Creating Victims And Then Blaming Them

This post is by Amit Runchal from TechCrunch

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Girls Around Me is a perfect storm of everything too many people find creepy about the new mobile age. Download an app to your iPhone, link up your Facebook account and Girls Around Me will find girls around you who’ve recently checked into Foursquare near your location and return their Facebook profiles. Before Foursquare shut off access to their API and they were pulled from the App Store, Girls Around Me met your 21st century stalking needs, complete with in-app purchases.

It is an undoubtedly fascinating story, raising too many issues to discuss in one article. But I found myself with a growing sense of discomfort after reading much of the coverage and discussion surrounding the app. This stemmed from two points that were raised again and again:

  1. Our dismay at how publicly exposed these women are and how they need to be educated on the dangers of online privacy.
  2. What, exactly, Girls Around Me did wrong. All they did, after all, was hook into various services.

It was the first point that initially raised my hackles, because the tone was too similar to statements I had heard before. Not from those writing about this, but from those who believe that young black men shouldn’t be wearing hoodies, or that single women with two children shouldn’t be out at nightclubs. Those who believe in acceptable standards of behavior for groups of people, and that victims of crimes who deviated from these modes of behavior brought these crimes on.

Victim shaming simmers throughout the coverage, unsaid and unintentional, but so does the worst-case scenarios of sexual assault that remain largely unspoken but very clearly imagined. Unsurprisingly, as this a deeply uncomfortable and controversial subject.

Perhaps my ears were too finely-tuned by years of education at a liberal college campus. I may be alone; the majority of opinions formed in the last two days seem to agree that people, especially women, must be educated about the privacy implications of Facebook.

There is a discussion to be had about the default privacy settings of Facebook. But when I hear people proclaim the importance of educating these presumably ignorant young women about the dangers of Facebook, it is just a little too close to comfort to those seeking to educate women about the dangers of hemlines that end above the knee.

I do not mean to paint these people as villains. My purpose in writing this is not to call out anyone, but to think of how we are perhaps perpetuating a dangerous way of thinking about these situations.

Consider what these statements about education imply. What is the result the educators want after these people have been educated? And what if those educated choose to continue their behavior? What of those who decide to live in public? The camgirls we have met? The ones that share their lives with abandon? What is the lesson being imparted? What is the grade women get if they are victims of a crime after choosing to ignore the clicked tongue, the waggled finger, the raised eyebrow?

We are focusing our education on the wrong people. We do not blame the victims. It is not their fault.

The fault is with the perpetrator. That is where educational efforts should be directed. But here’s where it gets tricky. Because to me there are two perpetrators in situations like these. Those who committed the crime, obviously, but also those who make apps like Girls Around Me. In this situation there is no first perpetrator. The horrific tableau is entirely imagined. That does not absolve the second.

How much blame do the developers of Girls Around Me deserve? Some give them a pass. They have been described as nice. To which my only response is, really? I submit to evidence that these nice guys present women as shiny metallic objects, targets to be taken down, complete with radar imagery. These nice guys developed an app that made some who first saw it think the women within were prostitutes. I argue that these nice guys couldn’t have been ignorant that many of the Girls Around would have been horrified to know they were on it.

Why is it reasonable to not blame gun manufacturers, or cigarette companies, or McDonald’s, but Girls Around Me? Because these developers are treating others as objects they have the right to use and manipulate without their permission or their knowledge. I’m sure it’s all very legal according to the terms of service we accepted when we created accounts on Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare. That does not excuse the clear moral failing that the makers of Girls Around Me demonstrated.

But, you may argue, the women signed up to be a part of this when they signed up to be on Facebook. No. What they signed up for was to be on Facebook. Our identities change depending on our context, no matter what permissions we have given to the Big Blue Eye. Denying us the right to this creates victims who then get blamed for it. “Well,” they say, “you shouldn’t have been on Facebook if you didn’t want to…” No. Please recognize them as a person. Please recognize what that means.

This is all part of a larger problem right now, not just limited to shady apps like Girls Like Me but exhibited frequently by the supposedly-reputable companies springing up that seek to tap into the vast troves of personal data we have given to the Facebooks of the world, hoping to strike it rich mining this data from servers around the world. These companies make assumptions about the permissions we have supposedly granted them because of permissions we have granted another.

No. Stop it. Stop collecting money on other’s behalf. Stop promising the time of people who had never agreed to give it. Stop creating profiles of people and assigning them a score they never asked for. Stop speaking for us. Stop denying us agency.

“Others find value in our service…” No. People have different motivations.

“We’re trying to make you money…” No. You are trying to make money and assume people will be fine with your methods as long as you share some of that money with them.

“You can always opt-out…” No. Please. No. Wait — I’ve reconsidered. That’s fine. Just tell me when you want me to stop hitting you.

Stop speaking for me.

There is an extremely fine line to be walked in these situations involving identity and too many companies are on the wrong side of it, which makes me think that it must be very fine indeed if very smart people can’t see it. They can’t see the difference between a person finding a site that collects their most favorited tweets harmless and that same person being irritated that a profile was created for them on a site that seems to do something very similar.

The line is this: when you begin speaking for another person without their permission you are doing something wrong. When you create another identity for them without their permission you are doing something wrong. When you make people feel victimized who previously did not feel that way you are doing something wrong.

Please. Stop.

Amit Runchal blogs at Interactioned.

ThinkerToys repurpose old keyboards, mice, and monitors into educational toys

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

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ThinkerToy Keyano

We’ve seen Star Trek-inspired doors, TouchPad-enhanced microwaves, and Morse code Twitter transliterators made from Arduino microcontrollers, but how about something that can inspire children in emerging nations and give electronic waste a good use? That’s what Dhairya Dand’s ThinkerToy set of “educational fun interactive toys” are designed to do. There are four prototype models like the Keyano, which repurposes an old PS/2 keyboard into a piano with the help of an Arduino and a small speaker, and the Randomath, which presents kids with math problems on its LED screen and accepts inputs from an unused keyboard as well. The project gets a bit more ambitious with the Storynory audiobook player and TV++, the latter of which takes advantage…

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iOS and Amazon users spend more on in-app purchases than Google Play customers

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

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In-app purchases Draw Something

Flurry has released its latest research results comparing the iTunes App Store, the Amazon Appstore, and Google Play, and on its face, it looks like users with open wallets are headed to Apple’s and Amazon’s offerings over Google. The mobile research and advertising company found that for every $1 spent per user on in-app purchases in the App Store, 89 cents was spent in the Amazon Appstore and just 23 cents in Google Play. To get those numbers the agency looked at “a basket of top-ranked apps that have similar presence” across all three platforms and whose “primary business models are in-app purchase[s].” The selection of apps had a total of 11 million active users per day, and revenue was measured from mid-January to the end of…

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Meizu MX and M9 stock Android 4.0 public beta released

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

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Meizu MX press

Meizu promised that it’d release a public Android 4.0 beta for both the dual-core MX and the M9, and now it’s available. Android enthusiasts will be glad to hear that the beta is a stock version of Ice Cream Sandwich — a Flyme OS-skinned variant will be available later once the update is officially released. While it’s only a beta, the fact remains that it only took Meizu three months to whip up an Android 4.0 update for the MX — one of the best turnarounds we’ve seen in what’s been a frustrating wait for most users to get Google’s latest OS. If you’ve got a Meizu MX or M9, check the source link for the download file and the installation instructions.

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A Fistful of Smart Media Dollars

This post is by Contributor from TechCrunch

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Editor’s note: Jay Fulcher is CEO of video technology company Ooyala. This is a follow-up to his columns “Fear And Loathing In Online Video” and “One Screen To Rule Them All“. Follow him on Twitter @jbfulcher.

The rise of smart, multi-screen streaming media is fundamentally changing the TV experience. This year, for the first time ever, Americans will watch more movies over the Internet than on physical media like DVD and Blu-ray. Ooyala’s Video Index Report found that non-desktop video plays doubled in the fourth quarter of 2011. Tablet sales continue to explode. People now spend more time on Xbox Live streaming movies and TV shows than playing video games. And consumer electronics manufacturers are gearing up to ship 125 million Smart TVs in 2014. Simply put, TV is no longer constrained to a single box, a single screen, or a single UI.

Smart networks, broadcasters, studios and service providers recognize that there’s real money to be made as TV moves into the information age. People are not only watching more movies and TV shows online, they are paying for access to premium video content. Recent studies reveal that over half of American tablet owners paid to watch a movie in Q4 2011 and more than 40% paid for TV content. These are strong signs that we’ve come a long way from Jeff Zucker’s “digital pennies” remark back in 2008.

To make the most digital dollars, new TV technologies should securely deliver media to viewers on their terms. Audiences today have personal, portable ways to consume content. There are more screens, platforms and devices to display their favorite shows, and more ways than ever to rent, purchase, gift and download video content. It is an exciting time for both TV viewers and TV content providers.

Innovation is a tricky business, however, and change can be hard. There are bound to be a few missteps and failures as we invent the next generation of TV. This isn’t a new phenomenon. For every VHS recorder there is a Betamax; for every DVD, a Laserdisc. But there will also be key victories and new revenue streams as media and technology combine to create the TV experience of tomorrow.

Here’s how forward-thinking media companies will profit from the new TV.

Big Data & Analytics

More than a buzzword, Big Data is changing the way we look at information — and the world around us. The ability to quickly extract actionable insights from vast sets of data has already become a business imperative in some sectors. This trend can only grow. Corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations will all leverage distributed computing to gain insights into their operations and their constituencies and maximize efficiencies.

Big Data and analytics will become mission critical for major media companies as TV moves to IP delivery. Firms that fail to invest in data-driven solutions will be at a severe disadvantage in the marketplace. Putting analytics tools in place to collect and analyze key metrics enables video publishers to see how people interact with their content — and understand where and why it’s underperforming (something that was impossible before). These insights will inform critical business decisions that impact audiences and drive revenue.

Intelligent Monetization

As we all know, the easiest way to make more money in media is to sell more advertising. But simply inserting more pre-roll ads into a video stream, for example, quickly falls prey to the law of diminishing marginal returns. An initial uptick in revenue is followed by a substantial dropoff in ad completion rates, as viewers quickly grow weary of the oversupply of irrelevant ad messages.

Smart monetization strategies go hand-in-hand with analytics. With the right tools in place, video publishers can analyze how variables like ad load (the number of ads served per video) and ad placement (where ads are inserted within the video) impact viewer engagement. It’s even possible to find the optimal rental price for, say, a feature-length movie. And soon it will be commonplace to match ads to viewers based on social graph interests, location, device type, and viewing history.

Smart video publishers will use analytics to simultaneously accomplish two somewhat conflicting goals: (1) maximize digital revenue, and (2) create and/or maintain an optimal viewing experience for their viewers.

Personalized Content

A streaming media strategy based on Big Data computing, powerful analytics and smart monetization results in a personalized viewing experience across all connected screens. Content producers and providers will attract and retain more viewers when they deliver highly relevant content to their viewers, and presented in a way the viewer prefers.

Insights derived from vast data collection ensures that the right content is delivered to the right viewer at the right time. The future of personalized television is geo-targeted, interactive content. Viewers who opt to share data will receive a better experience: location-specific ads, augmented reality media experiences, interactive games and content targeted for their viewing history, network and device. Content publishers will also tap into social networks to deliver meaningful content that is informed by viewer interests. As social media continues to evolve, expect video to play a bigger role in how we relate to one another online.

In Sum…

The TV of tomorrow will be smart. It will understand who is watching, where they are, and what shows they enjoy. The end result will be a more personal TV experience that spans multiple screens and locations.

TV is changing quickly. There is a real need for companies to recognize and get out ahead of this change. With the right tools (like those offered by my company Ooyala), fistfuls of digital dollars are there for the taking.

Hackathon Planning In Less Than 10 Steps

This post is by Contributor from TechCrunch

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Editor’s note: Erin Tao is a business development associate at Aviary — and, yes, its hackathon organizer. Follow her on Twitter @etaooo.

It’s been about a month since Photo Hack Day 2, and I’ve recovered sufficiently from my hackathon hangover – a very legitimate ailment, though less literal than a SXSW one – to put some coherent thoughts together. A number of people have reached out, asking for tips, thoughts, and advice on throwing hackathons; only now that the second one is under my proverbial belt do I feel slightly more qualified to speak on the subject.

There’s so much involved in terms of planning that I can’t adequately address the important points in a single post. The emphasis of this article is the requisite planning, whereas the follow-up will focus on best practices for actual execution of demos, which are the most challenging and stressful element of hackathons.

Why organize hackathons?

You want a strong showing of local technical talent, who will presumably use the next twenty-four hours to create awesome things. You also want to establish your company or organization as a thought leader and community mobilizer in a particular space. In lieu of cash, the currency of hackathons is the collective goodwill that builds relationships and carries on long after the event; though possible, it’s not the ideal shindig for turning a profit.

Why attend hackathons?

If you’re a company: Nothing gives your API the same degree of exposure as providing a room full of developers with the opportunity to do some tinkering firsthand. Better yet, you have the ability to be present for the duration of the hacking process. There are very few chances to get such immediate, fresh feedback on what’s confusing, what’s awesome, and what you can be doing better.

If you’re a participant: You need an arena to demonstrate your coding prowess. You don’t mind missing out on sleep. You also don’t mind subsisting on pizza, beer, and flat soda for 24 hours. Most importantly, you want an opportunity to participate in an event that really brings your local developer community together: you’ll meet fellow hackers, see what they’re up to, and show what you can do.

Why would companies want to get involved in the first place?

I’ve gotten this question (which I consider absolutely fair) a number of times. Nowadays, hackathons possess a much broader appeal; in fact, they provide one of the most direct forms of exposure to the startup scene and the technical talent in it. No longer are they niche events that are only relevant for a university computer science department: a perfect example is how the original Photo Hack Day was the first of NASDAQ’s many event sponsorships, such as’s, the foursquare hackathon, and the hackNY benefit / fashion show, Raise Cache. Nokia’s headline support of Photo Hack Day 2 enabled them to reach mobile developers and showcase the platform to the Windows Phone community – in addition to New York City startups – as a whole.

Big companies are beginning to understand that hackathons offer the brand visibility they desire as well as the audience they’re trying to target – and that audience is quite receptive. Yes, developers aren’t exactly fond of being pitched to, but they’re undeniably curious: what new APIs are out there? How they can build on them, and what can be made? Each Demo Day I’ve had the pleasure of attending has proven that these answers are limited solely by the imagination and technical expertise of the hacker. This begs the question “Where else does – or can – this sort of thing happen?”, which encapsulates everything that is awesome and slightly magical (yes, seriously) about hackathons.

Interested in throwing a hackathon of your own?

Organization and the pre-event legwork are everything. Here are the major points you must cover:

1. Pick a theme. A good approach is to explore existing verticals: at Aviary, we picked photos because of their relevance to our API / SDK in addition to the abundance of companies building awesome products in the space. If community is your primary concern (and it should, at a minimum, be a key motivation for throwing one in the first place), keep your role explicitly neutral. Don’t name the hackathon after your company (this is why we opted for “Photo Hack Day” rather than “Aviary Hack Day”). Most importantly, don’t privilege your own product.

2. Leave ample time to plan. Depending upon the scale of the event, you need anywhere from three to six weeks to properly prepare for the event. The first Photo Hack Day was organized in three incredibly frantic weeks, and Photo Hack Day 2 – a much more extensive endeavor, in terms of attendees, offerings, and general scale – took over two months.

3. Lock down a venue. For obvious reasons, nothing substantive can happen until this is taken care of. General Assembly is the go-to hackathon destination in New York City, but other alternatives exist: the Spotify hackathon was held at SPiN, hackNY continues to be held at NYU, and plenty more take place in a range of corporate venues such as Microsoft, Google, or Aol ventures.

4. Secure sponsorships. To be sure that the broadest range of potential sponsors can participate, use tiered sponsorships and keep price points relevant to what you can provide in exchange for support. This consists of varying degrees of product / API exposure, as well as branding opportunities. Generally speaking, the most expensive elements of a hackathon are venues, food, and prize money – contributions from a headline sponsor should cover the cost of at least one of these.

That being said, as an organizer, it’s crucial to strike a balance between making an event worth a sponsor’s time and preventing the weekend from degenerating into a pitch-fest. Your priority is to throw the best event possible for hackers and the tech community. After all, when builders and innovators are exposed to sponsors in ways that don’t feel forced, everyone wins.

5. Rally the interested parties. Tap into existing developer networks – Meetup is perfect for this – and make the appropriate reach-outs to sponsors and companies with cool, useful APIs. If a company with an irrelevant API contacts you, it’s perfectly okay to tell them that the event may not be the best use of their time. You save them the time, effort, and the risk of being disappointed, while sparing developers from demos of technology they won’t use.

Figure out who can help you on the day of the event: coworkers, volunteers, or friends alike. If the venue offers on-site help, be sure you establish, in writing, who is taking care of what, and what time you can rely on them to be where. When you don’t know how the hell the A/V system works or where extra power cables are stored, these people will help fend off the waves of potential panic attacks.

6. Market like heck to potential attendees – and don’t forget students! In addition to the obvious press reach outs, look for influencers who can spread the word via social media and word of mouth. Attend events, happy hours, and contact listservs: a few great places to start include StartupDigestGary’s Guide, or incubator mailing lists. Ask sponsors for help with cross-promotion and leverage their networks; after all, it’s in their best interest to have the widest audience.

We’ve had great success with student-hackers, so reach out to the computer science departments at local universities. At Photo Hack Day 2, Columbia senior Yufei Liu created Synviary and walked away with the Aviary company prize, People’s Choice, and First Place, winning a grand total of $7,500.  Abe Stanway and Misha Ponizil, students at Rutgers and NYU, respectively, won People’s Choice and Second Place at Photo Hack Day for Honey Badger. Their bounty? $4,000.

If, according to one redditor, neon wayfarers, American Spirits, and PBR are ingredients for the hipster beartrap, then free pizza, free beer, and the potential to win hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars over the course of a weekend is the student developer equivalent. Their attendance is absolutely worth the time it takes to reach them. For those of us a few years removed from college, we can’t allow ourselves to forget that the next wave of members in the New York tech community will be new graduates.

7. (Slightly) over-order on food. I can speak on this matter as someone who has epically over and under-ordered. If you over-order, it sucks to see food wasted (especially if you’re footing the presumably expensive bill), but it’s nothing compared to facing a maelstrom of empty, angry developer bellies. There should be two golden rules concerning hackathons and food: (1) don’t f*ck up the coffee, because nothing is more endearing than dragging developers out of bed on a Saturday morning and depriving them of caffeine, and (2) don’t f*ck up the meals. (In the interest of full disclosure: I have done both.) If you think it is remotely feasible for a room of over 200 young men and women to finish the spread, trust me – they will. Also, it helps tremendously to ask attendees to note any special dietary needs when they sign up for the event.

To give you an idea of why you should oh-so-slightly over-order on food, here’s what hackers at Photo Hack Day 2 consumed in a span of thirty-two hours: 250 bagels, 300+ tacos, 300+ burritos, 12 buckets of BBQ chicken, 20 quarts of pulled pork, 12 pans of cornbread, 20 quarts of mashed potatoes, 150 cookies, 80 boxes of pizza (640 slices total), 27 cases of water (432 bottles total), 384 beers, and 28 cases of soda (448 cans total). Hackathon organizers, do yourself and your hackers a favor by including an extra pizza (or ten) in your catering order.

8. Make sure there’s (a wide range of) cool stuff to give away. There’s a strong correlation between the quality of prizes and the quality of hacks. For the first Photo Hack Day, Twilio gave away an 11″ MacBook Air, while Shutterstock gave away a Nikon dSLR. I’m sure you can guess whose APIs were well represented on Sunday.

Push participating companies to sponsor a prize and give them the freedom to choose the winner. It’s a win-win situation for everyone: companies want developers to hack on their APIs, developers (like the rest of us) don’t mind material motivation, and attendees want to see cool hacks.

9. Remember that, regardless of how much you prepare, sh*t may – and probably will – go wrong. It’s just a matter of figuring out what constitutes an acceptable mishap and what is debilitating, and building safeguards to ensure that the latter doesn’t happen. Mishap: an order of twenty Hawaiian pizzas, when you meant to order pepperoni. Percolators end up brewing what looks like dirty water, rather than coffee. Not enough small or medium tees to go around. Compare this to the disastrous counterpart: the wifi cuts out. Projector breaks during demos. Not enough power outlets. See what I mean?

Once all of these moving pieces are in place, the foundation is set for a solid hackathon. Solid does not mean smoothly run, by any means – execution of the actual event is an entirely new beast.

(Credit must be given where it is due. Everything I learned about building some semblance of order and structure came from John Britton, whose knowledge once existed as a seven-page Word doc that he kindly shared with me. John’s thoughts have since turned into a more cohesive article by Ben Doernberg, which I would absolutely recommend as a starting point.)

[image from Hackers]

Obama to sign pro-crowdfunding JOBS Act into law Thursday

This post is by Jennifer Van Grove from VentureBeat

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

A piece of legislation designed to make crowdfunding a legal option for startups will be passed into law as President Barack Obama plans to sign the JOBS Act Thursday, VentureBeat has confirmed.

The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act has already successfully made its way through the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, with some modifications, and will allow startups raising $1 million or less to let regular Joes and Janes (read: non-accredited investors) purchase a limited amount of equity in their nascent businesses via approved portals.

The legislation also eliminates the 500-sharehoulder rule, meaning that startups can wait longer before needing to publicly report financial data to the SEC and hold off on forced public offerings.

“On Thursday, the President will sign the Jobs Act,” press deputy secretary Josh Earnest said in a press gaggle on Friday.

News of the JOBS Act imminent approval started spreading on Twitter Saturday afternoon when Aol co-founder, Revolution CEO, and JOBS Act proponent Steve Case tweeted the revelation.

The entrepreneur-friendly initiative flew through the Senate with a 73 to 26 passing vote, and the revised law passed in the House with a 380 to 41 overwhelming majority. The legislation, popular with Democratic and Republican political parties alike, was already known to be supported by the White House and President Obama.

“The JOBS Act will help revitalize an IPO market that has suffered in recent years under the weight of market volatility and one-size-fits-all regulation,” Highland Capital general partner and National Venture Capital Association chair Paul Maeder said in a previous statement. “The passage of this legislation sends a strong and welcome signal to our most promising companies that the U.S. capital markets system is open for business.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

Filmmaker removes 5D Mark III’s low-pass filter for increased sharpness

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

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Canon 5D Mark III teardown

Freelance filmmaker James Miller could hardly spend a week with his shiny new Canon 5D Mark III before tearing it apart and removing one of the camera’s low-pass filters to try and get all the sharpness he could from its full-frame, 22.3-megapixel sensor. While the teardown photos are sure to terrify you, some of Miller’s final results look promising. The comparison shots below (which were taken at two different times of day) clearly show more detail in the roof shingles. Low-pass filters sacrifice a bit of clarity to avoid moiré, but in the couple of samples provided by Miller it doesn’t look to be a problem. While we’d hardly recommend anyone take a screwdriver to their 5D Mark III yet, it’s worth noting that this isn’t an unheard of…

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OMGPOP Draws Zynga’s Daily User Traffic Up By 25%

This post is by Eric Eldon from TechCrunch

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As the dust settles after Zynga’s purchase of New York mobile social game developer OMGPOP, the company is visibly taking on a new shape. A 25% larger and more mobile one. That’s the percentage growth of its total daily active user base, when you add in the 14.6 million people playing mobile sketching app Draw Something to its existing 55 million players.

The game has gone from 1.7 million to 14.6 over the month of March, based on app tracking service AppData. Today, it’s nearly the combined size of Zynga’s two biggest hits on Facebook, CityVille and Texas Hold’em Poker.

Which means Draw Something’s share of the market is likely to grow in the coming months. CityVille was launched at the end of 2010, and Poker years before. Zynga has milked them along, and will no doubt continuing doing so far into the future. But, they’re never likely to grow significantly beyond their current sizes, based on the overall lifecycle of these games.

Draw Something is a blank slate. It’s been out for around two months, and could keep growing. Zynga has the analytics and marketing skills to help with that. And it also has the experience keeping traffic up across its games on social and mobile platforms. Its core mobile franchise to date, Words With Friends, has the second-most daily active users out of any Zynga game, with 8.1 million daily actives.

The user count comes with a caveat here. Only Zynga knows the non-deduplicated daily unique user number. It’s quite possible that users of other Zynga games are already playing Draw Something, particularly with Words With Friends. That’s still good, in that they might be paying for virtual goods across titles. But it also means the total traffic is lower than it looks here.

The big long-term potential isn’t just that Zynga has all these users from this game. It also has the ability to promote its other games, including any it’s planning on launching in coming months, to this vibrant user base. That could extend the value of the game far beyond its own cycle.

The $210 million bet on OMGPOP has the obvious risks, too. The acquired company has never made a hit even close to this big. And Draw Something may have a shorter life cycle — Zynga hasn’t had a chance to see how long this type of sketching-sharing game can stick around.

Tech Jobs And Airbnb Are Squeezing The SF Housing Market — Here’s What To Do

This post is by Contributor from TechCrunch

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planet for rent

Editor’s note: Jon Sterling has been in the real estate business since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @mistersterling.

Have you been searching for a place to live in San Francisco lately? You’re not the only one thinking @$#%&! on a daily basis.

Forget the speculation about a tech bubble. This is a real estate bubble.

It’s a common scene on a weekend morning: A line of people waiting for an open house at an apartment that just hit the market, with rental applications, credit reports, and certified checks in-hand. The first one who qualifies wins the prize.

SOMA condos under $600,000 (now considered “entry level”) are going under contract in a matter of days, often with multiple offers. So far in 2012, the median market time for sold condos in SOMA is 42 days. That’s 42 days from the time it goes for sale to the time the title changes hands. In the past month, that number has dropped to 34 days.  When it comes to real estate transactions, 34 days is fast. Very fast.

I have a client who wanted to see two condos that hit the market last week ($589,000 and $599,000). Both were under contract before we had a chance to see them, and both had multiple offers.

New tech jobs are increasing the housing demand and causing pain for buyer and renters, but that’s not the only way technology companies are adding to the Silicon Valley housing woes. The success of short-term rental companies like Airbnb and HomeAway are contributing to the lack of inventory as well.

The short-term rental companies have provided liquidity for homeowners and renters by making it convenient for them to rent out rooms, apartments, and entire houses. Owners and renters are now able to subsidize some (or all) of their monthly payments, which limits the number of units on the market. If a tenant loses his job, he can rent his bedroom and sleep on the couch to generate some cash. If a condo owner quits her corporate gig to launch a startup, she can stay with friends for the weekend while visitors rent her place. A few years ago, those units would have gone on the market out of necessity. Today, the classic illiquid asset — real estate — has a new kind of liquidity.

The San Francisco Business Times reported that 8,000 new tech jobs are expected to be created in San Francisco this year. That much job growth is great news for the local economy, landlords, and home sellers, and will have a positive trickle-down effect.

At the same time, that is very bad news for renters and buyers. Many of the new jobs will be filled by people who already live and work in tech in San Francisco, so 8,000 new jobs does not necessarily mean 8,000 new residents. Nonetheless, aggressive hiring by tech firms is contributing to the housing scarcity. The war for engineering talent has expanded across the country, and often includes hefty relocation packages.

So what should you do?

If you are a renter, use your network — Facebook, Twitter, Path, co-workers, and anyone else who is connected in San Francisco. If you can nab a place before anybody else knows about it, you win. Also, walk the neighborhoods where you’d like to live and look for “For Rent” signs in windows. Not all landlords use Craigslist. Have a current copy of your credit report handy and move quickly when you find a place that might work.

If you are a buyer, find a great advisor. Most of the time that will be a real estate agent, but it doesn’t have to be. A great real estate agent will bring your properties as soon as they hit the market, and maybe even before they hit the market, in addition to helping you navigate the home buying process. Also, be smart about your bidding strategy. This is not a market where low-ball offers are going to work.

If you are a seller, thank your lucky stars. Most sellers in the country are not as fortunate as you. Just don’t gloat, okay?

If you are lucky enough to have an awesome place at a decent price, do your best to lock-in your current rental rates for as long as you can stomach it. You may be able to negotiate with your landlord if you’re willing to sign an extended lease. Try something like, “I will commit to this apartment for the next three years if you will commit to the current monthly rental rate for the next three years.”

If you are a landlord, make hay while the sun shines.  Rainy days will be upon us again. We will remember the landlords who treated us well, and those who didn’t. And even if we forget, the Internet doesn’t.

[photo via flickr/J_P_D]

We’re Going To This Super Happy Block Party In Palo Alto, And You Should Too

This post is by from TechCrunch

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

Screen Shot 2012-03-31 at 2.57.43 PM

Who throws a party in Palo Alto?!

Well actually … Today Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Talenthouse, Super Happy Dev House and the City of Palo Alto itself have joined forces to give nerds a place to play on University Ave for 12 hours. So why should you stop coding and jump on Super Happy Block Party bandwagon? Well a gaggle of VCs have occupied the 3rd floor of the High/Alma South Garage, committing themselves to hearing your ideas until 7pm tonight. Poor things!

Full list of VCs to harass to pitch:

Mark Goines, Morgenthaler
David Krane, Google Ventures
Jeremy Schneider, Webb Investment Network
Jon Soberg, Blumberg Capital
Ryan Kottenstette, Khosla Ventures
Michael Marquez, Morado Ventures
Felix Shpilman, Start Fund
Peter Ashley, 500 Startups
Todd Kimmel, Mayfield Fund
Vicki Levine, Lightbank
Thomas Korte, AngelPad
Peter Moran, DCM
Dave McClure, 500 Startups
Josh Goldman, Norwest Venture Partners
Stephanie Palmeri, SoftTech VC
Raymond Nasr, Innovation Endeavors
Itamar Novik, Morgenthaler
Gil Ben Artzy, UpWest Labs
CeCe Cheng, First Round Capital
Pejman Nozad, Angel
Eric Chen, Uj Ventures
Jay Jamison, BlueRun Ventures
Anne De Gheest, HealthTech Capital
Ron Hose, Angel
Scott Brady, Angel (Slice)
Nils Johnson, Angel (Beautylish)
Harpinder Madan, Angel (Slice)
Dror Berman, Innovation Endeavors

The organizers are expecting more than 2500 people and have a contingency plan in case it starts raining and they have to move the Popup Innovation Parking Lot, Hack the Future Tent, the Day Star Yurt & Silent Disco, the Soap Box Stages, and the Techno Petting Zoo of Robots indoors. Whatever those things are, they sound pretty trippy and cool.

Which is why I’m about to get in my car, and go pick up my colleagues Kim-Mai Cutler and Josh Constine (if he ever wakes up from whatever party he was at last night) and drive their butts down south.

Because way to let your geek flag fly Palo Alto; Your move SF.

Pics via/Amir Youssefi

OneOps, TwoOps … Exploring cloud ops

This post is by James Urquhart from GigaOM

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

OneOps, TwoOps, RedOps, BlueOps,
DevOps, NoOps, OldOps, NewOps.
This one relies on cooperation.
This one banks on automation.
Say! What a lot of ops there are.

With sincere apologies to Dr. Suess

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@jamesurquhart) may have come across frequent recent discussions about new operations methods enabled by cloud computing. The most common terms in these discussions include DevOps and it’s controversial sibling, NoOps. While I think the practices behind these terms are critical to understand as the nature of IT operations shifts to meet new demands, the terms themselves are less than helpful.

So, what I thought I’d do today is walk you through key new operations concepts being adopted by the most cloud-savvy organizations I know, but without allowing terminology to distract the discussion. If I am successful, you’ll be able to look past the label and see the incredible value these new models bring to businesses and institutions of all sizes.

If I am unsuccessful …well, maybe we’ll keep having these conversations for another year—kind of like Groundhog Day.

How is cloud changing IT operations?

Understanding how cloud computing drives fundamental changes to the way IT works, rather than just becoming another way of expressing what has come before, doesn’t rest with its causes, but with its effects:

In conjunction with these three, one other concept is critical to understand. What matters most to any business is the application of IT to business problems, and the ongoing support of those applications as long as they remain applicable to the business. The rest of IT exists in support of that.

What people not working closely with cloud computing fail to realize is that the application-centric nature of cloud operations shifts the very nature of operations away from infrastructure (as it has been since the mainframe) to, well, applications. (While I usually hate electric utility analogies for cloud computing, this is indeed similar to the shift of power generation from private generation to public utilities.)

If you are focusing on running applications in an environment you may or may not control, you focus on how to keep code running, data available, configuration viable and policy enforced. And, since the only thing you control is the code, data, configuration and policy, you have to start focusing on how to build performance and survivability into the application itself.

This was the first lesson learned by the Web 2.0 companies that embraced Amazon’s EC2 and similar services early on. To make an application run well at high scale in someone else’s data center, you have to make the application responsible for its own operational integrity. So, the practice of integrating development tools and people with operations tools and people was born (and became the first form of DevOps—embedding operations skills into development teams).

When skills just aren’t scalable enough

That sounds like a heck of a solution, right? Build applications that utilize the services they run on, and add some custom automation developed by people who understand server, network and storage performance, and how to keep IT running.

Except … there’s one little problem.

In any organization with more than a few applications to deploy and operate, the problem of scaling operations resources (people and tools) to meet that demand becomes a question of not only cost, but coordination across teams. At a small scale, that’s not a big deal. However as application teams grow in number, the problem of coordinating operations activities becomes increasingly difficult.

In an ironic twist, some early adopters of this model report utilization and contention issues when operations staff are embedded in development teams. The operations staff are faced with a dilemma: either selfishly protect the needs of their own projects, or work with other operations staff on other projects to find common ground—potentially impacting their own projects’ approaches or schedules.

The solution for some of the most bleeding-edge of these companies is interesting. Rather than force bureaucracy into the mix, they took a different tack: turn operations into a service—with an API. A platform service, or PaaS, to be exact.

In the PaaS model, developers utilize a service that embeds most of the operations automation for a class of applications right into the platform. You work with code and data, and configuration and most policy is handled for you (though you might provide metadata to influence both). The development team steps back from defining the specific operations logic for their applications, and instead trusts it to the platform service.

Because the developer does little day-to-day operations in the traditional sense, this approach is sometimes called NoOps. I personally despise that term.

It should also be noted that these platforms are essentially coding frameworks provided as a service, which can limit the class of applications to which they apply. So, it is unlikely that a single platform solution will meet the needs of an entire business.

Nonetheless, I think this is the (long-term) future of IT operations: relying on platform services to manage most of the day-to-day performance and survivability challenges a custom application faces. For those companies that are big enough, there may be a team that uses more of a merged DevOps team approach to deliver a platform service of their own. But the vast majority of companies will slowly move away from running infrastructure toward building and constantly tweaking applications.

The road will be far from easy

I say that knowing full well that many of you are reading this thinking “there is no way my organization is moving to a model like that anytime soon.” And I completely agree. Legacy applications weren’t built for this model, and most organizations aren’t set up to handle these tasks, either. The “traditional” siloed operations model will survive for a while at most companies.

But for how long is, in my opinion, uncertain. Take a look at Netflix, a poster child for pushing cloud operations boundaries. They believe very much in the platform services model.

The truth is, if you haven’t already started automating operations for your applications built for the cloud, you are not taking full advantage of the model. Start, at least, with that. However, consider that, as platform services (both public and private) mature, it may make more sense to build your next generation of applications on one.

Just don’t fool yourself. Regardless of which model you adopt, your company will always be doing some sort of operations. Don’t let the terminology fool you when it comes to that.

Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

James Urquhart is vice president of products at enStratus and a regular GigaOM contributor.

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Icon Badger Provides Favicon Notifications on Pinned Tabs [Chrome Extensions]

This post is by David Galloway from Lifehacker

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

Chrome: If you like to pin your tabs in Chrome you may have noticed that you usually lose new item notifcations that several sites such as Gmail, Facebook, and others add to the page title. With Chrome extension Icon Badger many of these notifications are moved to the favicon so you can know when your favorite sites are updated even when their tabs are pinned. More »

Glitchr, the Facebook page designed to break Facebook

This post is by Adi Robertson from The Verge - All Posts

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post


Facebook is the epitome of centralized order. Its features are created and released with a certain technocratic paternalism, an insistence that it be allowed to protect you from the tacky excesses of MySpace. And to some extent, this is exactly what’s best about it when it works — people may dislike being pushed into Timeline, but they detest being spammed with social gaming invitations. It’s also the reason why a page like Glitchr is so much fun.

Glitchr is a collection of hacks and tricks that push the limits of what can be confined to the Facebook format. The results range from duplicated chat feeds to layout-breaking collections of pronunciation marks or diacritics. We wouldn’t exactly call it subversive, but it’s gathered a…

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Tired Of Straight Tech News? Check Out

This post is by Contributor from TechCrunch

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post


We know that many of you visit TechCrunch on the regular for a hearty dose of startup coverage, general tech news and opinionated coverage of the tech zeitgeist.

But we also know that the trainwreck posting on our hirings and firings, Aol spats, tech gossip and quibbles between staff is what really gets your fingers clicking and blood boiling.

I mean, it’s like a car accident, you can’t help but stare.

So to cater to everyone who just visits here just for the drama, we’re today launching a drama-only new channel,, where you can find such conflict-infused fare as “I’m Leaving TechCrunch. Here’s Why” or “How The Hell Is It My Fault?” or “CrunchPad Federal Lawsuit Filed; Some Additional Thoughts.”

But it’s not just about navel-gazing and staff changes (though there’s plenty of that) certain actual news also qualifies as dramatic, simply by virtue of the spools and spools of comment threads it produces, e.g. the leaked Twitter documents.

There’s not really a way to define what constitutes a “dramatic” post, other than when it hits it causes an Internet explosion.

We’ve heard time and time again that you’ve missed TechCrunch’s “swagger,” and we agree; So the next time your eyes glaze over while reading the umpteenth re-written press release, click on the “Drama” link up there on the navigation bar and relive some our site’s most superfluous, gut wrenching and annoying coverage.

You know you love it.

Why Groupon is poised for collapse

This post is by Rocky Agrawal from VentureBeat

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

Groupon was forced to restate fourth quarter earnings, sending its stock down 6% in after-hours trading. This surprised me as much as my $2 investment in the Mega Millions jackpot not paying off.

The reasons for Groupon’s restatement were higher refund reserves and weakness in internal controls. These are issues I’ve repeatedly discussed. I raised them directly with Groupon PR in September (back when they still would speak to me) and I was assured that refunds weren’t an issue for Groupon.

I also spoke with a former Groupon salesperson who claimed he was fired because he raised concerns about poor internal systems that didn’t track deals correctly and complaints about poor risk management when it comes to running deals.

So what’s happening at the coupon company?

Well, for starters, it’s not a coupon company nor a marketing company. At its core, Groupon’s U.S. business is a receivables factoring business, as I wrote last year. They give loans to small businesses at a very steep rate (the price of the discount plus Groupon’s commission). They get the money to fund these loans from credit card companies such as Chase Paymentech. Groupon is essentially a sub-prime lender that does zero risk assessment. And as word continues to spread about what a terrible deal running a Groupon is for many categories of businesses, the ones that will choose to run Groupons are the ones that are the most desperate. For U.S. based businesses, the only time I can definitely recommend running a Groupon is if it is otherwise going to go out of business.

Another factor is that Groupon is selling bigger and bigger deals and many of these have requirements for use. Some deals have medical qualifications. The former salesperson told me about Groupons for a procedure called “cool sculpting”. In this procedure, fat is frozen off the body. In order to get the treatment, patients must be medically qualified. But Groupon has no way of medically qualifying purchasers and will sell it to anyone. When they go to the doctor and find out that they aren’t eligible, they call Groupon for a refund. If this is several months later, after Groupon has paid out the entirety of what it owes the provider, this can mean a refund loss for Groupon.

Travel is another risky category for Groupon. Unlike Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Jetsetter and nearly every other major travel provider, Groupon does not require consumers to pick their dates and confirm availability at the time of purchase. When a consumer finds he can’t use his Groupon months later, he calls for a refund. Groupon also hides material restrictions on travel deals, something I pointed out in September and Groupon still hasn’t rectified.

Because these are higher ticket items that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, consumers are more likely to ask for a refund than on lower ticket items. In the short term, it means a revenue boost to Groupon, which the company needs as its once torrid growth cools. In the long term, it means refund losses.

The “Groupon Promise” is another risk factor. It’s an overly broad promise designed to allay consumers’ concern about using Groupons. Because it is so broad, it results in higher refund rates than would otherwise be the case.

Yet another concern is that Groupon does not track how much outstanding Groupon “debt” there is. No one in the world can tell you how many and how much Groupon value is outstanding. Unlike typical gift card sales, Groupon books revenue immediately and then does not show the Groupons on its balance sheet. By my estimates, Groupon has between $500 and $750 million in liabilities that it doesn’t show on its balance sheet.

In theory, Groupon’s exposure to that risk is covered by its refund reserves — but we don’t know the size of those reserves. And as yesterday’s restatement shows, the company’s calculated them poorly. Unless Groupon begins to do risk assessment on deals before they run, changes its payout terms to businesses, or drastically changes its refund policies, I expect refund rates to continue to rise. If they do any of those things, I expect revenue declines because it will make running Groupons less attractive to businesses and buying Groupons less attractive to consumers.

Groupon has also worked hard to hide its refund rates. While going through its S-1 process last year, Groupon continually revised its accounting. At one point, I discovered a way to calculate the company’s refund rates and found they had likely increased more than 40% year-over-year. In the next amendment to its S-1, Groupon changed its accounting again to bury that data.

Investors should also be concerned about the fact that Groupon’s lockup should end in early May, releasing a lot more shares onto the market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Groupon trading in single digits after that and heading to zero within the next 36 months. Groupon’s best bet is if it can acquire its way into a sustainable business model; I’m doubtful that will happen considering the companies it has purchased to date.

With its restatement, Groupon said that its guidance for the first quarter remained the same as earlier. Given that its lockup should end shortly before it reports first quarter results, I would take that assessment with a mine full of salt.

Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at; and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

[Top image credit: Losevsky Pavel/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

Find the Higgs Boson in ‘Ms. Particle-Man’ for iOS and browsers

This post is by Adi Robertson from The Verge - All Posts

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

Ms. Particle-Man

We may not be any closer to conclusively finding the elusive Higgs Boson, but Michael Falk’s Ms. Particle-Man gives you a chance to look for it in the form of a retro iOS and browser title. The titular bow-adorned character must make it through three different colliders, collecting energy and battling the lepton, gluon, and quark “boss particles.” Gameplay is challenging, unforgiving, and quite satisfying. It’s $0.99 on the App Store, but you can head over here to play it for free with the Silverlight plugin.

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Meet Virgin Volcanic: A vehicle for journeying to the center of the Earth

This post is by Jennifer Van Grove from VentureBeat

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

Screw space travel, the next big thing in world exploration is way hotter.

Sir Richard Branson and Virgin have today announced Virgin Volcanic, a vehicle that will take three people to the molten lava core of active volcanos.

The corkscrew-shaped vessel, named VVS1, will dive deep into the earth’s core beginning in 2015 and start with trips to the five most active valances in the world: Etna, Stromboli, Yasur, Ambrym, and Tinakula. Branson, a self-professed “Volcanaut,” will be joined by celebrity pals Tom Hanks,, Seth Green, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stephen Hawking, and Barbara Kopple on the first few volcanic expeditions.

“A window seat for a journey to the liquid core of our home planet would be a bargain at twice the price,” Hanks said.

Sounds like one hot ride, right? But before you start pinching your pennies — a deposit alone will set you back 100 million of them — and packing your bags (what does one wear when journeying to the earth’s core?), let us take a little commercial break and remind you that the Virgin Volcanic is being introduced on the eve of April 1.

Sorry sojourner, this volcanic craft is as real as Google’s 8-bit Maps cartridge for NES.

Kudos to Virgin, though, as the brand has smartly gone with a strong social push of the Vigin Volcanic hoax on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Branson, himself, is tweeting up a storm about the launch. One might even go so far as to call the campaign — wait for it — groundbreaking.

Filed under: VentureBeat