SpeedTrack Sues Just About Every Major Online Retailer Over Patent Infringement

Can you spell “patent troll”?

Software developer SpeedTrack has filed suit against nearly two dozen major online retailers, including Amazon.com, Best Buy, Overstock.com, Nike, Costco and Dell, accusing the major online retailers of infringing some patent that supposedly covers a search mechanism customers can use to locate products on their websites.

The complaint, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the defendants of infringing U.S. Patent Number 5,544,360, titled “Method for accessing computer files and data, using linked categories assigned to each data file record on entry of the data file record”.

Dubbed GIA (Guided Information Access), originally developed and patented by SpeedTrack co-founder and CTO Jerzy Lewak, the system is designed to guide users to contextually relevant information when searching specific keywords, ensuring a result rather than a page that says “no result can be found” or whatever. According to its website, law enforcement agencies like police departments use SpeedTrack’s GIA software to sort through massive criminal records data, which supposedly helps them solve crimes faster.

Evidently, this type of software is important for Internet retailers’ conversion rates, because such technology enables users to discover related or similar products on their websites when specific items cannot be found. But I can hardly imagine that SpeedTrack’s technology is so unique that the e-commerce giants should have to pay as much as a penny to the software company. Of course, a jury may very well be persuaded otherwise.

Message to Lewak and the rest of the SpeedTrack team: how about you focus on sales to mark up your balance sheets rather than turning to courts in the hopes that Amazon and Co. will come fill your pockets for you.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Congrats To Dopplr I Guess. But Before The Champagne, Some Context

So before we get into this, let’s build the case for the defence. Nokia has been acquiring lots of small startups lately (Plum, Cellity and Bit-Side this year) and TechCrunch.com now has a source that says they’ve bought boutique travel social network Dopplr. This appears to have occurred while Dopplr was fundraising – something which often happens when deals are being thrashed out. Dopplr is not commenting on the story.

Anyway, the purchase price is said to be between €10 million and €15 million. We first covered Dopplr in 2007 when it closed on seed funding supposedly raising just €1.25 million or so in total funding. And yet it has a stellar group of backers: Martin Varsavsky (FON), Joichi Ito, Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Saul Klein (TAG), Esther Dyson (Angel), Tyler Brûlé (Meeja), Thomas Glocer (Thomson Reuters) and Lars Hinrichs (Xing). I mean, good grief, most startups would kill and maim to have that kind of board. As good as this purported exit is, clearly these people thought Dopplr would go way, way bigger than a €15m exit.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Apple Locked Us In, But How Long Will The Sentence Last?

This is a guest post by Paul Fisher a Venture Capital investor with Advent Ventures in Europe Portfolio companies include Zong.com, Qype, Adeptra and DailyMotion. Paul blogs at The Coffee Shops of Mayfair and Twitters at @paulfish.

I have watched with interest as the Apple backlash intensifies* (see below). It seems the App Store has broken the camel’s back. There is massive resonance here for both entrepreneurs and VCs.

This quote from Chris Messina is my favorite. He thinks that the Apple App Store is a “flash in the pan” because it is a proprietary platform and, hey, wait a minute, proprietary platforms are counter to consumers’ interests. That’s why Microsoft accrued haters. And why folks are starting to feel the same about Apple?

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

iTunes Connect Plagued With Serious Connection Problems [Updated]

We’ve been getting a number of tips about iTunes Connect being down for the past couple of days. Looking into it a little deeper, it appears these are not isolated issues, and that app developers all over the world have been experiencing failing or extremely slow iTunes Connect linkups for at least the past 48 hours. [Update below]

iTunes Connect is software that provides access to tools and resources third-party developers need for distribution of iPhone and iPod touch applications through the iTunes App Store, including app delivery, management tools, sales information, banking setup, and financial reporting.

When it’s down or slow, that means developers run into all sorts of problems when submitting new apps or updates, which is of course a huge problem for professional developers who rely on successful app distribution for running (part of) their business.

Evidently, developers are taking to the Apple dev forum to complain about the problems and about the fact that the company – as usual – isn’t providing much feedback about the issues let alone an ETA for a resolution.

We’ve contacted Apple for more information and will update when and if they get back to us.

Update: An Apple spokesperson has just reached out to us to tell us that the issue has been fixed. They declined to give any details about when it was fixed or what the problem actually was. If any developers are still seeing issues, feel free to let us know in the comments.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

NetSuite Launches iPhone App To Access Business Software On The Go

NetSuite, a company that provides cloud-based business management software suites, is furthering its mobile strategy by launching a free iPhone app to compliment its web-based products. The iPhone app gives NetSuite users on-the-go access to the company’s on-demand SaaS offerings, which include real-time dashboards with financial and customer data from CRMs and other applications.

A competitor to Salesforce.com, NetSuite offers four main types of cloud computing software: Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), CRM, accounting, and ecommerce software. In any business, mobile access makes business processes speedier, so NetSuite has tried to make the crossover between the web and the iPhone (or iPod touch) seamless.

With the new app, users get real-time access to their NetSuite calendar and task lists, including the ability to accept or decline events and mark tasks complete. With respect to the CRM, sales reps can see leads, view client purchase history and contacts, and review past orders. Users can also access accounting information, browse financial trends and graphs, read performance indicator reports and receive and generate detailed financial scorecards.

NetSuite faces competition primarily from tech giants Salesforce.com and Microsoft, which both offer business application suites such as CRMs and ERPs. Salesforce has had an iPhone app (as well as apps for Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices) to compliment its products since early this year and has similar functionality to NetSuite’s app. Of course the larger picture for most companies is whether they trust all of their business data going in the cloud and then within an app, but as more and more companies become increasingly comfortable with the idea of the cloud, this concern is minimized.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Google Chrome OS Video Does Not Suddenly Show Up After Late Night Twittering. It’s Fake

Good morning, Chrome OS! It seems that Google Tweeted last night about a strange and mysterious video purporting to show Google Chrome OS in the flesh. Our thoughts? Damn, this is going to be a fun OS. From login to browsing to game playing, this little OS seems to be solid, smooth, and actually quite pretty. It's amazing what a company can do with a few billion dollars and some of the brightest minds in the business. Click through for the video. Also, as MG pointed out, this could be fake as all get out. UPDATE - Yes, it is fake. Feh.
TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

There’s No Silicon Valley In Europe — But TechHub Might Help

Europe has no real equivalent to the big hothouse that is Silicon Valley, but it does have lots of tech clusters and networks. As recent research from the startup Seedcamp startup programme has shown, clusters of innovation are spread far and wide across Europe. One place everyone agrees is a key cluster is London. It now hosts offices belonging to all the top-tier pan-European VCs, several new Seed funds, has an active Angel investor market and hosts many major tech events. However, largely because of its cost – everything is still expensive here – London remains hard for European startups to access and get into, even in a recession. And although European and US entrepreneurs often need to take meetings and work in London, who wants to sign a huge office lease?

TechHub (@TechHub on Twitter) is new project put together by long-time London tech scene person Elizabeth Varley which will address just this issue. It will be a new, physical space for tech people, providing the things they really like: Super-fast Wifi, power for laptops, coffee and flexible, plentiful desk space. What’s really game-changing though is that – as I understand it – it will very, very affordable, which is exactly the problem that needs to be solved in London if the rest of Europe is to benefit.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Are We Kingmakers Or Prognosticators?

Screen shot 2009-09-24 at 3.26.26 AMWhile writing my previous post and looking over comments from earlier today on other posts, I started thinking about bias. For just about every story we write, it seems someone always has either a comment or an email for us ranging from suggestions that we should also write about such and such company that is a competitor to the one we wrote about, to outrage that we didn’t mention the other said company. So why don’t we?

Well, for starters, it would be impossible to cover every company and each of their competitors, and give them each the same treatment. Not only are there not enough writers to do this for TechCrunch, if you put all the blogs together, there still would not be nearly enough. Further, and maybe more importantly, no one would want to read all of that coverage. A part of our job is to provide a filter to readers.

Some call that filter “bias,” and that’s fine except for the negative connotations associated with that word. While the idea of objective journalism is nice, if you go high enough, it really doesn’t exist. Somebody, somewhere at even the most exalted publications has to make a call on which story to pursue. There is always a flip side (or several), where another story is left out.

Others will be quick to jump on that saying something like, “yes, but you don’t have to do so many stories on X company while not covering Y company at all.” That’s true, but if X company is more worthy of coverage, shouldn’t that be the story to pursue? Not everyone will agree with that, but I think it comes down to a debate of what our role is: Are we kingmakers or are we prognosticators?

The people who think our so-called bias is hurting other companies, clearly will think we’re kingmakers; that we randomly or not-so-randomly pick companies that we want to see succeed and shower them with coverage. From my perspective, the reality is more that we’re prognosticators (or at least are trying to be). That is, finding cool companies that we think could actually have an impact in the tech sphere and covering why that may be the case, independent of caring about how many stories that might mean for any one company.

A good example of this in the past couple of years has of course been Twitter. From the early days of the company, many people could not see the potential of the service, and plenty still don’t. As such, some get really, really angry over the amount of coverage it gets. But what’s interesting is that this coverage is now happening across pretty much all levels of the press, it’s not just one site (though some obviously cover certain companies more than others). So either all of the press is colluding to bolster companies like Twitter, or they’re simply seeing a trend happening, that this company, for whatever reason is becoming important, and so they’re covering it.

Before you know it, the company that just a few years ago no one could understand why it was getting so much coverage, is now raising money with a billion dollar valuation. Did the early explosion of coverage make that happen? Or was the early coverage simply serving as a predictor that it would eventually happen? Kingmaker or prognosticator?

A more recent example of this that we’ve been seeing is with Foursquare. Many of the tech sites (including this one) have been covering the company quite a bit, and there are plenty of readers who have no idea why. But it’s one of those companies that myself and others saw potential in before it even launched. And so far, that prognostication has been slowly but surely been playing out, as earlier this month the company got a round of seed funding that several VCs were said to be fighting over the right to get involved with. Did they get the funding because of the early coverage? Or was the coverage there for the same reason they got the funding? Kingmaker or prognosticator?

The majority of complaints about Foursquare coverage seem to be that only a few early-adopter geeks and their friends are using it. Of course, the same exact thing was said for Twitter and for Facebook before that. It was also said for FriendFeed, which, while it never got the massive amount of mainstream users (though usage was way up right before the sale), still exited to Facebook to the tune of $50 million for one reason or another. Was that just the press coverage? Or did the press see the potential, especially with regards to Facebook (back pat)? Kingmaker or prognosticator?

With Foursquare, like Twitter before it, we aren’t writing about it because a group of geeks are using it. We’re writing about it because of the interesting use of gaming elements with a mobile app that propels usage. And because of the very interesting ramifications it could have on local mobile business deals. This is about seeing the start of a trend. Just as Twitter was about seeing the start of a trend.

That’s not to say that Foursquare will for sure go on to be a real success, it’s still a very young company, and has a very long way to go. And even Twitter at this point could still fizzle away over time. And of course it is always possible that everyone in the press is overlooking the next big company. But I believe that if a company is truly great, it will find a way to make itself known. Someone, somewhere will find it and start covering it, and from there, the product will speak for itself and garner more attention and coverage.

It remains, and will always be about the product. And we’re always out there hunting for the next great one. If you’re not getting the coverage you feel your product deserves, remain focused on improving it. Focus on making it better than the ones getting all the coverage. Don’t be bitter, be better. If you stick to that, eventually someone will find it. And then the complaints will start rolling in that your product is getting too much coverage. And that we’re kingmakers.

[photo: flickr/javier kohen]

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Microsoft Launch WebsiteSpark: Free Software For Web Developers

Picture 13

Moments ago Microsoft launched WebsiteSpark, a new program to provide web developers and designers free copies of Microsoft development tools, applications and server licenses for a period of three years. The program is the third and latest launch as part of the ’spark’ series of outreach and support programs designed to engage communities with new Microsoft products. The initial programs to launch were BizSpark, for startups, and DreamSpark, for students.

The WebsiteSpark program announced today provides eligible individuals or organizations with 3-year licenses of Visual Studio 2008, Expression Studio, Expression Web (also part of studio), Windows Web Server, SQL Server and DotNetPanel. To be eligible, an organization or individual developer must be in the business of building web applications or websites for others (ie. clients) and also have no more than 10 employees.

I recall as a young developer constantly bitching about the cost of development tools, which was a real barrier of entry. Microsoft bundled QBASIC with DOS, which spawned a whole generation of developers, but for those who were looking to learn further there was a real commercial barrier because of the price of good compilers and tools. Most of us ended up ripping these tools off by downloading them – which meant that we all became familiar with certain tools (like the old VC++) and then ended up getting real jobs where we would use them. Microsoft have obviously caught on and have realized that they need to lower the barrier for some parts of the market (as with academic discounts) in order to bring Microsoft tools, and in-turn platforms/servers (and services!), into development shops and to developers.

There is a broader motive here – Microsoft want to eventually sell you on the entire platform. But who cares, because frankly, their developer tools have long been the best available (queue flame war). I could never have imagined such programs coming out of Microsoft all that long ago, especially combined with support for more open source (PHP), supporting an open implementation of the entire .NET platform and executives like Scott Guthrie who are not only blogging, put publishing their email addresses so that anybody who has a problem signing up with the program can email him (it is scottgu@microsoft.com, btw).

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

FuelMyApp Lets iPhone App Devs Reward Reviewers. Will It Work?

FuelMyApp is a new site launching now which is a platform for iPhone app developers to reward users for reviews. Here’s their pitch: Developers get reviews about their apps, while users get free apps in return for reviewing them. Now, before you cry Pay-Per-Post read on and let’s figure this thing out.

A lack of reviews on very new apps is a common occurrence when you hear about an app that’s potentially awesome it hasn’t hit the mainstream yet.

So how does it work? Developers submit their app’s iTunes reference to the site and select how many reviews they want. iPhone users sign up with their Paypal email address and iTunes nickname. As soon as the review is published in iTunes, fuelmyapp automatically credits back the app fee to the user via Paypal.

Now, let’s look at those potential problems.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Gowalla And Going: A Couple More iPhone Apps To Prove You Own This Town

the-entourage-walking1Foursquare is the location-based iPhone app getting a lot of love in the press (and from VCs) these days. And while there is no shortage of location social networking apps in the App Store, Foursquare works well on the platform because it’s based on the active checking-in to venues, which is perfect since the iPhone doesn’t allow apps to run in the background (though Loopt has a workaround). While Brightkite has also long been in this space, it’s been a while since any new viable competitors have come along. But we recently got two more: Gowalla and Going.


Going, which is an app made by AOL’s Going.com site, has one great feature going (see what I did there) for it. When you check in to a place you can set a “How is it right now?” slider to tell your friends either “Don’t Come”, “Eh”, or “Get Here Now” (or anything in between). That’s a great idea, and something all of these apps could benefit from. A lot of times people will see that I’m checked-in somewhere and may show up, but just because I’m checked-in somewhere that doesn’t mean it’s great, just that I’m there, for some reason.

I also like that you have to “leave” a place you’re checked-in before you can check-in some place else. Though I suppose that checking-in another place means that you’ve left your previous place already.

photoThe main problem with Going is that it has too much going on. One reason that I think Foursquare works is because it’s so simple. Going may be trying to do too much by wrapping personal check-ins, with events, and photos, and city-based public streams, etc. I’m not sure people are really ready for all of that just yet.

There also doesn’t appear to be a way to easily add new venues to the listings. Going’s list of places is pretty good, but it’s definitely not complete, so if a place you’re at isn’t on there, there’s no checking-in for you.

Going is potentially interesting for its events calendar. If Yahoo would have ever made an Upcoming app that just did events, I think people would have definitely used it (it may be too late since Facebook’s app finally got that funtionality). But the events area of Going is nice because you can see a list of things happening on any given day and RSVP to them with your name with a couple of clicks.


Gowalla is more directly akin to Foursquare. Basically, like Foursquare, it’s an app that allows you to check-in places and rewards you for it. Instead of badges, you get stamps for going certain places. And you obtain items that you then leave other places.

The main difference is that rather than relying on users to enter addresses for places manually, as you do with Foursquare, Gowalla pulls the GPS coordinates. This is both a strength and a weakness. On one hand, this makes it slightly harder to cheat, but on the other hand it also makes it harder to check-in places — especially if you’re inside, which you are going to be most of the time at venues, obviously.

When I was first testing out the app a couple weeks ago, it was nearly impossible for me to check in anywhere due to the GPS issue. But since then, the Gowalla team has rolled out some updates using what it calls “elastic GPS,” which has improved things greatly. That’s especially true when you’re trying to add a new venue to Gowalla’s directory of places (which is otherwise very easy to do).

photo-1One thing that sets Gowalla apart (other than the GPS thing) is its emphasis on trips. It has a special area dedicated to user-generated treks made by people in various cities. For example, one of the trips recommended for me in San Francisco is the “Golden Gate Gallop,” which is a 18-stop trek that takes you to various venues around the water in the city, leading you to the Golden Gate bridge. The fact that any user can make these and share them with other Gowalla users is pretty cool.

One major problem users have with Foursquare is that it’s still limited to a handful of select cities. Gowalla has no such restriction, and anyone can start using it anywhere, populating maps with venues as they go. Foursquare eventually plans to implement something similar, but if you’re not in one of the cities that it’s in just yet, Gowalla is likely to be very compelling to you.

Something I also noticed about Gowalla as compared to Foursquare is that there seems to be more of an emphasis on you rather than your friends. The main screen in Gowalla is your passport features your stamps and items, and your check-ins. With Foursquare, the main page is your friend check-in stream. Foursquare’s approach seems like a better idea if you want your app to be as social as possible (which is the only way any of these apps are going to find success).

I’m also not a fan of Gowalla’s overall design. The shades of green mixed with yellow, mixed with large item icons, is a bit too garish.

The Challenge

So the obvious question is, do either of these apps stand up to Foursquare? The short answer is that Gowalla has a chance, while Going likely doesn’t.

The key to all of this is the gaming aspect of each app. Gowalla, like Foursquare, has one, while Going really doesn’t. Again, Going could work as an events app, but it’s got too much else going on besides that.

djjdBoth Robert Scoble and The Next Web have written up Gowalla over the past couple of days. Scoble thinks Gowalla won’t be able to compete with Foursquare, while Zee from The Next Web actually likes it more. I agree with Scoble that the GPS thing, which may seem like a plus, will likely end up hurting it. Sometimes people want to check-in some place but want to be kind of vague about where they are, you can’t really do that when your location is tied to your GPS coordinates.

Zee, of course, has a good point about the availability around the world. But as I said, Foursquare will likely change that soon. The question then becomes will Gowalla be able to attract these worldwide users before the more buzzed-about Foursquare greatly expands?

Beyond a loyal user base, Foursquare’s real potential lies with its business partnerships. That is likely to ultimately decide if the company sinks or swims. Gowalla doesn’t yet have any of the “mayor deals” that Foursquare offers, and their icon gifts can only go so far before users will start wanting tangible gifts for playing the game if Foursquare is offering them.

Another key is that Foursquare is quickly expanding beyond the iPhone. They already offer an Android app and Blackberry and Windows Mobile are coming shortly. Gowalla is currently only on the iPhone.

Still, it’s good to new entries in the social location space. Both bring some interesting new things to the table; particularly Going with its “How is it right now?” feature and Gowalla with its “Trips” functionality.

You can find Going in the App Store here. And Gowalla here. Both are free apps.

[photo: HBO]

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

DEMO: Cortera Measures Business Credit With Community Ratings

When it comes to dealing small businesses, the last thing you want is for the company you’re working with to renege on a transaction after you’ve contributed your half. Sending multiple invoices may be enough to annoy them into submission, but if that doesn’t work the legal fees and time involved with taking them to court usually isn’t worth it. Cortera, a new site that launched yesterday at DEMO Fall, is looking to help businesses avoid this kind of dispute.

Cortera can be thought of as a Yelp for business credit, offering reviews on large and small businesses alike that have been submitted by the community. In other words, it can help you figure out if a company you’re thinking of dealing with is going to pay you in a timely fashion, or if it’s run by deadbeats who should be avoided.

Up until now, the business credit market has been dominated by one major player: Dun & Bradstreet. But Cortera says that D&B fails to properly address small businesses, which account for a large percentage of America’s GDP. So Cortera has built out a database that includes not just the large companies that are D&B’s bread-and-butter, but also countless smaller ones that previously have been neglected.

The site’s members can use a review system much like the ones you’ll find on Yelp and Amazon to share their experiences with companies on the site, and paid members can also see key data like a company’s annual spending budget and supplier volume. Cortera offers one-off reports for as little as $3, and also has monthly plans beginning at $29 a month.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

The HP DreamScreen Not So Dreamy

Last week I saw some coverage of this new HP device called the DreamScreen. And more than a couple of blogs were comparing it to the elusive Apple Tablet. Given my extreme interest in this space, I thought I should get this new DreamScreen in my hands as soon as possible and see if HP had indeed beaten Apple (and us) to the punch in delivering the first high quality tablet computing experience to consumers.

The press: “Want a hint at how the much-anticipated Apple Tablet might be shaping up? Take a look at the HP DreamScreen,” said one of those blogs, adding “this certainly looks like what we’re expecting from the Apple Tablet.” Another site: “Hewlett Packard has beaten Apple to the punch in coming up with a beautiful tablet-like computer.” Engadget called it “something special.”

The reality: I can’t repeat here what I wrote on Twitter because of the sensitive nature of the TechCrunch audience, but I will say this. The HP DreamScreen is possibly the biggest piece of crap to ever grace my desk. Which is saying something.

To be fair to HP, they didn’t really market it as much more than a glorified digital picture frame, the press just got out of hand. But even that’s too much. The device costs $250. It lacks a touchscreen. It lacks a browser. It lacks a battery. And it has the annoying habit of running a very loud demo video every few minutes – the only way to make it stop is to unplug it. Which is very effective, since it lacks a battery (not a good idea when you market yourself as a digital clock). And HP did nothing to stop rabid bloggers and journalists from heralding the device as some sort of Apple killer. I can’t help but wonder if any of these guys actually tried the device.

Wifi setup took ten minutes. I never got Pandora to work. I refused to even try with Facebook, because my password is long and, as you’ll see if you watch to the very end of the video below, I just don’t have an entire afternoon free to type it in. It’s also much thicker than those sexy photos on the HP site make it look.

Text input makes me think that HP was actually aiming for the Macbook Wheel as a comparison point.

I want my money back.

p.s. – I obviously have a huge conflict of interest here. So try it out yourself. But try it in a store where you don’t have to buy it, because you are going to be seriously unhappy with this device.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Paramount Proprietor Polemicizes Poorly On Piracy At Public Policy Presentation

In what was ostensibly a meeting of the majors last week to advise the FCC on broadband policy, the COO of Paramount was allowed to wax ignorant for 10 minutes on piracy and file-sharing technology. As a major content provider, they should certainly have some input, but this was sheer soap-boxery. Sure, peer to peer and torrent traffic (legal and otherwise) is going to be a major driver of broadband adoption and major consumer of the resource, but Paramount's contribution to the discussion didn't limit itself to germane observation and reasonable speculation. On the upside, we have a fabulous new quote on the level of Ted Stevens' "series of tubes" that demonstrates how utterly out of touch people like Paramount's COO are with actual Internet terminology and capabilities. Behold:
"We are uploading it essentially to a 'cyber locker,' which is nothing more than electronic locker on the Internet."
Mr. Huntsberry, we are in your debt for this immortal chestnut of cyber-wisdom. That's nothing more than electronic wisdom on the Internet, for those of you who don't know.
TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Foursquare Is Spending A Bit Of Its Money To Get Its Website Into The Game

Screen shot 2009-09-23 at 5.50.12 PMEarlier this month, the location-based social network Foursquare revealed that it had raised a $1.35 million seed round of funding. Almost immediately, they used the money to purchase an important domain for them: foursquare.com (previously, they were found at playfoursquare.com). Today, they revealed another project that the money is being used for: A redesign.

A new homepage went live today with a significantly improved look and feel. While the graphics have been prettied up, the main new feature is a constantly moving river of updates from the service. This includes when users write tips for venues, unlock badges, and become the mayors of places. There are also prominent links to its iPhone and Android apps (along with the mobile web version for other phones), and a link for businesses to learn more about how they can utilize the service.

Foursquare used some of its funding to hire the design firm Hard Candy Shell to create this new homepage, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley confirmed to us (the two companies actually share office space in New York City). But this is just the beginning of Foursquare’s redesign plans.

Currently, there is no way for users to really interact with the service through its website. You can see things like venues and user profiles, but there is no way to check-in a place, the main function of the site. That should soon change. When I asked Crowley if this new design was part of a larger effort to turn foursquare.com into a usable web app, he replied that “it’s all in the works.”

Of course, the mobile apps will continue to be the focus (aside from the iPhone and Android apps, versions for Blackberry and Windows Mobile should be out soon), but Foursquare users will undoubtedly welcome news of a usable website. Previously, if you wanted to do something as simple as accept friends, it would require a full page reload, which was annoying. Now, features like this have been AJAXified, like a proper web app.

Currently, you’ll only see this new Foursquare homepage when you are logged out of the site.

Screen shot 2009-09-23 at 5.44.44 PM

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

DEMO Names Two Winners For Top Media Prize: Emo Labs And Liaise

DEMO Fall has just announced the winners of its media prizes, who will each receive $500,000 in free advertising across IDG’s publishing properties and a number of sites including VentureBeat.

The winner of the ‘Enterprise’ category is Liaise, which allows you to automatically generate a To-Do list from your Email. The application performs semantic analysis to determine which portions of an Email message require an action, and can automatically generate a list of these, complete with different priorities and deadlines. Provided the technology works well this could prove very useful (no more trudging through the Email trenches to figure out what you need to do that day) but to be effective it will need to really work every time — it won’t do much good if it only catches most of your to-dos.

Liaise is available in a limited beta for Outlook, with plans to come to more platforms in the future (though we’ve heard that one before).The application is free for its beta period, with plans to charge under $10 once it fully launches.

Taking top prize in the ‘Consumer’ category is Emo Labs, which has created an impressive new speaker technology that’s fully-transparent. This means that speakers can actually be included as part of LCDs and other flat-panel displays, without the clunky black boxes sticking out the side. The company also says that because the surface area of the LCD panel (and in turn, the transparent speakers) is typically far greater than that of traditional speakers, users should actually notice an improvement in sound quality. For more on this new technology, check out the Emo Labs page here.

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Microsoft’s Looking Glass Will Let Marketers Peer Into A Real-Time Social Stream

Microsoft is going to let marketers and advertisers dip their toes into the social stream. The tech giant is planning to launch a new social media product, dubbed “Looking Glass,” which will let marketers aggregate and monitor social media platforms for brands and companies. According to a report by Ad Age today, the product is still in “proof of concept” stage and will be privately distributed to testers in the coming month. Microsoft’s advertising blog also mentions the new product.

Looking Glass will aggregate feeds from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other social media sites and will also be able connect with CRMs, databases, service centers and more. In terms of analysis, the product will track sentiment of content but it’s unclear what other data analysis and features the application will have. Looking Glass will be browser-based and powered by Microsoft’s Silverlight technology. And unsurprisingly, all data collected by Looking Glass will be integrated with Microsoft’s Sharepoint and Outlook products. In fact, the product’s functionality may be limited for a business that isn’t using Microsoft’s enterprise suite.

That tidbit isn’t too big of a surprise, considering other platforms, like Salesforce, offer social monitoring and engagement services that are attached to their software. But it seems like Microsoft is pretty late in the “stream monitoring” game. There are plenty of startups out there like Viralheat, PeopleBrowsr, Socialseek and more that offer freemium platforms that do the same thing as Looking Glass. Not to mention that Salesforce just launched an incredibly powerful version of its Service Cloud, with Twitter and Facebook features integrated within the platform.

The other piece of the puzzle is if Looking Glass will have real-time functionality. That’s definitely where the future of social monitoring is, so it would make sense that Microsoft would add this into the product. We’ve contacted Microsoft about this question; we’ll update the post with more info when we hear back.

UPDATE: Looking Glass will have real-time functionality says a spokesperson for Microsoft.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Pfly

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

DEMO: Vitamin D Brings Smart Searching To Security Footage

There’s no doubt that searching video footage can be an incredibly tedious and time consuming task — unless someone else has manually tagged a video with keywords, there’s a good chance you’ll have to wade through minutes (or hours) of footage to find what you’re looking for. In the last few years we’ve started to see the emergence of some new technologies to address this issue, like Digital Smiths, but most of them are focused indexing premium content. Vitamin D is a new startup making its debut today at DEMO Fall that’s looking to bring content identification to user generated videos.

Vitamin D’s first product allows users to search through surveillance camera videos without having to watch though hours of footage where nothing is happening. But this isn’t just based on motion detection — you can fine tune your searches using a visual interface for building a custom ruleset. Say, for example, I wanted to monitor a specific door in a room for any humans that had walked through it. Using Vitamin D, you can drag and drop to highlight a certain doorframe and then ask the software to immediately identify any matches it has in its archive. Using this technology you could condense many hours of footage into only a few seconds, which you can browse through a in playlist-like format. The company says it will have a public beta available this fall. Vitamin D also looks to apply its technology beyond its security application, though it sounds like further products are a ways off.

Also see HighlightCam, which can automatically condense lengthy video clips to their most important moments. The startup was a part of Summer 2009’s Y Combinator class (you can find our full post on HighlightCam here).

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Twitter Needs An App Store, Oneforty Provides One

With the explosion of Twitter mobile apps, web-based clients, and desktop applications, it was only a matter of time before someone launched an actual Twitter-focused app store. Oneforty has built a marketplace to for basically all things Twitter, helping developers get their creations found and letting users access a centralized place to find and buy Twitter-based technologies. We have 100 invites to try out the site (OneForty is in private beta); just click here and use the code: TC140.

The site lists 1,332 free and paid applications and services built on Twitter’s API, where people can search for, rate and buy Twitter services. The site also features lists of the most popular apps on the marketplace, ad lists the “best” app for nine types of Twitter services, such as apps for business, url shortners, image sharing, news, and travel. The site also hopes to be somewhat of a social network, with users having the ability to create profiles of their favorite Twitter apps and services.

You sign into oneforty with your Twitter account, which lets you interact with the site with your Twitter handle. Each listing for an app or service has a detailed description of its features and and includes screenshots, and categories that the app fits into (i.e. business or mobile). You can click the “I use this” to add the app to your profile and you will be listed on the app’s page as a user. The listing also identifies the developer who created the app, features press mentions of the site or app or site and pulls in a stream of Tweets that mentions the app or site. And you can “share” a particular app via Twitter.

Oneforty’s revenue model is fairly basic. If you want to download Tweetie’s iPhone app, oneforty provides an link directly to Apple’s App Store, allowing oneforty to collect an affiliate fee. Of course for the free downloads and sites, such as TwitPic or TweetDeck, oneforty will just direct you to their sites, where you can download or access the application. oneforty is also going to list Twitter-related books and merchandise, with affiliate links to Amazon.co. An interesting bit of trivia—the site’s founder, Laura Filton, wrote the “Twitter for Dummies” book and taught a “”Twitter for Business” class at Harvard Business School. Oneforty was incubated at TechStars and is advised by Guy Kawasaki.

Twitter currently lists applications and also has a wiki-based directory of Twitter-related sites and apps, but it’s layout isn’t easy to navigate. Twitdom also has an application database which includes reviews and ratings but doesn’t seem to have the user interface and marketplace feel of oneforty.

Finton tells me that soon oneforty will become a full fledged e-commerce platform, where developers can sell their apps on the site itself. I think its fairly easy to use and am a fan of its sharing features. If oneforty can pick up a dedicated base of users, it has a chance at becoming the defacto Twitter app store.

The site is in private beta at the moment, but we have

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TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

This Microsoft Windows 7 Launch Video Is, If Possible, Worse Than That Musical One

Either Microsoft’s sense of humor has gotten almost British in its sophistication and dryness, or this is the worst promotional video I’ve ever seen in my life. Yes, worse than their Songsmith video. I’m beginning to think Microsoft’s marketing department really is a thousand monkeys with a thousand high definition cameras. Or are we being punk’d?
TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco