Shop It to Me Gets New Look, Back Engine and Soon Expands to New Categories


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I’ve long been a fan of Shop It to Me, a site that was early to the personalized shopping and promotion wave when it started back in 2004. It was a beautifully simple idea: Email newsletters that let you know when your favorite brands in your size were on sale. After some-six years of quietly building a business, Shop It To Me is finally invested in a new front end, back end and new retail categories. The users will start seeing changes today.

This is a site that execution-wise got everything right, which is why it has out-grown and out-lasted a few dozen companies that have had a near-identical approach. First off, it has great inventory—all the biggest designers and department stores. The site allows you to enter your size info on a brand-by-brand basis, recognizing that we all wear different sizes for different designers. The email newsletters contain all the information you want, you only click through if you have an intent to purchase. That means there’s no bait-and-switch or overly goosed click-through rates for retailers.

You can even set how many times and what day you want to get the newsletters,and set whether you only way to see items that are, say 50% off or more.

A lot of Web sites either don’t solve a big problem (ie, Plurk, Friendfeed in a post-Twitter world) or solve a problem in a far too complex, over-featured way. Shop It to Me fell into neither trap. It sought the simplest solution to solving the tricky problem of apparel discovery that the first generation comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com never came close to solving. It’s comparable to Kayak, only better because Kayak was replacing the pain of going to four or five sites to find the best deal—Shop It To Me replaces the need for going to hundreds of sites.

The site has 3 million subscribers, which puts it the range of peers like DailyCandy, Groupon and others. It has only raised one round of funding and won’t say how much, but this is a lean company with less than 20 employees. It doesn’t hold any inventory or a large salesforce, which is one reason it has been so quiet—the only barriers to entry are size, scale and execution. I read it religiously twice a week and must have bought hundreds of items at huge discounts of the past two years.

But while Groupon and Gilt have been getting loads of press for novel demand generation sites, Shop It To Me has been pretty quiet. Its product has been featured on the Today Show and InStyle but not so much on sites like TechCrunch, where let’s face it, the core audience isn’t exactly teaming with stylish women. That will start to change this week as the company rolls out the first of a series of changes that will take it from an in-the-know tool for stylistas to—it hopes—more of an ecommerce powerhouse ala Zappos. Today, it is launching a more modern and less-femme redesign, within six months a new back end will allow it to make better personal recommendations, and by the end of the year, it will be in at least one more new category—possibly housewares or even travel, says the founder Charlie Graham.

The curation aspect will be tricky. What’s made Shop It To Me so great is that you say exactly what you want and you get it. The problem is too much of a good thing. The site offers up some two billion recommendations over email per month. During the recession the site got more stores on board and more sale inventory and users who loved the service, just didn’t have the time to go through the pretty lengthy emails. People need a five-minute solution, Graham says.

There is a risk here the site veers off track by trying to be something more than it is now. Can the purchases of other women who also like Diane Von Furstenberg dresses and Tori Burch shoes really help inform what other brands I may like best? I’m dubious. But Graham says the site isn’t straying from the approach of individually personalizing each newsletter, and after all, it only makes money when we click or buy, depending on the contract. If the changes don’t result in more purchases, they won’t last. Whether you’ve heard of it before or not, this is a site big enough it has something to lose at this point.

My biggest problem with the site is still unsolved. While Shop It To Me compresses demand generation into an easy, consolidated experience, buying items still require you to go to each individual site, each requiring its own separate checkout process, user names and passwords. That is a huge friction point. It’s a hard problem to solve since most retailers want to own the customer relationship, but Graham assures me they are working on a solution. The ideal would be some sort of one-click “ShopItToMe NOW!” purchase button, ala the Digg or ReTweet buttons. But nothing like that is in the offing anytime soon.


Google’s answer to internal security: Drop Windows, use Mac or Linux instead


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To increase internal security, Google is reportedly in the midst of an effort that would make many IT professionals envious: It’s effectively banning Windows. Instead, the company is directing employees to use Macs or Linux PCs, according to the Financial Times.

Google employees tell the Times that the company started promoting the idea of moving away from the Microsoft operating system in January, following the recent attacks on its Chinese operations. Since then, many workers have migrated from Windows, and new employees are being given the choice of Mac or Linux computers. “Getting a new Windows machine now requires CIO approval,” said one employee.

Windows has long been the bane of  IT workers, thanks to the fact that it’s vulnerable to many types of viruses and malware, and is often targeted by hackers due its large install base. The attack that originated from China used malware that targeted Windows PCs running Internet Explorer 6 — an old version of the web browser that’s particularly vulnerable to hacking. Apple’s Mac OS, and Linux operating systems, are far more secure in comparison to Windows.

When faced with an attack like this, most organizations would normally promote updating Windows computers away from older browsers, and remind employees about the importance of running Windows Update to keep their computer as secure as possible. Google has apparently taken that a step further by moving employees away from Windows altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other organizations follow suit, particularly since most IT professionals would prefer not to deal with the daily headache of Windows problems.

In addition to being a security effort, the move away from Windows would also help the company to promote the use of its own products among employees. Its Chrome OS, for example, would be a worthy competitor to Windows on netbooks and ultra-portable laptops.

When asked for comment about the news, a Google representative told VentureBeat, “We’re always working to improve the efficiency of our business, but we do not comment on specific operational matters.”

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PeerPong Asks for Expert Advice on Twitter


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PeerPong, a new Q&A site with an adorable name, has launched a public beta. The company’s premise is to bring users’ questions to qualified experts given their history that are talking about that topic online — right now, on Twitter. Yes, it’s yet another Q&A company looking to build up page views for its portal, in the vein of Yahoo Answers and competing with startups like Quora and Stack Overflow as well as the pre-launch Facebook Questions product.

PeerPong was incubated by the VC firm Partech International and was originally called Muchobene. CEO Ro Choy, who was formerly chief revenue officer at RockYou, joined this January. The company has raised $2.8 million from DCM, First Round Capital, Charles River Ventures and Partech International.

Out of the more than 100 million Twitter users, only about 3 million of them have demonstrated “real knowledge,” said Choy in a recent interview. That’s according to PeerPong’s “PeerRank,” which uses natural language processing to analyze what you tweet about in order to identify your areas of expertise. So for instance, Choy pointed out an alpha PeerPong user named Ian Manton from the UK who loves technology and has answered about 60 questions about phones and software for the site.

Here’s PeerPong’s own description of how it’s different from other Q&A services — particularly the Google-owned Aardvark, which seems similar but looks to users’ extended social networks and their self-stated interest areas to solicit answers:

PeerPong doesn’t rely on friends of friends or feel-good motivations to deliver a fast answer, or crowd-sourcing to find a “best” answer. Instead, PeerPong looks for the best person for a specific question and empowers and incentivizes knowledgeable people in a variety of ways to encourage them to share their expertise.

PeerPong currently uses its own Twitter accounts to message relevant Twitter users to ask them to respond. It will soon give its questioners those potential answerers’ Twitter handles so they can address messages themselves. These methods could quickly turn spammy for so-called experts who’d rather not be PeerPong users, but we’ll have to see what happens now that the site is public.

Users who register for PeerPong to participate as experts can earn badges and get widgets to solicit questions on their own blogs. And users who ask questions have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions and engage with experts directly.

I’m not sure much of what people talk about on Twitter could qualify them as subject-matter experts, even if PeerPong’s natural language processing is awesome. I mean, does the fact that you tweet about where you eat every night make you a restaurant guru? Maybe. Still, the company might have a good middle ground with people who want to style themselves as experts. They’ll earn on-site reputations points, recognition and perhaps traffic directed back at their own projects — and at some point PeerPong should probably pay them a cut of whatever it’s making.

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Yahoo Expands Yahoo Updates, Tiptoes On Privacy


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Yahoo will soon be changing the way they handle status updates and social aggregation to make it easier for users to follow other people. But the PR fiascoes that have hit both Google (via their Buzz launch) and Facebook (via their most recent privacy changes) aren’t lost on Yahoo – they are taking particular care to explain exactly how changes will affect user privacy right up front, before the changes take effect.

Here’s the product expansion in a nutshell – currently to see status updates for others in Yahoo Mail, you have to have a mutual follow, meaning both people have agreed to be “friends.” You can then see that user’s Yahoo status updates as well as updates on third party services that they have added to their Yahoo profile as well. In the new version there will no longer be a requirement for a mutual follow. So, like on Twitter, users can follow whomever they choose.

This isn’t actually a dramatic change for Yahoo, since users can follow others in this way already on Yahoo Messenger. But Yahoo Senior Director of Project Management Cody Simms tells me that based on data that Yahoo has collected so far, they think they’ll see a massive increase in user adoption.

Yahoo will also suggest that you auto follow some users up front based on an algorithm that looks at your behavior, who your friends’ friends are, etc.

But Yahoo Chief Privacy Officer Anne Toth, who has been with Yahoo since 1998, says that there will be no privacy surprises for users, who can choose to turn sharing on, turn it off, or make more granular settings. One thing users will have to get comfortable with is the fact that most of this data is by definition public anyway. The privacy settings simply allow those users to decide whether others can follow you, and get notifications on new content you’ve created.

It’s not clear to me that users would suddenly revolt based on the changes. AOL implemented a similar product, Lifestream, earlier this year and there wasn’t a peep in the press about privacy. But Yahoo is implementing Updates deeply into the Yahoo Mail inbox, which is what got Google in trouble with Buzz.

One feature Yahoo left out is the ability to see who is following someone, and who you are following, which should ensure additional privacy, says Toth.


Intel debuts new Atom chips for razor-thin netbooks


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Intel is debuting new members of its Atom family of microprocessors today that can be the brains of everything from low-power laptops to razor-thin netbooks.

To show off the new technology at the Computex 2010 trade show in Taiwan, Intel is demonstrating its Atom chips inside a razor-thin “Canoe Lake” platform, which can serve as the electronics for a dual-core netbook that is just 14-millimeters thick (half an inch). With that size, the prototype netbook is the world’s thinnest such device. The thin netbook runs Intel’s “Pine Trail” version of the Atom processors.

Intel makes and sells microprocessors and chip sets that are part of computer platforms, or generic designs for the innards of a machine. Computer makers then take those platforms, customize them, and offer the products for sale. So Intel’s new platforms enable new products across many companies. The Atom family combines computing performance with low power, enabling Intel to get its chips into many low-power devices such as smartphones, netbooks, and tablets.  Intel recently said its latest Atom chips will use 50 times less power during idle operation.

One new customer for Intel’s Atom chips and Linux-based MeeGo operating system software is Chinese car maker HawTai Automobile, which will use the technology in future in-car entertainment systems.

Intel also showed its code-named “Tunnel Creek” Atom processor, which is a system on a chip. That is, it glues together a variety of chips into a single, low-cost chip that can fit in small devices. Tunnel Creek will allow other chip makers to connect their chips to an Intel processor. Intel also has more options that allow any of several operating systems to run on the chips, including MeeGo, Google Android or Chrome, and Windows 7.

Renee James, senior vice president and general manager of software and services at Intel, said that Asus will be the first computer maker to ship a pre-installed version of Intel’s netbook app store, dubbed the Asus AppStore, this fall.

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Loopt Star Keeps It Simple: Check-Ins, Specials, And Facebook


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Back in January, we noted that Loopt was sending around a deck to advertisers showing off a new product. The product was focused on check-in specials (the kind popularized by Foursquare) and was entirely built on top of Facebook’s social graph. Finally, nearly 6 months later, that app is here.

Loopt Star is in some ways a simplified version of Loopt’s regular location-based service. Rather than being a service that is continually updating your location in the background, the focus here is only on the idea of the check-in. And naturally, those check-ins take place at specific venues — some of which Loopt has deals in place with to coincide with the launch of the new app. We’re talking big, national brands such as Gap, Burger King, and Universal Music.

Loopt Star is sort of like a “virtual loyalty card,” is the way co-founder Sam Altman describes it. “As you go about the world and check-in, you get discounts and free stuff,” is the simplified way he puts it.

The way Loopt pitched it to advertisers is interesting. Those guys are familiar with the “cost per impression” model of advertising, so Loopt described this as being a more valuable “cost per visit” model. This is basically the same idea that another location-based service, Whrrl, has been trying to sell to advertisers (pay-per-visit). It’s about “driving foot traffic,” Altman says.

Along with foot traffic in stores, retailers get to brand themselves their way in the app, with their own logos. These can be used to reward Loopt Star users with special achievements — similar to the Foursquare “badge” model.

Loopt Star will launch with four brands Altman says, but the service will add about two a week after that, so the company can put a special system in place to ensure there’s no fraud or gaming of this system. Obviously that’s a concern when these partners are giving away free and discounted goods.

The most interesting aspect to all of this though may be the use of Facebook Connect. Altman says Loopt has used several features from the new Open Graph to build this app. And that the plan is to use Facebook’s social structure for all Loopt products going forward. The new ability for third-parties to cache data was the key to Loopt switching over, Altman says.

While Facebook has clearly been working on its own check-in based solution, Altman expects it to be more of a basic feature, and believes the social network will be more interested in federating check-ins from all the other services already out there. If true, this should help Loopt and its competitors gain even more users.

Loopt Star will be iPhone-only at first, but it will eventually roll out to all the other major mobile platforms.

Update: And below, find a video Robert Scoble took of Altman showing off Loopt Star.


Who Needs Windows? Google Starts Putting Their Computers Where Their Mouth Is


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I’m not sure Google has ever come out and said that they hope the future of computing doesn’t involve Windows. But we all know they’re thinking it. However, while they may think that way, it’s been hard to take that too seriously since most of the computers they do their work on likely run Windows. In the near future though, that may not be the case.

A new report tonight in the Financial Times suggests that Google is steering its employees away from using Microsoft’s dominant operating system in the workplace. In fact, the reports says that, “New hires are now given the option of using Apple’s Mac computers or PCs running the Linux operating system.” And it states that getting a computer running Windows may require permission as high up as Google’s CIO.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of this downplayed by Google over the next few days (the sources are all anonymous employees rather than spokespeople). But I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s entirely true. Google does believe that it was vulnerabilities in Windows that lead to the infamous Chinese hacking incident earlier this year (which subsequently led them to pull out of China). They undoubtedly know that while they may have closed one hole, many others exist, and it’s only a matter of time until another incident happens again.

That is, unless they switch to one of the OSes much less popular with both users and hackers alike (and generally thought to be more secure): OS X and Linux. So that’s apparently what they’re trying to do.

Obviously, they’ll still have Windows machines around to test their services on. But what will be interesting to see is if Google continues their fairly standard PC-first, Mac/Linux-second roll-out strategy for new services (Chrome being one example). Google still needs their products to reach the most amount of eyeballs, and that still means Windows.

Google has been taking aim at Microsoft for years now. Google Docs, Gmail, Chrome, are some of their most obvious shots at Microsoft products. But even Android was originally sort of a way to attack Windows (by way of attacking Windows Mobile, and ensuring Microsoft didn’t maintain a foothold in the mobile space). And then, of course, there’s the upcoming Chrome OS.

Chrome OS will be Google’s most direct attack on Microsoft’s soul yet. It’s an operating system that you can run your computer off of without needing Windows at all. In Google’s mind, this is the future. Everything will be run through the browser, and besides a few locally stored things, everything will be in the cloud. There is no traditional software.

Such a future isn’t feasible for most users yet, but as Macs continue to gain popularity, a move to OS X increasingly is. By embracing OS X (and Linux) for work, Google seems to be leading by example. The message is that the alternative OSes are the preferred hold-overs until the Chrome OS dream can be fully realized.


Globalfoundries expands chip factories as worldwide demand recovers


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Globalfoundries, a major contract chip manufacturer, said today it is increasing its chip factory capacity in Germany and New York as worldwide customer demand recovers. The new expansions could mean hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars more spending, depending on the scale of the investments.

The spending is a reflection of confidence in the overall tech economy, since chips are used in everything electronic and are a bellwether for technology spending. The chip industry is expected to grow 30.6 percent in 2010 to $300.3 billion, up from $229.9 billion in 2009, thanks to a robust recovery, according to market researcher iSuppli.

Globalfoundries, which spun out from Advanced Micro Devices in 2009 with funding from the government of Abu Dhabi, makes chips for AMD as well as other chip design companies. It is creating a series of new projects for its 300-millimeter chip factories to “support expected increases in both near-term and long-term customer demand.” Overall, Globalfoundries — which combined operations with Chartered Semiconductor in January — had $2.75 billion in annual revenue in 2009.

The new investment includes the construction of an additional factory at its Fab 1 site in Dresden, Germany, to add equipment that can make 45-nanometer, 40-nanometer and 28-nanometer chips and increase overall output to 80,000 wafers per month. (A wafer is a basic unit that is processed in a chip factory; once it is finished, it is sliced into individual chips). Fab 1 is already the largest chip factory in Europe, and its new expansion means its manufacturing site will cover eight soccer fields. Output is expected to be ready in 2011, and work is starting immediately. The expansion is still contingent on approval of subsidies from the German government.

Globalfoundries is also expanding the factory under construction at its Fab 8 site in New York to increase capacity for 28-nanometer, 22-nanometer, and 20-nanometer chips and bring overall site output to 60,000 wafers per month. The investments will create hundreds of new jobs in both locations.

Meanwhile, the Advanced Technology Investment Company, which is controlled by Abu Dhabi and is the entity that owns the stake in Globalfoundries, plans to create an advanced technology cluster in Abu Dhabi. The site is next to the Abu Dhabi International Airport and is expected to house advanced technology companies.

“For ATIC, [Globalfoundries] represented the first step in Abu Dhabi’s vision to become a leader in the semiconductor industry,” said Ibrahim Ajami, chief executive of ATIC. “Today we announce the next phase as we take our first steps in establishing a world-class advanced technology cluster over the coming years.”

Globalfoundries’ biggest rival is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which has more than $10 billion in annual revenue.

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With the Arrival of Mobile Dual-core Chips, Wintel Needs to Worry


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snapdragondevices.jpgThe twin assault of ever-so-powerful mobile chips such as the new dual-core Snapdragon from Qualcomm and Google’s Android OS along with the looming specter of tablets (and slow shift away from PCs) mean the decades-old Wintel (Intel+Microsoft) duopoly is facing its worst crisis yet.

One of the reasons is that mobile chip makers are starting to churn out chips that are arguably as powerful as some low-end computer chips, which will give today’s smartphones and a growing number of tablets a steroid-like boost. Qualcomm, one of the largest mobile chip makers, today announced its first dual-CPU chipsets with cores running at clock speeds of up to 1.5 GHz. This would be the third generation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon products. While the first generation was running at 1 GHz, the second-generation chipsets had up to 1.3 GHz and multimedia extensions. The newest line-up will have dual CPU cores running enhanced cores at speeds of 1.2 GHz and 1.5 GHz.

The San Diego-based chip maker is well known for its Snapdragon line of mobile chipsets, which now power devices such as HTC Incredible and Google’s Nexus One phone. Snapdragon chipsets are also being targeted at smartbooks (low-power netbooks that don’t use Windows OS) and tablets. Qualcomm says nearly 140 devices are using Snapdragon chipsets, including Acer’s Liquid and neoTouch smartphones, Dell’s Streak 5-inch Android tablet, Huawei’s S7 tablet and Lenovo’s LePhone smartphone.

These new chips can handle HSPA+ speeds and include a GPU that has 3D/2D acceleration engines for Open GLES 2.0 and Open VG 1.1 acceleration, 1080p video encode/decode, a dedicated low-power audio engine, integrated low-power GPS and support for 24-bit WXGA 1280×800 resolution displays. Now those are capabilities you’d normally associate with a low-cost laptop. In other words, these chips are not only going to give tablets (hopefully Android-powered) a big boost, they are going to make our superphones even more nimble and nifty.

A few weeks ago I argued that ARM-based chips were going to be a big problem for Intel, which till recently has ruled the chip world with impunity because of its domination of the PC industry. Qualcomm’s new chips are only adding fuel to that fire. Intel, which recently introduced dual-core Atom processors, faces the inevitable: industry choices in a low-margin, high-volume business, something which is alien to its corporate DNA.

At Computex in Taipei, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said that while a lot of people are developing tablets with Windows, he believes that Android is going to run away with the tablet and smartbook opportunities. And he’s betting many will use his Tegra 2 chips.

Windows is too big and it’s too full featured for smartbooks and tablets. “The good news is that we finally have an operating system to unite behind. Android is an operating system that has gained a tremendous amount of momentum all over the world. Andy Rubin and his team [at Google] know exactly where the industry needs to go. Android started out as a phone but it’s not lost on them that the tablet is going to be very important and that the Android operating system has to evolve, and be enhanced in certain capabilities, in order to be a good tablet operating system.

I certainly agree as I’ve argued for Google to throw its considerable weight behind Android and forget about Chrome OS. And just as Intel needs to worry about these low-cost, increasingly powerful dual-core mobile chipsets, Microsoft needs to take Huang’s comments very seriously. With tablets expected to be priced at budget prices, it would be hard for tablet makers to work with Microsoft’s model, which involves paying for an operating system. On the flip side, you have Google, happy to share a portion of its revenues derived from search-based advertising.

Well, let’s just sit back and enjoy what comes next!

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Panama Creates a Vocal Community


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panamalogo.pngPanama provides a way to leave and receive free voice messages. Users can send the voice messages person-to-person with a voice app, post them on a public microblogging format or even post their Panama messages to other services such as Facebook and Twitter.

The founder of Panama, David Hayden, was also the founder of the search engine company Magellan, which missed its IPO window and sold out to Excite. He then founded e-mail outsourcing company Critical Path “and when Critical Path stock tanked, his bankers sued him for tens of millions in loans,” according to Mixergy. After that his deposit was seized on the headquarters of his next company, a social search engine called Jeteye.

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“Panama’s ambition is to host world’s conversations,” Hayden said. Most voice over the Internet is synchronous and the majority of text is asynchronous. That is, most voice is happening in real time via VOIP. Most text is either read and then commented on or text messages are exchanged. Why can’t the sterility of the Internet be humanized by adding asynchrony to the mix?Pana.ma%20-%20Pana.ma

Some might say it is because voice isn’t scannable. You can’t take a quick look and decide whether you’ll listen or not. It’s zero sum with asynchronous voice. You either listen or you don’t. As overwhelmed as we are said to have gotten, and with podcasts arguably having declined as a result, is anyone going to really take more time and more opacity as a positive?

Panama’s answer to that is the barrier to a call is the threat of getting drawn in, which would in fact take up more time. By users sending voice messages when they can and recipients listening when they can, they might actually save time and add a bit of humanity to the process.

Discuss


Keeping up with Intel, Qualcomm ships its first dual-core Snapdragon chips


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Intel is applying pressure to cellphone chip makers as it barges into the market with its Atom microprocessors. In response, Qualcomm is announcing today it has created its first dual-core Snapdragon chip set for smartphones.

Announced at the Computex 2010 trade show in Taiwan, the third generation Snapdragon chip sets have two application processor cores running at up to 1.2 gigahertz. The names for the new chip sets are the Mobile Station Modem MSM8260 and the MSM8660. They’re targeted at high-end smartphones, tablets and smartbooks, which are hybrids of phones and laptops. Smartbooks have displays ranging from 7-inches diagonal to 15 inches.  One of the first announced earlier this year was Lenovo’s Skylight, pictured below.

These devices include a graphics core capable of running OPEN GL ES 2.0 graphics as well has high-definition 1080p video. At the same time, they don’t use a ton of power, so they can be built into small devices with long battery lives. These chips will go head to head with rival chips from Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, Marvell and Texas Instruments. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon chip sets are being used in more than 140 different device designs that have either already launched or are currently under design.

Among the devices using Snapdragon chip sets are Acer’s Liquid and neoTouch smartphones, Dell’s Streak 5 Android tablet (pictured), HP’s Compaq Airlife 100 smartbook, HTC’s Droid Incredible and Nexus One smartphones, Huawei’s S7 tablet, and Lenovo’s LePhone smartphone.

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Should I Stay.com or Should I Go? Social Travel 2.0


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stay logo.pngAfter months of work, social trip planner Stay.com is getting ready to unshutter and launch a much more robust Version 2.0.

“Basically, we created 2.0 by filling in all the blanks other sites like Expedia, TripIt, TripAdvisor, NileGuide, and all the others left undone,” said Phil Butler, PR rep for the company.

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When Stay.com first launched, it featured a very limited roster of cities. When Stay.com 2.0 launches on June 15th, it will do so with 50 cities instead of a handful and with the same assisted-DIY, social travel focus.

Stay.com 2.0 will offer templates and travel information from previous users, as well as the ability to add your own research in order to build a guide to a place. Each added element, called an “object” can be pulled into others’ guides or itineraries, which they call “stays.” Social web elements create communication across boundaries between travelers, turning it from a source to a platform. Traditional and necessary elements of travel sites, like booking assistance and reservations are also provided.

Social media elements are not rare in travel sites and Stay.com is not battling in a wide-open arena. Dopplr, TripSay, TripWiser and Nextstop are all heavily focused on online social contributions.

Turning each entry, photo and other piece of information into an “object” that can be re-purposed by a traveler for each new “stay,” makes it intriguing. So does the ability to draw from standard design and presentation elements, giving it a professional look. If, as they promise, the drive for full mobility is achieved, that will help as well. But because each new guide adds to the overall utility of the site, the development and sustainability of a community is likely to be key to Stay.com’s success.

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Judiciary Committee Still Has Questions for Facebook


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facebook_logo_feb09.pngDespite the rollback on some of Facebook’s heavily-debated privacy changes, the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary still has questions for Facebook’s CEO. On Friday, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) sent Mark Zuckerberg a letter requesting additional information on Facebook’s privacy activities.

“(W)e would appreciate a detailed explanation of the information about Facebook users that your company has provided to third parties without the knowledge of the account holders — particularly in circumstances in which the user did not expressly opt for this type of information sharing.”

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Conyers goes on to say:

“Please explain your prior policies with respect to user consent for information sharing, and with whom any information was shared. Also, please detail how the new policies Facebook is adopting differ from past practices, including whether the burden is on the user to opt in or opt out of the relevant privacy settings.”

The blog Inside Facebook interprets the Judiciary Committee’s interest like this.

“The first sentence of the excerpt, above, appears to be about the nature of how Instant Personalization works, along with an allusion to the more general changes that Facebook made to General Information in recent months.

The second sentence appears to be about those general changes.

The final sentence appears to ask if the new changes impact Instant Personalization’s opt-out setting.”

Because of its popularity and its sweeping changes to a default public status for all users, Facebook has definitely assumed center focus in the discussion on online privacy. But other issues, like use of private information in online advertising, has also assumed importance enough to attract the attention of the Congress.

If nothing else, the continued interest in Facebook by the U.S. government indicates that regardless of users’ feelings, Congress isn’t done with it yet.

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Synaptics sensors to prevent accidental touchpad swipes


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Synaptics is announcing today that it has created new touchpad improvements that will make life easier for frustrated laptop users.

The company’s newest laptop touchpads include SmartSense chips, which are smart enough to reject accidental palm touches on the pad. The latter problem is a huge pain when you’re typing because, as I have experienced many times, it’s quite easy to accidentally touch the pad, highlight text, and delete it by accident. They new touchpads can also detect up to four fingers touching a pad at the same time, enabling new kinds of gestures. The technology will show up in new, more accurate laptops in the coming months. That’s important, as laptops have to compete against other new gadgets such as smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Some folks may consider touchpads to be old technology. But Synaptics is showing there is still room for improvement. And Synaptics’ user interface expert Andrew Hsu recently posted that there is considerable room for improvement in human-machine interface technology.

At the Computex 2010 trade show this week in Taiwan, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is showing off its PC TouchPad-IS family of products, which use new image sensor chips, including SmartSense.

Synaptics’ new ClickEQ technology also makes it easier for users to press the touchpad as if they were pressing a button, eliminating the need for the mechanical buttons that are on every touchpad-enabled laptop today.

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Massive iPhone Security Issue Could Endanger Enterprise Adoption


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iPhone security passcodeContent stored on an iPhone 3GS with passcode protection can be accessed without the passcode simply by attaching the device to a computer running the latest version of Ubuntu or a Windows or OSX system running off the shelf software such as iPhone Explorer. This flaw was discovered by Bernd Marienfeld, an information security professional and blogger, last week. Recently, the enterprise has seen a steep increase in the adoption of the iPhone and iPad. But Apple will need to aggressively address security concerns such as these in order to gain and hold market share.

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Typically, an iPhone attached to a Windows, OSX, or pre-10.04 Ubuntu system grants access to the DCIM folder only. However, by connecting a powered-off iPhone to a computer running Ubuntu 10.04 (“Lucid Lynx”) and powering the iPhone back on, Marienfeldt was able to gain read-write access to the complete contents of four different non-jailbroken iPhone 3GS phones. Each phone ran a different version of the iPhone operating system, had passcode-protection enabled immediately, and had never been connected to a PC before.

Marienfeldt could access photos, videos, audio, and the Google safe-browsing database, all without leaving any evidence that he had accessed the phone at all. He points out that write-access could also make the phones vulnerable to a buffer overflow attack.

Browsing iPhone contents in Ubuntu

The vulnerability is not a flaw in Ubuntu, but a problem with the way the iPhone handles authentication when attached to a computer. The tech blog Sukimashita reported Windows or OSX systems using applications such as iPhone Explorer could also access protected iPhone 3GS data if the device was powered off when first attached.

According to Marienfeldt, Apple has reproduced the issue but has not issued a statement as to when the vulnerability will be patched.

As we have reported, security experts criticize Apple’s lack of emphasis on security for its mobile devices. Yet 4 of 10 iPhones are sold to enterprise users. Corporate users likely expect their data to be secure and encrypted. According to Apple’s own iPhone in Business Security Overview document:

iPhone can securely access corporate services and protect data on the device. It provides strong encryption for data in transmission, proven authentication methods for access to corporate services, and for iPhone 3GS, hardware encryption for all data stored on the device. iPhone also provides secure protection through the use of passcode policies that can be enforced and delivered over-the-air.

Trust Digital, which was acquired by McAfee last week, offers a third-party security solution for iPhone OS, Android, Web OS, Windows Mobile, and Symbian mobile operating systems.

iPhone passcode image via Apple; Ubuntu screenshot via Bernd Marienfeld.

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Quit Facebook Day flops as only 1 in 15,000 pledge to quit


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An attempt to stage a mass defection from Facebook today has fizzled. For every Facebook user who pledged to delete their account as part of today’s Quit Facebook Day campaign, there are more than 15,000 other Facebook members who didn’t, using Facebook’s recent estimate of 500 million active accounts.

If Facebook signups were to run at their usual pace today — probably not, based on today’s slow holiday traffic on the Internet — for every user who threatened to quit, there would be four or five new signups. Facebook averages 150,000 new members per day, the company has claimed. Quit Facebook Day signed up only 32,522 pledges, and it’s not likely that all of them actually quit.

Facebook certainly has a public relations problem over its constant tinkering with privacy-related settings for members’ personal content. But several attempts to jump-start a boycott seem to have conspicuously failed.

Who has actually quit? I searched Facebook for Internet fameballs who had recently claimed they would delete their accounts. One problem for these walkaway users is that if they’re Internet-famous enough to have a “public figure” page on Facebook, that page still turns up in a search. It’s probably not clear to average users that they’ve left Facebook.

  • Peter Rojas, gadget blogger: Gone. His account is no longer active. You won’t find it in a search of the site. “Users should have real control over what is shared, that’s all,” Rojas wrote on Twitter. “FB keeps taking that away.”
  • Leo Laporte, personal technology journalist: His account is, according to an assistant, an impostor.
  • Dan Gillmor, journalist who deleted his account over privacy issues in 2009: He never really left. Gillmor deleted his account, but he immediately started another one, being more careful about personal information the second time around.
  • Jason Calacanis, entrepreneur: Personal account gone. His public figure page at facebook.com/jasoncalacanis is still live, but has no updates since May 21 when Calacanis wrote, “I picked a good day to delete my Facebook page.”
  • Matt Cutts, Google anti-cheating expert: Personal account gone. His public figure page is still there, but has no updates since May 14, when Cutts wrote about the upcoming Google I/O technical conference.

TechCrunch claimed in April that Google engineers were leaving “in droves.” Given the high-level business competition between Google and Facebook, it seemed like a trivial protest compared to, say, Apple’s company-wide refusal to admit the existence of Adobe Flash. Besides, exactly how many Google engineers are there in a drove? The Googlers haven’t provided a list.

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Survey: More Than 80% of Businesses Support the iPad


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ipad_chart_0531.pngIn a new survey (which is still accepting responses for the rest of today) Citrix is asking its IT customers to characterize their support for iPad in their businesses. Currently, over 80% of respondents expect to purchase the iPad for their company. Even more respondents are saying they will support personal iPads for their employees.

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Survey Results

The Citrix team has shared an overview of the preliminary results.

  • While 84% of organizations will support personal iPads, 50% expect their organization to purchase the device for them.
  • 80% will purchase and use the iPad for business.
  • The high level of adoption of the mobile device illustrates the confidence IT has that they can provide secure, safe access to company data and virtual desktops.
  • Support, according to respondents, for the use of personal iPads for work will open the door for more Bring Your Own Computer programs
  • The largest perceived benefits include the mobility to work remotely without interruption, greatly improving productivity for even the most remote workers.

Considerations

Realizing that the audience being surveyed is more likely to be interested in iPad due to self selection, it is still interesting the high level of support within business for the new device.

Here are a few additional thoughts about iPad’s momentum in the enteprise.

  • Cost is a factor of volume. One of the big surprises of the iPad launch was the price offered by Apple for the device. For the functionality offered (especially as it gets closer to parity), it’s a revolution in IT budgeting to consider this low-cost option for a hardware solution. The big win for Apple in the enterprise is going to be made on volume. If the company is successful, as it seems it will be, in continuing to have a “low SKU” approach to the market, it will continue to gain advantage through volume alone.
  • “Bring your own computer.” In a way, this phenomenon is a big change. If Apple makes it acceptable, “Bring your own phone” may be close behind. This may break the logjam we see now where enterprises hand out corporate phones, yet consumers buy their own and carry them with them in the office (and then negotiate with IT for access to apps, for example).
  • Mobility as the killer enterprise app. The iPad with 3G has an unlimited data plan option that may be too good to pass up for IT managers who want to deploy mobile solutions or support the mobile workforce.
  • iTunes for corporate assets. The opportunity to deliver corporate content as subscriptions, podcasts, and video libraries could be a new wrapper on corporate assets. The ability to easily catalog resources is one thing that big intranets and internal corporate networks have been challenged with in the past. Perhaps the structure of a library approach will also target enterprise employees and reduce the friction in content distribution.

It’s amazing to see the growth of momentum for iPad in business computing. This survey suggests the dynamics of iPad seem to be trending in Apple’s favor. It’s still a long way off before we see it create a large dent in enterprise laptop or desktop sales, but this movement is creating a new set of opportunities – and problems – in the enterprise.

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5 Basic Things to Consider Before Moving Your Startup to the Cloud


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cloudsky_may10.jpgAlthough by no means a new technology, cloud computing retains the buzz as one of the latest innovative – and potentially transformative – elements of the industry. But there remains quite a bit of confusion about what exactly is meant by cloud computing, often making the question of whether or not your startup should be in the cloud difficult to answer.

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Should you move (or launch) your startup into the cloud? Proponents of cloud computing will likely tell you unequivocally “yes.” more entrenched IT forces may respond with an unequivocal “no.”

Cloud Computing: Quick Definitions

There are three main categories of cloud computing.

Software as a Service (Saas): the most common use of the cloud, SaaS is also known as “software on demand.” rather than downloading and running software locally, customers access the software via the Internet.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): As the name suggests, PaaS involves the delivery of a computer platform, with the ability to develop and deploy websites and services via the Internet.

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): IaaS provides all the basic computing building blocks, but is the most complex choice. This does allow you build your platform and your services.

Five Things to Consider Before Moving to the Cloud

1. Your Needs: Just as you would have to assess your computing needs out of the cloud, moving to the cloud requires some planning. Do you need a provider that offers a lot of flexibility? What are your performance and availability expectations? Will you need additional support and services?

2. Your Budget Although you will save money by avoiding hardware investment, hosting for the cloud is not necessarily cheaper. As the cloud treats computing like a utility, you are billed as such: depending on your usage.

3. Scalability and Flexibility Although cloud computing makes scaling easier, the ability to launch new, larger servers (or shrink to smaller instances)

4. Security Security may be one of the main arguments naysayers make against the cloud, with fears that co-location in the cloud is more of a threat than co-located hardware in the server room.

5. Backup Nothing is foolproof, and simply because you’re in the cloud does not mean you should forgo backups.

Despite the promise that cloud computing holds, you shouldn’t go into the decision naively (just as, hopefully, you wouldn’t make the same decision to buy a bunch of hardware without thorough research).

Alex Iskold, founder and CEO of GetGlue and contributing writer here at rww has a good slideshare on his experiences with the cloud.

For ongoing and more in-depth cloud coverage, check out ReadWriteWeb’s cloud computing channel, ReadWriteCloud.

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Investors, Entrepreneurs Discuss NYC’s Rapidly Growing Seed Funding Community


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Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, some of New York City’s most notable investors and entrepreneurs took the stage to talk about New York City’s seed funding situation. The title of Startup Mecca still clearly belongs to Silicon Valley, but as panel moderator Erick Schonfeld noted, the number of startups making their way to the Big Apple is on the rise and dealflow in New York is quickly heating up.

The conversation touched on quite a few subjects, including what kind of companies tend to do best in New York. Betaworks CEO John Borthwick posited that many of the startups doing well in NYC — Tumblr for example — tend to focus largely on the UI and user experience. He says that many of the web’s building blocks (AWS, etc) are already in place, and many of the services that will do well are building off of those.

Blip.tv CEO Mike Hudack agreed with this, saying that we no longer have to classify all web companies as “technology companies”. Rather, they can be media companies leveraging online content. Jalak Jobanputra, SVP at the New York City Investment Fund, says that while a lot of the infrastructure has been built, there is still much work to do in mobile. She also noted that many people were coming out of Wall Street to start their own ventures.

Chris Dixon, who has blogged extensively on raising money and other topics, says he doesn’t like to think about investing in terms of NY vs Silicon Valley (though he does wish there were more startups instead of lawyers in NYC). Rather, he wants to bring an SV-like ecosystem to New York. He also said that the notion that finding real estate in NYC was an issue was a red herring (Hudack added that if you can’t handle the real estate, you shouldn’t be doing a startup).

Regarding the trend of taking seeding funding from large VCs, most of the panelists seemed to think that it was a bad idea, namely because it could lead to issues down the road if your VC does not decide to follow on.

For more, check out my live notes below and the video of the talk.

Watch live streaming video from disrupt at livestream.com

Here are my notes from the talk:
John Borthwick, CEO, betaworks

Chris Dixon, CEO, Hunch & Angel Investor

Mike Hudack, Co-founder & CEO, Blip.tv

Jalak Jobanputra, SVP, New York City Investment Fund

Erick – Percentage of companies we’ve covered that were from NY increased in the last 18 months.

JB: Betaworks is a holding company. We’re not a fund. We biuld stuff and we invest. Everything we’re doing is focused on the social, realtime web. This concept that there’s an emerging connected set of companies — we view it as a loosely coupled network of companies. We think a lot of the groundwork has been lain – AWS, etc. We think lightweight apps — they can  be huge — where a lot of the emphasis is on front end, UI, initial experience. A lot related to media business, advertising business and the like.

Why in New York?

CD: I think if you look at the 90′s, the big heavy companies were actually in Boston.

JB – We learn so much from the west coast.

MH- To the point about building blocks being bulit… A lot of businesses that are interesting are media, publishing, and communications.You don’t need to think of every company as web as technology company. Blip doesn’t think of itself as a tech company, it’ s a media company.

JJ-I think that with mobile, there is still a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built. I do think New York’s hard technology scene is still growing.

Erick: What about recruiting, office space in NYC? What are the things you need to know about balding a startup in NYC?

CD — I think the real estate thing is a red herring. Basically all these expenses are salaries for smart people. I think NY is similar to Silicon Valley in that almost nobody working there actually came from there. We recruit a lot of people MIT, CMU, Penn.

MH- Real estate is relatively easy. We found our first office on Craigslist.

JB – We went to a startup that had taken a space that was bigger than their existing capcaity and just rented some desks. If you can’t sort out real estate you shouldn’t be entrepreneur.

JB – We’ve been inspirred by West coast investors who understand value of syndicates. The value of of bringing in great investors, people who will help you at different times, different stages.

Erick – Is seed funding really challenging venture model?
CD – I think venture firms freaked out back in the 90s. Yale/Harvard was really succesful, and then everyone copied it, and there were a ton of bad funds. People really dont need that much money. These days we have more educated entrepreneur. They think about net dilution over time. There’s tons of issues with taking early money from big VCs. Biggest is that if they dont follow on you’re basically toast. Because if Sequoia gave you 500k, and they aren’t involved later, people wonder what’s going on — it’s the same signal is if I just got fired and want to find a new job, people are wondering what went wrong.

MH- I wouldn’t take that money.. Similar issues if you take a strategic investment and then aren’t acquired. People are asking what your strategic is doing.

Let’s talk about what each of you guys are doing .

JJ- I’m with the NYC investment fund. About a third of what we do is venture. I joined two years ago. We’ve set up our seed fund in response there being a dearth of seed money. We’d looking to help seed the entire ecosystem.

CD- The Founder Collective is a $40ish million seed venture fund. There’s about $15 million from entreneurs in the local area. Our thesis is that we’d rather have entrepreneurs betting on entrepreneurs rather than bankers. The advantage is that they can probably see the value better.

JB – Our model is a little different. We aren’t a fund, we’re a holding company. From investment standpoint, what we’re looking at has to be in beta — we want something we can look and feel and touch. I don’t like the abstraction of ideas, I like the real product. We love to see data, even if it’s from 50 users.

What about the second, third tier areas? Say, Pittsburg with CMU. Do you invest in any startups in those cities?

CD- Thing is, you need the critical mass.

MH- When we started Blip people had the same complaint about NYC. They said we had to move to Sf. That was only a few years ago. I dont see any reason why can’t happen in any of these cities. but it does take time.

JJ- I’m seeing a lot of entrepreneurs from secondary cities who actually are thinking of moving to NY, which does have critical mass.

JB – There’s a lot of great stuff happening in NY. Great stuff in London, Asia, and even out in the Middle East. What is happening is the wave of innovation from the first 10/15 years of Internet, which is washing through the rest of the world.

What do you think about if a VC will follow-on if they do participate in a seed round?

CD – I’ve sat in VC meetings, listened to the LPs. We’re doing this to get options.

MH-With the amount of money sunk in a seed round, your company is an option, but it isn’t a major sunk cost. They can drop you.

CD- That said, if Fred Wilson does a lot of diligence and invests 500k i think he will want to follow on. It’s the VC who meets an entrepreneur for 5 min and gives 20k — that’s bad.

Erick – If you have a first time entrepreneur, what are you looking for?
JB- At the end of the day, a lot comes down to the individual’s passion for what they’re building. Their belief in it, and understanding of the product and market. There’s a difference between someone who has had and is solving problem vs someone who comes top down, decides to look for a problem based on marketsize without having had it themselves.


Microsoft gets back into the store business to take on Apple


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Microsoft is planning to open its own store in the Seattle area as it seeks to compete with Apple in the company-owned tech store business.

TechFlash reported that Microsoft plans to open a store at the Bellevue Square mall, according to building permits filed with the suburban city near Seattle. Apple’s own store at the Bellevue Square location will be moving to a larger venue.

Microsoft has four other locations in Mission Viejo, Calif., Scottsdale, Ariz., and upcoming stores in Denver and San Diego. It once had a store in Sony’s Metreon mall in San Francisco, but it closed that store some time ago.

The strategy has certainly worked for Apple, which has 287 stores open. Those stores create an upscale image for the Apple brand and help it capture more profit margin on every product sold, since it doesn’t have to share profit with an external retailer.

Microsoft would be wise to redouble its efforts to compete with Apple, since Apple has now surpassed Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company.

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