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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Can Meena Build An Indian Google?

Posted: 26 Jun 2010 06:20 AM PDT

Meena wants to become a computer engineer. She believes that if she works hard enough, she can build her own "big business"—maybe a Google. So she is determined to complete her schooling and earn an engineering degree. Young girls like Meena, just 16 years old but with the ambition and confidence to enter the tech world, are a rare commodity even in Silicon Valley; but Meena lives in a slum in New Delhi. Her father works as a day laborer.  He used to spend half his income on alcohol, and would come home drunk every night and make so much noise that Meena could not do her homework. He considered Meena a liability, saw no value in her education, and had nothing to be optimistic about.

Sana Azmi too lives in a Delhi slum.  She is determined to become a lawyer. Sana has long had this ambition, but her unemployed father had made the decision to withdraw her from school this year, when she turns 16.  His plan was to get her married as soon as possible, and he believed that if Sana received too much education, it would be difficult to find a suitable groom in their socioeconomic community. Moreover, they simply couldn't afford to educate her. Sana begged her Dad to find a way; she told him that without higher education she would be like an "empty room".

Meena's father has now stopped drinking and is working long hours to save money for her education. He considers Meena to be the pride of the family, and is hopeful that she will lift the family out of poverty. And Sana's parents are no longer on the lookout for potential grooms for their daughter. Instead, they are supporting and encouraging her efforts to complete high school and continue on to university.

How did these transformations happen? Through a non-profit group called Roshni Academy, which identifies, trains, and mentors brilliant girls from socioeconomically underprivileged communities. Founded by Saima Hasan when she was a junior at Stanford in 2007, and funded by Silicon Valley business leaders and philanthropists, Roshni has already transformed the lives of more than 500 underprivileged girls, in seven districts of Delhi.

The Roshni formula is simple: empower smart girls with self confidence, critical thinking skills, basic social skills, and life skills—and make them realize that they can succeed by working hard and taking risks.  Roshni girls, all of whom live below the poverty line yet maintain top academic standing, undergo intensive education through three training modules over a six-month period. The curriculum covers 25 subjects, ranging from public speaking to conflict management to hygiene. Students are also taught computer and internet basics. At the end of each training season, 60 top-performing students are granted scholarships by the Nurul Hasan Foundation to pursue their secondary and higher education.

I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of the Roshni students I met on my recent trip to New Delhi. They were as confident as the students I teach at Duke and Berkeley. They bombarded me with great questions—they had a deep hunger to learn. And they were amazingly optimistic. Like the techies I know, they believed they could change the world. What surprised me the most was that that each of them claimed to have learned English through the Roshni program. This didn't make sense given the short duration of the course. It turns out that even though they had studied English in school, these girls had never had the opportunity or confidence to speak it. Watch the video below of 15-year-old Roshni student Bazla Ambareen (and the other videos) to understand what I mean.

Conditions for the poor in India are dire, and people live at the extremes; but, sadly, things aren't always that much better in some parts of the U.S. and in other parts of the world. You don't have to go as far as Harlem, NY, or Durham, NC, to see poverty and disfranchised youth. In Silicon Valley, you can just visit schools in East Palo Alto or Oakland. In fact, Saima Hasan says that she got the idea for developing the Roshni program while tutoring students in East Palo Alto. That's where she hopes to pilot, next year, an American version of her program.

My conclusion: if Roshni girls can rise above poverty, alcoholism, gender bias, domestic violence, marriage pressures, religious oppression, and a wide range of complex social and economic obstacles through pure hard work and determination, so can underprivileged communities in the U.S. There is nothing to stop us from lifting our minorities out of poverty and fixing the societal problems such as those that I've previously written about—American girls being left out of the tech world.

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






Orange UK Tells iPhone 4 Buyer Delivery Was Delayed Due To ‘Antenna Problems’

Posted: 26 Jun 2010 03:16 AM PDT

As you're no doubt aware by now, some iPhone 4 owners have been reporting poor reception and even dropped calls when holding the device by its metal frame, which doubles as the device's antenna. Now TechCrunch reader Philip Gradwell checks in to tell us that Orange UK has delayed the delivery of the iPhone 4 he had ordered earlier this week because of the antenna problems. It's just one call, one rep, and one user report, and we have a yet unanswered inquiry into Orange. But if it's true that Orange UK is holding back distribution of the new iPhone because of said issues, that could mean Apple has a larger liability on its hands than originally thought.


Palm Loses Their Ex-Apple PR Head, Lynn Fox

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 06:09 PM PDT

HP’s buyout of Palm may have won them webOS, but it doesn’t seem to have won them many friends within the company. There are only so many names within Palm that are so oft-mentioned that I could name them off hand — and of those, the talent seems to be disappearing left and right. First to go was interface mastermind Matias Duarte, followed shortly thereafter by Rich Dellinger, best known for coming up with webOS’ incredible notifications system.

And now, they’ve lost another; I’m hearing from an unshakably solid source that Lynn Fox, Vice President of Public Relations, left the company earlier this week.

Read the rest at MobileCrunch >>



Fundraising Tool Piryx Projects $4B In Online Political Donations For 2010 Election Cycle

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 04:15 PM PDT

Piryx, a white-label fundraising platform that helps automate online political contributions is reporting record amounts of money raised in this quarter for political candidates. Piryx says that money raised will exceed $4 billion this political cycle

Piryx attributes the surge in online contributions to the strength of Barack Obama's online campaign that first showed the power of online fundraising in 2008. Many of the current fundraising efforts are being driven by anti-establishment, insurgent candidacy led by tea party candidates.

The startup deduced the $4 billion data point be evaluating how many political organizations have an online fundraising presence (600K organizations, candidates, political groups), the average donation size ($130) and the average number of donors that contribute to a campaign online (50 donors per campaign). Piryx declined to give us the exact amount its technology has helped raise for political candidates but did say that it was in the “double digit millions” for the 2010 elections.

Piryx also estimates that the $4 billion raised in the 2010 election cycle will be twice the amount given in the previous election cycle in 2008. According to a Pew report, 8% of Americans gave to political organizations from August 2007 to August 2008. Of those donations, 15% were online. With an average online donation of $130, the amount given to political campaigns online during that time was $1.05 billion. Piryx estimates that another $1 billion was raised from August to November.

It may be a stretch to assert that online fundraising to double at this point but it will certainly match what was raised in the 2008 cycle. Piryx has accumulated these estimates and data from its own market and other fundraising campaigns. The startup declined to give us an exact number but said “thousands of candidates in the US” are using the platform to raise money online.

According to the report, some candidates are receiving nearly 30 donations a minute. Piryx is also also predicting that more than 30 million donors will make online contributions to political
campaigns this election cycle. The top states for political giving in order are Texas, California, South Carolina, Florida and New York.

It’s not surprising that fundraising is surpassing the last cycle, considering the primaries that took place a few weeks ago and the upcoming fall elections that will take place this year. And the 2008 elections showed us the power of building an online presence when raising money. Plus with a residential election, I’m sure that the 2012 election cycle will prove to set higher online fundraising records.



Aviary For Education Gives Students A Safer Way To Get Creative

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 03:39 PM PDT

Aviary, the startup that makes a suite of impressive web-based creative applications, including editors for images, vector graphics, and audio recordings, is targeting a new class of customers: school teachers and their students. Today the company is launching Aviary Education, a product that allows educators to encourage creativity on Aviary in a safer (and easier to manage) environment.

Cofounder Michael Galpert says that Aviary has been popular at schools for quite a while. The appeal of Aviary’s apps are obvious — they’re free, and they offer more than enough functionality for most common media creation tasks. But Aviary.com has a few features that aren’t ideal for students. For example, it offers a section for popular creations made with its products, and some of these user-submitted contributions aren’t exactly ‘G’ rated. Likewise, students will occasionally craft an image that contains their photo, which wouldn’t really be appropriate to share publically (the default option is ‘private’, but students could activate public sharing when they shouldn’t). That’s where Aviary for Education comes in.

The new product allows teachers to create walled off Aviary ecosystems, where students can upload their projects and collaborate without worrying about having their work shared with the web at large (and they won’t be able to see Aviary projects that were done by users outside of the classroom). Teachers are given control over these virtual classrooms, and can use the system to assign projects, messages all students at once, and to introduce students to Aviary’s tutorials.

Aviary for education gives students access to Aviary’s image, vector, audio, and music editors. The product is free for now and Aviary will be rolling out its pricing plans this fall (premium options will include the ability to manage multiple classes, and more advanced tutorials and lesson plans).



Foursquare Expands Offices — Wonder How They’re Paying For It?

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 03:08 PM PDT

Foursquare is “growing like a weed,” co-founder Dennis Crowley tells us. So fast, in fact, that they’ve had to expand their office space. Foursquare will soon take over the upstairs floor of the office they’re currently reside at in New York City. That’s great — Foursquare undoubtedly needs more room as they’re now over 20 employees. The question I have is, how on Earth are they paying for it?

The answer, of course, is likely that they’ve either gotten or are about to get more funding. A couple weeks ago we heard that Andreessen Horowitz was the big winner in the race to put more money into the location-based service. With all these new employees coming on board, and the new office space, Foursquare simply has to have more money coming in, as they only raised a $1.35 million small round (back in September of last year) so far.

Foursquare does have a number of deals with big brands, some of which bring in some revenue. But Foursquare is not yet profitable, from what we’ve heard.

In recent months, both Yahoo and Facebook have looked closely at the company for a possible acquisition, based on what we’ve heard. Microsoft had been sniffing around as well. But ultimately, it looks like it will be more funding for the company as they charge forward. The company is growing quickly now, gaining almost 100,000 new users a week.

I’ve asked Crowley if they’re paying for this new space with some free badges. No response yet.

Update from Crowley: “ha. yes. we also send our engineers out at lunch to sell M&Ms on the subway.

Aha!

Here are some pictures Crowley shared of the new space (which isn’t done yet):

[photos: flickr/dpstyles]



Hitler. iPhone 4 Antenna. You Know The Drill

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 02:26 PM PDT

It seems like everyone is up in arms about the iPhone 4 antenna issue. You know, the one Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggested you fix by avoiding “holding it that way.” That “way” being the way just about everyone holds their phone. As such, it should be no surprise that Hitler is upset about this issue as well.

Michael Ingram Jr. made the excellent video below.

The choice lines in this one:

  • “Even with the MicroCell we lost signal”
  • “Jobs email said to hold the phone differently. Or get a case.”
  • “I don’t feel like paying more money to make my $300 phone work like it should!”
  • “Bumpers are multi colored and cost only $29.”
  • “Multi colored? Are you serious?”
  • “Damnit, how am I supposed to have an online flamewar with all those Android fanboys?”
  • “MG Siegler laughed it off in his latest post talking about ‘that’s what she said’”
  • “Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. I heard those Google boys make a mean mobile OS.”



Does Your iPhone 4 Have Issues?

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 02:04 PM PDT

Screen yellowing. Wonky cameras. An antenna that hates left-handers. If you take even the most cursory of glances around the Internet, it makes it seem like every iPhone 4 to come off the production line has one issue or another — but are the problems really that widespread?

Now that everyone has had at least 24 hours with the device (with an apologetic exception to all of the Best Buy/Walmart pre-orderers that left empty handed), I’m interested to know: are you having issues with your phone?

Read the rest at MobileCrunch >>



Automattic Buys Up Thing Labs’ Plinky To Help Bloggers Overcome Writer’s Block

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 01:28 PM PDT

WordPress developer Automattic has acquired Plinky from Thing Labs, the creators of social media application Brizzly. Plinky essentially aims to inspire content creators. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Plinky’s technology prompts you with an intriguing question or challenge and (like a question, or a challenge) and you have to answer. Depending on the prompt, your answer could contain photos, maps, playlists and more. You can then share your Plinky answers on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and others. For example, a sample question prompted from Plinky is “What’s your favorite summer memory?”

WordPress has already added Plinky as a feature of its blogging platform to help writers get their creative juices flowing.

Thing Labs, which was founded by a former Googler who worked on WordPress rival Blogger, actually started as “Plinky” and then changed its name last summer after shifting focus to developing Brizzly.



TeleNav Dreams Of GPS Navigation On Every Phone, But Must Contend With Google [Video]

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 01:19 PM PDT

Sal Dhanani, one of the co-founders of mobile GPS navigation company TeleNav, wants to “bring GPS navigation to the masses through mobile phones.” His company has been pursuing that dream since 1999 when TeleNav was founded. Today, TeleNav is bundled into millions of Sprint phones, and is also available through AT&T (including as an iPhone app) and other carriers. The company just went public in May, it has 900 employees, and its revenues last quarter were $45 million (with healthy net profits of $12.5 million).

TeleNav is riding a trend of personal navigation devices becoming cheaper and cheaper, and, in fact, doing away with the standalone devices altogether by bundling the software into more than 500 different types of cell phones. It charges for its apps, and even after splitting revenues with the carriers, its revenues have grown at a 107 percent compound annual growth rate over the last three years. Everything finally seems to be clicking for TeleNav, especially as touchscreen smartphones take over.

There is only one problem. As cheap as TeleNav’s GPS navigation service is compared to more expensive devices, it still has to increasingly compete with free. Google, Microsoft, and Nokia all offer free navigation systems on their smartphones. Google Maps Navigation on Android phones is particularly awesome, and disruptive. The day that Google announced the app, shares plunged of traditional GPS navigation device companies like Garmin and TomTom. Later on when TeleNav went public, it had to reduce its IPO price range from $11-$13 down to $8. Today, the stock is trading around $8.50.

When Dhanani came to my office recently, I asked him how does he compete with free (watch the video above). His answer was twofold. He combats free with free and with better features. For many consumers, the app is free since TeleNav comes bundled with their phone plans, such as Sprint’s “Simply Everything” plan which includes other services. TeleNav makes about $1 a month per subscriber on the bundled apps. Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Goldberg estimates that Sprint alone accounts for 12 or 13 million of TeleNav’s 14.5 million total subscribers.

On the iPhone, however, consumers pay $10 a month, which TeleNav splits with AT&T 50/50. The TeleNav iPhone app, which initially is a free download, is one of the only subscription apps that bills directly through AT&T. In other words, Apple doesn’t see any of the subscription revenue. “Carriers don't like third-party brands, especially powerful brands, coming in between them and their customer relationships,” says Dhanani. TeleNav gets an estimated 55 percent of its revenues from Sprint and 34 percent from AT&T. You know who they are batting for.

TeleNav tries to stay one step ahead of the free apps with better map data (licensed from Navteq and TeleAtlas), better routes, a driver-centric UI with big buttons and speech recognition, as well as special features like turning red when you go over the speed limit or showing traffic camera feeds.

TeleNav is going through a growth spurt right now. Deutsche’s Goldberg estimates that revenues will go from $168 million this fiscal year (ending in June) to $215 million next year. It is insulated a bit by its carrier relationships (T-Mobile, China Mobile, Bell Canada, and Rogers are other partners—Verizon is partnered with competitor Networks in Motion). As long as the carriers think that bundling navigation into its phones gives them an edge, they will happily keep paying TeleNav. They also don’t like to change things around once something is working.

But over time the free navigation apps from Google, Microsoft, and Nokia will become just as good or at least good enough that consumers will see no value in paying extra. Even where the apps are bundled for free, they might choose to go with the Google or another free apps instead if it offers a killer feature that TeleNav doesn’t. For instance, if one of the free apps included crowdsourced traffic data, a feature which TeleNav currently lacks, that could be enough to make people want to switch. Of course, Dhanani says TeleNav is also considering that feature. But it’s a downhill battle all the way to $0.



Boston-Power Recharges With $60 Million Funding For Lithium-Ion Batteries

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 01:14 PM PDT

Better batteries may be on the way as lithium-ion battery producer Boston-Power ramps up its manufacturing and R&D with a $60M Series E round from Foundation Asset Management and Oak Investment Partners.  Boston-Power produces Sonata, better known as Hewlett-Packard’s Long Life Battery, as well as Swing, which is used to power electric vehicles including the upcoming ZE Saab 9-3.

The company plans to double its workforce, adding sales and marketing staff in Massachusetts and growing its manufacturing centers in Taiwan.

Founder and CEO Dr. Christina Lampe-├ľnnerud said the funding will help Boston-Power meet global market demands. Currently, the company can’t produce batteries fast enough to compete with more established players like Sony and Panasonic.

Venrock and Gabriel Venture Partners, who previously invested in the company, also contributed to this round, bringing Boston-Power’s fundraising to $185 million since 2005. Most recently, the company raised $55 million in January.



Japan’s World Cup Win Over Denmark Scores Record Number Of Tweets Per Second

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 12:42 PM PDT

Last week we reported that Twitter saw a record number of Tweets-per-second (or TPS) after the Lakers win over the Celtics in the deciding game of the NBA Championship. That event generated 3,085 TPS as the game ended. On an average day, Twitter sees about 750 TPS and 65 million total Tweets a day. But with the World Cup causing massive traffic to Twitter, this record was bound to be short-lived. Today, Twitter announced that Japan’s 3-1 victory over Denmark yesterday resulted in 3,283 TPS.

Of course, Twitter cautioned that it is tough to pinpoint any records set this week on a single World Cup game because many are being played simultaneously. Apparently, the Netherlands/Cameroon game ended six minutes prior to the Japan/Denmark game. And total numbers, Twitter says, were fairly similar to the first week when only one game was being played at a time.

Last week the all time highs were in terms of Tweets-per-second took place after goals were scored in the following games: Japan scores against Cameroon on June 14 in their 1-0 victory (2,940 TPS), Brazil scores their first goal against North Korea in their 2-1 June 14 victory (2,928 TPS) and Mexico ties South Africa in their June 11 game (2,704 TPS).

Unfortunately, as a result of this high traffic to Twitter, the network has suffered a considerable amount of downtime. And the downtime even caused Twitter to reschedule its ‘oauthcalypse’ for August because of the heavy usage during the World Cup.



TechCrunch Friday Giveaway: An EVO 4G #Crunch

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 12:15 PM PDT

So, we’re not huge fans of the EVO 4G, but as some of you commenters have made abundantly clear, you seem to love it (or think you will). Well, here’s your chance to find out first hand. We’re going to give one away to a TechCrunch reader.

The phone is sold out across the U.S. But Google has given us one to give away. And this is better than one you’ll get in the store because a) it’s free and b) you can sign-up for Sprint service for the thing without having to sign a long term contract. Yes, that’s the real deal. So really, you’re getting all the benefits of this phone you would get for the full $449.99 retail price.

So how can you win this? Well first, let me state this sadly this will only be available for U.S.-based readers because of the Sprint requirement (sorry international fans, we still love you and will have other giveaways for you in the future). For those eligible, we’ll keep the rules the same as the iPad we gave away earlier this year (and similar to the Nexus One giveaway we did):

Just “like” (fan) the TechCrunch Facebook page and then do one of two things: either retweet this post, and make sure to include the #crunch hashtag, or leave a comment below telling us why this device must be yours.

The contest ends at noon California time on Saturday. Please only tweet the message once, anyone tweeting repeatedly will be disqualified. We'll pick a winner tomorrow afternoon and contact you for more details.

Again, this is U.S.-only. And we'll throw in a TechCrunch t-shirt.



Apple Carves Out A Special App Store Area For “Awesome iOS 4 Apps”

Posted: 25 Jun 2010 11:49 AM PDT

By now, many of you have your new iPhone 4s. And even more of you have an iPhone equipped with the latest iOS 4 software. So you want to find the apps tailored to run on it, right? Well, now Apple has a section of the App Store for that.

Apple has singled out 36 apps that it dubs “Awesome iOS 4 Apps” to get you started with the new OS. Not surprisingly, they highlight many of the ones we highlighted last weekend right before the OS came out. Included here are are apps such as Pandora, Dropbox, Twitter, Loopt, How To Cook Everything, and GodFinger.

Also included is the first app to take advantage of the gyroscope found in the iPhone 4 — Eliminate: GunRange by ngmoco. And naturally, Apple is highlighting its own iMovie app as well (which is also iPhone 4 only, sadly).

Hopefully this list will grow quickly as developers get their iOS 4 apps in. They’re clearly coming in quickly as excellent apps such as Instapaper have already been approved as well.



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