Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Watch Our Third And Final Day Of Live CES Coverage Here

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 09:17 AM PST

It’s day three of CES, and our last one here. The show goes on for one more day, but we’re taking off, since after today we’ll have gone through all the major sections of the show. Day one was the central hall, with the major CE companies’ building-sized “booths,” then day two was the cavernous south hall, populated with smaller vendors. Now we’re off to the north hall, where we’ll find car tech, health gadgets, and tons of accessories for the devices many of us have. Live coverage starts at 9:30!

And in the afternoon, we’ll be starting things off with a nice hot shave. Yes, you read that correctly. Schick wants us to come by their booth and get a hot shave. Then we’ll be hitting some of the booths we missed on the first go round.

If you have any requests, questions, or just want to talk at us, use @techcrunch and #CESCrunch and we’ll see it right away.

Google Drive Is 404′ing Now, Gets A Blank Support Site, Robots.txt

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 08:56 AM PST


Oh look, is 404′ing now. (Page Not Found). That’s interesting because back in October the site was forwarding to the https version before giving a 105 error instead. (Name not resolved.)

Google has also published a blank, weird-looking support page for Google Drive at There’s nothing there but a logo and incomplete search box. But hey, nice domain!

That Google’s Dropbox competitor called “Google Drive” exists is known. That’s it’s been in testing is known. But that it’s going to launch, you know, any day now, is one of the longest-running Internet rumors I’ve ever seen. Without fail, every few months, more tidbits of news emerge. More screenshots. Accidental reveals in Google code. URLs changing direction.

So a 404′ing page means, well, nothing (but thanks, tipster). A blank support page means, if it the darned thing ever launches, it may include a FAQ. Excellent.  Here’s hoping.

Still, I especially like the way Google has given the support site’s URL a non-English title. “Página de suporte.” Nothing to see here, move along!

Oh, and there’s that Robots.txt file, too. Which reads:

User-agent: * Crawl-delay: 1 Allow: /$ Allow: /support/ Allow: /a/ Allow: /Doc Allow: /View Allow: /ViewDoc Allow: /present/view Allow: /present/embed Allow: /Present Allow: /TeamPresent Allow: /EmbedSlideshow Allow: /templates Allow: /previewtemplate Allow: /fileview Allow: /gview Disallow: /templateabuse Disallow: /

Damn it, I’m still excited.

Vodio Brings Personalized Video Recommendations To The iPad

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 07:44 AM PST


Vodio is a new iPad app that’s somewhat along the same lines as iOS app Like Shelby, it also brings you videos being shared by your friends on social networks. But where only focuses on those “socially shared” videos, Vodio instead uses its social features to bring “a dash” of personalization to its video recommendations.

In Vodio, you get to see what the crowd is watching too. To get started, you configure the app around your interests, by telling it which categories of videos you like to watch. For example, Comedy, Entertainment, Movies, Music, News, Science, Sports, Tech, etc. You can even drill down into these categories further to select the sub-categories that match your interests. So in Sports, you could choose Basketball, Football, Soccer, Tennis, etc. But you can also customize your favorite content sources. Yes to Fox Sports, perhaps, and no to the UFC.

Great idea, in theory. In practice, Vodio seemed a little buggy. You can check the content sources you want to include, but good luck un-checking them. Tapping the categories again does nothing. Apparently, that’s by design. You don’t un-check your channel selections. You go into “Edit” mode and remove them. OK then.

Maybe that seems like a minor complaint, but it’s very unintuitive to have a one-way checkbox. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me. (The company says it’s working on this).

Petty complaints aside, the rest of Vodio’s user interface is attractive and fun to use. You swipe horizontally to move between channels and vertically to scroll through the videos in those channels. In addition to the personalization and (optional) social networking connections, Vodio simply shows you what’s hot on various video sharing platforms and from top media publishers. Videos come from TV shows, networks, comedy sites like College Humor, NASA, newspapers, newswires, movie trailers, music videos, blogs, and more. But for now, the only supported players are YouTube, Vimeo, AOL Video, Facebook Video and Daily Motion.

Vodio Labs Ltd., the company behind Vodio, was founded in early 2011 by Jonathan Messika, Uri Twig and Ishay Weinstock in Tel Aviv, Israel. Last July, it raised a 200K Euro seed round led by Kima Ventures, with Jaina Capital and Orefa Investment participating.

The company is now working on simplifying the channel set up and personalization process, adding more video-driven features like HD enabling, and partnering with premium content players.

The Vodio app is a free download from iTunes here.

Following LG Patent Deal, Microsoft Execs Taunt Google On Twitter

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 07:10 AM PST

Boxing gloves pair red

Microsoft this morning announced that it has signed a patent licensing agreement with Android device manufacturer LG, its eleventh deal of the kind.

Microsoft says effectively 70 percent of all Android smartphones sold in the United States today are covered under its patent portfolio, not mentioning the fact that they’re also suing Motorola Mobility and NOOK maker Barnes & Noble over their Android devices.

Continuing a tradition that we hope will stand the test of time, Microsoft’s head of communications, Frank Shaw, took to Twitter to taunt Google.

First, Shaw tweeted “Hey Google – we are the 70% #anotherandroidlicense” with a link to their press release, and later said:

The second one is of course a bit disingenuous, since pretty much every player in this industry employs patents as weapons, will at some point, or wishes they were in a position to do so.

Shaw isn’t alone in his endeavor to try and get a response out of the Google camp, by the way.

Here’s Brad Smith, Microsoft’s EVP and General Counsel, tweeting:

And here’s Horacio E. Gutiérrez, Corporate VP and Deputy General Counsel, tweeting:

We love this stuff. We want more. Come on, Google, it’s your turn. Keep this going.

Update - no comment needed:

Fly Or Die: Does CES Have A Future?

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 06:50 AM PST

Fly or Die CES

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is packed this year, yet its relevance seems increasingly in decline. Microsoft is bailing, no iconic products launched this year, and Apple’s presence can be felt everywhere even though they don’t exhibit at the show. In this episode of Fly or Die, TechCrunch Gadgets editor John Biggs (who is running our CES coverage) joins me remotely from Las Vegas to discuss the big question: Does CES have a future?

There are certainly plenty of announcements. There are thin Android phones galore, even waterproof ones. Lenovo’s got its agile YOGA laptop/tablet. Makerbot unveiled its latest 3D printer. Samsung is trying to make smart TVs its stronghold in the home. But it’s not a place that defines the world of gadgets and digital electronics anymore because release cycles are defined by software and the web, not hardware. (To see some of these devices in action, watch our Gadgets Show).

CES is certainly not going anywhere. It is still an important trade show for electronics manufacturers. But does anyone win at CES? Listen and tell us what you think.

Amazon Kindle Owners Are “Borrowing” Nearly 300,000 Electronic Books A Month

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 06:23 AM PST


Amazon is releasing new data on its Kindle Lending Library, which the e-commerce site says now has over 75,000 books. The Kindle Owners' Lending Library is a collection of books that Amazon Prime members who own a kindle can borrow once a month, with no due dates.

Amazon recently launched KDP Select, a fund that lets indie authors and publishers make money off of lending. Basically, if a KDP author or publisher chooses to make any of their books exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, those books are eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and can earn a share of the KDP Select fund.

According to the company, customers borrowed nearly 300,000 (295,000 to be exact) KDP Select titles in December alone, and KDP Select has helped grow the total library selection. With the $500,000 December fund, KDP authors have earned $1.70 per borrow. In response to strong customer adoption of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, Amazon says it has added a $200,000 bonus to the January KDP Select fund, raising the total pool from $500,000 to $700,000 for authors.

The top ten KDP Select authors earned over $70,000 in the month of December from their participation in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which is a 30% increase on top of the royalties they earned from their paid sales on the same titles in the same period. In total (paid sales plus their share of the loan fund), these authors saw their royalties grow an astonishing 449% month-over-month from November to December. The list of top 10 KDP Select authors includes Carolyn McCray, Rachel Yu, the Grabarchuk family and Amber Scott.

As of November, the Kindle Lending Library had around 5,000 books, so clearly Amazon has seen a big jump from providing the incentive. With the release of this news, Amazon is touting the fact that independent publishers can make extra money by participating and the company is trying to convince more authors to sign on to the KDP Select program, thus increasing the number of books available for lending.

Microsoft Strikes Another Patent Deal With An Android, Chrome OS Device Maker: LG

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 06:08 AM PST


Microsoft has signed a patent licensing agreement with LG, maker of tablets, phones and other consumer electronics devices running Android or Chrome OS.

This marks the 11th deal with a device manufacturer leveraging Google’s operating system software; other major agreements were struck with the likes of HTC, Samsung and Acer, among others.

Now that the LG deal is done, Microsoft says more than 70 percent of all Android smartphones sold in the United States today are covered under its patent portfolio. Evil, or genius?

Either way, Android is turning into quite a cash cow for the Redmond software giant. No wonder Google refers to their methods as pure extortion and a sign that they’re afraid of Android.

Terms of the deal with LG were, per usual, not disclosed, although it’s worth pointing out that Microsoft says it expands upon a pre-existing agreement between the pair.

We’re anxiously awaiting Google’s response to this announcement.

Conversation Sharing App Bnter Rebrands As Banters; Adds Voice Recognition, Privacy Settings

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 06:01 AM PST


Bnter, an app that allows you to share your conversations with others publicly, is rebranding today as Banters and adding a number of new features to both its iPhone and web apps.

In the same way you share photos via the web or your mobile phone, Banters allows you to share snippets of conversations you have with friends on the web. While the startup initially focused on SMS, Banters broadened its scope to allow users to share any sort of conversation, including GChat, in-person chat, email and more.

The original iteration of Banters required launching the app or visiting the web page, opening up a new post, attributing someone to the conversation, filling out the different message boxes with who said what, adding tags, then finally posting. As co-founder Lauren Leto explains, this was too arduous of a process for users.

With the new version of the iPhone app, Banters will now let you use Siri’s technology to input your conversations. You simply hit the microphone button on your keyboard while creating a post and repeat the quote you want to save. Leto says she wanted to make adding a conversation to the app as easy as taking a photo with your mobile phone.

With mobile and web apps, you can now attribute however many people you want, and include as many lines of conversation for messages (previously you could only list three back-and-forth conversations). Banters has also added a “like” button and an activity stream. A new ‘Explore’ tab will help surface the best quotes on Banters to everyone in the community. And Leto says that the startup has added the ability to mark posts as private.

As for the name, Leto says that Banters is much easier to pronounce for the app’s 60,000 users. Banters has raised seed funding from a number of high-profile investors including Founder Collective and SV Angel, and others. Check out Leto explaining why she founded the startup in this Founder Stories clip.

EV Mini Sport: Mini Electric Sports Car From Japan (Video)

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 05:53 AM PST

ev mini feat

It’s not a Tesla, but Japan-based Tajima Motor Corporation has developed a zero-emission (and pretty cool-looking) mini sports car. The so-called EV Mini Sport [JP] has been publicly showcased first in 2010, and will go on sale in Japan and abroad “soon” (according to the company’s website).

The car weighs just 280kg and is 2.49 m long, 1.29 m wide, and 1.09 m high. It runs on a 40Ah lithium-ion polymer battery, which provides enough juice for about 30km on a single charge (Tajima will also offer a 80Ah and a 120Ah version).

Powered by a 0.59 kW motor, the EV Mini Sport reaches a top speed of 70km/h.

Tajima will be selling the EV Mini Sport for US$47,800, with the base model going for US$26,000 (buyers can order batteries, exterior panels, lamps, etc. separately).

This video, shot by Diginfo TV in Tokyo, provides more insight (in English):

StrikeAd Strikes £2 Million Second Round From DFJ Esprit To Expand

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 05:33 AM PST


StrikeAd, a London and New York based mobile advertising startup, has secured a £2m second round investment from VCs DFJ Esprit expand further internationally. The investment follows a first round finance from Germany-based venture capital firm eValue announced in February 2011.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.

Seedcamp Graduate Kwaga Raises $1.55M For ‘Email Assistant’ WriteThat.Name

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 05:28 AM PST


Kwaga, a Paris, France-based startup that specializes in tools to make email ‘smarter’ by leveraging semantic technology, has raised $1.55 million in Series A funding. The company, which received seed funding from Seedcamp and Kima Ventures after its founding in 2008, raised the money from unnamed private investors.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.

eBay Forecasts $8B In Mobile Commerce Volume In 2012; PayPal Will Reach $7B

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 05:25 AM PST


At his CES keynote yesterday evening, eBay CEO (and new interim PayPal CEO) John Donahoe revealed a number of new mobile payments forecasts for both eBay and PayPal. As we heard from PayPal VP David Marcus a few days ago, PayPal surpassed its expectation of $3.5 billion in mobile payments in 2011, reaching $4 billion for the year. Donahoe said in his keynote that eBay reached $5 billion in mobile GMV (gross merchandise volume) in 2011, doubling 2010′s GMV.

He also projected yesterday that eBay would reach $8 billion in mobile GMV in 2012, and PayPal will reach $7 billion in transactions in 2012. eBay Mobile currently has more than 65 million downloads of eBay's mobile applications across platforms. And more than 890,000 new eBay shoppers made their first eBay purchase through the company's mobile apps in 2011, a 113% increase year over year.

Donahoe also announced a new strategic partner in eBay's RedLaser barcode scanning app—Best Buy. The app was updated last fall to include integration from PayPal and Milo to give users the ability to buy now for either in-store pick-up or home delivery later. Yesterday, Best Buy was revealed at as RedLaser's newest partner (joining Toys R Us).

Mobile App Search And Recommendations Startup AppTap Raises $4 Million

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 05:15 AM PST


AppTap, which powers personalized and contextual app recommendations, app search, and more has raised $4 million in funding led by Syncom Venture Partners, with New Atlantic Ventures participating.

AppTap is an app recommendations and advertising network for for mobile app developers. The startup’s app recommendation platform for publishers can be added to any web site and will analyze the content of any page, and deliver app recommendations to users based on what they are reading and searching for.

The company’s advertising network gives app developers access to “millions of app users” in AppTap’s network of premium web publisher and carrier partners, which includes Sprint. App developers promote their apps to this targeted audience of app consumers.

The new funding will be used to enhance AppTap’s app recommendations service, which serves more than 150 million app recommendations a month. AppTap will also use the funding to broaden its app advertising capabilities for developers and expand global distribution partnerships.

HealthRally Launches To Help You Get Paid For Getting In Shape

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 04:08 AM PST


In December, HealthRally, a social healthtech startup building a crowdfunding platform for personal health motivation, raised $400,000 in seed funding from prominent angel investors like Esther Dyson, Isy Goldwasser, Dick Sass, Ty Danco, and Jeff Thiel.

The startup, then in private beta, ventured to bring behavioral economics combined with social networking analysis to bear on the age-old problem of how to best motivate people to get in shape and stay healthy. There are umpteen startups vying for our paltry fitness attention spans, each with a slightly different value proposition, like Skimble, Runkeeper, Fitbit, Gain Fitness, and GymPact — to name a few. GymPact, too, takes a behavioral economic approach to incentivizing health, asking people to put money down up front, and pay if they don’t meet their fitness goals (pay those who do, by the way).

Today, HealthRally is officially launching its service in public beta — one that bets dangling financial rewards in front of us like carrots can hold the key to unlocking that motivation and help us meet our individual health goals. The startup is taking a crowdfunding cue from Kickstarter and adding that increasingly important social networking element, by which users will share their health goals with friends, family, and colleagues, who then pitch in to offer real rewards for meeting fitness checkpoints. (Somewhat like Fitango before it — or HealthyWage.)

HealthRally believes that the social support of a network of friends and loved ones, who by right become invested in your success, is a peerless source of motivation. This support network effect is almost reminiscent of the support net inherent to interventions and Alcoholics Anonymous — of course, in this case Flabbies Anonymous.

Coaching the startup in the latest medical advances is an advisory group that includes scientists Paul Zak, who developed the world's first doctoral program in neuroeconomics at Claremont Graduate University, and Tom Valente, the Director of the Masters in Public Health Program at the Institute for Preventive Medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine, for example. Along with a few others, these advisors have helped HealthRally develop its proprietary platform designed to better motivate people to better reach their health goals.

As to how HealthRally works now that the curtain has been peeled back a bit? According to Zack Lynch, co-founder and CEO of HealthRally, there are two simple ways to use the service. One can either motivate a friend by organizing a rally of supporters and choosing a reward that will inspire their friend to get in shape, or motivate one’s self by building that team of cheerleaders.

Whoever is leading the charge sets a measurable achievement and a deadline, and then sets on their way; for instance, one might choose to lose 20 pounds by May 1st for a new iPad. Friends and family join the cause, pledging incremental financial support towards paying for that reward, so that once the health seeker reaches their goal, they are presented with with that sack of quarters.

As Lynch says (by way of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association), dieters presented with a financial incentive to lose weight are nearly five times more likely to meet their goal than are those motivated by, say, sheer will power. In a way, it sounds almost sad, almost too easy, but, again, it’s hard to argue with cold, hard economics at work. After all, studies who that, on average, those who received financial rewards lost more than 13 pounds in 16 weeks, compared to 3.9 pounds without.

The medical community also seems to be increasingly admitting that social networks can have great incentivizing power, especially for health, as there almost seems to be a bit of a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality at play here. As HealthRally goals and rewards can be shared on Facebook, the social networking effect is in play, as those who pledge their goals to a community, or more than a few people, become more likely to follow through on what they set out to accomplish. Obviously it’s a lot harder to shirk your responsibility when you’re not the only one paying attention — better to go for it than risk public mockery at the hands of your skinny siblings. Goal-sharing can be a huge motivator and a great way to encourage repeat engagement with the service.

It would be nice to see HealthRally offering some exclusive health devices or products with geeky appeal, because exclusivity can be another good way to drive engagement.

As to how it makes money? HealthRally charges 7 percent fee on pledges, plus credit card transaction fees up to 3 percent. If the pledged amounts are big enough, HealthRally could make some money, but it’s hard to see this making a lot of money until it achieves scale. And it probably isn’t out of the question to see HealthRally fordging corporate sponsorships and perhaps becoming part of corporate wellness programs.

It’s an interesting approach and one that could hold a lot of weight. No gamification badges here, just real rewards. Weigh in to let us know what you think. For more, see HealthRally’s FAQ here. (Mobile apps are still in development, and the startup is currently raising its series A.)

Digital Payments Innovator Jumio Raises $25.5 Million

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 03:45 AM PST


Kicking off the new year with a fresh wad of cash: according to an SEC filing, mobile and online payments startup Jumio has raised $25.5 million in funding on top of the $6.5 million it raised from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin – and others – back in March 2011.

Jumio confirmed the financing round but declined to provide more details (which investors participated and what they plan to use the additional capital for) at this time.

The startup’s twist on helping e-merchants process card payments digitally is to leverage webcams (and smartphone cameras) to read credit cards rather than making people enter their details or swiping their cards. Its solution, called Netswipe, in other words turns phone cameras and webcams into credit card readers.

Jumio was co-founded by Daniel Mattes, who sold his latest company, Jajah, to Telefonica for $207 million. Mattes is called the "Bill Gates of the Alps" in some parts.

Good to see a European entrepreneur swing for the fences once more.

DeskStream Acquires Irish Cloud And Virtualization Software Startup WorldDesk

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 02:57 AM PST


US-based desktop virtualization software maker DeskStream has acquired Northern Irish cloud start-up WorldDesk, the companies are set to announce today at CES in Las Vegas. Terms of the acquisition, which is expected to close this quarter, were not disclosed.

Interestingly, the acquisition will see DeskStream adopt the WorldDesk name and branding.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.

Daily Crunch: Vision

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 01:00 AM PST

Google And The Monopoly Paradox

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 12:33 AM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-12 at 12.29.26 AM

With the deep inclusion of Google+ into Search, Google is tempting fate. We’ve been over this. A lot. And this story is going to continue for some time to come. It sure looks like Google is almost asking for an inquiry into potentially anti-competitive practices (and it’s coming). Which is insane. So the next logical question is why? Why is Google risking so much to do this?

My colleague Eric had a very interesting theory earlier. Maybe Google’s real motive is to get the government to also look into Facebook’s often-unfair practices with regard to their network ahead of their IPO. If social and not search is indeed the future, call this pre-subversion. And if there’s any shred of truth to this theory, more power to Google — it’s rather genius (though still extremely risky).

But the more likely answer as to why Google is doing Search+ is much simpler. At a high level, they believe social elements are going to be an extremely important part of search going forward. Given that the two biggest players in social, Facebook and Twitter, don’t give them full access to their data (Twitter used to but the relationship ended, Facebook never did), Google is doing the only thing they can in their minds to still get the data they need: bolster Google+.

That makes sense. The problem, again, is how they’re doing it — with Google Search, a property which has a (natural) monopoly.

Google will argue that they have no choice due to the lack of data from Twitter and Facebook. But that’s not good enough.

First of all, they do have enough data to equalize the two most troublesome areas of Search+: the “People and Pages” box (let’s call it the Google+ Juice Box), and the social profiles in Google Search drop-downs.

Second, Facebook and Twitter can likely argue that giving Google access to such data would be a huge detriment to their respective businesses. Again, Twitter used to give access, but then they could not reach an agreement on new terms. It was all about money. Google saying that Twitter “chose” not to renew reads like a public shakedown, in that light.

And this points to something deeper going on behind the scenes here, which is likely the actual crux of this problem. Google believes it’s their right and duty to perfect their search engine at all cost. That’s the only way you can explain some of their actions (not only this, but surfacing some of their other data over competitors as well). But because of their market dominance, Google’s rivals believe the measures the search giant is taking in order to improve their product are unfair.

This makes for a great battle because both sides have a valid point. But ultimately, Google’s point may be rendered invalid. Because Google is so successful, it may actually impede further success that they could otherwise pursue openly.

This is the problem with having a monopoly. Even if you don’t intend to use it for “evil”, you end up doing just that because “evil” is relative. If Google was the number four player in the search market, no one would care if they included Google+ data. In fact, people would likely applaud it because it is well done.  In Google’s view, all they’re doing is improving their product. In Facebook and Twitter’s mind, it’s evil.

You can make the “with great power comes great responsibility” argument — that is, Google should recognize their position of power and temper their actions accordingly. To some extent, I’m sure they do. But it’s a hard predicament to be in. You’re essentially forced to hold yourself back from being the best company you can be. And this often means changing some of the practices that got you into your position of power in the first place.

When Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with Windows in the 1990s, the courts ultimately decided that it was anti-competitive. But you could certainly argue that IE was actually the best browser at the time. And if you believe that, you believe that it made Windows a better product as a result. I’m not saying that situation is the same (it’s obviously not), but perhaps some of the lines of thinking were similar — and perhaps it suggests how companies find themselves in these (seemingly obvious) bad situations.

When you consider Apple, things get even more interesting — I am the Apple columnist, remember.

By many standards, Apple is the most powerful technology company right now. And by many standards, they’re also the most controlling. How on Earth can a company that is the most dominant and most controlling get away without many of the anti-competitive concerns that their rivals run into? It’s a question that has come up more than a few times this week.

The answer is that their model is genius. Whether it’s by accident or on purpose, Apple has largely fortified themselves against the anti-competitive argument, at least with regard to monopolistic practices.

Because Apple focuses on profit and not market share, it’s more or less impossible to pin a monopoly case on them. With the exception of MP3 players (which is a dying market) and tablets (which is a burgeoning market), Apple doesn’t dominate any market they’re in from a market share perspective. Sure, they make the majority of the money in smartphones and computers, but they do so as an “underdog”.

This position protects Apple and allows them to do things like control their entire ecosystem and bundle all the software they want. It also allows them to branch into new businesses without much fear of government intervention. Google, as not only a market leader but again, a company with a natural monopoly, does not have this luxury — just as Microsoft before them did not have this luxury and were ultimately burned as a result.

That last bit is another key. It’s not just Google’s drive to improve their product that’s at work in this sticky situation, it’s also the bottom line.

You can certainly argue — as I have — that Google has spent much of the past few years spreading themselves way too thin. What started as a killer product, Google Search, has evolved into dozens upon dozens of products, some of which are successful, but many of which are pure “meh”.

When they have such a great business with Search (and subsequently advertising), why does Google keep bringing the “meh”? Because they have to.

As a public company, Google needs to keep growing revenue or they may as well be dead to investors. Some companies can keep growing revenue by focusing on and improving current products. But for almost all companies, there’s a strong desire to accelerate growth by finding new revenue streams — this includes Apple, by the way (though I’d argue that they move into new businesses in a much smarter, more methodical way).

More, more, more.

The problem with more, more, more when you’re Google is again the monopolistic aspect of your business. If you attempt to leverage your strongest asset (Search) to help along these new potential revenue streams, it goes from looking smart to looking evil. Again, it’s all about perspective.

Just in case it’s not clear by this point, I’m trying to form an argument as to why Google is doing what they’re doing as of late. It seems batshit crazy, but I have to believe it’s not. When people like Matt Cutts — who seems genuinely forthright in situations like this — writes posts extolling the virtues of Search+, I have to believe he actually believes it’s a good thing. That’s why I think much of Google may just have blinders on to this whole situation.

But that’s no excuse. Google may say they’re trying to do what’s best for their users, but that’s not 100 percent true. What would be best for their users is to incorporate Facebook and Twitter data into Search+. If they can’t do that (which again, they can to some extent), they should come out and say as much and be completely transparent as to why. They shouldn’t try to pretend like Google+ is God’s gift to internet search — it’s not. At best, it’s second rate.

Essentially, Google should say what I just said for them. Yes, they have a monopoly — a monopoly which they earned, mind you. Because of this, it’s hard to innovate without pissing off rivals. This makes negotiations with said rivals hard as well. But they’re trying to do what’s best for their users. That’s all that matters.

Instead, we’re getting nonsense and doublespeak. It makes it seem like Google is looking out for one entity and one entity alone: themselves. That never wins. I’m not sure when “don’t be evil” and “don’t be disingenuous” diverged, but they have.

For Google, it’s a hard place to be in. Especially when your main rival has beaten the system. Apple only has a monopoly in profits.

Facebook Page Performance Art Glitchr Purposefully Tries To Activate Code Glitches

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 11:58 PM PST


Making the link rounds among designers in Silicon Valley this holiday season is Facebook fan page Glitchr, which tries to mess up Facebook code on purpose.

While I had previously postulated that the page might be run by the venerable former Facebooker Evan Priestley, instead it is run by some Greek dude, Laimonas Zakas. Click on any of the links in Glitchr’s posts and they will do anything from bring up random Unicode characters to load a Facebook navigation bar multiple times. Go on, don’t be afraid.

So how does he do it? Well, Zakas essentially “paints” with Unicode, combining its non-character entities to break layout engines — creating what might just be society’s most obscure and recent art form.

“These symbols, intruding up and down, are made by combining lots of diacritical marks,” says Zakas, “You can see the variety of them there Yes, It’s a kind of art. There’s quite a lot of artists who use the Internet or specific social networks as their canvas.”

Zakas brings up the Zalgo meme as an example of another form of Internet art to incorporate Unicode.

Of course Zakas’ efforts have met with both friends and foes at Facebook itself, where many people are fans and some not. Glitchr’s fan page was disabled in December, because of problems with the Unicode characters in its name and eventually re-instated after Zakas contacted the page’s internal fans.

“I have counted more than ten Facebook employees from FB HQ, not to mention those from international departments [as fans],” he tells me, “… They probably like Glitchr to detect bugs. Don’t know how much truth is there, but by now, the following bugs, that I have used in my posts, were fixed: Embedding animated pictures in notes, sharing animated pictures in thumbnails, unlimited extension of text in the post to the right side and some others.”

You can also like Glitchr because it looks cool, and because you don’t quite understand how Zakas is doing it. I still kind of don’t.

Science Sets Up Shop

Posted: 11 Jan 2012 11:26 PM PST


The LA-based Science moved into its cozy permanent space above a yoga studio in Santa Monica this week, finally giving its variety of LA-based tech talents a place to call office.

Past the smell of Patchouli and the sign designating Crispin Porter Bogusky in the lobby are the second floor offices of the Science partners — former Myspace CEO Mike Jones, designer Mike Macadaan, Ryan Sit, Tom Dare and Color co-founder Peter Pham — which currently host about seven startups.

The “studio” (the partners shun the term incubator because of its various connotations) is in its second day of existence and houses mainly commerce marketplace and data focused startups. Most of them were too green to be properly reported on, but many of them are in the same vein of the LA-based Uncovet, which is like a for even more rarifed designer goods.

Science follows the Betaworks model of being more like a “company that invests in other companies” than an incubator or a VC fund. It has raised $10 million in funding which it in turn invests in companies the partners discover through their networks — each deal is on unique terms. Science investors go geographically beyond LA’s Rustic Canyon and include Chamath Palihapitiya and Tomorrow Ventures among others.

“A lot of the venture firms we’re talking to are investing down here,  Trinity Ventures invested in Beachmint, Andreessen in Shoedazzle, and Redpoint in Betterworks. We have a public company [Salesforce] down the street. [LA is like] New York a couple of years ago. It’s clearly changing, which is why we’re doing Science.”

And why the proper noun as a name? “Startups are some art and some science,” says Pham “It’s a little bit of both. How important is analytics these days to startups? That’s a science. Now visual design of that data is an art.”

Click to view slideshow.

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