wants to buy the Huffington Post outright, but it may be too expensive. In any case, the Huffington Post seems to be more interested in doing a content deal than selling.

Yahoo needs high quality articles and videos, and the Huffington Post needs more traffic and pageviews. A content deal could conceivably include articles, videos, and advertising integrated across Yahoo News and other Yahoo properties. Who knows, maybe that deal could lead to something else. There are many ties between the two companies. Huffington Post CEO Eric Hippeau sits on Yahoo’s board, and president Greg Coleman used to be head of sales at Yahoo.

The Huffington Post is killing it right now. It is the biggest blog on the planet, with 26 million unique visitors worldwide in April, according to comScore. It is already bigger than NYTimes.com. The HuffPo has expanded well beyond politics to cover more than 20 different news categories, and it is embracing social networks as a way to drive pageviews through sharing. It is even experimenting with badges and other game mechanics to reward loyal readers and sharers.

If content is once again becoming king, online media companies need a lot of it and they need it to be good. An acquisition by Yahoo would accelerate the HuffPo’s growth, while at the same time give Yahoo a strong anchor for its content business. Sources with knowledge of the HuffPo’s thinking insist it is not for sale. But everything is for sale at the right price.

Buying the Huffington Post would not be cheap. When it last raised $25 million in December, 2008, that round gave the company a $125 million valuation. It would want multiples of that now. The company is on track to generate $60 million in revenues next year and $100 million in 2012. It still has cash in the bank, and could turn profitable by early next year. If you figure an acquisition multiple of 6X or 7X next year’s revenues, Yahoo would have to pay at least $360 million for HuffPo today, or much more a year from now. If Yahoo wants to focus on being a media company, there are worse things it could do than buy HuffPo. But is it really worth that much? A content deal lets Yahoo dip its toes in the water and find out.

Photo credit: Flickr/NeoGaboX

SEC Filing Suggests Zynga Paid At Least $20.5 Million For Challenge Games

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 02:36 PM PDT

Gaming giant Zynga has just filed with the SEC indicating a sale of $20.5 million in stock. Based on its recent acquisition of Austin-based social gaming company Challenge Games, we believe the transaction to be related to this deal. We reached out to Zynga and they would not comment on this.

It’s a safe assumption that the filing indicates that Zynga paid at least $20.5 million for Challenge Games. But there could have been additional cash involved, which would not be disclosed in this filing. Challenge Games, which is now Zynga Austin, launched in 2007 to focus on immersive Web game development built on a virtual goods business model. Backed by Sequoia Capital and Globespan Capital Partners, Challenge Games develops a number of social games including Warstorm, a collectible card game set in a fantasy universe, and Ponzi, a tycoon game. The company previously raised $14.5 million in funding.

Zynga is steadily building up its gaming empire through acquisitions and deals with major networks and web giants. Last week, Zynga signed a deal with Yahoo to feature its games throughout Yahoo's network, which puts Zynga's games in front of Yahoo's 600 million users. The previous week, Zynga acquired Chines gaming company XPD Media and struck a branding deal with 7-Eleven. And the social gaming giant struck a five-year partnership with Facebook.

Zynga has a large war chest. The company just raised $180 million in funding from Digital Sky Technologies, Tiger Global, Institutional Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz in December. And Zynga is a profit machine, with yearly revenue estimated to be around $600 million. One estimate shows that Zynga is pulling in $15 million in profit per month. With that sort of cash on hand, $20 million-plus is chump change.

Boxcar Brings Push Notification Management To The iPad — And Goes Completely Free

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 02:35 PM PDT

As a Push Notification addict, Boxcar for the iPhone is one of my must-have apps. Apple simply doesn’t have a good way to corral notifications in the iPhone OS, so this third-party management system is needed. Obviously, the same is true with the iPad. And now it’s here with version 3.0.

Boxcar for the iPad brings all the previous iPhone goodness, and then some. First of all, rather than charging to add support for various services (through in-app purchasing), developer Jonathan George has decided to make the entire experience free. This means that you can add Twitter notifications, Facebook notifications, email notifications — everything, for free. It’s now simply ad-supported. If you want to turn off the ads, it’s $4.99 (a one-time purchase).

Also new is the revamped look and feel of the app. George has made the app itself feel more like the Messages app you find on the iPhone. Notifications are broken up into types, and when you click on any of those, you’re taken to a list of the notifications that appear in colorful chat bubbles. Just as with the iPhone version, you can be notified of the notifications through sounds, badging of the Boxcar icon, and pop up messages (or a combination of all three).

The new Boxcar 3.0 is universal (it will work on both the iPad and iPhone). Find it here.

Fanboy Meets Fangirl: Cupidtino Launches

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 02:27 PM PDT

We wrote about the impending launch of Cupidtino, a dating site for Apple fanboys and fangirls to connect and, well, find love. A name play on Cupid and the city of Cupertino (where Apple’s headquarters are located), Cupidtino launched to the public today, allowing all you single Apple fans out there to find your true soul mate. Or at least someone who won’t roll their eyes when you start polishing your shiny new iPad.

The site is essentially like any dating site, except with a few Apple-flavored features. It allows you to attach photos and list the basics about yourself, including “when you became a Mac” and a list of the gadgets you own. To express interest in someone you can “Mac him” (or her), which is like a poke; message the person; or meet the individual at the nearest Apple store.

All joking aside, Cupidtino is a bit of a letdown in some ways. Yes, it’s craftily formatted to look like and feel like the Apple site, complete with Apple icons and the background, which has a hint of light pink to it. But the UI is a little clunky. The profile pictures are too large and you have to scroll down the page to get any substantial information about the person who you are checking out. But I guess Apple lovers won’t care really because they really just want to check out the photos of others fan boys and girls.

While in private beta, the site was able to get a little traction amongst users. Currently, there are nearly 600 men listed on the site. Unfortunately, the site has not been able to attract many fangirls, and only lists 100 profiles of women. And something tells me this ratio of men to women on the site won’t change too much.

The OS X 10.7 Cat Is Out There, But Purring Quietly Leading Up To WWDC

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 01:47 PM PDT

Apple’s WWDC event kicks off on Monday with a keynote by CEO Steve Jobs (we’ll be there). There, he’s widely expected to unveil the next generation iPhone, and well as show off more of the new iPhone OS 4.0 software. But this keynote will be a bit odd because the leaked iPhone prototype has already revealed the next generation iPhone, so Jobs may have to do a bit more to wow the crowd. Speculation about what else could be coming is already well underway: iTunes in the cloud? Free MobileMe? A new Apple TV? And then there’s the OS X 10.7 question.

As MacRumors points out today, use of OS X 10.7 within Apple has clearly been on the rise the past few months. I decided to check the TechCrunch logs, and sure enough, we’re seeing the same thing. Hits from the “Intel 10.7″ identifier in Google Analytics started coming in October of last year and they’ve been growing ever since. In the past 30 days, we’ve seen a roughly 25% increase (from the previous 30 days) in visits. That said, the jump from March to April was much greater (nearly 100%). Apple is clearly expanding the work on the new OS, but is it ready to be unveiled?

Back in December of last year, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber suggested that OS X 10.7 was on pace to be unveiled at WWDC this year. But he revised that stance in April of this year, saying that work on iPhone OS 4 has taken the front seat and that we may not see OS X 10.7 until WWDC in 2011. With the iPad outselling the Mac, the new iPhone coming out, and the full-on assault from Google Android, it’s undoubtedly true that the emphasis is on iPhone OS. Still, it has been a full two years since OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) was stealthily unveiled at WWDC (but less than a year since it was actually released).

The schedule for WWDC this year shows a major emphasis for iPhone OS as well, and a relatively lighter OS X emphasis. This again seems to suggest no OS X 10.7 at WWDC, unless Apple is purposefully making it seem like there will be no OS X news this year.

We also don’t yet know what big cat nickname OS X 10.7 will get. Lion? Lynx? Cougar?

[photo: flickr/Harlequeen]

Ziff Davis Acquired By Former Time Digital Exec Vivek Shah And Great Hill Partners

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 11:50 AM PDT

Ziff Davis has been in some deep financial trouble over the past few years but today, this may come to an end. The technology publisher has been acquired by former Time Inc. executive Vivek Shah in partnership with Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ziff Davis operates nine properties including PCMag.com, ExtremeTech, GearLog, GoodCleanTech, DL.tv, AppScout, CrankyGeeks, Smart Device Central and TechSaver.com, which the company says reach over 7 million users per month. As a seasoned digital media exec, Shah might be able to breathe life back into the publisher. Shah has an impressive background in media, as helping create CNNMoney.com, overseeing Time.com and SI.com, and also serving as the president of Fortune and Money magazines.

The release indicates that Shah is particularly interested in Ziff Davis Labs, a computer testing lab that produces reviews of gadgets, similar to Consumer Reports. We had the opportunity to speak to Shah, who told us that there’s a tremendous opportunity in producing content that helps users make buying decisions. “There’s a huge potential in purchasing intent here,” says Shah. He also says there’s a huge opportunity in bringing editorial content to tablet devices and intends to take Ziff Davis’ content in that direction. Shah also confirmed to us that the transaction was valued under $150 million.

Unfortunately, thanks to the imploding print and magazine business, Ziff Davis Media has had to move more towards a digital model and succumbed to layoffs. This acquisition by a seasoned digital exec may help bring fresh ideas, new revenue streams and potential turnaround a floundering company.

Twitter Has Basically Doubled In Staff In The Past 6 Months

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 11:39 AM PDT

At some point last week, Twitter zoomed past 200 employees. The official count is now 205, according to head of communications Sean Garrett. That’s nothing compared to Twitter’s rivals such as Facebook and Google, but what’s impressive is that Twitter has basically doubled in size (in terms of staff) in the past 6 months alone. Twitter had 110 employees at the start of 2010 — and just 22 employees at the start of 2009.

And that rapid growth is likely to continue. Twitter has just taken over a second floor in the building they chose to be their new headquarters late last year. With that room, don’t be surprised if they double in size again in the next six months. With the monetization effort fully underway, look for a lot of business development people to be brought in.

Twitter is also still using an effective way to recruit new employees: Twitter. They @jointheflock account has over 6,600 followers and routinely tweets out things showing how cool it is to work at Twitter — like Conan O’Brien stopping by, and their new Zen room and art gallery on the new floor.

Below find some pictures of the new office space compliments of the @twitteroffice Flickr account.

Become A Music Mogul: Hitmaker From NoiseToys Hits The App Store

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 11:34 AM PDT

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, music startup NoiseToys launched with a demo of its iPhone app, Hitmaker. The app is now available in the iTunes store as a free download.

This was one of my favorite products to launch at Disrupt, even though the company never made it past the first round. Hitmaker makes a game out of discovering and promoting music. You get $500,000 in play money with which to “buy” real songs, which then change in value depending on how popular they become on the Web, in iTunes, and in the game. The idea is that you want to buy low when nobody knows about a song and sell high when it goes when it goes mainstream. You can pick songs from your own iTunes library, the top ranked songs on iTunes, the Hype Machine, or Last.FM, or the most-liked and most-recommended songs from Facebook. (It lets you login via Facebook Connect).

Once you pick the songs you think are going to make it big, you then can start acting like a music mogul by promoting the songs to your friends in the game, on Facebook, or via email. You can post links to the songs on your Facebook Wall or target only certain friends. The more popular the songs in your portfolio become, the more they are worth. They also earn virtual royalties.

The songs only play 30 second clips, but you can buy them on iTunes, which is sort of the point. The app would be more powerful if you could listen to an entire song and create streaming playlists. My other pet peeve is that when you try to promote a song on Facebook, it doesn’t play in Facebook, not even the clip. Instead it just inserts a link to iTunes, which isn’t the best way to share a song on Facebook. It would be better if your Facebook friends could listen to it inline and then decide whether they want to link off to iTunes or not.

But the app is somewhat addictive even in its current form. The founders got the underlying game mechanics right, which is half the battle. Everyone always likes to brag about how great their taste in music is and how they were listening to R.E.M. or U2 before anyone else knew who they were. Well, now there’s a way to keep score.

Like UJAM, another TC Disrupt startup that nearly stole the show, I am glad to see some new thinking being applied to the music industry. During rehearsals for Disrupt, both Mike and I thought NoiseToys would make it to the final five. Below is a video I took during rehearsals on my iPhone after the demo when the three Stanford-grad founders talked about their backgrounds. Co-founder Vivek Agarawal wrote one of the tracks in the movie Slumdog Millionaire (“Jai Ho”), while Mehul Trivedi worked at Apple on OpenAL (part of the Core Audio on the iPhone) and Shalin Mantri studied social influence at Stanford.

Posterous Adds ‘Pages’, Enables ‘About Me’ Section You’ve Always Wanted

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 11:32 AM PDT

Easy-to-use blogging platform Posterous has just launched a key new feature: Pages. No, the feature doesn’t sound sexy in the slightest — it allows you to create static webpages in addition to your main Posterous blog. But it finally allows you to link to supplementary pages like “About Me”, or “Contact Info” from your Posterous site.

Of course, other blogging platforms like WordPress have offered this forever, which is one reason why this is important — it’s one less feature users have to sacrifice if they want to trade in the more complex traditional blogging platforms in favor of Posterous’s cleaner interface and simple email-to-post functionality.

Pages are created using the site’s web interface. They can redirect to a static URL, and you can set a Page to be the default landing page when people vist your site (in other words, you could make your About Me section the first thing people see, rather than your blog posts).

Yum! Brizzly Picnics Go Live To Turn Twitter Into A Private Chatroom

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 11:20 AM PDT

Brizzly has long been one of my favorite Twitter clients. But as Twitter itself has kept adding new features, there’s been less and less of a reason to use it. But a new feature that just rolled out may bring me back: Picnics.

We’ve written a little bit about Picnics before, but it was never entirely clear just how useful it would be without using it. But after playing around with it for a little bit just now, I think it will be very useful. It’s not that it’s some groundbreaking new idea, but it’s the integration with services I use all the time that makes it killer. Basically, Picnics is a way to turn Twitter into a chatroom. You create a Picnic and invite your friends from Twitter to join and you can talk to one another in short messages.

Again, this is nothing groundbreaking, but what’s great is the integration with the Twitter stream. For example, each tweet in your main stream in Brizzly now has a new option to send a DM to that person and send the conversation to a Picnic. And Picnics are better than basic DMs because multiple people can join them. It’s an easy way to make your own private Twitter conversation stream on the fly.

And there’s a way to have separate one-on-one conversations with participants in Picnics using the Sidebar option. This reminds me a bit of what LiveFyre was doing with its Breakout conversations (though Livefyre is more topic-based). And Sidebar conversations stick around no matter which Picnic you’re in.

The key to all of this is that it’s adding a useful new funtionality to something you’re likely going to want to have open anyway (your Twitter stream). And when coupled with the fact that Brizzly also gives you one-click access to your Facebook stream as well, Brizzly is once again very attractive. It actually reminds me a bit of FriendFeed Groups (which I miss), but a bit more simplified because it’s really just like Twitter. In a time when most third-party developers seem scared that Twitter is going to launch features that eliminate the need for them, Brizzly has found a couple that help it stand out.

The Logitech Harmony Link For Google TV Gets Detailed

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 11:15 AM PDT

Google TV is all about blurring the lines between the web and TV -- and ads of course. Logitech is playing a key role in this project by providing the oh-so-important remote interface, and the just-detailed Logitech Harmony Link goes way behind anything currently available.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Microsoft Closes The Register On Bing Cashback

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 10:52 AM PDT

Microsoft has shut down Bing Cashback, according to a blog post. Bing Cashback, which is a program that allows users to save money when they purchase items found using Bing search, will be shut down on July 30, 2010.

The blog post says that Cashback is being shut down due to lack of adoption. Cashback offers will still be available until the end of July and users will have a year to redeem any money they’ve earned through the program.

Microsoft launched Cashback on its old search engine, Live Search, in May 2008, when we called it a “desperate and brilliant move” to trade search revenue for market share. Cashback failed to do much to improve Live Search’s market share, but it did result in a significant increase in advertising revenue.

With the launch of Bing, Microsoft thought that cashback would gain more traction as a rebranded product, even launching a TV commercial and special promotions. But clearly this was not enough to drive traffic to the program.

Now You Can Try Out Google Docs Without A Google Account

Posted: 04 Jun 2010 10:28 AM PDT

If you’ve ever tried explaining Google Docs to a long-time Microsoft Office user who isn’t familiar with buzzwords like “cloud computing” and “real-time collaboration”, you probably know that it can be a trying task. Sure, Docs offers a visual tour and an introductory video walkthrough, but sometimes the lightbulb doesn’t really turn on for people until they’ve tried it for themselves. Today, Google has made that a bit easier: it just launched a new site at docs.google.com/demo, which allows users to try full-fledged versions of its word processor, spreadsheet, and drawing tool without a Google account. The site is linked to from the Google Docs homepage with a prominent button that says “Try Google Docs Now”.

Using the site is as simple as it could be. When you first hit docs.google.com/demo, you’ll see a newly generated document instructing you to start typing, along with a notice that the sample document you’re editing is only available for 24 hours. More important, the document comes with a link that allows you to invite other users to collaboratively edit it (again, these invited users won’t need to have a Google account).

Sure, it’s not exactly a huge new feature, but it significantly lowers the barrier to entry to getting people to try out Docs for themselves. And when it comes to getting the attention of the millions of users who are on Office simply because it’s all they know, that’s important.

Via Matt Cutts on Twitter


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