- The Way Things Work
- Virgin Galactic Hits Milestone As Commercial Space Travel Rockets Toward Reality
- Notes From The Ebook Trenches
- Aidin Finds $600K From General Catalyst & More For A Yelp For Continuing Care
- #FailedTechBands Is Funnier Than Most Hashtags, Shows Genius Of Twitter Personalized Trends
- Yahoo’s Mobile Sales Head Joins Ad Startup Drawbridge
- Fritz Lanman’s ‘Livestar’ Launching Soon, To Fill The Gap Between Foursquare And Yelp
- From The Archives: Watch Yammer’s First Public Demo And Launch At TC50
- Zynga And CBS Are Working To Bring Draw Something To Primetime TV
- EBook Revenues Beat Hardcovers For The First Time
- Hardware Accessory Maker PCH International Acquires Design-Centric Lime Lab
- TechCrunch Giveaway: One Free Ticket To Disrupt SF #TCDisrupt
- Top Facebook Exec Bret Taylor Leaving To Do His Own Thing, More Departures Could Follow
- Driving Loyalty: Offers Provider Bloomspot Reports 72% Customer Repeat Rate
- Exit Interview: Nitin Bhatia On Sharepoint, Yammer, Leaving Microsoft And Joining NextDocs
- Report: Google’s Chromebooks Account For Less Than .02% Of All Desktop Traffic
- Cartoonist’s Lawyer Responds To FunnyJunk: The Oatmeal Will Not Cave
- Hitwise: Google US Search Share Down 5% In The Last Year; Bing, Yahoo Gained
- YouTube Launches Auto-Captions In Spanish
- Newly Published Samsung Patent Points To A Stylus You Can Talk To
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 09:00 AM PDT
Magic, they call it. And indeed we may add an appendix to that old saw: any sufficiently advanced, or sufficiently obscure, technology is indistinguishable from magic.
You must know the story of the Mechanical Turk. How princes and tradesmen were amazed by this ingenious device’s ability to play chess intelligently. In an age of steam and brass hinges! Yet at the time thousands were fooled. Had they known a bit more about machines, they might have realized it was not just improbable, but impossible.
The Mechanical Turks of our day aren’t designed for entertainment, but to be bought and used, yet a similar goes into preventing the secrets of their operation from being questioned. In fact, we are already at a time where it is more or less impossible for one person to understand or question them. Apple may be ahead of the curve on this trend, but while it appears they’ve been leading the industry by the nose, they in turn are being led by the inexorable forward motion of technology. Open hardware advocates fight the good fight, and they fight it valiantly, but defeat is inevitable.
And what would victory be, exactly? A laptop you can repair in the comfort of your home? Sounds good, to be sure — but how deep does that capability really go? If your hard drive breaks or your RAM is corrupted, will you pull out a magnifying glass and correct the faulty sectors with your electron drill? Adjust the drive head in your billion-dollar repair toolshop out back? No, you’ll order a new drive, new RAM, a new screen.
RAM used to be pieces too, you know. In an excellent (so far) book about the origins of the computer, Turing’s Cathedral, the mechanical nature of early computing machines is presented for your humble contemplation. ENIAC, for instance, had 17,468 vacuum tubes, 1500 relays, and 500,000 hand-soldered joints. Operation was complicated, but mechanical: if you weren’t careful, you might get your finger caught in the RAM. If something broke, you needed a wrench. Now a stored bit takes up so little space that if it gets much smaller it will cease to be governed by Newtonian physics.
This is the real problem. Technology actually is approaching the magic point. You want to know how your laptop works. You can’t know. Even the people who made it don’t know. Apple has to call up LG or Sharp when it wants a high-density display. LG has to call Samsung when they want MLC flash storage. Samsung has to call NVIDIA when they want graphics cores. NVIDIA has to call ARM to make SoC architecture. Vertical integration is a thing of the past because no company can do it all. It took Intel five years and billions of dollars to develop just the processor your laptop runs today. The whole system is the culmination of a century of work by geniuses and specialists. Control over your hardware is the flimsiest of illusions. You only understand the snow frosting the top of the iceberg, and even then all you can do to fix it is pay for more.
But that’s a bit of an academic (and existential) appraisal of the subject. Realistically speaking, there are better and poorer ways of creating a laptop, ways that enable such a device to last for five years instead of two, or to enable upgrades that cost a few hundred rather than a thousand dollars. The new Macs are, by some standards, the worst yet made.
Even this is on its way out, though. Integration and portability are the word now, not modularity, at least for the vast majority of users. Mobiles and tablets use SoC architecture that unifies logic, graphics, sound, and other functions all under the same chip for reasons of compatibility and power savings. I’ve assembled my own PCs for years, and I expect I’ll probably assemble one or two more, but even now it’s anachronistic, at least at the consumer level. Modular and open hardware (such as it is) will continue to exist, but as before they will only funnel into more usable, closed systems.
We’ve made this surrender many times. We surrendered control of our government to representatives because it’s better to have a few (ostensibly) informed individuals whose (nominal) duty it is to govern on our behalf. We surrendered control over our cars decades ago with electronically controlled fuel injection and timings, with parts we couldn’t fix or even reach, because it improves mileage and reliability. We surrendered control over the way we interact when we decided we’d use Facebook and text messages, because it’s convenient and fun. Each time we make a little bargain: we control less and we get more. Is anyone surprised it’s happening again?
We should certainly be able to do what we want after the fact. We can impeach our representatives, tweak our timings, and use Facebook to organize anti-Facebook rallies. And we can and should run our own programs, our own operating systems, do what we will with the platform we’ve bought.
The biggest threat is not to hardware, which has in truth been beyond the comprehension of users for decades, but to what we are allowed to do with it. Apple can solder their RAM and seal it with custom screws all they want. They are only creating the medium and in this case, the medium is not the message. Their computers are more locked down than others, but we mustn’t underestimate how locked down the others already were.
More troubling is the deeper marriage we are seeing between hardware and software. How many OS X and iOS-specific functions do you think lie beneath the placid mask of the A5 processor? How long before locked bootloaders and UEFI and intelligent cables prevent you from installing a new OS or streaming from non-approved sources?
For that matter, with virtualization of services and externalization of storage, how many steps are we adding between ourselves and the things we use? Running the software we want, even if it was on hardware we don’t understand, was one of our last strongholds. And now “our” software is running on other people’s hardware, people who give it to you for free and in return we… what, exactly? We don't question that nearly enough.
The fight is not to control the hardware. The hardware has been out of our control for a long time. Despite that, hardware today, more complex and inaccessible than ever before, is more enabling and powerful than ever before. If you want a fight, don’t fight against technological progress, which constantly moves these things ever further out of your grasp. Whether you or Apple has to replace the drive or screen in your new MacBook Pro is immaterial. Whether Apple, or Amazon, or the MPAA, can stop you from using it the way you like is not. Forget the soldered RAM; there are those who would solder you down given a chance. They are the ones to fear, and therefore the ones to fight.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 07:40 AM PDT
NASA may not be sending anyone to Mars anytime soon, the exploration of space and beyond – though on a much smaller scale – is being spearheaded by folks like Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. (Maybe you’ve heard of them.) Though Bezos and Blue Origin continue to work under a veil of secrecy in Texas, Virgin Galactic keeps humming along in the Mojave having recently scored a major milestone for the sub-orbital space tourism arm of Branson’s Virgin empire.
Earlier this month Virgin Galactic and its partner Scaled Composites received an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, the first for a manned experimental aircraft. Considering there have been numerous test flights of both the mother ship (WhiteKnightTwo) and spacecraft (SpaceShipTwo) since 2009, I asked Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides what comes next.
“Over the next six to eight weeks, we’ll continue integrating rocket motor components into the vehicle [SpaceShiptTwo] itself,” Whitesides told me. “Simultaneously we’ll be finishing ground tests of the rocket motor and then towards the end of the year we’ll get into the vehicle and get up to 50,000 feet for our first powered flight. It’ll be a short burn but we’ll probably get up to supersonic speed to see how the vehicle does.”
With over 500 passengers having thrown down a $20,000 deposit on the $200,000 flight into space, Whitesides says Galactic is “roughly on track” for a late 2013 commercial launch. Of those 500 plus passengers, Whitesides, the former Chief of Staff of NASA, and his wife will be aboard rubbing elbows with other notable passengers like Ashton Kutcher, Stephen Hawking and the dynamic Hollywood duo Brangelina. The Whitesides were two of the earliest customers having purchased tickets in 2005.
Besides a heap more tests over the next year, a commercial operating license from the FAA is the next milestone, says Whitesides. “Getting this experimental permit keeps us on track for the first milestone and within reach of that 2013 milestone.”
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 06:00 AM PDT
I keep a close and interested eye on the world of ebooks, and I’m pleased to report that it keeps getting weirder. British supermarket chain Sainsbury – who I worked for once, helping to program a new payroll system for a few months, until they scrapped the whole project – recently bought HMV’s share in ebook hub Anobii for a whopping, er, one pound. (Americans: that’s about $1.50.) Huh?
Meanwhile, HarperCollins announced its “HarperCollins 360” global publishing program, which at first I thought was them taking a page from the music industry’s post-Napster ‘360 deals‘ — but no; on sober second thought it has nothing to do with those except for name. Instead it’s an attempt to make all of their English-language books available to all English-language readers. I know, I know: they’re only doing this now? Just as ebook revenue exceeds that of hardcovers? Ah, publishing.
Meanwhiler, Startup Weekend founder and semi-vagabond Andrew Hyde Kickstartered, wrote, and self-published a travel book called “This Book Is About Travel,” and then discovered that Amazon was marking up its digital delivery fees to the tune of an estimated 129,000%. Nice margin if you can get it.
But the rest of us, well, not so much. Here are some cold hard numbers from Amazon for yours truly, for the first half of this month:
That’s after I made a few of my books free for a couple of days under Amazon’s Kindle Select program. Which requires you to publish your books exclusively on Kindle, incidentally. I was content to do, since my iBooks sales were more or less nonexistent — but it’s really unclear how this works with my having previously released all these books under a Creative Commons license. I suspect the notion of authors giving away their books in perpetuity seems so weird to Amazon that it never really occurred to them.
What Amazon thinks matters. They remain the big dog of the book industry. The Kindle has dwindled from a vast majority to a small minority of Hyde’s sales — as he puts it, “Kindle Sales Vanish When Users Know About Their Fees To Authors” — but that’s a special case. With ebooks, at least in the USA, Amazon’s Kindle is dominant and everything else is irrelevant. Which ain’t necessarily so bad; some self-published authors are making a pretty good living off the Kindle ecosystem.
Not me, obviously, but I still find the above chart cheering: close to twenty thousand downloads of my novels Invisible Armies and Night of Knives in two days, with zero publicity. But of course virtually no one went on to actually buy the books. At least I have a lucrative software job; but just so you know, a lot of people who write really good books are in such dire financial shape that they may never be able to afford to take the time to write another..
What irritates me most, though, is that I’d like to make these books available for free forever…but of course Amazon won’t allow it. And again, they’re the big dog. Twenty thousand downloads in two days; that’s more than all my books combined get in a full month on Feedbooks. And I only just cracked Amazon’s Top 40 Free Books bestseller list.
I’m convinced that in the long run we’ll move to business models where paying for a book (or song, or video) is accepted as a) strictly voluntary b) often something you do after reading/hearing/viewing it. For the record, I view this as more inevitable than desirable, but I also think that this will ultimately be good for artists–as long as we can get the reading/listening/watching masses to accept this cultural shift, and to voluntarily choose to pay for the things they enjoy, sometimes after they’ve enjoyed them.
That will not be easy. And it’s not being made any easier by the existing entrenched business models fighting voluntary payment tooth and nail. By doing so they’re inadvertently teaching a vast audience of consumers that paying for books, music, and TV is something you only do if/when you have no choice in the matter. Call me a crazed idealist, but I think that instead we need to convince consumers that they need to pay money because that’s what supports the storytelling they want; and I fear the entertainment industries of the world will eventually find that what feels like hanging on tooth and nail actually means slowly gnawing their own limbs off.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 08:02 PM PDT
Aidin, a startup that helps people find better continuing care after they leave the hospital, is announcing today that it has raised $600K from General Catalyst, HLM, Red Swan and a band of angels and physicians from the healthcare space. The startup, a member of the NYC healthtech accelerator Blueprint Health, will use the funding to accelerate its growth and keep rampin’ up that team. Everyone needs more developers these days.
But what does this healthtech company do? Well, you shouldn’t want to go there anyway, but hospitals need patients to find better care providers after they leave the hospital. Because they keep coming back. In the U.S., one in four Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, and readmissions have a $17.4 billion price tag for hospitals.
This is especially true for “post-acute care,” or the care you receive after leaving the hospital to recover from an acute illness, injury or from surgery. Traditionally, “post-acute care” has meant care for elderly patients after they leave the hospital, but that’s changing. There are 25K post-acute care providers in the U.S. that deal with all ages, according to Aidin co-founder Russ Garney, which include nursing homes, health agencies, and rehab centers. And there’s a huge variability in care at all of them.
To get better outcomes and avoid going back to the hospital, patients need better information, but hospitals can’t tell their patients which care facilities to choose — no objective ratings or reviews of the providers to help them find a good one.
So, Aidin helps patients (or their families) make the right choice post-hospital by providing them with up-to-date ratings and reviews of the available providers in their area, as well as giving them data around the outcomes of each providers’ patients. 50 percent have gone right back to the hospital? Well, probably want to avoid that one.
The information they provide, Garney tells us, is customized to their specific conditions and needs, so that, say, a patient needing follow-up wound care will see ratings for providers that have really nailed wound care — not postnatal care. This includes ratings and reviews from patients who’ve received that specific treatment from that specific provider. In a sense, they’re trying to create the Yelp for continuing care — but which makes hospital staffs’ lives easier, too.
Through Aidin, hospital staff can easily create referrals, share provider ratings with their patients, enter the patient’s choice in the system, as well as take advantage of eMessaging and emailing. The idea is by integrating this into hospitals’ existing infrastructure they can help them save hospitals money on readmissions, documentation, etc. And for patients, it’s a much more effective way to be matched with the right care provider.
As to where the startup plans to make money? They haven’t decided concretely on a business model yet, but potential revenue streams could come from hospital subscriptions, lead-gen/transaction fees for providers, etc. Though it’s somewhat of a niche market, there is some competition from electronic referral systems like ECIN and Curaspan, but with a fresh Web 2.0 interface and some ease of use, Aidin thinks it can do it better.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 05:15 PM PDT
“The Black IPs” lol. I follow nerds on Twitter, so rather than just the latest pop stars and sports games, I was delighted to see a nerdy hashtag in my Trending Topics. It’s thanks to Twitter’s new Tailored Trends that launched on Tuesday and shows you personalized trends based on who you follow.
“Creedence ClearRecentHistory? Revival” brilliant. In just a few days Tailored Trends has shown algorithms can beat back the stupidity of the Internet. Here’s why this matters, and a look at the best of #FailedTechBands.
The sad fact is that there’s a bag full of idiots for every genius on Twitter. Worse yet, smart people respect those who follow them and don’t flood their streams with a thousand repetitive tweets — dumb hashtags for example. Meanwhile, the imbeciles of the world post a flurry of tweets oblivious to it drowning out more sensible content.
That meant intelligent hashtags and topics were less likely to reach the volume necessary to break into the Trending Topics list. As a result, Trends was often filled with inane, offensive, and downright stupid hashtags and phrases because of this difference in tweeting behavior. But now if I see idiotic trends, it’s my own damn fault for following idiots. Well done, Twitter.
Well done because advertisers are probably a lot more willing to pay for a Promoted Trend now that it’s less likely to sit next to “#BlameTheMuslims” “#BigDickProblems” and other racist, sexist, childish, and otherwise offensive content I’ve seen become Trends. Twitter should avoid censorship of actual tweets at all costs. But when it comes to repurposing content within the service, focusing on relevancy might incidentally keep things a little cleaner, smarter, more productive.
So what did my delightful discovery of a truly relevant hashtag win me? These awesome #FailedTechBands:
And our favorite tech conference speaker / new Microsoft employee:
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 04:51 PM PDT
Drawbridge, a cross-device ad targeting startup backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, announced today it has hired Yahoo’s former mobile sales head as its new vice president of sales and business development.
The hire in question is Paul Cushman, whose official title at Yahoo was senior director of mobile sales strategy. Despite the turmoil at the top of Yahoo, and the virtually unending criticism it seems to get in the press, Cushman insists that his departure shouldn’t be read as a sign of dissatisfaction with his old employer.
“I was having a great time at Yahoo,” he says. “It’s an insanely good company and it gets very bad press.”
Nonetheless, Cushman says that when Drawbridge approached him about building up the business side of the startup, he was intrigued. At Yahoo it was relatively easy to connect a person’s activity on desktop and mobile, because users were signing in to Yahoo Mail and Messenger on multiple devices. Because of that, Cushman knew how important that data is for advertisers, yet unlike Yahoo, most companies don’t have it.
So what Drawbridge has done (as founder Kamakshi Sivaramakrishna explained to me before the company launched) is build "probabilistic and statistical inference models" to suggest which PC and mobile users are likely to be the same person using two different devices. Then advertisers can use the data collected about someone on the desktop to target ads on mobile. Cushman sums up his reaction to the Drawbridge pitch: “I’m doing this at Yahoo, and if you can do this for everyone else, then you’ve got game.”
Now he says he’s trying to help the Drawbridge team, which is science- and engineering-driven, work with advertisers. Cushman claims to hate the word “productize,” but he admits that’s basically what he’s trying to do with Drawbridge’s technology.
“We need to take the unique capability of the company and orient the message towards the marketer of women’s underwear and say, ‘This is how we’re going to get women 18-34 buy more push-up bras,’” Cushman says.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 04:22 PM PDT
It’s been a little over a year and a half since we wrote about Fritz Lanman’s departure from Microsoft, to build his own startup called “5Star.” Well, now we’re hearing that his startup, actually called Livestar, is going to launch soon, judging by a demo video posted on Lanman’s Facebook page. As early as next week even.
Since our initial article, Lanman, a former Microsoft and Yahoo deals guy, has made some pretty savvy angel investments, most notably getting in early on Pinterest and Square. And now he’s ready to focus on his own project.
We’re hearing that the startup is trying to own the trusted recommendations space, and aiming squarely for the gap between Foursquare (mobile-enabled local) and Yelp (reviews). Livestar is apparently approaching this from a unique perspective, but one that that demo video does not entail.
We’re also hearing very very specific funding information, that the startup has raised $2 million from investors Hadi and Ali Partovi, Peter Chernin, Paul Buchheit, WME and Ray Ozzie. More next week apparently!
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 04:00 PM PDT
Way back in 2008, Yammer made its first public appearance at the TechCrunch TC50 conference. David Sacks, who introduced himself as the CEO of the genealogy siteGeni, not Yammer, gave an 8 minute demo of the new product. He finished the demo by flipping the switch and officially launched Yammer to customers. Less than 4 years later, Yammer appears close to a $1.4 billion exit and purchase by Microsoft.
In this video captured via Ustream, Sacks explained how he came up with the idea:
Yammer was a hit from the start. In its debut post on TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld wrote how Yammer was a private Twitter for employees of a company but “unlike Twitter, Yammer actually has a business model.” One of the panel’s judges, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said “I really like this company the best. The name is not very corporate. It reminded me of what I’m having for Thanksgiving. Maybe you could use a Yam for a logo.” It's a bit ironic that the Microsoft corporate logo might wind up now on the product.
In the demo, Sacks talks about certain features as being just like FriendFeed. There was no mention comparing it to Facebook.
Reading the comments in the original post is pretty entertaining. One wrote:
Another asked “What company in its right mind is going to let its employees waste time and share company secrets with a third party web site?”
Yammer beat out all the other TC50 companies to take top prize and a $50,000 check at the conference.
While TechCrunch today has a love-hate relationship with the Yammer product, and they work on a different floor of our building, I’m hoping if they are acquired, Microsoft will use some of its decades old technology to get Yammer to auto-update properly. And Yammer won’t require Microsoft’s famous daily patch updates.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 03:53 PM PDT
So you wondered how Zynga was gonna make money off its $210 million acquisition of OMGPOP? How about this: Hit game title Draw Something will soon be at the center of a new primetime game show, according to a report by Variety. The show’s pilot, which was picked up by CBS after an apparent bidding war, will be produced by Sony Pictures Television, Ryan Seacrest Productions, and Embassy Row.
The pilot concept will reportedly pit multiple celebrities and users against each other in front of a studio audience, translating a game most people play in their spare time while commuting or before bed into a hilarious new game show. Viewers at home will also be able to play along with the folks on TV, according to Variety.
Draw Something was the key piece of Zynga’s acquisition of OMGPOP earlier this year. But traffic has plummeted ever since the deal closed, leading some to question the wisdom of Zynga buying at what seems to be the game’s peak.
Putting Draw Something on TV, and letting users interact with the on-air players, is one way to resurrect interest in the game. That will also bring a social element to the TV show, and could help boost ratings as users interact with the program on their mobile phones and tablets.
Interestingly, CBS’ choice of shows — and the stars that appear on the network — suggest a strong affinity toward Silicon Valley. It picked up ill-fated comedy $#!% My Dad Says in 2010. And it aired a show called Friend Me, which apparently is about friends who work for Groupon. And how could we forget about the choice of Hollywood star and Valley investor Ashton Kutcher to replace Charlie Sheen on Two And A Half Men — a role which Kutcher used to promote various investments with startup stickers on his on-screen laptop.
Anyway, while the network has signed up for the pilot, it’s not clear how soon the show would arrive on air. Variety notes that CBS has a full fall lineup, although the game show could find its way to primetime mid-season if the network has some cancellations.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 03:40 PM PDT
The Association of American Publishers released a report today that shows that ebooks have beaten hardcover revenues for the first time. Ebook revenues topped out at $282.3 million YTD while hardcovers hit $229.6. Almost exactly a year ago the tables were turned with ebooks hitting $220 million and hardcovers brushing past $335 million.
The only growth in hardcovers is in the young adult/children’s category where hardcover revenue rose to $187.7 million and children’s ebooks rose to $64.3 million, up from $3.9 million in 2011.
In short, ebooks are winning.
The AAP surveyed 1,149 publishers to gather their data and found that total trade revenue rose 27.1% over the past year. Considering most of those sales were ebooks, it’s clear that the old adage of the medium being the message is lost on most book buyers. In fact, the medium is clearly immaterial when it comes to long form fiction and non-fiction.
Given that Ikea is even reducing the size of its shelves to reflect the lack of interest in printed books, you’d better stock up now before this stuff goes the way of vinyl, 8-tracks, and the merkin.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 02:53 PM PDT
You may have never heard of PCH International. But this Irish company makes packaging and accessories for some of the most iconic hardware products in the world. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink! They make cases, chargers, docks and earphones, among other accessories. They also create those whizz-bang unboxing experiences for many of the world’s best-known hardware makers, but they can’t disclose who their clients are.
Now the company just picked up Silicon Valley design consultancy Lime Lab to bolster its product development know-how. Lime Lab was co-founded by former Ideo director Andre Yousefi and former Design Within Reach director and Apple manager Kurt Dammermann. The price wasn’t disclosed.
“We were looking for high caliber people,” says PCH’s chief executive Liam Casey. “Andre and Kurt have great backgrounds, having worked at Apple and Astro Gaming. This will give us a great base to start with here in the Valley.”
PCH will turn it into a full R&D lab that has rapid photo printers, a soft goods lab and incubator rooms for startups. The company will open 15 new jobs in San Francisco by year-end and plans to double that by next year.
“They’ll be working on prototyping products and early-stage design and engineering,” Casey says.
PCH has raised at least $77 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Norwest and more. Oh yeah, and PCH has 1,300 employees and disclosed that it had $410 million in revenue in 2010.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 02:22 PM PDT
TechCrunch Disrupt SF last year was a huge hit and we are all ready to do it again! Disrupt SF is coming up, quicker than we realize, and we are already starting to plan like crazy behind the scenes. Believe me when I tell you this event will be just as awesome as last year’s.
Last year we had incredible speakers, the popular and somewhat intimidating Office Hours, fancy after parties, dozens of impressive startups battling it out for the ultimate grand prize, hundreds of startups getting noticed in Startup Alley, and almost 1,000 hackers who gathered together to build some awesome, and some funny, products in their allotted 24 hour time slot.
Red Bull was flowing, photographers were snapping and capturing, press was interviewing, speakers were grilling, we were writing, and startups were pitching. TechCrunch Disrupt is a no-holds barred conference that anyone in the technology industry, or interested in, should not want to miss. We will start announcing special guests and speakers, as well as surprises, as we get closer to the event in September. Be sure to check back for announcements throughout the summer.
Disrupt SF will be held this September 10th – 12th at the beautiful and spacious Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco, following our popular Hackathon which will also be held there this September from the 8th – 9th.
Our best deal for Disrupt tickets, the Extra Early Bird tickets, to Disrupt SF are on sale now. However, if you are feeling lucky, we have one ticket to give to away to one lucky fan.
If you want this free ticket to Disrupt SF, which will get you into the full three days of the conference, plus all of the after parties, all you have to do is follow the steps below.
1) Become a fan of our TechCrunch Facebook Page:
2) Then do one of the following:
- Retweet this post (making sure to include the #TCDisrupt hashtag)
The contest starts now and ends June 17th at 7:30pm PT. Please only tweet the message once or you will be disqualified. We will make sure you follow the steps above and choose our winner this Sunday. Anyone in the world is eligible. Please note this giveaway is for one ticket only and does not include airfare or hotel.
If you would like to join us as a sponsor, opportunities can be found here.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 02:05 PM PDT
And so it begins: Facebook CTO and platform guru Bret Taylor is leaving Facebook this summer, Kara Swisher is reporting, off to do a startup with Google App Engine founder Kevin Gibbs. Taylor confirmed the news in (of course) a Facebook update.
This is one of the first in a wave of Facebook departures we’re hearing, as a slew of older employees have hit their four year stock cliffs, and the 90 day IPO lockout fast approaches. According to a source, many Facebook employees including one other executive are already planning what to do next.
It makes sense. With the stock price low, additional RSUs granted to keep people sticking around won’t be nearly as good a retention mechanism.
I’ve also been hearing separately that due to the IPO fallout, Facebook is currently under a modified hiring freeze, with groups that were previously allotted slots for senior-level positions having had those slots reneged. Lower level deals and hires are still happening from what I’m hearing.
So is this a harbinger of a hiring sea change? Facebook has had a monopoly on the best and brightest engineering talent for the past couple of years and it’ll shake the Valley to its core if this is indeed the case.
Well, if the founder life isn’t for you future Facebook refugee, we hear Pinterest is hiring.
Image via Bret Taylor
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 02:00 PM PDT
Bloomspot, a local offers company launched back in 2010, is pulling back the proverbial kimono on its numbers in an effort to prove its business model works. Although sometimes lumped in with group deal providers like Groupon or Living Social, Bloomspot operates quite differently. Instead of group deals targeted at the masses, it offers exclusive deals targeted specifically at a merchant’s best customers.
Through Bloomspot’s rewards program, customers provide the company with permission to analyze their credit card data at places where the offer is being run, allowing the deal provider to track whether or not it was redeemed, and how much else the customer may have spent there. The traditional thinking is that deals and discounts are meant to be “loss leaders” for businesses – get customers in the door, then upsell them. However, the Groupon (et al.) backlash has merchants claiming that these types of deals are simply “losses,” not loss leaders. People come in for the bargain, but don’t buy more or become loyal customers after the transaction takes place. This forces the merchant to again advertise again with Groupon to get their next “hit” – another influx of customers a Groupon deal brings.
Bloomspot says that’s not the case with its customers, however, and wants to prove it.
The startup has been consistently forthcoming with its internal data, and has raised over $46 million in venture funding from investors who believe, too, including InterWest Partners, Columbia Capital, Menlo Ventures,True Ventures, QED Investors, Harrison Metal, Western Technology Investment and individuals such as Erik Blachford (former CEO of Expedia) and Gary Parsons (former Chairman of Sirius XM Radio).
72% Of Customers Repeat, $140 Average Overspend
Using its anonymized data, the company now says that 72% of its customers who purchase offers from its partners become repeat customers of that business and spend an average of nearly $140 above the price of the offer they purchase. Across several verticals, this is the case (see charts below). For example, in fine dining, customers spend more than 3x the original price of the certificate. In beauty and spa, they spend on average $174 above the offer.
The data was sourced through Bloomspot Encore (Bloomspot’s opt-in rewards program which tracks credit card data), and it reflects actual consumer interactions from approximately 150,000 members and approximately 2,000 merchants in Bloomspot’s core markets. The company delved into average repeat rates, overspend, averages by vertical and anonymized data by merchant.
In its analysis of repeat customers, Bloomspot tracked visits over 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. Over the 12-month period, it found that 72% of customers returned local merchants on average, as you can see below. But even after one month, 13% customers had returned.
The company also found that the average overspend per customer is approximately $140 over the year, and that customers spend above the price of the certificate by on average $60 in the first month.
As noted above, in the Restaurant, Spa and Salon categories, overspend tracks even higher. Below, some specific examples highlighting a fine dining merchant, a yoga studio, and retail outlet. Granted these are likely cherry-picked top examples, but they’re worth a review nonetheless as proof that some merchants have managed to make the local offers model work for them.
The bigger takeaway from Bloomspot’s data is there’s room for a different approach in the customer loyalty space than the group-buying one employed by Groupon and others. Targeting a narrower niche of those likely to frequent a particular business then incentivizing them with an offer to do so is another angle loyalty programs can take. It’s the quality over quantity argument. And at the end of the day, Bloomspot and Groupon may both be operating in the “offers” space, but they’re approaching two very different market segments. That’s not to say that a merchant has to choose one or the other model exclusively, however.
Bloomspot CMO Lily Shen, points out that it’s the only company offering this level of insight. “We’re really offering and delivering loyal patrons,” she says. “Other companies sell merchants on large subscriber numbers and sell consumers on discount prices,” but that doesn’t really benefit the merchant in the long run.”
We asked, then, how many of Bloomspot’s merchants are repeat “customers” themselves per se, given that loyalty like this would likely be rewarded. Shen said that number wasn’t readily available, but noted a few companies that have worked with the company multiple times, including The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, Jardiniere (S.F.), and Nobu (L.A.). She says this speaks to the types of businesses and clientele that Bloomspot is able to attract.
Why reveal these numbers now, though? Well, local deals is a tough market, and Bloomspot has not been immune to the crunch. Reports of layoffs trickled in last winter, with some serious cuts reported here (and through anon tipsters emailing us angry about the unforseen cuts).
Bloomspot is available in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Houston, Seattle, Denver, and San Diego. While the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to extend beyond these markets right now, it does have a new program in the works called the Encore Network. Similar to edo or Cartera, the network would offer card-linked rewards, not specific deals you would have to buy. The program is being piloted in select markets now with a wider rollout planned for later this year.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 01:21 PM PDT
Nitin Bhatia is an ex-Microsoft executive who just announced he’ll be working at NextDocs, a Sharepoint-based compliance software company. Bhatia, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi, spent 19 years at Microsoft, five of which were dedicated to managing Office 365, Microsoft’s online office suite.
Bhatia expects that Yammer will stand alone within Microsoft for a while before being rolled into Sharepoint, Microsoft’s enterprise collaboration product. He also believes that Microsoft will leverage its relationship with Facebook to integrate Yammer deeply and seamlessly into the Sharepoint product.
TC: Tell us about your new job.
Nitin: I’ll be taking over as Vice President of Global Products at NextDoc.
When I joined the online team at MSFT, Sharepoint was one of the services that Microsoft was using online too. I’m very familiar with Sharepoint and how Sharepoint can be leveraged as a platform for development. I wanted to make sure I leveraged my experience into the new job, and Sharepoint aligns well with the NextDocs business, as its products are based on Sharepoint.
TC: How long were you at Microsoft, and what did you do there?
Nitin: I joined in 1993, so it’s been 19 years. The first 14 years were in Services. I was one of the lead architects initially for the East region of MSFT services in the New York and New Jersey districts. Then, for the last five years, I was with Microsoft’s online team, the Office 365 business.
TC: You already know about the Microsoft/Yammer deal that’s reportedly underway, I’m sure. There’s been a lot of talk about Sharepoint, so far, and I know how familiar you are with the software. How do you expect Yammer to fit into the Microsoft portfolio?
Nitin: I’m very familiar with Yammer. Microsoft didn’t do a very good job of building enterprise social networking. Sharepoint has built-in capabilities no where near Facebook quality. Yammer was one of these types of business social companies that took the Microsoft platform and used it.
I used Yammer for a while to test it out and I thought it was fairly good but not quite where it needs to be.
Microsoft had their eye on Yammer for a while. My gut instinct is that Yammer will be left alone as a stand-alone product like Skype business. Then they will integrate Yammer with Sharepoint as part of the collaboration suite, and over time, it will become a big part of Sharepoint.
TC: It’s no secret that TechCrunch uses Yammer, a TC50 company, as our own business social network and that we’ve had some trouble with it. What do you think about the fact that Microsoft is buying somewhat shoddy software to fix one of their greatest weak spots in enterprise collaboration software?
Nitin: [Yammer] certainly does break periodically. We weren’t really aligned on Yammer when we were using it. There’s no doubt that scalability is still a concern.
I think what Microsoft is going to do is leverage its Facebook relationship to really develop and grow this product into a more scalable enterprise-ready software that they can build out. Microsoft will take the core of the product and start from there. They’ll have to make some sizable changes to it, but I think the Sharepoint engineering team can pull it off with the relationship Microsoft has with Facebook.
I think the best-run unit within Microsoft is the Office unit. These guys know how to install quality into any product. They’ll review it and get it to the point where it is suitable for large companies. Sharepoint is used in projects that have over 300,000 people. Scalability is a big thing for Microsoft and it clearly has to be reviewed as the product evolves.
TC: How do you see the Yammer team fitting in with Microsoft?
Nitin: Initially they’ll want to bring the engineering team on from Yammer and add them to the Microsoft team. I think it’s questionable how long key people like the founders and CTO-level people will stay.
A lot depends on how stock options are vested. It’s got to be a stock deal. Microsoft is exchanging MSFT stock with Yammer stock options. Where these options will vest will determine how long the team of engineers and founders stay on board.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 12:27 PM PDT
Google has been putting quite a bit of its weight behind its Chromebook initiative, but it’s been rather quiet about how well these browser-centric laptops have been selling. Judging from the latest data from online advertising firm Chitika, Chromebooks remain a novelty. Across Chitika’s network, just 0.019% of all traffic comes from ChromeOS. To put this into perspective, Sony’s PlayStation, which isn’t exactly a web browsing powerhouse, easily beats ChromeOS with a usage share of 0.042%.
This data, Chitika told us, includes all ChromeOS traffic from all ChromeOS versions currently in use (given that ChromeOS updates itself, we can safely assume that most users are currently using the most recent version, though). As usual, it’s worth remembering that this data only includes sites that use Chitika’s advertising service. The data was compiled between June 7 and June 13 and aggregates data from “hundreds of million impressions.”
As I noted in my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook review last week, the actual devices have greatly improved since the first generation. They do remain niche products, though, and don’t appeal to a mainstream audience (yet).
Earlier this week, Chitika’s also took a look at the tablet space. Here, unsurprisingly, the iPad dominates and is responsible for 91% of all web traffic to sites in Chitika’s network. What was somewhat surprising about this data, though, was that the Barnes & Noble Nook overtook the Kindle Fire in these stats, though the difference here is between two tablets that account for 0.85% and 0.71% of all traffic.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 12:22 PM PDT
It’s on now. Matthew Inman at the The Oatmeal has hired a crackerjack lawyer, Venkat Balasubramani, who sent a long and detailed letter to FunnyJunk essentially saying that their mothers should, in the end, have carnal relations with a bear.
You’ll recall that this all started when Matthew Inman AKA The Oatmeal received a note from a lawyer representing FunnyJunk, a website that traffics in junk that is funny. Because Inman’s stories detailing how FunnyJunk stole his content appeared so high on Google, the company sued him for slander. They asked for damages of $20,000, not a small sum.
Instead of acquiescing, Inman created a fund to donate money to the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Foundation. Dubbed BearLoveGood/CancerBad (because Inman suggested he would take a photo of the money alongside the opposing lawyer’s mother sexing up a bear), the fund raised $169,000 — $149,000 over the stated goal.
The lawyer, Charles Carreon, pictured above, was awestruck at the attention given The Oatmeal’s crusade. “I really did not expect that he would marshal an army of people who would besiege my website and send me a string of obscene emails,” he told MSN.
Attempts to get Inman to comment for TC have been fruitless, but I suspect that’s because he’s working on funny comics and probably doesn’t want to deal with this stuff anymore. That said, let this be a lesson to copyright trolls everywhere: protect your mothers, because soon they will be ravaged by highly-sexed bears.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 11:01 AM PDT
Google is still by far the most dominant search engine in the U.S., but in the last year it actually lost some momentum while Yahoo and especially Microsoft’s Bing both saw increases, according to figures out today from Experian Hitwise, and bolstered by separate numbers released yesterday by Compete, with both calculating searches between May 2012 and May 2011.
According to Hitwise’s figures, Google accounted for 65.02 percent of all U.S. searches conducted in the four weeks ending June 2, 2012, compared to 68.11 percent in the same period in 2011 — down by 3.09 percent, or a percentage change of negative 5 percent.
Meanwhile Bing-powered searches accounted or 28.12 percent of all searches for the last month, up 1.33 percentage points or a rise of 5 percent. Yahoo’s share was 14.95 percent and and direct Bing searches were at 13.17 percent, increases of 3 percent and 7 percent, although in real terms about .5 percent for Yahoo and nearly 1 percent for Bing.
In a sign of yet more consolidation among those three players — AOL for example does not get singled out — Hitwise says that there are another 65 search engines that it ranks, but that they only accounted collectively for 6.86 percent of U.S. searches.
Compete’s figures as you can see below actually give Google a slightly higher market share for the last month, with 65.5 percent of all searches, but its calculations also indicate that it is actually dropped by more over the last year — 3.9 percentage points for Google-powered sites, and 3.7 percentage points for Google-direct searches. (Hitwise doesn’t single out Google-powered.)
Compete also still details AOL in its list: it accounted for a mere 0.8 percent of all searches — flat on the previous month but down slightly on one year ago.
Neither Compete nor Hitwise offered an explanation as to why Google’s seen a decline but for Microsoft and Yahoo’s parts, the two have been working hard to make sure they do not give any more way to Google. Microsoft, for example, has been creating special programs, such as its TangoCard reward program, Bing Rewards, which gives credits for gift cards, nonprofit donations, and other digital goods everytime a user visits. The idea is to work loyalty and repeat business into people’s people’s search engine preferences: users of Bing Rewards will return to their site instead of another for the next time that they look for news, strange pictures of cats or whatever else they want to find.
One other interesting detail: Hitwise is noting that one-word searches are way up on longer strings — they saw a 19 percent increase while all others went down. The influence of Twitter? Or perhaps search engines just getting that much more sophisticated.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 10:47 AM PDT
Google’s YouTube is slowly but surely expanding its line-up of supported languages for its auto-caption feature. Starting today, videos in Spanish will feature these automatically generated closed captions based on Google’s voice recognition technology. Until now, this feature was only available for videos in English, Japanese and Korean. In total, says Google, about 157 million videos on YouTube new feature auto-captions.
Even though Google has greatly improved its voice recognition capabilities over the last few years (starting with its now discontinued Google 411 experiment in 2007), it’s obviously not perfect and regularly gets things wrong. Overall, though, it works surprisingly well, especially considering the large number of accents it has to handle in all of these languages. Google is rolling this new feature out gradually, so most videos in Spanish don’t feature closed captions just yet.
Here is an example of what auto-captions in Spanish look like on YouTube:
One feature Google stressed in its announcement today is YouTube’s ability to combine auto-captions with automatic translations. Thanks to this, the company says, YouTube can now generate subtitles in more than 50 languages.
Posted: 15 Jun 2012 10:44 AM PDT
If that microstylus just isn’t cutting it for you, then you may want to see what Samsung has been mulling over. A recently published patent reveals some interesting new tricks that Samsung may be planning to stick in their forthcoming styluses (styli?).
I don’t need to tell you that Samsung has something of a fixation on pen-based interfaces — take the pocket-sized Galaxy Note and the forthcoming Galaxy Note 10.1 for instance — so it’s intriguing to see what they think the humble stylus could be better at.
With this patent, Samsung seems to be taking a page out of Asus’s playbook — to go with their ambitious Padfone phone/tablet, the Taiwanese company introduced a capacitive stylus with a built-in transmitter and receiver meant for taking voice calls. In Samsung’s design, the both components are nestled on the back of the stylus directly opposite that pen clip. Samsung’s patent also concept takes things a bit further though by throwing NFC into the mix to simplify the pairing process between the stylus and compatible phones and tablets.
And perhaps best of all, it doesn’t appear to be the sort of accessory that only works with Samsung’s Galaxy Note series. As its depicted in the patent application, the stylus only sports a capacitive nub so while it won’t be as downright precise as the Wacom-enabled S-Pen, it’ll work just as well on an iPad as it well on a Galaxy Nexus. Whether or not Samsung’s concept will ever make it to the market is still up the air, but hey — if Asus can do it, so can they.
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