Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Union Square’s Brad Burnham Explains Why SOPA Must Be Stopped

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:27 AM PST

The Congressional Judiciary committee is debating a bill today called the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) which nobody in the Internet industry wants to see passed. Not surprisingly, the bill was written by lobbyists for the music and movie industries, who are frustrated by their inability to go after foreign sites filled with pirated material. The piracy problem is real, but the proposed solutions in the form of this bill and the Senate’s corresponding Protect-IP Act (PIPA) will create more problems than they solve.

Brad Burnham, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, came into the TCTV studio in New York City to explain why SOPA is misguided and how it threatens to break the internet. There are many problems with SOPA, but some of the main ones are that it transfers liability for copyright infringement onto second parties like search engines, social networks, blogs, and all sorts of websites. It provides for DNS blocking much in the same way that China’s great firewall blocks foreign sites it does not want its citizens to see, raising a serious censorship issue since it would not take a court order to block these sites (although it is more complicated than a simple takedown notice).

But more than anything, the bill would inject a level of uncertainty into the internet which could chill the willingness of VCs like Burnham to invest as freely as they have and for founders to start internet companies in the first place. The internet is one of the few sources of job creation in the U.S. economy right now. We don’t need laws that will stifle it.

If you want to learn more about SOPA, read this excellent overview by Mike Masnick at TechDirt. Call your Congress person or let them know that you work for the internet.



Rocket Misfires — Samwers Lose Key People Ahead Of Huge Fund Raising To Clone Globally

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:13 AM PST

Rocket-to-Nowhere1

The three Samwer brothers (Oliver, Marc and Alexander) founders of the Rocket Internet incubator in Berlin, are the most successful Internet entrepreneurs in Germany and possibly Europe. After launching and exiting multiple businesses, many of them clones/copycats of US startups, they are multi-millionaires. Indeed, their Groupon clone CityDeal sold to to Groupon for an estimated €750m in cash and shares. But much of that success looks threatened by the departure of at least 20 of its key staff in the last two weeks – including CTO- level people – and possibly as much as 40, according to multiple sources spoken to by TechCrunch Europe.

While Rocket Internet has around 200 people on staff, losing key heads could be a severe blow to the renowned incubator. The timing could not be worse for the Samwers, who are understood to be in the middle of raising at least a billion dollar financing round designed to clone every successful US startup, to launch them outside the US much faster and become a larger global player than many of the Silicon Valley businesses they plan to copy.



Amazon: For The Third Week, Kindle (Including The Fire) Sales Have Surpassed 1 Million Per Week

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:01 AM PST

rocky-IV

The Kindle Fire is a hit and Amazon just released an impressive number to back up the widely accepted sentiment. Amazon is currently selling Kindles at a rate of one million per week as demand increases. Despite the huge sales numbers, Amazon has managed to keep the tablets and ereaders in stock and available for next day shipping. Even Apple couldn’t fulfill that sort of demand after the launch of either versions of the iPad.

Amazon’s budget tablet was a hit from the beginning. Even prior to its release, the tablet was the best-selling item on Amazon, kicking the e-ink Kindle from the top spot. But once it hit, customers haven’t stopped buying it. At its current rate of a million units sold per week, the Kindle family is actually outpacing the iPad’s post-launch sales rate. The iPad 2 saw a blockbuster initial first weekend with a million estimated sales but Apple quickly ran out of stock, causing a backorder wait of up to a month. Amazon must have been taking notes.

It can only get better for Amazon. Not only is the retailer selling Fires and Kindles like gangbusters, but both are essentially a mobile portal for all of Amazon. Consumers are buying the Kindle Fire and will in turn buy content from Amazon. It’s Amazon’s trojan horse indeed.

Update at 1:10: Updated the post because I messed up.



Microsoft Launches So.cl As A Social Network For Students

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:41 AM PST

home-video-bg

Microsoft is officially launching So.cl, the social networking service it teased back in July. And it turns out, it’s not meant to be Microsoft’s version of Facebook, but a social networking service for students built on top of Facebook. The service is launching out of Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs division, and is still being dubbed “experimental.”

Today, students at the the University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University are being allowed to use the service, with other schools being added in the future.

According to a post on Microsoft Research, So.cl has been designed for students studying social media “to extend their educational experience and rethink how they learn and communicate,” which, indeed, sounds very experimental. Students are able to post photos, video and text and share those posts with others. They also can seek out students with similar interests and build communities around specific educational goals.

Users can follow people, set up feeds and search (powered by Bing). Search results can be shared with others, in an effort to make the most searched content go viral. So.cl also builds on the content-aggregation project Montage that enables authoring of a visual collage of images, videos, and stories. In So.cl, users can quickly assemble content from a variety of sources to build pages about particular interests.

The “connecting around interests” path that So.cl is taking makes sense. Interest-based social networking is an emerging trend seen in a number of social startups these days. Companies believe that the only way to compete with Facebook is to develop a service that connects you with people you don’t know, but would want to know, instead of with real-world friends, as Facebook does. Most startups, however, attempt to start from scratch, asking you to sign up and join their own standalone destination website. So.cl, meanwhile, simply asks you to “sign in” with Facebook. It’s essentially a Facebook app.

Unfortunately, if you attempt to sign in yourself, So.cl reports being “over capacity.”

In November, several screenshots of the network leaked, which showed a network focused on collaborative consumption, not communication. It had video-sharing, for example, but you chatted with others watching the video with you through a chatroom, not via direct messages with the other person. Now we know that Microsoft is calling this feature a “video party,” where students get together to watch videos on the network.

This focus on interest-based networking was by design. This is not Microsoft’s version of Facebook. Says Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs, “we expect people to continue using their favorite social network and search tools,” (in other words, Facebook), “and we hope that, by experimenting with how search and social networking can be combined, more people experiment with tools we already take for granted.”



PocketCloud Explore Lets You Search Your Android, PC & Mac At Once

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:18 AM PST

droidx_device_list

Wyse Technology is launching a new app for Android users today called Wyse PocketCloud Explore, which will allow you to search for files you have stored on any phone, tablet, PC or Mac. The app works in conjunction with a software client installed on your computer, so you can perform universal file searches, then view the files, rename them, move them into folders, share them or download them to your device.

The software lets you perform unlimited copying and moving of video, image and audio files between your Windows or Mac computer and your Android device. Meanwhile, other files types can be opened or edited in your preferred Android application (e.g., QuickOffice). You can also choose to email the file via Android’s email client.

PocketCloud is somewhat of an attack on cloud storage products like Dropbox or Box.net, which provide you with a set amount of free online storage, but then charge you when you need more. Instead, this app appeals more to the host-it-yourself crowd, since there’s only the one-time fee of $4.99 and no monthly service charges.

That said, hosting your files in the cloud may be pricier, but it’s often more secure. Unless you regularly backup, your computer is a single point-of-failure for your most valuable documents, while cloud storage providers have multiple copies of files spanned across servers which are backed up religiously.

But for $5, PocketCloud Explore is not a bad app to have on hand in case of a file emergency. Wyse also offers a full version of PocketCloud that provides remote access to your computer (iOS and Android). You can grab Explore from the Android Market here.



Cloud Storage Platform Box.net Ramps Up Security For The Enterprise; Debuts Partnership With Intel

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

box-1

Cloud storage platform Box.net is ramping up security today, announcing a new set of tools and access controls for the enterprise. In addition, Box is also announcing a product integration with Intel to deliver additional protections for users and increased admin capabilities for IT managers.

In general, Box has made controls more granular. Now when users share any links on the storage platform, users can limit who can view a file or folder to only users within a company domain or to collaborators within a specific folder. Users can structure this so that these security controls only extend to individual files or to entire folders of content.

While Box has always offered a features that allowed admins to track each Box login from a new browser, you can now track logins from mobile devices, desktops via Box Sync as well as via custom apps using Box APIs. IT admins can now limit the number of devices an employee can access from the same user ID.

Box is also announcing a new relationship with Intel that includes integrations to simplify how IT administrators manage user permissions and group access through Single Sign-On (SSO) and authentication. For example, Box is working with Intel to streamline secure access to Box using credentials managed by Intel’s Expressway Cloud Access 360. Administrators can use ECA 360 to automatically provision Box accounts, leverage existing identity repositories and enable federated SSO to Box.

And Box customers using ECA 360 who want a more intense user identity verification can take advantage of 2-factor authentication available with ECA 360 and configure the system to challenge users to enter a one-time password, which is delivered separately via a smart phone or cell.

Additionally, Box Business Account customers now have access to an additional 500GB of storage capacity, for a total of 1TB of cloud storage at no additional cost. Box Enterprise Account customers receive an unlimited amount of data storage.

Rampung up security for the cloud storage platform should only help Box add additional Fortune 500 and enterprise customers. Already, provides storage solutions for 77% of the Fortune 500 with 100,000 businesses using Box’s service (250,000 new users are joining each month).



New Data From Pando Offers A Glimpse Into The Massive Global Growth Of Freemium Gaming

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:47 AM PST

free

Well, it looks like hardcore gamers would like to have a word with you, social and casual gamers. Yes, the stories in the media of late have been all about Rovio’s Angry Birds skyrocketing past half a billion downloads, or Zynga and its ilk overtaking social games. Both casual and social games have been growing like gangbusters, but the latest data from Pando Networks reveals some fairly serious growth in the free-to-play gaming industry across the globe.

Free-to-play games, just another way of saying “freemium games” are, to clear up any confusion, any game that is free to download and monetized by in-game purchases. Today, in mobile and web apps (and really the consumer web), we are seeing the coming of age of the freemium model and, as a result, advertisers and developers are being forced to find new ways to create revenue and monetize their games, whether that be by way of mobile advertising, virtual goods, avatars, in-game rewards, or incentivized installs.

Today’s data from Pando Networks, a game delivery network for free-to play massively-multiplayer-online (MMO) games, is showing that free-to-play games are growing exponentially, right alongside their casual and social game bretheren. For example, the company’s data shows that the number of gamers downloading free games has grown 450 percent from 2009 to 2011, as more than 38 million people will download an online game using Pando in 2011 — and over 70 million people have downloaded free games since 2009. (And that’s not including the 11+ million playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.)

Again, this hockey-stick growth has resulted from an industry-wide transition from a paid to freemium model, as can be seen in online gaming by the likes of both Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online and WoW, which have both taken to the land of the free — along with newer, popular games like League of Legends (by Riot).

And, in case it still needs hammering home, the explosive growth in free-to-play games is far from an American-only phenomenon. According to Pando, from October 2009 to October 2011, downloads in the U.S. have grown from 4.8 million to 12.6 million (an increase of 162 percent), while Latin America has seen downloads increase by 595 percent, compared to the U.K., where growth has shot up by a whopping 1025 percent.

Furthermore, developing nations like Turkey are gobbling up an increasingly significant share of downloads, considering over the last year, the number of gamers in Turkey downloading free-to-play games today sits over 5 million — an increase of 534 percent since 2010 (and more than 14 percent of the country’s total population).

As Turkey’s infrastructure and connectivity continues to expand, the country’s freemium gaming market has exploded right in tandem, and currently shows no sign of slowing down. Surely, this is a great sign for freemium games and the international gaming market, but it does make on worry about Turkey’s overall productivity. Here’s to hoping GDP doesn’t slip at the hands of widespread MMO gaming adoption.

Compared to the size of population, Turkey certainly has one of the fastest growing freemium gaming markets, compared to, say, France, which has seen its freemium gamers grow from 139K in 2009 to 2.6 million in 2011, and Poland, which grew from 145L to 1.5 million over the same period. While it’s been clear for some time now the extent to which mobile and online platforms are being used by the ever-increasing gaming population in Asia, there hasn’t yet been such a clear picture of the extent to which the freemium model is being adopted in other global regions.

And, again, turning to other sources, Pando’s data also seems to be clearly in support of PopCap’s November study (via Informations Solutions Group) of the growing social gaming market in the U.S. and the U.K., which found that more than 118 million people now play social games once per week, and 81 million people play at least once a day (which is 68 percent of all social gamers). Of course, that’s nice, but what’s really important is that today 31 million players have purchase in-game currency, up 86 percent from the previous year.

Not only that, but Flurry blogged back in September that freemium games are leading all of the app revenue models in the iOS and Android app economies, as they now account for more than 65 percent of app revenue.

So, to sum up, in the event that you’ve missed out on the last two years of gaming trends, it seems that freemium has not only fully arrived, but it’s here to stay, it’s taken over your home, and it’s raising your kids.

For more, check out Pando’s data dump here.



Samsung Galaxy Note LTE Headed For AT&T Next Year

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:46 AM PST

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-ATT

If you’re the type of person who looks at a Galaxy Nexus and wonders why it couldn’t be even bigger, then Samsung just might have a treat meant for you. According to PocketNow, Samsung will be bringing an LTE-capable version of Samsung’s Galaxy Note to AT&T early next year.

The Note, if you haven’t seen it before, is bound to strain a few pockets with its 5.3-inch Super AMOLED HD display. As you may be able to tell by the name, the Note’s big screen makes it a solid choice for avid note jotters, as does the included “S Pen” stylus.

Because AT&T will be getting the recently announced LTE variant, PocketNow mentions that the U.S. model will sport a Qualcomm SoC instead, specifically the dual-core 1.5GHz MSM8660 chipset. On paper, it looks like the Qualcomm chipset is just a hair faster than the 1.4GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos processor as seen in the standard Galaxy Note, but we’ll see if there’s any noticeable difference (hint: there probably won’t be).

From what we’ve seen in the past, the Note will probably ship with Gingerbread installed, unless Samsung manages to finish up their work on their Ice Sandwich update before they push this thing onto store shelves. Either way, prepare to play with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI all over again.



Disruptive Payments Network Dwolla Now Provides Users With Instant Access To Cash

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:30 AM PST

dwolla-logo

Today, online and mobile payments platform Dwolla is launching what may be one of its biggest features yet: instant access to cash. Via the new opt-in setting called “Dwolla Instant,” users will be able to immediately deposit and send cash without the usual wait times associated with the mobile payment platform – typically a few days.

To use Dwolla Instant, users must first enroll in the service, which requires a monthly $3 participation fee. This fee will begin from the day you switch on Dwolla Instant, but can be turned off  and on at will, without penalty. Once enabled, you can then send  money to a friend, pay a merchant, or deposit funds instantly. You’ll tell Dwolla what the funding source is for that initial transaction, and that will then be tied to your “Instant Balance.”

Immediately afterwards, Dwolla will allow you to make the payment via your linked bank account (Dwolla’s preferred funding source). Alternately, you can choose to “pay Dwolla back later,” if need be. That’s similar to how a credit card would work, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. The late fee for  the “pay Dwolla back” option is only $5.00. And Dwolla works hard to make sure you don’t forget, with notifications and reminders, unlike credit card companies who thrive off late payments.

The reason why the fee is so low is because Dwolla makes its money elsewhere. It charges $0.25 per transaction, except for transactions under $10, which recently became free.

According to Dwolla CEO, Ben Milne, the reason why high fees exist in credit card networks has to do with legacy issues – the hardware, the infrastructure, and the resources needed to fight the rampant fraud associated with having your 16-digit card number just out there in the world, everywhere. “Creating a new network is the only way to keep the fees out,” he explains. “And Dwolla is the first payment network built in 30-odd years.”

For those who have a hard time understanding exactly where Dwolla fits in the crowded mobile payments market where services like Square, Venmo, Google Wallet and PayPal get all the press, the difference is this: Dwolla is primarily a payments network, not a tool for enabling payments through the existing credit card network. In other words, it’s not like a Square or Google Wallet, for example, which allow you to link a credit card to your account. It is the card. Except there’s no card. In fact, if Square wanted to, it could integrate Dwolla as just another payment option into its own solution, if it wanted to. Google could as well. Or anyone.

As to whether Dwolla’s ready for that, Mine says not now. “It’s too early,” he says. “We can provide more value in terms of partnerships. And everybody is on board for building a long-term play.” (Which, you know, is the best thing to say if you secretly want to be acquired, right?)

We should point out that Dwolla isn’t just some outsider startup (it’s in Iowa!) going it alone. The company is backed by The Members Group, a financial services organization providing credit card processing, payment solutions, prepaid cards, consulting and more. So they sort of know what they’re doing over there. And weren’t you kind of getting sick of PayPal anyway?

As for Dwolla Instant, it goes live today on the Dwolla website and will roll out to Dwolla’s mobile apps on iPhone and Android shortly thereafter.



About Damn Time: Microsoft Will Silently Upgrade Everyone To Latest Version Of IE

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:09 AM PST

ML_LogoUpdate_IE9Detail

On the surface, the announcement sounds boring: Microsoft said this morning that it will begin automatically upgrading Windows customers to the latest version of Internet Explorer starting next year. But in reality, this was one of the most important things Microsoft could have done for the web, web security and the safety of all those who go online.

Nice move, Microsoft. It’s about time.

According to the official blog post, the IE updates will be pushed out to those running Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, beginning with customers in Australia and Brazil in January, before rolling out worldwide.  Only those who have “Automatic Updates” turned on in Windows will receive the download, however. But thanks to constant prompting from the Windows OS itself, that’s an option many have already agreed to.

There are numerous ways to opt out, too, ranging from blocking tools to simply uninstalling the updates, which rolls you back to your previous version. Those who have declined the update previously also won’t be upgraded. (I’m not so sure about that one. I’d ask again – maybe they just found the pop-up annoying at the time?)

Silent updates to the browser is now par for the course in modern browsers like Firefox and Chrome, as Microsoft points out. Although Firefox’s move to silently update its browser was a more recent addition, Google has long made automatic updates a part of Chrome’s value proposition. And though it goes without saying that an updated browser is a more secure one, Microsoft has helpfully linked out to its own research on the matter: the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (vol 11), which found that less than 1% of exploits during the first part of 2011 came from zero-day vulnerabilities (meaning those that are so new, they have yet to be patched by software vendors).

99% of all attacks, the report said, came from unpatched but known vulnerabilities and/or social engineering (a whopping 45% there). Just as sad, 90% of infections were attributed to a vulnerability exploitation that had a security update available for over a year. Over a year!

Granted, the report wasn’t looking only at web browsers, but it’s common knowledge that older versions of IE are the ones causing the most trouble. According to Internet security firm Secunia.com, there are over 200 vulnerabilities in IE 6, for example, 15% of which are unpatched. Even Microsoft can’t stand the thing, having set up a web page devoted to “moving the world off of IE6,” a browser built 10 years ago.

And yes, despite Chrome’s advances, what happens with IE still matters. The thing still has a 53% market share (source: netmarketshare). 

So while, in the past, it’s been funny (sad?) to have “upgrade your mom and dad’s web browser day,” doing so has not just been about the browser wars – it’s about the web’s future (hello, HTML5) and safety as a whole. And frankly, that’s not really a job everyone’s parents are up to. Even as a fairly tech-savvy person myself, it’s not a job that I want to be burdened with, either. The vendor should be pushing the updates down to me. (Hey, you too Apple! I have to hit the App Store Upgrades section daily. Lame.)

There’s more of a benefit to pushing down the new version, at least in terms of security. Let those who care figure out how to opt-out and leave the rest of us alone.



How Uber Is Launching In Its Newest City, Washington, DC

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

dc-lights

My girlfriend: We’re late. We need to get a cab to the [Thanksgiving] dinner.

Me: I just talked to the cab company and they’re going to take forever. I’m trying Uber.

Her: There’s no Uber in DC.

Me [checks app]: Oh, look, there is! The car will be here in 10 minutes. 

And that’s how I discovered that Uber is launching in Washington, DC. Today, it’s announcing to the capital that it’s ready for business, having spent the last month recruiting drivers, testing routes and everything else that goes into opening up in a new area. I recently talked to Rachel Holt, who’s leading Uber DC, to get some more details about how the company has worked out this expansion.

The first step is to figure out what the local market is looking for. DC is looking like a good target.

Yes, politicians have their own taxpayer-supported livery services, but DC also has the highest concentration of people with secondary degrees. Between the better-paid government employees, contractors, law offices, lobbyists, universities, and the emerging tech scene, “there are a lot of people who want a better experience,” Holt explains.

But unlike most cities (such as San Francisco), DC doesn’t artificially restrict the number of cabs, so getting them isn’t as big of a problem. However, the cars also tend to be run down, and service isn’t always great. And the thing about DC is that it’s a city of people who wear suits (also unlike SF). Uber’s black sedan-limos are providing cars to match.

DC also has some local issues that Uber can take advantage of. Cabs charge you extra for each additional stop, for example. The district is also stuck between two states and numerous counties, and many cab companies only serve some of them. If you’re downtown in the afternoon, you might have trouble getting a cab out to your home in the suburbs. Uber can ignore those constraints.

The company’s local team is also busy juicing demand by doing things like event sponsorships, and outreach to local businesses. An out-of-the-way restaurant, for example, might want to tell its patrons about Uber so they can rest assured about getting home when they’re done enjoying the wine list.

Of course, Uber’s real magic is software. It has also been refining how it expands to each new city. ”Every minute and every day we’re collecting more and more data on where people are opening our app to figure out where biggest areas of demand are,” Holt says. That’s why we’ve needed a little runway ahead of a public launch.”

Charts and heat map visualizations show how the app is being used, that the company then uses to match peak demand areas at specific times. It looks at specific pieces of data like app opens, people who get cars, and people who can’t, and the number of minutes that it takes for cars to arrive.

The other factor is operations. Uber has been recruiting local people, including independent operators and small companies, to be on call for the service. It has already won many of them over, judging by the ones I’ve talked to in SF, and the one who drove us on Thanksgiving. Its pay structure is a flat fee that includes a generous tip. The software can calculate optimal coverage areas to reduce driving. And the software also cuts out dispatch operators, who sometimes play favorites with drivers at other cab companies.

While Uber is a luxury service, it’s also a good example of how a software startup can break into new physical-world markets and solve long-standing problems. It forces incumbents to try to improve, and shows other startups how they can go after similar types of problems. It’s this visceral impact that helped convince Shervin Pishevar, son of an immigrant cab driver in DC, to co-lead the company’s new $32 million round of funding last week.

The company is planning on expanding by two cities a month around the world. It also just launched in Paris, and is already available in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Boston.



Enterprise Cloud App Manager Okta Now Enables A Single Sign-On To Over 1K Web Apps

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

okta

Enterprise cloud app management company Okta, which allows companies to have control of their users, applications, and data both in the cloud and behind the firewall, is debuting a new self-service sign-on capability. This would allow IT organizations publish a custom app catalog to their organization and for end users to get single sign-on to over a 1,000 cloud apps.

Okta is providing a platform for companies to manage corporate IT. When moving to the cloud, IT admins face the challenge of securing and controlling users and access, simplifying the adoption and scaling of these applications, and at the same time making sure that the business is optimizing its applications in the cloud.

Companies who are using cloud-based applications like Salesforce and Google Apps need an identity and directory service in the cloud as a place where they can store user profiles and more. Okta gives IT managers the ability to maintain one central directory and replicate this to all cloud applications.

With the single sign-on and self-service catalog, IT admins can choose to allow employees access to 1,200 cloud and web apps with a single sign-on. Basically, the new app marketplace and single sign-on allows employees to find and install the apps they need as well as increasing IT’s visibility into app usage across the company.

Okta recently raised $16.5 million in Series B funding from Greylock Partners, Khosla Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and FLOODGATE.



SocialFolders Is A Directory For All Of Your Social Content On The Web

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 07:59 AM PST

Social Folders

SocialFolders is publicly launching its application which allows you to manage, sync and file any of your social content on the web. Basically the startup acts as a central repository and directory for your Facebook photos, videos, documents and more.

After downloading the app on your computer, you can connect to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and a host of other social services. SocialFolders will find the content, including photos, videos, docs and other files, and then will create an easy directory you can manage locally of all these files. You can organize, sync and even back up anything you want from the social web.

For example, you can collect all the photos your friends have tagged of you on Facebook in an organized album. The app will also sync those pics to other photo sites such as Flickr or Picasa.

Users can also connect with Google Docs, work on documents offline, and SocialFolders will automatically sync the changes back to Google Docs in the form of new revisions in that doc.

The startup’s founder Philippe Honigman says that there are so many social platforms that users store content, whether it be YouTube Videos, Facebook photos, documents and more, and there needs to be centralized, organized place where people can actually see all this content in one place.



Giftmeo Debuts Social Group Gifting Service

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 07:59 AM PST

giftmeo

Wrapp and a host of others are betting on group gifting as a new way for users to collaborate over giving gift cards to friends. Giftmeo is throwing its hat into the group-gifting platform ring, debuting a new service that allows groups to ‘chip in’ towards a gift for a friend.

Users simply create a profile on Giftmeo.com, set up gifts for one or more friends and then begin the "fundraising” by spreading the message on Facebook and Twitter. You can connect to Facebook to Gift-givers can pay in increments as small as $1.00 or has high as $2,000.

Unfortunately, the actual options for gifts are limited. For now, Giftmeo only allows users to gift Amazon.com Gift Cards. The startup will also soon introduce an API that lets developers add gift cards as rewards. And it can be used as a fundraising tool as well. For now, Giftmeo is in private beta but will soon be opening to the public.



StackMob’s Mobile App Platform Is Now Publicly Available

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 07:59 AM PST

stackmob-logo

StackMob, a backend service provider for mobile, is today publicly launching its mobile app platform, after having been in private beta for a good part of the year. The company, often described as a “Heroku for mobile” is a fully hosted platform that allows developers to address all the backend needs for their mobile apps including OAuth and social service integration (e.g., Twitter, Facebook), storage solutions, advertising, push notifications, analytics, API creation and more.

The company closed its Series A round of $7.5 million this spring, led by Trinity Ventures with StackMob's existing investors, Harrison Metal and Baseline Ventures, participating. With the additional funding in tow, StackMob was able to expand to a second platform beyond iOS this October, when it launched its Android SDK. But at the time, StackMob was still in private beta testing.

Since its Series A, StackMob has seen 60% month-over-month grow in apps created using the platforms. Customers now include Fortune 50 hotels, banks and consumer products companies. StackMob has also signed up a top 20 mobile game which makes over 3 million API calls per day.

Now available publicly, StackMob is introducing two categories of pricing, with three subcategories each. The “Starter” category, meant for smaller app makers, ranges from free to $29. Pro pricing packages, meanwhile, go from $399 to $2,999. Pro packages have access to all StackMob features, including advanced REST API creation and management, push notifications, social integration, custom code and analytics. Custom packages are also available.

Interested developers can sign up for StackMob here.



U.S. Teens Triple Data Usage

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 07:28 AM PST

mobile-by-age-01

Nielsen is reporting today that teens have more than tripled mobile data consumption and also continue to hold top spot as the most engaged mobile messaging segment.

The report states that "In the third quarter of 2011, teens age 13-17 used an average of 320 MB of data per month on their phones, increasing 256 percent over last year and growing at a rate faster than any other age group".

While this deluge of data consumption seems immense, messaging still remains the largest teen behavior in the mobile space, with the number of SMS/MMS messages reaching 3,417 per teen. Let me just say that again…3,417 texts per teen—seven messages per waking hour, according to the study. Um, WOW!

Marketers out there surely have their eye on this segment for a plethora of mobile marketing opportunities, or should. No doubt this channel is a credible and immensely important way to reach a generation that thinks texting is faster than making a phone call.

[via Nielsen Wire]



Sony Pins Its Future On Gaming

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 07:19 AM PST

ps-vita-004-19441

Sony can’t get much right these days. They’ve dissolved their partnership with Ericsson so they have no dog in the mobile fight and their Blu-Ray/3D TV push is, at best, an afterthought with consumers. Nobody wants Sony laptops, what with all the ultrabooks out there. The only thing that can save them is gaming.

The first great Sony hope is the Vita, Sony’s handheld gaming console. Designed to offer a superior gaming experience over the only other portable consoles, the Nintendo DSi and 3DS, the Vita is already selling out in Japanese pre-orders and could be next year’s hot selling gadget. None of the gaming greats except for Nintendo has progressed on the hardware front in years, so the Vita might be just the jolt Sony needs to survive.

But the Vita isn’t a sure thing, especially since Sony is hurting in multiple ways. As Reuters notes:

The videogames unit made a first profit in 5 years in the year to March, as it squeezed production costs for the Playstation 3, boosting profits for the whole company. The unit’s sales accounted for more than a tenth of Sony’s 7 trillion yen in total revenue.

This comes in conjunction with a fall in Sony stock after a major downgrade. Things couldn’t be worse. Sure, the Vita is interesting, but is it enough to pull the company out of the death spiral?

Sony played the wrong game for too long. Convinced they still had a say in the CE market, they pushed multiple technologies – Memory Stick, Blu-Ray, ATRAC – for far too long just as consumers were getting wise to their tricks. Their losing streak started when they lost the VHS/Betamax war, and there was no way they were going to sell an ATRAC-playing Walkman over an iPod.

These pointless battles distracted Sony management enough to ensure that the CE space wasn’t theirs anymore, resulting in a number of lower-priced, high-quality competitors that made Sony look like the Bose of TVs – too expensive for most people and with benefits too esoteric for many to understand.

In the end, I think Sony is done. Samsung owns the mobile space and much of the CE space. Vizio owns the low end. Gaming is still the wild card, but without a string of hits, 5 more years of profitless financial statements will not make the company much stronger.



With A Crisp $10M In His Pockets, ‘Founder’s Den’ Founder Launches Security App ‘AirCover’

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:56 AM PST

JJonFDcouch color

On his second startup out of his incubator Founder’s Den, serial entrepreneur Jason Johnson is launching the first app out of his new utility app startup BlueSprig. An app for app lovers — and those suffering from app fatigue — AirCover is a security service for both iOS and Android that basically aims to replace another eight apps on your phone.

Johnson and Founders Den co-founders Zack Bogue, Micheal Levit and Facebook co-founder Jonathan Abrams [;)]have a rule that once a Den team gets larger than six it has to leave, so the majority of Johnson’s BlueSprig team is run out of Chengdu China by Johnson’s partner Hugo Dong. And because of the China connection, Accel-IDG China has put in $10 million into the startup, because it “leverages the best resources of China and Silicon Valley.”

(Picture of the Chinese team hard at work, below.)

Available in the Android market today, BlueSprig’s AirCover covers a variety of mobile optimizing functionalities provided by standalone apps like ‘Find My Friends,’ ‘Lookout’ and ‘Find my iPhone.’ The ‘Mobile Security’ function protects your phone from malware and spyware. ‘Family Safety,’ like ‘Find My Friends,’ allows you to track family members when you enter in a pin. Like Apple’s iCloud, ‘Cloud Backup’ lets you backup contacts and photos.

AirCover’s ‘Device Found’ feature, functions similarly to Find My Phone and allows you to track your phone if lost or stolen. ‘System Tuneup ‘allows you to shut off and wipe apps all at once for better battery performance and on that note ‘Battery Performance’ gives you granular stats on battery life (phone nerds rejoice!) — like how much battery you have left if you want to talk your phone on 3G versus use the Internet on 3G.

“I wanted to create a mobile utility app that every device should have,” Johnson tells me, touting BlueSprig’s first venture, “If there’s one app you should have on your phone it’s ours.”

In addition to AirCover’s launch, BlueSprig is also releasing PC utility tools JetBoost and JetClean. When asked about future product plans, Johnson said, “I don’t want to overpromise and under deliver. I’d rather just deliver.”

AirCover is available for free with a 2GB storage limit, and Johnson plans on monetizng the app by offering a freemium version with more storage among other things. An iOS app (with a little less functionality because of iOS constraints) is also in the works. Johnson hopes to also have the app on Windows Phone 7 soon after that.

Click to view slideshow.


Hands-On With WowWee’s AppGear AR Gaming Toys

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:55 AM PST

scaledwm-4556

WowWee, not content with creating singing Elvis heads, is branching out into AppGear Appcessories – apps that require AR-based accessories, allowing you to interact with real environments using an iPhone or iPod Touch. These games, arriving in stores in April, include a zombie game where you’re the zombies fighting off upset homeowners (What a twist!) and an air battle game that actually uses tiny foam planes attached to the front of your phone to simulate flying in three-dimensional space.

The games will cost $9.99 and include various collectable parts. For example, the zombie game, Zombie Burbz, includes four collectable figurines. Of of the figurines has a set of conductive pads on the bottom and, using the iPad’s multi-touch screen, you control the action by moving the figurine across the virtual board.

All of these concepts are quite cute. Mixing AR and gaming is a tough sell but I think WowWee has gotten it mostly right. One game, for, example, allows you to build a ray gun in real life and mix and match parts, resulting in odd weapons that do different things inside the game. It’s an interesting way to connect collectables with games.

Will it succeed? Meh. Kids are notoriously fickle and these sorts of things require an investment of time and effort that many casual gamers might now have. Why install a foam airplane when you can just fire up Angry Birds. That said, it’s a start and it can only get better. And the zombie game, in which the zombies eat garbage instead of brains, is pretty funny.
Click to view slideshow.



Zoho CRM Gets A UI Makeover, Adds LinkedIn Integration

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:45 AM PST

zoho

Web-based productivity suite Zoho is revamping its CRM offering today. Zoho CRM is one of the company’s most popular application with 25,000 customers.

The most distinct differences between the new version and previous iteration is the UI. Zoho says that based on how customers were interacting with the app, workflow and screens were redesigned to streamline user interactions.

Via a new Pulse module in the app, you can now follow a particular deal, contact or account in Zoho CRM. All activity related to what you are following will be shown in a stream of updated within the CRM application. Users can also filter activity based on who made the changes and where the changes are made.

Zoho is also debuting a new LinkedIn integration, which allows users to pull information from LinkedIn about a contact, including position, company, city and more. Users can also send direct LinkedIn messages to a contact without leaving the CRM application.

Additionally, users can now use Zoho Creator to build custom apps that appear inside the CRM application and accesses data from the CRM system.

While Zoho is still behind giants like Google and Microsoft in the productivity apps space, the bootstrapped company is still 5 million users strong, and includes nearly 30 apps in its suite of offerings.



No comments: