Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Eric Schmidt: Android Is Differentiated, Not Fragmented

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 09:31 AM PST


We’ve spent the better part of yesterday cruising around the Central Hall on a quest to highlight the coolest tech at CES, but Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was on hand to talk about the next big thing in consumer electronics. While doing so, he (perhaps unsurprisingly) made it clear that he isn’t a fan of the word “fragmentation” when it comes to Google’s Android OS.

“You have to be careful with that word,” he cautioned. He actually prefers to use the term “differentiation” to describe the situation, as his definition of fragmentation is when certain apps are able to run on one particular flavor of Android and not other. “What people really care about is if there's an interoperable ecosystem of apps.”

In Schmidt’s eyes, differentiation is a means for Android-using partners to woo customers with their own take on a common platform. As long as every Android customer is able to use the same apps, he doesn’t see much of a problem.

“Differentiation means that you have a choice and the people who are making the phones, they’re going to compete on their view of innovation, and they’re going to try and convince you that theirs is better than somebody else,” Schmidt said.

A quick look at the breakdown of Android versions currently in use shows that certain versions have settled into common use, but the sheer number of manufacturers working with Android means that the timing for new software updates can be dramatically different from company to company.

The highly customized nature of some manufacturer-specific Android builds also means that device-specific maintenance and support updates can take extra time to implement, which leads to an Android landscape where some companies pull ahead and others lag when it comes to customer experience. Is that necessarily fair to every customer? Not really, but it seems we’ll all just have to deal with it for the foreseeable future.

Google+ Search = A Way To Call The Feds In On IPO-Bound Facebook

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 09:30 AM PST


Like everyone else, I’ve been trying to get my head around why Google has force-integrated its Google+ social network into its main search feed at the expense of leading social services like Facebook and Twitter. The situation seems like an antitrust case waiting to happen, because Google could easily choose to feature the publicly available content from its social rivals in the same way it is showing its own product within its market-dominating search engine. It just hasn’t.

You’d think that Google has an intimate awareness of what it can and can’t get away with, given how often it has been scrutinized for antitrust issues already.

So, actually, yeah, let’s assume it does… that it has predicted this criticism, and even an investigation by the US Department of Justice. What’s the plan?

There could be a grand strategy for provoking the US government to investigate the market shares of search and social products as a single issue, in a way that puts Facebook on the defensive, especially as it looks to go public.

Facebook has played favorites with developers on its platform and with partners throughout its history, without any serious legal scrutiny. The mechanisms it has had to do this over the years include: showing stories from favored parties more often in users news feeds, under-enforcing any spammy trangressions, providing extra notifications and requests, providing early access to viral features, etc. Beneficiaries of Facebook’s favor over the years have included Causes, Spotify, arguably Zynga, large advertisers… and strategic investors/business partners like Microsoft.

Regarding search, Google can argue that Facebook has gone even further than anything involving Google+. Facebook provides Bing search as the only third-party results within its search engine, and it also provides Microsoft with additional public data including Likes, that gets incorporated into Bing. Google has been left out in the cold.

You can imagine how Google might frame this to the government. It’d go something like this (and the following is something I made up, it’s not from Google or anyone else): “We are competing against a social networking company with clearly dominant market share, that has a strategic relationship with our largest existing competitor. That relationship specifically excludes our search engine from working effectively. This is no more fair than our integration of Google+ into search. If you’re going to regulate us, regulate them, too. Or leave us all alone.”

Even if Google takes all sorts of grief from the government (not to mention users and the press) over this, the biggest end result could be new scrutiny on its two main rivals. The fact that Facebook has never had to go through an arduous antitrust investigation before means any suggestion of one now could give investors pause as it looks to go public sometime within the next year.

If this sounds like a drastic, hardball, inside-the-Beltway style approach to competing, well, Google has been pretty clear that it has heard Facebook’s footsteps behind it. Playing tough is what companies do when they think they’re facing an existential threat.

This hypothesis could also explain why Facebook tells me it isn’t commenting, even as Twitter has gone on a public rant about the injustice of it all.

But, the situation isn’t all about getting the visible hand intervening to regulate the market. Google has a conveniently self-serving compromise available for Facebook, that could short-circuit an investigation. It goes something like this: “allow us full access to all the data that Bing is getting, and we’ll start including you in search in the same way that G+ is.”

The big catch to this idea, at least for now, is that when you consider Bing’s relatively weak market share, and the lack of effect Facebook has had on it, it’s unclear if the Justice Department will take this sort of issue seriously. Facebook may be the Google of the future, but Google is the Google of the present. And maybe Google is just trying to see what it can get away with ahead of what we can expect to be habitually slow federal interest in whatever moves it makes.

Watch Us Live From The CES 2012 Floor!

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 09:18 AM PST

Yesterday was awesome. We hit up LG, Samsung, and Sony to name a few and had a helluva good time doing it. But today is a different day, a different hall and a bevy of new companies and booths. So grab some popcorn — seriously, go now because you only have a few minutes before we’re on — and get ready to come on a crazy journey with us.

Oh, and if you want to ask us some questions or participate in any way, just tweet to @TechCrunch using the #CEScrunch hash tag. We’ll try to answer any questions you have in real-time, and if you want to see more of a certain thing or booth we’re totally open to suggestions.

We’ll be live at 9:15 Pacific, and we’ll stay with you until the end of the day. No one is bringing CES to you this way, so we hope you enjoy.

TC/Gadgets Interview: Up Close With The Lytro

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 09:13 AM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-11 at 9.12.13 AM

Yesterday we had the opportunity to play with the world’s first mass-market light-field camera, the Lytro. VP of Marketing Kira Wampler ran us through its paces as we learned how the camera grabs not only the color and intensity but the direction of light coming in from a scene.

The product is still in its infancy and it will soon receive a cool upgrade that will allow Lytro users to extrapolate 3D scenes from standard Lytro pictures. The device is already replacing a room full of cameras and electronics, said Wampler, and now the mini Lytro can replace bulky dual-lens 3D cameras.

Shazam Launches New App Focused On Lyric Play: Shazam Player

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 08:51 AM PST

Shazam Player_The Track Tray

iTunes is great and everything, but it’s still just a standard music player. The most exciting feature of the whole program is Genius, at least in my opinion, and even that can be off from time to time. But Shazam wants you to ingest your music a bit differently from here on out, and has launched the Shazam Player app to give users a better chance to leverage its new feature, Lyric Play.

Lyric Play is already available in the premium version of Shazam, Shazam Encore, and allows users to see lyrics playing in time with the music, as the song is being discovered. This technology is clearly nothing short of impressive, but the 20 seconds spent tagging a song isn’t really the ideal platform for this feature to be shown off.

That said, the Shazam Player app lets you get your Lyric Play on throughout the entirety of songs. However, there will be a small fee. The app itself is free, but unlimited Lyric Play functionality requires either a monthly ($.99) or yearly ($5.99) subscription. But there are plenty of other features worth trying out, even if Lyric Play isn’t your thing.

For one, most of the same core functionality found in the Shazam apps is still available here, save for Shazaming of course. Users will be able to share their music via Facebook and Twitter, check out the Vevo music video on YouTube, and have access to touring information for the artists of their choice.

Once the app is downloaded, music from within the user’s iTunes library is automatically indexed within the app, at which point the user can filter by artist, album, or track. All your iTunes playlists will make the migration, too. Users can also limit selection down to only those songs with Lyric Play support (Shazam doesn’t have every song covered just yet).

The Shazam Player app gives users the option to build playlists on the go, along with some cool good/bad buttons for an existing queue. Let’s say you’re listening to Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits, but realize that the song Man In The Mirror makes you way too emotional. You need a break from that song. Shazam Player lets you add it to the “Bad List” with one tap of a button, and it’ll stop playing in any of your queues until you bring it back over to the good side. In the same way, Shazam Player lets you mark songs for the good list, which will then get more plays.

Microsoft Bing Search Queries Overtake Yahoo For The First Time In December

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 08:48 AM PST


comScore has released its search data for December 2011, and Google continues to dominate in terms of share, with 65.9%, compared with 65.4% in November 2011 and 66.6% in December 2010. Year-over-year, queries increased 9.7% in December.

Yahoo queries came in with 14.5% share, compared with 15.1% in November 2011 and 16.0% in December 2010. Microsoft’s Bing’s share of searches in December was 15.1%, compared with 15% in November 2011 and 12.0% in December 2010. Since Bing powers Yahoo search, combined the two search engine’s share of searches was 29.6%, compared with 30.1% in November 2011. AOL queries declined 8% in December with 1.6% share.

In terms of search queries, this was the first month Bing overtook Yahoo in terms of search queries, says Citi analyst Mark Mahaney. Both search portals are powered by the same technologies but clearly Yahoo search traffic is declining, which is just another problem added to new CEO’s Scott Thompson’s list of problems for the company.

As Mahaney writes in his report citing the new data, “Scott Thompson has his work cut out for him.”

Social Entertainment Network GetGlue Raises $12 Million In New Financing

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 08:32 AM PST


Social entertainment network GetGlue has just raised a significant round of $12 million in new financing, led by new investor Rho Ventures. The company’s existing investors, TimeWarner, RRE Ventures and Union Square Ventures, also participated in this round. The company had previously raised $6 million in November 2010.

The NYC-based company, which launched way back in 2008, has gone through many iterations since then. It now focuses on allowing users to share their activities, like watching a TV show, reading a book, seeing a movie and more, and then comment, reply or vote on comments from others who are doing the same thing.

The service is available online (desktop and mobile) as well as on mobile apps for iOS and Android. Over 30 major media companies now use GetGlue (via its API) to integrate the network’s user activity into their own websites and apps. These include Fox, NBC, Showtime, HBO and DirectTV, which offers a “first screen” experience that allows you to check-in to the program you’re viewing using your remote control.

In addition, over 75 major television networks work with GetGlue to reward fans of their 680 popular shows with stickers and discounts. The group, which includes major networks like ABC, CW, FOX, NBC, A&E, ABC Family, AMC, BRAVO, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, FX, HBO, MTV, Showtime, TNT, and USA, also uses GetGlue’s backend monitoring and analytics offerings to track engagement levels among their shows’ fans.

Over the past year, GetGlue has seen incredible growth. At the beginning of the year, the network had 750,000 users. It now has 2 million. Check-ins grew 1000% over 2011 and crossed the 100 million mark by year-end. And GetGlue’s database of check-ins, ratings and comments has over 350 million entries.

Some of GetGlue’s most recent efforts have been behind the scenes. For example, in September, the company introduced a curation feature that uses homegrown NLP (natural language processing) algorithms to automatically filter and hide comments on TV shows to reduce the “noise.” This includes automatically hiding profane speech and other short-form comments. After implementing the change, GetGlue saw engagement levels climb by 50%. Now, every three or four comments will include a vote or reply.

Although GetGlue offers you the ability to check in to a number of activities – and that’s not going away anytime soon – the main focus is on the social TV experience, an increasingly hot focus these days. Says CEO Alex Iskold, TV is clearly the biggest area of interest for the service’s users, followed by sports, movies and then all the rest.

The additional funding will be used mainly for product development, says Iskold, as the plan is to keep the company’s 40-person team as small as possible.

The company is also planning to launch updated apps, for iPad, Android tablets and possibly the Kindle Fire in the new year.

Why Apple Bought Anobit

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 07:45 AM PST


Apple finally confirmed earlier reports that it bought Israeli semiconductor startup Anobit Technologies. Apple did not confirm the price, which is believed to be between $400 million and $500 million.

Apple bought Anobit for two reasons: its flash memory controllers are a key component of all Apple’s leading products (from iPads and iPhones to MacBook Airs), and in one fell swoop it just added a large team of chip engineers to payroll. Do not underestimate how important those chip engineers are. Apple had at least 1,000 chip engineers. Roughly 160 of Anobit’s 200 employees are also engineers, thus they instantly represent more than 10 percent of the total number of chip engineers at Apple.

Anobit is a fabless semiconductor company based in Israel which makes a key component that improves the performance of NAND flash memory chips, which are used in iPhones, iPads, and iPods. As Robin wrote when the rumors first surfaced:

Anobit provides flash storage solutions for enterprise and mobile markets, based on its proprietaryMSP (which stands for 'Memory Signal Processing') technology. Its solutions are designed to improve the speed, endurance and performance of flash storage systems while driving down the cost.

Anobit's technology is comprised of signal processing algorithms that compensate for physical limitations of NAND flash, the company claims.

Flash memory is a crucial piece of Apple’s technology puzzle. Apple has been moving away from hard drives for years, starting with the iPod, then the iPhone, the iPad, and now it’s MacBook Air laptops. None of these computers have hard drives. They’ve all been replaced by flash memory chips. Removing the hard drive is what allows these devices to be so thin, assume any form factor, and run on less power. Any technology that improves the performance of flash memory, such as Anobit’s, is a critical piece of technology which Apple decided it needs to own.

But beyond the technology, just as important are the engineers that come with the purchase. Apple designs its own chips, and then farms out their manufacture to semiconductor fabrication plants around the world. So with a relatively small tam of chip designers, it’s been able to replace what it used to rely on Intel for (and before that,IBM) with its own in-house team focussed on creating chips for post-PC devices. These chips have different characteristics than the power-hungry Intel chips in PCs.

In computers, whether PCs or post-PCs, everything starts with the chips. By designing its own chips and building out a world-class chip engineering team, Apple is investing in its ability to keep creating more post-PC devices for years to come.

Personal Search Service CloudMagic Arrives On Mobile For Fast Gmail, Docs & Twitter Search

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 07:39 AM PST


CloudMagic, the personal search service that indexes your Gmail, documents, contacts, calendar and Twitter updates, is now available as a mobile app. The release follows a major update for the service this past fall, which added the ability to search Twitter and a move to host your personal index in the cloud.

This switch is what enables CloudMagic to work across multiple devices, including now, iPhone and Android smartphones. Using the new mobile app, CloudMagic is surprisingly fast – and far more useful than the phones’ built-in search functions alone.

We first looked at CloudMagic back in summer 2010 when the startup made its debut as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that indexed your Gmail and Google Apps. The extension is still around, if you want it, but is not required for the service to work. Instead, you can simply connect your accounts (Gmail, Google Docs, Google’s Contacts and Calendar, and Twitter) using OAuth. If you choose to use the extension, however, you’ll also have access to a CloudMagic search box you can access within Gmail or Twitter.

Using the search box is fast, and helpful in the way it aggregates and organizes the data. I like using the extension in Gmail better – in Twitter, it feels a little more in the way due to its placement. And while Gmail’s search is already very good, CloudMagic is helpful in that you can remain in your inbox, or even with an email open, in order to search. (Gmail’s search makes you navigate away from what you’re doing to a standalone search page to see your results.)

But even though Gmail’s native search is OK on the desktop, on phones, that’s another matter. Email search there is far more broken.

Email search on the iPhone, for example, only lets you search by “From,” “To,” “Subject” and “All.” CloudMagic, on the other hand, allows you to search for names, a company name, a phrase you remember from a tweet or anything else. It also supports the use of the advanced search operators listed here.

So now, for example, you can search for “filename:pdf” on your mobile to find all emails that have a PDF attached. Handy.

The app is also really, really, really, fast. It felt more like using the iPhone’s Spotlight Search feature than some cloud-hosted thing. (Hopefully that will remain the case after everyone signs up all at once!)

CloudMagic, which competes with Greplin, still needs to integrate more services to be competitive. Greplin already includes Twitter, and it offers Facebook, Tumblr, Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Google Reader, too. But it’s still good to see some competition in the desperately under-served, on-device mobile search market. Yes, that’s a thing. A thing we need!

You can grab the updated CloudMagic iPhone and Android apps from their respective app stores if you want to give it a go.

The service comes from the same folks who brought you IssueBurner, the combo task management/helpdesk solution for small teams.

Panasonic Shows Cloud-Based “Smart Vegetable Garden” Device For Home Use

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 07:15 AM PST

panasonic cloud vegetable

Panasonic isn’t just making TVs, phones, or cameras, they are also producing household appliances. One such appliance has recently been introduced by Japanese business daily The Nikkei, and it’s probably the first cloud-based device for growing fruit and vegetables at home out there.

Four leaf vegetables can be grown in one so-called “Smart Vegetable Garden” (which is sized at 100x50x30cm) at the same time, with Panasonic claiming that owners can expect to harvest them in about 40 days – 30% less than using conventional methods. Apart from saving time, the device also integrates a cloud-based management system to track growth, for example by automatically screening the level of water and nutrients, or the temperature.

According to Panasonic, the device is not only safe for use within the kitchen but also outdoors (it’s also possible to connect multiple units).

The company plans to start selling the devices in Japan in the next fiscal year. One unit will cost a whopping US$7,800, but alternatively, buyers can opt for a US$180 monthly lease plan that includes the cloud-based management service. The device will also be bundled with home solar energy systems Panasonic is selling on the Japanese market.

Sorry for the small picture – Panasonic hasn’t included the Smart Vegetable Garden on its Japanese website for home appliances yet.

Ngmoco Partners With Glu Mobile To Bring Gun Bros To Mobage

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 07:00 AM PST


Following its November partnership with TinyCo, social games outfit ngmoco (now a DeNA-owned company) is partnering with game publisher Glu Mobile, Inc. The deal will brings Glu’s popular Gun Bros game to ngmoco’s Mobage gaming platform for Android.

No word yet on whether the rest of Glu’s titles – many of which are more well-known than Gun Bros – will port over as well.

Mobage arrived in an English version post-DeNA's December acquisition of ngmoco for $400 million. The social gaming platform now serves over 35 million users with more than 1,800 game titles for smartphones, feature phones and PC's. DeNA is now working to expand Mobage globally by building up a presence in the U.S., European and Asian markets.

With Gun Bros now in tow, Mobage now includes the following titles:

  • Paper Toss, Ragdoll Blaster (Backflip Studios)
  • Ant Smasher, Bunny Shooter (Best, Cool and Fun Games)
  • Pocket God (Bolt Creative)
  • Nightclub City (Booyah)
  • Touch Hockey (Flipside5)
  • Paradise Island (Game Insight)
  • iBlast Moki 2 , Stardunk (Godzilab)
  • Fragger 2 (Harold Brenes)
  • Haypi Kingdom (HaypiCo)
  • Texas Poker (KAMAGames)
  • Backyard Monsters (Kixeye)
  • Solitaire (MobilityWare)
  • Maple Story (Nexon)
  • We Rule, Mobage Blackjack , VIP(ngmoco)
  • Pocket Frogs, Tiny Tower (Nimblebit)
  • Checkers (Optime)
  • Putt Putt Penguin (OMGPOP)
  • Zombie Farm (The Playforge)
  • Zoo Land, City Land (RockYou)
  • Cupcake Maker (Sunstorm Interactive)
  • My Monster Rancher (Tecmo/Koei)
  • Tiny Chef, Tiny Nightclub (TinyCo)

TiVo Research Claims Only 38 Percent Of Users Watch Live TV

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 05:57 AM PST


TiVo this morning said that internal research shows only 38 percent of their users watch live television, with nearly two thirds watching on-demand video or ‘delayed’ TV. Among TiVo viewers who use broadband connected service such as Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus, live TV viewership has even dropped to 27 percent, the company asserts.

Though TiVo users are hardly a representative sample if you want to look at usage data of your average TV viewer in the United States, the findings are remarkable and suggest that the consumption of recorded TV and Internet-delivered programming is surpassing live TV viewership much more rapidly than anticipated.

TiVo’s research findings are of course self-serving, but the company claims it gathered data from tracking anonymous usage across some two million devices on a second-by-second basis.

The trend is obvious.

For your further reading pleasure:

We Are Going To See A Lot More Original TV On The Web In 2012

12 Things That Won't Happen In Online Video in 2012

Mobile Media Platform Cinemacraft Extends Series A Round With Investment From 500 Startups

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 05:35 AM PST

cinemacraft logo

Tokyo- and Singapore-based mobile media platform Cinemacraft announced it has extended its Series A round by securing an investment from Dave McClure‘s 500 Startups. The fresh money from the US brings the total amount raised by the company so far to US$900,000.

Previous investors include Singapore-based Jungle Ventures (background), Jayesh Pareikh (founder of Sony Entertainment TV), Jai Maroo (Shemaroo Entertinament), Takuro Wakayabashi (Xseed Partners), and Devesh Chetty (RGM Media). Cinemecraft founder and CEO Sandeep Casi says the investment will be used to create an interactive video ad network in Japan, US, India, and Indonesia, along with ad-supported consumer video apps.

For Cinemacraft, this is just a first step: the company is currently building an interactive mobile broadcast network that will make it much easier to distribute video and other content to mobile devices, including feature phones in emerging markets. To be more concrete, the cloud-based platform makes it possible to stream rich media over 2.5G (30 kbps to 60 kpbs), 3G (100 kbps to 250 kbps), 4G (over 300 kbps), and Wi-Fi/broadband (400 kbps to 1000 kpbs).

In other words, Cinemacraft wants to enable even owners of low-end phones in mobile markets with weak bandwith and latency issues to consume content such as movies, TV programs, music, games, comics, or interactive video ads on their handsets. (Again, smartphones like the iPhone or iPad, Android, Windows Phones, or Blackberry are supported, too.) The ultimate goal is a unified interactive media platform that overcomes the fragmentation problem observed in the mobile world today.

Cinemacraft is looking at a big market: according to Cisco, worldwide mobile video traffic in 2011 has exceeded 50% for the first time and is projected to hit 66% in 2015. The startup is currently building out its entire media broadcast platform, i.e. the compression technology, the video streaming technology, and the media players (see below for an overview).

You can learn more about Cinemacraft’s background and history here.

Booking Site For Health Professionals ZocDoc Adds Former U.S. Senators Tom Daschle And Bill Frist To Advisory Board

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 05:31 AM PST


Booking platform for healthcare professionals ZocDoc has named former U.S. Senators Tom Daschle and Dr. Bill Frist to its advisory board.

ZocDoc, which launched at TechCrunch in 2007,automates a task that can be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming for consumers. ZocDoc allows users to book their doctor appointments online, even for same-day appointments.

Patients can see real-time availability of doctors in their area, confirm who accepts their insurance plan and read feedback and reviews of doctors from other patients.allows consumers to find and book appointments with doctors, dentists and other health professionals online. And the service is free for patients.

On the health care side of things, ZocDoc integrates with doctors' calendars in real-time and helps taps into the hidden supply of medical providers' availabilities, such as the 10 to 20 percent of medical appointments that are cancelled or rescheduled at the last-minute. Doctors pay $250 per month for ZocDoc.

Cyrus Massoumi, co-founder and CEO of ZocDoc, tells me that both Daschle and Frist’s experience in healthcare will help the company strategize their growth plans going forward.

Frist, a former Republican Senator for Tennessee, is also a physician, and made healthcare policy one of his major legislative issues while he was in office. Daschle also championed healthcare issues while in the Senate (as a Democrat), focusing on universal healthcare in particular. He was also nominated by President Obama for the position of Health and Human Services Secretary.

ZocDoc, which has received $95 million in funding from DST, Goldman Sachs, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos, is available in 13 metropolitan areas, six of which were launched in 2011. ZocDoc currently offers nearly 6 million available appointments with doctors and medical practitioners from among over 40 medical specialties, and is used by over 800,000 patients each month.

Check out our recent Founder Stories segment on ZocDoc here.

Six Hotel Giants Team Up To Launch Hotel Search Engine, Buy Hotelicopter

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 05:04 AM PST


In an unexpected move, six of the largest hotel companies in the world have partnered to launch a hotel search engine of their own, dubbed The hotel companies hope that offering a ‘personalized experience’ and ‘accurate information’ will make travelers choose for them when they search for accommodation.

Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Wyndham Hotel Group teamed up to start to, in their own words, “provide travelers a search and book experience tailored for ease of hotel shopping through an uncluttered and trustworthy site”. users can look for and book properties at all – but only those – six hotel chains involved, including their affiliates. Later on, the hotel companies say, the site will also offer independent reviews, and the ability to compare, plan and share with friends and family.

The site is not just limited in scope, but also up against a plethora of hotel search websites and aggregators, so it remains to be seen if it will get any traction. For now, it’s focused on serving travelers in the United States, but it should be expanded to include other English-speaking regions soon. will be led by John F. Davis III, most recently CEO of BirchStreet, and founder of hotel distribution switch technology company Pegasus and floral ordering company 1-800 Flowers.

Interestingly, says it acquired its technology platform from hotelicopter in an asset deal that closed in 2011. We covered hotelicopter when it debuted back in April 2009.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but it was likely small in size.

More background information about the deal is available on industry news site Tnooz. Raises $2M, ‘Gamifies’ Personal Finance Management

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 04:31 AM PST


Exclusive - It’s challenging to make personal financial management sound like something that’s fun to do, but that’s exactly what is shooting for. The company, started in 2009, wants to help people achieve certain goals (like saving for a trip, or paying off credit card debt) using a platform that blends ‘serious’ personal finance management tools with ‘fun and rewarding’ game dynamics. will announce later today that they’ve raised $2 million in funding in a round led by Anthemis Group, Firstmark Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, with several unnamed “individual investors from Wall Street” participating. The startup has now raised $5.8 million in total.

Here’s how Scott Saunders, CEO and founder of, pitches the service:

"Payoff enhances people's intrinsic motivation to achieve financial goals through rewards and by illustrating the connection between short-­‐term financial behaviors and long-­‐term goals. We want to help more people sleep better with funded savings and lighter debt loads.”

Users start by setting goals and dreams, which helps determine motivation. Then, they can link their financial accounts to track their saving or debt payoff progress, and keep a close eye on what they’re spending, relying on positive enforcement to take additional steps.

As users progress, they can earn – you guessed it – badges and even cash prizes from or a sponsor. The site also offers tools and blog posts to help users with their financial situations, and encourages people to share their achievements with friends and family using social networking services.

Private Investing Network CapLinked Raises $500K

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 03:59 AM PST


CapLinked, the LinkedIn-meets-Salesforce for private investing, has raised $500,000 in new funding from Chris Yeh, Jason Portnoy (the former CFO of Palantir Technologies), Stephan Paternot, Alexsis de Raadt-St. James, Lok Lee and Clark Landry. This brings the startup’s total funding to $1.4 million. Previous investors include Peter Thiel, Dave McClure, David Sacks, Joe Lonsdale, Aman Verjee and David Anderson.

As we’ve written in the past, CapLinked launched to allow entrepreneurs to raise capital and sell or buy assets, manage and contact investor prospects, centralize document flow on a secure platform and connect with new investors, advisors and companies. Investors can use CapLinked to manage deals, build public profiles, leverage LinkedIn contacts and connect with promising startups.

Both sides can also invite their advisors (e.g. lawyers, consultants, board members, etc.) to receive information and review deals. Caplinked, which has $12 billion in investment deals hosted on the site, now has over 95,000 user accounts and 10,000 active company profiles.

The company recently expanded its social integrations with Facebook and Twitter and will soon roll out professional accounts with additional functionality, says co-founder and former PayPal marketing exec Eric Jackson. The new funding will be used towards hiring additional engineers and business development staff and for scaling the platform in the coming months.

Just-Eat Moves To Conquer French Food Delivery Market, Acquires Alloresto

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 02:02 AM PST


Just-Eat, the online food ordering giant of Europe, is continuing its rapid expansion, working out a partnership / acquisition deal with, the online food delivery leader in France. Just-Eat CEO Klaus Nyengaard, who blogged about the deal here, tells me it took over a year to work out the arrangement.

In an initial phase, Alloresto will be run as a joint-venture between the two companies, and after ‘a few years’ Just-Eat will acquire the remaining shares. Sebastien Forrest, founder and CEO of Alloresto, will continue to head the company as part of the deal terms.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.

Daily Crunch: Recliner

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 01:00 AM PST

Chill Out Guys, It’s Just A Toggle

Posted: 10 Jan 2012 11:59 PM PST

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Google, Google, Google … What’s amazing is that you still haven’t learned how to market yourself socially, after all these years. Lesson 1) You can’t just strong-arm people into using your product .

Seriously, you’ve got to, like, you know, earn traction by making something people want and not, like, use your search muscle to make sure people hit up your social stuff. It might “work,” sure. But don’t for a minute think that we all can’t see through that shit for just what it is.

You don’t have to listen to me. I am merely a blogger after all; crazy and not even that good. But here’s the gist: I’ve been talking to people, Normal people (because I’m hanging out with my family in the OC this week) and they don’t like what you’re doing. At all. In fact, the only time they even think about Google+ is when someone mentions it on Facebook. Or Twitter. Ring the alarm.

The time has come. You unleashed “Search, plus Your World” which has the weirdest punctuation, right? But aside from that these “Normal” people don’t use Google+ as their world, in fact they just use Google+ when it’s delivered at their front door like a FedEx package… for work or something, right?

Sure, there’s just a toggle between Google+ and World, so people should chill the fuck out? I agree. Chill the fuck out y’all; Google is just trying to make the world a better place. Right? Right?

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