Archive for April, 2010

Metaplace secures funding for its virtual world

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Metaplace, a company that plans on letting users build a virtual world and use social networking conventions to allow groups to enjoy them, announced today that it raised $6.7 million of funding in a round that was led by Charles River Ventures and Crescendo Ventures, as well as independent investors, Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz.

Whether or not Metaplace can thrive where Second Life and There.com couldn’t remains to be seen. The company’s idea to create a virtual world has been done before and so far, competitors simply haven’t been able to capitalize on a relatively inactive user base. Regardless, Metaplace thinks it will be different.

Somewhat similar to Second Life, Metaplace creates an online virtual world for people across the globe to interact with. But unlike Second Life and There.com, Metaplace uses an open platform to allow users to create, build, and live in their own unique virtual world. The company claims that it wants its users to create a “network of worlds–from community to games to education to business” that will allow people to collaborate, socialize, and “conduct commerce” as they do in the real world.

Metaplace is currently in private beta and has only allowed a few thousand people to use the service. But in the coming weeks, it will open the beta to more users in the hope that it will grow into a service that brings together the virtues of both virtual worlds and social networks.

‘Fred’ creator, the Tiger Woods of user-generated

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

The 15-year old creator of the YouTube series Fred has become Internet video’s hottest prodigy since last month, when the Fred channel amassed the most subscribers (585,506) on YouTube. He now has more than 645,000. Since launching six months ago, Fred clips have been watched more than 125 million times.

SAN FRANCISCO–Lucas Cruikshank is to user-generated video what Tiger Woods was to golf or what Bobby Fischer was to chess when they were teenagers.

Walking through the NewTeeVee Live conference venue here Thursday, Cruikshank was approached by numerous executives who asked to exchange cards with him. He is barely old enough for acne but Cruikshank appears the user-gen generation’s version of a Hollywood player.

The series is a goofy satire of some YouTube video bloggers that Cruikshank considers self important. Fred is a fictitious teen with anger management problems, a strange voice, and a father serving time in jail. Cruikshank, a high school freshman in Nebraska, has parlayed his Web success into cash.

He agreed to slip products, including the Zipit text-messaging gadget, into his videos as part of product-placement deals. An aspiring actor, the teen has appeared in commercials for the device and will appear in an upcoming Nickelodeon show. “I’ve had meetings with movie studios,” he told me. “Some people even want to turn Fred into a TV show or movie.”

Talk to Cruikshank and one gets the impression his success is no accident. He’s sharp and witty and isn’t intimidated by adults in suits. During an interview with NewTeeVee’s Chris Albrecht in front of hundreds of conference attendees, Cruikshank got some laughs after he was asked by a man about what kind of CPM, or advertising revenue, his clips were generating.

(Credit:
Greg Sandoval/CNET Networks)

“I bet you would like to know that,” Cruikshank said. He waited a beat before adding: “But I’m not going to tell you.”

Lucas Cruikshank, the creator of YouTube hit series, Fred, answers questions from interviewers

KickApps raises $14 million for expansion

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

The funding will be used for expansion into new markets, as well as product development, which the company believes, will help it spur growth in the market.

KickApps, a company that offers on-demand social networking and widget platforms, announced Tuesday that it raised $14 million in Series C funding. The round was led by North Atlantic Capital, Softbank, Spark Capital, and Prism Ventures.

See also: JS-Kit, Ning, and CollectiveX

KickApps currently powers social services on over 48,000 websites, including Guinness World Records and a New York Knicks Webpage. The company also powered John McCain’s social network, McCainSpace, during the 2008 Presidential campaign.

“KickApps is aggressively extending the scope of services we provide online publishers in a number of important ways,” said Alex Blum, KickApps CEO in a statement. “As a next generation website operating system, our mission is to transform a number of traditional services — video players, editorial presentation, advertising, analytics, marketing, customer relationships — into highly interactive experiences that are contextually informed by live, actionable data.”

EarthLink profits on cost cuts

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Internet service provider EarthLink has turned the corner.

EarthLink is now focusing its business on providing broadband and dial-up Internet service. While the dial-up business is dying a slow death, EarthLink’s executives still see it as a cash cow. Earlier this year, the company was rumored to be interested in buying AOL’s dial-up business to help boost this part of its business.

The company’s revenues were actually down about 22.5 percent, compared to last year. It brought in only $230.8 million, compared to revenue of $298 million in the third quarter of 2007.

EarthLink also sold its stake in mobile virtual-network operator Helio. The phone company, which had been a joint venture between EarthLink and Korean cell phone operator Helio, was sold to Virgin Mobile this summer.

On Tuesday, the company reported profits of $54.7 million, or $0.49 per share, for the third quarter of 2008, compared to a net loss of $79.4 million, or $0.65 per share, during the same quarter a year ago.

EarthLink’s financial turnaround comes as a result of massive cost-cutting. The company sold off and shut down two major initiatives this year. First, it exited the citywide Wi-Fi market, leaving cities like Philadelphia with a nearly completed Wi-Fi network, and no one to run or maintain it. A group of investors eventually took over the Philadelphia network.

Tuesday phone debut is first salvo in Android war

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Because much of Android is open-source software, it can be used for free, and that means those selling phones can spend their money on better hardware rather than on software license fees, Bruggeman said. In addition, other individual programmers or interested companies can help improve that open-source software, so at least theoretically Android could become an exercise in collective engineering the way Linux has been.

High hopes
But the big question is whether the Dream can live up to expectations.

Some of the features that are rumored to be included are a full QWERTY keyboard, 3G support as well as Wi-Fi, a full HTML browser, embedded GPS, easy access to Google applications such as maps, YouTube, instant messaging, e-mail, SMS texting, a 3-megapixel camera, a music player, video recorder and player, and a memory card slot.

Running the gamut
Android can be used by any phone manufacturer to build any kind of mobile phone–anything from a simple, inexpensive phone for the developing world to a power user’s high-end smartphone.

Marguerite Reardon co-wrote this article.

The Dream’s $200 price tag also hits the smartphone sweet spot for cost. T-Mobile is already selling both the BlackBerry 8820 and BlackBerry Curve for $199 with a two-year contract. And Apple and AT&T are offering the iPhone 3G for $200 with a two-year contract.

(Credit:
Stephen Shankland/CNET News.com)

Bruggeman, though, doesn’t see Google’s crosshairs painted on Apple’s back.

“If you’re going to be an Open Handset Alliance carrier, you can’t lock it down,” said John Bruggeman, chief marketing officer at Wind River Systems, a Google ally that helps phone makers build and customize Android for their phone hardware.

Wind River is contributing code of its own as part of its Android support business. Its customers’ second-generation Android phones will ship in the first half of 2009, Bruggeman said, and “There’s a good chance we’ll make first quarter.” He called the Dream a good start, but promised better power management, performance, usability, and features for the sequels.

HTC and T-Mobile seem to have gone the smartphone route in developing the Dream, which some are calling G1. So far, neither T-Mobile nor HTC has revealed details about the new phone. But rumored specifications for the device and pictures on various blogs suggest it’s chock-full of bells and whistles to help it compete in the smartphone market against devices like Apple’s iPhone and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices.

But Google’s advertising business is a money factory, and the company has shown it has patience to invest that money in key projects. So even if the first-generation Android phones don’t entice people to line up around the block, competitors who develop mainstream phone operating systems such as Nokia’s Symbian and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile doubtless are taking heed.

There will be plenty of hullabaloo on Tuesday when T-Mobile unveils the first phone powered by Google’s Android operating system. But the event is only the beginning of a long effort to rewrite the rules of the mobile communications industry.

For example, taking a page from Microsoft’s playbook, Google is trying to enlist countless programmers in its Android charge, relying on them to build applications for the phone. While the mobile phone business hasn’t made it easy to add new applications to phones, Google wants to reverse this and bring more of the openness of PCs to the phone market.

In June, just a few weeks before the iPhone 3G went on sale, Sprint Nextel launched the Samsung Instinct, a touch-screen 3G smartphone designed to give iPhone a run for its money.

This post was co-written by staff writer Marguerite Reardon.

The iPhone set the bar for what customers should expect from a smartphone. Apple then raised the bar this summer with the iPhone 3G and a new App Store that allows people to buy and download thousands of applications.

The phone, a somewhat chunky model called Dream built by HTC, is expected to cost about $200 from T-Mobile and go on sale in October. Until other partners in the Google-spawned, 34-member Open Handset Alliance bring their Android products to market, this small piece of electronics will shoulder a lot of ambitions.

For T-Mobile, an Android phone could bring some Google buzz to the scrappy carrier, helping match what AT&T got from Apple’s
iPhone. It also could potentially persuade customers T-Mobile’s new 3G network is worth paying give T-Mobile new revenue from online application sales.

What’s not yet clear is how well Android phones will fare in the marketplace. Google’s software is untested, and there are plenty of competitors in the mobile phone market.

T-Mobile already has a decent portfolio of smartphones, including the BlackBerry Pearl, BlackBerry Curve, and BlackBerry 8820. It also sells two other HTC smartphones that use Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system, the T-Mobile Dash and T-Mobile Wing. But as the carrier rolls out its new 3G network, it needs a flagship device that will give consumers, who might be tempted to buy an iPhone for AT&T’s network, a reason to buy a phone on T-Mobile’s network.

Like Apple, Google plans a central site to distribute and sell applications. In August, it announced plans for the Android Market, an online center where people can find, buy, download, and rate applications and other content for Android phones. Initially, the site will only support distribution for free applications. An update later will handle different versions of applications, support different profiles of Android phones, and include analytics to help developers track adoption, Google has said.

“Look at Japan, (where) we have far more usage of mobile Web. It’s similar with the iPhone,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin in a meeting with reporters last week. “If the Internet is widely available, that’s good for us.”

Open-source software is another example. The Android software, millions of lines of code that will become open-source software with the release of the first phone, employs some components familiar to the computing industry and some new ones. It employs Linux at its lowest levels to communicate with hardware, but applications running on the system are written in the Java programming language. Java is common in mobile phones, but Google diverged from the mainstream phone industry by creating its own Java foundation, called Dalvik, for running the programs.

Andy Rubin, head of Google's Android project.

New rules
Android is an attempt to bring some of the ways of the computing industry to the mobile phone world.

Since the iPhone was first launched in 2007 exclusively on AT&T’s network, wireless operators have been scrambling to find a cool device to compete. Last year, Verizon Wireless introduced the LG Voyager, which has a touch screen that flips up to expose a QWERTY keypad. Earlier this year, in anticipation of an iPhone with 3G, Verizon launched the LG Dare, a 3G touch-screen phone with a
mobile browser.

For Google, Android is a tool to spread Internet-savvy phones far and wide. People with powerful networked phones use the Internet much more, and Google wants to be the top company supplying the information they demand online.

“I don’t think it’s an iPhone killer. As long as Apple continues to innovate and create a good user experiences and sexy devices, there’s always a place for that,” Bruggeman said. “If the mobile phone market is 3 billion units and Apple has 15 million, they are a pimple on the mobile phone landscape. There will always be a room for a pimple on the landscape. Google is playing for the rest of the enchilada.”

The HTC Dream is T-Mobile’s iPhone slayer, or so the company hopes. Because the software has been developed by glamorous Google there are a lot of expectations. And some believe that Android could also be a game-changer, just like the iPhone before it.

Good grades translate into rising Mac share

Monday, April 19th, 2010

commentary

Yes, those jobs also often force these former students to “grow up” and use Windows, though this, too, is changing, as BusinessWeek points out.

Assuming that Princeton’s
Mac market share numbers are even moderately representative of academic adoption of the Mac (and some anecdotal evidence at the University of Missouri suggests the Mac dominates even more than 40 percent of some universities’ computers), Apple has a rosy future ahead of it. The more students it graduates, the more Macs it should sell.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

But that’s today. The funny thing about students is that they eventually graduate. With graduation comes jobs, which provide discretionary income to buy more Macs.

Forty percent?!? That’s amazing. In the general operating-system market, according to Net Applications, Apple commands nearly 10 percent of the personal-computer market, which shows great progress over its formerly anemic market share but which still is a distant second place to Microsoft’s 88 percent share.

Buried in an insightful Ars Technica article on digital music is this casual throwaway line, “At Princeton, Macs accounted for an astonishing 40 percent of all student computers in 2008.”

Cisco discovers the FSF wasn’t joking

Monday, April 19th, 2010

commentary

It’s not that hard, Cisco. You benefit from open source by modifying freely available open-source software and including it in your products. When you distribute those products, you have an obligation under the very same licenses that gave you the code in the first place. Time to brush up on Open Source Licensing 101.

Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF, explains:

We began working with Cisco in 2003 to help them establish a process for complying with our software licenses, and the initial changes were very promising. Unfortunately, they never put in the effort that was necessary to finish the process, and now, five years later, we have still not seen a plan for compliance. As a result, we believe that legal action is the best way to restore the rights we grant to all users of our software.

When I read that the Free Software Foundation is suing Cisco Systems over alleged violations of the GNU General Public License (GPL), my first reaction was, “Put that subpoena back in your pocket, FSF.” A copy of the complaint is available on PDF.

However, reading OStatic’s summary of the suit reminded me that for the FSF has never been particularly litigious, never visiting the courtroom in 15 years of license enforcement. For the FSF, through the Software Freedom Law Center, to take this action suggests that things must be very bad.

In a statement, Cisco indicated that it believes itself to be in “substantial compliance” with the GPL, but that’s like saying it’s almost a virgin. Either you are, or you’re not. In this case, given the FSF’s nonlitigious track record, I suspect that Cisco is not, in fact, in compliance with the GPL. This, however, is easy to fix: release the code.

The FSF has been working with Cisco since 2003 to ensure compliance of its Linksys routers, but five years later, Cisco still apparently can’t get its open-source act together. Cisco claims to be “disappointed” by the legal action, but it can’t pretend to be surprised. I know Eben Moglen of the FSF and Software Freedom Law Center reasonably well: he’s not the sort of person to sue unless he has exhausted all other avenues of mediation.

After all, I figured that it was yet another BusyBox claim and, while I believe that everyone - including open-source developers - has a right and duty to protect its intellectual property, it has seemed lately that the open-source world is becoming as litigious as the proprietary world, and that’s not a good thing.

Skyfire inching toward first full release

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Skyfire has come a long way since its humble beginnings, but there’s always room for improvement. For instance, is a dedicated search tab really necessary when your address bar performs the same search? Speed and video quality can also always be improved, and Skyfire is still missing some of Opera Mobile’s more advanced features, like searching for text in-line.

Another feature of interest is Skyfire’s refinement of the address bar, which, like other desktop and mobile browsers, doubles as a search bar. If you choose a search term that Skyfire has auto-suggested after you began typing, it will offer a second set of more refined search terms. For instance, typing in ‘hot potato’ gave us ‘hot potato salad,’ and then led to more specific recipe options.

Skyfire (coverage), the plucky
mobile browser that could, inches closer to a full-version release on Thursday with version 0.9 beta for Symbian and Windows Mobile phones. Despite some rocky loading issues with our preview version, Skyfire’s significant additions to its feature set leave much to be admired.

(Credit:
Skyfire Labs)

A few features really stood out after playing with Skyfire 0.9 beta for a few hours on a T-Mobile Dash. The first is the RSS feed that’s taken over the tabbed main screen. Search, the directory of top links, and History get their own tabs, but the primary screen now shows editable RSS feeds that include, by default, Hulu, Yahoo stories, Twitter, and Facebook–you’ll of course need to sign into these last two. The RSS feeds are handy if you’re into RSS, but if you’re not, we think Skyfire should let you set any of these four tabs as your default.

While we likely won’t see any of the advanced gesturing tricks that are expected of Mozilla’s Firefox Mobile (Fennec) in Skyfire anytime soon, its mobile browsing solution is fairly sturdy, which means that the company has a chance of winning you over before Mozilla drops its mobile-browsing bomb.

A few more tweaks worth mentioning include a bug fix that lets you launch a long URL from an e-mail as long as Skyfire has been set as your default browser, and updated plug-ins for Flash 10, Silverlight 2.0, and the latest Quicktime.

You can try Skyfire 0.9 beta for Windows Mobile and Symbian phones by pointing your mobile browser to get.skyfire.com.

The way Skyfire now handles articles, blog posts, and other big chunks of text is also different from in previous versions. The SmartFit menu option no longer exists; instead, after zooming in on an article, Skyfire will automatically reformat it to fit the screen’s width. The best way to deal with text articles has been an ongoing debate in the mobile browser world for some time. Skyfire’s latest solution worked seamlessly in our tests and offered hassle-free reading.

Many of the changes are technical, such as support for all screen resolutions on Windows Mobile phones and a Symbian client that has lost over 50 percent of its kilobyte bulk. Many more developments pack on greater browsing power, like the capability to download some MP3s and videos.

Downloading media is another new feature that piqued our attention. Certain media files that you can play in Skyfire, like an audio file or some videos, you can now also download to your phone. We were able to download a CNET TV video this way.

Video handling is one of our main interests with all mobile browsers. While some video was still choppy using Skyfire on a secure home Wi-Fi connection–like those streamed on CNET TV–an entire episode of House played with just a few jerky interruptions when we fired up Hulu. The video quality was pretty weak, but the show was, by all means, watchable.

Skyfire’s revamped interface.

FairSoftware virtualizes startups

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

(Credit:
FairSoftware.net)

Since you are not actually incorporating a company when you create a project, FairSoftware’s legal foundation is something it calls its Software Bill of Rights, which spells out each how the system works. Alain Raynaud, CEO of FairSoftware, pointed out that the founders could “graduate” to being an actual subchapter C corporation if they so choose.

While other web apps help you find people for your startup, FairSoftware goes several steps further by letting you, as the founder, parcel out pieces of the online revenue collected via PayPal by FairSoftware your startup (hopefully) generates.

I tried the product and found a lot to like:

There are interesting aspects to the virtualized startup you create: you can bring other people to a project and pay them in shares, and if the project generates revenues this means real money in their pockets. You can either hire for the long term, vesting new staff with permanent shares, or pull in temporary expertise who get a share of the revenue until the task is completed.

While still in alpha, the Web app worked without a glitch from signup to being ready to count my incoming money.
Developers, web designers and professionals with skills startups need can join FairSoftware, hook up with multiple projects and both make money and earn a lasting piece of the action.
FairSoftware’s open (to a project’s founders) accounting system and one share, one vote mechanism should moderate one of the main reasons startups go belly up: disagreements between founders.

(Credit:
FairSoftware.net)

If FairSoftware takes off, and can survive the inevitable legal challenges that arise when people, money and who gets what come into play, this could become a standard infrastructure product for technology startups.

Why not use a web app to create your web app startup? And what’s more, why deal with all the physical realities of incorporating a company and setting up its accounting system when you can visualize the whole thing? That’s the proposition of Fairsoftware.net, which debuted an alpha version of its online startup creation application today at TechCrunch50.

The more shares of a startup you own within FairSoftware, the larger your share of revenue. The software lets you make provisions for those pesky unvirtualized expenses businesses have, and then pipes the revenue to each founder in accordance with their shares, less FairSoftware’s 9.9% cut.

Another $10.5 million for Auditude’s video ads

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

“From our perspective, we are looking to work with everybody,” Cahan said. “We are trying to tackle what I think is one of the biggest opportunities and challenges on the Internet right now, which is (that) tons of people are watching video, 80 percent of folks out there, and yet very few people are really making a business of this yet.”

Auditude, a video advertising company best known for technology that can identify clients’ video content and run ads against it, has raised a $10.5 million Series B funding round from Redpoint Ventures and existing investor Greylock Partners. This brings the company’s total funding to $23 million.

Last time we checked in with Auditude, the company had inked a deal with News Corp.’s MySpace and Viacom’s MTV Networks to detect both official and user-uploaded MTV content on the social network’s MySpaceTV platform. It was seen by many as a savvy antipiracy measure. Since then, Auditude has started powering a broader variety of video ads on MySpace and its MySpace Music product, as well as partnered with Warner Bros. Entertainment. More content deals are on the way, CEO Adam Cahan told CNET News.

Redpoint partner Chris Moore will join Auditude’s board of directors, which also includes former Facebook executive Owen Van Natta. A member of the short list for the top post at MySpace Music, Van Natta instead took the CEO role at rival streaming service Project Playlist.