Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

(RED): Starbucks To Donate $1 For Every Check-in In 4square’s Largest Non-Profit Campaign Yet

Posted: 31 May 2012 09:17 AM PDT


It’s nice to check-in to battle to be the mayor of your favorite burger joint, or to get 30 percent off a purchase, but it’s much more satisfying to check-in and feel as if you’ve actually done some good in the world. That’s because the AIDS battling organization (RED) has announced today that it will be partnering with Foursquare to leverage check-ins and social media awareness in the largest check-in campaign to date.

The initiative is behing held to raise both awareness and funding in support of RED’s RUSH TO ZERO, a campaign that seeks to help deliver an AIDS-free generation by 2015 by way of a series of in-person and digital events and experiences that involve social media, brands, celebrities, gamers, and more.

In this case, from June 1st to June 10th, the campaign is partering with Starbucks, which will be donating one dollar to The Global Fund for every Foursquare check-in in their stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, up to $250K. (Check out the landing page here.) Penfolds and Bugaboo are also participating and will make donations for check-ins at participating third-party retailers.

Judging by the usual Starbucks check-in rate, I’m sure that goal will be surpassed in a matter of days — if not hours. Just go about your usual bleary-eyed latte purchasing, and after having plied your brain with some of that sweet, sweet caffeine, check-in at Starbucks and bazingo! you’ve just forced Starbucks into doing some good. Other than feeding your caffeine addiction, of course.

The campaign is a great example of donation by action — something uber sharer Drew Olanoff has talked about — where social media and sharing platforms become venues whereby users and partners come together for a cause. Partners put up the incentive, drive people into their stores, and not only help their own customers do good (and the social media platform by default) but get some socially-conscious brownie points as well. Something that has become critical for brands today, as consumers have plenty of choice among brands today and have the social channels by which to find an audience and become armchair activists.

It’s actually very cool to see a non-profit organization willing and able to use smart social media campaigns and models to raise funding and awareness for social good.


It’s A Post-PC World: Amazon Adds Laptops, Netbooks To Trade-In Program

Posted: 31 May 2012 09:12 AM PDT


We’re living in a post-PC era, which means you likely have a few laptops/netbooks you’re looking to toss out in exchange for a shiny new mobile device. That said, Amazon’s trade-in program has recently included laptops, notebooks, and netbooks to its eligibility list.

The process is pretty simple.

Head on over to and do a search for the products you want to get rid of. Once you’ve chosen the correct model, you’re asked to label the condition of the device: like new, good, or acceptable.

From there, you’re given the necessary information to send in the device, and once it’s received by Amazon, you’ll be given the specified amount in store credit, direct to your online account.

Of course, there are plenty of other trade-in programs that will accept your old gadgetry, including Gazelle and But for those of us who spend a lot of time shopping on Amazon, this seems like one of the more convenient routes to take.

Click to view slideshow.

Exec, The Mobile App For Errands, Adds Messaging (Oh, And Sam Altman Led Their Round)

Posted: 31 May 2012 09:10 AM PDT


Exec, which is kind of like Uber-meets-Taskrabbit, is overhauling its product today. It’s adding iMessages-like functionality to the app that makes it easier for customers to sync up with the people running their errands.

The app, which comes from a veteran team of Y Combinator alums including co-founder Justin Kan, can call up people (called “Execs”) to run basic errands instantaneously. There’s no bidding process and it costs $25 an hour for everything from delivering flowers to housecleaning and other odd jobs. The app has looked pretty basic for awhile in the “Get Shit Done” spirit of the company. But the team found it needed more.

“Basically, one thing we realized after doing a couple thousand jobs is that people want more communication with their execs,” Kan said. “People want to know what’s going on when the jobs are happening. The basic idea is to have execs send updates on their jobs very quickly.” As for the service itself, Kan says there are about 100 “Execs” running errands in San Francisco. He’s focused on improving specific use cases like cleaning.

We also have more details on the $3.3 million in funding that we reported last week. It’s a very unusual round. No large venture firms here! Kan’s calling it a “YC family-style” round.

Sam Altman, who was CEO of Loopt, which was recently acquired by Green Dot, led the round. “He’s been doing bigger investments lately,” Kan said.

Other investors include Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, Parse co-founder Tikhon Bernstam, Gmail creator and Y Combinator partner Paul Buchheit, Google board member Ram Shriram, Matt Ocko, Delicious creator Josh Schachter and others. In total, there were about 25 people in the round.

Why did he do it this way? “I don’t typically need that much to test a business concept and we had a lot of people who were interested,” he said.

We’ve seen a couple rounds like this lately that involve a giant horde of individual investors. One of them was for SocialCam (which Kan also co-founded) and then another was for Pair.

Samsung’s S Voice Agrees With Siri, Declares A Windows Phone As The Best Smartphone

Posted: 31 May 2012 08:59 AM PDT


It was wrote off as a glitch in the Matrix and quickly fixed when Apple’s Siri proclaimed that the Lumia 900 Windows Phone was the best smartphone available. Now, just a few weeks later, Samsung’s S Voice digital assistant points to HTC’s Trophy Windows Phone as the top smartphone. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it’s also possible that the computers are trying to tell us something…

Far from being artificial intelligence, Samsung’s and Apple’s digital assistants are simply a voice interface to certain web portals. In Siri’s case, she (it?) looked to Wolfgram Alpha to decide the top smartphone. Wolfgram Alpha then queued up Best Buy’s user ratings, delivering the result of the Lumia 900 as the best smartphone a few weeks ago. Similarly, Samsung’s S Voice looked directly at Best Buy’s user rating, which now lists the HTC Trophy as the top smartphone (the Lumia is now #4 on the list). Of course these results are a bit tongue in check but there is still a lot of truth here.

Windows Phone is generally considered to be a solid performer. Users love the simple, to-the-point interface. The hardware in the Lumia 900 and HTC Trophy are equally impressive. Siri and S Voice are right: Windows Phones are serious contenders in today’s smartphone wars.

Pew: 8% Of U.S. Online Adults Now Use Twitter Daily

Posted: 31 May 2012 08:44 AM PDT


According to the latest data from the Pew Internet & American Life project, 15% of online adults in the U.S. now say that they have used Twitter in the past and 8% told Pew that they do so on a typical day.

Overall Twitter usage has actually remained pretty stable since early 2011 (the slight changes over the last year are safely within the margin of error). What has changed, though, is the number of daily active users, which increased from 4% in May 2011 to 8% today.

Sadly, the Pew report doesn’t delve into the details of how exactly people are “using” Twitter. It would be interesting to know, for example, how many people use it to just keep up with status updates from others and how many actually post to it.

As for the demographics of today’s Twitter users, the data has also remained relatively stable lately. African-Americans continue to use Twitter at very high rates, with 28% saying that they have used it in the past and 13% using it daily.

Young adults use Twitter at twice the rate of those between 30 and 49 (26% vs. 14%) and urban and suburban residents are more likely to use Twitter than Internet users in rural areas.

Twitter usage among young adults is one of the few areas where there have been significant changes lately. Since May 2011, daily usage of Twitter among those 18 to 24 increased from 9% to 20%, a trend the Pew report attributes to the increasing popularity of smartphones among this group. Smartphone users, after all, are far more likely to use Twitter daily than those with feature phones (13% vs. 3%).

AnchorFree Brings Their Hotspot Shield Mobile Security App To Android

Posted: 31 May 2012 08:17 AM PDT


The team at AnchorFree have been rather busy lately — not only have they just recently closed a $52 million funding round, they’ve also gotten around to releasing an Android version of their popular HotSpot Shield mobile security app.

“We want to be the default app that users have on while browsing,” AnchorFree CEO David Gorodyansky told me.

Think of Hotspot Shield as a mobile VPN application — once it’s up and running, the app sits in the background and encrypts the data being sent to and from the device.

On top of that, it also packs the ability to optimize web pages for faster load times by stripping out ads and images. The app made its mobile debut on iOS late last year, and plenty of work has gone into the Android version to make sure that users are left with a solid browsing experience.

“Engineering priority went to iOS because Android requires much more testing,” Gorodyansky said.

Perhaps the biggest change between the two is the shift in how AnchorFree tries to make money — iOS users get a seven day free trial and then turn to in-app purchases if they want to continue using the service.

Meanwhile, AnchorFree has prepped both free and paid “Elite” usage models for their HotSpot Shield Android app. The free version isn’t encumbered by any usage restrictions but it doesn’t sport quite as many features as the paid version does. Encrypted browsing, privacy controls, malware protection and protection against “web censorship” are all included, but it lacks the bill-shrinking page optimization service.

That extra piece of mind will cost you either $1.99/month or $19.99/year. It doesn’t seem like a bad deal at first glance, though iOS users actually pay less — they can purchase a month of service for $.99 and a whole year for $9.99. Of course, you’re bristling at the notion of having to pay more for the service than an iOS user, there’s also the option of completing advertising offers in exchange for service credits.

Datahero Wants To Democratize Data Visualization And Analysis, Raises $1M Round Led By Foundry Group

Posted: 31 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT


Data visualization isn’t always easy, especially if your data is coming from a wide variety of sources. Datahero, which is launching its private alpha today, wants to make it easier for individuals, small companies and even enterprises to visualize and understand their data without having to worry about data formats and SQL queries. The company plans to opens its web-based service up to the public later this year. As the company’s co-founders Chris Neumann and Jeff Zabel told us earlier this week, Datahero also just raised a $1 million funding round led by Foundry Group, with participation by Neu Venture Capital, Dave Kellogg, Tasso Argyros, Mayank Bawa, Mike Greenfield, and Jonathan Goldman.

The company’s co-founders are both tech industry veterans, but are coming to this new business from two different directions. Neuman previously worked at Aster Data, a big data analytics company that was doing “big data analytics” before anybody really called it that. Zabel, on the other hand, previously worked on consumer-facing products at BMW’s Palo Alto lab, where he was, among other things, responsible for BMW’s iPhone integration and Google Maps send-to-car-GPS functionality.

In an interview earlier this week, Neumann and Zabel noted that, in their view, there has been a big shift in how people want to interact with their data now that they have so much information at their fingertips. Current business intelligence tools, however, are often antiquated and hard to use. Combing their expertise in big data analysis and consumer-facing design, the two decided to tackle this problem.

While Datahero is still keeping its user interface out of the public eye, the co-founder told me that the idea here is to make it extremely easy to import data either directly from services the company is partnering with (though they wouldn’t say who they are working with) or from basic CSV files. Datahero will try to figure out how to interpret and display this data in the best possible way. Power users, however, will also be able to go in and manipulate the data and the way it is visualized in any way they want. This, says the company, will allow non-experts to do their own data analysis, something that is currently still hard in most business environments, making this space ripe for disruption.

It’s hard not to look at this product without wondering if this isn’t more of a feature that a company like, SAP or Microsoft would offer as part of their overall business solutions. Neumann and Zabel, however, argue that what they are doing is more than just a feature, as they are not beholden to any vendor and let users import data from any source they want.

While the company isn’t talking about its plans for the future, it’s pretty obvious that the ambition here goes far beyond pie charts and scatter plots. With its teams’ background in big data analysis, visualization is surely just one of the first areas the company plans to tackle and more advanced analysis tools will surely follow soon.

Looks Like Pinterest, Takes On Evernote: Clipboard Launches Its Web Clipping Service To All

Posted: 31 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT


At first glance, you might mistake Clipboard, the impressively-backed web clipping service, for yet another Pinterest clone. But any similarities are only skin deep. Clipboard’s real rivals are things like Evernote’s web clipper, SpringPad, Delicious, Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneNote. That’s because, explains Clipboard CEO Gary Flake, Pinterest is about expressing an aspiration, but Clipboard is about getting things done.

For half a year, the company has been trucking along in a private, invite-only beta. But today, it’s open to all with a fresh redesign in tow and a new button for website owners.

Granted, there are several similarities between Pinterest and Clipboard. For starters, its collections are also called “boards.” And they’re laid out graphically, with a heavy emphasis on the image associated with the clipped content. But Clipboard isn’t just for clipping an inspiring or pretty picture – it can clip all kinds of stuff, including slideshows (like those from SlideShare), audio, a functioning web app (like an online calculator), an online game, and more. And the clips are functional, too. The calculator works, the games play, you can click the links in the copied text.

Given the competition, why another clipping service, you may ask?

“When you think about how people organize things,” explains Flake, “the thing that has 90% market share is pasting into an email client or Word document,” he says.

That is, people’s preferred method for finding and saving information from the web hasn’t evolved much over the years, Flake believes. However, he adds that we’re now seeing the emergence of a new type of service for saving items. This is where things like Evernote or Pinterest come into play. Some of these (like Pinterest) are so simple that they’re more about expression, while others (like Evernote) are “almost accidentally social,” Flake explains. Clipboard is aiming for a sweet spot by being simple, social and functional all in one.

Like any good bookmarking/clipping tool, Clipboard’s clips can be private, allowing you to transition from your preferred system, if you chose to do so. In fact, personal use appears to be the favored way to interact with Clipboard, as currently 80% of the beta users’ clips are private.

There are also indications of fairly good engagement for a pre-public product. 48% of users are clipping (as opposed to browsing the public clips from others), and the average user has 14 clips. More active users have around 30 clips each. 55% of the clips are also annotated by the user and 20% are hashtagged. (Clearly, some folks were never ready to give up social bookmarking, despite Delicious’ implosion then somewhat fizzless relaunch.) Clipboard will eventually support importing tools to pull in bookmarks from other services, like Delicious, as well as your own browser, which could help some users transition completely from their current systems.

Also new today is a developer-facing tool which allows site owners to integrate Clipboard buttons onto their website, so visitors can easily clip and save content.

Clipboard, which recently acquired two competitorsAmplify and Clipmarks, is backed by something of a who’s who of startup investors: Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, CrunchFund (disclosure – CrunchFund investor Mike Arrington founded TechCrunch), DFJ, SV Angel / Ron Conway, Betaworks, First Round Capital, CODE Advisors, Founder's Co-Op, Acequia Capital, Vast Ventures, Ted Meisel (former CEO of Overture and now at Elevation Partners), Blake Krikorian (former CEO of Sling and now an Amazon board member), and Vivi Nevo.

Interested users can now sign up to try the revamped Clipboard here.

Jamie Oliver Heats Up Le Web London

Posted: 31 May 2012 07:59 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2012-05-31 at 15.53.20

LeWeb has just published its agenda for its new June 19-20 event in London and it’s looking good. The theme this year is “Faster Than Real Time” and will feature a host of big names from the world of tech as well as a Startup Competition. Amongst the names will be globally known chef and food activist Jamie Oliver who has used online extensively in his healthy eating campaigns.

Joining him will be many others, including our own TechCrunch co-editors Eric Eldon and Alexia Tsotsis, as well as Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder & CEO, Instagram; Brent Hoberman, Co-Founder, PROfounders Capital; Bradley Horowitz, VP of Google; Robert Scoble; Michael Arrington, TechCrunch Founder and CrunchFund; Shervin Pishevar, Menlo Ventures; Martin Varsavsky, Fon; and numerous other big names.

The full agenda has just been published here. Tickets are also on sale here.

Fruit Ninja Tops 300M+ Downloads After Two Years, Now Installed On 1/3 Of All U.S. iPhones

Posted: 31 May 2012 07:55 AM PDT

Screen shot 2012-05-31 at 11.07.08 AM

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was downloading Fruit Ninja on a review unit of the iPad, swiping away at juicy watermelons and nearly-invisible kiwis.

But the app has been around for a while — two years to be exact. And over the span of 24 months, Halfbrick’s deliciously addictive game has become so popular that it is now installed on 1/3 of the iPhones in the United States.

The app has surpassed the 300 million download mark, with 1.5 trillion pieces of fruit sliced. But the crazy stats don’t end there. Every day, the cumulative time we spend playing Fruit Ninja over the course of 24 hours tops 100 years. Who knew slicing flying fruit would be such a sensation?

That said, an update to the app is available now in the App Store, offering a few new features, fruits, and a virtual currency: Starfruit. Gutsu and his merchant cart are now acting as a marketplace, from which you can buy power-ups that let you add time, explode, or swat away bombs in exchange for Starfruit.

In other words, expect to see both scores and in-app purchases go up in Fruit Ninja.

Check out the video introducing Gutsu:

Salesforce Adds Multilingual Features To Customer Support Service

Posted: 31 May 2012 07:47 AM PDT

desk logo is working to make, the customer service platform for small and medium businesses that it launched in January, more useful for global companies by announcing support for multiple languages.

To be clear, isn’t doing the translation for its customers. Instead, it’s adding features that take some of the headache and confusion out of the process.

For starters, Vice President and General Manager of Alex Bard says the system can determine the language of an incoming customer service request, and route it to the correct agent, presumably one who’s fluent in that language. You can also set up other rules and associate them with specific languages — for example, attaching an important piece of localized information to every request. customers can also create external help centers and internal knowledge bases in multiple languages. And it should be easier now to manage the necessary translations. In the current version, a customer might already have created multiple versions of each article — one in English, one in Spanish, and so on. But that creates challenges for keeping everything up-to-date. With the new multilingual features, that’s managed through a system of “master” articles, with translated versions attached. Then, when you update the master version, there’s a simple system for tracking which of the other languages have been updated too, and which ones still need to be tackled.

Bard estimates (and he says this was only an “order of magnitude” estimate) that 30 percent of customers are international. He also notes that particularly thanks to social media, even small businesses can have a global customer base.

The multilingual will features will go live as a free update to all customers on June 6, he says. It will support 39 languages and dialects at launch, including Chinese, French, German, and Japanese, with plans to add more over time.

Distimo Launches AppLink For Mobile App Publishers, Details Strategies For App Store Success

Posted: 31 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

iPhone Apps

This month, app store analytics firm Distimo is taking a step back from analyzing the details of mobile app trends to survey the larger landscape of the app stores themselves. While some of the new entrants to the app store market have launched and failed over the past few years, others like Amazon’s Appstore, have proven to be more successful. Today, many mobile developers are publishing to multiple stores, Distimo notes, which has led the company to launch a new product called AppLink, a short URL service that leads consumers to a landing page for the app in question.

And, as always, the company has released new findings related to app store trends, this month offering up advice on different strategies for app store success, whether developers are focused on high user numbers, revenue or niche markets.

AppLink’s Launch

Today, Distimo is launching AppLink. The service is an alternative to solutions like or GetJar, in that it offers a URL which can be tweeted, shared on Facebook, or used in any online or print marketing campaigns. As with its competition, clicks on the URL turn into actionable insights about a mobile app’s distribution. Likewise, it can help developers track how many consumers want an app on a yet to be supported mobile platform.

Also included with the service, is a web presence which offers an app screenshot, description, pricing info and links to all the different platforms where the app can be found. Visitors to the site can click the “get this app” button to have a link emailed to them or they can scan a QR code. Twitter and Facebook buttons then allow visitors to share the app with their friends. As you would expect, when visitors click on the app’s link from their mobile devices, AppLink automatically directs them to the correct app store.

Distimo says the biggest differences between this and other similar services is that its free and the pages are created automatically using app store data (no need to upload files/screenshots). Plus, AppLink ties into the Distimo Monitor service, which tracks app stores and ad networks in one dashboard.

1.3 Million Apps!

The debut of AppLink ties in nicely with the theme of Distimo’s report, which this month delves into the strategies related to cross-platform app store publishing. Distimo charts out the growth of the various app stores, starting in 2010 (as opposed to iPhone App Store’s launch in 2008, with just 500 applications – oh, how times have changed!).

Today, there are 590,000 iOS apps (500K+ work on iPhone, including iPhone-only and Universal apps) and over 400,000 Google Play (Android) apps, Distimo estimates. Combined with the other top app stores (BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Amazon AppStore), the total number of mobile apps now reaches 1.3 million. Google Play is the most rapidly growing store, and Windows Phone is growing fast too, but the latter only hosts 70,000 applications as of April 2012. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Appstore grew 10% in the past month, and now has 35,000 applications available. BlackBerry App World, sadly, “appeared to come to a halt,” says Distimo.


While 1.3 million applications is a lot of apps, Distimo points out that’s not the number of unique apps. Facebook, for example, has numerous mobile versions, as do other top publishers like Rovio (they of Angry Birds fame). Even smaller publishers who hit it big start to go cross-platform, as we witnessed yesterday with Flipboard, and recently with Instagram, pre-acquisition.

Remove the duplicates from the system, and there are “only” 980,000 unique applications, which means that every app is published 1.3 times on average. The graph below shows the interconnectivity between the stores, as determined by analyzing the top 300 most popular free and paid applications. For example, the proportion of top apps in Google Play which are also available in the iPhone App Store is 37% (or 222 applications).

You can also see how interconnected the iPhone and iPad Stores are, for obvious reasons, as well as how Google Play connects with Amazon’s Appstore. BlackBerry App World and Google Play stores are strongly tied, too.

Distimo found the 10 most successful cross-store publishers to be Rovio, OMGPOP, Gameloft, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Apple, ZeptoLab UK Limited (Cut the Rope), Disney and Adobe. 

Cross-Publishing Strategies

The firm wrapped its report with a detailed section on the “how to’s” of cross-store publishing, offering three different strategies for app publishers to pursue: 1) focus on a high number of users, 2) focus on revenue and 3) focus on a niche market.

High Users

To achieve high user numbers, free apps (but of course) do better, as the free volume in all stores is a minimum of 10 times higher than paid volume. Developers can then choose to monetize apps via ads or premium offerings/in-app purchases. However, Distimo advises developers not lock up essential portions of the app under an in-app purchase if high user numbers is the strategy, because usage will be lower and reviews may be bad.

For this strategy, Google Play is also the best place to start because of its higher volume. (The average daily volumes in the iPhone and iPad App Stores are 82% and 20%, respectively, of that in Google Play). To secure over 50% of the free downloads market, developers need to target two stores: iPhone and Google Play.

High Revenue

For developers focused on revenue, country choice comes into the picture. The free vs. paid ratio in the U.S. iPhone App Store is 11x, but in China it’s 50x.

Distimo recommends a strategy of targeting the iPad App Store, followed by iPhone, then Google Play, Windows Phone, and Amazon. The iPad App Store should come first because of the higher selling price, making each iPad user more valuable (i.e., profitable) than others.

A two-store strategy is needed to achieve more than 50% of the potential one-off revenue, but this time, developers should target iPhone and iPad.

Developers should also consider in-app strategies to maximize revenue. The iPhone’s in-app revenue is higher than the iPad’s. While Amazon only recently introduced in-app purchases to its Appstore, the paid volume history indicates these users are willing to pay (more so than Google Play users, that is). Below, the revenue distribution among the different monetization options per store.

Want to know why there are so many iPhone apps? Says Distimo, with this strategy, publishers can secure more than 50% of the revenue by focusing on the iPhone App Store.

Niche Market

Finally, Distimo looks at focusing on a niche market. Educational apps are more popular on the iPad, for example, but in many categories, the Google Play store will deliver the most free download volume. The exceptions, in addition to Education, are News Stand (iPad), News (iPad), Games (iPhone), Entertainment (iPhone), Lifestyle (iPhone), Books & Reference (iPhone), Travel & Navigation (iPhone) and Sports (iPhone).

The full report is available for download here.

Cricket Will Sell The First Prepaid iPhones In The United States Starting June 22

Posted: 31 May 2012 06:05 AM PDT


The crew of carriers that have been allowed to sell the iPhone has been growing steadily over the past few months, but today’s announcement from Cricket Communications wasn’t one most us expected to see any time soon.

They revealed earlier this morning that they will start selling the iPhone 4 and 4S sans contract starting on June 22, making them the first prepaid carrier in the country to do so.

If you’re not terribly familiar with Cricket or their plans, I can’t blame you — with roughly 7 million users, they’re the seventh largest wireless carrier in the United States behind the Big 4, MetroPCS, and U.S. Cellular. Nevertheless, they hope to rope budget-conscious customers in by offering the iPhones with their $55 Unlimited plan, though there’s a catch. Users will only be able to use 2.3GB of data bandwidth at full speed before getting throttled.

Of course, when it comes to buying prepaid, the hardware is much more expensive since there’s no hefty subsidy to take the sting out of the price tag. In this case, an 8GB iPhone 4 will set customers back $399, while the 16GB iPhone 4S can be had for $499. Sadly, there’s no sign of the 32GB model anywhere, so people who take the plunge may have to be more thoughtful about what they throw on their new device.

Nabbing the iPhone may seem like a coup especially for a carrier like Cricket, but rumors of the iPhone making its way to a prepaid provider have been brewing for years now. The prime suspect for a while was Sprint-owned Virgin Mobile, which makes sense considering the relationship we now know Apple and Sprint had at the time, but Cricket and parent company Leap Wireless seem to have been a more receptive target.

Diffbot Raises $2 Million Angel Round For Web Content Extraction Technology

Posted: 31 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT


Diffbot, the super-geeky/awesome visual learning robot technology which aims to “see” the web the way that people do, is today announcing a new infusion of capital. The company has closed $2 million in funding from a number of technology veterans, including EarthLink founder Sky DaytonAndy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab; Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of YouSendIt (and formerly of TechCrunch parent company AOL), Maynard Webb, LiveOps CEO, formerly eBay COO; Elad Gil, VP of Corporate Strategy at Twitter; Jonathan Heiliger, former VP of Technical Operations at Facebook; Redbeacon co-founder Aaron Lee; and founder of VitalSigns Montgomery Kersten.

Matrix Partners also participated in the round. Of the new investors, Sky Dayton will be the first to join Diffbot’s board and will be taking an active role in the company, including plans to go hands-on with various Diffbot projects.

Last August, the company publicly debuted its first APIs, which allow developers to build apps that can automatically extract meaning from web pages. For example, the  Front Page API is able to analyze site homepages, and understands the difference between article text, headlines, bylines, ads, etc. The Article API can then extract clean article text, images and videos. Another example of Diffbot in action is the “follow API,” which can track the changes made to a website.

Today, Diffbot has categorized the web into about 20 different page types, including homepages and article pages, which are the first two types it can now identity. Going forward, Diffbot plans train its bots to recognize all the other types of pages, including product pages, social networking profiles, recipe pages, review pages, and more.

Its APIs have been put to use by AOL (again: disclosure, TC parent) in its news magazine AOL Editions, as well as by companies like NuanceSocMetrics, and others. Diffbot says it’s now processing 100 million API calls per month on behalf of its customers. Thousands of developers are using the APIs, the company notes, but paying customers are only in the “tens.” Correction: we’re now told they have “a lot more!”

Diffbot founder and CEO Michael Tung (aka “Diffbot Mike”) says the new funding will  be put towards new hires and expanding its resources. “More than that, we’re receiving a huge vote of confidence from veterans who have built massive companies and understand the fine points of building for scale, maintaining uptime and delivering the absolute highest standards of service.”

Tung is a patent attorney and Stanford PhD student who left the doctoral program to pursue Diffbot, thanks to seed funding from Stanford’s incubator, StartX. Diffbot was StartX’s first investment. With today’s funding, Diffbot total raise is $2 million and change.

Vimeo Adds Customizable Music Options And A New, Cloud-Based Enhancer Tool

Posted: 31 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT


Online video site Vimeo has always sought to differentiate itself as a platform for high-quality video content. Now the IAC-owned video platform is now adding features to help creators enhance their videos and make even them more attractive to viewers.

Vimeo’s latest update makes a big push around improving videos by adding soundtracks, and it’s got two main product announcements along those lines: First, it’s rolling out a cloud-based “Enhancer” tool that will let users make changes to their videos without having to edit them on the desktop and re-upload. The main point of the tool for now is the ability for creators to instantly add music to their videos, straight from the Vimeo web site. In addition to adding music, they can also update audio levels and control the start- and end-point of a song.

The second update is the addition of nearly 4,000 new soundtrack options from new music partner SmartSound. Those options come on top of the 50,000 titles already available through Vimeo’s soundtrack tool, but provide more flexibility than existing options. For $1.99 per song for a personal license and $19.99 for a commercial license, users can create customized soundtracks of SmartSound songs. That includes the ability to control the length, musical arrangement and instrument mix of those 4,000 SmartSound tracks.

Vimeo continues to try to define itself as the place for artsy independent video producers to showcase their goods. It’s historically tried to have the prettiest video player on the market and for years has shied away from heavily monetizing its videos through crappy advertising. In January, Vimeo rolled out a fresh new redesign aimed at making its platform even more attractive to video creators who don’t want to distribute through YouTube or other sites.

That said, while YouTube has expanded pretty dramatically over the years, investing hundreds of millions in new original content creation and promotion, Vimeo has sort of plodded along as a much smaller niche competitor. It never got as wrapped up in the low-quality, user-generated content portion of YouTube’s business, but it also hasn’t done a great job of expanding beyond its artsy community of creators.

The group recently gained a new CEO — Yahoo and AOL vet Kerry Trainor — and there have been reports that IAC is trying to sell the video site. (IAC Chairman Barry Diller has denied rumors of a sale.) With that in mind, Vimeo could seek new ways to monetize the site, possibly through more advertising or through more value-added features like music soundtracks and premium video offerings.

More Cloud Investment: Sonian Picks Up $13.6M For Cloud Archiving And Search

Posted: 31 May 2012 05:31 AM PDT


As more businesses and consumers sign up to services that operate in the cloud, so more companies working in this space continue to get attention from investors. The latest is Sonian, a specialist in cloud-based archiving and search services, which has picked up a C-round of $13.6 million.

With the funding, OpenView Venture Partners becomes a strategic partner of Sonian. OpenView — you may recall — in March announced a new $200 million fund specifically for cloud and big data investments. Existing investors Summerhill Venture Prtners and Prism VentureWorks also participated, and this brings the total invested in Sonian to-date is now at $27 million. Worth pointing out, too, that one of Sonian’s other investors is Amazon, which participated in the company’s last round where it raised $9 million.

On the back of overall interest, trust and growth in cloud services, Sonian’s star has been rising. The company, which focuses on enterprise services, says that in each of the past two years its customer base has doubled — it now supports 9,000 businesses, covering such services as scalable storage management, regulatory compliance (key for companies in the financial sector, which, along with healthcare, is a key vertical for Sonian), and eDiscovery.

The company has also signed some other significant milestones, including the acquisition of Webroot’s Email archiving business in January, as well as partnerships with enterprise IT systems companies Tech Data Corporation and ISI. As for Amazon, Sonian runs part of its business over Amazon Web Services.

Sonian also says that the past four quarters, it has seen “record” growth in its business. In the wider market, email volume has grown 500 percent over the last decade, and the email archiving market — a key area for Sonian — will be worth $2.2 billion by 2014, according to Gartner, with cloud-based archiving services accounting for half of that figure.

Sonian says it will use the investment to expand the business and develop more features for its core archiving products:

"This funding, as well as OpenView's operational expertise and support, will enable us to expand our current customer relationships, further build out our sales and marketing teams, and develop new solutions that help customers accelerate their move to the cloud,” said Jeff Dickerson, CEO of Sonian in a statement.

Scott Maxwell, OpenView's Founder and Senior Managing Director, will join Sonian's board of directors.

Cookoo: Move Over, Pebble, There’s A New E-Watch In Town

Posted: 31 May 2012 05:24 AM PDT


Although I seriously doubt these things will take off into the stratosphere like the Pebble, the Cookoo watch on Kickstarter has already hit $120,000 on a $150,000 target, placing it up with the big boys in the crowdsourcing race. The Cookoo is essentially an e-ink watch with a few wireless tricks up its sleeve – namely Bluetooth connectivity that will notify you when you have messages, etc.

The watch costs $80 and is far less complex than the Pebble. The watch uses a small CR2032 battery and doesn’t need to be recharged. The best thing? It has a single button on it that can be used to trigger various functions including Facebook checkins, photo taking, and location tagging.

You can also press the Cookoo’s button to find your phone when you’ve lost it.

Now look: I don’t think any of these smart watches are any good, but this one (and the Pebble) look to be the closest to something the general consumer would enjoy using. Wearable tech is hard and getting to work well with everyone’s phone is harder. Time will tell.

Project Page

Sergey Brin Shows Off His Google Glass Prototype

Posted: 31 May 2012 05:15 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2012-05-31 at 8.14.01 AM

I would totally embed this video but WordPress won’t let us, so here it is. It’s essentially a quick run-through of Google Glass thanks to Sergey Brin. He even gave them to California Lieutenant Governer Gavin Newsom who got to try them on.

The verdict? They’re pretty cool and they’ll be available sometime next year. There is apparently a touch sensitive pad on the side. This is part of a longer video that will air on June 1.

I’m really conflicted when it comes to these things. On one hand I’m really excited about usable wearable computing and, on the other hand, I’ve never, ever seen it work well. Here’s hoping Google has the chops to pull it off.

via BGR

IT Services Consolidation: CGI To Buy Logica For $2.6B (And Crashes Logica’s Site In Process)

Posted: 31 May 2012 02:34 AM PDT

logica logo

Some enterprise IT consolidation afoot, and a sign of the business crunch that the enterprise market has witnessed in the last year. CGI Corporation, an IT services firm based in Canada, has made an all-cash offer of $2.6 billion (£1.7 billion) to buy UK rival Logica, a deal that would create one more IT services powerhouse to rival the likes of IBM, Accenture and KPMG.

The offer represents a premium of 60 percent on Logica’s closing share price yesterday. Logica, one of Europe’s biggest IT services firms, has hit the rocks in the last year, with profit shrinking to £32.7 million ($50.6m) from £192.9 million ($299m) the year before on the back of IT cuts in the public sector, a key vertical for the company. It also laid off some 1,300 people in 2011. And margins for IT services — a challenge for all IT services companies — shrank to 2.2 percent from over eight percent in Logica’s main UK business.

On the news of the deal this morning, Logica’s website crashed. It appears to be live again now although working very slowly.

Logica’s chief executive is Andy Green, who joined the company in 2007 after heading up BT Global Services, the enterprise IT services division of the UK’s incumbent telecoms operator.

CGI says it has around 31,000 employees, and a spokesperson for the company says that about 40 percent of its business is in public sector/government deals (with clients including the U.S. Deptartment of State and Department of Homeland Security), with a further 25 percent in financial services; 13 percent in telecoms/utilities; 12 percent in manufacturing/retail distribution and 10 percent in heath.

In that sense, the deal looks like a good fit: Logica has a client base mainly focused on large enterprises, public sector groups and utilities. (Customers include energy giant Shell and the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency.) But by focusing on large business that also means when something goes awry that can hit Logica hard: Logica says that its top 50 clients last year made up 44 percent of its revenues.

In its decades of operation, Logica has had a history of running a number of groundbreaking technology services, including creating and running a lot of the clearing for UK and European mobile text messaging, banking transfers and the automated ticketing system for the London Underground.

But it’s also been through several rocky patches over the last 10 years, including profit warnings, and it has divested of several operations — including the sale of its telecoms assets in 2007 for $525 million to Atlantic Bridge Ventures. That business is now called Acision.

Logica’s statement to the market is here.

YC-Backed GoCardless Launches PayLinks, A Bitly For Payments

Posted: 31 May 2012 12:00 AM PDT

GoCardless Logo

GoCardless, the Y Combinator-backed startup founded in 2010 by Oxford graduates Hiroki Takeuchi, Tom Blomfield and Matt Robinson, is today launching a new product called PayLinks which aims to be something like a for payments. With its dead simple interface, anyone can create a shortened, tweet-friendly link in around 60 seconds, the company claims, allowing you to start collecting money online immediately.

These payments can either be one-off requests (throw in on the keg!), regular/subscription-based (subscribe to my blog!), or pre-authorized. The latter, which makes sense for B2B scenarios, lets a company collect a pre-authorized amount over a pre-determined period of time.

The U.K.-based service is interesting because it doesn’t send these payments through the traditional credit card networks. Instead, GoCardless has built an API wrapper around the bank transfer process – that is, the “interbank transfer,” which is also known as an “Automated Clearing House” payment. That means the payment amount is automatically deducted from one bank account and transferred directly to another without having to go through credit card network or without you having to write a check. It’s the same kind of thing that powers the online “Bill Pay”feature your bank offers.

Since GoCardless’ launch in February, the company has signed up over 2,000 businesses to its service and is now growing at a rate of 50%+ every month, company co-founder Matt Robinson tells us. And B2B use (which has investors excited), is exploding. Over 70% of its current customers are using it for B2B transactions.

One API partner is the online accounting firm KashFlow, which introduced the GoCardless service to its 10,000 small business customers. These integrations made the GoCardless team think about other ways they could get their service in front of a large number of users, consumers and businesses alike. Hence, PayLinks.

With the new PayLinks product, the company is going after all types of transactions, including B2C or even smaller, personal use cases (you know, that beer?), and it’s starting to encroach a little more into WePay territory. Not only is there now a shortened URL you can share through email, chat, IM or social networks, there’s also a “Buy Now” button which can be embedded on a website.

Fees for the service are low, too. It’s free to use and the company only takes 1% of the transaction cost, compared with the 3%-5% average for other types of transactions, says Robinson. Pure interchange fees are 2%-3%, explains Robinson, but most people offer a PayPal type of pricing model of a percentage plus a fee, making GoCardless more affordable for smaller transactions. Its fees are also capped at $2, he adds.

OK, so now for the bad news. The service is U.K.-only, with plans to roll out to all of Europe in the next few months. As for the U.S., there aren’t immediate plans. But Robinson says it’s “next on the agenda.”

Interested U.K. customers can try out PayLinks now, from here.

GoCardless has $1.5 million in funding from Accel Partners, Passion Capital, SV Angel, Start Fund, and Y Combinator.