web 2.0

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Costolo: Twitter Now Has 190 Million Users Tweeting 65 Million Times A Day

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 07:47 AM PDT

Twitter COO Dick Cosotolo offered some updated stats at the Conversational Media Summit today in New York City. Twitter is now attracting 190 million visitors per month and generating 65 million Tweets a day. “We’re laying down track as fast as we can in front of the train,” says Costolo. These numbers are up slightly from 180 million self-reported unique visitors per month back in April, and 50 million Tweets per day in February.

The number of visitors to Twitter.com is not the same as the number of registered users. (ComScore, in contrast, estimated 83.6 million worldwide unique visitors to Twitter.com in April and 23.8 million U.S. visitors in May, see chart below). Most users, says Costolo, don’t Tweet at all, but rather use Twitter as a consumption media. How many of those 65 million Tweets are automated spam is not clear.

Once again, Costolo reiterated Twitter’s stance that “we will not allow third parties to inject ads into the stream.” When Twitter rolls out its Promoted Tweets, it will control them 100 percent. Some brands doing early beta testing with Promoted Tweets are seeing, on average, 2.5 percent “engagement rates,” as measured by replies, retweets, clicks and so on. He also mentioned that Twitter soon will be rolling out an analytics dashboard for commercial customers and brands. Advertisers will be able to target messages by interest and topics, but not by individual users. And on Twitter’s privacy policy, he says, “Our privacy policy is very simple: You can have a protected account, or not. If not, everything is public.” Nobody seems to be having fits over the fact that everything on Twitter is public, but then they knew that going in.

JackRabbit Systems Raises $1.3 Million For Online Travel Software

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 07:40 AM PDT

JackRabbit Systems, a developer of a white-label online travel bookings software, has raised $1.33 million in funding from Kickstart Seed Fund and Sun Mountain Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $3.7 million

JackRabbit’s main software, BookDirect, allows any website to embed a direct hotel booking system on their sites. Similar to Expedia, BookDirect gathers rates and availability information from lodging properties, and displays that information to consumers looking to book rooms. Consumers can then click from the search engine to the lodging property website to complete the booking.

The most common use cases for the company’s software have been for state and city travel sites, says founder Andrew Van Luchene, who was formerly the sixth employee at Priceline. For example, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority integrated JackRabbit’s software into its site. Since 2007, BookDirect has originated four million leads to hotels.

Of course, the online travel space is crowded, and full of worthy competitors, including Kayak, Expedia and even Bing and now Google. But JackRabbit’s platform seems to have a loyal following, so perhaps it will be able to compete in the space.

Invites to Let’s Annotate – Real-Time Annotation On The iPad

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 07:26 AM PDT

Let's annotate just released their iPad version for real-time collaboration for PDFs. The service is still in alpha and takes full advantage of the iPad's HTML5 capabilities. The app practially runs within the iPads browser and also let's you make use of native iPad elements such as multi-touch. The iPad version was built upon their existing Web application, that comes in three different pricing models depending on the number of collaborators and storage space. It's also fully built with HTML5 and aims to take out the hassle of sending large junks of PDFs over the web. Sounds familiar? Indeed there are various apps out there, most notably Scribd, Issuu or Google Docs.

OnStar Gets Directions From Google Maps

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 07:14 AM PDT

OnStar has struck a deal with Google to integrate Google Maps into all of its navigation systems. OnStar users can now use Google Maps to get directions to a destination and then send those destinations to OnStar’s Turn-by-Turn Navigation Service in their vehicles.

The Google Maps option will be available on all current Turn-by-Turn capable GM vehicles starting with the 2006 model year and also will integrate with OnStar Destination Download to send destinations directly to the vehicle’s screen-based navigation system.

The partnership isn’t surprising as Google and GM’s OnStar have an established relationship. Last month, OnStar and Google unveiled the mapping and navigation capibilities of the Android-powered platform in the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle. And it is rumored that OnStar will link Android phones with the navigation system’s platform. The Android system is appealing to OnStar because of its compelling navigation capabilities. Last year, the search giant launched a new version of Google Maps Navigation for Android phones which surpasses the functionality of many in-car nav systems.

GM is not the only car manufacturer to adopt Google Maps; Ford just announced today that it would be integrating Google Maps in its Sync system, which is ironically powered by Microsoft software.

TurnHere And Its Network Of 8,000 Filmmakers To Flood Yelp With Videos

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 07:01 AM PDT

Online video production startup TurnHere is now the exclusive provider of video creation services for Yelp, the popular local search and business review site.

TurnHere, through its network of over 8,000 professional filmmakers, will be providing local video production for businesses that advertise on Yelp, as well as a slate of video-related services, including expanded distribution of their video(s) across the Web.

John McWeeny, COO of TurnHere, claims online businesses that have videos included in their listings experience higher numbers of clicks, calls and leads. TurnHere henceforth enables Yelp to provide their advertisers with two video options:

- Standard Video: Advertisers receive a 30-second video slideshow made from a series of photos provided by the business with music and custom voice-over narration.
- Premium Video: Advertisers receive a 30-60 second custom video shot at their place of business by a professional filmmaker from the TurnHere network.

Additionally, advertisers can choose to increase the visibility of their video through TurnHere’s video promotion package, which includes distribution to YouTube, Google Places, Facebook, Yahoo! Video and more.

You can see some samples on Yelp here and here.

All in all, it’s a big score for TurnHere, a San Francisco startup founded in 2005 that has raised $8.6 million in venture capital since its inception. The company competes with StudioNow, which was picked up by AOL earlier this year.

An Android User’s Take On Yesterday’s iPhone News

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 06:30 AM PDT

Yesterday’s Apple keynote was, I think more than ever, a testament to Steve Jobs’s presentation skills. Faced with an audience that had already seen the grand finale, he still had no trouble evoking plenty of gleeful gasps and applause. He even managed to make the now-infamous Wifi glitch amusing and entertaining (if a bit odd), rather than painfully awkward. But despite all of his showmanship and a very impressive new product, the keynote wasn’t quite the game changer that I expected. I don’t mean to say I found the iPhone 4 to be disappointing — it will be incredibly successful, and many of my friends are champing at the bit to get one. But I expected to walk out of San Francisco’s Moscone Center yesterday longing for the next iPhone despite my current allegiance to Android. That didn’t happen.

A few weeks ago, an Apple zealot emailed Steve Jobs asking him if Apple had any WWDC announcements that would “blow [Google] out of the water”.  Jobs responded, “you won’t be disappointed.”  To me, it sounded like Jobs was hinting at something major — a feature or service or device that was simply so much better than Android that it would feel like the G1 vs. iPhone 3G days all over again, when the iPhone was vastly superior.  But instead of launching a nuke, Apple’s announcements were a strong but survivable offensive against Android; a retaliation for the recent attacks at Google I/O. Apple has taken the lead once again, but I don’t think Android will be playing catchup for long.

Before I go any further, I think I should explain where I’m coming from so as to cast aside (or perhaps, affirm) any suspicion that I’m simply an Android fanboy. I used an iPhone full-time for two years, first with the original iPhone, and then the iPhone 3G. I loved both of them, and for a long time held a rather naive view that Apple couldn’t do much wrong. Then, in mid-2009, Apple started blocking Google’s applications and I began to have serious misgivings about the App Store. A few months later I switched to a Droid, and then to a Nexus One, which I’ve been using for around five months now. Despite my issues with the App Store, I bought an iPad the day it came out and was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying it was “changing the paradigm of how we will use computers” (a ridiculously clichéd choice of words, but I still agree with them). Of course, my decision to buy an iPad may indicate that I’m a huge hypocrite, but I like to tell myself that I just have a nuanced perspective.

All of that said, let’s get down to business.

The Device

It’s been said many times already, but it’s worth repeating: this thing is gorgeous. It unapologetically abandons the older iPhone’s curves in favor of more defined edges that make the thing just look inherently powerful. And, perhaps more important, it feels rock solid.

One of the first questions I posed to the Apple sentry stationed next to my demo unit was how resistant the new model was to scratches and falls. His response: “the screen is stronger than sapphire”. A quizzical expression later (I know nothing about gemstones), he explained that this meant it was really strong and would be very difficult to crack. After holding the satisfyingly weighty device for a few minutes, I honestly got the impression that I could throw it against the wall and that it would survive intact (the sentry did not like this idea). I really haven’t seen an Android phone that felt this sturdy or looked this good.

Aside from the build quality, the most striking feature of the iPhone 4 is undoubtedly its screen. It’s sharper than your computer monitor. Reading text on it feels a little surreal, like it is almost too crisp because you’re not used to seeing this kind of display on a phone (a nice problem to have). Again, this blows the screens I’ve seen on Android phones out of the water. If I had to guess, I’d say the Motorola Droid comes closest, but doesn’t match it.

One related note on this: switching between the iPhone 4 and original iPhone screen is a little jarring — as Steve Jobs said on stage, once you’ve tried the “Retina Display”, you can’t really go back. Unfortunately, the iPad features a display that is most decidedly not the Retina Display (in fact, it has a lower pixel density than the older iPhone models). In other words, your shiny new iPhone 4 is going to make your 2 month old iPad feel obsolete real fast.

iOS 4

Amid all of the announcements yesterday, I think I was most surprised by the lack of news around iOS 4, which made its debut in April and will be released later this month. Granted, this is a huge update, bringing multitasking, threaded conversations in mail, folders, and plenty of other goodies to the iPhone. Thing is, Android already does most of this — I had expected a major feature or two that we hadn’t heard about yet.

Multitasking is clearly the big news here, and yes, there is an argument that the iPhone may be able to get better battery life than Android in this regard. But my Nexus One typically makes it all day without having battery issues, and the ‘rogue application’ phenomenon simply hasn’t been a major problem for me (I think it’s affected me twice). And the iPhone still has a a lousy notification system, which I don’t think is as usable as Android’s slide-down tray.  In short, this just seems like a matter of preference.


This is the wildcard for me. Apple’s execution here is good — you don’t need to deal with user accounts or setup of any kind, which is very nice. But it’s not perfect. The biggest issue here is that it’s Wifi only, which is going to be pretty restrictive. Apple’s marketing videos around this feature are truly touching, but ensuring that those heartwarming moments happen within Wifi range is going to be tough (not to mention that you’ll need to make sure your loved ones are all equipped with the newest iPhone).

Of course, this will change in time — carriers will eventually be able to accomodate the increased video traffic, and obviously the market penetration of the iPhone 4 will be increasing quickly. But that will also give Android plenty of time to catch up, especially given that Apple is making FaceTime an open standard (though the logistics of this haven’t been publicized yet).

My hunch is that FaceTime will be a major marketing win for Apple and that it will keep going strong with those heartstring-tugging ads. But I’m less sure that people will actually be using the feature regularly in the immediate future.

Other Software

A significant amount of time during yesterday’s keynote was dedicated to showing off iPhone applications. I don’t think any of these will have a major impact on the success of either platform, but they’re worth going over.

Zynga’s Farmville

  • This is going to be an absolutely huge draw for millions of Farmville addicts. That said, my hunch is that the demographics for Zynga games are more in line with the iPhone than with Android to begin with. If you really wanted to, you can likely get Farmville working using Android’s Flash support.

iMovie for iPhone

  • This is the kind of application that Android simply doesn’t have yet (or at least, I can’t find): polished and powerful. Given how terrible the stock Android media player is I don’t have high hopes for this sort of thing coming from Google, so we’ll probably have to wait for third parties to develop something comparable.


  • Jobs spent a lot of time talking about iBooks, namely its ability to now read PDFs and to sync between multiple devices. Note that Amazon’s Kindle app is coming to Android this summer and will feature similar syncing capabilities.


After handling the new iPhone, there’s little doubt in my mind that my Nexus One is no longer the state of the art. The screen isn’t nearly as sharp as the iPhone 4, the build quality isn’t as good, and I don’t have a front facing camera for video chat. Most of these shortcomings hold true for other popular Android devices like the Incredible and Evo 4G (though the latter does have the front camera).

But despite the fact that my phone doesn’t quite match up to the iPhone 4, at no point yesterday did I consider jumping back onto the iPhone bandwagon. My Nexus One doesn’t feel much slower than the iPhone (especially since upgrading to Froyo). I can’t see myself using the phone video chat in the immediate feature, especially given the Wifi limitation and the fact that I’d only be able to use it with other technophiles initially. And while the iPhone 4′s screen is pretty damn amazing, it isn’t nearly sharp enough to overcome my disdain for AT&T.

What’s more, I’ll be surprised if Android devices don’t surpass the iPhone’s hardware capabilities within the next four months or so. We’ll probably be seeing sharper screens, faster processors, and even integrated gyroscopes (another feature launching with the iPhone 4) on the next wave of devices. And from a software perspective, Android actually seems poised to start beating Apple on some fronts, namely its connection with cloud services. Despite rumors leading up to WWDC, Steve Jobs didn’t once bring up Apple’s MobileMe cloud service during his keynote. During his interview at the D8 conference he said that Apple was working on wireless tethering/sync features, but it seems like Google has a head start.

In short, more than ever it looks like Android and Apple are in a dead heat. And that’s a great thing for all of us. Even you fanboys who didn’t read this far.

IAB Sets Up Tablet Task Force, Praises The iPad And HTML5, Badmouths Flash

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 06:29 AM PDT

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) today announced that it has formed the Tablet Task Force, a group comprised of publishing and interactive industry executives, in order to “help create an infrastructure that would support a variety of rich new advertising opportunities for the emerging technologies of tablets and e-readers”.

In reality, it’s all about the iPad, as evidenced by the focus on Apple’s device in this industry report on ‘tabvertising’ (PDF).

Also noteworthy: the IAB actively tries to kill the “myth” that lack of Flash support on the iPad is going to be a problem for advertisers, saying it “incredibly intensive on any computer to run, burning through batteries faster”.

Its advice?

“The programming language HTML5 used by most new browsers, can do almost as much as Flash without the power drain. Advertisers simply need to start creating ads in HTML5, rather than Flash.”

Adobe will be pleased.

The announcement of the new Task Force and industry report was made at IAB Innovation Days, a two-day event that coincides with Internet Week, the annual week-long series of events spotlighting New York City's role as a leader in the digital and media industries.

The preliminary objectives of the Tablet Task Force, according to the press release, are to explore and define comprehensive best practices in the area, build an infrastructure for ongoing growth and provide guidance on the development of ad standards that enhance the “lush consumer experiences” that these devices promise.

For your background, the IAB is comprised of more than 375 media and technology companies, who are responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the United States.

Who knew its objectives included helping Apple sell even more iPads and advance the use of HTML5 by advertisers?

Mobile App Frenzy – GetJar Claims Second Place As Store Hits A Billion Downloads

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 06:14 AM PDT

Mobile App stores have been dominated by Apple and Android with Nokia's Ovi a distant third, but there is an independent store out there which cuts across all except Apple. GetJar, which claims to be the the world's second largest mobile app store, says it has just broken the 1 billion app download barrier. This is the only time a cross-platform apps store has clocked over 1 billion downloads and the second time after Apple did it a few months ago. The message, of course, is that mobile apps, which have benefitted from the marketplace approach and the ability for developers to profit, are here to stay.

GeeksOnAPlane At echelon 2010 In Singapore: An Overview Of South East Asia’s Web Scene

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 05:59 AM PDT

Following Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul, the GeeksOnAPlane (GOAP) tour reached its fourth and penultimate stop last week: Singapore. The island nation isn't a very big market by itself (population: 5 million), but it's located in the center of South East Asia, home to 600 million people. Only a small fraction of the population in that region currently has access to the web. However, it's just a question of time until places like Indonesia (240 million people, 12.5% Internet penetration), Vietnam (89 million, 25.7%), or the Philippines (98 million, 24.5%) catch up to the rest of the wired world.

There's quite a lot happening in this region of the world already, as demonstrated by the 650 local entrepreneurs, investors and executives who attended echelon 2010, a two-day web industry event organized by Singaporean startup community e27. What follows is a summary of just a few presentations, panel discussions, and startup demos the GOAP witnessed at that event.

Needless to say, there was a lot more going on during those two days in Singapore (for the purpose of this post, I am just focusing on the Asia-related stuff; here‘s the complete agenda and here‘s the speaker list). If you want to know more, e27 itself covered much of what happened at the event on its blog and offers a slew of video recordings on its Ustream page.

Asia-related presentations and panel discussions at echelon 2010

Asia’s web industry (panel discussion)

Podcast series This Week In Asia (iTunes link) recorded its 50th episode live on stage at echelon 2010. Guests included investor and GOAP head honcho Dave McClure, Gen Kanai (Director of Asia Business Development for Mozilla), Mohan Belani (Director at e27), Rama Mamuaya (founder of Indonesian tech blog DailySocial), myself, and others.

You can listen to the podcast, which touches upon various topics around Asia’s web scene, over on This Week In Asia’s site (the sound quality improves after the first two minutes), download it on iTunes, or watch the discussion on video here.

Indonesia’s mobile industry (presentation)

Indonesia is hot right now, not only in South East Asia. One of the most interesting (Asia-related) presentations delivered at the event came from Jakarta-based Andy Zain, founder of Mobile Monday Indonesia.

Zain said that the mobile web in Indonesia is bigger than the fixed-line Internet (210 million cell phone owners), that Indonesians love browsing the web on their handsets more than anyone else (they’re consuming 661 pages monthly), and that 80% of all new handsets sold in the country are web-enabled.

Here’s Zain’s presentation:

Hit this link to view the presentation on video.

Social gaming in Asia (panel discussion)

Unfortunately, there is no video recording of the third Asia-related discussion panel (Social Gaming – How a Fast Rising Global Phenomenon is Developing in Asia) available. But e27 has summarized what the six panelists talked about in a dedicated blog post.

Startup demos at echelon 2010

Thankfully, echelon 2010 not only gave big corporations and star entrepreneurs some airtime, but also made room for South East Asian startups to show their wares (dozens of them, in fact). All of the companies offer their wares in English (and quite a few were approached by investors from Asia and elsewhere on the spot, I’ve heard.)

In TechCrunch 50 tradition, ten of the startups actually launched their products at the event. You can watch the entire launchpad on video here and here.

Here’s a list of all the products that were first unveiled at echelon 2010:

  • Zelrealm, a virtual items-based monetization tool for social game developers (more info on the e27 blog)
  • MyCube, a "digital life management tool" that will be built on top of existing social networks (more info)
  • scraplr, a “Yahoo Answers for tasks” that makes it possible to share tasks on Facebook and Twitter (more info)
  • TangoFX, a video platform (in alpha) that lets multiple users connect while consuming video content through widgets (more info)
  • Pandaform, a simple form builder mainly targeted at small organizations (more info)
  • foound, an LBS for the iPhone that intends to make it easier to organize “hangouts with friends” (more info)
  • FlickEvents, an event management platform (more info)
  • Maxus Contentian, a copywriting add-on for the Drupal CMS that’s targeted at small businesses (more info)
  • MoVend, an in-app payment system for Android mainly targeting South East Asian developers (more info)
  • Time Voyager, whose game engine JX2 will be marketed to makers of 3D games (more info)

foound (tag line: "Why check-in alone when you can hangout with friends?") was widely regarded to be the top product of the echelon launchpad. The eponymous Singapore-based startup expects its iPhone app to hit the App Store within this month (the foound team – along with some members of the GOAP group – is pictured on top of this post).

Among the around 40 exhibiting startups, I found three companies to be standing out from the crowd (although there were probably more). These were Flutterscape from Japan (a unique, cross-border social commerce platform), Creately from Australia (a collaborative online diagramming tool), and insync from the Philippines (“Dropbox for Gmail and Google users”).

Many thanks from the GOAP group to the echelon 2010 organizers (especially Mohan Belani and Sneha Menon) for their hospitality.

Only a small part of the group has now moved on to Tokyo. The final stop of the GOAP tour (which formally ended after echelon) is Sapporo, where the Infinity Ventures Summit, one of Japan’s most important web industry events, will be held from Thursday.

For GOAP information in real-time, follow the #goap hash tag (the official Twitter account is here). “Official” GOAP pictures are still being uploaded over on Flickr.

Photo credit: Kris Krüg, Static Photography

TRUSTe Secures $12 Million To Certify Online Privacy

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 05:57 AM PDT

Online privacy certification company TRUSTe has raised $12 million led by Jafco Ventures with DAG Ventures, Accel Partners and Baseline Ventures participating in the round. This brings TRUSTe's total funding to $22 million. TRUSTe certifies that companies are meeting online privacy standards for consumers. Websites which are certified by the company bear a "trustmark," indicating that the site is secure. TRUSTe says that according to a survey, more than 82 percent of consumers who recognize TRUSTe's privacy seal use it to decide how and when to disclose personal information.

Connotate Scores $5.25M, Helps Companies Collect And Understand Data

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 05:56 AM PDT

Connotate, which aims to help companies collect data and content from the Web and transform this unstructured data into actionable enterprise intelligence, this morning announced that it has raised $5.25 million in venture capital from .406 Ventures.

Based on technology developed at Rutgers University, Connotate provides customized real-time Web information extraction capabilities that help organizations transform data into actionable intelligence, in order to create new revenue streams, increase productivity and track Web sites with automated processes.

Connotate says its solution helps individual organizations detect changes, collect and organize data from more than 3 million Web pages per day. This data can then be transformed into what the company refers to as “high-value information assets”, to feed content products, grow market and business intelligence, enable mass data aggregation, migration and integration.

Connotate’s patented intelligent Agent technology empowers companies to quickly create data sets, new applications and content products, fully automated and 24/7. Content is delivered over any number of media including XML, RSS, email, text messaging, file systems and direct feeds to SQL databases and Excel.

Customers include Reuters, Dow Jones & Company, Associated Press and Ask.com.

Social Networks Overtake Search Engines In UK – Should Google Be Worried?

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 05:34 AM PDT

Hitwise, the web analytics firm, has a report out today that claims that social networks now receive more UK Internet visits than search engines. Which, if the case, would imply that Google should be considerably worried about its future battle with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, as online marketing spend will surely follow Internet foot-through. Or does it? According to Hitwise, during May, social networks accounted for 11.88% of UK Internet visits and search engines accounted for 11.33%, representing the first ever month that social networks have been more popular than search engines in the UK.

ReputationDefender Buys Ziggs, A Social Network That Lets You Market Yourself

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 05:18 AM PDT

Online reputation and privacy management company ReputationDefender has acquired Ziggs.com, a social networking site for business professionals and people who would like to ‘market themselves on the Web’.

According to the release, ReputationDefender will introduce Ziggs users to its range of reputation and privacy management services, enabling them to better manage and maintain their online identities. The purchase price was not disclosed but likely on the low side.

Effective today, Ziggs.com customers can tap ReputationDefender’s products, in particular MyEdge, to enhance their online professional reputation management strategy. Ziggs.com customers will be able to continue enjoying the features and benefits offered by its platform.

ReputationDefender, founded in 2006, recently raised $8.65 million from Bessemer Venture Partners and Kleiner Perkins. A total of $11.7 million has now been pumped into the company.

Difference Engine Accelerator Prog Launches Its Graduates

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 05:13 AM PDT

Something crazy happened in the last 36 hours. Literally three tech startup events happened in London, each with multiple startups attempting to get real product out into the marketplace. However, while Launch48 and London Startup Weekend happened over the last weekend (and more of them in posts to follow), The Difference Engine, a UK seed accelerator program has spent the last few months, not days, nurturing some early stage startups. Yesterday they debuted nine new start-ups which were presented to VCs and angel investors in London for the first time. Here's a run-down about each one and our brief take:

BigDoor’s First BigRound: $5 Million From Foundry Group

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 04:58 AM PDT

Seattle startup BigDoor Media has raised $5 million in venture funding as it’s readying the launch of its automated platform that allows website and mobile application publishers to add game-like mechanics and loyalty programs to their sites and apps.

The fresh capital injection comes from Foundry Group, the early-stage investment firm that has backed up and coming companies such as Zynga, Gist, SimpleGeo, Gnip and MediaLets. Foundry Group’s Brad Feld will join the startup’s board of directors as a result of the financing.

BigDoor essentially helps companies build game-like mechanics and loyalty programs into their sites or apps by enabling points, badges, levels, leaderboards, virtual currency and virtual goods – all which are becoming increasingly popular in the Web these days.

Its platform allows publishers to create and manage their own virtual economy and game mechanics through an open RESTful API. The platform can be accessed via the BigDoor website, and provides the API, some sample code and analytics and administrative tools for non-developer types.

Founders Co-op (and others) have been seed-funding the company with just over $700,000 in funding since its founding in 2009, so this round brings the total invested in the company to a healthy $5,715,000.

BigDoor Media was founded by CEO Keith Smith and Jeff Malek. Notably, the pair previously started Zango (formerly ePIPO, 180solutions and Hotbar) back in the nineties, a venture that was and still is associated heavily with spyware and adware. The company ran into trouble with the FTC, and was forced to close its doors mainly because of those issues. The story is neatly chronicled here by Computerworld and on Xbiz.

Both founders openly acknowledge these negative associations in this lengthy but read-worthy blog post, published back in October 2009.

Web 2.0 to China: Ok, Let’s Try This Again…

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 04:44 AM PDT

Yesterday, I had lunch with one of the top people in the Chinese Internet scene who said, "We have a saying here, 'Internet multinationals all fail in China, Google was just the last one to go.'"

As sayings go, that's not especially catchy. But it is devastating. And true even if you count Google’s recent actions as a China morally-based forfeit. The stark truth is there are already more Chinese than Americans online and China is only at about 20% Internet penetration. And yet, so far, Yahoo is the only one to play this market well, by swapping its local assets and $1 billion for a 40% stake in Alibaba back in 2005.

But a funny thing has happened between my last trip to China in October of last year and my current trip. The Silicon Valley Web 2.0 gang has invaded. OK, "invaded" is the wrong word, it's more like gingerly "waded into the pool." Most of the entrants are being very cautious, staying below the radar with limited, hedged plans. But there is a clear trend of Web 2.0 testing the Chinese waters—and hoping it doesn't make the mistake the first generation made.

The picture above– snapped at a Beijing newsstand where Scarlett Johansson and Sarah Jessica Parker were the only other faces I recognized– is a good metaphor for the kind of hey!-don’t-look-at-us!, easing-into-the-market approach the Web 2.0 generation is taking. (Note the word “metaphor.” I’m not implying Facebook planted this or even pitched the story to what I understand is an English language learning magazine.)

There is Playfish's office, the Zynga acquisition of XPD Media and Hulu CEO Jason Killar’s recent visit to Beijing where he announced an impending China launch. Just last weekend Max Levchin of Slide hosted a developer day at the company’s Shanghai office. Who even knew Slide had a Shanghai office? (It’s interesting that Levchin grew up in Soviet Russia just like Google founder Sergey Brin but apparently doesn't have the same hang up with the Chinese government.) Facebook is reportedly opening an office next and I spoke with several people over the last week who said they had gotten calls from headhunters.

Will Silicon Valley Web 2.0 companies do better than the 1.0 generation? It depends on what the community has learned from such abject failure. A few lessons seem obvious, judging by the new, more cautious approach.

Lesson #1: The Valley learned it can't be cocky. No one is making bold statements about taking over the Chinese market the way Web 1.0 leaders did. I remember a keynote by Meg Whitman in the early 2000s where she boasted that the "Sun never sets on eBay," so assured of its future in China. Yeah, that didn't go so well. No one is swaggering into China with the same bravado today. China has developed more $1 billion-plus Internet companies than any other market and most of them started out as US copycats on features, where they excelled was in process, execution and business models. Today, Web entrepreneurs get that.

Lesson #2: It’s China's house, you have to play by China's rules. A lot of people hate this one, but it's just reality. You know that scene in “Jerry Maguire” where Tom Cruise storms out of the office and says "WHO IS COMING WITH ME?" and pretty much only Renee Zellweger joins him? That's pretty much what Google's pull out of the China market in March was. Since that date, Web 2.0 companies have only upped their China hires.

Lesson #3: Hire first, launch later. Most of these offices are just development offices, taking advantage of local talent. But make no mistake: This is a savvy way to asses the market and build connections. Talent isn't that cheap in Beijing and Shanghai relative to the rest of the emerging world and the price is escalating. Call it the Hulu model– the company had an R&D division in Bejing long before it announced its recent intention to actually launch service in China.

All-in-all these three lessons make for a smart strategy. China is the only country outside the United States that's given birth to several billion-dollar-plus Internet companies and there's some $20 billion in venture capital sloshing around this country, by some estimates, that's anxious to find the next local crop. There's no question there's a lot of momentum investing here and a lot of these startups will fail. But whenever you have this much activity and 400 million people online, there will be more big hits too. This is simply not our market for the taking.

But where the Web 1.0 generation was too cocky, the question is whether the Web 2.0 generation is being too cautious. Online games and virtual goods are already big markets in China—bigger than in the US in fact. And there are already big local iterations of things like Facebook and Twitter. Is it already too late for some of these companies?

Clearly, the Valley is still trying to figure out how it plays in China. At least this generation is trying to learn, listen and make friends first and colonize later.

Yahoo Tries To Score With Football Fans By Teaming Up With David Beckham

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 03:28 AM PDT

Yahoo is partnering with iconic football star David Beckham to offer exclusive content for its coverage of the upcoming World Cup as well as the 2010/11 football season, we've just learned. Beckham will also be featured in the second phase of the company's global integrated marketing campaign, which focuses on showcasing specific Yahoo products and services, throughout the duration of the World Cup in select markets. The goal of the campaign, according to the press release, is "to drive more people to search, use and talk about Yahoo! through exciting and experiential demonstrations of our unique ability to bring my world and the world together".

Startup Life, Visualized (Infographic)

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 03:09 AM PDT

Always delighted to see savvy entrepreneurs and investors in Europe launch initiatives that can help young tech startups, wherever they’re located, go from idea to product without going bankrupt and disillusioned even before making it to the prototype phase.

Hence, I am completely in love with what XING founder Lars Hinrichs is doing with HackFwd, a new-style, product-oriented startup investment and advisory venture.

You can read all about the details of the project in Mike Butcher’s post on the introduction of HackFwd on TechCrunch Europe, but make sure you also watch the video at the end of the post, which does an amazing job at explaining what it’s all about in just 3 and a half minutes (with actor Stephen Fry doing the voice-over, no less).

And how about this awesome infographic I found on their website, the ‘HackFwd Blueprint’, which I just spent about half an hour dissecting. Click the full screen (or better yet, the download) button and see what startup life can be like, as neatly visualized by people with a sense of design … and humor.

(Tip: not sure where to start? Try “Is the universal answer 42 or 23?”)

Inspired Instruments Raises $1.25M, Lets You Rock Out On A Digital Guitar (Video)

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 02:28 AM PDT

Inspired Instruments, makers of a portable, real-string digital guitar dubbed the You Rock Guitar, has raised $1.25 million from a number of private investors in preparation for the launch of the You Rock Guitar platform and to move forward with a line of accessories and software solutions.

The company’s flagship product, the You Rock Guitar, is a mobile digital guitar and game controller that plays nice with the Wii, PlayStation 3, your computer, iPod / iPhone, iPad, your amplifier or stereo and with popular games like Guitar Hero and RockBand.

The round of funding, Inspired Instruments’ first, was led by co-founder and CEO Kevin Kent and Executive Vice President JR deSouza. Says co-founder and president Cliff Elion:

"We are ready to take Inspired Instruments to the next level by expanding the distribution, infrastructure and product development team. By securing capital for this venture, we are right on track to truly bridge the gap between playing games and playing real instruments. In fact, Kevin and I did our first MIDI guitar more than 25 years ago and sold that to Gibson – this guitar leaves that technology in the dust."

You can’t buy one straight away, though – the company says they’re currently back-ordered. According to the website, the product will set you back $219.99 (list price).

It’s an interesting idea for sure – check out the video below for more.

eToro Adds $2.4 Million To The Coffers: “Zynga For Real Men”

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 02:21 AM PDT

We first wrote about Israeli startup eToro way back in 2007 when it launched. Since then investors have put more than $8 million into the company. Today they’ll announce that Social Leverage has led a third round, adding $2.4 million more.

What is eToro? It’s commodity, currency and index trading made fun and social. Yes, you read that correctly. eToro puts the sexy into silver trading. Users make trades via a ridiculously easy (maybe too easy) interface. Start off with fake money and see what you’re made of. Yesterday, for example, I quickly lost about 5% of my fake capital on foolhardy and highly leveraged oil and silver trades when I lost my nerve and bailed out a few minutes after jumping in. Maybe when I abandon my day job and start trading full time I’ll learn to do a little research first.

But I can’t deny that it’s a total blast to use eToro. The service makes buying and selling extremely easy to understand, and users seem to agree. CEO Jonathan Assia tells me that users have traded over $100 billion on eToro to date. The average transaction size, before leverage, is $50. Trades made on the site are public for others to view, and successful traders can get quite a following on the service.

If you forget for a minute that you’re using real money and actually buying and selling stuff you might think you’re in the middle of an online game. In fact, Howard Lindzon, the founder of new investor Social Leverage, calls eToro “Zynga for real men,” referring to the fact that there’s actual money being made and lost while you’re playing the “game.”

Lindzon’s interest is worth noting. The eToro model is much like Lindzon’s StockTwits, which shows stock buys and sells in a Twitter-like stream. Assia won’t comment on whether a partnership with StockTwits is coming, but it isn’t hard to bet that some sort of strategic relationship is coming.

The company, which has 1.5 million registered users, has 120 employees in Israel, New York, Australia and Cypress.

XING Founder Launches HackFwd, A Ycombinator Re-made For Europe

Posted: 08 Jun 2010 01:56 AM PDT

Like a Klingon starship de-cloaking in the middle of Europe, Lars Hinrichs the founder of LinkedIn competitor XING who exited for $58 million last year is putting his efforts onto a new startup investment vehicle dubbed HackFwd. But although the web site for the new venture is packed with advisors and mentors, HackFwd will take 27% of a company it invests in - that's a sizeable chunk. In the US, Ycombinator takes around 6% but can do anywhere from 2%-10% while TechStars take around 6-10%, whereas the London-based Seedcamp takes 8-10%. However, those latter programmes only last months, while HackFwd's backing will be designed to last a year, a model that is probably going to suit Europe's slower-burn markets.

Trazzler Gets $1 Million From Star Investors, Takes a Page From Twitter’s Playbook [Video]

Posted: 07 Jun 2010 10:20 PM PDT

At first glance, Trazzler— a travel site that focuses on unique, local destinations— doesn’t seem like an obvious bet. With a handful of employees sprinkled across Florida, California, and Spain, it’s a small startup that operates in a highly competitive market. Its CEO and co-founder, Adam Rugel is well aware that it will never be able to match the huge archives of Frommer’s or Lonely Planet and the company is not profitable.

But Trazzler has captured the attention of prominent investors, recently closing a $1.1 million seed round of funding. The round was led by Ron Conway’s SV Angel and included AOL Co-Founder Steve Case, Jack Dorsey, Dave Morin, Betaworks, Founder Collective and AOL Ventures. If success is measured by the company you keep, Trazzler is a company to watch. (See video above, shot on my flip cam)

To be fair, Trazzler has always had a unique advantage relative to other startups: it was born in the offices of Twitter. The co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone is also a co-founder of Trazzler and Rugel is a former Odeo employee (the company founded by Ev Williams that would eventually give rise to Twitter). Biz Stone remains actively involved in the company as a board member. But beyond the masthead, you can see the fingerprints of Twitter on Trazzler. Like Twitter, users are encouraged to express their thoughts in a limited space: each “published” trip guide is between 60-100 words. People can submit entries that exceed 100 words “but they don’t really get into the Trazzler trip stream…The 140 character limit didn’t have the effect of limiting people’s creativity it made them be more creative within those limits and I think our limited word count…has inspired that same sort of creativity,” Rugel says.

Trazzler is trying to carve out a niche in the online travel guide industry. It’s not trying to be one of the giants, with reams of information on every destination, as Rugel says, “What we’re trying to do is totally different, our goal is not to be comprehensive, our goal is to be really selective with the content we’ve got on the site.” That content focuses on local destinations surrounding major U.S. metropolitan areas. Although you will find travel information on exotic locales like Bali (the site has guides for some 220 countries), Trazzler puts a spotlight on local travel, highlighting quick getaways that seem more off the beaten track.

That “think local” mentality is designed to encourage investment in local economies and more frequent travel, Rugel says. For example, when you type San Francisco, Trazzler recommends a sampling of Spectrum tea in San Francisco’s Chinatown, putting your ear to the Wave Organ, and Vietnamese garlic crab at PPQ. There are tens of thousands of guides on the site generated by a mix of user submissions and paid freelancers, according to Rugel, but the editors carefully look through all the entries to promote the best experiences.

“Every trip on our site is reviewed by an editor, and when that happens we decide if we want to make that trip a Trazzler trip. As part of that process, the editor looks at the copy, looks at the photograph, might make adjustments to that, at the same time we also tag the trip. So we have a strict ontology of tags that we apply to every trip on the site. It’s sort of like what the Pandora’s editors do when they label a song, it’s a very similar sort of method,” Rugel says.

By heavily curating and tagging each post, Trazzler is also able to offer a higher degree of personalization. Every time a user saves a trip and interacts with the site, the site is able to learn about a user’s preferences and that information is also used to help the larger community. For example, if someone likes spa trips in Orange County and nearby wine trips, that information can help Trazzler make smarter recommendations for a different user with similar interests (it’s a similar concept to Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”).

Now, will it work?

Personally, I like the concept, it appeals to the way I approach travel. I’ve spent hours online researching local day trips and trying to find uncommon destinations— there are definitely not enough sites that offer the off the beaten track perspective. Then again, I’m not sure how many people have the time or passion to find the uncommon gems in their neighborhood. However, so far, the company seems to be attracting a healthy group of users, Rugel says it reaches a few million users per month, through its website, email list and Twitter feed (Trazzler has 43 accounts, with one boasting more than 1 million followers). But beyond users,Trazzler will need to ramp up its advertising relationships. Currently, it only has one ad partner, Miraval, an Arizonia spa resort. That will need to multiply quickly, over the next few months, if Rugel hopes to reach his goal of profitability within the next 12 months.

23andMe Sends Wrong DNA Test Results To 96 Customers

Posted: 07 Jun 2010 08:24 PM PDT

Sending your spit sample to a startup may not seem like such a good idea, after all. On Friday, 23andMe, the company that allows consumers to get portions of their genome tested for a relatively modest fee, announced that “a number of new 23andMe customer samples were incorrectly processed” by the lab 23andMe contracts” to carry out its tests. This resulted in “up to 96″ customers receiving DNA results that were not their own — a major mistake that led to some very confused customers, and will doubtless help bolster the push to increase regulation for direct-to-consumer genetic testing. 23andMe has notified all affected customers about the issue.

It’s hard to overstate how disturbing receiving the wrong DNA results can be. One customer, writing on 23andMe’s community forums after receiving the results, recounted her experience in a post titled “Results in, my son is not my son?“. Here’s an excerpt:

I checked my son’s and it stated that he was a carrier for hemochromatosis, I was upset. How could he be a carrier and we weren’t. Well my husband’s result’s weren’t in yet so I would wait and see. Still upset I checked family inheritance and noticed my daughter shared with me, and then I checked my son’s. He was not a match for any of us… A month before my son was born two local hospitals had baby switches. I panicked and I checked over and over… Later I found my son in my bed asleep and hugging my pillow. He did not go to school today, he said he was sick. I told him it’s a mistake.

According to the blog Genetic Future, the problem likely stemmed from a single mishandled 96-well tray of customer DNA samples. It’s worth pointing out that the error resulted from a mistake at the contracted lab (in other words, 23andMe didn’t run the DNA test itself). But 23andMe was still responsible for reporting that data to its customers, and in this case its safeguards clearly failed. 23andMe says it is taking measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again:

We are currently putting additional procedures in place that will add an extra layer of safeguards to help assure that similar incidents do not occur in the future. We are deliberating on a process that would include removing manual steps at the lab, completely automating the sample analyses, and implementing further checks of the data before it gets loaded into customer accounts.

Granted, botched lab results are hardly a new phenomenon. But knowing that such problems are surprisingly commonplace is hardly comforting. Your genetic profile is just about the most sensitive data anyone could have on you — it can, or eventually could, be used to analyze your family’s history, your predisposition to diseases, and even your child’s genetic risks.

That said, it could have been worse. The Great Beyond, a blog run by the renowned science journal Nature, consulted with Sharon Terry, CEO of the non-profit Genetic Alliance advocacy group. Terry said  that the damage was “relatively minor and quickly rectified”, but went on to say that genetic testing likely needs “multiple levels of oversight and assurance”.

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with  23andMe and companies like it. On the one hand I think it provides a glimpse into the extraordinary things we’ll be able to do in the future, once we have a firmer understanding of our genome (and how we can use that information to create better treatments). And in some cases the information 23andMe provides can be useful even today. But there’s also the fact that this is largely uncharted territory. These companies are establishing precedents, and we can’t afford to have genetic mixups like this one become a fact of life.

Pandora Working In The Background On iPhone 4. Awesome. [Video]

Posted: 07 Jun 2010 07:00 PM PDT

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about all the big features of both iPhone 4 and iOS 4 (the artist formerly known as iPhone OS 4, which we heard about previously). But something that Apple didn’t address too much today was a feature I’m most looking forward to: background tasks. I was pretty sure that being able to run apps like Pandora in the background while I do other things on the iPhone was going to be awesome. And I confirmed that today.

During the hands-on time after the keynote today at WWDC, I got a chance to play around with a new version of Pandora — one that runs in the background with iOS 4. As you can see in the video below, the way Apple does this is both smart and seamless.

There are a new set of music controls at the bottom of the screen when you double-click the home button and swipe once to the left. Normally, these controls are for the iPod app on the iPhone, but when you start a song on Pandora and then leave, Pandora is able to take over these controls. This means that not only can you listen to Pandora music in the background, but you can control it without having to go back into the Pandora app itself.

Simply put: this is a killer feature and will make one of the most popular apps of all time on the iPhone (Pandora) even more popular. Those new investors must be happy.

iTunes 9.2 Coming Alongside iOS 4 — Yes, It’s Still Called iTunes

Posted: 07 Jun 2010 06:08 PM PDT

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone, but alongside the new iOS 4 (formerly iPhone OS 4) software launching on June 21, Apple will be releasing a new version of iTunes. I was told as much by an Apple employee during the hands-on time following the keynote at WWDC today when asking how certain new features would work.

Specifically, the employee told me that iTunes 9.2 would be unveiled in the coming weeks (and probably the same time as iOS 4) to allow for PDF syncing in the new iBooks for iPhone. The ability to read PDFs is the latest addition to the iBooks app, and isn’t currently available in the iPad version. According to the employee, people will be able to email PDFs to one another and open them in this reader — or they can simply sync them with their computer and this new iTunes 9.2.

You can bet the new version will have other features to help marry it with the new iOS, such as folder support, as well.

More proof of the impending launch of iTunes 9.2 came today as Apple has apparently released a beta version of the software for developers alongside the Gold Master version of iOS 4 (and the new version of Safari). This new beta build is apparently Mac-only for the time being.

One interesting thing to note is that while Apple has tidied up the new of iPhone OS by dropping the “phone” part, they have yet to do that with iTunes. Apple undoubtedly did this with the iPhone OS because it’s expanding beyond the iPhone itself — but iTunes has long been about much more than “tunes.” Still, that’s a brand that would be hard for Apple to kill as it’s well known in the mainstream. iPhone OS (the name), on the other hand, is mostly unknown to users.

Maybe Apple will take the opportunity to rebrand iTunes when it launches the cloud-based version. That was rumored to be happening at WWDC as well, but that seems very unlikely now as it would certainly be worthy of a mention at the keynote.

[photo via pdparticle]


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