The Avengers Overseas: Breaking Box Office Records


This post is by Andru Edwards from Gear Live


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Avengers Movie

So… this is happening: The Avengers is killing it at the overseas box office.

Those lucky overseasers got it first and they're filling up the Marvel treasure chest with a whopping $185 million so far.

Rolling Stone reports that the movie “has it all. And then some.”


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The Avengers Overseas: Breaking Box Office Records originally appeared on Comix 411 on Mon, April 30, 2012 – 10:53:03


Comic Book Jobs: Viz Media


This post is by Andru Edwards from Gear Live


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VoltronViz, the San Francisco-based manga and anime company has some job openings that look interesting.

They’re looking for an Associate Producer (New Media), a Controller, and a Staff Accountant.

Details are at the link. In general, Viz has a pretty good employee package that includes: Partially subsidized Health, Dental, and Vision insurance; 401(k) savings plan – including employer matching; Gap medical insurance; and a Wellness program, including fitness membership discounts and reimbursement (which is perfect for people who get paid to read comics all day.

Good luck, job seekers!

[Artwork: Voltron, from Viz]


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Comic Book Jobs: Viz Media originally appeared on Comix 411 on Mon, April 30, 2012 – 10:49:30


Quote Of The Day: The Raven


This post is by Andru Edwards from Gear Live


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The Raven

“The investigation becomes a sort of dark scavenger hunt, shot by director James McTeigue with the stylized comic-book artificiality that characterized his V for Vendetta; indeed, The Raven seems as if it would be more comfortable as a graphic novel than as a movie.”

— Jay Stone, Movie Critic

Be sure to check out our other notable quotes!


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Quote Of The Day: The Raven originally appeared on Comix 411 on Mon, April 30, 2012 – 10:45:45


Apple pushes developers to prepare for Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper security feature


This post is by Bryan Bishop from The Verge - All Posts


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Gatekeeper and Developer ID email

Whereas the Mac App Store provides an iOS-style curated app experience, current Mac owners are also able to install any application they desire from the web or elsewhere. As part of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple will be introducing a third option: apps that are available outside the App Store, but are signed by digital certificates courtesy of Apple to help ensure they’re malware-free. It’s part of a new security feature called Gatekeeper, and Apple has officially started herding Mac developers in its direction. In an email sent out to today, Apple encouraged developers to begin signing their applications, plug-ins, and installer packages with their Apple Developer ID to take advantage of the feature (the Developer ID itself launched…

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Washington Post only wants Digg’s human assets


This post is by Staci D. Kramer from GigaOM


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The ex-newspaper editor in my house looked up from his laptop and yelped, “The Washington Post is hiring the people from Digg?” Usually that wouldn’t be a blip for him but he instantly connected the move to the latest batch of people to lose their jobs in the WaPo newsroom through buyouts or layoffs. It was a visceral reaction and one that’s easy to understand.

But he knows, as do I, that changing news organizations these days isn’t always a zero sum game. Sometimes it’s a matter of different budgets covering different areas. Sometimes it’s a series of tradeoffs. If you want to invest in X, you have to cut back on Y. If you want to have reporters covering one area, sometimes you have to give up on another. Sometimes it’s about dumping the costs of having more experienced journalists to make the budget. (See the mention of ex-editor in the lead.) Sometimes one part of a company is cutting back while another area is expanding.

You have to invest

You can’t cut your way to success and you can’t spend your way there either — although we can list plenty of people in the news business who thought otherwise. But if you want to change the trajectory, you have to invest in research and development. You have to experiment. You have to be willing to think differently or to hire people who can.

That’s what Don Graham has been trying to do at the Washington Post Co. while keeping up the standards of journalism he followed as a reporter and publisher. That’s one reason he ended up as an investor in Facebook and a member of the board. That’s why he hired Vijay Ravindran as chief digital officer and started WaPo Labs, why the WaPoCo acquired iCurrent in 2010 and launched personalization service Trove last year, why it invested in social news site Ongo with the New York Times and Gannett, why Ravindran recently hired Rob “cmdrtaco” Malda to lead strategy.

So what is it doing with Digg?

No comment tonight from WaPo, other than a PR rep declining comment. Also no direct confirmation that it’s doing anything at all with Digg but according to some reporters I trust (even if they can’t spell acqhire), at least some of the tech/dev Digg team is headed to WaPo. Engineering, tech and dev talent is at a premium these days as is the ability to mesh it with news and information. WaPo doesn’t need Digg — but it can use a talented team of makers, if that’s what is happening.

Does the company need them more than its journalists? It needs them each differently.

Whither Digg?

The WaPo-Digg storyline emerged Monday as a rumor from The Next Web that the Washington Post was acquiring Digg, the once-hot social curator that has gone dim,  followed by reports that it was hiring some of the Digg team. (Anthony, I promise you it’s acqhire.) According to Peter Kafka, Digg won’t shut down just yet. I envision this as one of those creatures that keeps living even after you cut off the head although I can’t decide if it’s a chicken, a snake or a spider. Some might argue that happened years ago and what we’re seeing now is just the winding down.

Rob Malda, who founded slashdot, will be at paidContent 2012 with other leaders in tech, media and investing to explore how to make the most of today’s opportunities. Join us at The TimesCenter in New York, May 23.

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Glimpse shows you the fashions of Facebook (hands-on)


This post is by Jeff Blagdon from The Verge - All Posts


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glimpse 1020 stock

When Pinterest launched last year as part of a new wave of social curation tools it simplified sharing what you were into by “pinning” stuff from around the web to your personal site. As a Pinterest user you can see what other people are sharing and follow individuals with similar tastes, allowing you to discover new stuff that would be inaccessible without a group of sufficiently arty friends to draw from. Now shopping portal TheFind brings us Glimpse — crossing Pinterest’s approach to discovery with the tyranny of the Facebook Like mob. However, despite the novel idea, what Glimpse has on offer looks a lot more like the Top 40 than Pinterest’s eclectic record collection.


Once you enable the Glimpse app on your Facebook account, a…

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Jawbone’s Big Jambox may be the only speaker you’ll ever need (review)


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Jawbone Big Jambox

It’s big. It’s boxy. And it can power tunes cordlessly for 15 hours.

Jawbone unveiled the Big Jambox today, a large wireless speaker that improves upon its popular and smaller older sibling in practically every way. With the Big Jambox, Jawbone continues to cement itself as an innovator in the oft-forgotten realm of audio devices, and it has crafted a device that’s even more useful than the original Jambox.

It’s funny how much companies can change in the span of a year. In 2010, Jawbone was only known for its Bluetooth headsets, but it changed things up last year with the Jambox wireless speaker — which quickly turned into a runaway success — and the Up fitness wristband. Unfortunately, a widespread defect forced Jawbone to offer full refunds for the Up shortly after it launched (sales still haven’t resumed), but that’s not slowing the company down.

I had a chance to jam out with the $299 Big Jambox over the weekend. And after testing it with plenty of tunes from Air, Gorillaz, Screaming Females, and a plethora of bombastic movie scores, I think it’s safe to call it another potential hit for Jawbone.

The Big Jambox sounds so good that it could end up being the only speaker many consumers need for music and movies. And since it’s portable — weighing in at 2.7 pounds with a built-in battery that lasts for up to 15 hours of music playback — it’s also one of the most useful speakers on the market.

(Of course, the Big Jambox doesn’t fully replace the need for a real home theater system, or a fancy bookshelf setup for music. But it’s ideal for consumers who don’t want to deal with the complicated setup and exorbitant expense of other solutions.)

The Good: Great sound, looks, and utility

Jawbone Big JamboxWhile the original Jambox did a fine job of filling a small room with sound, its diminutive stature limited its capabilities in large living rooms and outdoors. You can have a cute dorm room jam session with the original Jambox, but with the Big Jambox, you can hold a party that will truly annoy your neighbors.

At first glance, the Big Jambox merely looks like Jawbone’s first speaker made larger. It has the same boxy Yves Behar design and steel mesh grill. But under the hood, things are dramatically different. The Big Jambox sports two active neodymium drivers and two bass radiators (in the front and rear). The device’s enclosure is also entirely sealed, which increases power and volume efficiency.

The Big Jambox also sports a decent amount of computing power, which drives a multiband compression feature that removes distortion, and a loudness compensation algorithm. All of this means that you can play the Big Jambox at high volumes without any distortion — something that even more expensive speaker setups can’t offer.

Just like the first Jambox, the new version can play audio from any Bluetooth-enabled device with a range of 33 feet. Of course, there’s also a 3.5 millimeter line input for non-wireless devices. The Big Jambox also adds some very useful on-board buttons, including a dedicated Bluetooth pairing button, as well as buttons for controlling music playback. And after countless reports of the original Jambox dancing itself off of tables, Jawbone has wisely decided to add rubber feet to the Big Jambox.

Unlike the original, this Jambox can support multiple Bluetooth devices as once, so you and your friends can all take turns DJing at parties.

Jawbone Big JamboxI threw practically every musical genre at the Big Jambox and still came away impressed. It excelled at mid- and high-range notes, which made it ideal for Air’s unique soundscape and most electronic music. The Big Jambox had some trouble with extremely low-frequency notes, which are typically handled by external subwoofers, but it was nothing deal-breaking.

LiveAudio, Jawbone’s 3D audio technology, comes pre-installed on the Big Jambox, and it does a surprisingly great job of making audio sound more expansive. The software emulates left- and right-channel separation, so music that takes advantage of stereo positioning sounds especially good. I tested out LiveAudio on the original Jambox, but the Big Jambox can do a lot more with the technology thanks to its larger size.

The device is also well-suited for movies and TV — at least, if you’re not willing to set up a decent surround sound system. Unsurprisingly, the Big Jambox pumped out sound richer and louder than the built-in speakers in my plasma TV. Sound quality in HDTVs has actually gotten worse as sets have become thinner, so practically any external speaker setup would be an improvement.

Jawbone also touts Big Jambox’s “Type-1″ speakerphone compliancy, which means it passes a certain baseline of quality for enterprise use. I still use the original Jambox as a speakerphone today, and the Big Jambox improves upon it by allowing for group conference calls. Its omnidirectional microphone is positioned on top of the speaker, which makes it perfect for placing in the center of a table for group calls.

While the Big Jambox sounds great, its best feature is the ability to continue sounding great pretty much anywhere. Unlike traditional speakers that rarely ever move, the Big Jambox’s large battery and light weight makes it the perfect speaker for any room. It can move with you from the living room, to the kitchen, and even outdoors, without being chained down by wires.

The Bad: No Airplay, Wi-Fi, price may be tough to stomach

The original Jambox atop the Big Jambox

For some reason, consumers always seem to skimp on audio technology. Far too many people live with the iPod’s crummy white headphones, and only certain audiophiles (like this writer) will invest in a killer home theater setup. At $299, the Big Jambox may be too expensive for the typical consumer — though I’d wager that once they see how useful it can be, they won’t mind the cost.

Jawbone is also holding steady with the original Jambox’s $199 price, which means the Big Jambox is a pretty great deal considering how much better it sounds for $100 more.

It’s also surprising that Jawbone didn’t upgrade the device with Airplay (for potentially better sound quality from iOS devices) and Wi-Fi functionality, though I honestly didn’t miss either since Bluetooth worked well enough. Both of those technologies also could have cut into the Big Jambox’s playback time — Bluetooth was always designed as something for low-power devices.

The Lowdown: A surprisingly killer wireless speaker

I’ve been testing out several wireless audio products over the last few weeks, and the Big Jambox ranks among the leaders. It’s gorgeously designed, sounds fantastic, and is one of the most useful devices I’ve reviewed.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to test out the Sonos Play:3, which is the Big Jambox’s direct competitor at $299. But it stood up well against my Audioengine 2 computer speakers, as well as my home theater setup (a Harmon Kardon receiver with Onkyo speakers + sub). That alone tells me that Jawbone has crafted something special.

The Big Jambox will be available on May 15 for $299, with pre-orders starting today.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat


Hands-On With the Jawbone Big Jambox: 2.7 Pounds of Audio Fury, Available May 15 for $299


This post is by Peter Ha from TechCrunch


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photo 1

Bigger isn’t necessarily better but in the case of Jawbone’s Jambox, it might actually work out. Typically known for their Bluetooth headsets and the ill-fated-but-not-quite-dead UP band, Jawbone has figured out what their “cool kids” product is and it happens to be a tiny portable speaker.

But for the second generation version, simply called Big Jambox, the company is cranking up the volume from 10 to 11. While it retains some portability, the Big Jambox is really meant for those instances where you have 20 people posted up near the bonfire or you’re looking for a no-fuss micro system for your home entertainment center. At less than three pounds — 2.7 pounds to be specific — it’s still portable but everything else is on steroids. Jawbone says the built-in battery will last up to 15 hours for continuous playback and 500 hours of standby.

A couple of new features sweeten the deal, including a dedicated pairing button and the ability to pair two devices at once. In other words, two separate devices can actively control the music allowing you or your significant other, for example, to pipe different music from two separate sources to one Big Jambox. The Big Jambox will remember up to eight devices and will actively pair itself with the two most recent devices if they’re available over Bluetooth.

The other big feature is LiveAudio, which was made available for original Jambox owners via an update last year. Jawbone explains it as a three-dimensional listening experience. The easiest way to explain it is that there’s varying levels of sound or depth, i.e., you hear a lot more of the track and any nuances you might not have noticed with other speakers. LiveAudio manages to eliminate Crosstalk, so you hear completely different sounds between the left and right side.

While my time with the bigger, badder Jambox was limited, I walked away impressed by this particular feature because it offered a different listening experience than anything else I’ve experienced from a peripheral of this nature. However, it is directional, so you have to be planted in its direct path to get the full experience. If you happen to be somewhere else in the room, you wouldn’t know whether LiveAudio was turned on or off.

We’ll have a full review in the coming days.

Pre-orders begin May 1 with units (red, black, white) in store by May 15 with a $299 price tag.

Specs:

Speakers: Two active drivers, two opposing passive bass radiators

Dimensions: 10″ x 3.1″ x 3.6″

Connections: 3.5mm Stereo Line input, Bluetooth


Jambox wireless speaker gets bigger & better


This post is by from GigaOM


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Jawbone, the San Francisco-based company that got its start making headsets for mobile phones is launching a new wireless speaker, simply called the Big Jambox. It is a much larger (and louder) version of its portable Jambox speaker that is one of the top selling wireless speakers in the market.

The Big Jambox comes with 15 hours of battery life and connects to the iPhone via bluetooth. “We are targeting the speakers that want to make you dock your phone,” says Hosain Rahman, chief executive officer and founder of Jawbone. “It makes no sense to dock your phone, considering we are doing more and more things on the phone.” In other words, they are taking aim at the likes of Bose with this new speaker.

Connected Experience

Rahman, in an earlier interview said that emergence of iPhone-connected consumer electronics
devices is a big opportunity for his company, which has gone through many ups-and-downs. Jawbone has taken the audio technology it used in its original headphones and expanded into different categories by building new capabilities. The Big Jambox is the latest in a series of connected devices being launched by the company. Jawbone launched the original (and smaller) Jambox a couple of years ago and a few months ago launched the fitness-oriented UP device in addition to its lineup of bluetooth headsets. UP launched with much fanfare but encountered stormy weather soon after launch. In comparison, the $299 Big Jambox is a less risky move for the company.

Rahman believes that the devices such as the Big Jambox have to be social as well and as a result they have built in ability to take sound inputs from different sources – so for instance you could be playing your playlist and your spouse could switch the Big Jambox to playback their playlist. The speaker is simple, well designed and easily portable. It was designed by Yves Behar, chief creative officer for Jawbone.

Hey Dj, Hit That Bass

So how must be wondering does it sound?

I have been using the Big Jambox for a couple of days and my initial impression is that the speaker is very good. First as a speakerphone, it is a godsend. I cannot underscore how much better it is to make phone calls via Big Jambox versus turning on the speaker phone functionality that is built into the iPhone. I used it to make phone calls via Skype and so far have nothing to complain. You can customize the Big Jambox via the company’s MyTalk platform.

Now when it comes to music, Big Jambox isn’t going to replace my Sonus Faber speakers or even the Sonos Play 3, but it is a nice addition to my home office. The sound is clear, crisp, though I find it a tad metallic. I like my sound “warm” but you can get that only from old-fashioned speakers. The sound of Big Jambox reminds me of old-fashioned cassette players that made Sony and Panasonic a lot of money. Think of it as a boom-box for the iPhone age.

The speaker comes with what the company calls Live Audio technology that makes it possible to get a 3D audio effect, which is pretty awesome when you are watching movies. I would say that is my most favorite part of the speaker. Rahman says that the company wants to get more folks using the Live Audio technology and is going to offer an API that can be utilized by other apps as well. As it is always the case, I don’t make a decision or a recommendation based without putting it through the paces, so stay tuned for the review.

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Washington Post reportedly hiring Digg staff, leaving the site’s future uncertain


This post is by Scott Lowe from The Verge - All Posts


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Digg logo

Things are looking grim for the future of Digg, as AllThingsD is now reporting that the Washington Post is in the process of acquiring the site’s core technology team, leaving only a skeleton crew intact. Rumors emerged earlier today suggesting that the publishing giant had plans to acquire the entirety of the company, but sources familiar with the negotiations claim that the Washington Post will use the talent acquisition to take advantage of Digg’s Social Reader Facebook app. Despite losing the bulk of its technology team, Digg’s remaining staff reportedly plan on attempting to find new ways to leverage the site’s traffic and brand recognition.

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Online Video Content Pioneer Revision3 In Acquisition Talks With The Discovery Channel


This post is by Eric Eldon from TechCrunch


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Screen Shot 2012-04-30 at 10.10.25 PM

Seven years in, Revision3 and its stable of web stars have more than survived the tough early days of building a video content business on the web. The San Francisco company is now bringing in a respectable 100 million video views per month, following a big 2011 — and it may be about to cash in.

It’s been working on a sale for the past several weeks, we’re hearing from multiple sources, with the acquirer being a television-based media company, The Discovery Channel. The price is between $30 million to $40 million, according to one person (in the range of what another video content company, Next New Networks, sold to YouTube for last year). The deal could close as soon as this week.

The company reported ad-based revenue growth of 53% in 2011 — albeit with no hard numbers disclosed — and a video view increase of 359%, to 800 million views. It also grew its YouTube subscriber base to more than 4.5 million people over the same period, a four-fold annual gain.

The company has also been well-supported by top tech investors, having raised $10 million in two rounds from Greylock Partners, with additional funding from Marc Andreessen and Mark Cuban.

Meanwhile, The Discovery Channel, which describes itself as the #1 nonfiction media company in the world, hasn’t had an especially strong web presence. So the match seems to make sense.


Incubators matter: The average Y Combinator company is worth $45.2M


This post is by Dylan Tweney from VentureBeat


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Y Combinator startups are excited about all the value the incubator is creating

Does it matter whether your fledgling company spends a stint in an incubator? Does it ever! Forbes‘ recent ranking of incubators around the country found that the average Y Combinator company is worth $45.2 million. Just try doing that on your own.

That’s the average across 172 companies, mind you: The total value of all Y Combinator companies is $7.8 billion. “The data is of course skewed by certain large companies,” Forbes admits, among them Dropbox and Airbnb, although Mountain View, Calif.-based Y Combinator didn’t spell out how much each of its alumni are worth.

As the article notes, Sequoia Captial, Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, and Ron Conway together have provided a guarantee of $150,000 in funding for every company accepted to the prestigious club. But the real value is in the other entrepreneurs as well as investors who are plugged in to Y Combinator’s now-potent network.

The number-two incubator 0n the list is TechStars, which started in Boulder, Colo., and now has spaces in New York, Seattle, Boston, and San Antonio, Texas. TechStars has hosted 114 companies to date, and while the Forbes story doesn’t say what their total worth is, it does note that 73 of the companies have raised a total of $134 million in venture capital so far.

“It’s become a new college for entrepreneurs because we’re so selective on front end,” said TechStars founder David Cohen, of the incubator model. Sure: If colleges paid you six figures instead of the other way around, and if you came out of college owning a significant chunk of a multimillion-dollar company instead of owning a ZipCar membership and a handful of maxed-out credit cards, then the analogy is a good one.

DreamIt Ventures (Philadelphia, New York, and Israel), AngelPad (San Francisco), and LaunchPad LA round out the top 5 in Forbes’ list.

Via Forbes

Photo credit: Al Abut/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat


Thinkfuse Exits Beta: Get Your Team Out of Progress Review Hell With Simple, Searchable Status Reports


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TPSreports

It’s the problem every manager or CEO faces: how do you stay aware of what everyone is doing?

Thinkfuse, which debuted at last year’s TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, is out of beta with a product that makes it easy to get a single status report on what everyone is working on across a company or team.

The Seattle-based company, which was formed by former Googlers and ex-Microsofties, was inspired by Snippets — an internal tool that Google uses. Every week, Googlers would post a simple status update explaining what they had worked on and what they planned to finish by the next week. All of those updates would go into a report for managers and they would also be searchable for everyone else.

Thinkfuse is trying to make this available for everyone. A manager or CEO can sign up with Thinkfuse and then ask their employees to file reports every week by e-mail. It’s elegant because it doesn’t require too much behavior change. There’s no entirely new system to learn and it slides right into e-mail.

“It helps make a habit of just pausing for 15 minutes a week and thinking about what’s actually important, what you’ve accomplished and how that lines up against company goals,” said Thinkfuse’s chief executive, Aydin Ghajar.

Once all those reports are filed, they’re searchable and they can be organized by team, location or role.

Ghajar says that other social apps for the enterprise, like Yammer, get treated too much like Facebook.

“People post everything from random thoughts to company photos,” Ghajar said. “That makes it difficult to find business critical information.”

He says Yammer and Jive end up being more complementary than competitive to what Thinkfuse offers. Another company in the space, Asana, can show what workers are doing at any given time, but it requires them to adopt a totally new system and drastically change their behavior. The closest competitor might be 15five, which debuted at the Launch conference earlier this year.

Since launching last year, they’ve enrolled about 450 companies in the beta. This is clearly going to be a freemium product, but pricing isn’t out yet. Ghajar says he’s thinking managers might pay $10 or $20 a month for premium analytics and features.

Thinkfuse has raised about a half-million from angel investors including Ali and Hadi Partovi, SV Angel and Scott Banister. It was also a TechStars company.

And just for good fun, remember TPS reports? Yeah, Thinkfuse is like the opposite of that:




Bartender for OS X cures menu bar clutter


This post is by Evan Rodgers from The Verge - All Posts


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Photo

If you use a wide variety of software on a Mac, your menu bar is probably cluttered with residual application icons. Luckily, Surtees Studios recently released a little utility called Bartender which allows you to hide unwanted menu icons in a collapsable sub-menu bar. This behavior is reminiscent of the Windows system tray, but lacks the ability to automatically hide icons that are inactive like its Windows counterpart.

Bartender is simple in principle and execution — a gear icon in the far right invokes the preference pane that allows you choose which menu bar, if any, an application icon should be included in. The utility is compatible with almost every program that has a menu icon, unlike its main competitor, Broomstick, which…

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As It Graduates From Network To Platform, Edmodo Now Serving 7M Users, 80K Schools


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edmodo_logo_color

Edmodo is one of the startups whose name pops up a lot when you talk about “edtech.” Founded in 2007, the company is almost old school, yet, in spite of the influx of new education-focused startups, Edmodo continues to press forward. This is largely due to due to its appeal as a social learning platform for K-12 education — one that has earned it the “Facebook for the classroom” moniker — meaning that Edmodo enables teachers to share to share content, manage projects, assignments and notifications, distribute quizzes and events — both among students and colleagues. But the real key, and where it departs from being synonymous with an “educational Facebook,” is that all this collaboration and classroom management takes place within a network that it completely private and secure.

This is the core value proposition that has led to Edmodo’s growing adoption among teachers and school districts. Case in point: The startup is today announcing that it has officially crossed 7 million users and is now being used in over 80,000 schools. Districts across the U.S. are now doing wide-scale implementations, and 80 of the top 100 largest school districts in the U.S. are on board, including Chicago Public Schools, Denver Public Schools, Delaware, Palm Beach, Florida, Clark County, Nevada, and Wake County, North Carolina.

In fact, the Edmodo founders tell us that the service is now being used not only in every state in the U.S., but every country in the world. The team also said that it’s growing steadily in international markets, especially in southeast Asia, as well as Australia and the U.K.

For a little perspective on the timeframe of this growth, in September 2011, Edmodo counted 3 million users in its system, which means that, over the course of the 2011-2012 school year, Edmodo has more than doubled its user base. Again, part of the explanation for this is that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” That is to say, schools and teachers are, en masse, looking for smarter ways to integrate technology into the classroom, and, as a result, there’s been a growing demand for blended learning solutions — i.e. those that enable teachers to combine in-classroom and online approaches to better address the diversity of learning styles among student populations.

Educators and administrators are moving away from the monolithic, traditional learning management systems (like Blackboard and Moodle) in favor of collaborative, stream-based social environments — a trend on which Edmodo has thus far been able to capitalize.

On the one hand, it’s important to celebrate the growing number of online and blended learning solutions that are attempting to address the sky-rocketing costs of education in the U.S., and in turn, both higher ed and K-12 institutions’ openness to adopting fresh, disruptive alternatives to their legacy systems. So, while growing user bases thankfully represent a growing demand, on the other hand, these vanity metrics mean little without viable revenue streams.

In December, Edmodo raised $15 million from Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital, which gives the startup plenty of cushion as it moves to scale its business across the U.S. and around the world. Its venture investment notwithstanding, up until recently, it hadn’t really been evident how Edmodo planned to make money.

So, not unlike Facebook, Edmodo has been making an effort to transition from a free collaboration and communications network into a platform — through which others could leverage its growing network to sell their own products and applications. In March, Edmodo opened up an API to third–party developers, enabling any and all ed-focused builders to create apps on top of its platform.

While this may not sound particularly mind-blowing, it actually represents a big opportunity for edtech developers, which have traditionally met with more than a few hurdles when trying to sell products to schools and teachers. The kind of investment in sales and marketing, for example, that is required to gain significant traction in K-12 classrooms really isn’t within the budget of most small development operations — or startups, for that matter.

With Edmodo’s app store on the market, app developers and startups won’t have to be as reliant on closing district-wide sales, and can instead sell their wares direct to those who will find them most applicable to their daily operations. Plus, teachers are able to connect these new apps to already-existing Edmodo features, like badges, assignments and quizzes to make learning more engaging for their students.

And, as edtech startups look to establish viable revenue streams, for Edmodo, the app store model means being able to take a step in that direction. The platform launched with more than 35 partners, which developed everything from educational games to subject-specific learning solutions, and are offering both free and premium apps. Just like the App Store et al, Edmodo gets to take a cut of app sales, and steer toward profitability.

While it’s still too early to say whether its app store is on the way to becoming a big money-maker, because the app store really won’t take full effect until students go back to school in September, the team is jazzed about the progress thus far. (They’ve added at least 5 more partners since March, on top of Mathalicious, Late Nite Labs, Desmos, BrainNook, Aviary, etc.)

As to what’s next? As hinted previously, Edmodo Apps will go into wide release to all U.S. teachers at the beginning of the school year, and the company plans on launching a slew of new features as it gears up for September.

For more on Edmodo, check ‘em out at home here.


The Rise of Beautiful Apps


This post is by from ReadWriteWeb


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A noticeable trend this year is beautiful apps or websites. It’s all part of a larger trend that I’m calling The Visual Web, meaning that images and video are becoming an increasingly important part of what we consume online. Pinterest is the best example of that larger trend. But by “beautiful apps or websites,” I’m specifically referring to extremely well-designed apps or websites. Ones that make you drool. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I think we all agree that Johnny Depp and Reese Witherspoon are particularly fine examples of beauty in human form. So what’s the app equivalent of Johnny Depp? Or the website version of Reese Witherspoon?

One beautiful site I came across today is Art.sy, an art social network currently in private beta. The colorful art works are visually stunning. The images contrast nicely with the white background and black navigation fonts of the site. The art works are displayed as high resolution images, which allows you to zoom in for a much closer look. Here are some screenshots showing how I was able to get an up-close-and-personal view of an art piece called ‘Kaleidoscope’ by Marcelo Silveira.







The photo sharing app is one of the most common types of apps on the Web. Flickr was the darling of the Web 2.0 era, Instagram became the mobile web photo tool of choice. Could 500px become the photo sharing app for the Visual Web?

Our own Jon Mitchell nailed it, when he compared 500px to Flickr: “…500px has a stylish interface and more attractive photo presentation, arguably the most important feature for a photo site. It has a great new uploader app for the Mac and a gorgeous new viewer on the iPad. Flickr’s growth has slowed under Yahoo, and 500px is shipping worthy features for the 2012 Web at a prodigious rate.”



Being beautiful is just part of the equation, of course. Johnny Depp may be an incredibly handsome man, but it was his intelligence, quirkiness and charm that made him a superstar. So the likes of Art.sy and 500px will need to do a lot more than just look pretty. They need network effects, which means there must be a compelling reason for people to come back and use these services every day.

Being beautiful isn’t that reason, although it doesn’t harm their prospects for success.

Let us know your favorite beautiful app or website, in the comments – or via Twitter, Facebook or Google+. We’ll follow-up with another post after we compile your picks.


Straight outta Stanford, Bina wants to remake genome analysis


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The advent of the $1,000 genome is bound to revolutionize researchers’ understanding of human health, but ever-lower prices on DNA sequencing are only half the battle. Researchers also need to analyze the raw data that comes off sequencing machines, which can range between many gigabytes to terabytes and can cost well more than the sequencing itself. That’s why a collection of startups are trying to stake their claims as essential parts of the genomics ecosystem by ensuring that analysis doesn’t become the bottleneck that slows progress.

Domain expertise, statistics and HPC, unite!

The latest is Bina Technologies, which just emerged from stealth mode last week and is bringing an Apple-like business model to genomics. The company, which grew out of a research project at Stanford University, relies on its Bina Box appliance to make genome analysis faster than typically possible without the benefit of having a supercomputer and a research network on hand.

According to Bina CEO Narges Bani Asadi, who co-founded the company while completing her Ph.D. at Stanford, the appliance came about as part of a mission to solve a disconnect among the stakeholders in cancer research. Improving the analysis of cancer data required input from medical researchers, statisticians and high-performance computing experts, “but people are not speaking even the same language,” she said. While they’re all headed in the same direction, their paths rarely converge to harness peak velocity.

Bani Asadi and her team solved that problem by developing a system that merged the three areas into one. With Bina, researchers can develop analysis pipelines that are optimized at both the algorithmic and silicon levels to run optimally across a mix of CPUs, GPUs and FPGAs, all of which are present within the purpose-built box. Applications are getting what they need in order to perform their best, and Bina says results can be processed 10 to 100 times faster (hours instead of days) than running jobs on the Amazon Web Services cloud, which has proven very popular for genomics workloads thanks to its supercomputer-like performance.

That being said, a chart Bina uses to illustrate the performance difference compares the Bina Box to a single eight-core AWS instance rather than a cluster of those high-performance instances.

The Apple analogy

Bani Asadi answers the inevitable question of whether research centers will want to special appliances instead of using the cloud or generic servers by pointing to Apple. That company’s devices and computers can be a little more expensive and more difficult to tinker with than alternatives, but they’re also designed specifically with Apple’s operating system and applications in mind. It’s an analogy other companies, such as cloud computing startup Nebula, also use to justify their appliance-based businesses.

Not that Bina dismisses the cloud. If Bina’s software is the Mac OS to the Bina Box’s iMac, the Bina Cloud is the company’s iCloud. Once the box processes the raw sequencing data and compresses it into a smaller volume (up to 1,000 times smaller), the data is shipped to the Bina Cloud where it’s stored and can be easily accessed and shared. Actually, Bani Asadi said that’s where the most-innovative research likely will take place. While Bina’s appliance handles the necessary first steps of  genome analysis (e.g., determining how it’s unique), it’s the resulting data sets that are accessible by doctors, specialists and others to really make sense of it all.

Presumably, Bina is referring to companies such as DNAnexus when it compares its solution to entirely cloud-based approaches. DNAnexus is another Silicon Valley startup trying to democratize genome analysis, relying on the processing power and centralized nature of the cloud to serve as a platform for analyzing and collaborating on DNA data. Another startup, St. Louis-based Appistry, has taken a somewhat different approach, building its own high-powered cloud service and developing its own algorithms specially designed for genome analysis.

In the end, it’s all about the data

Regardless of which approach a researcher takes to solving the problem of sequenced genome data (they all have unique benefits), the underlying trend driving innovation is the deluge of genome data itself. Bani Asadi said the biggest difference now compared with past efforts to analyze health data is that we have so much available. There are 30,000 fully sequenced genomes available right now, and some predict there will be 10 million in five years.

That means researchers can study DNA at a much more-granular level the previously possible, Bani Asadi said, and they can analyze findings across huge data sets to identify previously undetectable patterns. Especially with cancer, she said, each case is relatively unique, shaped by many conditions and factors. If we’re going to make significant progress on treating it, we’ll need to know exactly what’s going on in any given case and how similar cases have played out. The more data, the more accurate the diagnosis and treatment.

Feature image courtesy of Keith Edkins.

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Intuit Grabs for Bigger Chunk Of Small-Business SaaS Market With Demandforce Buy


This post is by Antone Gonsalves from ReadWriteWeb


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In announcing plans to buy Demandforce, a marketing Software-as-a-Service provider, Intuit is signaling its intention to grab a bigger share of the high-end of the small business market.

With its market-leading Quickbooks product, Intuit is already the dominant force in sales of accounting and payroll software for small businesses. In an attempt to expand its portfolio – especially in the fast-growing SaaS segment, the company said Friday it would acquire Demandforce in May for $423.5 million in cash, making it the company’s most expensive purchase under chief executive Brad Smith.

From the Yellow Pages to the Web

Demandforce would bring Intuit customers SaaS tools for leveraging Twitter, Facebook and email for scheduling and marketing. The vendor’s service is meant as an alternative to newspapers and the Yellow pages. Demandforce’s target markets include dentists, automotive shops, spas and salons, optometry and chiropractors.

Intuit has not said whether it will fold Demandforce into existing products or let it continue as a separate operation and cross-sell to Demandforce’s 35,000 customers. Founded in 2003, Demandforce had $37.5 million in sales last year, Patrick Barry, the company’s chief marketing officer, told financial news agency Bloomberg.

Whichever path Intuit chooses, the company is looking to take advantage of what analysts see as a trend toward selling small businesses online services with software capabilities once available only to enterprises. “Our view is that the next decade of growth in software will come from small businesses who can now buy enterprise class software at very compelling prices,” Peter Goldmacher, analysts for Cowen & Co., said in a research note. “This market remains wide open and very competitive.”

Raising Revenue per Customer

In addition to Demandforce’s own business, the acquisition will also help Intuit target online customers used to paying $200 to $300 a month for a subscription service, versus the $13 to $100 a month Intuit charges for the online versions of QuickBooks. As a result, analysts expect Demandforce to raise Intuit’s revenue per customer. Intuit already offers a marketing management product called QuickBase.

Demandforce could also complement Intuit’s QuickBooks Enterprise, which is available through a software license or online subscription. Revenue from QuickBooks Enterprise and the rest of Intuit’s Quickbooks online services rose 31% in the quarter ended Jan. 31, according to the company.

Benchmark Capital was among the largest investors in Demandforce. Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark, said the Menlo Park, Calif.-based venture capital firm saw Demandforce as part of a trend in which small businesses are turning to the Web as a marketing tool over traditional media. Small businesses spend more than $125 billion a year on non-digital media, according to Gurley.

“These business owners know they need new solutions, and these dollars will be reallocated to these exciting new platforms,” he said in his blog.

It appears Intuit thinks he’s right.

Competition in Tax-Prep Software

The company could use the growth, because competition is getting tougher in the tax preparation business, Intuit’s largest revenue generator. Last week, Intuit warned that revenue in the current quarter would be “at or slightly below the low end” of its previous projections. The drop is due to disappointing sales of its online tax prep software. Analysts have said they expect the setback to be temporary.


Groupon’s CEO gets some financial adult supervision


This post is by Staci D. Kramer from GigaOM


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It was a vote of confidence when Howard Schultz joined the Groupon board of directors — and it’s a sign of the start-up’s significant financial challenges that the Starbucks CEO is leaving before his term is up to make way for American Express CFO Daniel Henry.

A second director, Accel Partners’ Kevin Efrusy, won’t stand for re-election at the company’s Jun 19 board meeting. As the board rep from a key investor, usually someone like Efrusy would be replaced by another member of his firm. Instead, his slotted successor is Robert Bass, a vice chairman of Deloitte LLP, now nominated for election at the annual meeting. (The changes were reported first by AllThingsD, then confirmed by Groupon.)

But Groupon’s lightning-rod-in-chief –CEO Andrew Mason — isn’t going anywhere. Yet. Mason, the co-founder and one of the largest individual Groupon shareholders, has been criticized for his eccentric management style, which could be forgiven or at least overlooked when he was delivering results.

Investors get a lot less forgiving when growth is in question and you have to restate your first public quarter’s results, especially if accounting methods aren’t the norm. Groupon is being sued by shareholders and may face an SEC investigation .

Howard Schultz is no financial slouch but he’s not a finance guy. Replacing him with the CFO of a major company who speaks fluent transactional and e-commerce adds a kind of financial gravitas. Henry and Bass aren’t investors on a board; they’re experts in managing corporate finance — and doing it in the spotlight of a public company.

Both new directors will join the audit committee chaired by early-in Groupon investor Ted Leonsis. Leonsis also serves on a corporate board that oversees one of the new directors: he joined the AmEx board in 2010 following the credit card giant’s acquisition of Revolution Money. At AmEx, he heads the Innovation and Technology Committee.

As for Mason, I don’t know what it would take to remove him as CEO — or for him to step away voluntarily — but that would be a logical next step if this move doesn’t help the company find more secure financial footing.

The stock dropped 10 percent in late trading to $10.71, continuing a sharp downward trend since the restatement.

GRPN Chart

GRPN data by YCharts

Thumbnail image courtesy of Shutterstock user [Monkey Business Images].

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The Digg Team Is Going To WaPo, But The Assets Aren’t


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digg

Has The Washington Post acquired Digg, as reported in The Next Web? Sort of.

We’re hearing that the Post has hired the Digg team, but is not acquiring the site or the technology. In other words, this is a talent acquisition, and in fact Digg properties, patents, and assets are still for sale.

TheNextWeb’s report provoked some “what the hell?reactions on Twitter, but a talent acquisition makes a little more sense. The Post isn’t trying to revive a struggling social news site. Instead, it’s recruiting a team that can help develop its Trove social news platform, as well as Trove-powered products like its Social Reader and Personal Post.

Digg, meanwhile, seems to be fading, especially after a controversial redesign in 2010. Co-founder Kevin Rose took over the CEO role in early 2010, but stepped down for a more advisory role a year later. (His new startup, Milk, was acquired by Google.) Supposedly, traffic has started growing again, thanks to integration with Facebook Timeline, but it may not have been enough to convince the company or its investors that there’s a real future here.

I’ve contacted both The Washington Post and Digg for comment and will update if I hear back.

Additional reporting by Alexia Tsotsis.