web 2.0

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Amidst Turmoil, Linden Lab’s CEO Steps Down

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 09:14 AM PDT

June has not been a good month for Linden Lab, the creator of virtual world Second Life. A few weeks ago, the company announced that it was laying off 30 percent of its staff and taking Second Life into a new direction. Today, Linden Lab is announcing that current CEO Mark Kingdon is stepping down. Company founder Philip Rosedale has been named interim CEO, and CFO Bob Komin has assumed the additional role of COO.

The company did not give a reason for the reshuffling of the executive team but it’s safe to assume that it reflects Linden Lab’s new strategic direction. When announcing the layoffs in early June, Linden Lab also said that it aims to make SeconfdLife more browser based, eliminating the need to download any software. The company is also pushing for Second Life to extend to social networks.

A breath of fresh air in terms of leadership may be a good idea. Second Life's user base has been dwindling and clearly the company is trying to take the virtual world in the direction of social networks, after seeing the popularity of gaming on these platforms.

Considering the company’s new direction towards building out a presence on social networks, Linden Lab is probably going to be embarking on a search for an exec with significant experience developing on these platforms.

FTC Bars Twitter “For 20 Years From Misleading Consumers” About Privacy After 2009 Hacks

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 09:01 AM PDT

Today, the FTC settled a lengthy investigation into Twitter’s lax security practices and protection of user accounts after two high-profile hacking incidents in 2009. The first one, which occurred in January, 2009, compromised 35 high-profile accounts, including those of President Barack Obama, Bill O’Reilly, Britney Spears, the Huffington Post, and Facebook. According to the FTC:

One tweet was sent from the account of then-President-elect Barack Obama, offering his more than 150,000 followers a chance to win $500 in free gasoline.

The other attack occurred in April, 2009, and involved a hacker gaining access to a Twitter employee’s email account, CEO Evan Williams’ wife, which stored her administrative password. The hacker in question was the Frenchman who goes by the handle Hacker Croll. (Later, this was the same hacker who sent us confidential Twitter documents, but that incident was not part of the FTC investigation).

The FTC’s concern in the matter is the ability of hackers to breach Twitter’s password system and gain access to user accounts. According to the FTC:

Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it maintains and protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information, including the measures it takes to prevent authorized access to information and honor the privacy choices made by consumers. The company also must establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program, which will be assessed by a third party every other year for 10 years.

The FTC provides a list of security measures Twitter failed to have in place, which Twitter says were implemented subsequent to the attacks. It may sound silly to bar Twitter from “misleading consumers” for 20 years, but that is essentially the life of the order and gives the FTC the ability to fine Twitter for future security breaches to the tune of $16,000 per incident. Without this order and the settlement, the FTC does not have what is known as civil penalty authority.

A source at the FTC tells me that the agency is “closely watching social media for information at risk.” Compromised social networks are increasingly becoming a way for fraudsters to reach and trick consumers. Twitter is on notice now, and so are other social networks, that they must do everything they can to protect user’s accounts from security breaches.

Triggit Raises $4.2 Million For Its Demand Side Ad Platform

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 09:00 AM PDT

San Francisco-based startup Triggit has closed a $4.2 million funding round led by Spark Capital and Foundry Group. As part of the deal, Seth Levine (Foundry) and Santo Politi (Spark) will be joining Triggit’s Board. Triggit had previously raised $2 million in convertible debt; investors that convert as part of this round include Brett and Scott Crosby (Urchin); Asher Waldfogel (Peakstream, Tollbridge Technologies); Ben Narison (Fashionmall.com); Joe Spieser and Alex Zhardanovsky (Epic Advertising); Gilad Elbaz, (Applied Sematics); Reid Hoffman (Linkedin); TriplePoint Capital; DG Incubation, Joi Ito, Charles Sprincin, and Eric Stein.

As we’ve detailed before, Triggit is a demand side advertising platform that allows advertisers to bid on individual ad impressions in real time, based on the site the ad would appear on and who would see it. Since launching in October, the service has seen very strong growth — CEO Zachery Coelius says that the volume of ad impressions going through the system are increasing by around 200% a month. In December Triggit saw around 1 billion impressions today, and it’s now at around 15 billion ad impressions a day. The platform can bid on ads across nine different exchanges, and clients include the likes of Kaplan, Groupon, and major ad agencies.

The company competes with Invite Media (which was just acquired by Google), MediaMath, and X+1, though Coelius says that each platform has some key differences. He also notes that Google’s acquisition of Invite Media could make it difficult for that company to interoperate with other on-demand platforms.

Triggit actually got its start as a drag-and-drop JavaScript tool for inserting ads into websites, but shifted gears in October 2009. The company now has 13 employees.

Ning Partners With Pearson To Sponsor Free Network Access For Educators

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 08:52 AM PDT

When Ning shuttered its free service for creating social networks back in April, educators and schools who were using the platform expresses their concern at the company’s decision to include educations networks created by schools and colleges in this group. When Ning eventually rolled out its premium pricing structure in May, the company announced that it had partnered with an education company to sponsor networks for primary and secondary educators but didn’t reveal the name of the sponsor. Today, Ning is announcing that Pearson, a education-focused publishing company, is sponsoring network costs for Ning Mini platforms for educators come July. Ning says the partnership will extend for three years. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ning.com currently hosts 6,500 K-12 and 2,100 Higher Ed social networks, and range from platforms for teachers, individual schools and classes to alumni groups. Pearson will now be assuming the costs for all of these groups to use a Ning Mini model, which have access to Ning's core features including, blogs, photos, forums and video embeds, and the added ability to run custom advertising. The price for Ning Mini is $2.95 per month or $19.95 per year.

Any teacher or network creator can now apply to have a Pearson-sponsored network here, and will be able to freely use a Ning Mini network when approved. Of course, the network will have some Pearson branding on it. Where a network would show that it is a “Ning” hosted network, will now indicate that it is a “Ning hosted Network Sponsored By Pearson.” Clicking on this icon will take you to a Pearson network on Ning’s platform.

And these educational networks will be able to monetize through the same channels as other networks on Ning’s platform. Last week, Ning announced new revenue streams for network creators, including partnerships with branded product creator CafePress and social gaming startup Heyzap, to offer monetization options to Network Creators. Custom CafePress shops can now be integrated directly into Ning Networks, offering creators the opportunity to sell branded products, like mugs, t-shirts and more, to members and fans. With Heyzap, Ning creators can add Heyzap pay-to-play games onto their networks. Creators will earn 10% of all revenue from premium game purchases. Ning has also partnered with Chipin to allow non-profit creators to raise funds and collect donations from members.

Educational networks can also serve advertising on their sites, says CEO Jason Rosenthal. Ning offers a Run Your Own Ads option that allows creators to collect revenue from running display advertisements in their site.

The deal with Pearson is a win for Ning, which faced criticism from network creators following the elimination of the free model. The UK-based Pearson owns the world's largest education publishing business as well as the Financial Times and Penguin books. And the publishing company has struck other partnerships with big-name technology companies, including Nokia.

For Ning, it’s clear that educators and their networks are a priority. Amidst financial turmoil and a redirection in strategy at the company, Rosenthal has been steadfast in his commitment to keeping Ning free for educators. In April, Ning told The New York Times that “the decision to exempt teachers from subscription fees was made after discussions with teachers about the barriers to getting even small amounts of money approved by school system.” It would be interesting to see of other non-profit groups that host networks on Ning ask for a similar deal. And perhaps these types of sponsorships with big name companies are a way for Ning to create a revenue stream.

Twitter Feels Like Falling in Love, At Least From a Hormonal Perspective

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 08:43 AM PDT

Adam Penenberg, writer of Viral Loop, interviewed Paul J. Zak aka Dr. Love. Dr. Love studes “neuroeconomics” and has discovered that social media, especially fast-moving streams like Twitter, flood our brains with oxytocin, the “hug hormone” that makes us feel empathy and, more important, makes us feel good.

In a number of test cases, the most important involving Penenberg tweeting about “overweight tourists in Speedos,” the hug hormone spiked and stress went down. Twitter, in a sense, is like taking a fat drag on a good cigarette or a eating a sleeve of Thin Mints. As Penenberg tweeted, they measured his hormonal levels with surprising results:

In those 10 minutes between blood batches one and two, my oxytocin levels spiked 13.2%. That’s equivalent to the hormonal spike experienced by the groom at the wedding Zak attended. Meanwhile, stress hormones cortisol and ACTH went down 10.8% and 14.9%, respectively. Zak explains that the results are linked, that the release of oxytocin I experienced while tweeting reduced my stress hormones.

You can read the entire article here but for those in need of a quick social media fix, they also have a video interview for your edification.

The interesting question is this: if companies are able to interact with us on social networks, are they actually dosing us with drugs? And what happens when we adamantly don’t trust an organization? Would their tweets (“Retweet #BPCares to win a free chocolate turtle!”) induce rage hormones? The potential is frightening. I’d better go Tweet this to calm down.

After More Than 10 Years, Indie Music Community GarageBand.com Folds

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 07:35 AM PDT

GarageBand.com, the well-known indie music store, discovery & review service and online community, will be discontinued as of July 15th, 2010, more than 10 years after it first saw the light of day.

In an email sent to users this morning, the company that spawned social music discovery service iLike (now part of MySpace), the GarageBand team says users can register for an iLike account to have their music, profile pic and bio automatically linked up and ported over.

(Strangely, you can still sign up for a GarageBand account.)

If you’ve recently purchased music on GarageBand and think you deserve a refund, you can contact the company to request one, but do it before July 31st.

Here’s the email they sent, as forwarded by a reader:

Dear [user],

It's been over ten years since we started helping discover independent music on the ol' interwebs. Things have changed a lot since then. Most of those changes have been good and some of them have been bad. Some changes are just bitter-sweet.

It's with this bitter-sweetness that we are announcing today that Garageband.com will be discontinued as of July 15th, 2010.

The landscape of how music is discovered and delivered has changed drastically over the last decade and we are proud to have been a huge part of that change — first with Garageband.com and then with iLike.com and beyond. Sadly, that landscape will not include Garageband.com anymore.

Link your account to iLike: (action required)
If you want to continue to make your music available for streaming or download on iLike.com and the iLike application on Facebook, please go to iLike.com and login with your Garageband username and password by July 15th, 2010. This will automatically link your account to iLike so we can port your music, profile photo, and biography to iLike.com.

Finally, if you have recently made a purchase on Garageband.com and would like a refund, please email refunds@iLike-inc.com to request a refund. Valid refund requests must be received no later than July 31st, 2010.


The Garageband and iLike team

The news comes about 2 months after we found out iLike founders (and twin brothers) Ali Partovi and Hadi Partovi simultaneously stepped down from their executive positions at MySpace to pursue opportunities as advisors and angel investors.

Likely, this has something to do with the decision to also pull the plug on GarageBand.

May it rest in peace.

(Kudos to Jacob Cook for the tip)

Ticketmaster Rival Ticketfly Acquires Music Event Listing And Promotion Service Gigbot

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 07:19 AM PDT

Online ticketing startup Ticketfly has acquired music event listing and promotions site Gigbot. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ticketfly, which helps concert promoters sell tickets by leveraging social media, plans to integrate Gigbot's technology into its portal. Gigbot's flagship product, Gigbot Pro adopts a similar social media model to Ticketfly, allowing musicians to promote shows via the social networks, schedule auto tweets and syndicate content to event listings sites.

Gigbot also lets fan comment on and share which events they are planning to attend and receive alerts when their favorite artists are coming to town. And musicians can create and send email newsletters to fans and publish music to the site. Sean Porter, Gigbot's founder and chief architect, has joined Ticketfly as the Vice President of Product.

Ticketfly just raised $3 million in funding from The NYC Seed Fund, High Peaks Venture Partners, Contour Venture Partners, and a number of angel investors including Howard Lindzon.

The Top Four iPhone 4 Hardware Issues So Far

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 07:10 AM PDT

The first batch of iPhone 4's aren't exactly wooing the world. They seem to be plagued with various deal-breaking issues. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable waiting in line for this Jesusphone right now knowing that these four hardware problems are so rampant. Hopefully the problems are being worked out right now in some Foxconn factory and later shipments won't have so many issues.

Live From The iPhone 4 Launch At SF’s Flagship Apple Store

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 06:45 AM PDT

It’s finally here. After months of anticipation, the launch of Apple’s iPhone 4 is upon us, and dozens of people are currently lined up in front of San Francisco’s flagship Apple store to get their hands on one.

Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate enough to live close to an Apple Store (or has the time to go stand in line at this ridiculous hour). Which is why I’m braving the early morning once again to give you all a vicarious taste of Apple’s devotees at their finest.

I’m equipped with a Nexus One live streaming with Qik. Last time I faced this line during the launch of the iPad, I had an Apple sticker covering the Nexus’s Google logo to throw any particularly rabid Apple fans off the scent. Unfortunately it seems that I’ve exhausted my supply of Apple stickers — this could get nasty.

Online Panel Company uSamp Takes DMS Insights Off AOL’s Hands

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 06:34 AM PDT

Internet panel company uSamp has just announced that it has acquired research and sampling technology DMS Insights (aka Digital Marketing Services) from AOL. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Founded in 1995, DMS Insights, which was acquired by AOL in 1999, created "river sampling" methodology and developed Opinion Place, a portal for random, real-time recruitment of survey respondents via the web.

In a memo to staff, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong wrote:

“While data and research certainly play an important role in the work we are doing today and in our efforts to provide the best experiences to our consumers and advertisers going forward, creating and administering online sampling isn't an area AOL needs to own to succeed. As we stay true to executing our strategy, it only made sense that we look to combine DMS with another group in the research industry – a move that will benefit DMS and allow the company and its employees to thrive and grow.”

According to the release, AOL will remain a strategic partner of DMS Insights, “continuing to support both traffic and AOL credit incentives for Opinion Place” and AOL will also remain as a research client of DMS.

Usamp just raised $10 million in funding to further development of its Web-based panel management platform and other social media technology enhancements. The company currently boasts a database of 2 million active global panelists for the market research industry. Top segments are said to include automotive, entertainment, financial services, food and beverage, gamers, telecommunications and travel.

Clearly the sale of DMS Insights is a part of an overall strategy of unloading properties that don’t fit into AOL’s current vision of its business model. Of course, the sale of DMS Insights comes on the heels of AOL’s sale of Bebo to hedge fund Criterion Capital Partners for less than $10 million after the company bought the social networking site for $850 million in 2008.

Rebtel Makes International Calling Free With New Android App

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 06:30 AM PDT

VoIP company Rebtel is launching a new version of its Android app that allows users to make free Android-to-Android international calls between more than 50 countries.

While the international part of the call is free, the caller and recipient still may have to pay for local calling minutes determined by their mobile phone plans. The app runs in the background and will intercept users making a more expensive long distance calls by automatically converting the number to a cheap local number. So when the user dials an international number from the native Android dial pad, or selects a contact with an international number from the address book, the call is automatically intercepted and routed via Rebtel instead of their carrier. Also since Rebtel works on the standard cellular network using local phone numbers, no WiFi is needed to make calls.

Rebtel’s us reporting a 100% jump in revenue grew in the first half of 2010 compared to the same period last year, increasing revenue from $8 milllion to $16 million. Rebtel’s annual revenue run rate is just over $40 million, and the service has logged more than one billion minutes in international calls. The company also just acquired Talkster earlier this year.

But Rebtel faces a formidable competitor in the VoIP space: Skype. Skype’s share of international calling minutes and traffic are growing rapidly. And Skype’s quarterly revenue is a whopping $185 million.

KickApps Launches Facebook App Development Suite

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 06:23 AM PDT

White label social networking startup KickApps has launched a new development suite that aims to simplify the Facebook app development for marketers, brand managers and developers. The KickApps App Studio now allows anyone, including non-programmers, to create rich media Facebook applications.

The suite’s ease of use is obtained through drag and drop functionality, allowing users to create and deploy custom video players, social widgets and rich media ad units. Applications can serve as a Facebook fan page or as a tab on a Facebook page.

The KickApps platform allows web publishers and marketers to create sites filled with social media applications to better engage audiences through social networking, user-generated content, and widgets. Being able to create Facebook applications seems like a natural extension of the platform. And Kickapps’ has shown some success in creating branded social networks.

The startup also just partnered with Adobe to release an Open Source Media Framework (OSMF) Flash-based media player.

Open Source ECM Nuxeo Raises Further €2.7m From OTC Asset Management

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 06:07 AM PDT

More good news from the French open source scene: Paris-based open source enterprise content management (ECM) platform, Nuxeo, has just announced another €2.7 million in funding from OTC Asset Management - one of its principal investors. After the €2 million raised in December 2008, this additional funding will put the company's series A round at €4.7 million.

Microsoft Office Live Workspace Demo Video Shines A Light On … Firefox

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 05:13 AM PDT

It’s a pretty old video, and it has garnered some 230,000 views since its publication in November 2009, but we hadn’t seen it yet and perhaps neither have you.

Try not to grin while watching this demo video on the Office Live Workspace website.

Looks like the person demoing how to add multiple documents to your workspace is keen on using Mozilla Firefox (around the 0:25 mark) to showcase how to download Silverlight, Microsoft also competing in the browser space be damned.

And no, we’re not slamming Microsoft over this – it’s not a big deal. Consider it an amusing interlude to my day and hopefully, yours.

Besides, why wouldn’t Microsoft simply be showing us that Silverlight works with Firefox, too?

(Hat tip to Laszlo Laufer)

App Store Company GetJar Raises $11 Million Series B From Accel Partners

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 03:25 AM PDT

Application store company GetJar this morning announced it has secured $11 million in a Series B funding round led by previous backer Accel Partners, report PaidContent and others. The company says it plans to use the funding to bolster its consumer-facing sites as well as its professional solutions geared towards app developers and publishers.

Steve Jobs Emails: “We Will Keep Making The Best Computers”

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 02:37 AM PDT

It's all the rage these days. You fire off an email to Apple's Steve Jobs, the CEO of one of the world's biggest and most secretive technology companies, and to your astonishment, the great man himself replies. You then publish said email, sit back and watch as the tech press dissect each and every word. It's quite the media spectacle, especially when you factor in that Steve can't (and doesn't) reply to every email he receives. But when he does, the replies are usually sparse and occasionally cryptic. Steve's reply to my lengthy email was no different.
We will keep making the best computers on the planet. We love it. Sent from my iPhone
So what did I ask him?

TripAdvisor Gets Serious About Vacation Rentals, Buys UK’s Holiday Lettings

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 02:23 AM PDT

Travel website operator TripAdvisor, an Expedia company, this morning announced it has acquired Holiday Lettings, credited as being the UK's largest independent vacation rental website. The seller is Rightmove, a UK-based property website operator, having sold its majority interest in the holding company of Holiday Lettings to TripAdvisor for an undisclosed sum. Rightmove acquired a 66.67% stake in Holiday Lettings in March 2007, and recently said it intended to report Holiday Lettings as a discontinued operation in its half yearly report, with the gross assets disposed of totalling £1 million. The acquisition follows the launch of vacation rentals on TripAdvisor in 2009, and the purchase of a majority stake in United States-based FlipKey.com in 2008.

Review: Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect Is A Wonderfully Biased History Of Facebook

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 01:15 AM PDT

I’ve read David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect twice now. I’ve also interviewed him about the book twice on stage – once at TechCrunch Disrupt and a second time this evening at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

On a side note, as far as I know Kirkpatrick’s publisher Simon & Schuster is still planning on suing us for copyright infringement. I never heard back from them after their initial legal volley. I’m not holding that against Kirkpatrick, though – he’s a long time friend.

So I’ve spent a lot of time with this book. And I’ve spent a lot of time covering Facebook over the last five years, since my first post in 2005 when the company told us that 85% of college students at covered schools were logging into the site at least once a week.

About two years ago Kirkpatrick decided to write a book about Facebook. At the time the site was growing extremely quickly but it certainly wasn’t clear that it would become the 800 lb cultural gorilla that it is today. But he walked away from his position as one of the most senior tech writers at Fortune to pursue this book. And the end result is a fascinating read.

Here’s my recommendation: If you are interested in startups, or how marketing and advertising are evolving, or just how Facebook is changing the world, buy this book. It’s very readable and gives great insights into how Facebook grew from a dorm room to a huge company. There’s no other book out there that gives such a complete history of the company and of Mark Zuckerberg.

But if you’re looking for an objective and true history of Facebook, this isn’t it. Kirkpatrick really, really loves Facebook. So much so that I’m not sure he’s even close to capable of being objective about the company. He’s Bella staring at Edward, the vampire, with those puppy dog eyes full of deep, meaningful, painful adoration. Edward/Facebook is awesomeness in a bottle.

The result is a book that not only celebrates Facebook’s truly amazing accomplishments, but it’s also a book that makes excuses for, or denies, Facebook’s stumbles along the way. And that’s fine. But it isn’t really the truth. And what we need, eventually, is a book that tells the absolute, brutal truth about Facebook.

Facebook isn’t just a social network or a potentially huge business, says Kirkpatrick. It might also bring world peace. In the prologue he ponders: “Could [Facebook] become a factor in helping bring together a world filled with political and religious strife and in the midst of environmental and economic breakdown?” he adds later: “[Facebook] is altering the character of political activism, and in some countries it is starting to affect the process of democracy itself.”

Oh boy.

I mean, historically speaking all this may certainly end up being true, and more. But it just seems a little early to be talking about Facebook in these terms. In our conversation this evening Kirkpatrick also compared Zuckerberg to Bill Gates, noting how both have a strong desire to mold the world to their vision. That may also eventually be true, but we need to let a little time go by before we put Zuckerberg in the same category as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

I’d forgive Kirkpatrick’s love affair with the company if he was a little more circumspect and careful with the historical facts. The two famous lawsuits that fell out of Facebook’s early days – ConnectU and houseSYSTEM – were characterized more as nuisance lawsuits than real questions about the integrity of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

We don’t need Kirkpatrick to shy away from the ugly details about the early days of Facebook. Sausage making is never pretty. But he gives such a one-sided view of the story that it leaves me wondering what details are being left out.

And plenty of details are left out, apparently. Kirkpatrick says he never actually spoke with the Aaron Greenspan, or the Winkelvoss brothers, or any of the other people who sued Facebook and Zuckerberg. Instead Kirkpatrick relied on the legal documents filed in those cases for their side of the story. That’s just not a good way to get to the truth.

“Zuckerberg clearly stole from the Winkelvoss brothers,” Kirkpatrick said this evening, “but the Winkelvoss brothers clearly stole from everybody else.”

That’s a great conclusion, but Kirkpatrick should have interviewed all of those people, and told the story from their perspective as well as Facebook’s. I think most readers are intelligent enough to look at both sides of the story and draw the right conclusions. Perhaps even the same conclusions that Kirkpatrick came to without even interviewing the people involved.

They say that history is written by the victors. In the end The Facebook Effect reads more like an authorized biography than anything else. It’s the story of Facebook as Facebook wants the story told. It is a wonderful, if flawed, story about the creation of a company that half a billion people interact with regularly. I highly recommend you read it, and then wait for the book that will tell the whole story.

You can buy The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World at Amazon here.

Groupon Buys Chile’s ClanDescuento.com, Opens ClubeUrbano In Brazil

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 01:14 AM PDT

Looks like massively funded daily deal sensation Groupon has turned its attention to the budding ecommerce market in Latin America. The company has apparently acquired Chilean deal site ClanDescuento and opened a new site called ClubeUrbano in Brazil.

We were alerted by Spanish-language press reports and blogs on the former news item, but were ironically made aware of its new Brazilian site through what will undoubtedly be one of its fiercest competitors in the country, freshly financed ClickOn.

We’re also hearing not so positive things on ClanDescuento and Needish, the company that launched the Groupon clone in Chile and other Latin-American regions only a couple of months ago – but more on that later.

Andrew Mason, founder and chief exec of Groupon, says that this is just the beginning:

“The expansion of Groupon Latin America is an important step in our evolution as a leading global Internet brand. We hope to present this new model of local business to people around the world.”

(Press release translated using Google Translate)

An international management team, formed from the recent acquisition of Berlin-based Citydeal by Groupon, will oversee all Groupon Latin America operations. More expansion in countries such as Argentina, Mexico and neighboring countries are also on the Groupon road map, according to the press release.

Not everyone in Chile and beyond is applauding ClanDescuento’s quick exit. High-profile entrepreneur and blogger Mariano Amartino wrote a blog post about the acquisition of the Chilean daily deal service, unequivocally labeling the service ‘Spamdescuento’.

Basically, Amartino – and other commentators who have contacted us and commented on the news stories – allege that ClanDescuento has built up its user base almost entirely through aggressive and not so kosher acquisition tactics (aka spamming). Obviously, it’s hard to confirm that this is in fact the case, but the general sentiment among pundits familiar with Needish and the market in general seems to be that Groupon fell into a trap by buying ClanDescuento from the Chilean company.

Of course, since we don’t know how much the Chicago-headquartered startup paid (if at all, could be another type of deal), Groupon now has a starting point for further expansion in Latin America. It sounds like they are very much intent on using the name ClanDescuento for upcoming launches in other Latin-American cities and countries.

(Hat tip to Laureana Varisco Bonaparte)

Meet The First Guy In Line To Buy An iPhone 4. His Name? Gray Powell.

Posted: 24 Jun 2010 12:13 AM PDT

Sometimes coincidences are almost too good. Is this one?

By now, you’ve heard the story about the unfortunate Apple engineer who lost his iPhone 4 prototype at a bar one evening. Gizmodo, the site which ended up purchasing the prototype, also outed the person who lost it: Gray Powell.

This evening, local Bay Area affiliate ABC7 led off their coverage of tomorrow morning’s iPhone 4 launch with the Gizmodo story. They then went to one of the local Apple Stores to interview the first person in line. What they failed to realize though just how coincidental this man’s name was. Yes, Gray Powell.

Let me repeat this to be very clear: the man first in line to buy an iPhone 4 in San Francisco is apparently named Gray Powell.

Now, I didn’t see the segment, so it’s entirely possible that a mixup in the graphics led to what seems to be an extraordinary coincidence. But the person who tipped this to us did see the segment and thought the name sounded a bit familiar when ABC said it.

So that leaves the possibility that this man in line gave a fake name, perhaps to pay homage to the Apple engineer. But would someone clearly looking for publicity by being the first in line at an Apple Store for such an event really give a fake name? That would be a true fanboy.

Regardless, I’ll play along and assume that this man’s name really is Gray Powell. But then I’m also going to assume it’s not that Gray Powell. All I have to go on is the few pictures other publications posted of the Apple engineer after the incident (and at least one sort of makes the two look the same), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think it could possibly be him.

Instead, it appears that the man who lost the iPhone 4 shares the name of a man who will be one of the first to obtain the iPhone 4. Spooky. Or is it?

Update: Wow, okay, you really can find anything on the Internet. Sadly, I’m going to have to break up the fun here.

It turns out “Gray Powell” is actually a guy named Joe. My advanced facial recognition confirms this. Joe is a man who paid $400 (via airbnb) to secure his spot from another man to be first in line at the Stockton St. store in San Francisco.

Well played, Joe. Well played.

Chrome OS Adding Polish. Zip Files, Boot Up, And “Addictive” Games Being Debated

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 11:20 PM PDT

Since Chrome OS is an open source project (well okay, technically, Chromium OS is), it’s fun to take a look at the Google Code page for it from time to time to see what progress is being made. Most of it is tech-speak-heavy, but every now and again they throw in a nice little mock-up of some new features/functionalities/designs.

Tonight, we got a tip about how Google is envisioning Chrome OS to look these days. As you can see from the first image below, the design has been simplified quite a bit. While it’s still basically just Chrome (the browser), a lot of the unnecessary clutter we saw early on has been removed. As you can also see from the image, you’ll be able to browse without being logged in to a Google account.

Based on the images below, Chrome OS definitely seems to be progressing nicely. When we last looked in May, the mock-ups for the OS looked great, but there was still a lot of work to be done on the OS itself. From the looks of things today, that work is certainly getting done. Still, don’t expect to see Chrome OS on actual systems anytime before the Fall.

More substantial seems to be a new side tabs bar option. This replaces the tabs currently found at the top of Chromium OS (and Chrome). Also in this sidebar is time, battery, and WiFi indicators (normally at the top of Chromium OS, as well). And there appears to be a little smiley icon, perhaps indicating some sort of message? This icon is found all over Chromium OS these days.

Here’s the look of the options page:

Going back to logging in to a Google account, this is what the latest ideas for the log-in screen for Chrome OS look like.

Here’s the latest look of notification pop-ups in Chromium OS:

And here’s the Chromium OS content browser:

A few other notes of interest:

  • Google is clearly testing Chromium OS pretty heavily internally at this point on machines known only as “Dogfood Device.”
  • The unzipping of zip files seems to be a hot topic of discussion. Currently, this functionality isn’t in Chromium OS, but a number of people both inside and outside of Google are saying it’s a necessity for the OS.
  • Chrome OS will feature both screen savers and a screen locker (to lock down your system when you walk away).
  • Here’s what the current boot-up process is like:

1. Black screen with a big cursor
2. Flash followed by Black screen with the small cursor [correct VGA mode has been set]
3. Blue box appears in the middle of the screen with Chrome OS but there is a cursor at the top left
4. Screen goes black for a split second
5. Background screen flashes with an image
6. Login box flies in from the bottom
7. User logs in and the login box just vanishes
8. Its replaced by the background screen
9. Chrome slides in from the right

  • A big issue Google has been thinking about for a long time is “addictive” offline games that people can play with Chrome OS machines. Initial ideas included: Solitaire, Poker, Tower Defense, Color flood game, Minesweeper-style, Suduko, Bejewled-style. “What do you do when you’re bored and/or brain dead? Play games,” one Chromium contributer wrote back in August of last year. Work continues on this.

[thanks Alberto]

Sequoia Capital Leads $14 Million Round For Sencha’s HTML5 Frameworks

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 10:53 PM PDT

Remember those robed “prophets” wandering about WWDC declaring that the “end of native” was coming? Turns out they were from a company called Sencha and were foreshadowing the launch of Sencha Touch, a slick, HTML-5 based mobile app framework. Today the company is announcing some more exciting news: it has closed a $14 million Series A funding round led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Radar Partners. Joining the Sencha board are Jim Goetz (Sequoia) and Stratton Sclavos (Radar).

Since it was founded in 2007 under the name Ext JS, the company has developed open-source JavaScript products that have been implemented by the likes of Best Buy, Juniper Networks, and Time Warner Cable. The company says that it plans to use the new money to expand on its HTML5-based products like Sencha Touch, which is aimed toward developing sophisticated web applications compatible with mobile, touch enabled devices, like those that run Android and iOS (you can see a screenshot of some demo apps above).

This is an exciting space — HTML5 clearly has a ton of potential, but web apps generally still have a long way to go before they can compete with native apps in terms of features, smoothness, and UI. It looks like Sencha is poised to deliver on this front, and Sequoia’s investment is a big vote of confidence.

As part of today’s news, the company says that it is appointing three new executives to its team: Ted Driscoll becomes VP of Sales; Jeff Hartley VP of Professional Services of Training; and Michael Mullany as VP of Products and Marketing.

Offerpop Streamlines Campaigns For Brands On Facebook And Twitter

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 08:00 PM PDT

As brands and businesses flock to Twitter and Facebook, they are looking for ways to engage with consumers. Businesses are using coupons, personalized messages and more on social networks as tools to connect with prospective and current customers. Offerpop is entering the arena, offering a social marketing platform to help businesses create, run and measure campaigns on Twitter and Facebook.

The application is designed to be easy-to-use, with no coding or training required. Offerpop offers marketers a number of different apps to engage with consumers. The New follower app makes it easy for businesses to automatically send a welcome message or a special offer
to new followers. For example, you could send a special offer as a “thank you” to people who
respond to a “follow us on Twitter” program.

Another app, Offers, allows marketers to create branded landing pages with flash Groupon-like sales to potential customers. And Offerpop allows users to run “for-followers-only” promotions (such as a "private sale") on Twitter, or follower engagement campaigns where promotions are only valid if at least 50 people retweet the offer.

There’s no doubt that these types of campaigns are becoming a necessary strategy for businesses to adopt on their crusade to use Facebook and Twitter. But Offerpop will face a number of worthy competitors that are already helping brands do this, including Wildfire.

BZZZZZZ: YouTube Gets A Vuvuzela Button (Seriously)

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 07:12 PM PDT

YouTube always has had a way with pranks. Some time in the last hour, the world’s largest video portal activated a new button on some videos that looks like a tiny soccer ball. Clicking it will activate an endless, incredibly annoying sound that sounds vaguely like a swarm of insects. Or, for anyone who has been watching the World Cup, like the dreaded Vuvuzela — an instrument commonly played in South Africa at football (soccer) games. South Africa is, of course, the host country for this year’s World Cup, and fans watching the games have been subjected to the vuvuzela’s mindless drone for hours on end.

The noise is so annoying that television networks have taken measures to filter it out, and guides have popped up showing viewers how to block it from their TV sets and computers. But despite complaints, FIFA has decided not to ban the vuvuzela because of its traditional significance. Fun fact: one report says that the guy who brought the plastic vuvuzela to the market in South Africa is also in the business of selling ear plugs. Smart guy.

I’m not seeing the button show up on all videos, but it is definitely appearing on some clips that aren’t soccer related. Here’s one that has it.

Thanks to Ambuj Saxena for the tip.

Ustream CEO John Ham On The Future Of Live Video (And What Happens If YouTube Goes Live)

Posted: 23 Jun 2010 05:52 PM PDT

Looking around the web, it’s clear that live video streaming is on the rise. News sites are frequently embedding breaking content, artists are live-streaming their concerts as a promotion vehicle, and celebrities are increasingly broadcasting the mundane events of their daily lives (apparently lots of people like watching that sort of thing too). But there are still plenty of question marks — what exactly do people want to watch streamed live? How are they going to watch it? And how does YouTube play into all of this? Last week I sat down with Ustream CEO John Ham who shared some of his thoughts on the future of live streaming and how his company would fare over the next few years.

Our conversation was spurred by recent rumors that YouTube may be preparing to launch a live streaming service of some kind. There’s been talk of this for years — in fact, the feature was actually “confirmed” to be coming in 2008 by YouTube cofounder Steve Chen. That obviously didn’t happen, but in the last year or so YouTube has been ramping up the number of special partner live streams it’s involved in. These have included everything from concerts to the Indian Premiere League. And it seems like a broader launch could be the next step.

When I asked Ham what he knew about YouTube’s plans, he declined to get into specifics about what he had heard, though he did say that “Ustream is the leader today and we’re confident we will continue to lead the innovation of live, interactive video experiences on the web. We believe that it’s important to offer live video in an open, unlimited platform that can harness the value of a collective community.” (emphasis mine) I pushed for further details, but he wouldn’t budge. Reading between the lines, he seems to be implying YouTube may eventually launch livestreaming for approved partners only, and that there may be restrictions as far as how much content can be streamed. Of course, YouTube hasn’t actually announced anything yet, so take this with a grain of salt.

Ham claims that even if YouTube does start competing with Ustream, it would actually be good news for his company. He explains that if other companies are out on Madison Avenue evangelizing live streams, Ustream will benefit, especially since it already has a robust sales team in place. The same is true for the quality and amount of content that’s being produced for live streaming — if YouTube can help prove the market, Ustream will also see an influx of new content. Ham believes that Ustream is better positioned than its competition to feed off this increased awareness — he notes that Ustream has raised $90 million, including a massive $75 million round earlier this year, so it has a lot of flexibility. Competitor Livestream has raised around $13 million, and Justin.tv has raised $3-4 million. And he says that according to Quantcast, Ustream’s global reach is 2-3 times as large as these competitors.

But Ham says that YouTube isn’t the only potential new competitor — he pointed out that Yahoo previously attempted to enter the space with its own live streaming service, though they killed it less than a year later. He thinks that as live video becomes more popular, other companies will likely jump on the bandwagon.

So how will Ustream rise above the competition? Along with its ample funding, Ham points to the infrastructure that Ustream has built out over the last few years. He says that Ustream doesn’t rely exclusively on a Content Delivery Networks — it taps into them, but it’s also built out its own global footprint. It has also built-in tools that can downgrade a stream’s bitrate on the fly if a user has a slow or bandwidth-restricted Internet connection. And its infrastructure is optimized for live video, and not on-demand (he says that the technical challenges faced by each are quite different).

My next question concerned where and why people would actually want to consume live video content — the fact that it’s live means that users could easily miss out on content they might be interested in, whereas with on-demand video like YouTube they can watch it at their convenience. Ham says that Ustream is taking the “three screen” approach, where users will watch content from their phones, TVs, and PCs. With alerts, users will be notified as soon as a stream that Ustream believes they’ll find interesting has gone live. And he says that live streaming has already started to get some traction with premium partners, pointing out Jimmy Fallon’s recent use of the service. Ustream is also opening up an office in Los Angeles as a way to demonstrate its commitment to these content providers, so we’ll probably start to see the number of premium channels increase.

Time will tell if Ham’s predictions hold up. YouTube has become synonymous with video on the web, and even if it does launch with a more closed platform than Ustream (which isn’t a given), it would still pose a very formidable foe.  That said,  Ustream already has relationships with plenty of artists, celebrities, and content owners, so it has a big head start when it comes to live video. In any case, there’s clearly plenty of room for more than one big player to succeed in this space — YouTube isn’t going to kill Ustream any time soon.


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