“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” said Arthur C. Clarke. And that’s what Siri, a new virtual personal assistant that’s finally going live in the App Store after some sneak peeks last year, is going for. At the least it will be an excellent party trick.
The Siri app (only recommended for the iPhone 3GS, as it’s rather intensive) connects your natural speech queries to web services APIs to complete complex planning tasks. It understands things like where you are, what accounts you have on various services and the context of the last question you asked. So you can do things like make a restaurant reservation (using OpenTable) then buy tickets and pick available seats for a nearby performance (using StubHub). All you have to do is tell the app what you want and it will process your speech (using Nuance).
This is just the first public release of Siri, and you’re bound to encounter more stalls, crashes and unanswered queries than you’d hope from true Clarke-style tech magic. “This is the earliest possible time we thought it would be useful — not perfect, but useful,” said Co-Founder and CEO Dag Kittlaus in a recent interview.
Siri comes out of SRI’S $150 CALO Project on artificial intelligence, and has raised $24 million in funding from Morgenthaler Ventures, Menlo Ventures and Horizons Ventures. It currently has affiliate and referral relationships with about 20 services. Siri caches what it can through data dumps, but makes real-time web service calls. It’s not as fast as a search, and it won’t help you with the long tail, but it can do quite a few tasks that would take way too much time and hassle in a mobile browser.
“Mobile is chapter one,” said Kittlaus. “If you think about how we interact, you could make a web site, check in through email, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, IM your buddy Siri…”
Check out the video demo below, which features the somewhat awkward query “I’d like a romantic place for Italian food near my office.”
Capitol Hill is abuzz as Comcast and NBC Universal defend their merger in an antitrust investigation before the Senate Judiciary Committee. While a number of interest groups are commenting on the potential acquisition, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen's blog post offers some hints at how the merger could affect the environment for web TV startups.
In response, Boxee CEO Ronen writes, "Boxee uses a web browser to access Hulu's content - just like Firefox or Internet Explorer. Boxee users click on a link to Hulu's website and the video within that page plays. We don't "take" the video... There are now close to a million people using Boxee. When they watch shows from Hulu they are watching the ads and generate real revenues to NBC."
Avner then points to his plans for a payment program suggesting that Boxee users might be willing to pay Hulu for subscription content. While this sort of deal might prove lucrative for Boxee, the merger itself may create an extremely restrictive environment for those startups looking to break into the web tv and social tv space. If Boxee is considered "illegal" then what other access will be denied?
With NBC Universal representing a large portion of entertainment content and Comcast controlling the flow of that content to tv and the Web, what innovations might be pummeled in the wake of a merger?
Bowman's knowledge of intellectual property law and startups comes from her 8 years of experience at both Silicon Valley-based firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and IP firm Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione in Chicago. She resides now in Austin, Texas, one of the nation's top booming startup cities, where she currently owns her own law practice.
While other blogs focus on general legal tips, Bowman's new blog will be a deep dive into the nitty gritty of intellectual property law - a subject Bowman says is one of the most dangerous for startups.
"If your most valuable assets are based on intellectual capital - like most software and technology companies -mapping the IP law landscape is critical for your success," writes Bowman on her blog.
Jason Mendelson, Foundry Group co-founder and a former college classmate of Bowman's, says that Bowman promises to spill the beans on some of the worst IP disasters, as well as "expose how some big firms are ripping off their clients." Keep an eye out for some interesting posts and for now, read Bowman's debut post on Ten Great Reasons to Learn about IP Law, or for a crash course, download her free 28-page Ebook of frequently asked IP law questions.
As more of the business world flattens with the expansion of online services, social networking is increasingly becoming a critical factor to success in many industries. Whether you're for a small businesses selling art at a craft fair or a Fortune 500 company trading on the stock exchange, social networking has the power to expand your brand among both your audience and fellow business owners. For the latter, entrepreneurs can take advantage of specialized social networks to meet, communicate share and partner with others.
LinkedIn, an obvious choice, is the de facto business social network cementing its position as the top social network for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses with over 50 million users as of October 2009. The widespread popularity of LinkedIn has turned the site into an excellent business directory and job board while making membership in the site as much of a professional necessity as a resume or portfolio. It wouldn't be surprising to see a site LinkedIn become a complete replacement for resumes in the near future.
Ringer's number 3 spot goes to PartnerUp, which aims to do for small businesses and budding entrepreneurs what MeettheBoss does for executives by providing the opportunity for networking, collaboration and sharing. We recently told How to Avoid Mediocre Co-Founders and PartnerUp seems to be a excellent additional resource for finding your A team.
For the experienced entrepreneur, MeettheBoss narrows the business social network focus to the management level, providing a portal for executives and higher-ups to meet and communicate. With their unique tools for tracking your interests and activty and slick professional user interface, MeettheBoss is a great place for co-founders and CEOs to meet fellow senior managers to network and share information. The site also goes beyond social networking by providing an impressive set of features including exclusive articles and videos.
Some other great networks for connecting with entrepreneurs include StartupNation, BizNik and Entrepreneur Connect. Some interesting inclusions on Ringer's list included Qapacity, a network accompanying a website creating tool, and Ning, a site for creating and joining personalized social networks. Have some under-the-radar selections for great places for entrepreneurs to get together? Let us know in the comments.
This morning Canadian startup accelerator Bootup Labs showcased some of its program graduates at Plug and Play Center's Sunnyvale location. While a number of the companies show promise, it was a gaming product that caught our attention. DimeRocker is offering developers a chance to elevate the level of gaming experiences and monetization on sites like Facebook, Myspace and Bebo.
Unbeknownst to many, world class gaming companies like EA Sports, Relic and Propaganda Games call Vancouver their home. With great industry connections and a firm grasp of the technology behind the games themselves, DimeRocker CEO J. Joly is set to bridge the gap between traditional games and the social space. Joly explains that while game developers know how to build fantastic gaming experiences, it's rare that they understand how to market and deploy their games across more casual high-traffic sites.
DimeRocker offers developers a centralized self-publishing platform with a suite of APIs built on top of the Unity game development engine. The site offers turn-key social publishing, leader boards and achievement tracking and will soon offer APIs for virtual goods, dual currency and in-game advertising.
Says Joly, "In addition to positioning ourselves as a solution for indy game developers, we've also seen an interest from larger companies who are looking to deploy light versions of their popular titles for the social web."
If you've ever doubted the sophistication of MySpace and Facebook as game development platforms, you may be surprised by what DimeRocker will help make happen in the coming weeks. To check out the company visit dimerocker.com.
In many cases it's worse to have your investor back out on a term sheet then it is to never be offered one. Before popping the champagne bottles and celebrating what looks like an offer, it's best to remember that VC term sheets are not legally binding. While it's certainly a feat to be offered one, angel investor and Hunch cofounder Chris Dixon wrote a great piece reminding startup entrepreneurs what can happen if your potential investor changes his or her mind.
In a recent blog post Dixon explains the unfortunate circumstance of one of his portfolio companies. Says Dixon, "Yesterday, one of the 40 or so startups I've invested in (either personally or through Founder Collective had a well-known VC back out of a term sheet for no particular reason besides that they decided they no longer liked the business concept. It's the first time I've seen this happen in my career."
Dixon explains that generally VCs only do this in extreme cases of fraud or upon finding that founders have criminal backgrounds. Because of this, any rescinded term sheet can be devastating for startup companies.
As is the case with startup CEOs, word travels fast on Sand Hill Road. In a recent presentation I watched as one founder revealed his funding from several well-established angel investors. Those in the room perked up as soon as they realized that major players were already involved in the company. The same logic can be attributed to the loss of a term sheet.
When one firm backs out of an offer, others who may have been interested will look at you under extreme scrutiny. Although Dixon's case appears to be an anomaly, it's important to remember that as an entrepreneur you should remain ever-diligent and avoid over-promising returns and results.
New office, same job. After just 10 months as president and CEO of Activision Blizzard's Guitar Hero division, former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig is packing up shop and relocating to online textbook rental startup Chegg where he will hold the same title. Chegg claims to have saved students over $140 million on textbooks by offering their "Netflix style" rent by mail service.
Chegg has quickly grown to become one of the leading online textbook rental company, along with competitor BookRenter.com. According to an article in the New York Times, the company claims to have rented over 2 million books on 6,400 college campuses, and just last November, the company closed over $100 million in debt and series D funding.
In an interview with the Times yesterday, Rosensweig said Chegg has an excellent business model and that the company "did as much business in January 2010 as in all of 2009." Chegg expressed their excitement to see Rosensweig join the the team yesterday on their blog.
"We've been growing at an exceptional rate, so we needed a world class leader that has the business experience and passion for the consumer to take us to the next phase," the company writes. "Dan is definitely that person."
Disclosure: ReadWriteWeb is a syndication partner of the New York Times.