Friday, December 16, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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2011 Gift Guide: Best Stuff For Luddites

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 09:43 AM PST

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Not everyone needs a Google Nexus. Some of you – and your friends – are happy to exist in a plane without technology, a world dedicated to quiet reflection and acoustic jamming. Here are some of our picks for the Luddites on your list this year.

There are no hand-hewn axes in this list – this is gear that will keep you living in the Hipster Age while still maintaining a connection to the past.



Field Notes Notepads – Price Varies – Sure, your Luddite friend already has an smartphone (they’re not a Neanderthal, just grumpy) but why not make his or her day with some notebooks from Field Notes. These handsome, rugged notebooks could like Moleskine in a fight and make you feel like a park ranger on the prowl. They come in multiple colors and styles and exude a sense of nostalgic utility that’s missing in the world these days.

Brooklyn Brew Shop Beermaking Kit – $40 – For years I’ve been recommending Mr. Beer as the homebrew kit of choice but experience has taught me that the best beer comes from real ingredients. These beer-making kits include a simple carboy, some grain and some hops. The instructions are easy to follow, fun, and delicious when complete.

The Faber-Castell Ambition Coconut Fountain Pen – $165 – A nice pen seems about as exciting as a pair of socks, but this is no ordinary pen. Made of repurposed coconut shells, this solid, handsome pen is just what your Luddite friend needs to pen his or her wild-eyed screed.

Forbidden Island – $14 – Who needs an Xbox when you have a few friends, a bottle of homebrew, and a a night of board gaming? Your Luddite friend will enjoy playing cooperatively with up to four other friends as you search a mysterious island for treasure. As my friend Lou once told me, “Wine and board games” is code for swinging!

Loog Guitar – $215 – Sure you can play “I Gave My Love A Cherry” on your dulcimer, but why not try playing Radiohead on a three-string Loog? The Loog is a mini-guitar designed for kids that is great for adults, as well. A simple, barre tuning makes it a breeze to play and it’s surprisingly loud for its size.

For some extra inspiration on all things gifty, check out the rest of our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide here.



Google Doodles Come To Shirts, Mugs & Stickers Via Google’s New Zazzle Store

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 09:43 AM PST

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Can’t get enough Google Doodles? Apparently, there’s a big demand for the iconic redesigns of the Google logo which celebrate holidays, historic events and famous people, places and things. Today, Google has given its online Doodles archive a makeover and has launched an accompanying Zazzle store, allowing you to buy your favorite Doodle emblazoned on the product of your choice.

Zazzle, as you probably know, is the print-on-demand marketplace that lets users upload their own artwork in order to sell custom products like t-shirts, hoodies, coffee cups, stickers, posters, and a wide array of home and office goods.

The new Google Zazzle store (that’s fun to say) now features hundreds of Google Doodles, organized by year, going all the way back to 2000.

In addition, the Google Doodle online archive, which once only featured static images, now includes more interactive Doodles, allowing you to do things like “enjoy front-row tickets to a Martha Graham dance, send the first man to space or learn more about why one doodler decided to ‘cartoonize’ Mary Blair,” explains Googler Ying Wang on the company’s blog.

Unfortunately, the animations are only available for select Doodles. Clicking through to others, it’s apparent that many are still just regular images. But the site’s makeover did bring the refreshed Google look-and-feel as well as new filters at the top that let you search Doodles by year and country.

You can check out the new Google Doodle site here.



Greenville’s New TechStars Network Member “The Next Big Thing” Now Open For Applications

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 09:13 AM PST

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Today, another TechStars Network accelerator comes online. Greenville, South Carolina’s “The Next Big Thing,” as it’s called, has been running in stealth mode since its founding in February 2011. But now, the incubator is ready for submissions. Companies can apply for the program starting today up until the window’s closing on April 20th.

The Next Big Thing’s initial program will begin in summer 2012, culminating in a Demo Day in September.

Like all TechStars Network affiliates, The Next Big Thing will provide those granted admission with support and capital to help get their startups off the ground. In this case, companies receive office space, mentorship, free legal and accounting work and $18,000 per team in seed funding. They will also receive around $75,000 in freebies and discounts from partners. In exchange, The Next Big Thing takes the typical 6% stake in each startup it invests in.

The accelerator has lined up some significant mentors to kick off its launch, including Brad FeldBo FishbackRyan CarsonHiten ShahEric MarcoullierLloyd Taylor and many others.

In addition to its own startups, the accelerator also invests in other startups, usually graduates of similar accelerator program. Currently, it has invested in FullContact (TechStars Boulder 2011) and is closing on two investments from TechStars NY.

The unique thing about this incubator is that it’s also hiring five designers skilled in one or more of the following: IA/UX, identity design, illustration, graphic/print design, HTML, CSS, Javascript/JQuery, video production and animation. The designers will be employed by the The Next Big Thing but will work with the teams individually. They will also be encouraged to join the program’s startups or launch their own, says TNBT Managing Director Peter Barth.

Barth, an alumnus of Vanderbilt University, where he studied computer engineering, spent a couple of years on Wall St. as a registered options principal and general securities principal at Duke & Company and Morgan Stanley. But he soon realized that he really was a hacker at heart and he moved away to Indianapolis, taking a development position with SinglePoint. He worked his way up to CTO then purchased a stake in the business. In 2006, he relocated to Greenville and has been involved with the development of NEXT, the NEXT Innovation Center, InternGreenville, and now, The Next Big Thing. Other members of TNBT’s advisory board are detailed here.

Interested startups can now apply for The Next Big Thing here.



Kinek Goes Mobile: Lets Online Shoppers Pick Up At Local Stores

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 08:26 AM PST

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Doing some online shopping but don’t want the package shipped to your house? Maybe you won’t be home, or worry about packages left on your doorstep. Or maybe the package is a gift for someone in your household? Here’s a cool idea: pick up your online orders at a local store instead. That’s the premise of the young startup called Kinek, which has partnered with a number of brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S. and Canada to serve as “KinekPoints” – secure locations where you can pick up your deliveries.

Now, the company is releasing its first iPhone application, allowing you to find nearby KinekPoints, check their hours, get directions, track packages and receive push notifications when the package has arrived.

For consumers, there’s no monthly or sign-up fee to use Kinek, but there’s sometimes a small per-package fee applied by the individual KinekPoint location. The high range for the fee isn’t too bad – usually around $5 for a regular-sized package. Some retailers don’t charge a fee at all, though, because they benefit from the foot traffic that comes from being a KinekPoint. However, all retailers have to pay to be a KinekPoint partner on a per-parcel basis.

Currently, Kinek has partnered with brick-and-mortar retailers including MedfastStorage-mart, Pharmasave, and DoItBest (the latter two in select locations only, not the entire chain). It has also partnered with online retailers Sierra Trading Post and Monoprice to provide online shoppers with an alternative shipping address when the company doesn’t ship to their home.

The company now has over a thousand locations across 42 U.S. states and nearly all Canadian provinces. KinekPoints are most popular in major metro areas like San Francisco (73), Los Angeles (59), Chicago (32), San Diego (30), Kansas City (28), Atlanta (27), Miami (27), Toronto (24), Dallas (23), Washington D.C. (23), New York (22), Philadelphia (14),  Seattle (13), Orlando (12) and Montreal (10). But it has really taken off in rural areas along the U.S./Canadian border, as it offers Canadians a way to avoid international shipping and handling fees. They just have the package sent to their favorite KinekPoint address, then drive across the border to pick it up.

The iPhone app serves as a great complement to this handy service, especially because it provides mobile access to package tracking and push notifications. You can choose to have messages sent to you via SMS and email, too, if you prefer.

Kinek launched in December 2009, and was started by CEO Dr. Kerry McLellan, Ph.D., who is also CEO of Applepeak Inc. and owner of Clean Earth Ltd. He previously was COO of 724 solutions from 1998-2000. Kinek is personally funded by McLellan, but is in talks with investors at this time.

The idea for the startup clearly has merit – after all, Amazon is doing the same thing. The Internet retailer has been testing a “delivery locker” system at select 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. in recent months where the convenience store serves as sort of a 24/7 post office for Amazon order pick-ups.

You can grab the new Kinek for iPhone here.



Zynga Shares Pop 10 Percent To $11 On First Trade, Valued At $7.7 Billion

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 08:07 AM PST

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Zynga has finally hit the public markets today, marking the largest technology IPO since Google. Yesterday, the social gaming giant priced its IPO at $10 a share, which was on the higher end of the $8.50 to $10 price range the company indicated a few weeks ago. At $10 per share Zynga would be valued at around $7 billion. Zynga offered 100,000,000 shares of Class A common stock in the offering, raising $1 billion. Zynga, which began trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol ‘ZNGA,' saw shares pop 10 percent on its opening trade of $11, giving the company a $7.7 billion valuation.

This morning founder and CEO Mark Pincus along with the company management team, board member and Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon, and Pincus’ wife Alison Pincus, rang the opening bell remotely from Zynga headquarters in San Francisco. In early trading, Zynga shares dropped below the offer price of $10 per share.

Founded in 2007, Zynga has quickly grown to a social gaming behemoth on Facebook. As of this past week, Zynga had the top five games on Facebook. Mobile is also growing fast for the company.

Of course, the company’s path to IPO hasn’t been smooth. There have been reports of an intense company culture (and subsequent talent drain), a contentious relationship with Facebook around revenue share, virtual goods business, traffic declines and a few ugly lawsuits.

Venture Beat’s Dean Takahashi does an excellent job capturing Zynga’s history here.

As we reported a few weeks ago, Zynga’s Q3 revenue came in at $306.8 million for the quarter, which is up 80 percent from Q3 2010. Net income was $12.5 million, down 50 percent from the third quarter 2010 ($27.2 million). But revenue only grew 10 percent from the second quarter, compared to and 15 percent increase from Q1 to Q2. We’ll see how Zynga’s Q4 financials play out next year. Certainly, investors and Wall Street will be looking for traffic and revenue to increase quarter over quarter.

Zynga’s valutaion at pricing was about half of where early reports were speculating it would be, but Zynga lowered the price in the face of the tepid performance of other tech IPOs lately and general economic concerns weighing down the stock market.

In the offering, CEO Pincus won’t be selling any shares, but investors Kleiner Perkins, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry, DST, Avalon, Google, SilverLake, Tiger Global and others will be selling.

Zynga’s board members include Pincus, COO John Schappert, Gordon, Reid Hoffman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Stanley J. Meresman, Sunil Paul and Owen Van Natta.

As with all the major technology IPOs that have debuted over the past year, including LinkedIn, Groupon, Pandora and others, shares soar in value in the first few days of trading and eventually level off or even drop. We’ll see how Zynga fares in the coming week.



Giftiki Takes Social Gifting Platform Mobile With iOS App

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

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Collaborative gifting startup Giftiki is its first mobile presence with a new iPhone App. Giftiki lets users send small amounts of money as gifts, allowing recipients join a pool in order to give their friends the perfect gift. And Giftiki leverages social ties and game mechanics to get users to contribute to the gifting process and add more money to the pool.

Giftiki users can sign in via Facebook, which will automatically pull in friends and their birthdays. Givers choose a friend and decide on an amount to give. Giftiki now allows users to invite their friends to gift a specific individual. After selecting an amount to gift, wrapping, and sending a Giftiki, a pop up window will appear that shows the giver what friends they have in common with the individual they just gifted. Users can then choose friends and write a personal message that invites them to join and chip in. This message posts to Facebook allowing more people spread the love.

Other friends can throw in additional money, which the gift receiver can redeem with an AMEX gift card, on Amazon.com or with a gift card for select retailers, including: Macy's, Starbucks, The Sport's Authority and The Cheesecake Factory.

The iPhone all will deliver you instant birthday notifications for your friends, a birthday newsfeed of gifts sent and received, and allows users to set a reminder to send gifts on a recipient's special day. In addition, Apple push notifications alert users each time someone sends them a gift.

A mobile component makes a lot of sense for Giftiki, and allows users to send gifts from everywhere, on the go.

Giftiki recently raised just under $1 million in Series A financing, led by investor Tim Draper and including VC firms Crosslink Capital, GoldHill Capital and Transmedia Capital.



TokyoFlash On Air Touchscreen Watch: For The Space Robot In Your Life

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 07:34 AM PST

Another day, another Tokyoflash watch. This one, the On Air, has an LCD screen with backlight and you tell time by reading the numerical minutes read-out as it rotates around in place of the hour hand. It is, to be fair, pretty darn ingenious.

The watch is another fan submission created by skender Asanaliev & Adilet Asanaliev, from Kyrgyzstan. Tokyoflash liked the idea so much that they actually designed and built the working watch.

A multi-functional watch design, Kisai On Air features touch screen technology and displays the time and date. It also has an alarm mode and animation.

The touch screen display has four hot-zones (top, bottom, left, right) which you can simply touch with your finger to change mode; time, date, alarm, light up.

Holding your finger in place for a few seconds allows you to customise; hold your finger over the alarm zone to set the alarm, hold it over the time zone to set the time. It’s intuitive, simple and fun to operate.

It’s available now and costs $179.

Product Page



Curate Your Own Digital Magazine With Scoop.it For iPhone

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 07:03 AM PST

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News curation startup Scoop.it has arrived on the iPhone today, allowing you to create your own digital magazine while on the go. The app, which works alongside the Scoop.it web service, essentially lets anyone be a publisher for any topic. Or perhaps, the more correct word is not “publisher,” it’s “aggregator.”

Scoop.it “publishers” aren’t always writing and producing their own content, although that is an option. But Scoop.it’s main focus is on its content aggregation tools. Publishers select the best content from around the web and then publish it in a magazine-like format that looks similar to something created by Pressly or OnSwipe. Previously, this curation process was done either through a browser bookmarklet, by accepting content submission from others, or by accepting a post suggested by Scoop.it’s own recommendation engine. Now, with the new iPhone app, curation can be done from your mobile, too.

Using the app, Scoop.it users can select, edit and publish posts, review suggestions and share to their connected Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts.

The app is a handy companion for Scoop.it itself, but only for those who already have their magazine up-and-running. You have to first set up your magazine’s topics via the web – you can’t begin the process using the app. That’s a shame since, for many people, the first time they’ll ever encounter Scoop.it is via the App Store.

News aggregation can be a touchy topic – is it right to re-publish others’ work and brand it as your own, even if you’re sending the sites traffic? Some would say no. But aggregation has proved a successful business model in many cases, and the human-assisted curation that accompanies it, such as what’s provided by Techmeme for example, makes curation a form of content creation itself. Who’s to say that Scoop.it couldn’t form the basis of a thousand tiny, niche Techmeme’s in the future?

Scoop.it is currently a freemium service. Individuals can publish up to 5 topics per account, but have to use Scoop.it’s own branding. Business accounts offer more topics and features, including domain hosting and analytics for $79/month.

The Scoop.it iPhone app is here.



Snag This Glowing Apple iPhone 4 Mod Before Apple’s Lawyers Do!

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:51 AM PST

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Set the rear-facing Apple logo aglow with this simple mod. Per the video demo below, it only takes 5 minutes to install and seems relatively simple. Just pop off the back cover of the iPhone, remove 5 internal screws, disconnect the screen’s cable and install the mod. From there, you’re a hop, skip and jump from having a glowing Apple logo every time the iPhone’s screen kicks on or displays a notification.

But there’s a catch. The retailer knows it won’t be able to sell this thing forever. Apple will no doubt release its legal hounds as soon as it catches wind of the unofficial mod. K.O Store is currently selling the kit for $42, but only for a limited time. Per a countdown timer on the website, the kit will go into hiding in just over two days from now unless of course Apple gets to it first. So? Do you want it or not?

The retailer states that it will take 14 days to ship the kit and the new back panel doesn’t change the iPhone’s dimensions. It will still work with standard cases and bumpers. Buyers also have the option of opting for the traditional Apple logo or the Steve Jobs Tribute logo designed by Jonathan Mak. But with either logo and a little work, you’ll end up with a very unique iPhone. Just don’t wait. Order it while it’s still available. [K.O Store via M.I.C Gadgets]

Update @ 10:30 am: Looks like we crashed the store or Apple retaliated with an orbital bombardment.



Cloth Lets You Store Your “Outfits” In Your “Phone”

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:47 AM PST

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If you are a “female” you apparently choose clothing in the form of “outfits,” a sort of ritualized selection process that allows you to look “good” in a different set of clothes each day. While I subscribe to Thoreau’s maxim – “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and, incidentally, when your neighbors come over to your place on Walden and catch a whiff of you, you’ll be even more alone” – it is my understanding that some “ladies” like to change their “clothes” daily and they often need help facilitating this process.

But what is a lady to do if she cannot remember what outfits she has worn in the past month? Cry? Yell at the barista? No. She uses Cloth.

Cloth is an iOS app that lets you store outfits. You can make multiple outfit folders for different events (weddings, work, mall openings), ensuring you never wear the same outfit twice. You can also create ensembles based on various themes, including Holiday, Blood-letting, and Book Signing.

You can share outfits with friends or send your outfits to the main Cloth site so the entire world can see how you look (which, I suspect, is the real point here, let’s be honest). The app also includes badges and awards for sharing your outfits.

It’s available now and costs $1.99. But, as they say on the TV, you’re worth it.

Former TC writer Seth Porges created the app with his model/fashionista/technologist girlfriend Wray Serna. Both Porges and Serna are very well-dressed so I can only assume this will help you be like them. Considering my “outfit” today consists of shorts, flip-flops, and a Goonies baseball jersey, I suspect I could use their assistance.



New “Android Training” Program Helps Developers Make Better Apps

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:06 AM PST

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Listen up, Android developers: if you’re spinning your wheels on a particular project, or are just looking for some new best practices, Google’s Android team may have exactly what you need.

The team has just recently rolled out a new beta initiative called Android Training, which as you may be able to tell from the name, is meant to teach developers how to create better apps.

The new (and free!) program spans a number of topics, from monetizing an app to optimizing a device’s battery life to developing apps for an enterprise. The list goes on, and each “class” goes into pretty considerable depth, so there’s plenty of meat for developers to dig into. To wit: developers looking to up their game can pore over the program’s many articles, tutorials, and sample code snippets for just the inspiration they need to make their new (or existing) app a winner.

It’s still early days for Android Training, and the team hopes to expand the program’s scope to include new topics and courses over the next few months. In the meantime though, developers can jump into the program now to see what they could be doing better.



The Echo Nest To Power New Spotify Radio (Which Begins Rolling Out Today)

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:00 AM PST

Spotify

For a long time now, Spotify has had its own Radio experience, but, to be honest, it hasn’t been very good. Then, last week, the Swedish-turned-America music service announced that it was redesigning its radio experience from the ground up, offering unlimited stations and unlimited “skips”. And it’s no mistake that, during his presentation of the new Spotify Radio, CEO Daniel Ek happened to compare his app to Pandora.

Since its IPO, Pandora has been on a kick, but Spotify is doing everything it can to continue nipping at its heels and has added 7 million new users since integrating with Facebook at f8.

At the end of November, Spotify hosted its first big American event, announcing a “new direction” for the service. A big part of this is Spotify’s new platform for third party developers, who are now able to integrate Spotify’s massive collection of music into their own apps.

And today, Spotify will begin officially rolling out “Radio” to its users on top of its new app platform. But, what Spotify hasn’t been talking about until today is what kind of technology is powering its awesome redesigned Radio functionality.

Enter: The Echo Nest, a music intelligence startup whose technology powers many music apps from media companies and independent developers. The Echo Nest is now providing its music intelligence technology to power intelligent radio and radio playlisting within the new Spotify Radio app as it rolls out today across the country.

Given The Echo Nest’s relationship with app developers and record labels (it recently partnered with EMI to open its catalog to app developers), this relationship makes a lot of sense. The Echo Nest will now essentially be powering Spotify Radio, allowing users to create personalized radio stations based around songs or artists in Spotify’s roster of over 15 million tracks.

Partnering with The Echo Nest allows Spotify to enable users to build playlists dynamically around any song or artist for a far deeper radio experience than Spotify has offered previously. As The Echo Nest has one of the more sophisticated playlist engines out there, combining this playlist intelligence with Spotify’s huge catalog and deep social integration should definitely give Pandora pause.

Users will be able to find Spotify Radio located within Spotify Apps, which will now be available to users of its free service as well as Unlimited and Premium Subscription users.

For more, check out Spotify at home here or The Echo Nest at home here.



Samsung Releases Extended Battery Bundle (With Cover) For Your New Galaxy Nexus

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 05:42 AM PST

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The Galaxy Nexus is a beautiful phone, no doubt about it. That gorgeous 4.65-inch Super AMOLED Plus display paired with LTE support and a fresh build of ICS thrown in there for good measure is about as good as it gets. But the same things that make this phone great — its massive screen and LTE radio — are also the things that will leave you screaming at it at 4p.m. on a Thursday, when it’s completely dead.

But Samsung has prepared for this, launching an extended battery pack/cover bundle specifically for the Galaxy Nexus. It includes a Lithium Ion Extended Battery Cover, which is meant to offer extra coverage for your battery. A 2100 mAh extended battery is also included in the bundle.

Getting a battery life solution out to the masses early is a smart move by Samsung. Some of the biggest complaints about phones these days tend to revolve around battery life, especially when LTE is in the mix. The bundle costs $49.99 and is available now.



EA Releases The Sims FreePlay For The iPhones And iPad

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 05:24 AM PST

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Get ready to set your house on fire! The Sims are back and are awaiting their invisible leader — you. Players have full control over a number of Sim characters just like The Sims of old. As the omnipotent creator, gamers have the ability to cause Sims to fall in love, live their life and watch them go to the bathroom. For free! No word on a naked cheat code, though.

The FreePlay app allows for 16 different Sims with 1,200 customization options for their domicile including a select number of pets. With The Sims FreePlay, EA is slowly expanding its mobile portfolio by dipping into its library of blockbuster hits.

"The Sims FreePlay app is a huge step forward in our mobile strategy," said Bernard Kim, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for EA Interactive stated in a released statement. "We've taken a franchise that is a best-selling brand in nearly every major video game market worldwide, optimized it for iPad and made it free for all iOS users. That opens the door for our mobile business to continue to grow while immersing new fans in a brand as wildly popular as The Sims."

The Sims FreePlay is currently in the App Store and available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.



Now At 1.4M Members, Fab.com Turns Up The Social With A ‘Live Feed’

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 05:20 AM PST

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Exclusive - Fab.com, the ridiculously fast growing e-commerce startup, is launching a new social shopping feature today that lets members view and interact with any activity on the design flash sales site in real-time.

Dubbed the ‘live feed’ and reminiscent of Facebook’s early iterations of what is now the News Feed, it captures what users are purchasing, sharing, commenting on etc.

The live feed adds a powerful social component to the e-commerce activity happening on Fab.com.

Importantly, while all activity on the site is shared with anyone visiting the live feed, users have the possibility to conceal their usernames when they buy or favorite something on the site. All people need to do to appear anonymously as “a Fab user” is flick a virtual switch on the top right.

Fab.com founder and CEO Jason Goldberg tells me social activity is mighty important to the company; more than 50 percent of its now 1.4 million strong registered user base were introduced to the site by people sharing items for sale at Fab on social networks.

You’ll notice that the feed refreshes constantly. No wonder, if you consider that Fab.com has attracted close to 1.5 million members and sold over 600,000 items in just six months.

Goldberg tells me that the partners of Andreessen Horowitz, the VC firm that recently led a $40 million funding round for the company, have never seen an e-commerce site grow this fast.

At present, Fab’s annual revenue run rate is roughly $70 million. Again, in just six months.

The company employed 3 people in New York City back in February 2011, and now 90 (and 130 in total worldwide). The company just nabbed a former Etsy VP as COO, too.

Finally, make sure you DO NOT MISS Goldberg’s blog post about the recent fundraising bonanza.



2011 In Tech: A Year Of Great Losses

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 04:03 AM PST

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I don’t know much about A. Sachs, save for this one, memorable quotation attributed to the man: “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives”.

Indeed, the percentage of people essentially living on borrowed time is carved in stone (a hundred percent) while it’s anyone guess what the percentage of people on the planet is who are ‘truly living’ – and even then everyone has their own definition as to what that constitutes.

As we approach the end of 2011, at least according to the Gregorian calendar, I thought it would be good to take some time to commemorate some people who’ve passed away this year, but have lived enough to make an impact on the tech industry – and more broadly, the world – before they did.

Obviously, it’s impossible to list every person in the tech industry who’s made his or her mark and passed away this year, but if you think there are glaring omissions, please let us know.

Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011)

What is left to be said about this brilliant innovator, this pure trailblazer, who has managed to both spark and transform entire industries during his lifetime? Not everything the man touched turned to gold, but he will long be remembered as one of the greatest inventors of our time, and then some.

Jobs’s renowned attention to detail, business talents, ability to focus and relentless drive should and will serve as inspiration for many generations of entrepreneurs to come.

Dennis Ritchie (September 9, 1941 – October 12, 2011)

What would all of us be doing if it weren’t for esteemed computer scientist dmr, responsible for the creation of the C programming language and co-invention of the UNIX operating system?

After his death, computer historian Paul Ceruzzi said it best in my opinion: “Ritchie was under the radar. His name was not a household name at all, but… if you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you’d see his work everywhere inside.”

Bob Galvin (October 9, 1922 – October 11, 2011)

The son of the founder of Motorola, Paul Galvin, Robert William “Bob” Galvin served as the visionary CEO of the company from 1959 to 1986. Under Galvin, Motorola essentially led the creation of the global cellular telephone industry.

Under his guidance, Motorola also became a global leader in semiconductor, paging, two-way radio, space and military communication, and automotive embedded control technologies.

John McCarthy (September 4, 1927 – October 24, 2011)

McCarthy created the Lisp programming language and is arguably the father of modern artificial intelligence (AI), a term he coined no less. He said he came up with Lisp to create Turing machines in the limited computing environment at his disposal.

John McCarthy was an esteemed computer scientist and Stanford professor until his retirement at the end of 2000.

Robert Morris (July 25, 1932 – June 26, 2011)

A cryptographer and computer scientist, Morris is widely considered a pioneer in computer security. Morris was a researcher at Bell Laboratories from 1960 until 1986, where he worked on Multics and later the UNIX operating system.

Morris’s contributions to early versions of UNIX include the math library, the bc programming language, the program ‘crypt’, and the password encryption scheme used for user authentication.

He was once quoted as saying: “The three golden rules to ensure computer security are: do not own a computer; do not power it on; and do not use it”.

Ilya Zhitomirskiy (October 12, 1989 – November 12, 2011)

A Russian-American software developer, Zhitomirskiy was a co-founder and developer of the open-source social network Diaspora.

He didn’t have the time to change the world like the other people mentioned in this post have, but his death, at age 22, was a big shock to the tech community at large all the same.

Paul Baran (April 1926 – March 2011)

A Polish-American engineer who pioneered the development of computer networks by inventing packet switching techniques, Baran helped lay the technical groundwork for the Arpanet.

An accomplished entrepreneur, he founded several companies and developed technologies that today form an essential part of the Internet and other modern digital communication.

In 1968, Baran was a founder of the Institute for the Future. He is also credited with inventing the first metal detector, a doorway gun detector.

Other notable people in tech that the world has lost in 2011:

Max Mathews – “The father of computer music” (November 1926 – April 2011)

Julius Blank – A mechanical engineer who co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation (June 1925 – September 2011)

Jean Jennings Bartik – One of the world’s first women to work in the computing industry, she co-programmed the ENIAC computer (December 1924 – March 2011)

Norio Ohga – Senior advisor and former president and chairman, Sony (January 1930 – April 2011)

John R. Opel – Served as the president, CEO and chairman of IBM, overseeing the company's move into personal computers (January 1925 – November 2011)

Michael S. Hart – Invented e-books, founded Project Gutenberg (March 1947 – September 2011)

Daniel McCracken – Computer scientist and author of over two dozen textbooks on computer programming, including ‘A Guide to Fortran Programming’ (July 1930 – July 2011)

Kenneth Olsen – Visionary inventor who co-founded and led minicomputer giant Digital Equipment Corporation, better known as DEC (February 1926 — February 2011)

Patricia Dunn – Former chairman of Hewlett-Packard (March 1953 – December 2011)

Steve Lacey – Entrepreneur and software engineer who worked for Microsoft (Flight Simulator!), Facebook and, most recently, Google. (birth date unknown to me – July 2011)

Rest in peace, all, and thanks for giving the rest of us shoulders to stand on.

(Top image credit goes to Flickr user Orin Zebest)



iTunes-Only, $15 Special Edition Of AVATAR Lets You ‘Deconstruct Scenes’

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 03:21 AM PST

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Starting next Tuesday, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lightstorm Entertainment will be selling a special edition of blockbuster movie AVATAR with nifty behind-the-scenes features and content exclusively on iTunes, in standard definition, for $14.99 (or $19.99 for the HD version).

Available for pre-order now, the special digital edition of the movie lets people ‘deconstruct scenes’ in simultaneous views to, basically, see how director James Cameron applied special effects throughout the science-fiction flick while you’re watching.

From the press release:

“This new feature will also enable consumers to interact with the performance capture and visual effects levels in 17 of the film's scenes. For the first time ever, Green Screen X-ray gives users an interactive look through the visual effects levels to see the original green screen footage behind a pivotal scene.”

Check out the video below to check out what it, well, looks like.

"AVATAR iTunes Extras Special Edition" also includes an original screenplay by Cameron, his ‘scriptment’ (a novella with some scenes broken out into dialogue) and a gallery of 1,700 images.

AVATAR is the highest-grossing film of all time, generating nearly $2.8 billion in worldwide box office.



Daily Crunch: Automatic

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:00 AM PST

Fotopedia Shifts From iPad Books To Photozine With “Wild Friends” App

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 11:03 PM PST

Fotopedia Wild Friends New Visual Stories

Digital media is just more compelling when it is updated on a regular basis. That is what keeps people coming back. It’s as true for blogs as it is for apps. Fotopedia has built a nice little franchise putting out digital photo books re-imagined for the iPad. After 9 apps and 6.2 million downloads, with 1.4 million active users and 100 million pageviews a month, it is taking a more magazine-liek apporach with its latest iPad app, “Wild Friends.”.

Instead of a relatively static set of highly-curated pictures around a single topic, you get a highly-curated set of pictures that changes every day. And each photo now has a narrative caption written by the photographer. Fotopedia started experimenting with this more magazine-like approach in September with its HTML5 website and integration into Flipboard. You can see what the “Wild Friends” magazine looks like on the web also.

By focusing on one topic area per photozine (animals, Japan, national parks), Fotopedia hopes to attract advertisers with rich magazine-like ads.

Delivering fresh content every day should give users a reason to visit more than 2.4 times per month (wich is the average). Fotopedia will eventually convert all of its existing apps into the magazine format as well, and soon will add Facebook Graph integration, which will allow readers who opt in to show every page they are browsing in their Facebook Tickers.



Want A Piece Of Founders Fund’s Latest $625M Fund? Start By Trying To Change The World

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 07:38 PM PST

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Some call them wackaloons, others visionaries, however any way you slice them the Founders Fund – consisting of Partners Peter ThielLuke NosekBrian SingermanDerik PridmoreLauren GrossBruce GibneySean ParkerToby Prosky and others — is definitely an unconventional lot.

There is a well-worn saying that the only difference between a crazy person and an eccentric is money. Well, perhaps as a clue as the where the VC industry as a whole is going, Founders Fund just received $625 million (a IV fund larger than all its other funds combined) in order to invest what it holds to be world-changing ideas.

Maybe when you examine that philosophy closely, it’s not that unconventional. Partner Bruce Gibney tells me that Founders Fund basically adheres to the old VC model of “You can make a tremendous amount of money on companies that can solve difficult and important problems, and create durable value.” Gibney holds that only issue is the definition of what constitutes these companies changes over time.

Gibney tells me that the fund intends to create enormous value independent of market conditions, not just dropping cash into a company because Google needs a product or there’s an S-1 bubble.

People are too focused on readily graphable metrics according to Gibney, “The acme of this was a year ago, when you polled people who invested in Groupon, many of them had strong opinions what would happened a year from now, but no opinion about where the company would be in 10 years,” he says. “People have become so focused on near-term metrics, that they don't consider the long-term prospects for the business.”

Refusing to think ten years ahead because you’re too worried about having a short-term success — essentially optimizing your resume for three years from now — can be disastrous to a VC portfolio. Gibney thinks VCs are more diligent when there’s skin in the game — “When .2% of fund is out-of-pocket, a VC invests with much less seriousness than when its 10% percent.” For the record, Founders Fund’s newest fund is 20% out-of-pocket.

“If you walked up and down Sand Hill Road with a basket of securities, and the business plans not logos, of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Genetich, synthetized insulin, and a basket of derivative follow on consumer Internet stocks, and you asked people on Sandhill Road which basket you'd like to choose  … the depressing answer is that they'd take from the second basket.”

Sure the value proposition of big-idea Founders Funded companies like SpaceX, Palantir, and Genentech takes intellectual effort to understand. The problem no longer is “Can we get distribution?” But rather, “Does it work?”

When asked what kinds of companies the new $625M fund is likely to finance, Gibney asserted that Founders Fund wasn’t necessarily against consumer Internet companies despite its outspokenness, “The consumer internet of our time is consumer internet, but it will look like nothing that came before,” he said. “It is ludicrous to think that one of the most powerful technologies that we've ever created is tapped out after 15 years. It might be fashionable to say so, but it's not true.”

Healthcare and AI were also on Gibney’s wishlist, as were “industries that have been practiced for generations as art, yet now we have enough information to practice them as a science.”

“The complexity of the problems we face as a species may exceed our ability to solve them,” Gibney said, urging entreprenuers and VCs to shoot for the difficult problems. “We know a lot of problems, and a lot of people who can solve them. It’s a great time to be in VC but that's not how people are behaving,” he says.

“Groupon is the acme or nadir of this phenomenon,” Gibney emphasized, bringing up the fact that out of $15 billion of venture capital expenditure last year,  one billion went into Groupon, “[This suggests] Groupon either is the best idea ever, –which may be true — or people don’t really know where to put that money.”



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