- With XBMC Ported To Android, There Might Finally Be A Reason To Buy A Google TV
- Teamly Gets Backing From Yammer Founder To Make Employee Tracking Easier
- Skype Says It’s Fixing Bug That Sent Messages To The Wrong Contacts
- Review: The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3
- If Startups Can Be Built In Ghana, Africa, They Can Be Built In Cleveland, Ohio
- Best Buy Goes Back To School With College Innovator Fund, Giving Away $100,000 For The Next Big Tech Idea
- OnlineMechanix Makes It Easier To Hire A Wrench Monkey
- What To Look For During Microsoft’s Announcement Of Office 2013 Today
- KillSpencer Goes Against The Grain With New Wooden Card-Carrying iPhone Case
- BBC Worldwide: 25M App Downloads, Including 1M For Global iPlayer; Digital Now Nearly 13% Of Revenues
- Thiel-backed Lore Bets The Newsfeed Is Education’s Future
- “Leaked” iPhone 5 Front Casing Shows Centered FaceTime Camera
- As Windows Phone 8 Barrels Down The Pipeline, AT&T Cuts Lumia 900 Price to $49
- CivicScience Raises $2.86 Million From New Atlantic Ventures And Cox To Crunch Data From Online Polls
- Allegation: Kickstarter Is Still Hiding Data About Failed Projects
- Sonic Notify Raises $4.25 Million, Partners With Interscope To Deliver Interactivity To Mobile Apps
- Meridian Indoor Navigation Adds Las Vegas Hotels To Client Roster
- The 16-Year Itch: Microsoft, NBC Call It Quits, NBC Gets Custody Of MSNBC.com
- Tag Management Company Tealium Raises $10.5M From Battery
- MeeGo’s ‘Saviour’ Heads To China: Jolla Signs Deal With Chinese Retailer D.Phone
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 09:04 AM PDT
Content is king, and so far Google TV is sorely lacking content. However, with the launch of the famed Xbox Media Center on Android, Google might have a chance in the battle for living rooms. The group behind the classic media player software announced the project and released the source code over the weekend. This could be big.
XBMC was a pioneer in media streaming software. Originally developed for the first Xbox (hence the name) back in 2003, the open source project is still the de facto standard of media streamers. I bought an Xbox just to run XBMC. The wildly popular project spawned many derivative projects and companies like Boxee, Plex and several others. Several key elements are still missing from the just-released Android port, but it reportedly runs on most devices — except Google TV.
Google TV still needs a lot of work. More than two years after its launch, the box is nothing more than a fancy Netflix device. Most of the GTV apps are garbage and a hassle to use. Worse yet, even if there are worthwhile GTV apps, Google has yet found a way to highlight them. Google TV already has several, albeit far inferior, media streamer apps. Essentially, Google hasn’t shown consumers and developers exactly why they need a Google TV in their respective lives. And now, with the odd Nexus Q competing in the same space, consumers are likely even more confused. Google TV needs a killer app like XBMC.
XBMC is nearly 10 years old and it’s by far the most mature media streaming solution. XBMC circa 2005 was better than many of today’s options. But XMBC was never available on its own Boxee Box-like device.
It’s entirely possible that I’m a bit too bullish on XBMC for Android. There is a still a lot of work to be done on the project. The XBMC Android port currently lacks the hardware decoding ability, and instead leans on software to playback video. This makes it difficult to playback 1080p videos wrapped in MKV containers. But if the original Xbox had enough computing horsepower, then modern devices shouldn’t have any trouble once the software is properly compiled.
As it sits right now, XBMC doesn’t run on Google TV. I tried running it on both the Logitech Revue and first generation Sony Internet TV. The app installs but fails when launching. I’m not alone. I have yet to find someone running the current build on a Google TV. That said, it runs on the Nexus Q, foreshadowing what could be for the legions of Google TV boxes and their bored owners.
XBMC doesn’t need an Android set-top box to be successful. The software won that title years ago. Google needs killer software like XMBC or even Boxee to advance its assault in living rooms.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 09:03 AM PDT
With the likes of OneDrum being acquired by Yammer, and Yammer being acquired by Microsoft, and not to even mention the growth of Huddle, the world of software disruption inside businesses is pretty hot right now. Teamly has thus picked its timing well. Although it started out in 2010 with a product to create realtime staff performance streams for business, the startup has built out its product to the point where it’s attracted some interesting names as backers. Today it announces investor backing from Elliot Loh (a founding team member of Yammer) and multiple enhancements to its SaaS product. We understand Teamly was already working on Yammer integration before Yammer was acquired and that Elliot Loh invested after the MSFT deal with Yammer. Makes sense. Teamly has raised $100,000 to date and is working on a $500,000 round now.
As well as the investment from Dave McClure's fund, Teamly is announcing angel investments from Elliot Loh, one of the founding team at Yammer when it was part of Geni, and Ayaz ul Haque, a VC partner at Exalt Capital Partners and a former Managing Director at DFJ ePlanet Ventures.
The startup is now much more broadly targeted at being a tool for employees and business managers to “raise their performance”, and completes the 500 Startups accelerator programme tomorrow.
Competing against the likes of Rypple, iDoneThis, WorkSimple, and Thinkfuse (acquired last month by Salesforce), Teamly recognises that many people who end up managing teams never really wanted that role, so Teamly helps them works out who on the team is hitting objectives, thus saving time on emails, reports and meetings.
Co-founder and CEO Scott Allison says his international team has built a product which, he says, already appeals to users outside North America and that user numbers are growing steadily.
The new Teamly adds a new UI, a news stream, email integration, mobile access, and publishing of accomplishments and “report cards” to Yammer. Yes folks, Big Brother Business will now be watching you…
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 08:32 AM PDT
Skype says that it has a fix in the works for a frightening, but reportedly not widespread, bug that involves users’ private instant messages being shared with other unintended people in their contacts list. The bug was first discussed in Skype’s user forums, and seems to have followed a June 2012 update of the Skype software.
According to a report by Engadget, Skype has confirmed the bug existence and that a fix is in the works. However, the company characterizes the bug as “rare.”
We also reached out to Skype for details. In a statement provided to TechCrunch on the matter, Skype says the following:
Here’s how one poster described the problem in the forums:
Others later chimed in, saying the exact same thing had happened to them too, and on Friday, a Skype representative said the company was investigating. Given that many people use Skype not just for personal messaging, but for work-related purposes, even the rare occurrence of such a bug could have wide-reaching impacts.
We’ve reached out to Skype to see if it would provide additional details about the size and scope of the problem, and will update when we hear back.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 08:29 AM PDT
Reviewing a drive isn’t very exciting. What can you say? “It contains a storage medium, is small, and surprisingly light.” Thankfully, the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt can add one important point to that litany of mundanity – a Thunderbolt port and cable that jacks the read and write speed up to amazing levels – thereby turning a ho-hum review into a real barn-burner.
This $229 1TB drive is no slouch on design, either. It has two ports – one USB 3.0/2.0 jack and a Thunderbolt port – and it’s clad in aluminum and white plastic, giving it a definitive Mac feel. The drive gets hot over extended periods of time but it’s entirely bus powered. It weighs a mere 9 ounces.
In my tests, I saw this drive hit RW speeds of about 97 MB/s, considerably faster than a USB 3.0 drive I tested and on par with what you’d expect from a standard Thunderbolt drive. The best thing, obviously, is the fact that Buffalo includes a Thunderbolt cable, a $50 value, right in the box. They also include a USB 3.0 cable for the technologically benighted.
A 500GB version will cost you about $195, but it really doesn’t make sense to buy a smaller drive in this case.
So, in closing, I wish to amend the MiniStation Thunderbolt review with one important point: “It contains a storage medium, is small, and surprisingly light and, most important, you get a $50 Thunderbolt cable for free. It’s also really fast. And pretty.”
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 08:15 AM PDT
This is a guest post by Adam Jackson is a San Francisco-based serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He issues a rallying cry to get startups happening outside the Valley, using the methods used in the developing world. You can find him on twitter at @adamjacksonsf.
When you are a busy founder, startup executive or tech investor, life is all about focusing on the activities that provide the most leverage toward achieving your objectives. As Tim Ferriss has taught us, anything that isn't a leveraged activity should be outsourced. My recent trip to Ghana as a guest lecturer at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) got me thinking about how we entrepreneurs and tech investors could best leverage our time when it comes to giving back to the startup community and society in general. I hope to someday be able to financially impact a community to the extent that they name a hospital after me, but until then, it will have to be more leveraged, time-based activities.
MEST was founded in 2008 by successful serial entrepreneur Jorn Lyseggen. He and his staff hand-pick 20-30 students per year to go through an intensive, two-year program that is part business school and part engineering school (that teaches programming languages and skills that are actually useful in today's tech world!). In their second year, they must boot-strap their own tech startup. If, at the end of the program, the startup and team are showing promise and traction, they are eligible for a seed investment from MEST's incubator (conveniently located right next door). Investments range from $30-200k. You can read all about it and watch an interview that TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher did with Jorn here.
Being a guest lecturer at MEST was an incredible experience for me, and not only because it was my first time visiting Africa. I got to spend time with the entrepreneurs-in-training (EiTs) and the staff (who also dedicate 1-2 years of their life working as teachers in the school). The raw intellect and determination I saw in the EiTs was impressive. They look at global markets as closely as they do their own local African markets. They are expert in the latest programming languages, understand agile development, minimum viable product, rapid iteration, and, of course, lean startup methodology. Some of the EiTs make great sacrifices to complete the program, as most college graduates in Ghana enter the workforce and start sending money back to their families and these students forgo that route in exchange for the chance at starting their own business.
Jorn started MEST when Meltwater (his SaaS company that has since grown quite large) was still a pup. He made a $20mm pledge (over 10 years) to MEST when Meltwater was only doing $22mm / yr in revenue! I think that's nuts. I would never have the courage to do that! I asked him why he made such a large philanthropic commitment so early in his (and his company's) life. “You never know, tomorrow you could be hit by a truck. And then it’s all over…, " he replied. Indeed.
What about those of us who aren't quite as bold as Jorn and are afraid a commitment like that may jeopardize our other goals? Donating your time, experience and competence is an excellent, high-leverage option. This can be done through advising startups, being a mentor at an incubator, helping young entrepreneurs at meetups or hack-a-thons, etc. In fact, there is even an organization that encourages entrepreneurs to give back called impact.
A MEST for the US?
After I guest lectured at MEST last month (and subsequently joined the Business Council of the MEST Incubator) I wondered, "why don't we have more programs like this in the US?" It may be that one of our most viable solutions for growing our way out of the current unemployment problem is through backing entrepreneurs and small businesses. We (at least in Silicon Valley) can also agree that there is a morbid shortage of engineering talent in the US. Immigration law lags our growing demand for engineers so why don't we do more to train them here at home?
I'm from Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is part of the rust belt – a region of the US that has fallen on economic hard times largely due to globalization and the permanent export of manufacturing jobs. Because of these conditions, the cost of living in places like Cleveland has fallen sharply. The fact is, there are still plenty of smart and motivated people there that would be thrilled to have high-paying tech jobs. The problem is, there aren't enough schools or organizations teaching them the actual skills they need. I believe the MEST model would work well here. Develop an intensive school that teaches people how to run a lean technology business and even build the tech side of it themselves. It's much easier to bootstrap in places like Cleveland than it is here in Silicon Valley. That could serve as a huge advantage to this type of a program and its participants.
Any fellow midwesterners want to brainstorm this with me?
Whether you donate some time with a young entrepreneur one-on-one or you start an entire entrepreneurial school in West Africa, I can attest that this form of giving back is incredibly satisfying and has a great impact on our society and economy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 08:00 AM PDT
Big-box retailer doesn’t just want to be known as the place where you get the cheapest gear — lately it’s been highlighting technology innovation and innovators in its ads and messaging. To that end, the company is launching a contest aimed at finding the next big thing, and it’s asking college kids to compete for a total $100,000 in prizes and the chance to get advice from its own internal development team.
Best Buy’s College Innovator fund is a contest that will award four cash prizes of up to $50,000 to folks it believes are building technology that could change the way people interact with each other. It’s looking for applications that focus primarily on technology, sustainability, education, or related fields, and is ok with various stages of development — from a full-blown piece of software to an idea that’s not quite yet under development.
Those who wish to compete for a chance to win some cash as part of the College Innovator Fund, need only go to Best Buy’s Facebook app and record a two-minute video explaining what they’ve built — or what they’d like to build. The site went live this morning, and applicants have until August 14 to submit their proposal.
Best Buy has selected a panel of judges who will narrow down all the applications to a group of 10 finalists. Those judges include the Best Buy Digital’s own president of global marketing and strategy, Stephen Gillett, as well as Pandora founder Tim Westergren and uBeam’s Perry. On August 17, the retailer will announce the final 10, and it will give Facebook users the opportunity to vote for a “fan favorite.”
The fund has one grand prize of $50,000, as well as an opportunity to mentor with folks from Best Buy Exclusive Brands — the retailer’s in-house development team, which is responsible for its Insignia and Dynex brand consumer electronics products, among others. There will also be two runners-up who will each receive a $20,000 cash prize. And, of course, $10,000 will go to the fan favorite. Winners will be announced September 17.
Best Buy will push the College Innovator Fund as part of its newest ad campaign, highlighting innovators you know (and some you don’t) that built technology while in college. It follows on the heels of Best Buy’s Super Bowl ad, which was all about tech folks who built cool mobile technology. The new back-to-school campaign is slated to run during the 2012 Summer Olympics, and will include folks like Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, as well as Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva, and uBeam’s Meredith Perry.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 07:57 AM PDT
We all have a horror story: you picked a mechanic from the phone book, made an appointment, took the car in for a minor repair, and got it back with three wheels missing and the roof on fire. That’s why John Formento, Jr. and his dad created OnlineMechanix, a scheduling system and discovery engine for local mechanics.
The site currently serves 700 repair shops and allows users to find shops in their area and schedule appointments online. Sadly, consumers have been slow to adopt the service (but that could change as the company begins a marketing push with some viral videos). They’re experiencing 100% growth in mechanic sign-ups, however, which suggests they may be on to something.
Because car owners usually only make appointments one or two times a year, where you get your car fixed is quite important. Shop turnaround could send your favorite mechanic down the street and you may not visit the same place twice. OnlineMechanix makes this experience a bit easier and quite a bit more convenient.
“I came up with the idea for Onlinemechanix.com when I was trying to schedule an appointment to get my car inspected. When I called the shop I was greeted by a busy signal and after couple more tries I was finally able to get through and schedule my appointment. This experience got me thinking about two things. The first was that it would be so much easier to schedule my inspection if there was a website, like OpenTable, where I could easily find a local auto repair shop and schedule my appointment. The second was that mechanics must be interrupted continuously throughout the day by phone appointments.”
Formento and his father, John Formento Senior, are the two founders of the site and they live and work in Philadelphia. Their programmer, T. Ray Humphrey, worked on Microsoft platforms for 20 years. We met the Formentos in Philly during our meet-up and they were a charming pair, a sort of mini Click and Clack with Pennsylvania accents. They launched the site on April 25.
“We want our independently owned auto repair shops to feel as though they are part of a bigger organization that will help them compete effectively in a tough environment,” said Formento.
In the dog-eat-dog world of auto servicing, it’s nice these guys are looking out for the two most important people in the equation: the small mechanic and, more important, the consumer.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 07:45 AM PDT
Microsoft is expected to announce the next version of Office today, and it has already prepped a new “Office Next” blog in advance of the official details. Internally, the project has been known as Office 15, but unless Microsoft plans to disrupt its standard naming conventions (now, that would be news!), we’re awaiting arrival of “Office 2013″ today – a Windows 8-friendly version of the Office Suite.
The New UI And Touchscreen Features
While we already know that Microsoft is prepping a version of Office for ARM (with its dual traditional/Metro mode), we won’t know until later on today whether or not the version designed for use on the x86 architecture will look the same, which features it will include, and which the web apps will include. (Here’s a sneak peek, though).
While Microsoft surely doesn’t want to give up on its more complex and detailed feature set, it has failed to achieve the simplicity of a more dumbed-down product. (Don’t even get me started on the “Ribbon” interface. How does shoving all the features in your face all at once make Office easier to use?) So look for a new UI that ditches the Ribbon, and makes the new version of Office something that better fits in with the Windows 8 Metro UI instead.
Microsoft is also expected to talk a lot about its touch capabilities in Office. Look to see whether it has adopted the same familiar gestures and touchscreen interactions with which users are familiar, and how simple any new interactions would be to learn.
When It’s Coming
Reports that the new suite will be introduced as a “Consumer Preview” sometime this summer seem likely. In fact, there’s a good chance that preview is coming sooner rather than later, as it turns out, since Microsoft already has an empty tag set up on its Office Next blog for “Office Consumer Preview” configured. If so, then a full rollout to the public release (RTM) should come just in time for Microsoft to sell the new Office on holiday PCs.
Enterprise Offerings And Changes
In January, Microsoft reported that its Office upgrade wouldn’t just focus on consumer applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but it would also – for the first time ever – upgrade its cloud services and mobile clients at the same time. That includes the cloud-hosted Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio. In other words, today’s news is a VERY. BIG. DEAL for any customer of Office, whether consumer or enterprise.
Office On iPad?
We’re also hoping that Microsoft addresses the elephant in the room – the glaring lack of Office on iPad. It’s not like the company isn’t already developing for the iOS platform – it already has OneNote on there, for example, among other things. But Microsoft has a tough choice here, you have to admit. Rolling out an iPad version of Office could discourage users from waiting for the forthcoming Microsoft Surface tablet or another Windows 8 PC. It could basically damage the enterprise appeal of Microsoft’s own Windows-based offerings. Meanwhile not launching on iPad is like being stupidly blind to the obvious: the iPad has tremendous market share that doesn’t look like it’s waning anytime soon – why not capture those users’ dollars, too?
Microsoft’s Google Compete Strategy
Another thing to look for in today’s announcement is how Microsoft plans to further compete with Google Apps in the enterprise via its Office 365 product. This was the main focus of the WSJ’s article today, which noted that the race is still in Microsoft’s favor here. Office has more than 90% market share for “business-productivity applications” according to Gartner, WSJ reported. It’s been said that Microsoft will begin selling “Office 365 Fully Packaged Product (FPP)” at retail stores where it will be available as a card, similar to those it uses for Xbox LIVE Points.
In addition to appealing to its business customers, Microsoft needs a strategy to regain consumer mindshare, too. Google Apps is “good enough” for most in this arena, and Google has even positioned its limitations as an advantage – it’s easier to use because there’s less to learn. Consumers adopt Google Apps, sneak it into work, then I.T. is forced to support it. It’s the whole “consumerization of I.T.” trend in a nutshell. Now Microsoft needs to encourage the same spirit of “just use it” (no matter what I.T. dictates), without alienating its business customers who specifically choose Microsoft products for their security benefits. A beefed up cloud version of Office that’s easier and quicker to use would be an advantage here.
Microsoft’s Corporate VP of Program Management for Office, PJ Hough, has already promised this is the “most transformational release” of Office he’s seen, so stay tuned for more details later today.
Image credit, Excel: LiveSide
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 07:28 AM PDT
I’m still not convinced that mobile payments via NFC are on the road to ubiquity, but these fancy shmancy iPhone cases that double as card holders are all kinds of awesome. KillSpencer just debuted its latest, made almost entirely of exotic rosewood. It’s a beauty, to be sure.
The front and back are both attached using a removable adhesive, though there’s no side coverage for the iPhone. I’d have to review it and throw my iPhone across the room a few times before I could be sure, but it doesn’t look as though this case offers the most protection for your phone. But that’s not always what a case is about.
With the iPhone, you’re essentially walking around with the same exact phone as quite a few people. Most look at cases as a form of personal expression, with a little added protection as a bonus. The KillSpencer Precision Pocket case is a lot like that, though we kind of wish that the company had offered this as a front/back panel replacement kit rather than as a case.
Either way, the case holds up to three cards with a card lock and thumb slot to help you push a credit card or ID out with ease. It costs $89.00 and can be purchased here.Click to view slideshow.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 07:17 AM PDT
The BBC has been expanding its digital business in anticipation of a time when revenue streams from traditional products like TV and physical distribution become less strong, and that strategy is steadily beginning to bear more and more fruit. The media giant’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, today published its annual review, which indicates that in headline sales of £1,085 million ($1.7 billion), digital now makes up 12.8 percent of revenue — up from 8.1 percent a year ago. The BBC now aims to take that proportion to 15 percent by 2015.
The boost in digital looks like it’s coming in large part from two areas: the rise of VOD sales, and the growth of apps — with both of those in turn fuelled by the rise of better broadband, as well as tablet and smartphone usage. BBC Worldwide says that it saw 12.5 million app downloads in the last year, and has now has racked up a total of 25 million downloads overall. Cumulative VOD downloads now stand at 31 million.
“Digital continues to be a priority for BBC Worldwide and this year shows we have made both financial and strategic progress,” said Daniel Heaf, EVP & MD, BBC Worldwide Digital, in a statement. “Crucially, a greater number of consumers are enjoying a greater range of the BBC's content on more platforms than ever before. The pace of change looks set to continue and we're excited about the new opportunities we'll have to simultaneously grow the BBC's reach and BBC Wordwide's profits.”
Those VOD downloads, the BBC says, were triple this year compared to the year before, with sales coming not just from over-the-top providers like Netflix, but also “established broadcasters,” a sign of how these older companies will not go gently into the night as Netflix continues its download march, with an increasing shift of viewing time on its service dedicated to TV shows rather than films (a trend that would play into the hand of BBC Worldwide, which has a far greater catalog of TV shows than it does feature films).
Within apps, BBC says that in the year since it launched the Global iPlayer — now available as an iPad app in 16 markets including across Western Europe, Canada and Australia — it has seen 1 million downloads. It’s still technically in trial phase, although the BBC says that it is now extending that trial until autumn of this year (not clear whether it becomes a full commercial operation at that point, or whether it closes down in preparation for a full launch).
The most popular app over the year, however, is BBC News, which picked up 10.3 million downloads on iOS and Android devices. The company also launched 11 games and currently has 12 more in development, taking the total downloads of games to 3.5 million. Among the titles launched this year, Top Gear’s Stunt School Revolution, which picked up 2 million downloads in its first month, the fastest ever achieved by a BBC game.
The BBC offers some content on demand that you can buy via Facebook credits, but it doesn’t break out in its annual report how successful those products have been. It is, however, continuing to build up its audience there, with some 25 million fans now spread across its different pages on the social network, and the site proving to be a massive referral engine for its main websites, generating some 40 percent of traffic to key web brands.
BBC pages getting especially high traffic on Facebook included Top Gear, Top Gear USA and The Stig. The BBC says that together these three provided 17 percent more engagement with fans between May and June (up from 8 percent the year before), with the total brought in by the Top Gear properties up to 17.6 million. Doctor Who, meanwhile, saw a 27 percent engagement from users (up from 19 percent). It now has a 2.5m fan base. As with other media brands, the BBC is finding that Facebook is a strong traffic referral engine. It says that about 40 percent of traffic to our sites including: TopGear.com, LonelyPlanet.com, GoodFood.com and bbc.com comes from Facebook.
You can see also why Facebook is an important traffic driver for BBC when you look at stats on its wider presence online. It’s big, but its biggest property not growing so fast at the moment: BBC.com had 58.5m unique users throughout the year, but that’s only 3.7 million up from 55.1 million in 2010/2011. Smaller “lifestyle” sites like BBCGoodFood.com are growing much faster, although are also significantly smaller: it was up 58.5 percent, while Lonelyplanet.com reached 700,000 registered users (yet an impressive half a billion+ page views in 2011/2012) on a monthly average of 11.3m unique users, a rise of 35.8 percent on the previous year.
The company’s headline profits for the year were £155 million ($240 million) up from £144 million a year ago. This figures did not include the sale of the BBC Magazine titles last year for £121 million.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Getting students excited enough to participate in conversation outside of class is one of the Holy Grails of teaching. Lore, formerly known as CourseKit, is a Founder’s Fund-backed classroom management system that centers discussion around the familiar (and addictive) interface of the scrolling newsfeed. With an impressive +600 universities already experimenting with a platform launched last winter, Lore has announced a newly redesigned interface for the upcoming semester (including a future-facing “upward” scroll for the newsfeed, which could become a staple of other social media).
Lore’s newsfeed makes classroom conversation public by default. Instead of one-to-one emails or conversations between students and professors, everything gets listed on the public platform.
"I used to receive a ton of emails from students sharing links and now they post them all on Coursekit," said University of Oregon Professor, Carol Stabil. "Within a week of the class starting, students were creating their own profiles, posting content and sharing interesting pieces of information online."
Since micro-blogging hit the mainstream, eagers professors have eyed social media as a way to keep students engaged on the go. In 2008, the University of Leicester found that students equipped with iPods and encouraged to use Twitter would send updates from all over campus, create sophisticated peer support networks, and arrange meetups. Like many things touched by the Internet, a constant information feed makes classroom discussion completely public and always on.
Co-founder Joseph Cohen said that he believes Lore’s barebone feature set (grading, document upload, and calendar) can replace the alpha dog of course management, Blackboard, for most teachers. Having used Blackboard myself, digging through its complicated menus can be a real pain, and I rarely used more sophisticated features than Lore offers. To-date, Lore has raised $6 million from Founder’s Fund, Shasta Ventures, Founder Collective and others (see the compete list here). Lore, of course, has stiff competition from Blackboard and proprietary university systems. But, perhaps simplicity and a appealing newsfeed interface will help it win the growing education market.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 06:57 AM PDT
Another day, another leak.
On Friday we saw what was reported to be an iPhone 5 prototype unit, and today an entirely different version of the “iPhone 5″ casing has found its way on to the interwebs. Oddly enough, this latest leak looks an awful lot like images of iPhone 5 parts published by 9to5mac.
Of course, it’s possible that none of these leaks are the real thing, but it sure does help pass the time until Apple hops on stage in October. The latest leak comes by way of a Chinese site called Apple.pro who seemingly found the images on Photobucket. No one working at Apple would post a picture of the iPhone 5 on Photobucket, though that’s not to say that someone in the supply chain didn’t snap a pic or two.
Either way, I’m approaching this leak as I have all the others — with a massive salt shaker.
There are two “leaked” cases here: one white and one black. They show that the front-facing camera for video chat has been centered above the speaker grill. This matches up splendidly with images shown by 9to5mac, especially since this image also shows a taller screen with the same exact width and bezels as the iPhone 4/4S.
We’ve heard previously that the next-gen iPhone will have an aluminum (or metal) back panel, matching up more uniformly with the iPad and other Apple products. TechCrunch has also exclusively confirmed that the usual 30-pin dock will be replaced with a 19-pin mini connector. And lest we forget, a 4.08-inch display is also expected. Macotokara reports that production on the iPhone 5 has already begun, so we should see this bad boy no later than October, if not earlier.
Here is a larger version of this latest leak:
And here’s that 9to5mac pic that seems to line up:
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 06:35 AM PDT
It won't be long at all before Microsoft pushes Windows Phone 8 into the wild, and that means we're probably about to see some serious discounts on existing Windows Phone handsets.
In fact, that price-slashing process has already begun, as Nokia recently announced that their AT&T-bound Lumia 900 now sports a much lighter price tag — it can be had for the terribly-reasonable price of $49.99. The question is, should you buy one?
It's a tough call considering what Microsoft plans to launch in a few short months, but the Lumia 900 is still a solid (and not very old) piece of kit — wonderful design, LTE support, and a spacious screen all make for a respectable package, early data issues notwithstanding. That new price point plus the addition of a new color (if you're into that sort of thing) may make for a compelling buy, though it means that you the user will have to do without Windows Phone 8′s warm embrace for nearly two years.
Thankfully, it’s not a total loss. Nokia reaffirmed at Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 unveiling that the company would continue to provide support and updates to their existing line of Lumia handsets, in addition to loading them up with some nifty exclusive features to help ease potential user disappointment. The forthcoming Windows Phone 7.8 update should also breathe some new (and more customizable) life into that Lumia's homescreen, though neither Microsoft, AT&T or Nokia have commented on when that update is expected to go live.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT
About a year ago, we first wrote about CivicScience, an online polling startup based in Pittsburgh that had just raised $1.2 million in seed funding from research firm The NPD Group, national polling company ALR, and The McClatchy Company director Kevin McClatchy, among others. Since then, the company has been busy expanding the number of publishing partners who use its polling widgets, which in turn has dramatically increased the number of users taking its polls, which makes its data all the more valuable.
Now it has raised an additional $2.86 million from Boston-based New Atlantic Ventures, as well as big media publisher Cox Enterprises. Along with the investment, New Atlantic founder and managing partner Todd Hixon will be joining the startup’s board. And Cox has begun deploying CivicScience polls across its digital properties.
CivicScience’s polling platform works like this: Publishers can license its platform for free, and plug its polls into their websites through a widget or API. Once in place, CivicScience collects data from all the various users who take those polls on third-party websites, social networks, or mobile platforms. Sounds simple enough, but in addition to poll answers, CivicScience also collects a fair amount of anonymous user data, which allows it to adapt to the user. That also lets it provide very deep analysis of user sentiment and trends in the market.
The startup then takes that data and sells it to a number of third parties. That includes brands, advertisers and political groups who use the data to measure the effectiveness of their ads, messaging, or campaigning efforts. It also includes financial institutions and research firms that use the data to pinpoint emerging trends for their own clients.
CivicScience hopes to provide value to both publishers and its research clients: On the one hand, CivicScience provides deep analytics and audience measurement tools to publishers, who can use that data in its negotiations with advertisers to increase CPMs. On the other side of the equation, CivicScience has a platform to provide syndicated and custom research from the data it collects from its partner sites.
Cox’s interest in the startup is strategic, as it will be rolling out CivicScience polls across its network of sites and also will be a client of its research services. Cox joins media companies like Scripps Digital, McClatchy, Hearst, the NY Daily News, and hundreds of other web publishers.
UPDATE: CivicScience has a history of putting out hilarious press releases. Here’s the latest. Good to know the company doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 05:40 AM PDT
Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has come in for a lot of plaudits for creating a new platform on which to fund startups. Certainly, since the passing of the U.S. Jobs Act earlier this year, crowdfunding is about to have its day in the sun. But it’s also had its fair share of skeptical critics.
A few weeks ago, Jeanne Pi of AppsBlogger wrote about Kickstarter failures that were difficult to find. Why? Because Kickstarter prevents failed campaigns from being indexed by search engines. Following that, Kickstarter began a stats page with data and basic metrics about the projects that were unsuccessful. But according to Pi and her team, Kickstarter is still hiding much of the data about failed projects.
However, Pi was criticised for her analysis, by Professor Ethan Mollick of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, for comparing the percent of projects in a category that are successful without also controlling for the size of the project. Plus, plenty of projects might not have gotten funded on Kickstarter but did not deserve to be called a failure.
So Pi and team have done more digging and come up with some research. You can read the post in full here, but meanwhile, here are some highlights.
• Pi alleges that the bulk of the missing data about projects is from failed projects. “This further supports the contention that failed projects are being made difficult to find,” she says.
• Pi and team scraped Kickstarter’s pages and found a total of 57,860 projects (or approximately 91% of all launched projects). They scraped about 99% of the successfully funded but were only able to scrape 82% of the unsuccessfully funded projects.
• They thus allege that Kickstarter “may have data issues that inflate the number of failed projects, or else are otherwise hiding these projects.”
• They also found that “projects that successfully fund tend to do so by relatively small margins. 25% of them funded at 3% or less over their goal. And 50% raised only 10% over their goal. In other words, when you succeed, it's not by much. Projects that raised double or more over their goal is the exception.”
• In addition “Projects that fail to fund tend to fail by large margins. Only 10% were able to reach 30% of their funding goal. And only 3% made it to 50% of their goal. In other words, when you fail, you fail big; adding insult to injury. In short… Failures happen by large amounts, successes by small amounts.”
• The exception is any large project (over $10,000) that received over 10x its funding goal. “Of the 106 projects that received over 10 times their goal, only 33 were large projects. With the exception of a single music project, all of these 33 overachievers were in the hardware, software, games, or product design categories.”
• Pushing the project to a lot of friends on social networks increase the chances of the project getting funding.
• Pi and team clim that only 25% of Kickstarter projects are delivered on time – however, they admit that they only surveyed a sample of projects specifically from the Technology and Design categories (which in turn comprise only less than 5% of projects on Kickstarter overall).
• Over-funding increases the chances of the project being delayed, (perhaps because the whol thing changes in nature with more cash?).
Pi and team have produce an info-graphic to illustrate their findings.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 05:30 AM PDT
Musicians are looking for new ways to make their shows more interactive and to connect with fans. And Sonic Notify thinks it’s got just the technology to do so. With that in mind, the startup raised $4.25 million and has struck a partnership with Interscope Records, which will make its technology more widely available to musicians on that label.
Sonic Notify uses soundwaves which are inaudible to the human ear to transmit signals to mobile apps that have its technology embedded. Once those soundwaves are picked up, however, apps with the technology enabled can send push notifications and transmit other multimedia content to users. Sonic Notify isn’t the only tech company aiming let users to unlock new features and interactivity using sound — but unlike Shazam and others, users don’t actually have to explicitly open up an app or really do anything for the signal to work.
Sonic Notify did its initial beta test during the CMJ Music Festival in New York last year, and was the technology behind Twitter’s interactive #Feed house at SXSW this year. More recently, its tech was used at New York’s Fashion Week to sync up photos of different outfits on the event’s mobile app as models walked down the runway. It’s also partnered with Spotify and Turntable.fm to let DJs share setlists and mixes with users who attend their shows.
For obvious reasons, Sonic Notify sees musicians and promoters as a huge market, as its technology will help them to connect with fans through their mobile apps. To that end, it’s announcing a launch partnership with Interscope Records, whose artists will be free to use the technology in their apps during concerts. Sonic Notify has also teamed up with the Mobile Roadie platform, which is used by 3,000 apps which have been downloaded by more than 20 million end users. That partnership will enable developers and brands to easily add interactive features powered by Sonic Notify.
And it’s already being used by some: Over the weekend, boy band Mindless Behavior took advantage of Sonic Notify’s features during a concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. According to Sonic Notify CEO Jonathan Glanz, the group was planning multiple interactive notifications before, during, and after the concert, including using the technology to pick a member of the audience to come up onstage and also providing exclusive content to concert goers.
Glanz was one of the folks behind the SitOrSquat app, which was acquired by Proctor & Gamble. He also founded Densebrain, a digital agency in New York. He began work on Sonic Notify late last year, and started assembling the team after a successful test at CMJ. Sonic Notify now has a dozen employees, with its headquarters in New York City and a remote business development office in Los Angeles.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 05:29 AM PDT
Starting today, the Venetian-Palazzo Casino and Hotel (owned by The Las Vegas Sands Corp.) is beginning to employ an app technology by Meridian as their indoor navigation service of choice in order to help you get around their casino more efficiently. This new “wayfinding” technology will reside in the resort’s new app called VP Pocket Concierge.
I first covered Meridian back in March of 2011. At that time, the company (formerly called Spotlight Mobile) had just completed wayfinding pilots at Powell's Books and the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Oregon.
If you've never used the company’s flagship app (also called Meridian), its main function is to let merchants or property owners create extremely granular, indoor maps of their stores or properties. This allows consumers to more easily find products or locations within that property, even though these locations could be off-the-grid with other typical GPS applications.
Relying on a combination of GPS andWiFi/Cellular triangulation, Meridian can pinpoint a single piece of merchandise you are looking for (as is the case with Powell’s Books) or can direct you to a sub-location inside of a larger location–like a bathroom in a football stadium.
In the past, the Meridian app has worked as a portal, where multiple brands can provide their store maps to consumers, but today's launch ushers in a new era for the technology as they are white labeling the service to be distributed directly in The Venetian-Palazzo's own native app.
Speaking from my own CES experiences of being lost in a mass of slot machines and blackjack tables, it would be tempting to think that a casino of all places would want you to remain adrift in their never-ending sea of excess in hopes of more conversions.
But the point of my original story was that I think there is much more purchasing potential when a location guides, directs and assists consumers instead of carpet-bombing them with un-targeted attempts to keep them lost, searching and shopping. These days, consumers are just too smart for that.
But casinos are pretty smart too and this move by the Venetian reminds me of insights penned by Stephen Baker in his now slightly dated yet still fascinating book The Numerati where he posits that increased, granular data collection by merchants will give them the power to be more profitable than ever. His thesis notes that "as merchants learn more about us, it's going to be easier for them to figure out which customers to reward and which ones to punish."
Data, after all, lets a merchant reward active spenders and ignore thrifty hangers-on.
I'm not suggesting that The Venetian wants to punish anyone (other than maybe card counters), rather, they are likely employing Meridian's technology in order to present the most accurate maps while still being able to collect as much consumer data as possible. In short, create a win/win situation for the consumers and the casino itself.
A B2B Approach
As a company, Meridian is approaching the location-based services market from an enterprise software perspective. When a location uses Meridian, they are getting the benefits of a custom installation and all the control of the data that goes along with that methodology. This is an important distinction. Their model is a B2B play instead of a consumer focused strategy.
"Other location-based services have tried to create one consumer app that rules them all" explains Meridian VP of Business Development Jeff Hardison. "However, locations themselves have been slow to adapt from their end because they have little control over how their brand appears. Conversely, Meridian gives those locations tools to take control and make the experience better for their visitors using smart phones to find their ways around."
So rather than relying on consumer led identification and validation of locations, a la Yelp or Foursquare, the Meridian team have instead focused their efforts on building an intuitive Content Management System (CMS), that businesses can control and use to set up their own points of interest. They control all the data.
This CMS tool lets a business upload their own location maps and then associate their own item locations with the map either by importing them (if there are many) or assigning them manually if the number of locations is smaller and more manageable.
The Las Vegas Sands Corp. is the second business to launch using the new Meridian Editor 2.0, which is more user friendly than previous versions and incorporates drag and drop functionality.
Apparently this business-friendly approach is paying off. In my brief conversation with Jeff and founder Nick Farina, the team hinted that this CMS licensing approach has been much more profitable for them than relying on the typical advertising models like some other app developers.
You can actually give the technology a spin in the maps section of the Venetian app (there is an iOS version and an Android version). As I noted in the first story, the system is built to still work even when your location can’t be registered by GPS or WiFi/Cellular triangulation. The lowest common denominator in that scenario is self selecting your current location and desired location from lists. When you do this, it indeed draws the route from one place to the other. If you had the benefit of actually being at the hotel, your location would be plotted relative to the route.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 04:48 AM PDT
They came together with a common worldview and complementary personalities. Then, as they grew older and grew apart, they still tried to make it work — for the sake of the child, at least. Now that that kid is a teenager, they’ve decided now is probably the best time to finally call curtains: After 16 years, Microsoft and NBC are parting ways in their joint news venture, and NBC is getting custody of their kid, MSNBC.com.
As of Sunday night, MSNBC.com is no longer going by that name: it’s now NBCNews.com. Meanwhile, Microsoft is looking to refresh its own MSN.com news operation, and is now in the process of staffing up for a relaunch later this year.
In the process, there has also been a financial transaction to end the JV. NBC’s own story on the deal didn’t disclose the terms, but Brian Stelter at the New York Times did: Microsoft is getting $300 million for its 50 percent stake in the JV, according to his sources. He notes that a “portion” of that price is coming from MSNBC’s past profits, although it’s not clear whether it is a profitable operation at the moment. Most of the site’s 300 employees will stay on post-JV and will be employed by NBC, writes NYT.
Why, exactly, the separation? Well, it’s actually a lot like a relationship between two people, who had perhaps first linked up when they were young, but have failed to find such common ground as they’ve matured. In the earlier days of the web, NBC and Microsoft linking up for coverage was based more around an ideal of how convergence would work for the media world: NBC had the chops for content, but not necessarily for execution — something Microsoft had in spades as one of the earliest and biggest online portals.
That’s evolved quite a lot over the years for media companies. For NBC’s part, the Comcast-owned broadcaster has been making a huge push into digital to complement (and perhaps one day offset) revenues from traditional TV advertising. That has been helped by the rise of smartphones, tablets, better online video technology, broadband growth — and a collective, consumer-led decision that online, not TV, is often now the first port of call for news and information. If NBC wants to really “own” those consumers, it needs to be able to do it on its own terms, rather than those jointly agreed with Microsoft.
It’s also most likely a move that has been decided from the top: the new NBCNews.com site will be a part of NBC News Digital, a new division led by Vivian Schiller, who joined NBC as chief digital officer from NPR in 2011. That division also includes tv.msnbc.com, TODAY.com, theGrio.com,NBCLatino.com, NBCPolitics.com, EducationNation.com, and NightlyNews.com.
“This deal represents so many opportunities for NBC News, including the ability to better align television with digital, innovate around how we deliver content to consumers, and fully integrate digital into everything that we do,” said Schiller in a statement sent to TechCrunch. “Through this new structure, we’ll grow by engaging users with our content directly, and on every platform. This is a different model from the rest, and given where the future of online news is trending, we see it as a model with staying power.”
It will be interesting to see whether NBCNews.com will be able to grow its business (either by revenues or audience, or both) independent of MSN: the site currently ranks third behind rival broadcasters’ sites: ABC (which has taken a different approach and has tied up recently with Yahoo) has 81 million unique visitors; CNN has 56 million, to MSNBC.com’s 50 million.
On Microsoft’s side, the deal would have originally worked as a way of better anchoring its MSN.com portal with exclusive content from NBC. But as declines at Yahoo and AOL also show, the “portal” does not have the same kind of currency now as it did 16 years ago. For Microsoft’s part, it’s putting a lot of focus into reviving Bing, its search business, against Google.com, and its attention is now about how it can leverage its extended online operation into a content complementary to its efforts in its Windows platform on PCs, tablets and phones, TVs and more. That will need as wide a content net as possible for maximum impact, and in that context a straight deal with NBC sounds, frankly, limiting.
NBC is trying hard to drive the new brand home to users, running pop-up messages and banners across the main site with the new URL and an announcement of the change. But the proper switchover will take more time — two years, NBC says. Not only are there are still lots of references all over the site to MSNBC — including, as far as I can see, all the URLs beyond the homepage — but there are existing ad sharing deals in place, as well as those for content sharing.
Before the announcement, NBC was the sole third-party provider of news to MSN.com; and MSNBC.com didn’t have other third-party partnerships, pooling the content from their collective editorial and television producing operations. Now both sides are touting how they may still share content with each other; but they will also be looking to partner with others that would have been verboten before. Or, to push that divorce metaphor a little bit more, they’re now playing the field, and and finding their feet as newly-minted singletons once again.
NBC has already name-dropped (our AOL stablemate) Huffington Post as one partner. As the NYT piece notes, NBC has actually been speaking with HuffPost already this year, but the “terms of the JV limited how far those talks could go.” Now, NBC News president Steve Capus says, “We’re open for business.” MSN.com’s GM Bob Visse, meanwhile, didn’t name any specific third parties in this AFP story, but the story makes clear that it, too, will be “free to forge partnerships with other media organizations.”
For consumers who pay attention to these things, the switchover may prove to be a bit confusing. Putting aside the two-year process of rebranding with the new name, sorting out new content partnerships, and separating advertising deals — the MSNBC brand will continue to live on anyway. It’s also a cable channel (which currently provides lots of content to MSNBC.com) and that cable channel will soon have its own web home, in the form of MSNBC.com. Microsoft’s stake in that cable channel was actually sold to NBC in 2005 — so perhaps now that the online site’s ownership has been resolved, we may see a rebranding here, too.
And even after two years, this may not be the end-end for MSN and NBC. MSN was and still is a significant traffic generator for NBCNews.net (nee MSNBC.com) — about half of MSNBC.com’s 50 million monthly unique visitors come by way of Microsoft’s portal. This is partly why it will take two years to sort everything out, and why at the end of that we may yet continue to see some strong connections remaining between the two. Kind of like a divorced couple who still remain civil and may even sit next to each other when their child graduates from high school.
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 04:30 AM PDT
Battery partner Neeraj Agrawal, who’s joining the Tealium board, tells me the firm has been making big bets on marketing tech. That’s because marketers are playing a more critical role in their companies, rather than just taking a backseat to the sales team. And they’re making decisions that are increasingly driven by data — as Agrawal put it, marketers have evolved from being traditional Madison Avenue types and are becoming more like “the guys on Wall Street.”
By removing the bottleneck of IT approval, Agrawal says marketers are able to “control their own destiny,” because they have more flexibility to try out different services. The IT department, meanwhile, no longer has to spend time on work it considers “not very strategic.”
In the first half of 2012, Tealium says its revenue grew 700 percent compared to the same period last year, and it added 60 paying enterprise clients (bringing the total to more than 100). New clients include the National Hockey League, Fox Networks Group, Volvo, and Nokia.
In addition to customer momentum, Agrawal says he was attracted by the management team, which comes from WebSideStory, an analytics and business optimization company that was acquired by Omniture (which was in turn acquired by Adobe).
Posted: 16 Jul 2012 03:47 AM PDT
Jolla Mobile — MeeGo’s saviour in the making — is certainly ambitious, perhaps insanely so. The Finnish startup made up of a crack team of ex-Nokians is already committed to release not one but two MeeGo-powered smartphones, launching a new handset brand along the way. It’s early days, of course, the company doesn’t even have its own website yet, but today news comes of a tie-up with Chinese mobile phone retailer D.Phone that begins to hint at how this might just work.
First announced via a tweet (what’s a startup to do without a website), Jolla has signed a ‘Sales and Distribution agreement’ with D.Phone Group, the largest mobile phone retail chain in China with 2,000 stores, targeting China's 150 million-strong smartphone market which Jolla hopes to penetrate. D.Phone also works closely with carriers China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.
In a statement, Donghai Liu, Founder and CEO of D.Phone Group, makes specific mention of “Jolla's fresh and unique user experience”, talking up the potential to “reach significant sales volumes”.
Meanwhile, Jolla’s Chairman, Dr. Antti Saarnio, notes that China has the “largest and most rapidly expanding smartphone market in the world” and that the deal with D.Phone represents “a major step in Jolla’s journey towards becoming a significant player in the global smartphone market”.
But canned statements aside, targeting China does seems like a smart move for Jolla, perhaps keeping it out of the way — for now — of the highly saturated and ultra competitive US and European markets where carriers are likely to be far less inclined to support another mobile OS/ecosystem. That said, this is a retail agreement not a direct carrier endorsement, and if Jolla is to ever become more than a feisty niche player or acquisition target, those mobile network subsidies will need to come sooner or later.
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