Friday, January 13, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Google’s Plan to Make Android Beautiful: Carrots And Sticks

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 09:56 AM PST


Yesterday Google unveiled Android Design, a very nicely done (and sorely need) portal that instructs third-party developers on how they should go about designing their applications, both in terms of making them look nice, and in providing a consistent experience for users.

But while these guidelines are a big step forward for Android, there's another issue: Google doesn't really have any way to ensure that developers actually follow them. After all, there's essentially no approval process for an application to get admitted to Android Market — provided you aren't bundling malware or violating Google's Terms of Service, you're in.

So what is Google's plan?

Yesterday I spoke with Matias Duarte, the Director of User Experience for Android (and the man ultimately responsible for its look and feel). And while he was coy about Google's plans, he did give some hints. Namely, that Google will be working to give developers significant incentives to follow the UI guidelines.

Below is a transcript of my conversation with Duarte (note that I was transcribing on the fly, so the responses may be slightly paraphrased).

Q: Google isn't going to block applications from Android Market that don't conform with the design guidelines you've laid out, so what's your plan to help ensure that developers follow them? Have you considered allowing developers to go through some sort of optional approval process that earns them a badge or some other kind of distinction indicating they have a good design?

Duarte: We don't have anything to announce yet, but I think something like that would be a terrific idea — we'd love to do positive incentives for developers. We can have workshops and office hours… developers could submit their applications or even their mock up designs for feedback or to get a stamp of approval, or a seal of acceptance — something along those lines.

Q: Some of the complaints I hear regarding Android design have more to do with the tools available than with the best practices that were laid out on the new Android Design site. Are there any updates coming to the set of developer tools available?

Duarte: Nothing specific to announce, but we do generally want to continue to improve developer tools. There's a lot of stuff planned for this year. And the Android Design site is just the first sapling of what we want it to grow to be. There will be more content on Android Design, more code examples and workshops to help get the most out of it. And tools to help make it easier to follow the guidelines without additional work for developers.

Q: Consistency seems to be a big focus on the new Android Design site, but isn't the issue for a lot of applications pixel-perfect design (or lack thereof)?

Duarte: Screen metrics and typography and color and all of those sections (on the Android Design portal) should help. But the thing about pixel perfect design is that we actually don't think it should be a challenge to develop beautiful designs just because they have to be flexible. People have to think more like web developers and less like console developers.

There are 20 bajillion beautiful sites on the interweb — they all manage to accommodate a variety of screen and window sizes. Developers just need to use the same kinds of tricks to do beautiful designs for Android. That's what we did for all of our (official Google) applications — they work from 3.4 inch to 10 inch screens and higher while maintaining correct ratios.

Q: How much of the ultimate design of Ice Cream Sandwich was really known and mapped out when Honeycomb was released? Or were you figuring a lot of it out on the fly?

Duarte: While working on Honeycomb, we had some ideas of where to go with ICS. We knew some things would be open problems that we'd have to solve, and didn't know how we would. Then as we started on ICS we were able to take some of those ideas and some worked out exactly as we thought — others we realized, "Shoot, now we need to go back and redo this"… Almost everything had some tweaks when took it back to the tablet (for ICS), the most dramatic being some of the fundamental look and feel.

iCloud’s App Search Engine: A First Step To A Cloud-Enabled Phone

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 09:52 AM PST


Apple has built a search engine for apps. It’s called iCloud – or more technically, it’s one aspect of the overall iCloud service. Using it, you can search through every app you have installed on your iOS device or have ever purchased in the past. And it’s available on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch right now.

The average smartphone user has 64 mobile apps installed on their mobile device. I’m ahead of the curve. I have around 400. It’s pushing nearly 7 GB of storage. Granted, many of these apps were installed for testing purposes only – they aren’t used daily by any means. But my real problem is that I’m not inclined to remove apps I don’t use. They just sit there on the phone, abandoned, languishing on the back screens. I could delete them, but I don’t. You know…just in case.

But the promise of iCloud, as I see it, is that these apps can disappear from the iPhone’s homescreen, but never have to fully disappear from reach. They can be recalled through a simple search.

Note to Android users: This whole post is about Apple’s iCloud. Android has cool ideas, too. I love my Nexus S. But Android is not being addressed in today’s article. 

That search mechanism already exists. For now, it’s tucked away under a couple of screens within the iPhone’s App Store app. It’s neither an everyday necessity for the average user or functional enough for a power user’s needs. But it’s there, and somewhere at Apple HQ, it’s being improved.

Today, it’s easier to flip through your screens to find your apps, especially if you only have 64 of them (or less). Worst case scenario: you can’t remember which folder you tucked the app in, so you flip to the left side of the homescreen and use Spotlight Search to find the app in question instead.

But let’s extrapolate out to a few years into the future. A few years of downloading and abandoning apps on our backscreens. A few years of iPhone upgrades, with hundreds of leftover apps syncing to new devices. Why not delete the unused apps? Why not perform regular app cleanups? Because users are lazy. I’m lazy. I don’t want to. I have better things to do. So does everyone. And so the apps continue to sync from one device to the next, forgotten.

We need a new metaphor for search. Homescreens, app folders and Spotlight Search will not be enough. We need a cloud-hosted index of searchable apps.

A number of companies are working towards this end. (See: ChompQuixey, Do@tXyologicAppolociousAppsFireKinetik, and, for example). There are a lot baby steps being taken here, and the occasional leap. Build a search engine like Google, but for apps! Include rankings and user reviews! Use keywords from app descriptions! Make it social! All good ideas. But not enough.

And anyone who’s just building an app search engine app without some other larger business behind it, could easily get trounced on by Apple in the coming months.

To see what I mean, check out the bare-bones iCloud app search engine that’s on your iOS device right now (assuming you’re on the latest version of iOS):

  1. Launch the App Store app.
  2. Tap “Updates.”
  3. Tap “Purchased” (at the top).
  4. Drag the screen down so you can see the search box.
  5. Enter in a keyword (try something common, e.g. “photo.”).
  6. Tap “Search.”

Look at your results. There, all your apps matching your keywords. Ranked by – how? – I’m not 100% sure, but it looks like time of installation. It’s certainly not update date or alphabetically.

This iCloud app search engine is only partial functional, though. Like Spotlight, it only looks at the app’s titles, not descriptions, for keywords. It doesn’t know how much you’ve used an app or how you’ve rated it. Sometimes, it would show me which apps were installed versus which are available on the cloud. Sometimes it got buggy and showed all apps as having the iCloud download button, even if they were installed on the device.

But it’s there. And it’s only a matter of time before iCloud search is integrated with Spotlight Search and Siri, via APIs. We’ll soon be calling up our preferred apps using natural language, both in typed-in queries and in spoken ones. We won’t need to know whether the app is currently on our phone. iCloud will know. Siri will know. We may not even need to initiate the download ourselves. Our phone will do that for us.

In addition, our homescreen clutter will be gone. Apps will delete themselves after periods of non-use unless you configure them as “locked.” Maybe there will be an “auto organize” option for our homescreens, which arranges apps based on usage.

With the exponential growth of the mobile application ecosystem, this is one of the only possible ways to manage the entirety of a user’s app archive in the months ahead. Many of today’s apps are cloud-enabled, but this will be a cloud-enabled phone.

Maybe I’m dreaming? But if Apple can’t get it done, someone should. (Android? Windows Phone? An app developer? A startup?) The mobile ecosystem is still young enough to be entirely disrupted by someone with a new idea for parsing the new web of apps. Today, I believe it’s Apple that’s the closest to implementation, given the glimpse it’s given us with iCloud. But who knows? We could still be surprised.

Health Sensors Are Everywhere: Up Close With Striiv And Fitbit

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 09:51 AM PST

This was the year of the sensors. From Fitbit’s new Aria Wi-Fi scale to the Basis sports watch, I saw more devices to keep you healthy and lean than ever.

I sat down with the folks from Fitbit and Striiv who both saw the power of self-reporting and mindfulness when it comes to weight loss. Striiv, for example, has a new feature that allows you to connect to your friends wirelessly to compete in contests like walkathons and races. For example, you and the wife can compete to get to 5,000 steps first during the day and the winner has to do chores or gets some of the losers “energy.”

Fitbit, on the other hand, is closing the loop when it comes to health data. The Aria scale sends your current weight and BMI to the Fitbit web app and lets you figure out what’s working and what’s not.

In the end, these products are only as good as their users. However, with a little bit of data you can go a long way towards getting on track to health and/or weight loss. That’s the plan, at least. Whether it works in practice is another question.

December Presents: Record Traffic For Social Interest Sites Tumblr And Pinterest

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 09:36 AM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-13 at 9.28.15 AM

One of the most interesting findings of comScore‘s 2011 social networking report was the surge in sites designed around users’ interests, not necessarily real-life social circles. The web measurement firm’s December numbers, which came after the report, more than confirm the trend. And I’m not just talking about Twitter and Google+, both of which had strong months.

I mean Tumblr and Pinterest.

The blogging platform gained nearly three million new unique visitors, growing 18% from 15.9 million to 18.8 million uniques. Meanwhile, the online pin-it site boomed by nearly 55%, from 4.85 million to 7.51 million uniques.

The larger shift here that comScore is talking about is this: users are gravitating towards new ways of sharing the things they care about with anyone who shares the same interests as them. They’re still sharing private things like showing baby photos or party pics to real friends on Facebook. They’re just also falling in love with the new simple, public tools that these other companies offer.

Myspace has provided all sorts of public sharing feature for years, but in a clunkier and spammier interface. A few recent redesigns — not dissimilar from some of these interest rivals — has for whatever reason failed to stop it from losing users. For its current owners, the growth of these rivals is both salt in the wounds and a hint of hope.

Smart TVs: How Do They Work?

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 09:28 AM PST


Smart TVs were everywhere at CES. I must have seen two hundred of them while I was there. I could report on specs, resolution or 3D screens, but really, I am more curious about that word "smart" than I am about the raw specs. Is it merely the sum of new features that defines what a Smart TV is or should be? Just what exactly is it that makes a Smart TV, well…smart?

It probably has something to do with apps right? Maybe. Internet connectivity? Likely. Gesture controls? Possibly. Rather than speculate, I decided to visit a few people at the CES booths of Samsung, Sony and LG in order to get their take on Smart TVs. Basically, I asked them all the same 2 questions: How do you define what a Smart TV is today and what is your company's vision for Smart TVs in the future?

Here's what they said:

Samsung defined Smart TVs as sets that can run apps, have web browsing capability, smart search (meaning easy ways to locate content), and social media connectivity.

Their future vision of Smart TV technology includes a convergent content model—content distributed across multiple device touch points. For example, what if you could start watching a movie on your smartphone during your cab ride home from work but then could easily and seamlessly pick up where you left off on your larger screen the minute you arrive home. (Wait, doesn’t Netflix do that already?)

Sony defined a Smart TV as one that is “connected” for content consumption (e.g apps, entertainment network, etc) but also for interaction with social networks. Additionally, internal or external integration with other content systems (like Google TV) is a must.

At Sony their vision for the future of Smart TVs also has to do with convergent content experiences. According to their spokesperson Sean Cassady, that vision is not limited to TVs alone but instead is more of a company-wide attitude.

LG defined a Smart TV as one that is interactive, connected to the internet and capable of running apps. No one was available to comment at the time about their future vision.

Overall, few of these responses surprised me. How about an external opinion though?

Smart TVs could be somewhat of a misnomer according to Dan Shust, Vice President of the RI Lab at Resource Interactive. "'Smart' would imply some kind of intelligence or predictive behavior. While we are starting to see bits of that functionality, these TVs still aren't totally there yet. What if my TV is not only connected to my social graph, but is making show recommendations based on things I've 'liked' or commented on in my social network of choice? “

Mr. Shust continued by saying “To me, the perfect TV would be one that takes content from any source (TV, movie, podcast, whatever), then watches my consumption habits, and can make intelligent recommendations deeply within the content I consume. For example, if the TV recognizes that I watch Jimmy Fallon clips on Youtube a lot, it should just start recording the regular show for me in the background. It could connect the dots and even notify me that a band I 'liked' on Facebook is going to be performing on Jimmy Fallon. That would be truly Smart."

I think I agree. This potential view of Television would have seemed scary or like science fiction a mere 15 years ago but when viewed within the lens of the current capability of social and content networks, it seems to me more like a question of "when" not "if" .

When we do reach a point where TVs are equipped to handle preference management, I'm sure those kind of intelligent features will be able to be disabled, for those with privacy concerns.

Where does that leave us though? It still leaves us with some pretty fabulous displays, that are more powerful than ever and increasingly laden with features that increase the viewing experience.

Scrollsy Is A Scrollable, Pinterest-Like Version Of Etsy

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 08:12 AM PST


Remember Jonathan Bouman, the young, Netherlands-based developer who brought us the awesome creation that is Scrolldit, a scrollable version of Reddit? Well, he’s back. And this time, he’s made a scrollable version of Etsy. It’s called Scrollsy, and, if you’re an Etsy lover, I guarantee that you’re about to waste a whole bunch of time on this site.

Like Scrolldit before it (and Bouman’s under-the radar creation, the Facebook scroller ScrollFriends), the new site offers a simple and visually attractive way to browse though the content from a more traditionally laid-out website. It’s how Etsy would look if Etsy was Pinterest. And it works great on the iPad.

On Scrollsy, you can browse by category, search by keyword and there are even filters for colors and price range. Zoom in/out buttons let you make the photos smaller and more condensed, or larger. And you can just keeping scrolling down, scrolling down and scrolling down for more stuff.

Bouman says that his earlier efforts at Scrolldit were a “huge success,” which he likes to measure by time wasted. 377,913 unique visits at an average of 1.20 minutes per visit equates to 453,496.6 minutes wasted. “An impact of 314.93 wasted days on our world economy,” Bouman happily proclaims.

“However, with all those minutes wasted, I felt the need to do something productive,” he says, “Scrollsy is a good try – supporting all those small shopkeepers, trying to give them more exposure.”

So there you have it. Scrollsy. Enjoy your weekend.

SAP Touts Best Results In Company History; Quarterly Sales Up 11 Percent To $5.7B

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 08:06 AM PST


Enterprise application software giant SAP is touting its best ever full-year and fourth quarter performance, beating its expectations for the quarter. The company published initial numbers for its results but will be releasing full results and projections for 2012 in late January.

Total Q4 revenue came in at €4.50 billion ($5.7 billion), an increase of 11%. Operating profit was €1.67 billion ($2 billion), an increase of 206%. The company saw record fourth quarter 2011 software revenue, which was up 16% to €1.74 Billion ($2.2 billion). And full-year 2011 software revenue is up 22% to €3.97 Billion ($5 billion), with full-year total sales coming in at €14.23 billion ($18 billion), up 14 percent.

SAP says that its record performance was driven by growth in its sofwtare applications business, with particular strength in demand for analytics and mobile solutions as well as for SAP’s data analysis product HANA (which saw $202 million in revenue for the year). Mobile contributed more than $127 million in software revenue for the quarter.

"In an uncertain environment, SAP delivered the best year in its 40 year history. We gained significant market share and achieved double-digit growth across all regions," said Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe, co-CEOs of SAP, in a statement. "Our innovation strategy is winning. Customers see the incredible value we deliver and recognize that SAP is the better choice."

SAP just dropped $3.4 billion on SuccessFactors, pushing the enterprise software giant’s cloud strategy. The company is also planning to spend $2 billion in China through 2015 to grow its international business.

Source Code Marketplace Binpress Adds Github Integration

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 07:24 AM PST


Source code marketplace Binpress is now offering integration with the popular file repository Github. According to Binpress CEO Adam Benayoun, this move will allow developers to import their open-source projects and add a commercial layer on top of them.

For those unfamiliar, Binpress’s marketplace opened up in January 2011, in order to provide a platform for software development companies and developers who want to publish and discover source code and components to aid in rapid development of their projects. The site joins several other efforts competing in this same space, including Verious (TechCrunch Disrupt finalist), Chupa, and Appcelerator's Open Mobile Marketplace, for example.

With the integration now provided by Github’s API, developers can offer commercial licenses in addition to free licenses. This allows their open source projects to offer support and future enhancements while operating as a viable business, says Binpress.

To set up their Binpress account, Github users can both register and log-in using their Github credentials, and then import their Github projects directly as Binpress components.

Binpress, which just moved its offices from Tel Aviv to Mountain View a month ago, is a completely bootstrapped effort. Prior to Binpress, the company’s founders operated a web development shop and incubator in Israel for four years.

Attention Future Media Moguls: We Are Looking For A Killer COO

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 07:07 AM PST


One of the best jobs in media just opened up: running TechCrunch’s business and AOL’s other technology properties (Engadget, Joystiq, and The Unofficial Apple Weblog). AOL is hiring a COO to lead all of its technology properties, which collectively reach 30 million people a month and produce 250 million pageviews.

The job is in San Francisco, working out of TechCrunch’s offices. The COO will oversee the business side of all the tech sites, the conference business (which includes Disrupt, the Crunchies, and more), and other products such as CrunchBase.

It’s a big job with big shoes to fill (former TechCrunch CEO and AOL Tech GM Heather Harde‘s). The role requires the ability to manage across several disciplines: product management, sales, engineering, and events, while acting as a liaison between the editors of each site and the rest of AOL. It’s basically like being the CEO of a startup within a larger company.

The ideal candidates will have a combination of startup DNA and media company experience. They’ve grown businesses, managed large teams, and can easily orchestrate a dozen moving parts. But most importantly, they have the drive to take some of the best technology media brands on the Internet and build them into a substantially larger businesses than they already are today. What would you do to take TechCrunch, Engadget and AOL’s other tech sites to the next level? If you have a good answer, and the experience to back it up, you can read more about the position and apply here.

We have big plans for 2012, and are staffing up to make them happen. TechCrunch is also hiring a lead product manager, who will report to the COO and own the product roadmap for the TechCrunch site, Crunchbase, TechCrunch TV, and future mobile apps. Keep an eye on CrunchBoard for other positions in sales, engineering, events, and editorial (where we are continually adding to the writing staff—apply here).

Enterprise Data Software Company Splunk Files For $125M IPO

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 07:03 AM PST


Splunk, an enterprise data company; has filed its S-1 to go public. In the offering, Splunk aims to raises as much as $125 million. The company will list under the symbol “SPLK.”

Splunk is a provider of intelligence software used to monitor, report and analyze real-time machine data as well as terabytes of historical data–located on-premise or in the cloud. For example, Splunk indexes and makes searchable data from any app, server or network device in real-time including logs, config files, messages, and alerts. Clients can also monitor distributed deployment across thousands of servers in multiple data centers; manage the infrastructure of a cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS); monitor performance of cloud- delivered SaaS solutions and monitor hybrid SaaS/hosted models.

Clients include Credit Suisse, Bank Of America, Comcast, Salesforce, Zynga, LinkedIn, T-Mobile, Swisscom, Shutterfly, Heroku and the US Departments of Labor and Energy. As of October 2011, the company had over 3,300 customers, including a majority of the Fortune 100.

The company’s revenue comes from fees based on client’s estimated indexing capacity needs. For fiscal 2009, 2010 and 2011, Splunk’s revenues were $18.2 million, $35 million and $66.2 million, respectively, representing year-over-year growth of 93% for 2010 and 89% growth for 2011.

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, the company took a net loss of $14.8 million, $7.5 million and $3.8 million, respectively. For the first nine months of 2011 and its fiscal year 2012, Splunk’s revenues were $43.5 million and $77.8 million, respectively, representing year-over-year growth of 79%. For the same period, Splunk took a net loss was $2 million and $9.7 million, respectively.

Splunk has raised $40 million in funding from August Capital, JK&B Capital, Ignition Partners and Sevin Rosen Funds.

Splunk has been eying a public offering for some time now, even before the IPO market for tech companies started to heat up. In 2010, Splunk’s CEO Godfrey Sullivan told us that the company had plans for an IPO in 2012. Considering that last year brought the public offerings of a number of consumer tech companies, this year could be the year of the enterprise IPO. Acquires Indie Fashion Marketplace FashionStake

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 05:59 AM PST

fashionstake, the incredibly fast-growing marketplace for all things design, has made its first acquisition after raising over $50 million in venture capital. The company this morning announced that it has bought NYC-based FashionStake, a community-curated marketplace for independent designers.

The deal will enable the hundreds of indie designers who’ve sold their collection on FashionStake to date a brand new e-commerce platform to sell, through

To give you an idea of how big is these days, founder Jason Goldberg blogs:

We're on a mission here at Fab to be the world's most valuable design resource.

In June 2011 we opened our doors and took big strides towards achieving that goal. 7 months later 1.65 million people have now joined Fab. 350,000 new design enthusiasts have signed up in the last 30 days alone. They've purchased 750,000 products from us so far. And, it's just the start.

Financial terms of the FashionStake acquisition were not disclosed. After some digging, I found out that the company raised an undisclosed amount of financing from Battery Ventures and angel investors from the fashion industry in the Summer of 2010.

FashionStake co-founders Vivian Weng and Daniel Gulati will be joining Fab.

If you’re interested in this space, be sure to read Weng’s recent contribution to The Huffington Post: Fashion and Tech and Startups, Oh My!

Cupidtino, The Dating Site For Apple Fans, Releases iPhone App

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 05:46 AM PST


It was with a strange mix of amusement and horror that I learned about the existence of an online dating service specifically for Apple fanboys and girls almost two years ago.

But, Cupidtino is still around, and last night they quietly debuted an iPhone application to complement their dating website. You have to wonder what took them so long, but at least they’re in time for next Valentine’s Day.

The application, which you can download here, is free and pitched as a “Mac-inspired dating app designed exclusively for fans of Apple products”. It lets users search and browse profiles, send ‘heartbeats’ to members that intrigue them, and more.

Users can upgrade their membership via in-app purchase for $4.99 per month, to read unlimited messages and chat with other Apple fans.

According to the FAQ on its website, Cupidtino has attracted some 30,000 members interested in dating another Apple fan so far (provided they regularly update this number).

From the app description on iTunes:


Diehard Mac & Apple fans often have a lot in common – personalities, creative professions, a similar sense of style and aesthetics, taste, and a love for technology. We believe these are enough fundamental reasons for two people to meet and fall in love, and so we created the first Mac-inspired dating app to help you find other Machearts around you.

Cupidtino is like a neighborhood café where the people are hip, decor is classy, conversation is intelligent and prices are reasonable. But it’s open at your convenience, folks are from around the world, and it’s less awkward to talk to someone.

You’ll forgive me for cringing a little when I read that.

Patent Troll Buys ADAPTIX (And Its 4G Technology Patents) For $160M

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 04:51 AM PST


The 4G wireless technology space is heating up, so expect vultures.

Acacia Research Corporation, a massive patent holding group with dozens of subsidiaries in the business of exploiting intellectual property by means of lawsuits and aggressive patent licensing schemes, this morning announced that it has acquired ADAPTIX, a 4G wireless technology company that originally started out in 2000 under the name Broadstorm and was owned by PE firm Baker Capital.

Acacia Research is paying $160 million for the company, which has $10 million in cash, primarily to obtain ADAPTIX’ portfolio of 230 issued and pending patents in 13 countries.

The patents in question are said to cover a broad range of 4G technologies, including OFDMA and MIMO.

Guess what’s going to happen next.

Facing Another PR Disaster: Google Accused Of Fraudulently Undermining A Kenyan Startup

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 04:12 AM PST


Google, what were you thinking?, asks Kenyan startup Mocality, which operates the country’s largest online business directory. Mocality is accusing Google of knowingly engaging in fraudulent behavior to undermine their business and grow theirs, after careful monitoring of Internet traffic and a successful sting operation turned up some very interesting results.

You should read Mocality’s blog post about the situation in full, but here’s the gist. Basically, Mocality built up a sizeable directory of roughly 100,000 Kenyan businesses over the years, by crowdsourcing information and helping organizations advertise themselves on the Web.

Not long after Google helped kickstart a program to get Kenyan businesses online, the startup suddenly started fielding calls from Kenyan business owners with questions about a supposed partnership / joint-venture Mocality had set up with the Internet search and advertising giant.

The number of calls steadily rose, Mocality got suspicious, and the company decided to set up a traffic monitoring system, combined with a smart sting operation, to see where they were coming from. Turns out it was apparently Google doing the exact opposite of “no evil”.

At the start of December we analysed our server logs to look for a common pattern for the businesses that had contacted us with these confused calls. We found a single IP/ User-Agent combination that had accessed all these businesses.

So a person or (judging by the access rate) team of people were systematically accessing our database, during office hours, and it looked like they moved into a new office over the weekend at the start of November. But who were they, and what were they doing?

We decided to find out. We made some changes to the site:

- For visitors from the address, we changed the code to serve slightly different content 10% of the time.

- Instead of the real business phone number, we served a number that fed through to our call centre team, where the incoming calls would also be recorded. Our team were briefed to act like the business owners for the calls.

We switched the new code on December 21st. When we listened to the calls, we were beyond astonished.

Google Kenya employees were apparently calling up businesses they found on Mocality, trying to get them to sign up for a competing product by lying about a partnership with Mocality that was supposedly in place, and spreading misinformation about Mocality’s business model.

Serious stuff.

On all calls, the same script is followed – A Google Kenya employee calls a Mocality business and tries to deceive them into signing up for their competing product, by claiming that we are working together.

It gets worse: Here's a complete transcript ( with translation of the kiSwahili portions) of a another call, in which the caller goes further, claiming that Mocality engages in bait-and-switch practices to try and charge businesses upto Ksh. 20,000 ($200) for their listings. Mocality has never and will never charge for listings.

Links to the redacted calls and transcripts can be found in Mocality’s blog post.

According to the startup, about 30 percent of businesses in its database had been contacted by Google Kenya employees (and even by Indian call centre employees working for Google).

When we started this investigation, I thought that we'd catch a rogue call-centre employee, point out to Google that they were violating our Terms and conditions (sections 9.12 and 9.17, amongst others), someone would get a slap on the wrist, and life would continue.

I did not expect to find a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent (falsely claiming to be collaborating with us, and worse) attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on 2 continents.

And once again, Google has quite some explaining to do. We’ve contacted the company and are anxiously awaiting their response to Mocality’s grave accusations.

Update: Google says it is currently investigating the allegations and will respond ASAP.

Hate When Companies Don’t Provide Feedback On Job Applications? StartWire Is For You.

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 04:05 AM PST

Screen shot 2012-01-12 at 9.45.04 PM

If you’ve ever been on the job search, you know how frustrating and time consuming it is to manage the process. (If not, just ask one of the more than 13 million people in the U.S. currently there.) You spend untold hours filling out the right forms and fields, adding more action verbs to your resume, etc., and you fire off the application. Then comes the infuriation: Your prospective employer doesn’t respond, so you send a follow-up. Nothing. And another follow-up. Still nothing.

Job searchers absolutely hate this — the so-called resume (or application) black hole. While larger companies may be able to afford a few bruised egos, in the end, this deficiency frustrates potential employees — an customers. It can damage your company’s reputation and make you an enemy. It’s not as if job searchers expect the red carpet to be rolled out after every application submitted, all people want is a response or an update. “Thanks, we’re reviewing now. May take a few days,” or “Thanks, but we hired your wife.” Fair enough. People move on.

This is the primary pain point a young startup called StartWire is trying to solve. There are plenty of job search engines, recruitment vehicles and so on out there on the Web. So, while the startup does assist in job discovery by allowing you to connect your social network accounts (like LinkedIn, Facebook) and serves you targeted recommendations based on who you know, what companies you’ve applied to, etc., that’s just part of the story.

The real value proposition of StartWire lies in its being a project management tool for the job search process. You can use the service without ever actually applying to a job through the site. While most job search sites focus on discovery, StartWire wants to keep you organized and make sure that you’re receiving automatic updates on all of your applications.

The startup provides users with these status updates from over 5,400+ companies, automating the connection between the company’s site and StartWire, so that any change made by the company automatically populates in the user’s account. Users’ updates are private and never shared.

For companies, the service is free and they don’t have to do anything differently than what they’re doing right now, so it’s a no brainer. For job seekers, they can either automate status updates by tracking the application through StartWire, or they can forward the confirmation email to

This too is free, and works with any company job searchers apply to, even if you applied through other websites — all you have to do is give permission for the service to track your applications. If companies don’t provide online status updates, searchers can do so manually on the site. StartWire then organizes all of your applications in one place, labeling each as “active”, “stalled”, or “no longer in the running”, sending you updates in daily emails or texts.

StartWire Founder Chris Forman tells us that companies are encouraged to give more feedback to applicants than just “job no longer available”, but that it’s not mandated. This brings up the recent study StartWire released on what most irks job searchers about the process. Unsurprisingly, not responding to a job candidate has serious potential harm for companies’ reputations. The study found that 77 percent of job seekers think less of a company that doesn't respond to a job application, while 72 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to recommend companies' products or services or write a positive review online.

Obviously, this is one of the biggest causes of anxiety when searching for jobs. Of those polled, 90 percent said that getting feedback on their applications would make the overall process less frustrating. And certainly, it’s not for lack of trying, as the study found that 90 percent of job seekers follow up with potential employers on their status, while only 33 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide feedback through their application system.

It’s difficult to stress enough how big of a problem this is, and how companies are potentially doing irreperable damage to their reputation by not doing something that should be very easy to do, just by automating.

As for StartWire, the startup launched in early 2011 and had attracted 50,000+ registered users by January 1st of this year. Foreman says that the company is currently on pace to double that number by the end of the month.

As it’s operating as a free service, you might be wondering how StartWire is making money. Like many travel and job sites before it, StartWire is a lead generator for job boards and consumer advertisers. Based on a user’s profile, resume, and job search activity, StartWire recommends job sites and offers that it deems relevant to its users, taking a cut if visitors turn into paying customers.

It also doesn’t hurt that the New Hampsire(!)-based company is backed by $4 million in venture capital, from a $750K round of seed in late 2010, and a $3.25 million series A round led by Baird Venture Parnters in October of last year.

For more, check out the startup’s webinars here.

Fujitsu Japan Rolls Out 2 “Girls-Only” Cell Phones

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 02:23 AM PST

fujitsu featured

Do women need special cell phones? Certain companies, such as Deutsche Telekom or Samsung, seem to think so. Now Fujitsu Japan is ready to roll out [JP] not one but two handsets specifically designed “for girls”, a feature phone and an Android model.

The Android phone, the so-called F-03D Girls’, has been developed in cooperation with popular teenage fashion magazine Popteen:

It comes with a waterproof body, special lights at the bottom and around the camera (see below), pre-installed (and extra-cute) photo frames, and pre-installed apps specifically designed for a female user base.

Technically, the F-03D Girls’ features Android 2.3, a 3.7-inch LCD with 480×800 resolution, 1GB ROM, 512MB RAM, an MSM8255 1.4GHz processor, an 8MP CMOS camera, Wi-Fi IEEE802.11b/g/n, 2.1+EDR Bluetooth, a TV tuner, an e-wallet function, and a microSDHC card slot.

The F-06D Girls’ is one of the very few new feature phones that are coming out in Japan. Fujitsu designed the handset with nicola, another teenage fashion magazine:

Buyers get an original tote bag, a stylus pen (the phone has a 3.3-inch touch display) to decorate pictures (see above), an 8MP camera, various nicola wallpapers, 39 different photo frames, and a total of 3,010 pre-installed emoji for cuter emails. Like its Android counterpart, the F-06D Girls’ is waterproof.

Japanese mobile carrier NTT Docomo plans to start offering both Fujitsu phones on January 20.

Daily Crunch: Make or Break

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 01:00 AM PST

Ron Conway, Mayor Lee And Heather Harde Launch sfCITI, Want To Keep SF At The Forefront Of Tech

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 12:00 AM PST

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At a press conference tomorrow at San Francisco’s Founders Den, newly elected Mayor Ed Lee will be announcing sfCITI (San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology & Innovation), a set of tech initiatives spearheaded by investor Ron Conway, Mayor Ed Lee and TechCrunch’s beloved Heather Harde and contributed to by a series of tech industry partners, including TechCrunch.

Harde will be taking on the (voluntary) role of Executive Vice Chairman of sfCITI and newly hired SF Chief Innovation officer Jay Nath will serve as a liaison between tech companies, the committee and the SF city government. Alongside its mission of tech community support, sfCITI will be working with Code for America to build a civic-minded startup accelerator, funded by Google and the Kaufman foundation.

So why all the love San Francisco? One word, jobs. Okay, also, money.

“Last year with our Mid-Market payroll tax and stock option exemptions, as well as during my campaign and our administration's priorities, we have worked hard to attract and recruit high-tech companies and jobs to San Francisco,” said Lee in a statement, understating the tens of thousands of jobs the tech boom will inevitably bring to whichever cities choose to embrace it, “Technology companies are key to our city’s economic future and a critical part of making San Francisco the innovation capital of the world.”

Conway told me earlier today that while sfCITI hopes to serve as civic leader in all things tech (including issues like payroll taxes and zoning laws), the committee’s main priority right now is hiring. Towards this goal, sfCITI wants to both place and train competent programmers in addition to further utilizing and streamlining the HireSF website, allowing partner companies who want to hire to easily find people looking for jobs.

According to sfCITI’s stats, San Francisco currently houses over 1,500 tech companies and the industry employs more than 30,000 people.  That’s a formidable chunk of the workforce in a city with an 800K population.

Perhaps this explains why throughout his campaign and even when he served as interim mayor, Lee has always been unabashedly pro-tech sector, “Job training and placement initiatives, helping bring innovation into government and of course, job-friendly policies like payroll tax reform and building more housing, this is an agenda I support,” Lee said.

sfCITI is the most recent spark of mayoral love for the technology industry, on par with Bloomberg pledging to learn to code and Gilbert Wong letting Steve Jobs park a spaceship in Cupertino’s backyard. partner companies include:

6waves, Lolapps, Academy of Art University, Adku, AdRoll, Airbnb, Airtime, Beautylish, Benchmark, Bebo, Boku Blissmo,, Chomp, Climate, Corp Code For America, Daily Booth, Dropbox, Eventbrite, Federated Media Publishing, Inc., Fliptop, Founder’s Den, Foursquare, Getaround, Github, Google, Greplin,, Inc., Hipmunk, Jawbone,, Kiip, KiISSmetrics, Marin Software, Milk,, MoPub, Oracle, Pac 12 Enterprises, Pago,, Pontiflex, Portal-A, Posterous, Inc., Ready for Zero, Relevvant, Rentcycle, Retargeter, Riverbed, Salesforce, ShareThrough, Snapfish, Soundcloud, Spool, Square, Sugar Media, Tagged, TechCrunch, Thumbtack,, Trulia, TurnHere, Inc., Twitter, Udemy, Weebly, Wide Orbit, Xobni, Zecco Zendesk, and Zynga.

Anthony Ha Joins TechCrunch

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 09:23 PM PST

Anthony Ha

Blogging is still a relatively young part of the media industry. But already there are a cadre of professional reporters who cut their teeth blogging, who are used to the pace and get an adrenaline rush from covering events as they unfold. Anthony Ha is one of them, and I am very pleased to announce that he will be joining the TechCrunch writing staff next week in San Francisco.

Anthony (pictured here writing furiously at a conference) comes to us from AdWeek, where he is currently a staff technology writer. Before that was one of the most prolific bloggers at VentureBeat, which is where I first noticed him. (Another one of our recent hires, Eric Eldon, also hails from there).

Anthony will be covering media in its many forms, and particularly the transformation of traditional media by new technologies. He’ll bring more stories to TechCrunch about both media startups broadly defined and the media industry, as well as online advertising (one of the great engines of the internet). And like the rest of the TechCrunch writing crew, he will cover general news and write about whatever the hell he wants. Please give him a hearty TechCrunch welcome.

(And, yes, we are still hiring more great writers).

Pitch Now: Intel Awarding Young Entrepreneurs With $100K For Whizbang Business Ideas

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 09:01 PM PST

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Intel knows a thing or two about technology and innovation. Hey, that’s why they hired as “director of creative innovation”. (Wink.) Really, in the same way that it’s catalyzed change in the computing industry (and helped bring modern microprocessing to life), in December Intel launched a platform designed to give young entrepreneurs the opportunity to bring their own innovative ideas to life.

Thus, the company launched “Intel Innovators” to be two things: First, it’s a platform built on top of Intel’s Facebook community that allows young entrepreneurs (specifically, 18 to 24-year-olds) in the U.S. to share their business ideas, grow a fanbase, and receive realtime feedback. Second, it’s essentially a pop-up accelerator — a program that offers $100,000 each month to the best ideas to come out of its Facebook community.

Finalists each month receive some cool Intel schwag (like Ultrabooks, etc.), and winners get Venture Lab training from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). Not bad.

The program began taking submissions in November, launched its platform on December 1st, and Intel plans to run the program for three months, with rounds of judging and prizes at the end of each month. (The deadline for submitting ideas for the third round is January 16.) If Intel Innovators gets enough traction, it will likely be rolled out internationally later this year. And thus far the activity on its platform has been impressive, as the team told us that they’ve received hundreds of “high-quality” ideas for each round and have seen “hundreds of thousands of visits” to its Facebook platform over the last month.

So how does it works? Basically, young entrepreneurs can head over to the Facebook app, where they can submit their ideas for startups. Once approved, they enter the big pool. A selection committee (made up of professors, executives, and entrepreneurs) selects the 20 best ideas. Fans and entrepreneurs are given social capital (points) that they can invest in their favorite ideas.

The five that receive the most capital move onto the final round, where they do a live pitch to a panel of four judges (Chief Financial Officer of betaworks Joshua D. Auerbach, Managing Director Intel Capital's Consumer Internet Sector Mike Buckley, SV Angel’s Topher Conway, and Collaborative Fund’s Craig Shapiro), who award their favorite idea with $50K. The top fan then gets to give the other $50K to their favorite finalist.

Interested in what kind of ideas the crowd favors? December’s winners included Alex Adelman, a 22 year-old from North Carolina for “Cosmic Cart”, a product tagging system that allows users to buy merchandise from any video online. And the second winner (chosen by the panelists) was 24-year-old Virgil Hare from Detroit for LoginWill, a social networking website where people can designate beneficiaries to receive all of their online login information in the event that they pass away. (More here.)

It’s a great program, although it does seem like they didn’t have to include the 18 to 24 age restriction. What about the rest of us? According to Intel, it’s illegal to award financial prizes to people under 18, so there’s that, and, really, they want to tap into tap into college-aged entrepreneurs — to help the young Mark Zuckerbergs of the world take a step forward. (And, hey, Mike would probably agree with the age cap, too.)

While I might balk at that suggestion, it’s hard to argue against giving young entrepreneurs a resource to bounce their ideas off each other and cash to jumpstart their business. Intel has always claimed it’s all about fueling innovation, and programs like this, its Global Challenge at UC Berkeley, and the AppUp Fund show Intel wants to put its money where its mouth is.

Entrepreneurs and their startups are, really, the engine of job creation. In the U.S., companies less than five years old created 44 million jobs over the last three decades and, over that time, accounted for all net new jobs created in the U.S. — this according to the White House.

What’s more, for a stagnant economy, keeping technology and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is a must, and Intel is doing its part to help create them, and keep them here.

But now I want to see them turn Intel Innovators into a full-blown accelerator. The more, the better.

And for the young entrepreneurs reading, now is the time to submit your idea for a shot at $100K, as the program is currently accepting submissions for the next round — and is doing so until 12 p.m. EST on January 16. Check it out here.

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