Bessemer raises $1.6B fund — enough to own 3% of Facebook


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Bessemer Venture Partners has raised a $1.6 billion fund, according to the New York Times. That’s a hefty amount that puts the venture fund in the big leagues alongside other premier VCs.

But to put that in perspective, that amount is only enough to buy a 3.2 percent stake in Facebook at its last known valuation of $50 billion. Luckily for the Larchmont, N.Y.-based fund, its strategy is to avoid the big deals in overheated sectors. Instead, the company plans to put its money in early-stage companies around the world. Rob Chandra, a partner at Bessemer, told the New York Times that the fund invests in “road-map” areas before they become really hot, not markets that are already crowded.

About a quarter of the money is intended for companies based in India. Bessemer added several new limited partners with the new fund, including large endowments and corporations. Others that have moved into the billion-dollar fund game include late-stage investors Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. Others include Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Accel Partners. Accel closed a $1.3 billion fund today with its Chinese partner, International Data Group (IDG).

Bessemer is about 100 years old and is one of the oldest funds in the country. It is an offshoot of Bessemer Securities, created by steel tycoon Henry Phipps, a co-founder of Carnegie Steel. One of its investments, the LinkedIn business social network, is poised to go public soon.

Since 2000, Bessemer has made investments in emerging markets such as India, Israel, Latin America and Europe. Bessemer’s office in Mumbai, India, now almost as many people as its sizable office in Menlo Park, Calif., in the midst of Silicon Valley. The fund has made 31 investments in India, including Shriram EPC, an engineering services company that has grown to $400 million in revenues.

[image credit: cpcml.ca]

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The iPad Turns One: My Top 10 iPad Apps Over the Past Year


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On April 3, 2010, Apple officially launched its much anticipated tablet: the iPad. It was the most hyped tech product of the year, but for many of us the hype turned out to be justified. My own Web browsing habits were immediately changed by the iPad. Indeed, I’m writing a whole series currently about how the iPad and other non-PC devices are changing the way we consume media. For some people the smartphone has had the biggest impact so far on their Web browsing habits, but for me it’s been the iPad.

To celebrate the iPad’s one year anniversary, I’m listing out my favorite 10 iPad apps over the past year. I’ve attempted to put them in some kind of order too. Some apps have had a bigger impact on the way I interact with the Web than others, notably apps that have changed my reading and media consumption habits. Read on to find out how!

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1. Flipboard

I’ve raved about Flipboard many times, but it really has changed the way I consume RSS feeds. Prior to the iPad, I mostly used Google Reader on my computer (and Bloglines before that) to consume RSS. Over time though, my usage of Google Reader and RSS Readers in general had slipped. I still valued all of the feeds I’d saved in Google Reader and I often searched them to research topics. But as a daily browsing activity, Twitter and Facebook had begun to replace my time spent in Google Reader – as has been the case for many of you, I’m sure.

Flipboard changed that. Now I regularly browse my RSS feeds – and some of Twitter and Facebook – through Flipboard on my iPad. Funnily enough, Flipboard has actually increased my usage of Google Reader again. I have a number of my topical folders from Google Reader in my Flipboard. So Google Reader has in essence become my feed platform, it’s just that the user interface has changed. I explored that trend as it relates to smartphone RSS Readers yesterday.

2. Kindle

Just as Flipboard changed my feed reading habits, Kindle changed my book reading. I’ve read a number of books in the Kindle iPad app over the past year, including novels and biographies. I still read more paper books than eBooks, but the Kindle app has been my first long-term relationship (if I may put it like that) with an eReader.

3. Zinio

A third metamorphosis in my reading habits occurred thanks largely to Zinio, the digital magazine service. I subscribe to a number of magazines in Zinio, mostly art and music related. While the reading experience is often not optimal – most of my subscriptions are simply PDF files of the magazines, so there’s limited interactivity – the cost savings alone make this very worthwhile to me. Also it’s handy to carry around a back catalog of magazines on my iPad.

4. Instapaper

Instapaper has been yet another driver of change in my reading habits (yes, there’s a theme here!). In the ‘old days’ of RSS Readers, people were obsessed with their Unread count – that is, how many items in the RSS Reader were as yet unread. People would get uptight if their Unread count got too high and an urge to purge would well up. Nowadays most people don’t worry themselves with the Unread count, because interesting information comes from too many different places now: Twitter, Facebook, content aggregators like Techmeme, iPhone apps, iPad apps, and so on. This is where Instapaper came into its own, because from most of those places you can click a ‘Read Later’ button and an item is saved to Instapaper’s servers. When you have Internet connectivity, the Instapaper app downloads all of those stories so you can read them offline if need be.

Instapaper has an iPhone app too – no official Android one so far, although there are unofficial apps. However I’ve mostly used Instapaper on my iPad, because – you guessed it – the iPad has become the device where I now do the bulk of my reading.

5. Evernote

Finally, a non-reading app! Evernote is a note-taking app, that eventually wants to be your online brain. It’s been around for much longer than the iPad, but I began to use it more when the iPad came onto the scene. I particularly like the offline feature, because it allows me to update and add to my notes when I’m out and about (I have the WiFi only version of iPad and wireless connectivity is far from a given where I live).

6. Newsy

I wrote about Newsy earlier this week, as an example of a media app that has created a new form of media delivery on the iPad. I enjoy watching a selection of 2-3 minute video news clips over my lunch, or when I need a break from my computer.

Read my interview with the founder, Jim Spencer, to discover more about this innovative news service.

7. Art Authority

I love exploring art and Art Authority is the best and most comprehensive archive of art available for the iPad. It features high quality images of art work from most of the great artists in our history.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose buried in this app.

8. Brushes

Unless you count Evernote, this is the first iPad app on my list that has more emphasis on ‘write’ than ‘read.’ That emphasizes that, for me anyway, the iPad has been mostly about consuming content. The iPad is not a great writing tool (although I have been using it more lately for things like real-time note taking from conferences). The first generation iPad didn’t even have a camera, so it has always been marketed as a consumer tool more so than a creative one.

An app which does foster creativity though is Brushes, the finger painting app. In all honesty I prefer to do my amateurish painting on paper using acrylic paints, as I spend way too much time on electronic devices as it is. However Brushes is a sophisticated finger painting app and I’ve (ahem) dipped my finger into it from time to time.

9. YouTube

We’re back to consumption now. I have to mention YouTube, as it hosts many of the videos I end up watching – whether they be presentations from tech events, videos of live music, or random videos found via Twitter or Facebook. I don’t watch that much online video, but if I do there’s a good chance I’ll fire up YouTube on my iPad to watch it. The only issue has been that Instapaper doesn’t save videos and I’ve yet to find a good app that does – suggestions anyone?

10. TweetDeck

Like most of you, my usage of Twitter and Facebook has increased over the past couple of years. However I don’t tend to interact on either service using the iPad. There are adequate iPad apps for both, but social networking hasn’t turned out to be one of my main activities on the iPad.

Friendly is a good app for Facebook and I’ve largely stuck to TweetDeck for Twitter. I sometimes use the official Twitter iPad app, which is slick too. Of those apps, TweetDeck is probably the one I access the most on my iPad. Although I use my Mac desktop app for TweetDeck much more, followed by the iPhone app.

Conclusion: iPad Really is About Consumption!

There you have it, my favorite 10 iPad apps since the iPad launched one year ago. I’m a little surprised at just how dominant media consumption apps have been for me; and in particular reading apps. It goes to show how much of an impact the iPad has had on my online media consumption habits.

I should add that I still do the bulk of my creation activities on the computer – mostly writing, but also curation on my personal WordPress.com site and online social networking on various web services. However, the iPad has literally caused a paradigm shift in how I explore and consume content.

Did you get an iPad when it first launched? If so, I’d love to hear about if and how it changed your consumption patterns. Tell me your favorite iPad apps, too!

Discuss


Fizwoz creates a legion of cellphone-armed citizen photojournalists


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Those seemingly boring pictures and videos on your cellphone from concerts and sporting events may be worth something to media buyers — or at least, that’s the premise San Francisco-based Fizwoz is running with.

The company may be on to something. Since its launch at the end of January 2010, Fizwoz has landed 78,000 users from 161 countries who upload their cellphone media to the site in hopes of earning some cash. And it’s growing steadily — Fizwoz tells me that it’s adding between 300 and 500 new users every day.

It’s practically impossible to buy a cellphone without a camera these days, even in many international markets. It’s also clear that cellphone photo sharing is one of the most exciting areas in the mobile arena at the moment — just look at the success of Instagram and Color’s massive $41 million in funding. Fizwoz represents the next logical step for cellphone media — instead of sharing photos and video on the web for free, you can make a quick buck by licensing them to media companies.

The site offers three ways for trigger-happy cellphone shooters to make money: putting their media up for auction, fulfilling assignments posted by media companies, and entering contests sponsored by big brands, publishers, sports teams and charities.

CEO Andy Sheldon tells me the company has paid out $18,000 since its first sale in June 2010. Typical sales can be between $5 and $500 (I assume mostly on the lower end of that spectrum). Sheldon says it’s only a matter of time before someone manages to sell their media for six figures.

Strangely enough, it was a tragedy that inspired Sheldon to create Fizwoz with co-founder Ian Smith. He was fascinated by how many media organizations were relying on cellphone video shot by amateurs during the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. With cellphone cameras getting steadily better, he figured the opportunity was ripe to create a way for media companies to get access to amateur cellphone media.

Sheldon says that over 70 percent of Fizwoz users are outside of the US — primarily because of the service’s support for Nokia phones (which are also generally known for their high-quality cameras). The company has also made iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps available. They’ve also recently added support for multiple languages, including Spanish, French, German and simplified Chinese.

Fizwoz has raised $400,000 in angel funding and is currently seeking first round investors.

VB Mobile SummitCalling all mobile executives: This April 25-26, VentureBeat is hosting its inaugural VentureBeat Mobile Summit, where we’ll debate the five key business and policy challenges facing the mobile industry today. Participants will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. The invitation-only event, located at the scenic and relaxing Cavallo Point Resort in Sausalito, Calif., is limited to 180 mobile executives, investors and policymakers. We’ve pretty much finalized the invite list, but have a few spots left. Request an invitation.

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Google’s Eric Schmidt beats Apple’s Steve Jobs in employee approval ratings


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Even as Eric Schmidt steps down as chief executive at Google on Monday, he can leave with the satisfaction that his employee approval rating is at an all-time high. There’s an art to quitting when you’re on top.

Schmidt has an approval rating of 96 percent, up 3 percentage points from a year ago, according to employee approval surveys by Glassdoor.com. Schmidt barely edged out Steve Jobs, whose rating fell 3 points to 95 percent. Glassdoor.com says that its latest survey of employee approval at the top 12 large technology companies yields some insights that aren’t normally measured with the daily ebb and flow of a company’s stock price.

But the top bosses at Yahoo and Microsoft aren’t so lucky, as might be predicted by the companies’ recent performance.
Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, saw her employee approval rating drop the farthest among the tech giants, with her approval rating coming in at 50 percent, 27 percentage points below a year ago. Still, Bartz’s approval rating is still higher than the 34 percent that Jerry Yang had as CEO of Yahoo at the time he stepped down.

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft saw a drop from 46 percent a year ago to 40 percent this year. Jeff Bezos of Amazon saw his rating drop to 83 percent from 87 percent a year ago. Larry Ellison of Oracle dropped 4 points to 73 percent. eBay’s John Donahoe rose 22 percentage points to 46 percent, while Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen fell 1 point to 57 percent. Intuit’s Brad Smith rose from 69 percent approval to 87 percent, and Michael Dell rose from 36 percent to 48 percent. Paul Otellini rose 9 points to 90 percent and Sam Palmisano rose 10 points to 57 percent.

Overall, six gained and six lost. That’s predictable in one sense, since tech companies are recovering from the recession but not everyone is benefiting equally from the recovery. Glassdoor CEO approval ratings are calculated similarly to presidential approval ratings. Employees are asked: “Do you approve of the way your CEO is leading the company?”

Glassdoor said it also looked at the company ratings for the 12 tech giants and found only slight changes in their average ratings from employees. eBay saw the biggest increase, while Amazon saw the biggest decrease. The only top exec missing is Leo Apotheker, CEO of HP, but he has been on the job a short time.

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Facebook Terminated Corporate Development Employee Over Insider Trading Scandal


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Facebook corporate development manager Michael Brown (pictured left in happier days) recently and abruptly left Facebook, and the company then hired a senior Google employee to replace him. It was a curious departure and the chatter around Silicon Valley was that there was a lot more to the story.

And in fact there is. Via a scandal that could have far reaching consequences by bringing even more SEC scrutiny onto rampant secondary trading in non-public startups like Facebook and Twitter.

Brown, multiple sources have confirmed, purchased Facebook stock on secondary markets (like those occurring weekly on SecondMarket), which Facebook considers insider trading and grounds for immediate termination. Sources say this is well communicated throughout the company. It’s unclear how egregious the trade may have been. We’ve heard the trade was related to knowledge of the Goldman Sachs investment that value the company at $50 billion earlier this year, and we’ve heard from others closer to the situation that it was just a naive mistake and Brown has paid the price and moved on. One source says the trades were made last September, well before the Goldman deal was in the works. Either way, Facebook took it seriously and no doubt the SEC would too.

In a public company this would almost certainly violate a number of federal laws. However, say sources, the fact that Facebook is not (technically) a publicly traded company means those laws don’t apply. His actions did violate Facebook’s own insider trading policies, say sources, and he was terminated by Facebook for those violations.

Facebook would not comment on this story, other than to say “we don’t comment on personnel matters.” We also spoke with Michael Brown’s attorney, Edward Swanson, who confirmed that he was representing Brown but wouldn’t comment further.

The size of the trades was relatively small, we’ve heard. But the consequences to Silicon Valley’s newfound love of free-wheeling unregulated secondary market trades may be much larger.

Update: Another source with knowledge of the situation says that Brown purchased the shares in September 2010, well prior to any discussions with Goldman Sachs. His termination, says this source, was for violations of Facebook’s insider trading policies that prohibited the trade(s) themselves, and had nothing to do with the Goldman Sachs transaction. We’re trying to verify this, right now we have conflicting stories from sources. We’ve edited the third paragraph above to include this side of the story.


PhantomJS: The Power of WebKit but Without the Broswer


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PhantomJS logo PhantomJS gives you command-line access to the features of WebKit. According to its website: “Literally it acts like any other WebKit-based web browser, except that nothing gets displayed to the screen (thus, the term headless).” It has native support for DOM handling, CSS selector, JSON, Canvas, SVG, and JavaScript.

You can use to test JavaScript, render Web pages as PDFs or perform more complex Web-based actions such as finding recent tweets by a particular Twitter user.

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Here’s a list of example uses from the project’s Google Code page:

  • running regression tests from command line
  • getting driving direction
  • showing weather forecast conditions
  • finding pizza in New York
  • looking up approximate location based on IP address
  • pulling the list of seasonal food
  • producing PDF version of a Wikipedia article
  • rasterizing SVG to image

Here’s an example of producing a PDF from a particular URL, from the PhantomJS QuickStart:

phantomjs rasterize.js 'http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jakarta&printable=yes' jakarta.pdf

PhantomJS was created by Ariya Hidayat.

Other “headless” Web stacks include Celerity, HTMLUnit and Zombie.js.

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NYC Announces BigApps Winners Roadify, Sportaneous, And DontEat.at


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New York City announced the winners of its second BiggApps competition tonight. BiggApps is a way to get developers to use city and government data to create useful apps for citizens and visitors to New York City. The prize money was doubled to $40,000 split up among 14 winning apps.

The first prize went to Roadify, an iPhone app that crowdsources information about public transport and parking spots. Users can give or get parking spots, realtime updates about buses and subways, or transit schedules. The parking finder is genius. It shows the spot using GPS on a map. I think everyone who has ever tried to park in New York City has dreamt of an app like this. Now someone actually built it.

Sportaneous is a geo-location app (iTunes link) for pick-up games that is tied into a database of parks, basketball courts, and other sports facilities throughout the city. You can see proposed games near you, sign up for one, and then get notified when the minimum number of players have been reached. And, of course, there are game mechanics rewarding people who play at certain courts or soccer fields the most.

Third place went to Parking Finder, another parking app that maps out parking garages and metered parking spots throughout the city. One of my favorites, however, which won an honorable mention, is DontEat.at, a simple mashup of Foursquare and the city’s Health Department inspection results. Anytime you check into a restaurant that scores above a certain threshold for “serious and persistent violations,” you will get a text message warning you, “Don’t Eat at” that restaurant. Another clever one is Who Is My Landlord?


Mark Cuban Teams With Qualcomm To Bring Augmented Reality To Mavericks Tickets


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Thanks to the influence of owner and tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks season ticket holders will be able to enjoy a touch of the technological when claiming their 2011 playoff tickets. The Mavericks have teamed with Qualcomm to add augmented reality to this year’s playoff tickets.

Augmented Reality — or “AR” for those “in the know” — refers to a display in which simulated imagery or graphics are superimposed onto a view of the real world. In the case of these basketball tickets from the future, viewing on your Android will allow you to play an interactive game.

Single-game tickets for the first two Mavericks home games of the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs will go on sale April 2nd. Fans that purchase single-game tickets will receive a futuristic, commemorative 2011 Mavs Playoff ticket, and game-day tickets and commemorative tickets will go live when the playoffs begin on April 16th.

How does it work? Get your ticket and take out your Android phone. (This season the tickets will only work with Android, but Cuban said that he hopes to expand in future seasons.) Go to the Android Marketplace and download the “Mavs AR” app. Launch the app, point your phone at the front of the ticket, and voila! You’ll be able to play an interactive mobile game, featuring Mavs’ stars Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. You can learn more about the tickets out here.

We’re glad to see Cuban bringing AR to the sports arena, but when the Mavericks launch AR-capable tickets that offer some sort of practical application, like, say, Google Goggles or Word Lens, then we’ll really be clamoring for a Nowitzki jersey.


‘Know Your Meme’ On What It’s Like To Be An Internet Folklorist


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The website and show “Know Your Meme” were swallowed up this week by ICanHasCheezburger networks in a seven figure deal, proving once again that Internet memes are serious business. In light of this news, the Know Your Meme crew, Internet folklorists Elspeth Rountree, Kenyatta Cheese, Jamie Wilkinson, Patrick Davison and Mike Rugnetta actually performed an episode of their heralded show live on stage today at Web 2.0 Expo.

The group spoke in turns and seemed to have rehearsed (just like on their show) when describing the process of creating and documenting what many people consider to be “worthless” Internet culture. They likened themselves to music ethnographer Alan Lomax, who according to them was once told as a boy to burn a transcription of cowboy songs by a teacher because they were useless. Lomax later ended up chronicling the songs and lives of artists Woody GuthrieLead Belly and Muddy Waters.

Key takeaways:

“In digital spaces the tool for communication and the tool for documentation are the same thing, the computer.”

“We are in a constant state of lightweight pervasive self-documentation and media creation.”

“The problem of too little data is nothing compared a slightly newer one, too much data.”

“Good internet culture leaves digital detritus, tweets, likes, comments, retweets, reblogs, news articles, and even the occasional appearance on national television (THE HOLY GRAIL).”

“Culture isn’t just valuable when you can stuff it full of DRM and sell it.”

“Throughout history humanity has struggled to be the first to do meaningless activities.”

Those interested in learning more can support the Know Your Meme Kickstarter book project here.


Play Him Off, Flugelhorn Feline: YouTube Time Travels To 1911


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Head to YouTube after 4AM local time and you’ll notice that it looks a little old fashioned — and not in a 1999 blinking construction sign sort of way.

YouTube is reverting back to what it would have looked like had it been around in 1911, complete with grainy, sepia video footage, no audio tracks (save for piano accompaniment), and title cards in place of the site’s normal comments. Yes, it’s time for April Fools, and the world’s largest video portal is ringing it in once with some video player trickery — a tradition it started in 2008 after RickRolling all of its users.

YouTube has accompanied the gag with a blog post from President Taft, and it’s also put together some 1911-ified memes, featuring the ancestors of Annoying Orange and a certain musically-inclined feline. Even some of the ads are old fashioned.

Earlier today YouTube invited me down to their headquarters in San Bruno to talk to some of the team members who put this year’s trick together so that we could get some of the backstory.

YouTube says that, as with last year’s gag, the 1911 idea was submitted to a system called Moderator and then voted upon by other YouTubers. Once the idea was chosen, it took a whopping 14 employees to put it together (alright, to be fair, YouTube says the large team size can be attributed to the fact that a ton of people just wanted to participate).

The video effects, which include a grain filter and sepia coloring, are being done client-side using the same technology as YouTube uses for its 3D video player (interesting sidenote: last year’s ASCII video trick relied on an older version of the 3D video player — this one uses the new one).

The team ran into few interesting hurdles during the project. Initially, they wanted to have all of the 1911-ified videos play at double speed by adjusting the timestamp in video frame headers. Unfortunately this didn’t make the final cut because the effect was too taxing on CPUs (Macs, in particular, had difficulty with it because of Flash’s poor performance on OS X).

The team also wanted to change the thumbnails presented alongside each video to sepia, but this also proved challenging because there isn’t an easy way to do it crossplatform with CSS3. However, it does work for one browser: Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8, and 9 all have a special CSS property that allow YouTube to introduce this effect on thumbnails. As one YouTube team member put it, this is one of the first times a YouTube feature has actually worked better in IE.

There’s also some neat technology related to the meme videos. YouTube is experimenting with a new system that can identify “interesting frames” for its thumbnails — these typically consist of frames without any blur, and may contain faces or other interesting content. The technology is still a work in progress, but YouTube used it to generate the thumbnails for each meme video (it didn’t work well for one of them — the team hand selected the thumb for the buggy video).

Oh, and the YouTube team dropped one other hint: if you look at the 1911 videos, you’ll notice that they include the parameter &vintage=1911. Turns out there are a few other years that also work, so try experimenting.


Why Wisconsin’s ham-handed crusade against wind power blows


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Regulatory snafus have halted the production of two wind farms in Wisconsin that would have generated more than 98 megawatts of power from a renewable energy source. It’s an unnecessary jab against the wind power industry, which has been viewed as one of the most attractive options for renewable energy — and it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Wisconsin legislators are arguing that current laws that dictate how far a wind turbine can be placed from someone’s property are not strict enough — that companies can place them too close to the homes of everyday citizens. The legislators argue that the turbines will affect local property and home sale values because they are an eyesore. They are also arguing that there is a chance of injury in having a massive piece of machinery nearby — though they don’t specify how they can cause injury.

The claim that planting wind farms near a home can decrease its sale value is completely bogus. The reasons for trying to alter the regulations and force wind companies to build wind farms further from homes are not well-supported and are an unnecessary obstacle to the progress of wind energy. Any change in regulations after a turbine is built could prove to be disastrous. The injury argument makes sense — but that’s because a massive machine with many moving parts of any kind nearby can be a hazard. This comes after another company dropped plans to build wind energy farms in an area in Wisconsin over concerns about the regulatory environment.

But a study initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009 debunked the claim that wind turbines would have a meaningful impact on local property values. The report indicated that — while there was a chance that individual homes would be impacted — as a whole, home sale prices were not impacted by the placement of wind turbines in the area. On top of that, the land that wind turbines occupy can also be used for agricultural purposes, such as for crops or grazing land. That might indicate that wind turbines are actually aesthetically pleasing — after all, they are an iconic image of renewable energy.

The largest concerns typically come from a “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) mentality, said Dallas Kachan, managing partner of Kachan Cleantech Analysis and Consulting. Some residents view wind turbines as an eyesore, and there’s a chance that the construction of wind farms will have an unexpected impact on indigenous wildlife and the environment. Some projects in California have even been scuttled because of unexpected environmental impacts, he said.

“It’s not a no brainer that every jurisdiction will want wind power,” he said. “There are complicated regulatory, emotional and environmental variables.”

There might be concerns about noise, safety and aesthetics. But I can’t think of a single person I’ve spoken to that has ever complained about the presence of a wind farm. This is purely anecdotal evidence on my part, yes, but many companies typically don’t run into resistance across the board when building wind farms, said John Lamontage, director of corporate communications at First Wind.

“While we do run into resistance in some locations, we often find that many people in a community embrace the possibility of a wind project,” Lamontage said in an email message. “They recognize the economic benefits they bring, along with the clean energy they’ll deliver.”

Wind turbines typically carry large capital costs — meaning the upfront cost of building and operating a turbine will take a long time to break even with the money saved by using wind power. Most wind turbines generate anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts of power, and the costs vary from state to state. For example, First Wind has a 30-megawatt wind farm in Hawaii that cost $125 million to build and a 57-megawatt wind farm in Maine that cost $140 million to make.

The uncertain regulatory atmosphere cost Wisconsin a pair of wind power projects that would have brought more than 98 megawatts of power to the state. That’s particularly troubling given that the argument does not have significant life outside of a NIMBY-style debate — and that isn’t even what the legislators focused on, according to the report. Wind power still serves as one of the strongest renewable energy sources — along with solar power — that can scale to the size of an economy.

“You wouldn’t see wind being developed in the way it is today if it wasn’t economical in terms of cost per kilowatt-hour,” Kachan said. “They’re continuing downward in price per kilowatt-hour with economies of scale and offshore manufacturing.”

There are 40,810 megawatts worth of wind farms constructed in the United States as of 2010, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Construction of wind farms has been ramping up for the past several years as well — 10,010 megawatts worth of wind turbines were built in 2009, up 19.6 percent from 8,366 megawatts in 2008. Most of that is in Texas, where a whopping 10,085 megawatts worth of wind farms are installed. To put things in perspective, the average household consumes around 920 kilowatt-hours of electricity every month.

Innovation is very far along in the wind power sector, Kachan said. That’s different from solar power, where the field is still somewhat nascent and there are a lot of ways to improve the technology, he said. Most photovoltaic cells — 6-inch-long wafers that capture sunlight and convert it to electricity — capture around 30 percent of the light shining on them and generate one watt of energy. Flexible panels that can be placed anywhere are even less efficient, capturing around 15 to 20 percent of sunlight. That means it would take around 1 million wafers — in the technology’s current form — to come close to the amount of power a wind turbine can operate.

Solar power might be more efficient than wind energy a few decades from now. There might even be some new way of generating electricity that’s more efficient and has less of an environmental impact than both solar and wind energy. But for the time being — as the cost of electricity wind power continues to decrease — wind power should be viewed as a large priority for legislators as a way to generate reliable, clean energy. Now is not the time to stall projects like the one in Wisconsin — now is the time to push them even further.

[Photo: chaunceydavis818]

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Is Publicly Sharing Your Location Creepy? This App Thinks So


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You might want to file this under the “perhaps this was obvious, but we needed another app to show us” category, but if you check in, Tweet your location and otherwise publicly broadcast your GPS coordinates for all the world to see on the Internet, other people can see where you are.

Creepy is a desktop app for Windows and Linux and it’s a stalker’s dream come true. The big question, though, is should you stop sharing? And is it really all that creepy?

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Last year, all the talk was about PleaseRobMe, a website that simply showed where people were checked in. It did nothing more than a Twitter search for the Foursquare domain, but it brought to attention the idea that whenever you publicly broadcast your location, you also publicly broadcast your absence from home. You know, the place with the valuables.

Creepy takes this idea a step further. It takes a couple minutes to gather all the data – which it searches for according to Twitter or Flickr username – before showing a very detailed map of every Tweet, check-in and geo-tagged picture that person has posted to the Internet for months on end. And depending on how a particular piece of information was sent, such as from a smartphone with an accurate GPS signal, the results can be, well…creepy. We’re talking “Yep, I was next to that oak tree in the park when I took that picture” creepy.

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So, should you stop broadcasting your location? I vote no. (And not because I want to stalk you, I swear.) I share my location all the time and for a number of reasons. It enables random and serendipitous connections to occur. I can look back and have all sorts of contextual information as I weave my way through the world. I can plug it all in to services like MemoLane and get a time-ordered snapshot of my own life, as I share it online. And in turn, it gets fed through algorithms and stuffed into features like Foursquare’s latest recommendation service, which looks at where I’ve been and suggests where I may want to go next. And that’s just the first step for what can be done with all of this location information.

I also get second hand value from all this public location sharing. I see people’s check-ins on Twitter and can figure out that the coffee shop down the street is the place to be. Tweets can help with a host of scenarios, from public health issues to mysterious explosions in Portland.

Of course, I may be a bit overzealous in my location sharing. It’s on, by default, for everything – pictures, check-in services (which are public) and Tweets. Go ahead – download Creepy and enter @rwwmike and you’ll see my recent trips to Palm Springs, CA and Austin, TX. You’ll see my bike ride across town to Golden Gate Park. You’ll see snapshots of food and beer and bikes.

This isn’t for everyone. If you have bad relationships with your exes or lawyers coming after you for bills, you might not want to live so publicly. And are we that far off from insurance companies gathering check-in information and using it to calculate your premiums? But that’s what Creepy is about, right? It’s saying “Look, you’re sharing your life on the Internet and really, everyone can see.” The question is, do you care? (And perhaps, far more importantly, should you care?)

Creepy is available for Windows and Linux with a Mac version on the way.

Discuss


Video Curation Is Growing Up, ShortForm Hits One Million Visitors


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With 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, the Google-owned video behemoth would be the second largest search engine were it standalone site. Web video has become a powerful medium. But, I think it’s also fair to say that this powerful medium is in serious need of curation. What if you’re just looking for a quick laugh, a short video, and don’t want to wade through billions of videos — what if you want to create your own, personally curated streaming video channel? Hmmm? Thankfully, content curation has come to video: ShortForm shows it’s here to stay.

The San Francisco-based startup allows users to create personalized channels of web video content, easily pulling clips from YouTube and other video sites. You can play videos back-to-back to create a stream of video, not unlike the TV viewing experience. Creating custom channels is simple, and I would say the UI is more user-friendly (or at least more attractive) than that of YouTube.

ShortForm curates its own videos, but the real focus is in encouraging its users to become VJs (video jockeys), curating their own channels. And with the recent addition of an embed-able widget, publishers can embed their own video player and curated channel lineups on their site. This means that the channels you create on ShortForm are available anywhere. It’s these kind of additions that pushed the startup past the one million users mark.

So ShortForm has all these visitors, but how is it going to make money? The startup is planning to place interstitial ads between videos. The Interstitial ads will be in the camp of video promotions that feel more like content and are fun to watch, ShortForm CEO Nader Ghaffari said, and they’ll be targeted based on channel context, so sports channels will get sports related video promotions. The cool part, though, is that even though the interstitial ad model will be rearing its annoying head, the startup plans to share its ad revenue with its VJs. After all, it’s the VJs who create the channels.

“When it comes to mixing the world’s videos into channels, we want our VJs to have all the tools at their disposal to make VJ-ing channels fun and easy”, Ghaffari told me. “We are integrating with Vimeo in the coming weeks, for example, so our VJs can mix YouTube and Vimeo videos, and soon we’ll be adding new features for VJs to further personalize their channels”.

ShortForm also has a leaderboard that lets VJs see how their channels are doing relative to other VJs, and viewers can scan it to find channels of interest to subscribe to. ShortForm also plans to provide VJs with more social feedback on their channels, like who has watched, shared, liked, and subscribed, for example, and VJs will be able to add commentary into their channels.

But, as you are probably readying your comment for the comment section, I should say that ShortForm isn’t the only video curation startup in the game. VodPod lets users share collect and share videos with their friends and Magnify.net allows website publishers to make video channels for their sites. ShortForm differs from its competitors in that it, unlike VodPod, it enables back-to-back streaming, and, unlike Magnify, is focused on the consumer rather than enterprise.

The startup is also teaming up with CollegeHumor (one of my favorites) this week to launch a best video contest on Facebook, which will allow users to watch and vote for their favorite videos on CollegeHumor. Once a vote has been registered, a leaderboard can be accessed that shows the leading vote-getters. Check it out.


Tech CEO Approval Ratings: Schmidt Goes Out On A High, Donahoe Climbs, Bartz Falls


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A survey taken over the last year by Glassdoor, a jobs and career community that allows users to anonymously share an inside look at jobs and companies, confirms that Eric Schmidt looks better when he’s on his way out. As the Google big whig prepares to step down from a decade of service as chief exec, his employee approval rating is at an all time high.

On the flip side of the popularity coin, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz is seeing her honeymoon period come to a close. In what is likely unsurprising news, among tech CEOs, Bartz saw the biggest decline in her approval rating in the past year, compared to the 12 months prior. Between March 2009 and March 2010, she held a 77 percent approval rating among her employees, whereas compared to the following year, her approval rating dropped to 50 percent. Granted, this is still 16 percent higher than that of her predecessor, Jerry Yang. Yang had a 2008 George Bush-like approval rating of 34 percent when he stepped down as CEO.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer saw the second biggest decline among the 12 CEOs evaluated. During March 2009 and March 2010, he held an average 46 percent approval rating, before dropping to 40 percent. Maybe IE9 will be enough to right a foundering ship?

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Oracle’s Larry Ellison both dropped four points during the same period to 83 percent and 73 percent, respectively, while eBay’s John Donahoe went on a hot streak. Between March 2009 and March 2010, the eBay CEO held a 24 percent approval rating among employees, whereas between March 2010 and March 2011, he held a 46 percent approval rating. Go Johnny go.

Lastly, always worth noting is that Apple Man Steve Jobs remains as popular as ever, though his approval rating did drop from 98 percent to 95 percent. I’m sure when the iPhone 5 comes out, he’ll be right back on top.

As to how Glassdoor CEO approval ratings are calculated, the site takes the pulse of a company’s employees similar to the way in which presidential approval ratings are tallied. Employees are simply asked, “Do you approve of the way your CEO is leading the company?”

TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde? 110 percent approval rating. And Aol CEO Tim Armstrong, he’s not too shabby himself.


The iPad App That Went Too Far: Media Says Cease & Desist to Personalized Magazine Zite


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Aggregation and curation are seductive arts – they feel like they’re within anyone’s reach, they seem limited only by imagination and discerning taste and they can create a magical experience for audiences. The web is filled with people who think they can create new aggregation services that people will love – and in many cases those people are right. Aggregation can be awesome.

Not everyone sees it that way, though – especially among the aggregated. Yesterday the popular but new iPad app Zite, which calls itself a Personalized Magazine, got a nasty Cease and Desist letter from 10 big media companies very unhappy with the way their original content was being aggregated. The companies said Zite is manipulating their content without their permission and stripping out the ads. Zite says it’s respecting what’s communicated in the code on pages it indexes and that it’s willing to change on request. The tone of the industry letter is so noxious that I was immediately sympathetic towards Zite, but looking at the details and talking to the CEO of competitor Flipboard makes me think maybe this trailblazing startup took things a little further than it should have. I don’t know, I’d like to know your opinion.

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What Zite Does

When you download Zite to your iPad, you can let it learn about what topics you’re interested in from your Twitter, Google Reader or Delicious data. The app then creates a magazine-like interface for you to scroll through stories from a wide variety of sources online about those topics. You can give very specific feedback about what you like or don’t like and then you get more stories like that. It’s like Pandora for news articles. Not a lot of control but smart personalized learning. We reviewed the app in more detail yesterday and said that if you like Flipboard (Apple’s iPad App of the Year) then you should try Zite because it’s even easier to use.

Zite: Personalized Magazine for iPad from zite.com on Vimeo.

What the Lawyers Say

Yesterday Zite received a Cease and Desist letter signed by ten lawyers from big, big media companies: Time, The Washington Post, McClatchy, E.W. Scripps, Getty Images, National Geographic, Gannett, Dow Jones, Advanced Publications and the Associated Press.

Here are a few excerpts from that letter:

“By systematically reformatting, republishing and redistributing our original content on a mass commercial scale without our permission in your iPad application, Zite directly and adversely impacts our businesses. Your application takes the intelletual property of our companies, as well as the hard and sometimes dangerous work of tens of thousands of people. It depreives our websites of traffic and advertising revenue. We do not know your intentions, but your actions harm our companies and the broader media and news industry on which your application relies for its content…

“The Zite application is plainly unlawful. Among other things, it intentially and pervasively infringes on our copyrights by reformatting and republishing substantial portions (and in many cases, the entirety) of our articles and large-scale reproductions of our photographs and illustrations. Further, it misappropriates and infringes our trademarks and falsely implies our affiliateion by prominently featuring certain of our logos on your home screen. Zite uses our content for commercial purposes in a manner that the law prohibits absent agreemnts with each of us. We demand that you immediately cease and desist all such infringing use of our intellectual property, both copyright and trademark, in or in connection with the Zite iPad application.

We encourage and support the development of new technologies that facilitate innovative uses of our content – but those uses must be subject to our advance consent.

Emphasis on that last line was added by me – it so incredibly misses the point, I think. Technology innovations don’t ask permission of the incumbents first. If they did, they would never be born.

That’s my take on it, at least. Not everyone would agree with that, though.

What Flipboard Says

“Publishers are justifiably concerned with anyone showing entire articles minus ads,” Flipboard CEO and Twitter Board of Directors member Mike McCue told me last night via Twitter when I asked for his opinion about the Zite C&D. Flipboard looks from the outside a lot like Zite does but is a bigger, better known startup.

“Better to partner with them and explore together. We’ve only displayed what publishers syndicate via RSS (including their ads, related links, etc). Sometimes full articles are used in RSS and sometimes it’s just 1 line of text. We always respect that…True you can’t partner with everyone. The best strategy is to ask ‘would a publisher be happy with how we are displaying their content?'”

Hopefully McCue is right and publishers are generally supportive of the way his company aggregates content. Flipboard is also much better funded and better known than Zite, a smaller company and easier target.

What Zite Says

What does Zite have to say for itself? For context, I asked the company if it respected partial vs. full RSS feeds. It turns out Zite doesn’t look at feeds at all. Ali Davar, CEO of Zite, offers the following:

We acquire our data via a web crawl rather than via RSS, so we do not currently take it into consideration. We already take steps to discern automatically what the publisher wishes in this regard (looking for a NO_ARCHIVE tag which indicates that they do not want search engines to serve up cached content), and we will look into using RSS as another potential clue in this regard.

First, some insight into how Zite works with content:

  • Zite’s content comes from a web crawl, the same way content is aggregated in the indexes of search engines like Google and Bing.
  • Zite displays articles in reading mode, which changes how the page is rendered. Though we understand this can alter the layout and potentially eliminate ads, we made this design decision in order to give users a better reading experience. Reading mode is already common, e.g. Safari’s Reader.
  • We respect the decision of publishers who either use the noarchive metatag or explicitly tell us they want their content displayed in web mode – in either case, we render articles without reformatting.

We don’t look at this as an adversarial situation. If the formal cease and desist we received from the big publishing companies yesterday was a one line email from the world’s smallest blogger, we would treat it exactly the same: we would switch the content from reading mode to web view mode. That’s it. This is not our legal position, it’s just our policy. Zite is eager to work with publishers in a way that benefits everyone – most importantly end users.

It’s good to know that Zite doesn’t look at this as an adversarial question, but the lawyers who sent the letters sure seem to. Is Zite’s approach fair? Will it satisfy publishers? Is it disingenuous for Zite to say what it is doing is comparable to search engines serving up cached content? Caches aren’t intended primarily as methods of consumption – but Zite’s copies are. Zite CEO Ali Davar is Canadian, and he deserves points for that, but I don’t think I buy the NO ARCHIVE argument. The user experience argument, though, is more compelling.

Are publishers shooting the future in the foot by objecting? Maybe they should applaud any technology that helps them grow their audience, that people love to use to read their content, even if some percentage of them don’t see the ads.

What do you think, readers?

Discuss


Why More Women in the Board Room is Essential to Innovation


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The vision : sense : ideas created the UAE and Dubai, the vision and inspiration to do something new, better, higher and indeed stronger was the driving force! Enjoy! :)I did not think of the very obvious when writing a post yesterday about Jive Software’s new members to its board of directors.

The men Jive chose are all talented, intelligent and well-respected people. They have risen to the top of their fields. But where are the women?

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Jive is not an uncommon example. But the lack of women board members does point to a problem that companies need to address. For the companies that do, there could be advantages that they never expected.

Why It Makes Sense to Have More Women Board Members

For reference, German companies have adopted a voluntary initiative due to the poor representation of women in board seats. In 2010 only 2.2% of executive board members at Germany’s 30 Dax companies were women, according to data from DIW, the German Institute for Economic Research, which the Financial Times refers to in its post about the German initiative.

catalyst.jpgWomen held about15% of board seats at Fortune 500 companiesin 2010, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit membership organization that expands opportunities for women in business.

Is it an obvious question to ask why there are so few women board members? Perhaps it is more enlightening to ask why it makes sense to have women on the board.

But first let’s consider some of the reasons why women are absent from board positions.

Rachel Happe writes in a blog post that the the startup world’s go-go-go nature and the resemblance to frat boy culture is an environment where women do not necessarily want to lead. In the same post, Happe writes about the success of women who graduate from women’s colleges, which is evident in their spots on board of directors. The problem is there are so few women graduating from women’s colleges. That seems like it is part of the issue, too.

Judy Rosener wrote a post two years ago that still rings true today. Most CEOs are men. And most do not seek out women for the job. They seek people like themselves. What they need to do is get out there and look.

If they do that, you can bet there will be women in board-of-director roles.

But what are some of the reasons to have women on your board? Rosener distills it down to this:

Good business sense means taking into consideration the following: knowledge of the labor pool; knowledge of new and growing markets; interest in improving corporate governance; and the tracking of revenue and profit, i.e. attention to the bottom line.

Let’s look at each of these reasons.

Labor Pool: Women are more than half of the workforce. Doesn’t it make sense that they should be represented on the board of directors, too? To exclude women from the board can mean that the company may not be seen as a place that welcomes women at all. In turn, that has a direct effect on the company’s competitiveness.

The Market: Women are decision makers. Women have a perspective that can alter the development of a product or a service. They manage the finances in the home. They make the purchases. Put women in executive roles and board positions and you can see how their perspectives may open new markets.

Governance: A woman joining a board of directors can have an effect on the men. They will be less likely to make sexist remarks and jokes. But there is more to this. Rosener writes:

I asked Shirley M. Hufstedler, an experienced corporate board member, how she thinks the presence of women changes a board. Hufstedler served for many years on both the Hewlett-Packard and US West boards, and currently sits on the Harman International Industries board. She said it is her observation that female board members usually understand, better than men, how to appeal to women as consumers and as employees. “Also, because women are acculturated differently from men, they tend to listen more and see problems and solutions differently from their male colleagues.” In many ways this expands and enhances board discussion and deliberation.

Bottom Line: Companies with more women in executive positions tend to have higher profits. She writes:

A study by Roy Adler, a professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, tracked 215 Fortune 500 companies, comparing their financial performance to industry medians. He found that “companies that smash the glass ceiling also enjoy higher profits.” In a recent Harvard Business Review article presenting his findings, Adler showed that “the companies with the highest percentages of female executives delivered earnings far in excess of the median for other large firms in their industries.” The Canadian Conference Board findings support those of Adler. It tracked the financial well being of firms with two or more women on their boards in 1995 to see where they stood six years later. It found that firms with women board members were much more likely than companies with all-male boards to be leaders when ranked by revenue or profit. While these two studies do not a theory make, they suggest there is a relationship between the presence of women on boards and financial performance.

Considering that why would a company not have a women on its board?

Discuss


Retailer GameStop buys its way into digital distribution of games


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GameStop is the world’s biggest retailer of video games with 6,670 stores in 17 countries. But the company is hedging its bets when it comes to digital distribution. Today, it announced it would acquire Spawn Labs and Impules to bolster its ability sell games online. The purchase prices were not disclosed.

Those deals are in addition to its acquisition last year of Kongregate. Officially, this shows that GameStop is like a duck in the water escaping a crocodile. On the surface, it looks calm. But under the surface, it’s paddling like hell. In this case, GameStop doesn’t want to be eaten by the rivals who are bypassing retail and selling games direct to consumers. As history shows, nobody wants to be either Tower Records or Blockbuster Video when the music stops on physical retail.

GameStop will work closely with Spawn Labs to develop its game streaming service. Spawn Labs was founded in 2009 and it allows players to play games on home machines while they’re traveling with laptops. The game plays in a console and streams its game to the laptop. You can interact with the game and the changes are sent back to the console.

It’s doubtful that GameStop really wants that technology. Rather, it wants to be able to stream games directly to its consumers. The Impulse deal is also in the digital distribution space. Impulse lets you buy games online and download them to play on your computer, much like Valve’s Steam service. Impulse is a digital downloads portal of Stardock Systems with more than 1,100 games. It provides digital rights management and copyright protection tools for publishers. It enables game publishers to entice users with features like achievements, account management, friend lists, chat, multiplayer game lobbies and cloud storage. GameStop will continue to operate Impulse, but it will also integrate the digital distribution technology within its own web site in the coming months.

There are plenty of reasons for GameStop to move with a lot of speed. Physical retailers such as Borders, Hollywood Video, Game Crazy, and Tower Records have all bitten the dust as they are undercut by the low-cost infrastructure of stores on the web. This year, GameStp said it had set aside $100 million to spend on digital initiatives and only $70 million on store openings and store remodels. That’s much different from a few years ago, when the company was opening tons of stores. Also, during the year, GameStop estimates it will close 200 stores.

J. Paul Raines, chief executive officer of GameStop, said in a statement, “With these important acquisitions, we will continue to make appropriate investments related to our multichannel strategy. GameStop is uniquely positioned to be the leader in both the physical and digital gaming space.”

Stardock said its Impulse service has about 10 percent of the PC digital game delivery market, compared with about 70 percent for Valve’s Steam. Now GameStop will be in a position to compete against other digital game streaming firms such as OnLive, Gaikai, Otoy, Playcast and Spoon. No doubt some other game industry players will want to make defensive acquisitions of their own.

Besides moving into digital, GameStop has also been remodeling stores to make them more appealing to gamers. It has been setting up new digital hybrid loyalty programs and is promoting its online game properties inside stores.

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+Like Browser Extension Pretty Much Eliminates The Need For Google +1


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Google launched the +1 feature of its social layer yesterday and if you’re like most tech journalists you probably likened the move to attaching a Facebook Like button to Google search results.

Well now someone has gone and done exactly that, no joke. Meet +Like, a Firefox, Safari and Chrome extension that lets you see how many people have liked a specific Google search result on Facebook as well as which of your Facebook Friends have recommended a specific piece of content, whether or not that action took place on Google search.

When you “like” something on +Like it gets posted on Facebook as well so you can share content you’re into with your social graph, sort of like what Google is trying to attempt with its Google Profile revamp and +1.

Said creator Koby Menachemi, “We built this extension after reading about +1 on TC . We couldn’t understand why [it’s] not just putting the two things together (Google searches + Facebook’s Likes).” It took Menachemi and co-founder Shmueli Ahdut 3-4 hours using their own Crossrider framework to make the cross-browser extension.

Now Google +1 has key advantage over Google +Like in that you can also use +1 to like Google ads (and presumably monetize them). But seriously if I was Google, +Like would have me shaking in my boots.