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Google Releases The Android Open Accessory Toolkit For Adding Devices To Tablets And Phones

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:49 AM PDT

In this post-PC world, tablets and phones are starting to be our main devices. But what if we want to do something special with like like adding keyboards, mice, and game controllers. Google is working on a new project called the Android Open Accessory toolkit that will allow designers to use open source hardware interfaces like Arduino to connect multiple input devices to almost any Android system.

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Google Annouces Plans, Partners To Guarantee Android Phones Will Get Latest Updates

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:46 AM PDT

There’s a new Android phone every two weeks now. That often spells bad news for slightly older phones as carriers and makers abandon their development. Not anymore.

Google just rolled out the founding partners of an inititive to keep hardware up-to-date for at least 18 months. That means these top five hardware makers and top five carriers won’t forget about last year’s hot device. They will eventually get the latest update although since details were a bit light at I/O, it isn’t exactly clear how this will work. The only stipulation here is that the phone’s hardware must support the Android build, which sort of means low-end Android devices will still be left to die before their high-end brethren.

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Google Announces Cloud Music Service ‘Music Beta’

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:46 AM PDT

Google officially announced its cloud music player ‘Music Beta,’ rolling out to US users today. With Music Beta you can add up to 20k songs to a full featured music manager on the web and sync to your phone, all for free while in beta. Google’s Paul Joyce revealed that the Music Beta killer feature is ‘Instant Mix,’ Google’s version of Genius playlists, where you can select a song that you like and the music manager will create a playlist based on songs that sound similar.

Music Beta automatically caches music on your phone, and you can select albums, artists and playlists to pin (or download to your phone) for offline listening.

While everyone at i/o will get an invite, mere mortals can check out the service and sign up for an invite at

Movie Rentals Hit Android Over The Cloud (And Offline)

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:46 AM PDT

Today at their Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Google had plenty to unveil for Android. One thing that consumers should really love is a new movie rentals option for Android devices. Notably, this will work over the cloud to all of your Android devices, just like Google Books syncing.

You can try this all out at — there’s a new Movies tab. And it will be available on Android tablets with an app starting with Android 3.1, which is rolling out today to Xoom users. And it will be available on phones with Android 2.2 or later starting in a couple weeks.

The latter two are important as this will be the key to take movies on the go where there is no connectivity. You can “pin” a movie while you’re streaming it to shift it over to your mobile device app.

The rentals will be similar to other movie services in that you’ll have 30 days to watch them once you rent them. And once you start playing them, you’ll have 24 hours to complete them. There will be “thousands” of titles (including new films) and prices will start at $1.99.

Ice Cream Sandwich To Bring New UI, App Framework To Android

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:23 AM PDT

The next major release of Android comes just in time for hot summer days. Ice Cream Sandwich, as it’s called, is well, Google’s “most ambitious” release yet. And look! A new logo!

Google says they wanted to create an OS that runs everywhere. Enter: Ice Cream Sandwich. Nevermind Honeycomb, Google says this is the OS that will power tablets, convertible slates, smartphones and more. With it, comes a refreshed UI that leans heavily on a new application framework that Google has yet to detail, besides stating it will solve the issue of coding for different hardware profiles.

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Ballmer And Bates Sell The Skype Deal: We Think We “Can Reach Everyone On The Planet”

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:21 AM PDT

In the wake of today’s news that Microsoft is buying Skype for $8.5 billion, CEOs Steve Ballmer and Tony Bates just held a press conference to explain the deal and sell it to investors. The reaction has ben tepid, with Microsoft shares down about 1 percent so far today. As I’ve pointed out, Skype is a great company, but there are concerns that Microsoft paid too much.

In today’s press conference, Ballmer did a good job couching the deal in terms of Microsoft’s mission to bring people closer together through technology and make their lives better. “We will move beyond email and text to rich experiences. Talking to colleagues across the world will be as seamless as talking to them across the table,” he predicts.

From Skype’s point of view, the Microsoft deal could make it even more ubiquitous—from PCs to mobile phones to connected TVs. “This allows us to extend from hundreds of millions to billions of people,” says Skype CEO Bates. “We think this is a set of services that can reach everyone on the planet.”

Skype will become a new division of Microsoft, with Bates reporting to Ballmer. The product and brand will continue to exist, and Ballmer promised to “continue to support non-Microsoft devices.” So all of you Android and iPhone Skype users can breathe easy. But Skype will also become integrated into a variety of Microsoft products: Windows Phone, XBox Live and Kinnect, Outlook, Lync, Messenger, Hotmail.

It is clear that Microsoft sees Skype as more than just voice calls and IM. They made a point to note that 40 percent of Skype traffic is now video. (For instance, Ballmer imagines Skype and Xbox becoming “like a home video conferencing system, but one that costs just a few hundred bucks.”) Skype is being positioned as sitting at the nexus of mobile, social, and voice. Social is a bit of a stretch, but it does connect you to that “inner circle” of people you tend to talk to the most often.

In terms of why Microsoft did the deal, Ballmer confirms my earlier speculation that it was really bidding against the upcoming IPO and figured it was cheaper to buy it now. “Skype was on a path to IPO,” says Ballmer. “From our perspective it was better if we owned this company.” The offer was unsolicited, and went to SIlver Lake Partners, the lead investor of the syndicate that bought Skype from eBay 18 months ago.

Some Skype stats that were shared:

  • 170M users, growing 40% year over year
  • 600K new registrations every day
  • 207B calling minutes in 2010
  • 30M concurrent users on average
  • 40% of traffic is video
  • $860M revenues in 2010, grew 20%
  • $264M EBITDA in 2010, grew 40%
  • EBITDA margins expanded from 20% to 31% FY08 to FY10

video chat is now 40% ofSKyep use

Google Android: 100M Activations So Far, Now At 400K Activations A Day

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:19 AM PDT

At Google i/o today, Google director of product management Hugo Barra dropped some numbers about the success of Android today, introduced by a video of a 3D Android robot scaling a mountain of Android activations. There have been over 100 million Android activations worldwide, through over 36 OEMs and 215 carriers. There are 450,000 Android developers, developing for more than 310 Android devices in 112 countries .

Android was activated on 100k Android devices a day a year ago and is now at 400k daily activations, Barra said.There are currently over 200K available apps on Android Market including Pulse, CNN etc.

Barra also revealed that it took 2 years for the first billion application installs and now Android is hitting 1 billion downloads in less than 60 days. There are currently 4.5 billion application installs from Android Market in total.

Peter Pham
100M Android activations so far & 400,000 new activations a day – 200K apps.. Wow

Android Honeycomb 3.1 Lands Today For Xoom Users

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:15 AM PDT

Android Honeycomb 3.1, Google’s tablet OS, is getting a major update today and it will be available first for the Motorola Xoom from Verizon. The new OS version includes a more powerful task handler that allows fro immediate shutdown of idle tasks without user intervention, an issue that has long plagued many Android versions.

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Bababoo Raises $1.5M To Let You Make Calls Over Mobile, WiFi, 3G, AND Keep Your Number

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:00 AM PDT

Cell phone bills are expensive, and carrier contracts are binding. We need our cellphones, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not always looking for cheaper ways to make calls. Voice-over-IP services have come a long way in the last few years; Skype has perfected desktop-to-desktop calling, and Google has given us free VoIP domestic calling on Gmail — talk over WiFi on email from the comfort of your couch. But, the next new frontier has become WiFi and VoIP calling on mobile.

There are quite a few players already in this space. Pinger allows you to make calls over WiFi, and my colleague Alexia Tsotsis recently wrote about Talkatone, which uses Google Voice as a channel to allow you to make unlimited calls and send texts over WiFi. But, with each of these, there is always a catch. In Talkatone’s case, to receive incoming calls, you have to upgrade your Google Voice account to get a phone number and tinker with you Google account.

So, here we have these intelligent devices we use to make phone calls everyday, aptly called smartphones, but if our phones are so intelligent, why can’t they, say, recognize when WiFi is available and automatically allow us to take advantage of low-cost or free calling using the available WiFi network? Well, now thanks to a service called Bababoo, they can.

Sure, it’s not a terribly appealing name, but it’s certainly an appealing idea. Bababoo is a new telecommunications startup (and app of the same name) that is bringing “intelligent” calling to smartphones. What does that mean? What’s so smaht about it? Bababoo’s iPhone app gives the users the ability to make calling through WiFi, 3G, and the iPhone’s carrier networks, AT&T and Verizon, but you don’t have to change your network, your number, or caller ID. You just open the app, dial, and Bababoo does its thing.

So, as an iPhone user, you get to keep your cell phone number, which is a great start. But let’s say you’re using WiFi to make a call, but the person you’re calling doesn’t have WiFi available. In most cases, this means you either can’t make the call, or you’re charged a lot to do so. With Bababoo, as with Pinger and Talkatone, if WiFi is available for both parties, then you get to connect with the person you’re calling over WiFi for free.

But, if both callers aren’t on WiFi, Bababoo still connects the call, and it finds the cheapest and most seamless way to do that. You will be charged, but the standard rate in the U.S. is 2 cents per minute, which is comparatively cheap. And here’s the coolest part: Let’s say WiFi is of poor quality, or can’t be found; with most other apps, you’re screwed, but since Bababoo integrates with your carrier as an iPhone user, Bababoo simply switches you over to the 3G network so that you can still make the call. There’s no hanging up, or dropped call, or switching apps, Bababoo just does it for you, naturally.

Standard rates apply to that 3G call over AT&T’s network, you don’t pay anything extra to Bababoo, you just pay what your normally would to make a call on your AT&T or Verizon service plan.

So, when using Bababoo, you don’t have to sign up for any service plan, you simply pay-as-you-go. You can use your iPod or iPad as a phone, and you can make unlimited group calls, and you can register as many numbers as you’d like — which means no porting numbers.

Android and Blackberry functionality is not yet available on Bababoo, but Co-founder and CEO Buck French tells me that both will be available next year.

When the team of co-founders originally began brainstorming an idea for a startup, they were kicking around several ideas. But, since they were each in different places around the globe, and their international calling bills were huge, yet their phones had Internet access more than 75 percent of the day, the mission became clear.

Bababoo was a result of the frustration of not having a simple way to take advantage of the internet to save money on calling. They found it odd that there were literally hundreds of cheap calling apps on the market, French tells me, but most are used by entrepreneurs and techies. Business people and mainstream users, however, don’t, because they only work in certain conditions and often come without the benefit of an intuitive interface. Thus, the team aspires to bring cheap, VoIP calling, and seamless transitioning between 3G calling and WiFi calling, to the masses.

It’s an ambitious project, but Bababoo is announcing today that it has also raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Sierra Ventures, which will certainly help the cause. French tells me that Sierra has been an investor in prior companies that both he and co-founder Phil Bogle have worked on, and will likely be looking to infuse more capital if Bababoo gains traction.

The founding team also seems to have an impressive track record in the software and telecom spaces, as French founded OnLink, which he sold to Siebel for $609 million in two years, Bogle founded Micromuse, which went public, and later sold to IBM for $850 million, and VP of Infrastructure, Dan Lane, has founded 6 telecom companies to date. And let’s not forget Bababoo’s CTO, the awesomely-named Tony Million, who is also the founder of 2 web software startups.

French tells me that the team plans to use Sierra’s new funding to expand the team, and continue building and improving upon current offerings — all in an effort to give the average cellphone user the ability to make calls anywhere, anytime using the cheapest means possible when available, and carrier coverage when not.

And considering that the CEO said that Bababoo can drop the average AT&T bill by $20 a month, I’d say we have some financial incentive to give it a try.

For more of an intro, check out Bababoo’s video below:

Live From Google I/O 2011

Posted: 10 May 2011 08:53 AM PDT

We’re here at Google’s I/O conference in San Francisco where the search giant will take the stage shortly for the day one keynote. What’s coming? Hard to say for sure — except Google Music Beta, that seems to be a slam dunk at this point.

Below, find our live notes from the event.

Foursquare Releases Explore And Leaderboard Data Via API

Posted: 10 May 2011 07:47 AM PDT

When Foursquare upgraded its mobile app last March at SXSW, it added some excellent new features which made the popular geo app even more compelling. Among these is a revamped leaderboard which shows how many points you’ve earned in the past 7 days compared to just your friends (I know I check in a lot more now in the hopes that I can one day beat Fred Wilson). The other one is a new Explore feature that gives you recommendations of nearby places to eat, drink, and shop based on where you are and your friends’ past check-in behavior.

Now these two features, along with the information users get after they check-in, are available to outside developers via Foursquare’s API. That means that other mobile apps can borrow some of Foursquare’s game mechanics by showing users where they stand on the Foursquare leaderboard (which makes sense for apps which allow you to do a Foursquare check-in).

The Explore API could potentially become much more meaningful. As Foursquare starts to do a better job suggesting places to go, down the line it could tie its deals into those suggestions as well. Watch this space.

Sequent Software Raises Funding, Aims To Simplify NFC Mobile Payments

Posted: 10 May 2011 07:40 AM PDT

Redwood City, California-based Sequent Software, formerly known as Sparq Mobile Solutions, has raised an undisclosed amount of capital in a Series A round of funding led by Opus Capital and SK Telecom Ventures.

Sequent provides near-field-communication software, enabling its customers and partners to deploy NFC payment systems to allow consumers to make payments and other transactions with their mobile devices.

The company’s CEO, Drew Weinstein, says Sequent is the only company whose sole focus is being a “neutral, pervasive administrator of individuals’ personal identification and credentials” between the payments world, retailers, smartphone providers and carriers.

Bob Borchers from Opus Capital and Rob Trice from SK Telecom will join Sequent’s board.

For your further reading pleasure:

Google Joins NFC Forum To Advance Near Field Communication Technology

So Why Should You Care About NFC? (CrunchGear)

The Ever-Elusive Mobile Wallet: Why NFC Chips Are Overhyped And Will Underdeliver

Apple Aims To Take NFC Mainstream; Perhaps The Greatest Trick They've Ever Pulled?

With The NFC Wave About To Hit Shore, RFinity Raises Money To Make It Fast, Secure

NetSuite Is Pushing into Enterprise Software, Lands Groupon as Marquee Customer

Posted: 10 May 2011 07:36 AM PDT

NetSuite, one of the handful of companies to build a big company out of the early 2000s software-as-a-service funding scrum, is now making a push into cloud based enterprise software, according to several announcements being made this morning by CEO Zach Nelson at SuiteWorld, the company’s user conference being held in San Francisco.

As with most of these user conference announcements, there will be the usual fanfare and big-name guests trotted out– in this case, Oracle President Mark Hurd and Yammer CEO David Sacks. But NetSuite is also announcing two new enterprise customers: Qualcomm and Groupon. Both companies are using NetSuite for their international operations specifically, and the latter is an impressive win.

Groupon has been called the fastest growing company in history and NetSuite isn’t just selling them software for one part of the organization– NetSuite sells core enterprise resource planning, financial software.

There are few companies that could test NetSuite’s claims to be quicker, more flexible and more robust than other cloud-based ERP vendors, given that Groupon’s volume of deals, scale of countries, hyper-growth and almagamation of data are core competitive advantages. The software helps manage international headaches like currencies and local taxation compliance, and will replace hundreds of spreadsheets. Five of Groupon’s markets were live on NetSuite’s software after six weeks, 26 of them will switch in the coming months, and by the end of the year, the company expects operations in 46 countries to be operating on NetSuite’s software.

Groupon’s aggressive and immediate push to go international has been unprecedented among US Web startups, and if others follow suit, NetSuite may have identified a lucrative new niche of large customers who don’t have time for traditional ERP implementations– or the old-economy hangups about doing business in the cloud. After a rocky start as a public company– in part thanks to the financial crisis– NetSuite’s stock has more than doubled this year. It’s up again today on the news.

Marc Andreessen On Skype Deal: “Microsoft Is Buying Something With A Real Head Of Steam”

Posted: 10 May 2011 06:38 AM PDT

Microsoft may have overpaid for Skype with its $8.5 billion all-cash offer, but it was bidding against a sure IPO. While $8.5 billion may look expensive now, it is a pre-emptive strike to take Skyoe off the table before an IPO. Microsoft’s bid had to be high enough to convince the company and its investors they were better off taking the Microsoft offer now. From what I can gather, there were nibbles by other suitors such as Google, but no other serious offers. Microsoft was bidding against the IPO.

The investors, which include Silver Lake Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, and Joltid, look like geniuses now. It was only 18 months ago that eBay sold Skype to the investor syndicate in a deal valuing Skype at $2.75 billion. Now Microsoft is buying the company for three times that much—an increase in value of $5.75 billion! And to think that the spin-off was almost scuttled by intellectual property litigation brought on by Skype’s original founders (who also ended up in the syndicate through Joltid).

Andreessen Horowitz, in particular, comes out smiling from this deal. Skype was one of its first investments. It was a big, risky play at the time, and now it’s paid off in spades. “It is so far our best and only exit,” quips Marc Andreessen, who spoke with me by phone this morning after the deal was formally announced. Andreessen wouldn’t get into the mechanics of the negotiations with Microsoft, but did say that the plan was to IPO and everything was in place for that to happen—from a new CEO to a significant growth in usage. “Microsoft is buying something with a real head of steam,” he says.

For instance, over the past 18 months, Skype has seen a 150 percent increase in monthly calling minutes. It’s mobile products are extremely popular, and video quality has improved dramatically. “We are in the middle of a transition in telecommunications from voice and video being a fixed hardware application to a software application sitting on top of the network,” says Andreessen. “Communications is a very big market, and a very strategic market for Microsoft.”

Microsoft certainly has a lot of products spanning from the enterprise to the consumer where it can attach Skype: Windows Phone, Xbox, Exchange, SharePoint. But it almost has too many products—it will be an integration challenge. Microsoft is good at those types of challenges. The real challenge will be to make sure that Skype doesn’t lose its identity as a standalone product.

$$$kype logo by Dirk Houbrechts

Why Microsoft’s Skype Purchase Means A Face-Off With Apple’s Facetime

Posted: 10 May 2011 06:36 AM PDT

Microsoft's purchase of Skype for $8.5 billion in cash is a massive bet for the tech giant. Although it look like it may well have over-paid by $4.5 billion, and bid against companies who weren't seriously in the running (Google and Facebook), owning Skype means Microsoft has a much better positioning in mobile. But that's not all. The implications of this deal for Facebook are actually far more interesting. Since Microsoft is an investor in Facebook, the latter will now have deep access to its investor's assets.

Motorola Snaps Up SunUp

Posted: 10 May 2011 06:28 AM PDT

Motorola Mobility this morning announced that it has acquired network operations management software maker SunUp Digital Systems. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Founded in 1992 and based in Santa Clara, California, SunUp develops operating software for IPTV, DTH, Digital Cable, and content distribution networks.

PayNearMe’s Cash Payments Product Can Now Be Used For Money Transfers, Bill Pay And More

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:55 AM PDT

We’ve frequently covered PayNearMe, an alternative payments product from the company formerly known as Kwedit, because its compelling services for the unbanked. e “unbanked” refers to consumers who don't have traditional bank accounts or cannot qualify for credit cards. PayNearMe allows people who don’t have or don’t want to use credit or debit cards to purchase products with cash at more than 6,000 7-Eleven stores in the continental U.S. Today, PayNearMe is rolling out new functionality that allows users to pay bills, transfer money, pay utilities and even pay for a bus ticket using its payment option.

Here’s how PayNearMe works. On participating partners, e-commerce or merchant sites, consumers can use the PayNearMe option to pay for purchases or debts owed. You simply place your order with PayNearMe and print out the given receipt. You then take that receipt into a 7-Eleven and they scan it and you pay in cash. Once you pay, your order with the retailer or merchant will be fulfilled.

PayNearMe has partnered with 7-Eleven and money transfer company Ria to allow users to initiate money transfers or bill payments using their mobile phones and complete these transactions in real-time at a 7-Eleven store register. The process is based on a new, free Ria Card, available now at 7-Eleven stores and which can be used to pay more than 3,000 US billers. This card also can facilitate sending remittances to family and friends.

The startup’s technology also now allows billers to embed PayNearMe Barcodes directly into their customers' paper statements. Customers to take their bills to a 7-Eleven store and pay the amount owed with cash at the register.

And PayNearMe has enlisted Greyhound bus as a customer, allowing the transportation company to sell and print tickets from the 7-Eleven point-of-sale terminals. Consumers who wish to pay for tickets with cash can visit a transportation provider's website to book their travel. They then either print a
PayNearMe Slip or pick up a free PayNearMe Card from a local convenience store and follow the instructions on the Card. They bring that Slip or Card and their cash payment to the register where they receive a ticket printed directly on their receipt.

Clearly, PayNearMe, which just raised $16 million in new funding, is rapidly expanding the use-cases of its payments platform to help scale usage of the service. If PayNearMe continues to partner with popular merchants and payments locations, its product could take off. Green Dot made a viable business out of its pre-paid credit card business for the underbanked, recently filing for a $2 billion IPO.

Done Deal! Big Deal. Smart Deal? Microsoft Buys Skype For $8.5 Billion In Cash

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:10 AM PDT

The deal is done. Microsoft is buying Skype for $8.5 billion in cash in its first sizeable acquisition since August 2008, when the Redmond software giant spent $486 million on Greenfield Online.

In fact, this is Microsoft’s biggest financial bet to date in terms of M&A, trumping its $6 billion+ purchase of aQuantive, which dates back to May 2007, in size.

The purchase price includes the assumption of Skype’s debt.

The agreement has been approved by the boards of directors of both Microsoft and Skype.

Skype will become a new business division within Microsoft, and its current chief executive Tony Bates will assume the title of president of the Microsoft Skype Division, reporting directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

The deal was first reported by GigaOM‘s Om Malik (he does that sometimes) and later confirmed by the Wall Street Journal, who cited people familiar with the matter.

The $8.5 billion question: did Microsoft overpay for Skype?

Perhaps, perhaps not. Only time will tell. As always with these things, the many tech industry pundits and analysts will look at this deal from all possible angles and then some, and still only a handful will end up being somewhat accurate when we look back in a couple of years.

From a non-financial point of view, the acquisition makes a ton of sense today, though.

Skype digitally connects dozens of millions of people on a daily basis, enabling them to communicate with each other through voice calls, chat messages and video conferencing.

There’s no doubt it’s a big brand on the Web (with both consumer and enterprise appeal, worldwide at that), and is poised to keep mattering in the next decade and beyond.

In August 2010, Skype filed to go public, expecting to raise $1 billion, but not long after appointing a new CEO, former Cisco SVP Tony Bates, the company put its IPO plans in the freezer while it looked for ways to generate more revenue from the popular service.

Skype's 2010 revenue was $860 million, adjusted EBITDA was $264 million, and – as many are tripping over each others to point out – the company actually lost $7 million last year.

But looking ahead, chances for the business to keep growing, perhaps even acceleratingly so, are fairly big. In that sense, it’s a valuable asset to own (and to keep out of others’ hands).

The acquisition is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

Microsoft and Skype said they “hope to obtain all required regulatory clearances during the course of this calendar year”.

Microsoft also pledged that it would “continue to invest in and support Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms”.

Since its former owner eBay sold the company to a consortium of investors formed by Silver Lake Partners, Joltid (the company founded by Skype's original founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis), the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Andreessen Horowitz in November 2009, the company has been pursuing an aggressive strategy to be available everywhere, anytime, both in enterprises, the living room, even classrooms and, very importantly, on smartphones.

Microsoft, of course, has the exact same ambitions of ubiquity, and Skype and recently acquired Qik fit nicely into many of its current product offerings: think Windows Phone (combined with Nokia), Xbox and Kinect, Bing, Office 365, Windows Live Messenger and other Live products, Lync, Outlook, SharePoint, Internet Explorer, Azure, and so on.

The purchase also provides Microsoft with a wealth of p2p and collaboration technology expertise and intellectual property, an increasingly important asset to have these days.

It also brings reach: Skype’s user base is comparable to that of Facebook in terms of size (more than 600 million registered users, that is) and the social network in fact has tie-ins with Skype already on a product level.

Note that I’m not arguing in favor of the acquisition, but I can see the logic behind it.

Facebook was also said to be sniffing around Skype, according to multiple reports, but its interest in the VoIP company wasn’t nearly as profound as assumed, according to multiple sources close to the company. If you think about it, Zuckerberg and co didn’t really lose anything today (and remember: Microsoft is also a Facebook investor).

Whether you think the Microsoft deal makes sense or not, rest assured that companies like Google, Cisco and Apple, on the other hand, are not going to be too pleased about it. Not that either of them absolutely needed to own Skype, but in the hands of Microsoft it’s a much bigger threat to them than if it were still under eBay’s wings, or as a separate company.

As I wrote earlier, only time will tell if it will become indeed a significant threat, or a giant dud.

Did Microsoft Overpay For Skype? Hell Yes — By $4.5 Billion

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:10 AM PDT

With Microsoft having confirmed its acquisition of Skype, sources tell TechCrunch Europe that Redmond outbid its closest rival, Google, by almost two-to-one. Meanwhile, Facebook is said to have never been in the running. According to a source who claims knowledge of talks held between all parties, Google came in second at a price of $4B, while Microsoft will be paying $8.5B. This suggests that Redmond is paying significantly over the odds for Skype, although only time will tell if it turns out to be a smart deal. What is known is that had Microsoft been aware of the price that Google was willing to pay it almost certainly would have come in lower.

Pneuborn Robotic Babies Will Claw At Your Dreams

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:00 AM PDT

The store downstairs from your apartment specialized in junk. Its owner was a small man, his face sagging and acne scarred, his front shirt pocket bulging with a pack of Marlboros and his hands always, always fiddling. He died a week ago and his shop has been locked since.

At night you hear a baby crying through the floor. A mewling, a squeal, silence for an hour, maybe two. You stare in the near dark at a stain on the ceiling, straining to hear the noise again. There it is. A baby’s cry.

Read more…

Exclusive – Crime (City) Pays: Social Gaming Startup Funzio Raises $20 Million

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:00 AM PDT

San Francisco-based social gaming outfit Funzio has raised $20 million in its first round of institutional funding, TechCrunch has learned. The Series A financing round was led by IDG Ventures and China-focused investment firm IDG Capital Partners.

Rick Thompson, co-founder and former chairman of Playdom, also participated in the round and serves as chairman of Funzio's board.

Phil Sanderson, managing director of IDG Ventures, will join the company’s board.

Funzio develops games for Facebook and a variety of mobile platforms. They are, of course, hardly the only ones actively trying to get a piece of the ever-expanding social and mobile gaming pie, but they’re not exactly amateurs either.

Funzio launched its first Facebook game, Crime City, in September 2010, and it swiftly became one of the top five Facebook games of the year. Today, the game has more than 750,000 daily active users and more than 7.5 million monthly players.

The game has garnered over 200,000 reviews, and its ratings are through the roof (it’s the only Facebook game with more than 600,000 daily players that has a rating of 4.9/5).

Crime City will be made available for iOS and Android devices later this year.

Building on the foundation laid by the success of Crime City, Funzio plans to use the $20 million in funding to triple its team this year and scale its business so that it can launch new games faster and develop them in parallel.

Notably, Funzio was founded by a group of experienced gaming industry professionals.

Chief executive officer Ken Chiu previously co-founded and led Storm8 (also known as Team Lava), and served as GM at Zynga, where he headed up the XWars Studio. He joined Zynga as part of the acquisition of his Facebook application, My Heroes Ability. Before that endeavor, he was a senior software engineer at eBay.

Another co-founder is Anil Dharni, who previously oversaw Storm8′s business operations. Before that, he was the VP of Products at hi5 Networks and has previously served in product management roles at Yahoo. He is Funzio’s president and COO.

Finally, Funzio co-founder and CTO Ram Gudavalli was formerly VP of Engineering at hi5, the social entertainment company he originally joined in 2004.

Webpop Sets Its Sights On WordPress, Launches Cloud CMS Optimized For Designers

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:00 AM PDT

There are tons of sites out there that help you build a website, but most of them are built for novices or, on the other end, developers. Many of them rely on template-systems: The user is given a couple stock molds to choose from — you can change a few colors, add a logo, and that’s about it. For example, those with Macs might be familiar with iWeb, which allows you to use a few pre-existing templates to publish your own website. These services are great; they’ve made building websites so simple your grandmother probably has one.

Then, going a step further for those with loftier ambitions, there are Content Management Systems (CMSes), which are designed to make creating and editing HTML content easier on publishers and developers. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, are a few well-known examples used by large publishers. But, if I’m using Drupal as an example (though I’m a big fan), designers are often forced to work with ready-made blocks of HTML and, generally speaking, designers want to be crafting their own HTML and CSS, which is possible in Drupal, but not always easy.

So, this is where Webpop enters the picture. The creative Spanish startup has built a CMS that it believes will solve a long-existing problem: How to put website creation back in the hands of designers without requiring lots of web development, while giving designers the tools they need to build powerful but flexible dynamic sites that prioritize good design over the pre-fab template model.

With Webpop, you get full control over HTML and CSS — there are no pre-defined blocks of HTML, nor any drag and drop interfaces requiring you to go through lots of clicks to get the result you require. Just good ol’ plain and simple HTML and a few custom tags and you’ll be able to make your content dynamic. For a deep dive of what Webpop means by “full control”, check out their blog entry here.

So, basically, Webpop's cloud platform (like Scoble, it’s Rackspace-hosted) makes it easy for any web designer to take full control over both the design and content, with the result being a beautifully designed, robust website that stays true to the designer's vision. The startup was conceived by co-founders Daniel Villegas, Julio Gonzalez Cotorruelo, who previously built Domestika (the largest CMS platform in the European market, with more than 10,000 SMB customers), and Mathias Biilmann. Following the success of the European platform, the team has set their eyes on the U.S., hoping to bring highly scalable, cloud CMS to the states.

Many CMSes conflate the distinction and admin privileges between user and designer, often leading to a situation in which designers suffer because things are too restricted and difficult to tinker with, while too advanced and byzantine for the average end user. So, Webpop is completely dividing the roles of the designer and the end user by providing an interface optimized to resist limitations to flexibility for the designer while providing the simplest possible interface for the end user. Overlays on the website itself will show clients shortcuts, what can be edited and quickly changed, and so on. The interface looks fairly similar to Drupal. Check it out here.

Webpop also integrates an active SEO system that allows you to design an SEO strategy for your client and measure your success. You can find the best keywords to drive traffic to your site, monitor search engine rankings, and track the progress of link building campaigns. The built-in reporting system makes it easy to share the results with your client.

Webpop is, as mentioned, hosted in the Rackspace Cloud, and takes care of caching contents, monitoring system performance, and adding new servers dynamically as needed. It also handles updates transparently, so you won’t have to worry about self-hosted WordPress installs getting a virus or anything like that.

Webpop offers a 15-day free trial, with pricing plans varying according to how you will use the platform. Personal use, which offers 5 projects and 1 GB of storage is priced at $15 a month, while “freelance”, which allows 10 projects, 5 clients and collaborators, and 5 GB of storage, is priced at $50 a month. Large-scale “Agency” pricing plans very from $100 a month to $300 a month, depending on your requirements.

With many of the CMSes out there already operating as well-established entities, Webpop has its work cut out. But, I think anyone who uses WordPress or Drupal, while appreciating the many benefits these services offer, will be more than willing to admit that there’s plenty of room for improvements. While Webpop is by no means perfect, it’s nice to see a CMS that gives some of the power back to designers while making it easy for we noobs.

To learn more, check it out for yourself.

AddThis Indeed: Clearspring Raises $20 Million As It Rides Social Sharing Boom

Posted: 10 May 2011 04:58 AM PDT

The name Clearspring Technologies may not be terribly familiar to you, but chances are you’ve often clicked on or at least come across its AddThis buttons, which are plastered on publisher sites Web-wide.

The U.S.-based social sharing platform company this morning announced that it has raised a whopping $20 million in a Series D round of funding led by Institutional Venture Partners, with existing backers such as NEA and Novak Biddle Venture Partners participating.

The extra capital injection brings total funding raised by Clearspring to $58 million.

The investment comes as the company, which was founded in 2008, is experiencing rapid growth; Clearspring says it is hiring a new employee almost every week.

The company’s AddThis sharing tool is currently deployed on 9 million websites worldwide, Clearspring says, enabling users to share content with others through more than 300 social networking services in 70 languages.

Sandy Miller, a partner at Institutional Venture Partners, which also invested in high-profile startups like Twitter and Zynga, says Clearspring currently processes some 10 TB of data every day, “as much data per week as the entire digital Library of Congress has stored online”.

Clearspring says the funding will be used to develop new and enhance existing publisher products and bolster its advertising offerings – the company makes money by gathering insights on what large scores of Internet users read and share with their friends in real time, and selling that data to companies who can benefit from these insights (think ad exchange operators and demand-side platform providers). Revenue is on track to triple this year, the company claims, although absolute numbers to back that up were not provided.

The company says it also plans to explore strategic acquisitions (bootstrapped but profitable rival AddToAny springs to mind).

Aside from Institutional Venture Partners, NEA and Novak Biddle Venture Partners, Clearspring investor include former AOL president Ted Leonsis, AOL founder Steve Case, Capital One co-founder Nigel Morris, and Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway.

Salesforce Finally Fully Integrates Jigsaw Data Into CRM

Posted: 10 May 2011 04:55 AM PDT

Just over a year ago, Salesforce acquired Jigsaw, which provides crowd-sourced data services in the cloud. The startup crowdsources information on professionals and companies and currently has a database of information on more than 24 million professionals at nearly 4 million companies. Now Salesforce is integrating Jigsaw’s data into its CRM product, giving sales representatives greater, realtime intelligence when curating and following up on leads.

So Jigsaw will be natively available to all 94,000 users who are using Salesforce’s CRM. Jigsaw’s data, which was previously only available via an app on the AppExchange, will be available for free. Salesforce says that the Jigsaw community adds 36,000 new contacts and updates an additional 12,000 existing contacts daily.

Salesforces’s exec Scott Holden says that the benefit to users goes beyond just access to the data. Reps can compare their existing data to Jigsaw’s data to clean up their own data. And he says that the quality of Jigsaw’s data (which has been questioned in the past) is fairly accurate thanks to the startup’s community of user who help contribute and clean up the data.

The Jigsaw-integrated version of Salesforce CRM will be released in June.

Salesforce paid roughly $142 million in cash, plus earnout for Jigsaw.

Email Delivery System SendGrid Announces New Pricing Model, Now You Can Pay-As-You-Go

Posted: 10 May 2011 04:50 AM PDT

Unlike most, SendGrid, the TechStars-incubated email management and delivery system, loves dealing with overloaded inboxes. In fact, it loves email so much that it has delivered over 9 billion emails for more than 23K companies. This is probably why, since graduating from TechStars, the email enthusiast has raised over $5 million in funding, and brought on former Oracle executive Jim Franklin as CEO in March.

While many of us would likely consider ourselves heavy email users, SendGrid targets the addicts. Or, I should say, targets the high performers and enterprises — businesses that have an output of millions of emails per month. (I passed out just thinking about that.) Examples include businesses like Foursquare, Swipely, and Hootsuite. The startup offers businesses a way to manage emails generated by their web applications and can handle services like subscription, bounce management and complaint feedback. For businesses, it’s a very useful tool.

Of course, there’s some competition. Amazon Web Services and AuthSmtp, for example, compete directly with SendGrid’s service. Though EC2 loudly and publicly took a nap at the end of April, suffering from network latency and connectivity issues, AWS continues to grow in popularity and continues to add services. So, while the new SendGrid CEO told TechCrunch’s Leena Rao in March that Amazon entering the email management space validates the importance of using an email delivery and management service, the company may be feeling a bit of pressure to update its services.

SendGrid today announces a new pricing model, which includes an entry-level, pay-as-you-go plan and additional email credits across all existing paid plans. “Our new offering is a result of feedback from our customers”, the CEO said, reflecting the need for more variety in the startup’s pricing plans.

The pricing ranges from free to $400 per month. Beginning at the bottom, users will continue to be able to take advantage of SendGrid’s free trial, which includes 200 email credits per day, advanced deliverability, reporting and analytics features, access to APIs, support, as well as the startup’s newsletter application.

Then there’s SendGrid’s “Lite Plan”, which is a 10 cents-per-thousand emails, pay-as-you-go plan, with no volume limits. This option includes basic deliverability features, access to the SMTP API, Web API, SMTP Relay, basic reporting and analytics, and premium support.

SendGrid’s most popular option is the “Silver Plan”, which costs $80 a month, with an additional 100K email credits per month. This includes all of the features from the “Bronze Plan”, plus advanced deliverability features, additional APIss (Parse API, Event API, OEM API), sub-user capabilities, and the newsletter application.

The new pay-as-you-go option, as well as a lift in the number of additional email credits a business gets should it exceed its email limit, will surely be welcomed by SendGrid’s 20K+ clients, and may attract new customers that want to test the service without paying the higher fees of those more robust services.

For more on SendGrid’s new pricing plan, see the image below:


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