Perfect For A Lonely Valentine’s Day: Behold The Pinterest Porn Clones (NSFW)

snatchly

I was debating with myself whether this should be a post or not, and then decided I should just ask out loud on Twitter if it was a good idea or not.

Because three people immediately told me that it was (two of those people were smart, attractive women, I might add), and because TechCrunch founder and former fearless leader Michael Arrington has a long history of identifying porn clones, you are now reading this (NSFW!):

Snatchly is a ‘Pinterest for porn’. There’s really not much more to say about the site, except that it’s far from the only raunchy Pinterest clone among Pinterest clones (looking at you, Pornterest).

Is there now a single reason left for men to use Pinterest altogether?

Dubbed a virtual ‘pornboard’ (chuckle), Snatchly lets you “save and share all the porn you love from anywhere on the Web”, including stuff from some of the most popular porn sites around. If you’re so inclined, you can install a ‘snatch it’ (chuckle) browser bookmarklet to grab images and videos.

Obligatory screenshot (did my best to make it SFW, unless your boss loathes cute puppies):



StopTheHacker Helps Website Owners Combat Malware, Raises $1.1 Million

stopthehacker

StopTheHacker, an aptly named provider of SaaS-based website security services, has secured $1.1 million in first-round funding from public and private investors, including Runa Capital and former Bluecoat chief executive Brian NeSmith.

StopTheHacker’s technology, which relies on machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques, basically helps website owners prevent, detect and recover from online malware attacks and other hacker shenanigans with a software-as-a-service offering.

The company says its AI engine is based on four years of research at the University of California, Riverside, which was originally funded by the National Science Foundation (also see team). The engine, StopTheHacker says, boasts self-adapting capabilities, constantly monitoring new strains of malware to build a profile of emerging threats.

StopTheHacker is based in San Francisco.



Oracle Buys Talent Management Solutions Company Taleo For $1.9 Billion

taleo

Oracle this morning announced that it is acquiring cloud-based talent management solutions provider Taleo for $46 per share or roughly $1.9 billion, net of Taleo’s cash and debt. Taleo’s solutions basically help organizations attract, motivate and retain human capital, and will service to boost Oracle’s Public Cloud offering.

The transaction is expected to close in the Summer of 2012. Here’s how Oracle pitches the buy:

Together, Oracle and Taleo expect to create a comprehensive cloud offering for organizations to manage their Human Resource operations and employee careers.

The combination is expected to empower employees and managers to effectively manage careers throughout their entire employment, enable organizations to retain talent and optimize costs, and improve the employee experience through faster on boarding and better collaboration with team members via social media.

Until the deal closes, Oracle and Taleo will continue to operate independently. According to Taleo, more than 5,000 organizations use its solutions today.

Its stock price closed at just south of $39 yesterday.



Montblanc Takes Google To Court To Obtain Identity Of, And Sue, Counterfeit Advertisers

montblanc

Google has been going to great lengths to keep advertisers who sell counterfeit goods online out of its AdWords program, but as far as Montblanc, the Germany-based maker of ‘writing instruments’, watches, jewelry and whatnot, is concerned, they ought to be doing more. Montblanc-Simplo GmbH, as the holding is called, is taking Google to court in an effort to obtain the identity of a certain – or more – persistent counterfeit goods seller(s).

TechCrunch has obtained the court documents, which make for an interesting read.

Montblanc says it has received numerous complaints from customers who’ve been misled by keyword ads that appeared on Google.co.uk. According to the complaint, many were tricked into purchasing counterfeit Montblanc products from websites that were specifically designed to look like official Montblanc communication channels.

The luxury goods company subsequently turned to Google UK in an effort to identify the advertisers, who were bidding on keywords like ‘montblanc pens’, but according to the complaint, the search giant’s UK office has consistently said that they simply don’t have access to that kind of information, directing Montblanc instead to the U.S. mothership.

From the court docs:

Montblanc has attempted to determine the identity of the Advertisers through numerous alternative means, with no success. Because the identity of the Advertisers is in the exclusive possession of Google, and Montblanc has no other source from which to obtain the requested information, Montblanc has no choice but to file this Complaint in Equity for a Bill of Discovery in order to enforce its trademark rights.

Once Montblanc has identified the Advertisers through this Bill of Discovery against Google, it intends to file a lawsuit to enforce its trademark rights against the identified Advertisers. Without the requested information, however, Montblanc does not know who the Advertisers are and therefore does not know whom it needs to sue to enforce its trademark rights.

As Montblanc points out in its complaint, it has been using the ‘montblanc’ mark for a wide range of products since its founding in 1906, making it one of the world’s well-known trademarks.

Understandably, the company asserts that the sale of counterfeit goods, bearing the ‘montblanc’ trademarks, has caused it “significant reputational and financial harm”.

For the record, Montblanc acknowledges that Google UK has been responsive to its complaints in discussions dating back to September 2011, and that the search company repeatedly told them that they “removed the offending ads and taking action against the Advertisers”.

The only problem is that they keep coming back, and Montblanc is getting desperate.

From an earlier Google blog post, describing the game of cat and mouse:

AdWords is just a conduit between advertisers and consumers and we can’t know whether any particular item out of the millions advertised is counterfeit or not.

Of course, we do more than simply respond to brand owners’ removal requests. We use their feedback to help us tune a set of sophisticated automated tools, which analyse thousands of signals along every step of the advertising process and help prevent bad ads from ever seeing the light of day. We devote significant engineering and machine resources in order to prevent violations of ads policies, including counterfeiting.

In fact, we invested over $60 million last year alone, and, in the last 6 months of 2010, more than 95% of accounts removed for counterfeits came down based on our own detection efforts. No system is perfect, but brand owner feedback has helped us improve over time – as our system gets more data about ads it has misclassified before, it gets better at counteracting new ways that bad guys try to cloak their behaviour.

While our systems get better over time, counterfeiting remains a complex challenge, and we keep investing in anti-counterfeiting measures. After all, a Google user duped by a fake is far less likely to click on another Google ad in the future. Ads for counterfeits aren’t just bad for the real brand holder – they’re bad for users who can end up unknowingly buying sub-standard products, and they’re bad for Google too.

This makes sense; Google has nothing to gain from counterfeit advertisers in the long term.

In Montblanc’s view, however, Google should be more actively helping them determine the identity of counterfeit advertisers by handing over the contact and financial details they store – due to the nature of the AdWords program – so that the company can name them as defendants in litigation.

We’ll be following this case with eagle eyes.

(Photo courtesy of Luigi Crespo Photography on Flickr)



The Curious Vaporization Of Jesta Labs, A $15 Million Startup Incubator

jestalabs

Here’s a puzzler. Back in September 2011, less than 6 months ago, Jesta Digital loudly committed $15 million to establish Jesta Labs, a New York-based mobile services startup incubator. Fast forward to today, and the incubator has vanished from the face of the planet. Their website has been taken down, and we hear pretty much everyone who had anything to do with Jesta Labs has moved on.

For the record, I’m not the only one who caught on to the incubator’s curious disappearance – see Ben Yoskovitz’s report (Next Montreal). Here’s the full story from what we’ve pieced together.

Jesta Digital, which owns notorious mobile ringtones, games and apps provider Jamba / Jamster, used to be Fox Mobile Group when it was still part of News Corp (which acquired Jamba back in 2006 and combined it with its Fox Mobile Entertainment assets). Jesta Group took the division off News Corp’s hands for an undisclosed sum in late 2010. Still with me?

Jesta Digital also operates Bitbop, an interesting wireless subscription service for TV and movies delivered on-demand to smartphone, in case that brand is more familiar to you.

Anyway. When the company launched Jesta Labs, they said it would become “an independent business unit dedicated to the entrepreneurial development and growth of new direct-to-consumer products for the web, mobile and social spaces”. From the release, which was widely picked up:

Jesta Labs will introduce several new digital and mobile products to the consumer market this year and plans to open funding to other entrepreneurs worldwide next year. Jesta Labs will focus its creative efforts and technical know-how on identifying capital efficient digital business models that will benefit from the company’s experienced full-time staff of developers, product managers, and marketing professionals.

Sounded good, and the first startup to come out of Jesta Labs was actually rather nice: Gush let people store an infinite amount of photos on a ‘hard disk in the cloud’. I used Gush, and liked it.

But, 5 months after its debut, Jesta Labs is no more. A source familiar with the situation asserts that the division is going to kill every product that was being developed under its wings (3 according to Next Montreal’s report), and that Jesta Digital simply “lost interest in the whole incubator thing”.

My source tells me there’s no one left working on Gush anymore, though the service is still live, and that Jesta’s NYC offices are now basically empty. Most of the people that were working on Gush have moved on to mobile payments company ISIS, I gather.

Judging by his LinkedIn profile, former Jesta Labs managing director Joe Bilman has also moved on from the incubator – he’s now CEO of gogofire, which has a mission statement that sounds suspiciously similar to that of Jesta Labs.

And thus, quietly, a $15 million incubator vanishes less than half a year after its debut, almost without a trace. If there’s anyone reading this that knows more about this, and would like to share it – on or off the record – it would be great if you could let us know what happened.



Meanwhile, In Europe … (Fits.me, Appoxee, Heverest.ru, Populis)

Flag of European Union

Here’s a roundup of recent stories on TechCrunch Europe:

— Internet publishing company Populis is expanding its network operations to South America with the acquisition of Cidade Internet, a popular Brazilian Web portal. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

— Moscow-based Heverest.ru, an online retailer of sportswear, leisure and travel goods, has scored $4.3 million in financing from an unnamed “large” Russian investment fund and previous backer eVenture Capital Partners, bringing its total raised to $6.7 million.

Fits.me, the Estonian “biorobotics virtual fitting room” startup for e-commerce clothing retailers and shoppers, has been around for a while. We first covered them in 2010 when they secured €1.3 million, taking their total cash to €2.6 million.

They’ve now taken another €1.5 million, taking their funding to €4.1 million. Fits.me lets customers “try on” clothing before buying from online clothes retailers.

— Israeli startup Appoxee has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from early-stage investment firm Cyhawk Ventures, and has opened its gates to all.



Jeff Atwood Bids Adieu To Stack Exchange, For The Best Reason Ever

stackexchange

Jeff Atwood, the co-founder and CTO of Stack Exchange, a network of free, community-driven Q&A sites mostly about programming and gaming, and Stack Overflow, is stepping down from day-to-day operations at the beginning of next month.

Atwood writes on his Coding Horror blog that startup life was having too much of an effect on his family (Atwood has a son and twin daughters).

Startup life is hard on families. We just welcomed two new members into our family, and running as fast as you can isn’t sustainible (sic) for parents of multiple small children. The death of Steve Jobs, and his subsequent posthumous biography, highlighted the risks for a lot of folks.

You may have more discipline than I do. But for me, the mission is everything; I’m downright religious about it.

Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange have been wildly successful, but I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success. It is failure.

I concur with Instapaper creator Marco Arment, who says Atwood clearly has a healthy perspective on life, and others praising him for the decision, though maybe that’s because I became a first time father myself not too long ago.

You may also want to check out the Hacker News thread on the topic.

Stack Exchange has raised $18 million from Union Square Ventures, Index Ventures, Spark Capital and individual investors like Ron Conway, Naval Ravikant, Chris Dixon, Caterina Fake, Joshua Schachter and many more.

Commenting about the move some more on Twitter, Atwood says his decision to leave Stack Exchange’s day-to-day ops has also to do with his “personality and temperament”.

He adds: “Either I’m all the way in, or all the way out”.

Atwood blogs that he doesn’t know what’s next, though it seems he’s already pondering about it:

What’s next for me?

I honestly don’t know. I do know that I love the Internet, and I remain passionate as ever about making the Internet better – but right now I need to be with my family. In six months, perhaps I’ll be ready to choose another adventure.

Also check out our video interview of the other Stack Exchange co-founder, Joel Spolsky: (Founder Stories) Joel Spolsky On Startups: “Have A Co-Founder Otherwise You’ll Go Insane”



Tsavo Media To Pay Yahoo $4.8M For Sending ‘Low Quality Traffic’, President Quits

tsavo

Tsavo Media, which operates a network of roughly 300 websites and blogs as an indirect subsidiary of Canadian online publishing and advertising company Cyberplex, is being retroactively charged $4.8 million “over a reasonable time period” by Yahoo for sending the latter company’s advertisers “low quality traffic” in 2011.

To boot, Cyberplex president Ted Hastings (formerly Tsavo Media’s CEO), apparently jumped ship.

It’s a curious story, to say the least.

Tsavo Media, once led by former MySpace CEO and previously AOL SVP Mike Jones, was acquired by Cyberplex back in May 2010, for a reported $75 million.

The company’s network of Internet publications includes crappy websites like LumaGardening.com, ThinkFashion, TechSerious, WealthyGeek, Twirlit, DiscoverFame and KidGlue.

Now, according to a press statement released earlier today, a Special Committee of the Board of Directors of Cyberplex has been appointed to “review the status of Tsavo Media and strategic alternatives available to create shareholder value out of that division, which is currently heavily encumbered by debt under Tsavo Media’s credit facility with American Capital”.

I bet this wasn’t what they had in mind when they acquired Tsavo Media. But then again, what good could have come out of buying a crappy content generation machine anyway?

Cyberplex had this to say about the sticky Yahoo situation it now finds itself in:

The Company reported today that Tsavo Media has been engaged in discussions with Yahoo! to address concerns regarding the quality of traffic provided to the Yahoo! advertising base, and Tsavo Media’s reliance on Yahoo!’s traffic quality reporting system. Tsavo Media has now been informed that it will be required to pay to Yahoo! approximately $4.8 million over a reasonable time period currently being discussed, notwithstanding prior information that indicated good quality traffic at that time.

This amount may be partially offset by achieving certain performance incentives and anticipated improvements in average revenues per click, but the Company noted that there can be no assurance as to how much, if any, of this payment to Yahoo! would be offset through these incentives and improvements.

Translation: unless a miracle happens, we’re going to have to cough up some serious dough, and we can only hope we don’t have to pay everything all at once and in the near future.

The Company noted that Yahoo! provides bi-weekly quality reports to Tsavo Media, which are extremely important to Tsavo Media in the management of its systems, analysis, forecasting and ultimately its day-to-day business decisions. Yahoo! recently communicated to Tsavo Media that notwithstanding the good quality score reports that had been provided throughout most of 2011, Yahoo! would retroactively charge Tsavo for what Yahoo! is now saying was actually low quality traffic, ranging back over many months during 2011.

While the Company and Yahoo! remain in discussions on this issue, the Company now expects that Yahoo! will enforce its decision to charge back this amount citing its right to do so pursuant to the terms of Tsavo Media’s agreement with Yahoo!

Translation: first Yahoo says we did a good job last year, but now they say we did a bad job, and according to the deal we agreed upon they can actually retroactively charge us for it.

“We are very frustrated by the timing of these events after spending almost one year rebuilding the Tsavo organization while negotiating a settlement with American Capital”, said Geoffrey Rotstein, CEO of Cyberplex.

“These events are disappointing given all of the hard work the Tsavo employees have invested to rebuild the organization and because they continue to take away and distract from all of the other positive developments and momentum being created within both Tsavo and the other divisions of Cyberplex.”

Translation: Oh FFF******CCCKKK.



Kenexa Acquires E-Learning Solutions Company OutStart

outstart

In an effort to expand its reach into the e-learning market, Kenexa, a publicly listed provider of business solutions for human resources and talent management, has agreed to acquire Boston-based OutStart.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

OutStart offers SaaS-based social and mobile learning solutions and will help Kenexa bolster its suite of talent management products, the latter company said in a statement.

OutStart is said to have more than 300 customers, ranging from large global organizations to mid-size companies and government agencies.

Kenexa says it expects to fund the acquisition of the privately-held software company with its existing cash balance. The company also expects the transaction to be at least neutral to non-GAAP net income available to common shareholders on a per share basis for 2012.

Also read: Kenexa To Acquire Salary.com In $80 Million Deal



Citing “Short-Term Difficulties”, HTC Forecasts Weak Q1, Significant Revenue Drop

htc

Smartphones and tablets maker HTC this morning said it foresees a huge drop in revenue (PDF) in the first quarter, citing “short-term difficulties” as it gears up to – reportedly – launch four new phone models at the Mobile World Congress later this month.

The Taiwanese company sees revenue dropping as much as 36 percent in Q1, to between NT$65 billion and NT$70 billion (roughly $2.2 and $2.4 billion) due to this “product transition”.

In PR speak, that sound something like this:

Despite short-term difficulties, momentum will resume in the upcoming product cycle driven by HTC’s brand strength, innovation, and design/engineering capabilities

The smartphone maker also said it expected gross margin to come in at around 25 percent, and operating margin at 7.5 percent, which is down from 27.1 percent and 12.7 percent in the previous quarter. Again, HTC says it expects these margins to “normalize” after the debut of the new phones.

In other words, HTC has a heck of a lot riding on these new smartphones selling like hotcakes, as it feels the pressure from Apple’s overwhelming iPhone success and an increasing number of manufacturers churning out and selling competing Android-powered devices by the millions.

Also read:

It’s About Time: HTC To Refocus Smartphone Efforts Around “Hero” Devices

Is HTC’s 20% Revenue Dip Last Month A Sign Of Things To Come?



After Leo DiCaprio Invests, Lance Armstrong Races To Promote, Advise Mobli

lance

Mobli, the startup behind the eponymous, much-hyped realtime photo and video sharing service, has struck a partnership with road racing cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion, will be making use of a private Mobli channel to keep his fans and followers up-to-date on his life through videos, photos and whatnot.

The man is also joining the startup’s boards of advisors, not too long after another major celebrity, actor Leonardo DiDCaprio, participated in a $4 million funding round for the company.

Said Armstrong:

“When I was first introduced to Mobli, I immediately thought it was an extraordinary platform and an innovative yet accessible way for different audiences to share their stories. I’m excited to use Mobli as a direct channel for my social media followers to get a personal look at my experiences day to day.”

The former pro cycler says he will use Mobli to share moments from his training sessions as well as his work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on cancer research and support.

Armstrong is no stranger to social media. At the time of writing, he had about 3.2 million followers on Twitter, while his Facebook page has garnered over 2 million ‘likes’.

Bill Stapleton, founder of Capital Sports & Entertainment and Lance Armstrong’s long-time agent, will also work together with Mobli and has also joined the startup’s advisory board along with Armstrong and Andrew Razeghi, an author and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

History teaches us that celebrity backers and endorsers can only contribute so much to the chances of success for a startup, but this kind of exposure can certainly help this type of service get some early traction more rapidly than usually. If you’re an early user, tell us what you think.



House Party Is A Serious Business, Scores $5.3 Million

house

HouseParty.com, a site that helps people throw brand-sponsored home parties, has raised $5.3 million in Series C funding in a round led by New York-based Acadia Woods Partners.

Partiers need to apply online, indicate what type of in-home event they’re planning and take charge in spreading the word to their friends and relatives. Once selected for a house party, they receive a package of products from sponsoring brands – ‘Party Packs’ have included food, baby toys, health and beauty products and action figures in the past.

The idea is for brands to get some relatively cheap word-of-mouth marketing by gathering people in real life (who do this in exchange for freebies) in the hope that the parties will spark conversations about the brand and, ultimately, turn the people who show up into customers or even advocates.

People can also shop for party supplies on HouseParty.com.

The company has raised about $8 million to date.



Intel To Spend $120M On Patents, Video Codec Software From RealNetworks

real

Intel is to buy “a significant number” of patents (approximately 190 patents and 170 patent applications) and video codec software from RealNetworks for a purchase price of $120 million. Under the terms of the deal, RealNetworks says it retains certain rights to continue to use the patents in current and future products.

Says RealNetworks president and CEO Thomas Nielsen:

“Selling these patents to Intel unlocks some of the substantial and unrealized value of RealNetworks assets. It represents an extraordinary opportunity for us to generate additional capital to boost investments in new businesses and markets while still protecting our existing business.”

In addition to the sale of the patents and software, RealNetworks and Intel agreed to collaborate on future support and development of the video codec software and ‘related products’.



Between Nothing And A Blog: Check Out CheckThis, A Cool New Micro-Publishing Tool

checkthis

I don’t often get a chance to write about a startup from my home country (Belgium) that I’m super excited about, so consider me a happy camper. Meet CheckThis.com, a new micro-publishing service that lets you create and share a single, good-looking Web page in mere seconds.

CheckThis is designed for people who need a little more space than a tweet but don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up a new blog. In literally instants, you can use CheckThis to create a stand-alone page to sell your bike, hire a new developer for your startup, tell people what you’ve been up to today, set up a really quick poll, share an Instragram or Flickr photo, a party invitation with a map, a Vimeo video or whatever other casual need you might have. Quick, simple, beautiful.

CheckThis creator Frédéric della Faille describes the service as ‘between nothing and a blog’ and also ‘tweets with attachments’, both of which are decent ways to illustrate what CheckThis is about.

Ultimately, his goal was to create a publishing tool that helps people do things online that usually take some time (like selling a product, posting a recruitment ad and whatnot) and make the experience as rapid and smooth as posting a status update on Twitter or Facebook, no registration required.

Without any marketing, apart from della Faille telling some of his friends about the tool, CheckThis users have created more than 10,000 personalized pages in the past 3 months, including this great one entitled People with Lana Del Rey lips. So what do you want to do?



CouchSurfing Gets More Cash As Point Nine Capital Becomes Its First European Investor

couch

Exclusive - Berlin-based early-stage venture capital firm Point Nine Capital has become the first European investor in CouchSurfing, a site that helps travelers connect with locals worldwide to share accommodation, experiences and whatnot.

The investment is in fact an extension of the $7.6 million Series A round raised from Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network in August 2011.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.



Sonos Urges Users To Install A Security Update To Protect Their Private Data

sonos

Sonos this morning sent out an email to users advising them to immediately update their wireless music system software with a security “enhancement” in order to plug a hole that “in rare cases” could have been exploited by malicious people to gain access to sensitive, personal customer data.

In the message, which was also posted on its forum, Sonos says it is not aware of any breaches so far:

This update fixes a bug that, in rare cases, could allow someone to access the usernames and passwords of services used on your Sonos. Currently, we are not aware of any customer data being compromised. If you have any evidence that your account credentials were inappropriately accessed please contact Sonos customer service at http://www.sonos.com/support.

In addition to updating your Sonos with this security enhancement, it’s always good practice to use strong and different passwords for your online accounts.

To update, go to ‘System Settings’ on any Sonos Controller and select ‘Online Updates’.



DLD 2012 – Drew Houston: “Yes, Steve Jobs Called Dropbox A Feature”

dropbox

In a conversation with WIRED UK’s David Rowan on stage at the DLD Conference in Germany, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston acknowledged that he did in fact have a “great meeting” with the late Steve Jobs in 2009.

Houston said about the get-together that Jobs had heard of them and asked to meet with him. Even though he was generally gracious, Houston said, Jobs expressed that he felt Dropbox was more of a feature than a product or business and gave him a “bit of a hard time” about that.

Jobs went on to float an eventual acquisition by Apple, but Houston said he did not name a price, at least not at the time. Forbes reported earlier that Dropbox ended up turning down a “nine-digit acquisition offer” from Apple.

Dropbox now has 50 million+ users saving billions of files daily, and is valued at $4 billion.

Not bad for a company that one of the world’s most brilliant minds ever once called a feature.

Also check out our Founder Stories series featuring Houston:

On Pitching Dropbox: “Tom Cruise In Minority Report Is Not Carrying Around A Thumb Drive”

Drew Houston: “Dropbox Users Save A Billion Files Every Three Days”

How Dropbox Got Its First 10 Million Users

Houston: “In 18 Months, You Are Going To See Little Dropbox Buttons Everywhere”



Mykonos Helps Companies Battle Hackers, Raises $4 Million

mykonos

Mykonos (the security software company, not the lovely Greek island) has secured $4 million in a Series A funding round led by previous backer Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex.

New investors include Ironport founder Scott Banister, Jeff Clarke (executive chairman of Travelport, chairman of Orbitz and board member of Red Hat) and Mike Jones (founder and CEO of Clover Capital).

Mykonos’s Web Security product uses deception to “detect, confuse, slow down and prevent attackers” in real-time in order to help companies protect their websites and Web apps from malicious hacker and proactively prevent fraud and theft.

Just recently, the company moved its headquarters to the heart of Silicon Valley – they also have offices in New York.



Cash-Starved Ambient Industries Folds Location Browser App Flook

flook

Nearly two years ago, Ambient Industries raised capital to boost development and marketing of its iPhone app Flook, a location-based social discovery application. Alas, they never got the kind of traction needed to develop a business model solid enough to make enough money from the app.

Yesterday, the people behind Flook sent an email to users announcing that the app will be retired “some time in the next 30 days” (after February 25th). From the message:

Why? Well, as you can imagine it costs quite a bit of money to run all the machines and robots that make up flook, and unfortunately we have just run out.

We built flook as a great experiment, and loved every bit of it. Over 100,000 of you used flook over the years, we got some great press and it gave us so much pride to see the many ingenious ways you all contributed to flook.

All good things have to come to an end however, and we just didn’t manage to get flook to where we wanted it to go, but we are so very thankful for your support on our journey.

Ambient Industries is offering users a way to export their Flook cards, comments and data.

The company was founded by Jane Sales, Tristan Brotherton and Roger Nolan. Sales and Nolan were both previously founders of Symbian Software.

What remains unclear is whether Ambient Industries is calling it quits as a whole, or if they’re merely terminating Flook to focus on the development of other smartphone software.

Either way, Flook has come tumbling down into the TC Deadpool.



DLD 2012 – @Jack Dorsey: “Twitter Has A Business Model That Works”

jack

Earlier this fine Sunday afternoon, Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey took the stage at the DLD Conference, the annual pre-Davos meeting of minds held in Munich, Germany.

In an interview with not one but two journalists (Holger Schmidt from FOCUS Magazine and Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick), Dorsey talked a great deal about Twitter and a little bit about Square.

Dorsey didn’t reveal anything spectacular about either company, emphasizing once more how Twitter is not your traditional social network (here’s my counterpoint) and that its business model works, thanks very much for asking.

He also talked about how Square is looking to expand outside of the United States and why 2012 will be a pivotal year for Twitter in Germany.

Below are my notes – some of Dorsey’s responses are slightly paraphrased.

Let’s start by talking about the platform wars. How do you see the future role of twitter compared to Facebook, Google+ and other social networking services?

Twitter is different because we’ve always been about hosting public conversations, that are real-time to boot. There’s always been this perception that you need to tweet to use Twitter, but we see a huge number of people using it for the discovery of news, events, content and so on. Our focus on simplicity is another differentiating factor.

Some people say Google+ is more of an attack on Twitter than on Facebook. Do you look at it that way?

We have concerns about building and growing Twitter, not so much about competitors. We want to get Twitter into more markets, so more people use it. Google has a lot of evolutions to go through, with search slowly becoming replaced by apps, the rise of social and whatnot. But again, social for us is only one part of what people use Twitter for, and we see the service more as an information utility.

Twitter was obviously born from a blogging-centric mindset, but where we shine is real-time discovery, being able to open up Twitter and instantly see what’s going on in the world, or with your friends and family. When we recently redesigned the website, we focused a lot on the discovery part of the equation, making it very simple for people to get value out of Twitter without necessarily participating.

Twitter has just acquired Summify, a startup that built technology for filtering relevant news. Is this an important area for Twitter, helping people overcome information overload?

Our goal is delivering relevant content to people, instantly. This sounds simple but is in fact extremely complicated to pull off in real-time. We want to bring you closer to what’s happening in the world, and we have a lot of work to do – Summify will help us in that regard.

Should we expect more acquisitions?

We’re always looking for amazing teams, and we can get them by acquiring companies, then why not?

In the long run, is Twitter going to become a destination for information, or a distribution channel that brings traffic to other websites?

The beautiful thing about the service is that it is both. The most amazing thing about Twitter is that it reaches every single device on the planet, from the cheapest phone to the most advanced smartphone. We’re not just about distribution, but also about people sharing content on Twitter.

(Dorsey brings up the Hudson river plane crash incident as an example of content that was shared first on Twitter sparking an international conversation.)

Yes, ok, but have you made up your mind about whether you want to be a distribution channel or a destination site?

Well, it’s a blurry line, but in essence we think of every tweet as a destination on itself, while Twitter is also a mechanism for distribution of content.

There’s been a lot of coverage of the Internet’s reaction to SOPA and its subsequent delay. Do you think we’re entering a new world of democracy? Will this outpouring of reactions on social networks, effectively changing things, become more common?

Services like Twitter definitely make this more possible, based on immediate feedback, the fact that everyone can give their opinion right away. This way, you get free access to public thoughts, right from someone’s phone.

We see politicians use Twitter to consume real-time conversations. It’s mind-blowing. Question is what do we do with that information? I’m a believer that if you give people data and information, it will help them make better decisions.

Twitter in that sense can really help the world, allow us to have better conversations, get a better grasp of how people approach the world, their trials and tribulations.

It look a long time for Twitter to develop a business model, and it’s based on advertising. We can agree that Twitter is big in perception but comes up short when it comes to engagement and stickiness. Do you need the same level of engagement other social networks enjoy to make your business model work?

Twitter’s business model has been in development for quite some time, and it works. Advertisers use it and we see them coming back for more. The market has vetted, and confirmed that they want to keep using it. Twitter’s ‘Promoted’ products — including promoted tweets, accounts and trends — are currently seeing 3 to 5 percent engagement.

We’re always looking to increase engagement, but I also think about other things, like that fact that our technology can have a positive impact on the world and how businesses interact with their customers.

So what you’re saying is that even with the extremely minimal exposure of ads that you deliver, engagement can still prove sufficient enough to make for lots of revenues down the line?

Absolutely, it’s huge. Every signal that we’re getting from both users and advertising proves to us that people want more of it.

What’s more important to you as a business right now: make money or get more users? And you can’t answer both.

Both. It’s not really a fair question. We think of revenue as not a destination but as oxygen that feeds the model and vice versa. You can’t build a product without revenue, but you can’t focus on revenue without having a product either. Twitter is an organic system and product. Time and time again, you see companies whose revenue model makes their products better, just look at how Google AdSense improved search.

You’re unusual in many ways, but also because you have two fulltime jobs: you’re also the CEO of Square. Is Square coming to Europe soon, and what obstacles do you expect?

We would love to come to Europe and we’re going to work hard this year to get traction outside of the United States. The company has been around for two years, but the product has only been on the market for one year, and we’re seeing massive uptake. We have about a million merchants currently using Square, creating new jobs because of it.

We don’t want to limit ourselves to the US, and we’re looking at other markets right now. Germany, for example, is fascinating for both Square and Twitter. Many people don’t know this, but the first programmer we hired for Twitter, Florian Weber, was based in Hamburg, so we definitely have strong ties to Germany.

Interestingly, you just visited China. Twitter is not available there, but will Square soon be?

Square is definitely looking at China. People there use a lot of debet cards, there are lots of sole proprietors, but the tool that’s lacking is a way for them to handle payments. We’re looking all over Asia for opportunities.

In Germany, Twitter is struggling with low adoption rates. What do you plan to do about that?

We’re currently building a team here in Germany. We also plan to have lots of conversations with local entrepreneurs, engineers and press to develop the system so anyone can use it in Germany. This will certainly be a pivotal year for Twitter in Germany.

(Photo not from DLD but from TechCrunch Disrupt – sorry about that)