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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Muziic Has Streamed 250 Million Music Videos To Date, But Will It Last?

Posted: 20 Jun 2010 05:23 AM PDT

We haven’t posted anything about online music and video streaming service Muziic so far, although I’ve been aware of its existence for a while (it has bagged a lot of media coverage since its debut in March 2009 and with the release of the fun Muziic DJ tool).

The small, self-funded, father-son start up based in a small Iowa town offers its streaming service on a wide variety of platforms, including a Web player, desktop software client, Facebook, iPhone and iPad apps and more.

Questions about its legality abound, but it sure has been successful in finding an audience: the company recently added a counter to its main website showing the number of streams to date. Today, the total number of streams has surpassed a grand total of 250 million plays.

Muziic was originally launched only as a Windows application, which has now been downloaded in excess of 3 million times, according to teenage founder David Nelson. In December 2009, Muziic was released as a web-based and Facebook app. In March, Muziic landed for the iPhone, followed by the release of an iPad app. In the works: a Mac and Android app.

Muziic basically allows you to stream virtually any song or music video on-demand, tune in to hundreds of Internet radio stations, and play music and video files from your computer. You can also build playlists combining YouTube videos (with thanks to the YouTube API), local media files and content from other cloud-based services.

According to the Muziic website, it’s all ’100% free and legal’. But is it?

Considering the fact that Muziic has no deals in place with any of the labels owning the rights to the songs and albums one can stream in full using its service, I doubt big music is happy it exists in the first place (they’ve had a minor quarrel with Vevo in the past). Many a startup has tried to do this one way or another in the past, most of which have faded, sued into oblivion or sucked dry by the major record labels.

If Muziic is legal and has found a loophole somewhere, be sure it’ll be closed at some point. And if it isn’t, expect them get served a lawsuit or two, unless they’re prepared to hand off a big chunk of current and future revenues to the labels. Nelson confirms that there are no agreements with the labels in place today, but says he and his father are currently “engaged in discussions with many groups”.

Either way, its future doesn’t look super bright, 250 million streams served or not.

Guest Post: It’s Game On For Location Based Services

Posted: 20 Jun 2010 02:03 AM PDT

This ia a guest post by Justin Davies, founder of NinetyTen, a UK-based consultancy providing mobile community and location aware solutions to companies. Davies also founded the now defunct BuddyPing, an early mobile social networking community based on the realtime location of users, and thus has few opinions about the rise of Foursquare and others... Not to sound too much like my grandad talking about the War, but when I was doing this, it was all about sending a text message to a person walking past Starbucks with a half price voucher. Back in my day, we had to pay for location information, none of this "SimpleGeo" or "Google Latitude" malarkey you youngsters have these days. The only phones that had a GPS chip was a prototype N95 I had to beg Nokia for, and some Blackberry phones. Yes dear Location Based enthusiast, these are bright times, and this does finally seem to be the year of location (though, admittedly, this has been the case for the past 3 years).

Facebook For iPhone Updated: No iOS 4 Support, No iPad Support, Broken UI

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 06:24 PM PDT

There was a time when Facebook was at the forefront of mobile app development. Before there was even an App Store, the web app Facebook put out that was optimized for the iPhone was brilliant. Then the App Store came and with it was a great Facebook native app. Then came version 3 of the app, which was even better. Those days, sadly, are long over.

Everyone already knows that the Facebook Android app sucks. The iPhone app, though, thanks largely to version 3, has remained a bright spot. But while some people are gushing today over the latest iPhone update (3.1.3, the first update in a while), I’m not one of those people.

First of all, Facebook still has yet to release a native iPad app. This is pretty ridiculous considering that undoubtedly a high percentage of the millions of iPad owners have searched the App Store for a Facebook app, and come away with only imitations (which Facebook has demanded be taken down). As I noted above, the original Facebook app for iPhone launched alongside the App Store itself. We’re now almost 3 months post-iPad launch, and there is absolutely no word about when we can expect an iPad app.

Second, while many of the best iPhone app developers have been hustling to get their apps iOS 4-ready (the new iPhone OS launching on Monday), and plenty already have iOS 4 apps in the App Store, this update brings nothing in that department from Facebook. They couldn’t even bother to turn on fast app switching (the most basic iOS 4 multitasking feature) if they were going to update their app anyway?

Third, this update has at least one glaring UI bug. Sure, bugs are a part of the game, but how Facebook overlooked this one is dumbfounding. If you have new messages or friend requests on Facebook, load up the main screen in the app. There you’ll find certain areas badged to let you know there are updates for you to see — but these badges have a dark upper area that clashes badly with the light background of the main screen. I mean, it just looks awful. How did that get through quality control?

Meanwhile, as I said, plenty of folks are gushing over the things Facebook did add with this update. The ability (finally) to be able to see and write on event walls is definitely nice. But the big addition is the ability to view videos in the app. The only problem? It’s really hard to actually find any videos to view. While Facebook has an area on everyone’s profile for pictures, videos are nowhere to be found. You’d think if they were going to do a video-centric update to the app, they’d make a new area for these videos to highlight the feature they added — but no.

So you’ll forgive me if I let out a big sigh upon seeing this Facebook update. Ever since developer Joe Hewitt walked away from the project (over his disgust for some App Store policies) last November, things have gone downhill. And that trend, sadly, continues — even though Facebook promised it wouldn’t. Small updates may be fine or even welcomed by other companies — but Facebook used to lead the way in iPhone development. Now they’re second-rate.

There are some 55 million monthly active users of Facebook for iPhone, according to Inside Facebook. They deserve more commitment to this platform (as do the Facebook Android users).

Find the updated iPhone app here.

Facebook Movie Poster Announces 500 Million Facebook Users Before Facebook Does

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 04:43 PM PDT

Given all the recent privacy uproar over Facebook, this Fall’s Facebook movie, The Social Network (adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher), is going to be all the more interesting. Today, the first official poster for the movie has been unveiled on the movie’s website. It’s an eye-grabbing poster, but it’s also interesting because it implies that Facebook has 500 million users before the network has officially announced that.

The poster, which features a close-up of actor Jesse Eisenberg (who is playing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg), features the tag-line “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Intriguing — but is it accurate?

The latest numbers on Facebook’s press site say the network has “more than 400 million active users” — this echoes what Zuckerberg said in a post in February. In late May, that number was pegged at 450 million, but third-party statistics suggest it was already closer to 500 million. Also in May, All Facebook reported that the social network was working on plans to celebrate their 500 millionth user — and suggested an announcement should come before June 25 (next week). But still, no official word from the company.

It’s kind of silly if the marketing for a movie makes the number “official” before Facebook itself does. The movie poster even points people to the URL 500millionfriends.com (which redirects to thesocialnetwork-movie.com — the official site). Still the film’s marketers are likely just playing the odds — the movie is slated to be released October 1, 2010 in the U.S., and Facebook will undoubtedly be far past the 500 million users mark at that point (and maybe even closer to 600 million users).

I’ve heard in recent weeks from two good sources that Facebook is past 500 million users now, even if they’re not publicly saying it. You can probably expect them to shortly.

A few other interesting tidbits about the poster: 1) It makes use of the UI of the most recent Facebook top toolbar (though the icons are slightly different — and obviously the search box wouldn’t normally be used to input a URL). 2) It appears to be running Firefox (judging from the tab bar). 3) It’s definitely running on a Mac (you can tell by the scroll bar at the bottom).

[thanks Christopher]

The Best iOS 4-Ready Apps So Far

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 04:14 PM PDT

We all know that the iPhone 4 launches this coming Thursday. But on Monday, current iPhone users get an early treat in the form of iOS 4, the new iPhone operating system (formerly known as iPhone OS 4). It comes with several enhancements, but the ones people seem most excited about involve multitasking (or background tasks). A little over a week ago, Apple began urging developers to submit their iOS 4-ready app, and a number of them have. And actually, some have already been approved, or will be shortly.

The component that all of these apps share is the ability to do fast app switching. What you may traditionally think of as multitasking isn’t the same on iOS 4. Multiple apps aren’t running all of their functions in the background at once — obviously, this would take up resources and eat up battery life. Instead, Apple allows third-party apps to do certain functions in the background now, as well as create an easy way for all apps to save their states to enable this fast app switching. Basically, these apps get paused, put in the background, then un-paused when you come back to them. That may sound a little lame, but the effect is actually quite nice and will end up saving users a lot of time if all app makers implement it.

Here’s a list of some of the best iOS 4-ready apps so far. First, the ones that are out now:

Evernote — The latest version (3.3.5) brings some pretty solid iOS 4 support. This means not only does it offer fast app switching, but it also uses some of the more advanced background APIs. For example, you can both download and upload notes while the app isn’t currently open. Even cooler is that if you start recording an audio note and then leave the app, it will keep recording. A big red bar along the top of the iPhone will let you know that this action is still taking place, and clicking it will take you back into the Evernote app. The Evernote blog has more on it. You can find the free app here.

Dropbox — The latest version of Dropbox (1.2.2) also support fast app switching. It also seems to support uploading/syncing in the background, though this isn’t in the notes for the latest version. You can find the free app here.

Zagat To Go — The latest version (3.1.2) has fast app switching but also the new ability to add events to your iPhone Calendars (this is another new API). Also nice is that Zagat says it has updated the graphics of its app to be ready for the iPhone 4′s new high resolution screen. You can find Zagat To Go in the App Store here — it’s $9.99.

LinkedIn — The latest version of this app (3.1.1) only seems to support the fast app switching for the moment, but seeing as this is a very popular app important to a lot of users, it’s good to see them implement this so early. It’s great to be able to start typing a status message, leave to go find something on the web, then come back to the LinkedIn app and it’s still exactly where you left off. You can find it here for free.

Next, the iOS 4 apps coming soon:

Loopt — I got a chance to see a build of Loopt for iOS 4 that offers both fast app switching and location running in the background (another new API of iOS 4). It’s really impressive (and the app itself has a much nicer, completely new main UI). I noted last week that iOS 4 is going to up the ante for some of these location-based startups, and seeing this in action reaffirms those beliefs. The new Loopt is still check-in based, but with background location, it can now tell when you leave a place (and more importantly, let your friends know). Look for more information on this shortly and for the app itself sometime around the iOS 4 launch.

Pandora — I can only assume the iOS 4-ready version of Pandora will be launching soon considering that Apple had it installed on all of the demo units at WWDC (here’s a video of me playing with it). I can already say that at least on my iPhone, Pandroa will benefit the most from iOS 4 because its music can now play in the background while you’re doing other things.

Twitterrific 3 — Developer Craig Hockenberry tweeted a few days ago that it the iOS 4 (and iPhone 4)- ready version (version 3) of the app has been submitted to the App Store already and should be out soon. Having a Twitter app that can be quickly switched into and out of will be pretty vital.

Navigon — Another key new use of the background location API will be for turn-by-turn navigation systems. Navigon recently showed off a version of their app that is iOS 4-ready and they plan to submit to the App Store soon.

Foursquare — This is a bit of a wildcard, because in an interview we published today, co-founder Dennis Crowley makes it seem as if Foursquare is taking the wait-and-see approach to iOS 4 and background location. But at the WWDC iPhone 4 hands-on, Foursquare was installed on the demo units, and fast app switching was working on it. So perhaps that will be ready to go early, but Foursquare will evaluate whether or not to do something with location in the background.

So that’s the list so far. Anyone know of/have seen any others? Feel free to ping us or leave them in the comments. A few quick notes: I know Facebook’s app was just updated today, but that doesn’t appear to have anything iOS 4-specific in it. Both Fandango and Boxcar say they’re iOS 4-ready, but neither appear to even support fast app switching, so if they’re doing something else with the new APIs, I’m missing it.

Update: Here’s a few more via the comments:

How To Cook Everything — It brings fast app switching, local notifications, gesture support, calendar support — and updated graphics for iPhone 4. This may be the most robust iOS 4 app overall! Find it here, the app is $1.99.

NYTimes — The paper’s app support fast app switching. You can find the free app here.

Foursquare CEO Crowley On Fundraising: “You Don’t Have To Rush Through It” (Video)

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 12:34 PM PDT

On Friday, I dropped by Foursquare HQ in New York City. They showed me some stickers, and I got to sit down for a few minutes with CEO Dennis Crowley. In the video interview above, he describes his fundraising philosophy (at about the 4:00 mark), which is timely coming from the founder of a hot startup everybody wants to invest in or acquire:

You don’t have to rush through it. If you are building interesting things that people are excited about there is a way to make things work on your terms. It is important to select the partners that will support you and take the time to find the right partners.

Crowley also talks about Foursquare’s plans to give local merchants and brands more self-serve options for managing their venues and offers. “The sooner we can get those self-service systems in place, the better it will be for revenue.” He says that for businesses, Foursquare is building two different products: one for local shops, and another for national brands and media companies. There are only 25 people working at Foursquare, and most of them are “building things,” not “answering phones.” So the self-serve products are a big priorioty.

On whether Foursquare will take advantage of the iPhone’s new background processing in iOS 4, he says he is excited about that possibility but, like everyone else, is waiting to get his hands on a new iPhone so that his engineers can test it out. He supports the idea of an open places database which all location services can contribute.

But it is not until the very end of the interview that Crowley reveals his deepest secret of all: “I only have two mayorships left.”

Appbistro Lands Wildfire For Its Facebook App Market

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 11:24 AM PDT

Last month at TechCrunch Disrupt, we saw the launch of Appbistro, a marketplace for Facebook tab applications that help companies and brands flesh out their Facebook Pages. Developers like it because it gives them an easy way to charge for their applications using Appbistro’s payments system (previously there wasn’t an easy way to charge for Facebook apps). And today, Appbistro is announcing that it’s landed a deal to distribute Facebook apps from a significant new partner: Wildfire Interactive.

Wildfire offers a platform for running marketing campaigns simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook. The company was part of Facebook’s fbFund twice, and has many large clients including Pepsi, Red Bull, Victoria’s Secret, plenty of small businesses, and everything in between.

Through Appbistro, Wildfire is now offering five tab applications, including tabs for contests, coupons, and quizzes. As with all its developer partners, Appbistro does a 30/70% revenue split in the developer’s favor.

This is definitely a win for Appbistro — the more high quality applications it offers, the easier it will be to get the attention of the millions of small businesses (and larger brands) looking to build out their Facebook Pages. Appbistro needs that audience in order to appeal to application developers in the first place, and this is a good step toward beating the chicken-and-egg problem.

Scribd’s Decision To Dump Flash Pays Off, User Engagement Triples

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 10:13 AM PDT

You could call it the perfect storm.

Over the last few months, user engagement on Scribd has surged, according to CEO Trip Adler, thanks to its transition to HTML5, the introduction of the iPad, and Scribd’s Facebook integration. Of these three factors, Adler says the conversion from Flash to HTML5 was by far the greatest driver for his document sharing company. According to Scribd’s numbers, time on the site has tripled in the last three months.

In early May, Scribd announced its plans to ditch Adobe’s Flash and began the arduous process of converting every document (of its “tens of millions”) to native, HTML5 pages. "We are scrapping three years of Flash development and betting the company on HTML5 because we believe HTML5 is a dramatically better reading experience than Flash, “co-founder and CTO, Jared Friedman, told Erick Schonfeld. Although many documents on the web are still boxed into Flash players, the HTML5 format turns them into rich, interactive web pages.

That gamble has paid off handsomely for Scribd. Although the number of unique visitors still stands at roughly 50 million per month, those users are spending significantly more time perusing documents and sharing with friends.That growth in user engagement has rapidly accelerated in the past month. On May 25, at TechCrunch Disrupt, Friedman said user engagement had doubled— implying strong acceleration in the last three weeks.

The HTML5 play has also made Scribd’s product very iPad friendly and iPad users are responding in kind. According to Adler, although iPhones clearly outnumber iPads in the wild by a large margin, the number of users accessing Scribd through the iPad is now roughly equivalent with the number of users who are using their iPhone.

Now that the company has its HTML5 and iPad strategy in place, Adler says they are focusing on making Scribd more social and less reliant on search engines. Today, the majority of their traffic comes from Google, but Scribd is putting a greater emphasis on the social by closely integrating with Facebook.

Earlier this year, Scribd revamped its Facebook Connect option (enhanced content sharing and added an activity feed plug-in) and introduced Readcasting, which automatically tells your social networks, like Twitter and Facebook what you’re reading. According to Adler, those initiatives are growing: the number of people who are auto-Readcasting is increasing by roughly 10% each day and daily subscriptions to other users is up 15x (in the last three months). Quick video with Adler above.

The Poor, Pilloried, Tech IPO

Posted: 19 Jun 2010 09:34 AM PDT

A decade ago, tech IPOs ruled the stock markets and Silicon Valley. They were the end-all and be-all for ambitious entrepreneurs and venture capitalists looking to become instant billionaires, or at least millionaires. That was many booms and busts ago. The IPO market never came back, and the multiple financial meltdowns which brought on Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations made going public even less appealing to shoot-from-the-hip entrepreneurs. The founders of the most successful tech companies today—Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn—are pushing off the inevitable IPO for as long as possible. And for smaller tech companies, IPOs seem hardly worth the bother.

And those companies which are going public simply are not the cream of the crop. IPO returns across all sectors this year are down 3 percent, according to Renaissance Capital.  And over the past three years, IPO returns are basically tracking the S&P 500, which hardly justifies the added risk of investing in them.

Even venture capitalists are souring on IPOs. In a post this morning titled “IPOs Just Aren’t What They Used To Be,” Fred Wilson laments:

The cost is just too high and the benefits are just too low for most companies these days.

Wilson shares two anecdotes. One was of a startup which prepared to go public, but couldn’t and was still stuck with a $3.5 million bill it couldn’t afford. The other was of a “successful” tech IPO which raised $75 million, but gave the company a lower valuation than it might have gotten in a “late stage private financing.” (He doesn’t name either company). In his opinion, “only the very best companies” should attempt an IPO: The exit of choice for most startups, he suggests, is selling to a larger company.

And that describes exactly the market today, where the best possible exit for most startups is to be acquired by Google, Microsoft, or (more recently) Apple. And instead of going public, the best tech startups like Facebook, Zynga, and Groupn are getting early payouts for founders and employees via late-stage, private DST-type financings.

But limiting exits to M&A might not be the best thing for venture returns. At TechCrunch Disrupt, technology banker Frank Quattrone argued: “For the VC market to produce above average returns you need there to be an IPO market.” An important part of venture returns come from holding onto some shares after an IPO and riding the public markets a while. “If you lose those longtail returns you lose a lot of the returns,” he concluded.

Quattrone seems to think this problem will be solved when the new standard bearers of the Web decide to go public, as opposed to the lackluster offerings so far:

There are probably 40 to 45 IPOs on file. They are not the category-defining, earthshaking companies the market wants to see. The market wants to see Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, LinkedIn, Skype. They want to see the companies that are changing the way we live.

I’m not sure a few iconic IPOs will bring back the Netscape years. First of all, it might still be a couple years before we see a Facebook IPO, and even longer for a Twitter IPO. But even if and when those kinds of tech companies do go public, the IPO option for lesser startups will remain limited for the reasons Wilson outlines. Unless, of course, a Facebook IPO makes public investors irrational once again and we get another bubble. But nobody wants that, or do they?


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