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More Funding, Fewer Deals For Cleantech In Q1 2011, Solar Dominates And Storage Rises

Posted: 02 May 2011 09:04 AM PDT

According to a report out today from Ernst & Young and Dow Jones VentureSource, American venture capitalists invested 54 percent more, by dollar amount, in cleantech companies for the first quarter in 2011 versus the same period last year. The sector attracted $1.14 billion for the quarter up from $743.3 million in Q1 2010. The number of deals attracting venture capital in the sector declined, however, by 13 percent from 79 to 69.

Energy or electricity generation, especially solar businesses, and later stage rounds dominated. The energy and electricity generation segment raised $450.3 million through 16 deals, or 39.5 percent of total dollars raised for the quarter. Solar ventures attracted $362.7 million, or about 32 percent of total dollars raised for the quarter, a 162 percent increase for the segment over the same period last year.

MiaSole, makers of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin-film photovoltaic solar panels, was the largest deal of the quarter. The company raised $106 million in a series F round led by Voyageur Mutual Funds III; its earlier backers included Kleiner Perkins, Firelake Capital and VantagePoint Venture Partners. Another CIGS manufacturer, Solopower, raised about $52 million from Crosslink Capital, Hudson Clean Energy Partners, and Norwegian firm Convexa.

Alta Devices, raised $72 million to improve the efficiency of solar photovoltaics, and deliver them at very low costs, using gallium arsenide. Investors in that round included their earlier backers: August Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Crosslink Capital, DAG Ventures, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Presidio Ventures, Technology Partners, Dow Chemical, and newer investors Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), Good Energies, Energy Technology Ventures (the joint venture involving GE, ConocoPhilips and NRG Energy), and Constellation Energy.

All three of the above-mentioned solar companies are based in California. The state drew 56 percent of total dollars funded, about $637.2 million, an increase of 41 percent year over year for the California cleantech sector. Cleantech companies in the southeastern U.S. raised $150.2 million, a huge leap for the region, and New England cleantech businesses drew $174.23 million.

The energy storage segment also saw larger investments. Energy storage deals rose 671 percent (by dollars invested) versus the first quarter of 2010, reaching a total of $262.4 million through 14 deals. Battery companies attracted $121 million of that, having raised only $8 million from January through March 2010. Fuel cell businesses attracted $106 million for the quarter. Two deals accounted for 64 percent of dollars raised for the whole energy storage segment— Bloom Energy, whose technology has been both ballyhooed and scrutinized, raised the lion’s share with a $100 million round.

Alternative fuels, a category that includes both natural gas and biofuels, raised $160 million, or 14 percent of the total dollars raised in the quarter with the majority of those dollars going to biofuels businesses.

One subsegment of cleantech, energy efficiency, dipped by 49 percent. These companies raised $95 million in the first quarter, versus $187 million for the same period in 2010 according to the report.

Send The Trend Raises $3M To Personalize Shopping For Fashion Accessories

Posted: 02 May 2011 08:31 AM PDT

Send the Trend, a recently launched e-commerce site that brings personalization to the world of fashion accessories, has raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Battery Ventures with a number of angels participating in the round, including Founder Collective. Send the Trend is also launching an updated site, featuring a new UI and more social experience, including voting, social sharing, one screen checkout and more.

Send the Trend offers its customers personalized, affordable accessories such as fashion jewelry, sunglasses, scarves and more. The site takes you through a very short survey of what kind of accessories you may want, and it then provides stylist-curated customized recommendations for five different accessories for you. You can then buy any of the items for $30, with free shipping included for U.S. customers.

Following the customer's first purchase, she will receive new, personalized product recommendations on the first of every month based on the indicated style preferences. The site basically helps women solve the problem of having to visit a number of different stores, or websites to figure out what accessories suit their style. By curating accessories that are affordable and trendy, Send The Trend makes shopper’s lives easier.

The company was founded by Divya Gugnani, Mariah Chase and Christian Siriano, who you may remember as the youngest winner of the reality TV fashion design hit Project Runway. Siriano actually works directly with well known brands to create unique exclusive accessories for the site that cannot be found anywhere else. Gugnani is a well known media personality who previously founded Behind The Burner, a site that showcases culinary experts.

Gugnani says the funding will be used to expanding into new categories of accessories, to build out the platform’s technology and for hiring.

Twitter Does Not Supplant Other Media, It Amplifies It

Posted: 02 May 2011 08:14 AM PDT

Last night, many of us learned about Osama Bin Laden’s death on Twitter. And in fact, the first credible report from Keith Urbahn, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff, was also on Twitter. And while the White House kept pushing off the official announcement for an hour to inform different parties, the news was already being analyzed and spread on Twitter.

So did Twitter supplant mainstream media as the best source of news about Bin Laden’s death? Yes and no. Yes, many people first heard about the news on Twitter, but more often than not the original source of that news could be traced back to mainstream media. Although some unwitting on-the-ground reporting occurred on Twitter as well, Bin Laden’s death was confirmed by mainstream media (CNN, NYT, etc). Even Keith Urbahn notes that his source was not someone in the military or government, but a “connected TV news producer:”

Keith Urbahn
My source was a connected network TV news producer. Stories about "the death of MSM" because of my "first" tweet are greatly exaggerated.

Urbahn doesn’t believe his Tweet is evidence of citizen journalism “supplanting traditional media.”

Keith Urbahn
As much as I believe in rise of "citizen journalism," blogs, twitter etc supplanting traditional media, my tweet isn't great evidence of it.

And yet, he was able to break the news before the TV producer who told him could air it on traditional media. Twitter is not in and of itself a news source. Whoever is Tweeting is the source. But all it takes is one person to Tweet out news for it to spread faster than through any other medium. The person doesn’t have to be a journalist. Urbahn scooped everyone.

Twitter does not supplant other media, it amplifies it. During the President’s announcement, people were Tweeting at a rate of 4,000 Tweets per second, not an all-time-high, but a close second or third—about the same level of Tweets as during the last Super Bowl.

Twitter also drives people to traditional media. Last night, news that the President was going to make a surprise announcement certainly drove people to TV. For instance, I first heard about the news conference on Twitter, and then I turned on CNN. Much of what people were Tweeting was what they were hearing on TV, thus passing the news instantly to people who may not have been in front of a TV at the time.

But what that means in practice is that if you are following the right people, you don’t have to actually turn on your TV. You can learn most of the salient facts from watching your Twitter stream. It can be such an efficient way to get information that people mistake it for the source of the news itself. For an increasing number of people, it is becoming the first place they turn to find out what is going on. However, it also points to other media (much like a news search does) and people click on those links to find out more. We certainly saw a huge spike from Twitter traffic here on TechCrunch last night, and we are just a technology blog.

Related TC posts:

First Credible Reports Of Bin Laden's Death Spread Like Wildfire On Twitter

Here's the guy who unwittingly live-tweeted the raid on Bin Laden

Bin Laden's Compound Gets A Bum Review On Google Maps

BIA/Kelsey: Social Media Advertising Topped $2 Billion In 2010

Posted: 02 May 2011 07:30 AM PDT

Further evidence that advertising on social networks (a.k.a. Facebook) is a booming business. BIA/Kelsey reports today that social media advertising revenues will grow from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $8.3 billion in 2015. BIA/Kelsey defines social media advertising as money spent on advertising formats across social networks.

The research company says that the currently, the predominant ad format on social networks is display, spending on which the firm expects will increase from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $7.7 billion in 2015. While revenues from non-display ad formats (i.e. Twitter’s “promoted products”) are currently minimal, BIA/Kelsey expects that in the coming years non-display formats will continue to grow as an ad genre on social networks, and expects the social non-display segment to grow from zero in 2010 to $600 million in 2015.

Of course, Facebook currently dominates most of the revenues generated from social media advertising. eMarketer reported in January that Facebook’s ad revenues came in $1.86 billion in 2010, while MySpace ad spend plummets.

BIA/Kelsey says that its version of social media advertising does not include virtual goods and rewards, social gaming, social commerce or social marketing, all of which are booming areas in advertising as well.

RIM Acquires Smartphone Security Software Developer Ubitexx

Posted: 02 May 2011 06:22 AM PDT

BlackBerry developer Research In Motion is definitely on a shopping spree. A week after announcing the acquisition of social calendering application, the company is buying smartphone software security developer Ubitexx. Terms of the acquisition, which was announced on Ubitexx’s home page, were not disclosed.

Ubitexx, which raised over $4 million in funding, develops and distributes management and security software for smartphones and mobile devices. The company also provides strategic mobile management consulting, training and installation, and technical support services.

In a press release, RIM says that Ubitexx’s software, ubi-Suite, will be used to power device management, security and controls for BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server as well as for Android and iOS based devices and tablets, all managed from a single web-based console.

The single web-based console is being designed to provide IT administrators with a comprehensive platform distribute software and manage policies, inventory, security and services for BlackBerry devices, as well as other mobile devices

Smartphone security is a hot space. Mobile security company Trust Digital was acquired by McAfee last year and Lookout just raised $20 million for its smartphone security platform.

Other recent RIM acquisitions in the past few months include HTML5 mobile developer TinyHippos, professional contact manager Gist, and UI development team The Astonishing Tribe.

RIM Announces Video Chat And Facebook Apps For Playbook

Posted: 02 May 2011 05:39 AM PDT

An app that probably should have appeared on the Playbook at launch, video chat, is coming to tablet owners tomorrow morning in an OTA update. In addition to front and back camera support, the chat app allows you to make VOIP and video calls as well as connectivity based on the user’s BBID. The app features “powerful in-call functions” like – and I’m not making this up – “mute/unmute.”

Read more…

RIM Announces BlackBerry Bold 9900 And 9930 With BBOS 7 And NFC

Posted: 02 May 2011 05:38 AM PDT

The brand new BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 is a 1.2GHz smartphone (RIM’s “thinnest yet”) that runs Blackberry OS 7 and includes NFC connectivity and a touchscreen interface.

Read more…

SSD Storage Company Kaminario Raises $15 Million

Posted: 02 May 2011 05:26 AM PDT

Kaminario, a provider of SSD storage products, this morning announced that it has secured $15 million in Series C financing. Existing backers Sequoia and Pitango were joined this time by new investor Globespan Capital Partners, whose managing director Venky Ganesan will take a seat on Kaminario's board. Founded in 2008 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, with an Israel-based R&D division, this latest round brings Kaminario's total funding to $34 million.

Brightcove Streaming 700 Million Videos A Month; Granted Broad Patent For Online Video

Posted: 02 May 2011 05:21 AM PDT

Brightcove was issued a broad patent for the “Distribution of content,” which covers the basic features of a professional online video platform. Patent No. 7,925,973, which was applied for on August 12, 2005 by CEO Jeremy Allaire and CTO Bob Mason, describes some of the basic features of all professional online video players such as customizable players, digital rights management, and syndication. In other words, how video is experienced, and how it is controlled—essential aspects for professional video publishers.

Of course, Brightcove has done just fine so far without that patent. Brightcove is now streaming 700 million videos a month, I have learned, which it believes would place it among the top five online video platforms on the web. That number is up from 400,000 videos streams per month in March, 2010. Of course, those videos are spread out among Brightcove’s 3,000 paying customers—mostly professionals publishers, media sites, and brands—instead from coming from one destination like YouTube.

By comparison, YouTube does billions of video streams per day , but it is also an order of magnitude bigger than everyone else. But if Brightcove represents the long tail of professional video, there is a lot of it and it is growing fast. In the past 6 months, Brightcove publishers uploaded as much video to it servers as they did during the entire first five years of Brightcove’s existence. Every minute, Brightcove encodes 5 hours worth of new video content. It was about an hour’s worth every minute 18 months ago. Buys Local Search Company Krillion For $3.5M, Debuts Daily Deal Service

Posted: 02 May 2011 04:45 AM PDT

Online local media and search company has acquired location-based shopping data aggegator Krillion for $3.5 million in cash. The company provides local shopping information on over 70,000 consumer products from over 50,000 retailers, including in-store availability, comparison pricing, current discounts and images.

With a separate news announcement, NASDAQ-listed has launched yet another daily deal site, dubbed Spreebird.

The newly acquired company, Krillion, aggregates and matches consumer product information from multiple retailer websites and data feeds to create a structured index of over 70,000 products across consumer categories including appliances, baby gear, consumer electronics, computers and video games.

Said index includes over 1,200 brands from over 50,000 retail locations across the United States and incorporates product images, current pricing, manufacturer or retailer discounts and real-time in-stock information.

Founded in 2006 and based in Mountain View, California, Krillion will be integrated with’s Owned & Operated business unit and across various offerings. Krillion CEO Sherry Thomas-Zon will become's new VP of local shopping.

With the launch of Spreebird, is throwing its hat into the daily deals ring. The service is the direct result of the company’s recent acquisition of the iTwango deal platform.

The site will aggregate deals from across the country, from different service providers, and allow consumers to find and buy the deals that are most relevant to their specific interests.

Spreebird expects to launch iPhone and Android apps during Q3 2011.

DISH And EchoStar Settle Patent Litigation With TiVo, Agree To Pay $500 Million

Posted: 02 May 2011 03:12 AM PDT

DISH Network and EchoStar this morning announced that they’ve agreed to pay TiVo $500 million to settle all of their ongoing patent litigation with the digital video recorder company.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, DISH and EchoStar will initially cough up $300 million, with the remaining $200 million distributed in six equal annual payments between 2012 and 2017.

The companies have agreed to dismiss all pending litigation with prejudice, and to dissolve all injunctions against DISH and EchoStar.

In addition, TiVo granted DISH a license under its Time Warp patent and certain related patents, for their remaining lives. Time Warp is technology that essentially allows users to record one TV program while watching another.

TiVo says it will also play a role in helping DISH Network promote the Blockbuster digital video service (DISH just acquired substantially all of the assets of Blockbuster, which went belly up in September 2010, for roughly $228 million in cash).

TiVo also granted EchoStar a life-long license under the same patents, to design and make certain DVR-enabled products solely for DISH Network and two international customers.

EchoStar, in turn, granted TiVo a license under certain DVR-related patents for TiVo-branded products.

TiVo originally sued DISH and EchoStar back in 2004 over its patented DVR technology back when the two were still a single company. They won the suit, but the court decided in May 2010 to reconsider its verdict. Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court then moved to uphold the ruling that EchoStar infringed TiVo patents, which ultimately led to today’s announcement. TiVo will hold a conference call at 9:00 AM ET today to discuss the agreement.

In related news, DISH Network this morning reported its first quarter 2011 financial results (net income of $549 million on revenues of $3.22 billion) and announced that Michael Kelly has been named president of its new subsidiary Blockbuster.

EchoStar also announced quarterly earnings this morning: net income of $17 million on revenues of $480 million.

Bin Laden’s Compound Gets A Bum Review On Google Maps

Posted: 02 May 2011 12:38 AM PDT

Google Maps users have been busy as the news of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s mansion was breaking. A pretty large compound listed on Google Maps in the city of Abbottābad, northern Pakistan has been picked out by users as being the genuine article – and with huge walls around it, it does indeed look quite suspect.

Whether or not it is the genuine article is unknown, but that is not stopping people leaving a slew of comments on the “venue’s” Google Maps page. Some choicer reviews include: “Great hideout would use again.”

Here’s The Guy Who Unwittingly Live-tweeted The Raid On Bin Laden

Posted: 01 May 2011 11:07 PM PDT

Yesterday Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual on Twitter) was just a “an IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains”, specifically Abbottabad, northern Pakistan.

But today he will become known as the guy who, while live-tweeting a series of helicopter flypasts and explosion in the city, unwittingly covered the US forces helicopter raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. Here’s a selection of his Tweets:

[Update: it looks like @m0hcin was there too, read on for more]

First Credible Reports Of Bin Laden’s Death Spread Like Wildfire On Twitter

Posted: 01 May 2011 07:45 PM PDT

Keith Urbahn
So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.

If the Twitterverse is to be believed, President Obama is about to announce the death of terrorist and 9-11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, in an impromptu announcement broadcast on and TV this Sunday night at 10:45 EST.

The news actually hit Twitter before the President’s broadcast; CNN’s Steve Brusk first tweeted that the announcement was National Security-related at around 7:25pm PST.

The first credible sign of the imminent announcement of Bin Ladin’s death came from Keith Urbahn, the Chief of Staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who tweeted “I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden.” CBS news producer Jill Scott then confirmed the rumor shortly afterward with “House Intelligence committee aide confirms that Osama Bin Laden is dead. U.S. has the body.”

Both Urbahn and Scott’s tweets were re-tweeted hundreds of times and Twitter itself experienced traffic spikes of 4,000 tweets per second (The NYT’s Brian Stelter has a more detailed account of how the news broke here).

The President’s monumental announcement came poignantly enough on the 8th anniversary of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” ceremony. Well it looks like the mission was finally accomplished. Unsurprisingly, “Osama Bin Laden” is now a Twitter trending topic.

What’s amazing is that the news is already out before the President has even spoken.

Update: The White House keeps pushing back the announcement, but CNN and the New York Times have just confirmed that Bin Laden was killed, with CNN adding the detail that the event took place in a mansion outside of Islamabad, Pakistan.

Update 2: The President has confirmed that Bin Laden was killed in an operation today in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan (not Islamabad), after a firefight executed by a small team of US Human Ops troops.

Update 3: Apparently, Twitter user @Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) accidentally live tweeted the actual Abbottabad raid. These cryptic pre-announcement tweets from wrestler/movie star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are also interesting to note. Hmm … So what happened here?

Steve Brusk
Breaking – We are told it is a national security related announcement by the President

Brian Stelter
CBS News producer reports: RT @: House Intelligence committee aide confirms that Osama Bin Laden is dead. U.S. has the body.

Jill Jackson
House Intelligence committee aide confirms that Osama Bin Laden is dead. U.S. has the body.

Andy Levy
Fox News confirms bin Laden is dead.

Sony Says PSN Services Will Resume Shortly, Offers Apology

Posted: 01 May 2011 06:05 PM PDT

As the initial hysteria (mostly justified) surrounding the Sony PSN breach subsides, more measured estimates of the damage are appearing, but more serious questions are becoming relevant. It’s still too early to be sure what the extent of the damage is, but the early and sensational estimates (propagated before Sony announced relevant numbers) seem to be giving way to a more complex, nuanced look at the damage. A few people have claimed suspicious activity on their accounts so far, but there doesn’t seem to be any systematic fraud going on – on the other hand, it isn’t easy to immediately leverage 10-15 million credit cards.

Sony announced that it will be reestablishing access to “some” PSN and Qriocity services this week, with a focus on access to account details, online play, and access to purchased media. Other services should be online within a month. As far as restitution, Sony is offering a month of Playstation Plus and Qriocity Unlimited for free, plus a free PSN download, currently unspecified.

That would likely be enough to compound for an ordinary extended outage, but this was more than a glitch. Sony will likely get rougher handling from an investigation of their security practices than from frustrated customers.

Continue reading…

The P2P Evolution

Posted: 01 May 2011 05:35 PM PDT

Many years ago, after graduating college, I came home before moving to NYC, wondering how I would scrounge together the money for the first month's rent and security deposit so my friends and I could all live together in the Big Apple. I had one month to get the cash, and instead of going out for traditional, hourly-wage work, I decided to go through all of my old stuff and throw it on eBay. In those days, I got online through dial-up, would have to mail a hard copy of the pictures to interested buyers, and would ship items to auction winners only when their check arrived by mail and cleared into my bank account. In one month, I got rid of winter jackets, sports equipment, and baseball cards to the tune of $7,000, tax free, enough to buffer the move to NYC.

A few years later, when I moved to San Francisco, it was Craigslist to the rescue, helping with initial sublets, furniture, stereo equipment, and the odd jobs I did to soften the transition. Without knowing it, I was stumbling through life fueled mainly by a peer-to-peer (P2P) network and economy that helped me connect supply and demand, as well as time and money. Instead of using consignment shops or hosting a garage sale, or instead of buying new items in a traditional store, I buffered my moves to NYC and SF primarily fueled by P2P networks.

That was P2P 1.0, anchored by eBay and Craigslist, networks that have connected billions. And, while these companies continue their march, we are already into the next peer-to-peer evolution: P2P 2.0.  Unknowingly at the time, I was exposed to the thought a few years ago in graduate school, when my classmate, James Reinhart, came up with the idea for a "Netflix for used clothes," which has morphed into venture-backed thredUP, a P2P network connecting parents to trade gently-worn baby and kid clothes, goods that are very expensive to buy new. Another success is Lending Club, a peer lending site connecting lenders with borrowers primarily for refinancing credit card debt or small business loans.

Today, P2P 2.0 is in full-swing, and that's putting things lightly. Y Combinator breakout Airbnb began as an ad-hoc solution for the founders to earn a little extra scratch during a convention when tight hotel supply provided an opportunity to rent out air mattresses in their apartment, with the added touch of breakfast. The result today is a rapidly growing company and brand that aims to connect those who seek space with those who need it—you can rent boats, treehouses, and even castles. Airbnb has been so successful that it's spawned a handful of international copycats and motivated the likes of GetAround, a P2P car-sharing network.

The newest entrant into the P2P space is the concept I'm most excited about: Zaarly. The founder, being taller than average, realized prior to boarding a flight in economy class that he would be willing to pay someone on the same flight to swap for an exit row seat. That moment gave birth to Zaarly, a new service that will leverage a mobile device's location to connect those who demand something to those who can provide it. Imagine busy New Yorkers with disposable cash demanding something immediately, delivered right now: "Zaarly it." The Zaarly concept connects time and money in the P2P vector, just like eBay connects sellers and buyers.

All of this activity in P2P 2.0 is now possible because of advancements in location sensors in mobile devices and social network platforms. The time is ripe for even much more advancement in P2P ideas, leveraging today's technologies in new ways. Even as consumer-focused entrepreneurs work to build the next solutions, they are raising money on P2P services like Angel List, which connects fundraising entrepreneurs with seed stage capital and has shaken up the early stage investing game. Task Rabbit connects individuals and businesses with "task runners" that provide an outsourced task service, and Listia is an eBay for trading free stuff, where site users earn and spend credits. (Many others are also emerging, please add them here.)

During all these P2P transactions, companies like Square, Roam, and Bump leverage mobile phones to help drive payments. For instance, buyers and sellers can trade data by bumping their phones together, where Bump technology measures the movement from the accelerometer and pairs two users together. Square connect buyers and sellers using a credit card and mobile device. A merchant can charge a customer for goods or services by using the Square reader attached through a device's audio jack to read a buyer's credit card (like a cassette tape) and transmit the signal to help complete the transaction. (Surprisingly, not many others have yet fully leveraged the phone's audio jack or accelerometer, making Square, Roam, and Bump standout.)

The driving force behind all of this P2P activity is the fact that today's technologies make many more types of transaction possible between average consumers by finding an equilibrium between time and money, supply and demand. Transactions once locked up and never realized now create entirely new economies, free of established brands and fat middle-men.

In a world where everyone is rushing to drive all commerce online, some P2P solutions sprinkle a dose of humanity into the transaction. Will P2P services keep bringing more of this human element, personalization, and discovery into the foreground? Will services like Housefed, which provides a personal meal service, create a welcome alternative to nuking frozen food for dinner? It will be fascinating to see what new types of businesses are built on top of these P2P engines, and what traditional businesses they will disrupt.

The U.S. economy, struggling its way slowly out of a major recession, will only benefit from a continuous flow of new ideas to help connect people and keep things going. And, the potential for these services overseas is just staggering, especially within cultures that already have strong informal economies baked into their DNA. So big, in fact, that the simple desire to swap airline seats or find a reasonably-priced place to crash during a convention could create, accelerate, and fortify new informal micro-economies in the far corners of earth.

Photo credit: Flickr/ NASA Robonaut

Yes, There’s An Apple “Castle” In The Cloud

Posted: 01 May 2011 03:32 PM PDT

Yesterday, French site did some digging into the latest developer preview build of OS X Lion and found something interesting. Buried in the code are references to a service named called “Castle”. Given the context of one of the mentions — “upgrade from MobileMe to Castle” — this led most to assume that the name referred to Apple’s upcoming cloud service overhaul. We can now confirm that to be the case.

As TUAW guessed, Castle is in fact the internal nickname of Apple’s new service which many are now calling “iCloud” in the press (thanks to Apple’s acquisition of that domain recently), we hear.

But here are a couple other tidbits about the service from a naming perspective: the original nickname was “Newcastle”, but that got shortened to “Castle” at some point recently. And the actual shipping name of the product may still be up in the air. At the very least, it is still being called “Castle” internally for the moment.

And yes, as we first reported back in March, this service will be unveiled at Apple’s WWDC event in June.

On Friday, AppleInsider reported that Apple had begun testing iCloud internally with new versions of iOS and OS X. From what we’re hearing, that is true, but again, the name still being used is the Castle codename — hence, the references in the code. Still, given Apple’s quick move to scoop up iCloud and the branding consistency, we wouldn’t be surprised if iCloud is definitely the front-runner for Castle’s eventual name at this point. With WWDC fast approaching, Apple is going to have to make the call soon to get to work on the branding.

The Scandal Of Toothless Social Media Representatives Ends… Now

Posted: 01 May 2011 02:56 PM PDT

Last weekend, our own Erick Schonfeld wrote an impressive in-flight diatribe against American Airlines; specifically their ineffectual social media representatives whom he described as little more than “a toothless marketing arm” for the company.

Of course, the usual dick of troll commenters (‘a dick’ is the collective noun for troll commenters, look it up) complained that personal rants have no place on TechCrunch – despite the fact that a) TechCrunch is built on a proud tradition of personal rants b) Erick is the co-editor of the site and so can write whatever he damn well pleases.

In fact Erick’s ‘rant’ was long overdue. American Airlines’ social media department does suck when it comes to providing actual customer service. But here’s the thing: so does everybody else’s.

Last night I stayed at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas and had cause to bitch on Twitter about the wifi. Sure enough I promptly received the standard “we’re sorry, we’ll look into it…” response from the hotel’s social media representative. And of course that was the last I heard from them (until late this morning when I complained again, and they offered to contact me privately – ten minutes before I was due to check out). For MGM, which owns the Luxor, the important thing was they’d intercepted my complaint and encouraged me to discuss it with them privately; effectively “shhhhh”-ing me away from complaining further in a public forum.

Across America, and the world, thousands upon thousands of people are current employed as “social media representatives” or “online brand ambassadors” or whatever title we’re giving to this army of 19-year-old, disaffected, invent-your-own-job-title millennials this week. In almost every case, those responsible for the Twitter accounts of giant companies have absolutely no access to customer accounts, nor are they in any way able to make the decisions required to resolve complaints.

Instead their job is simply to identify angry customers, publicly apologize and then promise to resolve the matter by DM. Nothing more. This despite the fact that for a growing number of customers, these @companyname or @companynamecares Twitter accounts represent the primary public face of multi-billion dollar brands.

Erick and I are fortunate to have TechCrunch as a platform to draw attention to this scandalous waste of company resources and mass-deception of customers. The vast majority of people aren’t so lucky.

Well enough’s enough: it’s time we bring this nonsense out in to the open. I want to hear your real world examples of how companies have dealt with your Twitter complaints. Which ones lead to actual remedial action, and which were simply swept under the carpet with the empty promise of a private response? In the coming weeks I’ll write a couple of follow up posts – one to praise the companies who actually practice what their social media representatives are paid to preach, and another name and shame the brands who – like American Airlines and the Luxor (MGM) – promise the earth but deliver nothing. I have a feeling I know which will be the longer post.

Tell me your stories here.

Flash in the Pan

Posted: 01 May 2011 11:32 AM PDT

The news from NBC/Universal/Comcast is that the cable giant has finally made deals with both ABC and Fox to carry selected shows on their on-demand service. This is big news for the iPad set, because all four major broadcast networks are now available in a single service, on the iPad, without Flash.

Across town we hear talk of hardware acceleration linking up with Android to make Flash finally usable on every other device. This would be a good thing for Flash fans, who can make the argument that more devices will work with Flash than won’t. But in the new world of network broadcasting, the show’s over for Flash. Nobody cares what makes the picture dance on the screen, just that it does.

Instead, we care whether it streams or it doesn’t. Live streaming may seem to be about Ustream v. YouTube, about watching the Wedding or GaGa or whatever trending stream is hitting your push notification buffer. But it’s also about your own personal broadcast stream, formerly known as the telephone. Video calls are finally here, and the broadcasters who dither too long about iPad streaming will be in the same kind of trouble Microsoft is in with Windows.

The same way that we don’t care about Flash, we don’t care about the distinction between streaming phone calls and on-demand shows. One is about some idiot wasting your time, and the other… Same thing. The same dynamics that Comcast has finally ratified are moving into the phone call. Cable subs are up for those who support iPad access, down for those who don’t. Time Warner and Cablevision softened up the studios, and Comcast came in and closed.

Similarly, FaceTime softened up the carriers by introducing a service that obliterated the need for international plans. Those of us who switched to Verizon are out of luck until iPhone 5 anyway for a global phone, so the calculation on a trip to Europe is to get a throwaway phone for the trip from the airport to the hotel and WiFi. And before you say that FaceTime doesn’t work over 3G, Skype video does. The next time you Update All on your iPhone, you’ll see what I mean.

On this week’s Gillmor Gang, Danny Sullivan suggests it’s an extra download and besides people don’t want to have to put on makeup to answer the phone (I’m paraphrasing, or just trying to embarrass Danny gratuitously, or maybe myself for carrying blush at all times.) Twitter is an extra download for now, but the second they jump on video calls using their directory this will be a feature not a hassle.

When the smaller market of international travelers becomes enamored of video calls, we see another Netflix-style hockey stick. WiFi becomes a differentiator for choice of hotel and event venues, for coffee shops and restaurants, for sporting events and rock concerts. All of a sudden your phone and tablet becomes your portal to personal and professional incoming pings, a push notification router filtered by your business and location rules.

How long did it take for Comcast to make this deal? Time Warner released its iPad software less than two months ago, were sued by Comedy Central a week later, and were fast followed by Cablevision as though to say, no we really mean this, 10 days after that. It became clear in a New York minute that people wanted more stuff for their new iPad 2′s, and oh wait, iPad 2′s have a camera. Then ABC, the last of the original big three, capitulates to Comcast, and oh, wait, that’s Steve Jobs’ network.

Why would Jobs want to play the Disney card now, except for the fact that iPad 2 sales are going to skyrocket once the pipeline recovers from not being able to make them fast enough. You only have to experience a Skype video call once to want FaceTime to work over 3G, and Skype is softening up the carriers just as they move off flat rate to a profit center for streaming. You may not have been paying attention to the 5 gig limit before now, but the Comcast on-demand steaming at home and Skype push notifications on the go will stoke demand, as it were.

Apple already is making the case for a Comcast moment with the carriers by rudely interrupting Skype calls when a carrier call comes in. The Skype call is put on hold (at least on Verizon) and you have to cancel the push notification and decline the incoming call before returning to your video call. Perhaps Jobs is looking for some competition from AT&T to differentiate from Verizon as they have done with simultaneous call and data. Perhaps the lure of selling a higher priced video cap will close the deal.

Android has a real problem here that Google is attempting to fix by offering on-demand video over YouTube. Android’s video service is just now making its way into some builds, but the combination of pro and amateur streaming video offered by Apple will be hard to overcome. Not that it needs to be, because compatibility between the two major platforms will come at the cost of paving over Flash permanently.

OMG/JK: Insert Pun About Storms In The Cloud Here

Posted: 01 May 2011 09:37 AM PDT

We’re back for a new episode of OMG/JK (in HD!). This week the news has been all about private data — Google and Apple have been accused of tracking your every move (they aren’t), and Sony has revealed that 77 million user accounts were compromised (this, unfortunately, is true).
Tune in to find out where things stand now, and where to get the best deal on your tinfoil hat.

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