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Twitter Gets Its Guy For London Office, As Super-injunction Row Rolls On

Posted: 22 May 2011 09:00 AM PDT

Despite becoming embroiled in the UK’s increasingly controversial row about injunctions which gag the press but not Twitter users, Twitter itself is going ahead with plans to open a new office in London.

Its first UK-based employee is Tony Wang who relocates from San Francisco this weekend, according to his own tweets.

WITN: London Is Gonna Be Pissed, But We Prefer Berlin for Startups (TCTV)

Posted: 22 May 2011 08:56 AM PDT

We’ve spent much of the last week exploring Berlin, attending the Next11 conference and meeting a few local startups. The biggest problem from a video entertainment standpoint? We both agree that Berlin feels like a better startup town than London.

“Feels like” is an important disclaimer here. Berlin certainly doesn’t have the track record, local sophisticated investor class, nor does it have many current up and comers. The recent track record has been mostly riddled with US Web copycats. There’s no question London has a much more advanced, sophisticated startup ecosystem now. But it’s also one we’ve argued feels about as developed as it’s going to get. Berlin, on the other hand, like a startup itself, is just getting going and feels dynamic and full of promise.

A stand out company we met was called Research Gate. It’s a site where academics can connect, share papers and results and search for very specific information that can’t be found elsewhere online. It’s not as simple as being “a Facebook for academics,” because academics only need a network that specialized a few times a year. Instead, it aims to be not only a Facebook for academics but also as a LinkedIn for academics, offering specialized job seeker services, and an Amazon for academics, offering ecommerce deals and reviews on very specific lab equipment.

It was started by Ijad Madisch a German-born physician doing research at Harvard, who realized that academics only publish their successes. There was no engine for sharing the knowledge of why experiments fail 80% of the time.

Research gate is announcing it’s passed 1 million users Monday and has big name investors behind it, including Simon Levene of Index Ventures, Matt Cohler of Benchmark and Andrew Braccia of Accel. Cohler was one of the guys who suggested Research Gate leave Boston where the coding talent was expensive and limited, according to Madisch. His two suggestions: Berlin or Silicon Valley. London wasn’t even on the list. In fact, when we asked Madisch to compare and contrast the two cities, he said it was the first time he’d even really thought about it.

Ecosystem-wise, Berlin has some things going for it that most Western European capitals lack. For starters, it’s cheap to work and live there. Culturally and historically, Berlin is a more natural gateway between Europe’s mature Western economies and the surging talent in Eastern Europe. And Berlin has a surging creative class, largely made up of transplants. It’s become the place where misfits in Europe– people who want to be artists and creators, people who don’t fit in rigid social structures of cities like London– flock to do what they want.

That risk-taking, misfit creative class doesn’t always give rise to out-of-the-box startups, but it was a crucial ingredient in the development of startup ecosystems in San Francisco and Tel Aviv. It’s also something that London has long been criticized as lacking.

If London feels like a European New York; Berlin feels like a European Portland or an Austin or a Boulder. And perhaps one day a European San Francisco.

Watch The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Live!

Posted: 22 May 2011 07:51 AM PDT

Around 500 hackers participated from late last night to early today morning at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in New York, building in teams and waking up or popping enough Redbull this am in order to show off their hacks to notables including VC Jeff Clavier and founder Christopher Poole, VP of Product Bradley Horowitz and founder Christopher Poole.

This year’s NYC Hackathon was our largest showing ever, and what the hack teams came up with are about to be judged, American Idol style, on stage with each team given 60 seconds to present. In case you taking part in this is no biggie, one of last year’s participants, GroupMe ended up received $10.6 million in funding.

You can watch the judging until 3pm, above.

And They Hacked, And They Hacked, And They Hacked Into The Night

Posted: 22 May 2011 12:28 AM PDT

Jerry Lee Lewis would have been proud. Even as the clock ticked past midnight at Pier 94 in Hell’s Kitchen, there was a whole lotta hackin’ goin’ on. Beginning around noon on Saturday, hackers filed into the spacious room at the site of Disrupt NYC to begin networking and scheming in earnest. As the day wore on, groups solidified, team names were chosen, and at the height of activity, we estimate that more than 500 hackers were huddled around tables, bent over screens with headphones on — doing their thing.

By midnight, Chinese food had been consumed, much Red Bull downed, and most teams had moved past the brainstorming and napkin-doodling stage to full-fledged hacking and aggressive coding. Ideas were beginning to come to life. One hacker Tweeted around 1 am that the even “Twilio cake is looking pretty good right now”. By 2 am, all the beanbag chairs had been accounted for, some were napping, and the crowd had started to thin. And, still, no rapture.

Of the hackers polled, interestingly, quite a few said that they were working creative alternatives to dating sites and apps. One hacker was creating a speed dating app, another was creating “the Groupon of dating and a SecondMarket for people", while others said that they were plugging away at a few HTML 5 games. But will there be group-messaging apps?

Here a few hackers take a few minutes to release some pent-up coding aggression by pitching toys against the wall. You can add your pics to the crowd by tagging your tweets and photos with #tcdisrupt and #hackdisruptNYC2011, and you can always find more at the TechCrunch Flickr page.

And some, perhaps, were enjoying a few too many adult beverages during the wee hours, which always ensures that the presentations this morning will be nothing if not entertaining.

For those keeping track, my colleague, TechCrunch engineer Rob Saurini, said that, of the hackers he observed with his keen hacker sight, about 90 percent were using Macs. Take that as you will. I personally am using an Apple 2GS.

This morning at 10:30, the hack-teams will begin their rapid-fire presentations, given a few short minutes to try to wow the judges with their ideas. The presentations will wrap up by 3 pm, at which point one lucky project (the last Hackathon's winner was WiseDame) will get a chance to compete with our Startup Battlefield companies on stage during Disrupt proper. Remember to stay tuned during our live broadcast.

Mo’ Money: Square Now Processing $3 Million A Day In Mobile Payments

Posted: 21 May 2011 10:09 PM PDT

That was fast. Just like that Square passed $3 million in transactions processed, on a Saturday no less, according to a Tweet an hour ago by CEO Jack Dorsey.

The mobile payments startup is seeing an acceleration in transaction volume. It took about 10 months from its public launch for Square to reach $1 million a day in payments going through its mobile app. Getting to $2 million a day only took about two months. And now, less than a month later, it is passing $3 million.

Visa just invested, transaction volume is picking up—things are looking good for Square. COO Keith Rabois will be at Disrupt NYC. We’ll be sure to ask him what’s driving the surge in Square payments.

Jack Dorsey
Boom. @ processed over $3 million today so far. Big weekend going into a bigger week.

Hax0rz Advice: “Don’t Listen To Me. Go Build Something.” (TCTV)

Posted: 21 May 2011 09:14 PM PDT

Talent scouting at the 2011 Hackathon in New York today, TCTV caught up with three alumni hax0rz and one n00b, who gave us a sneak peek of their apps and ideas.

The hax0rz in question hail from: the mobile startup GroupMe; QLabs NYC, a collective of developers and designers; the Boston seed fund GreatPoint Ventures; and Harvard.

Following an afternoon of team forming, brainstorming, napkin doodling and the requisite pizza and caffeine uptake, their concepts include:

    A couple of dating sites, one with a hyper-local twist…

    Another that wants to be “the Groupon of dating and a SecondMarket for people”

    An app that gets the attention of that one colleague who’s always lost in their headphones

    A mobile web app that tells you where nearby job opportunities may be, based on data from you Foursquare network

Cool ideas from the Disrupt Hackathon could turn into lasting startups. They could also hit the deadpool before they gain any kind of traction, if teams don’t know how to work it through and after the event. So, TCTV asked Steve Martocci, a co-founder of GroupMe, how to maximize the hackathon experience.

GroupMe, a NYC mobile startup, celebrated the one year birthday of their app today. Backed by Khosla Ventures, they hatched it at the 2010 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, of course.

Some of Martocci’s suggestions:

“Don’t listen to me talk, go and build something… Focus on what you’re good at, and solve a real world problem. Do as little work as you can – it gets stressful – use the tools that you have (like Twilio) to make it happen.” And after Hackathon? First, “Sleep.” Then, use the tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt, to “Walk the floor, show people what you did…[and] get decent exposure to investors.”

Watch the video for more (above) and check back for more photos and videos from Pier 94 where the hack is on.

We’re also broadcasting the Hackathon demos, live on Sunday.

To add your Tweets, photos or videos to the community pool, tag them with #tcdisrupt and #hackdisruptNYC2011

The Hack Is On At The Hackathon

Posted: 21 May 2011 04:04 PM PDT

The tables here at Pier 94 are full of enterprising hackers, swapping code and networking furiously. The Red Bull is flowing freely and snacks crunch underfoot — pigeons flit to and fro looking for crumbs and perhaps some seed funds. And it’s only just beginning.

The hacking will continue all night, punctuated by API demonstrations by the likes of Twitter, Qualcomm, and Google, and at 9:30 tomorrow morning the projects will be submitted. There are way more teams and individuals than our last Hackathon, which was already far larger than the one before. Fortunately, our new venue is very spacious — cavernous, even. They’ll need the space after the pizza arrives and things start getting over-savory.

Teams are still forming and projects coalescing, but the Hackathon lifestyle is already taking hold and the cans are piling up. Here are a few pictures from the early hours of the event, to be followed by interviews, demos, and the inevitable snoring hackers on air mattresses. You can add your own to the pool by tagging your tweets and photos with #tcdisrupt and #hackdisruptNYC2011, and you can always find more at the TechCrunch Flickr page.

Tomorrow morning at 10:30 is when the teams do their rapid-fire presentations and attempt to impress the judges. We’ll we wrapping up around 2:45 or 3, at which point one lucky project (the last Hackathon’s winner was WiseDame) will get a chance to compete with our Startup Battlefield companies on stage during Disrupt proper. The presentations are always entertaining, so be sure to tune into our live broadcast.

Make.Money.Slow : The Bitcoin Experiment

Posted: 21 May 2011 10:30 AM PDT

Bitcoin. Oh, man, where to begin. Its Hype-O-Meter got cranked to 11 this week, and breathless histrionics are everywhere. Death and Taxes called this new currency “a seismic event“; Adam Cohen says it’s nothing but a giant scam; Jason Calacanis calls it “the most dangerous project we’ve ever seen“; and they’re all completely wrong. It’s interesting, and innovative, and down the line it might even be important … but in many crucial ways, Bitcoin is nothing new.

Matthew Ingram at GigaOM wrote a good Bitcoin 101 piece, but a summary of that summary, for those too lazy to click: it’s an anonymous online currency whose transactions and monetary supply are verified by digital cryptography and maintained by an open-source peer-to-peer network. Computers on the Bitcoin network can also “mine” new bitcoins, which are generated at a fixed rate. And, crucially, no more than 21 million will ever exist. (~7 million are currently extant.)

“So what?” you may ask, and not without reason—but Bitcoins are in fact worth something. Right now you can sell them for ~$7 a pop at any of several Bitcoin exchanges. The EFF accepts Bitcoin donations. Creating a secure distributed currency infrastructure is no mean feat; creating one that people actually use is more impressive still. I don’t want to understate that accomplishment. But, people, we have been here before, many times.

In 1932, the town of Wörgl, Austria, introduced a new currency that was so successful that it is still referred to as the “Miracle of Wörgl“, although the Austrian government soon shut it down for violating the government’s monopoly on printing money. Communities have been experimenting with local/community currencies ever since. (Not to be confused with “company scrip”, the Internet equivalent of which is Flooz, or Facebook Credits.) Bitcoin is little more than a reasonably well-designed local currency liberated from the shackles of geography.

There is one key difference between Bitcoin and Wörgl; no government can shut down Bitcoin’s printing presses. (Which aren’t necessarily figurative.) And that’s exactly why it’s been so successful so far—enough anarchists and libertarians, who have long hated fiat currencies and longed for the return of the gold standard, have flocked to it that it actually has value. But they’re a tiny minority, extremely unlikely to grow into a significant movement, and even if they do, it won’t much matter. Currencies, be they fiat, gold, or fixed-supply, are a collective fiction: they only have value if a critical mass of people believe they do. If the US and EU want to kill Bitcoin, they need only make it illegal, and that critical mass will vanish.

But why would any American or European business adopt Bitcoin in the first place? It’s an elegant and disruptive solution desperately looking for a problem. There’s nothing wrong with the dollar, euro, or yuan. As Victor Grishchenko cogently points out in his analysis, “Any competing e-money system needs to offer at least the same level of security, coverage, liquidity and privacy, which is hardly the case with Bitcoin at this moment.” In the developed world, Bitcoin is a non-starter. At best it might eke out an existence as a distributed local currency for hardcore libertarians.

…but the developing world is another matter. Consider Zimbabwe, recently plagued by hyperinflation so rampant that when I was last there prices doubled every few weeks and gasoline could only be purchased on the black market with hard currency. They’ve since given up and simply adopted foreign currency wholesale. Meanwhile, mobile electronic payments are taking off in a big way all over sub-Saharan Africa. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine Zimbabwe in ten years’ time—or a whole group of developing nations with a history of crippling inflation—adopting a new currency that is independent, incorruptible, and anti-inflationary by design. In short, something a whole lot like Bitcoin. No, it isn’t the future, but it just may point the way.

[Image: Jeff Hester, Flickr]

More Bitcoin links, for the terminally interested: OMG they’re all totally crazy. No we’re not. Bitcoin, our greatest hope for liberty. Bitcoin, the Wikileaks of monetary policy. Bitcoin will be made illegal. The Bitcoin bubble. Bitcoin’s collusion problem. The Bitcoin lottery. Reality distortion. The Napster of banking. BoingBoing discussion. Safer Bitcoin transactions. Betting on Bitcoin. Is the Bitcoin algorithm new? Namecoin.

Gillmor Gang 5.21.11 (TCTV)

Posted: 21 May 2011 10:00 AM PDT

The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, Dick Hardt, and Steve Gillmor — got all LinkedIn in the wake of the startup’s successful IPO. Amid the fear mongering about another tech bubble, it seemed more likely that LinkedIn was the first of at least a trio of big social plays going public. Facebook and Twitter seem no brainers, each with their own dynamics in terms of revenue plus virality. And then there’s Groupon and maybe Zynga.

But the real question was not whether hype trumps value, but what’s next as the intersection of technology and media accelerates. This year’s broadcast upfronts seemed primed for disruption, with most networks junking their entire drama debuts from a year ago in favor of big budget sci-fi and Sheenless comedies. Meanwhile Netflix continues to mushroom as it becomes the next HBO, or some supernode unlike anything since the agencies took over from the film studios in the ’50s. King Harvest will surely come.

BioPro Takes DIY Approach To Biofuels

Posted: 21 May 2011 09:39 AM PDT

Passionate biodiesel hobbyists have long relied on their local diner’s supply of used cooking oil to power their cars, but a unit that automatically converts oil to fuel could help restaurants do it themselves.

The BioPro 190, made by Springboard, is a tall stainless steel box containing a biodiesel processor that that mixes, heats and separates used cooking oil, producing ready-to-pump biodiesel in about 48 hours. Both animal and vegetable oils can be used, and though the oil requires the addition of methanol, sulphuric acid and a catalyst to be processed, these are the only steps in the recipe to to fueling any diesel-run vehicle. While vehicles typically require biodiesel conversion to run on on biofuels, Springboard claims their fuel can power any diesel engine without being converted.

This could be a big step forward for biodiesel which is often inconsistent in quality when manually produced. It could also provide a new revenue stream for the restaurant industry.

BioPro 190 units sell for $9,995, but buyers will have to find suppliers for the sulfuric acid, methanol and catalyst to mix with their cooking oil on their own. A smaller BioPro 150 model sells for $5995, with an additional charge for a fuel pump.

This video demonstrates the machine in action:


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