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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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There’s Real Money in Virtual Goods

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 09:24 AM PDT

Editor’s note: The following guest post is by Gurbaksh Chahal, the CEO of gWallet, a virtual currency offers startup. Previously he founded BlueLithium, which was sold to Yahoo for $300 million in 2007.

Don't be surprised if one day soon the must-have item of the season doesn't even exist. Not in the real world, anyway. Then again, what did reality ever have to do with desire anyway? The psychology of the fast-growing virtual marketplace is turning out to be uncannily similar to the real one.

It's been easy to overlook the rise of virtual goods and the virtual currency used to buy them. Tucked away in the back pages of social games, offer walls seemed like obscure alleyways frequented by only the most determined (or foolhardy) players—especially in the wake of the Scamville controversy. Talk of "gold farmers" toiling in sweat shop conditions to harvest coveted items in MMOGs like World of Warcraft and EverQuest added to the sense of shadiness hanging over the virtual economy. Sure, a few people might be willing to trade a chunk of their time—or even their cash—for products that exist only online, but how big could virtual goods ever really get? The answer is increasingly clear: really big—and getting bigger all the time.

230 million social gamers can't be wrong

The emergence of virtual currency from the shadows has come in tandem with the mainstreaming of the social games in which it plays a prominent role. Like the social networks on which they run, games like Farmville and Mafia Wars draw a far more diverse, broad-based player population than even the most popular console and PC games. With more than 230 million unique users per month, games by Farmville publisher Zynga alone are played by half of the world's Facebook users each month. According to games manufacturer PopCap, roughly a quarter of the people in the U.S. and U.K. play social games regularly. Strikingly, more than half of them are women—a far cry from the traditional "gamer" stereotype. Over time, social gaming will play an increasing part in family time—especially for family members in remote locations, where such games will substitute for the board games of years past.

Easy to get drawn into, and based on open-ended narratives as well as social interaction which heighten engagement and long-term loyalty, social gaming has generated a wealth of anecdotes testifying to its addictive nature: the nighttime curfew imposed in South Korea after one couple allowed their real baby to starve to death while they were busy feeding their virtual baby. The 12-year-old kid who blew $1,400 playing Farmville. The countless hours of productivity—to say nothing of sleep—lost to compulsive play. For publishers, the question hasn't been as much how to gain a large audience—but how to monetize it.

That's where virtual currency comes in. By rewarding players with in-game cash for watching a movie trailer or taking a quiz, publishers can command high CPMs from advertisers. It's worked reasonably well so far—virtual currency is already the fastest-growing segment of monetization in the social gaming industry, and more than half of the players in the PopCap study report earning and spending virtual currency each day, most of them either to gift friends or to advance within game play. Letting players earn virtual currency rather than pay for it is now a $720 million business, and a 2009 PlaySpan/VGMarket Landmark Digital Goods Study projected that virtual goods could account for 20 percent of gaming revenue by 2011. Of course, those are last year's numbers—given the rapid growth of casual gaming (Zynga alone will make as much as $1 billion this year, I am hearing from reliable sources), the true scale of virtual currency is an upwardly moving target.

As a new generation of easy-to-use toolbars replaces those sketchy deal walls, and opportunities to obtain virtual currency are woven more seamlessly into games—and as tighter publisher controls reign in the worst of the Scamville-type abuses—more and more mainstream consumers will be willing to participate in the virtual economy. With real money at stake, publishers, social networking sites, retailers, and other members of the ecosystem will continue to push virtual goods to new levels of visibility. And as the virtual economy grows, its psychology will increasingly resemble the real marketplace.  At least, that is what people like me in the industry are betting on.

Virtual Versace

Brands are already a prominent part of the social Web. Facebook users post branded gifts on each other's walls—paid for with real money—and become fans of those brands' pages. And why wouldn't they? The essence of social networking is the expression and projection of one's identity, and brand affinity is a central theme of nearly every modern consumer’s persona. Why buy a Gucci dress when you can get the same look from DKNY or even J Crew? Because it helps you express something different, and feel better doing it. Virtual goods are no different, except they are don’t cost as much. Already, branded virtual goods are clicked ten times more often than non-branded equivalents. In this light, it isn't hard to visualize the virtual marketplace of the near future.

As more real-world brands in more categories extend into the virtual marketplace, branding will increasingly seem like the norm, pushing unbranded virtual items down in status to the level of store brands and generics. For some consumers, this provides the opportunity to replicate their existing brand relationships; for others, virtual items can help satisfy the desire for their unaffordable real equivalents. The hottest brands will command the highest prices, even if practically indistinguishable from lesser labels and knockoffs—just as in the real world.

What's Next

As is already beginning to happen, virtual currency will become a much more accepted form of payment for both online and offline environments. Brands will infiltrate games to a much greater degree by not only circulating virtual items, but skinning and creating games from the ground up that are embedded with strong brand messages. This isn't a new idea, but with console games, big budgets and the finite development processes meant brands had to commit a lot of money to messages that could not be guaranteed to stand the test of time. By contrast, social media games are relatively cheap to develop, and they can be constantly manipulated and improved to communicate the right message for brands at the right time.

New business models will emerge as well. Virtual malls will sell branded virtual goods directly to consumers. Consumer-friendly, eBay-style secondary markets will emerge for virtual goods across multiple social games where prices are dictated by actual demand, at least for those games whose publishers are willing to allow it—and why wouldn't they, given the deepened engagement and loyalty such transactions will foster? In fact, much of this kind of thing is already happening in the world of MMOGs; now, it's just a matter of applying these proven models in the much broader world of social gaming.

For advertisers, I believe the momentum behind social gaming and virtual goods will prove irresistible. Rather than being dependent on a single consumer behavior to deliver an impression, they'll integrate ads throughout the interactive social gaming environment to capitalize on the huge amount of time their customers now spend there.

Just five years ago, anyone predicting that we'd be talking about mainstream virtual goods in 2010 would have been dismissed as a dreamer. Last Fall, in the wake of Scamville, people were ready to write its obituary. But virtual currency and social gaming are both here to stay—and the opportunities they generate are growing faster than anyone thought possible.

iOS To Make Its Desktop Debut With Next iMac Revision?

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 09:02 AM PDT

IOS on the next iMac? That’s the rumor going around this morning. The deal is that Apple wants to bring touch controls to its desktop offerings, and will use the next iMac revision to test the waters a bit. So, you’ll have your standard Mac OS X installation, but then when you activate "touch screen mode," you’ll switch over to iOS.

Read more…

Zuora Launches Billing Service For Cloud Providers

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 08:59 AM PDT

We've written about Zuora, a SaaS startup that offers online services to manage and automate customer subscriptions and payments, and its impressive backing. And the startup just signed over $1 billion in contracted subscription revenue in the first quarter of its new fiscal year, which ended April 30. Today, Zuora is announcing a subscription billing model for cloud computing, called Z-Commerce for the Cloud. Zuora's cloud-based billings platform aims to alleviate the need for online businesses to develop their own billing systems, especially to handle recurring payments like those associated with subscriptions.

MerchantCircle Adds Mayorships For Small Businesses

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 08:30 AM PDT

Hyperlocal business directory MerchantCircle has been steadily growing its business directory for merchants in smaller towns. MerchantCircle has long targeted merchants in small locales versus catering towards the consumers, as sites like Yelp and CitySearch do. Today, MerchantCircle has launched a new social gaming program, “MerchantCircle Mayors,” which identifies and rewards the most connected members within the MerchantCircle network with mayorships.

The feature, which is similar in theory to Foursquare mayorships, allows business owners to become Mayors of their respective cities on MerchantCircle by networking with other merchants. A Mayor's governance is based on connections within that city. Networking includes connecting with other merchants on the site and inviting local merchants to join MerchantCircle. MerchantCircle members can manage their connections through a dashboard where they can view the current local leader and top challengers, their requests and all current connections. The current Mayor of each city will receive free advertising around the MerchantCircle network.

MerchantCircle says that since rolling out the Mayors program in beta two weeks ago, mayors have been declared in more than 7,500 cities already. New invitations to join MerchantCircle have increased 59 percent overall, and in-network, merchant-to-merchant connections overall up over 123 percent.

The application of Foursquare’s mayorship angle to the business community is an interesting way to engage businesses on a social network. And free advertising is always a good incentive for businesses to participate in an initiative.

MerchantCircle has been steadily growing its network, most recently expanding to the UK, Canada and Australia. Since launching in 2007, the startup has gained traction in small towns where the larger sites don't have reach. And the startup may be on track to IPO in the coming year.

TechCrunch Europe Summer Pitch Slam! London, July 14

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 08:29 AM PDT

As some of you may already know TechCrunch Europe is postponing The Europas Awards for tech companies in Europe until after the Summer. Watch out for it in September, and how you can vote, soon. Meanwhile, we still wanted to have a meetup before the Summer break really kicks in, so we're holding an event we're calling "TechCrunch Summer Pitch Slam". It is on July 14 in London. It'll consist of one-minute pitches followed by 3 minutes from the best of the bunch. That's pretty much it. No need to submit a pitch beforehand. Just grab a ticket and turn up ready to pitch, or to just watch and network. The event will be sponsored by UKTI, Eden Ventures, Bootlaw and will be at TechHub, the new space for tech people and startups London.

Dept. Of Annotation: Bounce Some Website Design Ideas Off Your Friends

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 08:02 AM PDT

In general, I am not a big fan of Website annotation tools. Adding notes to Web pages just doesn’t seem like a natural act to me. I’d rather comment via Twitter or in actual comments. But sometimes you want to be able to mark up a page and communicate more visually. A new free app called Bounce let’s you do just that.

Bounce is very simple. You enter a URL and it goes and grabs a screenshot, which can then be annotated with red rectangles and comments. You draw a rectangle around the part of the page you want to comment on, then add and save your comment. Then you send the newly created link to anyone you want to share your comments with via Twitter, Facebook, or email. They can add their own comments and so on. For instance, here is one showing the TechCrunch homepage.

it is not perfect. The comments appear only briefly when you first click on the shared link, and then disappear. You have to hover over each box to see the comment underneath, which isn’t completely obvious. It also takes a while to process each page. My other pet peeve about the service is that each new comment creates a new URL, so there is no master URL showing the most up to date version of the marked up page. (The new link appears in hard-to-read grey text in a box next to the “save” button). Creating a new link for each revision is a good idea, but the original link should always be the default with all the latest annotations because that is the one people are most likely to pass around. Overall, the comments and other elements could benefit from darker backgrounds so they stand out more

Bounce is a new product from Zurb. It is really a lite version of its other product, Notable, which it charges for and has more features such as private sharing and the ability to mark up images, PDFs, and other documents. We’ve covered Notable before.

Looks Like Apple Is Suing HTC (Again)

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 07:09 AM PDT

It appears Apple has filed yet another patent infringement lawsuit against HTC and its subsidiaries.

From the looks of it, the new suit, which was filed earlier this week in the same Delaware court as the initial lawsuit filed in March 2010, is adding two one additional patent to the twenty the Cupertino company alleged were being infringed upon by HTC.

As the court documents (embedded below) show, Apple mentions four of its patents in the suit. However, two of them had already been included in the initial suit, and it appears like they are being re-included because of some minor corrections that needed to be made by the USPTO.

But, there’s also mention of infringement upon these two (similarly titled) patents, which were not initially included:

- 6,282,646: "System for real-time adaptation to changes in display configuration" by Hendry et. al. and assigned to Apple Computer, Inc. (Granted 8/28/2001)

- 7,380,116: "System for real-time adaptation to changes in display configuration" by Hendry et. al. and assigned to Apple Inc. (Granted 5/27/2008)

Update: looks like the patents are actually one and the same after all – the second one is a continuation of the first application. Here’s the summary:

A hot-plugging capability for video devices is achieved by shifting the responsibility for recognizing changes in the configuration of a display environment from a computer’s operating system to a device manager.

When an input/output device is added to or removed from the computer system, an interrupt signal informs a device manager of the fact that a change in configuration has occurred. In response thereto, the device manager determines whether the changed component relates to the computer’s display function.

If so, the device manager makes a call to the computer’s display manager, to inform it of the fact that the display configuration has changed. In response to this call, the display manager reconfigures the display space for the computer system and notifies clients as appropriate, to accommodate display features associated with the added component.

With this change in the configuration of the display space, the added component becomes immediately available for use.

And one of the drawings included in the patent:

I’m not an expert here, but this could be a new lawsuit, given that there’s a unique case number and filing date. The court is the same (Delaware District Court), but a judge has not yet been assigned according to the filing docs. That or this one replaces or expands the initial lawsuit. As I said, I’m no expert.

Either way, it looks like Apple is writing another chapter in the patent wars against HTC (which counter-sued Apple back in May for infringement of five of its patents).

We’ve been in touch with both companies, but have not heard back.

We’ll update as soon as we find out more.

Apple Vs. HTC

Online Targeting Company Resonate Networks Raises $5 Million

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 06:25 AM PDT

Resonate Networks, a US-based online ad targeting company, has secured $5 million in Series A funding, led by Greycroft Partners and iNovia Capital. Greycroft partner Ian Sigalow has joined Resonate’s Board of Directors.

The company had previously raised a $2 million round of funding from some big-name political figures, including Harold Ickes (deputy chief of staff under President Bill Clinton) and Alexander Gage (who was reportedly involved in voter targeting for George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign).

Resonate says it will use the additional capital for R&D, sales and marketing efforts.

Launched in 2009, Resonate claims to have pioneered an entirely new method for reaching consumers based on their values, beliefs, and attitudes, independent of cookie-based behavioral data. The company has stamped a fancy label on said solution and refers to it as ‘attitudinal targeting’ (more about how it works here).

John Elton, partner at iNovia Capital is pretty clear about why the firm believes in Resonate:

“We have seen so many me-too targeting companies that use browsing behavior as a substitute for intent. The results are in and that methodology doesn’t work. There are no shortcuts. You have to do the research if you want to find consumers with a propensity to buy your product.”

Resonate was originally founded to help advocacy organizations and political campaigns reach an audience defined by a more sophisticated set of characteristics than simple demographics or purchase behaviors. Only later, Resonate figured it might be able to apply the same methodology for advertisers who have to date found themselves unable to match their knowledge of their audience to online advertising campaigns.

Like A Match.com For Search Marketers, Linker Facilitates Relevant Link Exchanges

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 05:55 AM PDT

Eightfold Logic, formerly Enquisite, will today announce the availability of Linker, which it has dubbed a social marketplace for link building.

Think of it as a Match.com for SEO people, where instead of people looking for a (temporary or long-term) partner, Linker aims to help search marketers connect with businesses that stand to benefit from contextual, relevant cross-linking to one another. Essentially, companies can use Linker to discover and link to relevant, high-quality websites to improve their inbound marketing and boost search rankings.

Just don’t call it link-farming, s'il vous plaît.

Eightfold Logic shies away from the term and other existing paid linking systems, which they say have resulted in an industry filled with noise and FUD, especially when it comes to link exchanges or other means of traffic building through contextual cross-linking on the Web.

Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEO software company SEOmoz, says relevant linking can indeed still prove extremely valuable for inbound marketing purposes and to maximize ROI by upping search rankings in a thoughtful, organic way.

"The value of relevant linking cannot be overemphasized. In a recent correlation study, we looked at dozens of ranking influencers and found that three of the five highest correlated factors with rankings in both Google and Bing are link-based," said Fishkin.

You can check out SEOmoz’s analysis here.

Thus, Linker enables search marketers to join an opt-in network where businesses can define their profile, requirements, and what types of websites they are seeking to link to and/or from (by category, pagerank, geographical location, and so on). Linker’s proprietary algorithms, combined with some manual interventions, then discover relevant matches between sites. Next, the Web-based platform notifies both contacts, and asks to confirm the desirability of an introduction, self-reportedly “guaranteeing human review and appropriateness” in the process.

If both parties agree, Linker connects marketers by private email so that the parties can engage directly and decide how to take further action.

Because Eightfold Logic only provides introductions to and from opt-in, qualified marketers, Linker claims to eliminate spamming, black-hat link-farm and link-exchange tactics from the SEO marketing process. And since there is no database or network of tracked, stored information, Linker does not in any way violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines, nor the guidelines of other major search engines, the company emphasizes.

Linker is free for anyone to sign up for and start using immediately to create website profiles or perform searches for relevant link partners. Payment only occurs if further action is taken, starting at $12.95 per introduction, though the first three are free.

Eightfold Logic is not your average fledgling SEO software startup. The company has been around for years and recently raised $5.2 million from a slew of venture capitalists (they’ve raised close to $17 million to date). Customers in beta include Microsoft, Razorfish, Tribune Interactive and event-food-services giant Aramark.

Also noteworthy: the company is headed by Mark Hoffman, a serial entrepreneur known for having founded and helmed database technology giant Sybase. Hoffman was previously Chairman and CEO of Commerce One and Everdream, which was acquired by Dell.

Evernote Opens Office In Tokyo, Adds Japanese Character Recognition

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 04:58 AM PDT

Apparently information capturing and management startup Evernote is seeing quite some early success in Japan only three months after the release of its Japanese-language version.

Already, Japan is its second largest market after the United States, Evernote says, representing nearly 15 percent of the service’s daily traffic. Furthermore, over 50,000 books about Evernote in Japanese have already gone over the counter.

This popularity is in part due to a number of partnerships with leading Japanese tech companies like Sony, Canon, Fujitsu and more, the company says. And Evernote is keen on capitalizing on the current momentum it is enjoying in Japan.

Much like Twitter did early on, Evernote is going to focus a considerable amount of resources on growing its business in Japan. The company is today announcing that it has formed a wholly-owned Japanese subsidiary, Evernote Japan, and opening an office in Tokyo. In addition, Evernote is also announcing that its image recognition technology now supports Japanese characters.

The objective of the new company is to better serve Evernote’s rapidly growing user-base and its local technology and developer partners in Japan. The Tokyo office will have a full-time local staff focused on support, marketing, community engagement, and product development, we’re told.

The subsidiary will be headed by Takeshi Nakajima, vice president of Japanese Operations. Prior to joining Evernote, Nakajima had a management role within the VAIO Business Group at Sony.

Evernote Japan has also appointed Hitoshi Hokamura, a veteran of the Japanese IT industry, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former marketing director of Apple Japan, as chairman of the Japan subsidiary.

Coinciding with the launch of the new company, Evernote is also announcing that its image recognition technology now supports Japanese characters. As from today, new images added to Evernote containing printed Japanese characters will be indexed and made searchable for those with Japanese set as their recognition language. Evernote Premium subscribers can have all of their old notes re-indexed.

Evernote is backed by over $25 million in venture capital. Recently, Evernote CEO Phil Libin gave a presentation discussing some of the startup's key revenue numbers and strategy – you can watch the video of his talk below.

Why Every Site Should Have A Data Portability Policy

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 04:07 AM PDT

Editor’s note: Today the DataPortability Project announces PortabilityPolicy.org – the result of a 16 month effort that it hopes the industry will embrace. This guest post explains what a Portability Policy is, why your site should have a one, and why you should be looking for them. The author, Elias Bizannes, is the chairperson and executive director of the DataPortability Project.

Why Did We Do This?

The software industry is still figuring out the right balance between open and closed, but we at the DataPortability Project believe that communication is the first step.

Tell your visitors what they can expect from you and what you expect from them in return. Your Portability Policy explains the ways that your customers can use the digital “stuff” they’ve entered into your product, including pictures, settings, messages, sounds, lists, or anything else your product manipulates. Can they bring things in? Can they get them out? Can other products use things in-place, or do they need to make copies? Can your product work with stuff that’s hosted someplace else?

What is a Portability Policy?
Your Portability Policy is a plain-language document that tells your visitors what they can easily bring in and take out. Steve Greenberg, chair of the working group that developed the idea, describes it like this: “In the same way that your Privacy Policy tells visitors what you can do with information they provide, your product’s Portability Policy tells visitors what they can do with it. It should be clear enough that an average user can understand, and short enough that people can actually read it.” The new site, PortabilityPolicy.org, contains a series of questions that will help guide you in creating a Portability Policy as well as several samples.

“We need a Creative Commons for EULAs”
Greenberg and his team started with the idea that the existing ToS (terms of service) and EULA (end user licensing agreement) model was broken, and something new was needed.

The model we use for agreements between people and products comes from a time when the average person didn’t need to deal with very many of them. Developing software was complex and expensive so there weren’t that many choices. The cost of networking to move the our digital data around was enormous. The practical outcome was that you didn’t need agreements with many companies, and your data wasn’t moving around very much anyway. Until four or five years ago this was good enough, but it no longer matches how we use our computers today.

Cheap broadband and a new generation of software development tools changed everything. Today you, the user, have a host of choices for pretty much anything you want to do.There’s no more reason why you need one product to provide everything you do online, like you need one grocery store to provide everything you eat.

The long-term goal of the Portability Policy group is to create a range of standard portability terms and license clauses that improve communication between people and service providers. What we are announcing today is a set of questions that sites can answer to explain how people can bring data in and take it out. Our intention is to expand this set of questions through ongoing industry conversation—along with machine-readable text and simplified iconography—so people can determine at a glance whether the product meets their needs, and product owners can be confident that customers really understand and agree to the terms.

The DataPortability Project wants to open and simplify communication so people make informed choices, enabling market forces to help products meet demand more effectively. In the same way the capital markets have a taxonomy and standard form of communciation when companies disclose their financial results, the DataPortability Project advocates a new specificity in the service agreement language. One that enables full understanding of how personal data can be used in the digital age by companies and their websites.

An applied example: Twitter
There are three important things to note about the questions that make up the Portability Policy: there is no right or wrong answer to the questions nor are they binding; a company doesn’t have to answer all of the questions; and a company can respond to each question as much as it wants, as long as it provides the minimum answers required.

So what would it look like if Twitter had a Portability Policy? If they were to be lazy, a bare-bones Portability Policy might look like this:

…and that’s it. All the above answers can be selected from the page with the questions at http://portabilitypolicy.org/questions.html

If Twitter wanted to say more—for whatever reason—they could write more. For example, they might want to expand on what API’s they provide, or discuss the reasons behind their decision to not allow you to reuse your identify from other sites. This is where the design of the Portability Policy shows its value—it’s easy to implement and hurts no company by answering the bare minimum; and at their discretion, they can expand to provide context on their decisions or add additional transparency, in a comparable way to other similar services.

Why Data Portability matters to companies and users
People should have control over their personal information because it will unlock value in their online experiences. But it’s not a zero-sum equation.

Site owners have an economic interest to support the portability of people’s data. For example, imagine you are a social network and your revenue model relies on targeted advertising. What value is there in locking in a user’s data, if the data is wrong? Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but being a walled garden is not a competitive advantage; sites need ongoing access to—not storage of—a person’s data, as it changes. (I’ve written about this before.)

In fact, a lot more economic value could be created if sites realized the opportunity of an Internet whose sites do not put borders around people’s data. (You can read more about this in my theory about the information value chain.)

Our belief is that Data Portability is a more complex problem culturally than technically. The Portability Policy attempts to help change that culture through better communication.

So how does the Portability Policy help with the goal of giving users more control over their data? We believe sites and their users have a relationship, and the relationship is stronger if the user can trust the website to protect their domain over their data. The more freedom the user has to move data, the more likely the user is to share it. And as users become more knowledgeable about how sites might control their data without their knowledge, the websites that are transparent about data use will stand in the best stead with the public.

What’s next
Among the future work the workgroup will be looking at:

  1. Evolving the questions. What else should we be asking companies to disclose?
  2. Developing icons. How can we communicate the messages more simply?
  3. Machine readable. How can we create more value in the interpretation of the questions by computers?

We are launching the questions today, and we’ve explored uses cases with the machine readable questions like a status bar when you visit a site. Our icons are also being developed, with an example of the direction below.

This is the beginning of the dialogue between portability advocates, companies and users. As websites adopt the Portability Policy, we will evolve the standard questions. For example, our new credit card potability working group is raising awareness on an important issue—but it’s a business-to-business issue and not one relevant to sites that don’t take credit cards. We will incorporate questions that cater to that workgroup’s suggestions in addition to other issues the community brings up. (The Credit Card group previously was an independent effort, and they decided to come under our umbrella to support our broader goals.)

Recommended practices in answering questions will emerge, enabling us to assess websites on an equal basis, comparing them on the key issues that matter for data portability. We believe this is something all companies can easily support with minimal cost, as they gain greater visibility into user expectations and find common ground for communicating with their users.

To help websites adopt a Portability Policy, we are releasing a basic generator that help companies pre-fill a Portability Policy. We’ve also worked with a select few companies as we announce this today to show the diversity of applications. For example, Topguest.com launched the other week and filled out their Policy with minimal effort. Beyond the web, we can point to the .tel domain registry that has implemented a portability policy, and in entertainment we can point to Tubefilter.

This is the start of a conversation and we look forward to hearing how people can help us grow this initiative. For services interested, feel free to contact me or write a message on our community mailing list.

Twitter Growth: Happening All Over The Globe (Graphs)

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 02:33 AM PDT

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may no longer be worried about Twitter and its impressive growth rate – and he shouldn’t be – but that won’t keep the micro-sharing service from continuing to boast impressive growth numbers all around the world.

Online analytics firm comScore noted Twitter’s overall continued growth, even based on incomplete data (third-party client users aren’t included in its numbers), and now Pingdom is doing its share by pointing out where exactly Twitter’s staggering international expansion is happening right now. The short version: just about everywhere.

Pingdom took a look at Google Trends for Websites traffic data for Twitter.com to see where the service is experiencing the fastest growth in terms of monthly usage. Again, that means its findings are far more fit for deducing overall trends than they are able to accurately detail Twitter’s user numbers, since a lot of people use desktop and mobile clients for tweeting.

For your information, Twitter COO Dick Costolo at the beginning of this month said they are currently at 190 million users, who are collectively posting some 65 million tweets per day. And last April, Twitter's lead engineer for its International team, Matt Sanford, said over 60% of registered Twitter accounts were already coming from outside U.S. borders.

Anyway, these are the regions Pingdom says Twitter’s traffic curve is pointing sharply upwards the most:

Latin America

The fastest growth, according to Pingdom, is in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela. Notably, the real turning point seems to have been around January 2010 for all those countries. We’re not sure why – it would have been more logical to see those jumps occur in November 2009, when Twitter was made available in Spanish.

As Pingdom points out, those five countries represent a potential audience of about 150 million Internet users, based on stats provided by Internet World Stats.


A second region where Twitter seems to be experiencing quite a boost is in Asia, especially in Eastern Asia, accounting for three out of the four top countries: India, Japan (where Twitter actively bolsters its presence with an office and custom ad deals), South Korea and Taiwan. Countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia also seem to be on the rise.

Pingdom pegs the total number of Internet users in the four top countries at some 230 million (about the same as the United States).

Europe and Russia

In Europe, too, Twitter seems to be attracting an increasing amount of visitors to its website, particularly in Italy, Spain and Russia. These three countries have a combined 104 million Internet users, claims Pingdom.

In conclusion: Twitter’s continued growth is undeniable, and we’ve long known this is a global phenomenon unhindered by borders or even languages. As Twitter expands its global footprint through partnerships with mobile carriers and translating its service into more languages, the service is poised for even more growth in the years to come, aided also by increasing smartphone sales and the roll-out of potent Internet and mobile data network infrastructure.

Million dollar question: will Twitter’s own infrastructure be able to sustain this growth in the long run? We’ve all seen what happened with the World Cup stampede, and it wasn’t pretty.

Pingdom tried to pinpoint which countries stand to drive Twitter’s growth the most by looking at the sharpest traffic curves, but if anything the data researched shows that Twitter is gaining ground pretty much everywhere.

How long until Twitter reaches its Big Hairy Audacious Goal of becoming the pulse of the planet with 1 billion users?

Babbel Adds Speech Recognition To Aid Language Learning

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 02:32 AM PDT

Babbel, the language learning site, has added "realtime" speech recognition to enhance its practical application and enable users to fine-tune their pronunciation skills. This pits the service up against more traditional players such as TellMeMore or Rosetta Stone, says the company. The speech recognition functionality was built in-house - much of the team's background is in audio technology - although it was realised with the latest 10.1 update to Adobe's Flash plug-in, which enables developers to access audio data captured from the user on the client-side instead of streaming to a back-end server for analysis. For realtime feedback, local processing is preferable, says Babbel, and had Adobe not offered this option, the company would need to have built its own browser plug-in, which is hardly ideal.

Facebook Has Been Massively Underreporting Twitter App Users — By Over 6 Million

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 12:53 AM PDT

Inside Network’s AppData is a goldmine of information about third-party applications on Facebook. With it, you can see stats like: FarmVille has 63.9 million monthly active users — making it well over twice as large as the number two app on Facebook, Texas HoldEm Poker (also a Zynga game), which has 28.5 million monthly active users. But there was always something a little wonky about certain areas of AppData’s data. For example, they showed that Facebook for Android only had 67 monthly active users — yes, 67. But something happened this past week that seemed to correct the data, and it exposed one new massive Facebook app: Twitter.

As Inside Facebook (another site under InsideNetwork) noted yesterday, some change Facebook recently made appears to have corrected the stats for a number of apps. The aforementioned Facebook for Android shot up to 4.7 million MAU from its 67 — a 7 percent increase. The other big increase in the top 10 gainers? Twitter, which went from it’s previously reported number of just over 400,000 users, to nearly 7 million — a change of over 1,300 percent. And the app still appears to be growing pretty fast. The Twitter app’s own page on Facebook now confirms this new number.

Obviously, the app didn’t jump like that overnight, there was clearly an error before. Still, this information is interesting because it shows just how big an app made by Facebook rival Twitter is on Facebook itself. Its 6.7 million MAU makes it the 40th most popular app on Facebook, according to AppData’s numbers. That’s pretty significant.

Twitter’s app on Facebook has been the center of some controversy on the network for some time. A year ago, the app appeared to be badly broken (or exploited), and neither side appeared to be rushing to fix it. At the time, due to this underreporting, it looked like the app was relatively small (250,000 users, we reported at the time) — now it’s clear it was much, much bigger. Million of users were likely affected.

Earlier today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared some thoughts with Inside Facebook about Twitter. Notably, he admitted that he spent too much time thinking about the rival network over the past year and a half. But now he views it as a “very nice, simple service.” One that just happens to be one of the top apps on his platform.

Opera Hooks Up With MegaFon To Expand Its Mobile Browser Reach In Russia

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 12:03 AM PDT

Opera Software has struck a deal with Russia's federal mobile operator OJSC MegaFon under which MegaFon's special package "Unlimited Internet with Opera Mini" will be distributed to all Russian territories. That may not sound like much at first glance, but you have to consider that MegaFon boasts over 53 million mobile subscribers, spanning all seven Federal Districts of Russia. Furthermore, MegaFon serves some 39 percent of all mobile Web traffic in Russian territories, according to recent research (it was first in Russia to run a 3G network based on UMTS). The operator says internal statistics have shown that Opera Mini subscribers effectively generate twice the traffic than any other MegaFon user.

4INFO CEO: Expect More Acquisitions, Revenues Will Quintuple [Video]

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 08:13 PM PDT

4INFO CEO Zaw Thet is trying to shed the title, “King of SMS.”

The mobile advertising company dominates the US SMS market, delivering some 400 million text messages each month (its monthly rate has roughly doubled from early 2010)— but Thet is tired of his crown, or rather, he’s eyeing a different one. 4INFO is trying to position itself as the largest mobile advertiser, SMS and beyond, and the company is ready to acquire other players to get it there.

“The way we look at it now is let’s be the best damn mobile company in the world,” Thet says. “[We want to] be the only mobile media platform that works with top tier publishers and advertisers to deliver the highest value per interaction…That means across every mobile channel (SMS, display, apps, etc.) and every type of mobile interaction.”

The first part of this (some might say overly ambitious) campaign is its acquisition of Butter, a company that specializes in creating customized mobile solutions and ad campaigns for the iPhone and Android platform. The all-stock deal, announced this Tuesday, is a modest takeover— a source believes Butter’s valuation didn’t break seven-figures— but it embodies 4INFO’s major shift in strategy.

Butter is not incredibly unique in its basic products, a few other companies are trying to create rich mobile ad experiences (like Medialets, Apple iAds) but Thet says he was drawn to their team, the roster of clients, which includes Coca-Cola, and especially their approach:

“The thing that we found very interesting about Butter was the fact that most of their advertising buys that they were getting weren’t coming from the mobile ad budgets. For viewers who are not familiar with the way that media works, there’s typically line items in each different advertising plan, for how they’re going to spend their money, x amount goes to TV, x amount goes to the web…what Butter had done is they had been able to break out of that bucket of just being an experimental, mobile ad budget line item… That meant to us that there’s something valuable there beyond just the technology, which was interesting, but the actual relationships and the network that they built in a very short amount of time.”

From Butter’s website:

As I noted above, this will be the first of many acquisitions for 4INFO, as the company tries to create a one-stop shop, mobile ad destination. Thet has a decent purse to work with, the company has raised approximately $40 million since 2005 and revenues are climbing at a feverish pace. According Thet, revenues will likely quintuple—possibly sextuple— this year. So they have the money, but will it work?

They’ve certainly proven themselves in the SMS category, the company boasts a network of roughly 3,000 publishers, with some of the biggest publishers paying as much as $75,000 per month to use the platform. For those unfamiliar with their B2B product, the main backbone of 4INFO is a publishing platform, “msgHaven,” which helps publishers manage their SMS content and delivery. The company also features an advertising platform, called “adHaven,” which includes an ad network for mobile ads. The company has expanded beyond SMS, notably moving into mobile display ads in 2009, but it definitely has a lot of ground to cover.

Of course that ground has also become more challenging. Now that Google and Apple have rushed onto to the scene with their recent acquisitions of AdMob and Quattro, their shadows loom over the market. Noah Elkin, a senior analyst at eMarketer, says 4INFO had a better chance of dominating the market 6 months ago (pre-Google/Apple takeovers), but he says their fundamental strategy of building a comprehensive mobile ad house is sound, as more companies look for rich ad experiences and one-stop shops: “SMS has had the greatest reach but it’s probably the most unsexy form of advertising there is— as more and more consumers buy smart phones you can see the tide shifting… It’s not too late for his peer group to get in the game.”

Thet discusses the value of Butter, his acquisition strategy, and potential suitors in the video above.

Bing Entertainment Brings Full Music Streams To Search, Plus Games, Movies, And TV Shows

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 05:56 PM PDT

Bing’s iPhone app isn’t the only thing getting an upgrade today at Microsoft’s search engine. Bing is also starting to roll out close to 100 new features to its main search engine on the Web. The biggest change is a new major search category under Bing Entertainment, which will include better ways to search for music, movies, TV shows, and games. “We did travel, health, shopping and local last year,” explains senior VP Yusuf Mehdi. “Now the Web has unlocked all of this entertainment, but for many people they are spending too much time looking for what they want to do instead of enjoying it. We are trying to remove all of those hurdles that block you from enjoying it. You should be able to watch a show, listen to online music, or play a game with a few clicks.”

Roughly 10 percent of all searches are entertainment related, according to Mehdi. And 90 percent of people do at least one entertainment search a month. Bing Entertainment is designed to provide a more in-depth and visual search experience for music, movies, TV shows, and games.

One of the most noticeable changes will come in music. Music searches will now come back with lyrics and playable streams for 5 million songs, which have already been licensed through Microsoft’s Zune service. A full stream of each song will be playable once per person, and then 30-second clips will be available in subsequent searches. (In this regard, Bing is catching up to Google, which launched a similar music search late last year). The idea is to make it easier for people to discover music and sample them. There will also be links to Amazon, iTunes, and Zune to buy full downloads.

When you search for an artist or a song, a special Answer Box (informally known as the Bing Box) will appear at the top of the search results page. It may be filled with pictures of the artist, a playlist of popular songs, upcoming events, their Tweets, and a link to the artist’s official site.

Movie searches will create an Answer Box with photo stills, a synopsis, local show times, and links to trailers. The results will be geared to help you plan a night out at the movies, complete with maps, parking, nearby restaurant suggestions and more. For TV shows, you will get TV listings in your area and sometimes playable streams from Hulu, Viacom, CBS and other partners through Bing Videos. Whenever available, trailers and TV shows will play within Bing.

Games searches will be geared toward both hardcore console gamers (teenagers) and casual Web gamers (Moms). For console games, results will be filtered to easily find walkthroughs, reviews, and cheats. Casual game searches sometimes take you to games you can play on Bing like Checkers and Bejeweled.

By bringing entertainment experiences it Bing, searchers might stick around longer. Search used to take you away to what you were looking for on the Web, but data (including music, video, and games) can move anywhere now, even to search engines. It might be time to retire that rule.

Twitter For iPhone Quick To Add Multitasking And Retina Display Support

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 05:24 PM PDT

When Twitter bought Atebits, the company behind the excellent iPhone Twitter client, Tweetie, there was some concern it would slow down development of that app. Luckily, it doesn’t look like that has happened. As today, Twitter for iPhone version 3.0.1 has just launched, and with it comes suport for both iOS 4 and iPhone 4.

In fact, while other huge apps on the iPhone, such as Facebook, lag behind in supporting the newest iPhone functionality, Twitter is one of the first to implement some of the useful new features.

So what they are supporting with this update? The actual App Store page only vaguely says the app has updated “OAuth support” and has a “Stuck top tweets fix”. But having downloaded the app just now, I can confirm that it is enabled to “multitask” — meaning you can quickly switch into and out of the app and into other background enabled apps. The app also has been customized for the new iPhone 4 Retina display, developer Loren Brichter confirms.

You can find Twitter for iPhone here in the App Store. It’s a free download.

Zuckerberg: Facebook Revenue Estimates Of $1.1 Billion “Not So Far Off..”

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 04:23 PM PDT

Earlier today Inside Facebook posted a very interesting interview with Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The conversation touched on a range of topics including the proliferation of social gaming, the argument for instituting Facebook Credits across all games, and why Zuckerberg is no longer afraid of Twitter. It also shed some light on Facebook’s revenue numbers: Zuckerberg said that estimates that Facebook would make between $1 and $1.1 billion this year “are not so far off in either direction that it's causing us any pain…”

So what did he mean by that? Zuckerberg says that revenue estimates last year were lowballing Facebook’s revenue stats to the point that it was hurting the company. Now that’s changed, at least to the point that Facebook isn’t seeing any adverse effects from analyst guesses. Still, it sounds like those figures might still be a little low — Zuckerberg says that “in general, I think people underestimate the value of the whole thing” (though he may be referring to the overall value of Facebook in the long run as opposed to this year’s revenue numbers). Also note that he says that if the estimates were too high, Facebook would correct them to ensure that people didn’t have overoptimistic expectations.

From the interview:

The reason we corrected it last year is because it was hurting us. People thought it was too low. Now what I would say is that the estimates are not so far off in either direction that it's causing us any pain, so we feel no need to correct it. Also, if it was too high, we would want to correct it too, because we don't want expectations to be too high and we don't want people to be disappointed if they joined. I think people are getting a better feel for it, but in general I think people underestimate the value of the whole thing.

Zuckerberg Admits He “Paid Too Much Attention” To Twitter

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 03:41 PM PDT

This morning, Inside Facebook posted a great interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the state of the company. It’s worth reading in its entirety for thoughts about the Platform, Credits, gaming, and the company’s financials. But one thing that caught my eye in particular was his thoughts about Twitter.

Over the past year and a half, Facebook has been under a lot of criticism that it is drifting away from its core service and into a more Twitter-like state, where short status updates rule and all information should be public. When Facebook failed to acquire the company in late 2008, Twitter’s influence on the look and feel of Facebook became more and more apparent. But Zuckerberg says that the time of Twitter infatuation is now over.

As good as I think they are, I think I personally just paid too much attention to it,” Zuckerberg tells Inside Facebook’s Justin Smith. Why was he so focused on the rival? Their growth rate — it had Facebook worried.

I looked at their rate and thought if this continues for 12 months or 18 months, then in a year they're going to be bigger than us,” Zuckerberg says. But he says he was wrong in thinking Twitter’s growth rate would continue in the same way that Facebook’s had. “It just turned out that that their growth rate was kind of unnatural. They got a lot of media attention, and it grew very quickly for a little period of time,” he says.

Twitter’s rate of growth certainly stalled at points in the last year, but it appears to be growing at a healthy clip once again. And Facebook, with its new movement to make more data public, appears to be on a collision course with Twitter once again, as they move to add more features — some of which Facebook has.

But don’t tell Zuckerberg that. “It's a very nice, simple service. They do one thing really well – that's powerful,” is his view on them now.

He also notes that they’re different because Twitter’s focus isn’t on using your real identity, as it is on Facebook. To him, Twitter seems to be more about self-expression.

Finally, he tells Smith that watching them is going to be “really interesting over the next few years.” And then, unprompted, he brings up the name of another company Facebook has been rumored to be interested in purchasing — Foursquare.

If Zuckerberg is interested in watching Foursquare over the next few years, maybe we can take that to mean he is no longer interested in owning them. From what we’ve been hearing, Facebook and Foursquare have had a number of discussions over the past few months about possible partnerships and/or an acquisition. Nothing came of those, and Foursquare now seems committed to raising its next round of money, from what we hear.

Facebook, meanwhile, is still at work on its own location offering. “Well, we're developing something, but nothing [to say] besides that. We want to make sure that we do it well, and we're taking the time to do that,” Zuckerberg tells Smith.

The latest we’re hearing on that is that Facebook will offer simple check-in functionality on its mobile properties, but the emphasis will be on aggregating other services’ (including Foursquare) check-in data. The key to all of this will be to wrap around Facebook Places, a new local merchant-centric area that should launch fairly soon.

For what it’s worth, Zuckerberg hasn’t updated his Twitter account in over 15 months now. He sent a total of 18 tweets in just over a month of use.

[photo: flickr/deneyterrio]

Bantam CEO Tries To Position Salesforce Chatter As Lipstick On A Pig (Video)

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 02:16 PM PDT

Salesforce Chatter just went live to all customers earlier today, but already it is being attacked from below by smaller social CRM players. Taking a page from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's own playbook of getting attention by going after larger incumbents, Bantam Live CEO John Rourke likens Chatter to lipstick on a pig. The pig in question is the underlying Salesforce app which he describes as having "the interface only the mother of a database technician could love." Now that he's got your attention, what Rourke really wants to tell you is that Bantam Live is the social CRM for small businesses. Bantam Live launched last year at one of our Realtime Crunchups, and it came out of beta last February. A couple weeks ago, I got him on video talking about his approach to social CRM and how he positions Bantam Live against the Salesforce juggernaut. He also gave me a demo of his social enterprise app. (Watch the videos after the jump).

Google Counters Apple’s HTML5 Showcase With HTML5Rocks (Yes, It’s Really Called That)

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 01:07 PM PDT

Earlier this month, Apple unveiled a new site to showcase HTML5. On it, Apple showed off a number of impressive web demos coded using only HTML5 technologies. However, at least on the main page, these demos were restricted to working on only Apple’s Safari web browser. So now Google is countering with its own HTML5 site — called, get this, HTML5Rocks.

Google and Apple are arguably the two biggest companies attempting to push HTML5 forward. Notably, both also dominate updates to the WebKit rendering engine (with both Safari and Google Chrome use). But both also seem a bit at odds with HTML5 because both have popular mobile platforms that use native applications not coded with HTML5. In recent weeks though, the two companies (which are in the middle of a war with one another) seem to be trying to show that each is fully committed to the open web.

HTML5Rocks features nine tutorials on HTML5 feature. And there’s a code playground to let you mess around with your own code. Obviously, all of this works well in Chrome — but it also works with Safari. That said, Google made sure to add in this note:

The presentation was originally meant to run in Google Chrome. Some experimental features might or might not be coded to run in other browsers for now. (Although you will cry out of happiness when you see so much running in IE with the Chrome Frame plug-in). If you want to run 100% of the demos contained in the presentation you might need to run Chrome with the webgl flag enabled.

Take that, Apple (and Microsoft).

Here’s how Google describes the site:

Because HTML5 and its related technologies cover so much ground, it can be a real a challenge to get up to speed on them. That's why today we’re sharing HTML5 Rocks, a great new resource for developers and teams looking to put HTML5 to use today, including more information on specific features and when to use them in your apps.

Google Translates “Call Us For Free” To “Skype” In Italian

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 01:02 PM PDT

While incredibly useful, Google Translate is also known for its occasional snafus. For example, an English to French translation of “videos on Vimeo” previously resulted in "des videos sur YouTube." Another example of a wonky translation took place when Kai-Fu Lee, president of the search giant's China operations, left the company.

Today’s questionable result comes from an English to Italian translation of “call us for free.” The phrase returns in Italian as “Telefonare gratis con Skype.” The reverse translation results in ‘call us for free.’

This doesn’t seem to work in other languages, so it could just be a glitch in the system. Or it could be a result of a crowdsourced effort to change the translation. We’ve contacted Google for comment. Regardless, it provides for a little lighthearted humor on a Tuesday afternoon.

Update: Google has confirmed that this was a machine translation error and not the result of a crowdsourced effort to change a translation. The translation has now been corrected.

Hands On With The Awesome New Sonos iPad Controller [Video]

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 12:17 PM PDT

Sonos stopped by our office in San Francisco today to show off their newest toy: the iPad controller app. Those familiar with the iPhone/iPod touch version of the controller will feel at home here, though obviously the larger screen allows Sonos to do some more creative music management things with the UI. It looks to be a pretty killer way to manage multiple Sonos systems throughout your home (it can manage up to 32 separate zones).

While the app looks polished and ready to go, Sonos says it’s still pre-beta. The plan is to have it ready to submit to Apple’s App Store by mid-August. Once approved, it will be available as a free download.

They see the iPad version of the app as the most social Sonos controller yet — great for parties. As to why you would buy a CR200 — their dedicated remote that costs $350 — instead of an iPad with this app, they note that the CR200 is still faster to use if you want to access your systems instantly. And the dedicated remote is going to stay in your home, if someone leaves with the iPad, you’ll have no remote.

Watch a video of it in action below. As you can see, it seamlessly runs two Sonos S5s (including the new black one), in two different rooms. Below that, find a video of Sonos telling us a bit more about the strategy behind these apps. Of note, they’re completely focused on Apple’s mobile platforms for the time being (meaning, sadly, no Android app is in the works just yet). And while they may be hesitant to say it, they’d clearly love for their systems to be available in Apple Stores.

For those who can’t wait for the iPad version, check out the iPhone version (which will work on the iPad) here in the App Store.

Zynga’s FrontierVille Breaks 5 Million Daily Active Users

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 12:00 PM PDT

On June 9th, social gaming powerhouse Zynga launched its latest creation: FrontierVille. The game takes many of the gameplay elements found in Zynga’s smash hit Farmville and adds some of adventure and spontaneity (not to mention a Wild West theme) to help spice things up. Today, less than two weeks after launch, the company says that it has 5.2 million daily active users.

To give some context to that stat, it was only eight days ago that Zynga CEO Mark Pincus announced that the game had over 1 million DAUs. Zynga’s Farmville (which just had its one year anniversary) has around 18 million daily active users according to Inside Network’s AppData leaderboard. Treasure Isle, another popular Zynga game, has 5.18 million DAUs.

So why does this matter? Zynga’s Facebook games saw staggering growth last year, but this year its games’ popularity has leveled off (and in some cases, dipped). It’s imperative for Zynga’s future success that it can keep launching hits. At this point FrontierVille has a long way to go before it can match Farmville, but it’s off to a solid start. Still, my hunch is that Zynga will have to start launching games that are innovative — as opposed to iterative, like FrontierVille — before we see another game succeed on the same scale as Farmville did at its peak.

Some other interesting stats about the game so far:

  • 10 Million people have created homesteads
  • Half a million people have had their avatars get “married”
  • 5 million settlers have visited friends and have completed 550 million tasks
  • 2.5 million settlers have ‘hired’ a friend
  • 6.5 million players have chased away 141 million snakes
  • 3 million players have scared the bear (87 million bears have been scared away)


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