Language Learning Service Verbling Launches Google Hangouts-Powered Classes, Adds Support For 9 New Languages

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Learning a new language can be tedious and frustrating. Thankfully, a new generation of startups are leveraging advances in mobile and web technologies to make that process more enjoyable and rewarding. Today, companies like Livemocha, PlaySay, Voxy, italki, MindSnacks and Duolingo provide increasingly viable alternatives to traditional language-learning software — the Rosetta Stones of the world.

Another recent entrant into the space is Y Combinator grad Verbling, a venture-backed startup that wants to help turn language learners into polyglots by using video chat to connect them with real, live native speakers. Unlike the text-focused and algorithm-based Duolingo, Verbling wants to help users reach fluency and avoid the drop-out bug by creating a frictionless, in-browser live video chat experience that encourages immersion — albeit a virtual one.

After joining, the startup automatically pairs people that want to learn Spanish and are fluent in English, for example, with the opposite — those who are fluent in Spanish and want to learn English. It’s immersion via reciprocity. Users are matched by their experience levels and are encouraged to switch back and forth between languages (by an accompanying timer), with the system suggesting various prompts and targets along the way.

Since launching earlier this year, Verbling has focused exclusively on English and Spanish, but today the company is adding support for nine new languages, including Italian, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Hebrew, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian, bringing the total to eleven. Founder Mikael Bernstein told us that these have been the most-requested languages from its users and, really, they represent the most-commonly spoken languages in the world.

Its new support for 11 languages puts the startup in good stead compared to Duolingo, Voxy and MindSnacks and puts it on par with the site that it probably most closely resembles — Busuu. A number of sites offer some kind of tool for connecting with native speakers, including courses and lessons on top of that. Bernstein believes Verbling has an advantage in this regard because its been laser-focused on its novice-to-expert matching and one-to-one video model.

The co-founder tells us that users are now participating in over 50,000 practice sessions per month and that sessions saw 317 percent month-over-month growth in November, which he expects will compound with the launch of its new language support. On tap of that, with sessions increasing, Verbling is also launching its own classes.

But it’s doing so by sticking to its video-chat roots, as “Verbling Classes” offer nine language students the ability to join Google Hangout-powered classes led by an official, TEFL-certified Verbling teacher. Bernstein says that, they were initially skeptical of using Hangouts, but after Google reached out to propose the solution, they considered it more seriously as a valid way to replicate a classroom setting. Something he says that can provide a virtual classroom experience that’s more fun and conversation-based and one that could become a future monetization vehicle.

For its main one-to-one video chat experience, Verbling tries to improve stickiness by allowing users to stay in touch with a chat mate if they enjoyed the conversation and found it productive. Learning a new language is definitely aided by adding a little constancy and familiarity, so being able to send a friend request via the platform, message each other (or just do a voice call if video seems awkward) is a great way to encourage users to build working professional relationships and pick up where they left off.

At first, the startup will only be hosting its Google Hangout language classes in English, which will be limited to nine-per-class but will be hosted on a range of subjects. Nine will get to directly participate, but even if you don’t make it, you can still listen in and actively participate. Going forward, Bernstein says that the startup wants to be able to allow students to pay a small fee to guarantee their spot in one of its classes.

Going forward, Verbling will be focused on building out this portion of the site and will be raising an additional round of funding to support this growth. The startup $1 million from DFJ, Learn Capital, Start Fund, Inspovation Ventures, SV Angel, Meck Investments, Ace & Company and others, back in January. The co-fouder also tells us that Verbling recently added Gustav Rydstedt as its new CTO, who was formerly the lead engineer at Blizzard on Diablo 3 and hired T20-under-20 finalist and FamilyLeaf co-founder Brandon Paton.

RED puts $1,450 Redray Player up for pre-order, stakes a claim to 4K video with proprietary format and Odemax distribution platform

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It’s looking pretty likely that 4K TV won’t be a fad, but if you buy a pricey new Ultra High Definition television this holiday season, you might have some trouble finding 4K content. Sony will actually deliver a 4K home media server to buyers of its 84-inch, $24,999 4K UHDTV and even preload it with ten movies, but soon there will be another option: the $1,450 Redray Player, from RED Digital Cinema. We got a quick peek at an early version at the NAB expo early this year, and now RED has put the hardware up for pre-order.

As typical for RED products, the 5.9 pound aluminum set-top box looks like it’s built like a tank, and plays 4K video from an internal 1TB hard drive anywhere between 24 and 60 frames per second. It has six HDMI ports,…

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Why Did Google Buy BufferBox? Because The Entire Mail And Package Delivery System Is Broken

This post is by Drew Olanoff from TechCrunch

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Today, Google bought an Ontario-based company called BufferBox. In a way, it kind of came out of left field. Since it’s a Google Ventures company, one can guess that those on Google’s campus were very familiar with the service, which provides an easy alternative to waiting around for packages at your house.

Not only is package delivery a bummer, because things get lost, hitting up your mailbox when you get home isn’t that much fun either. The worst is when you don’t even have a mailbox and you come home to twenty pieces of junkmail slipped under your door. The mail delivery system is broken and old. It’s ripe for…disruption. How broken? The US Post Office lost $15.9B in 2012.

So at first blush, one could say that Google wants to compete with the likes of shipping magicians like Amazon and UPS, but I think that it goes a bit deeper than that. This doesn’t feel like an “e-commerce” play. Google has the knack of honing in on verticals that are a pain for people in the real physical world. Don’t want to drive your car? Maybe one day it’ll drive itself thanks to Google.

Back to BufferBox, the YCombinator company that currently only operates in Canada. It’s an area that is great to test things out in, away from our needy grubby hands in the United States. Google also rolled out its Fiber product in Kansas City, away from us geeks in San Francisco and New York, so that it could perfect its product before unleashing it on the universe.

This is how BufferBox describes itself on its website:

Today’s parcel delivery system is outdated – missing package deliveries is crazy! You’re not home during the day, so stop shipping parcels there! Ship them to your closest BufferBox instead! We’re a network of parcel pick-up stations that are conveniently located, allowing you to grab parcels securely and on your schedule!

Google challenging the Post Office? Altruistic? Kind of. Business savvy? You betcha. Sounds like it’s right up Google’s alley. What does a company have to have to take over the mail routing system? Brilliant mapping technology.

One day, I could see a world where we don’t have mailmen and women coming to our houses every single day to deliver junkmail. These things can be dropped off in a box in a place that’s more convenient for you, say by your office. That way, you can pick it up when you want to, and come home to a nice relaxing home, and clean doorstep. Let’s not forget to mention the anxiety of worrying about a package being stolen by a neighbor. It happens.

So in a nutshell, one must only wonder why Google picked up BufferBox, because Google never really goes into great detail on why it acquires companies. It doesn’t really have to, for competitive reasons. Just know that everything at Google tends to happen as part of a master plan, and this particular acquisition could lead to a massive master plan.

Remember when Google bought GrandCentral? It turned into Google Voice. The service that could one day compete with the likes of AT&T and Verizon. That acquisition was led by Google’s Wesley Chan, now a partner at Google Ventures. He thinks big, so does Google. Just when you thought the GrandCentral acquisition was going nowhere, Google Voice was launched.

Searching all of the world’s information, free or cheaper Internet for all, free phone numbers and voicemail, devices like laptops that are priced fairly for Education and lower-income families running powerhouse open-source software, services that make everything we do online feel more intimate and social, both at work and home, reinventing television…there is an obvious pattern. Google wants to help reshape, and evolve, the world.

You’ve got Google Mail.

Enterprise Apps Are Moving To Single-Page Design

This post is by Alexander Aghassipour and Shajith Chacko from TechCrunch

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Editor’s note: Alexander Aghassipour is chief product officer and co-founder of Zendesk. Shajith Chacko is lead software engineer at Zendesk. Both contributed to the development of the new Zendesk product. 

The Web is a far different place than it was when Zendesk launched six years ago. As more and more people use consumer apps like Twitter and Facebook, enterprise applications need to build an interactive experience that doesn’t look old or slow when compared to the rest of the real-time Web.

As a cloud help-desk software provider, we recognized that our customers’ needs were also changing. A few years ago, web support meant email. Today there’s chat and click-to-talk voice support, and most customers demand instant answers and help. These real-time channels benefit from a more modern application approach than our original HTML application afforded. From the support side, customer support agents might be chatting with one customer while simultaneously updating another customer’s files. Meanwhile, large support teams need to collaborate in real time. The platform can’t slow the pace of work.

As our customer expectations have grown over the years, so has the application. Any evolving application reaches the point where another incremental change just won’t do. Rip and replace was the only option in order to balance the complexity of features with the simplicity of design. Moving to a single-page, JavaScript-based app enabled us to create an interactive, real- time experience that’s streamlined and agile.

Selecting A JavaScript Framework

From a technical perspective, a single-page Web application is delivered as one page to the browser and typically does not require the page to be reloaded as the user navigates to different parts of the application. This results in faster navigation, more efficient network transfers, and better overall performance for the end user.

When it comes to designing single-page applications, there are several JavaScript frameworks available to facilitate the task of writing complex client-side applications. While the choice of frameworks is a rather subjective decision (and each developer will have his or her own opinion), we ultimately went with the Ember JavaScript Framework due to several key reasons:

  • Ember.js is constructed with large applications in mind and fits a larger team and project like Zendesk.
  • Ember.js has more conventions and structure, and these established conventions make it easier to bring new developers on board.
  • Ember.js is primarily based on dynamic bindings that automatically update the UI when data changes; this allows us to easily describe UI that knows when to update.
  • Ember has a vibrant, growing community of very clever people.

Other Technical Considerations

In addition to selecting a JavaScript framework, there are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re considering a similar move to a single-page app.

  • Before we could begin writing in JavaScript, we needed to significantly build out the API to cover everything. Modern one-page apps have a really effective API with the JavaScript client written on top. This was a large task, but the final API can now be used by the whole Zendesk community.
  • A JavaScript application relies on browser features, such as advanced CSS. Therefore, supporting advanced features requires a fairly modern browser. Early on, we decided not to support IE8 and below in order to keep our development costs down. It’s important to define the supported (and not supported) browsers from the start.
  • While JavaScript tools are maturing by leaps and bounds, they aren’t quite on par with what developers may be accustomed to using with HTML. For example, we didn’t find an out-of-the-box testing automation tool to use, so developers needed to rely on manual testing or writing their own test scripts for testing in the browser.

Transitioning Developers From HTML To JavaScript

Before we began the shift to a single-page application, only about 10 percent of our engineering resources went toward JavaScript coding. That was about to change dramatically. We ended up hiring just two JavaScript-only programmers, and for the rest we relied on ramping up the JavaScript skills in our existing engineering staff.

While learning any new skill takes time, we got buy-in from the engineers early on. Convincing our engineering teams to take on this challenge was relatively easy. This transition gives everyone the enviable opportunity to work with modern methodologies and tools. However, there still is a learning curve that must be factored into the project schedule.

Preparing For The Adjustment Period

No matter how fantastic the next-generation application may be, the simple fact is that existing end users have been happily accustomed to doing things a certain way. Getting used to changes to the status quo takes time.

To help ease the transition, we rolled out the new version of Zendesk for new accounts and trials. Existing customers are free to stay with the original Zendesk version for the time being. In addition, we started with a soft launch to a small subset of customers. This was followed by a four-month beta period, which allowed us to see how customers responded to the new design and workflow.

Ripping down an application to rebuild is a risky proposition. However, it’s sometimes the only way to move forward. The journey requires a commitment from all involved – including end users and developers. A major project of this scope won’t happen overnight, but the agility, performance, and real-time nature of the results are well worth the effort.

Google picks up delivery locker startup BufferBox, expanding its shopping plans

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

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Google has once again demonstrated its interest in online shopping and delivery with its purchase of Canadian startup BufferBox today. The two-year-old, Waterloo-based company provides locker storage service very similar to Amazon Locker, allowing customers to have products shipped and stored in a unit at universities and other central locations. Sources tell TechCrunch that Google paid over $17 million for the company.

Niether BufferBox nor Google revealed much about what the acquisition will lead to, but an engineering director at Google said BufferBox’s ten person team, branding, and services would continue to function for “the foreseeable future,” according to the Financial Post. Google, of course, has greater aspirations than…

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Motorola v. Microsoft: US District Court says FRAND patents can’t be used for injunction

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Motorola wanted to ban the Xbox 360, among other things. The International Trade Commission agreed that Microsoft’s products infringed. Microsoft claimed that Motorola wanted too much money to license the so-called standards-essential patents, and attempted to fight the ban. Now, two weeks after a trial kicked off in Seattle, common sense appears to have prevailed. US District Court Judge Robart has agreed to dismiss Motorola’s attempts for injunctive relief based on its fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) patents, effectively saying that Motorola will have to pursue money (in the form of royalties) rather than attempt to ban products.

“Because Motorola cannot show irreparable harm or that monetary damages would be…

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US Supreme Court to decide whether human genes are patentable

This post is by Justin Rubio from The Verge - All Posts

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The United States Supreme Court will be taking another look at a previous ruling that granted Myriad Genetics, Inc. patents on two gene mutations that are tied to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. The original decision that declared that genes can be patentable was upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in August. The highly controversial ruling grants Myriad Genetics, Inc. the right to be the exclusive owner of screening methods pertaining to the diseases, preventing the use of any alternative screening procedures.

“Are human genes patentable?”

The ACLU, who are helping to represent the Association for Molecular Pathology and College of American Pathologists in the case, requested that the Supreme Court take up…

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90 Seconds on The Verge: iMacs, Facebook Photo Sync, and Redbox Instant

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David 90 Seconds

Quote Oscar Wilde, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” With that in mind, and in honor of the anniversary of his death a little over a century ago, we have decided to put a David Pierce mask on top of one of our interns. Let’s see what happens.

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Asus Qube with Google TV: a set-top box that could replace the Nexus Q this January

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

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Google TV

A mysterious Asus device called the Qube with Google TV Dongle has just been spotted making its way through the FCC, and a close look at the documentation reveals that it is designed to be paired with a separate set-top box named the Qube. There are already several products using Google’s fledgling smart TV operating system, but the Qube may be much more than that. A source of ours suggests that the Qube is a Nexus device that Google will launch this upcoming January, and that it is the reason why the company’s Nexus Q streamer has vanished from the face of the earth.

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Funding Daily: Frisky Friday

This post is by Rebecca Grant from VentureBeat

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kittenFriday is usually such a slow day for funding news, I am lucky if I find one or two stories, much less enough to merit a Funding Daily roundup. Maybe it is because people miss the excitement of Black Friday, but significant deals backed by some of the biggest names in venture capital were rolling in today. Kick your weekend off to an energetic start- these startups and their investors are.

For more funding news as it happens, subscribe to our Deals Channel feed. You can also follow VentureBeat on Twitter, @venturebeat, to view funding news as it’s published.

Evernote, the hugely popular online notebook, just raised $85M; plans IPO

Note-taking service Evernote announced an $85 million round of funding from AGC Equity Partners and Valiant Capital today. Current investors T.Rowe Price Associates, Inc. also participated in the round. Evernote explained in a blog post that 75 percent of the money comes in the form of secondary financing (pulled together through existing shareholders selling their stock) and the rest comes as primary funding.

The company also signaled its plans to hold an initial public offering, but said that this offering was structured to make that eventuality further away, rather than closer. After raising over $200 million it would seem like the company should go public. However, Libin says he wants Evernote to be a “hundred year startup.” By offering his investors liquidity, he might be telling investors that they don’t need an IPO any time soon. Read more on VentureBeat.

Fashion fairy godmother Rent the Runway raises $20M for Cinderella moments

Rent the Runway is dressing up with $20 million in investment for its unique approach to making fashion affordable. Rent the Runway is a marketplace where women can rent luxury, high-end clothing at a fraction of the retail price. Since launching in 2009, the platform has grown to over 3 million members who have access to a revolving selection of 170 designer brands, 35,000 dresses, and 7,000 accessories.

This is Rent the Runway’s third round of financing. It raised $15 million in 2010 and $15 again in 2011 to support its growth. All the previous investors contributed to this round, including Conde Nast parent company Advance, Bain Capital Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Rent the Runway is based in New York. Read more on VentureBeat.

Investors bet $8.5M that the internet’s obsession with GIFs is here to stay 

The lusted after ‘”secret sauce” of the tech community is how to make apps go viral. Building up a massive user base could manifest dreams of a massive exit (Instagram)…or users can abandon ship until the company crashes and burns (Viddy). Which will Cinemagram be? It is too early to say, but major investors are betting on the former.

Cinemagram, a startup that that makes it easy to animate photos into short three-second videos (GIFs) and share them with friends, has raised $8.5 million. This second round of funding was led by Menlo Ventures, with participation from Atlas Venture, Khosla Ventures, and Real Ventures. As reported to AllThingsD, the round closed last week and will be put towards supporting the explosive growth and massive amounts of data streaming through the platform everyday. Get the full story on AllThingsD.

Nomorerack racks up $12M for online bargain shopping  

Everyone loves a good bargain, which is why discount sale site nomorerack is receiving $12 million from investors. Nomorerack operates on a direct-to-consumer model and offers 70-90% off retail price for a range of goods. In a statement, the company cited some impressive statistics on its tractions: 7 million visitors a month, 5.8 million members, an average of  40,000 items moved a day, and four million units of merchandise sold. This first round of financing will go towards supporting growth and expanding internationally. It was led by Giosis Gmarket, a large Asian e-commerce company. Read the press release.

Nantero secures $10M for chips, of the next generation variety (not potato)

Nantero, which manufactures “next-generation” memory chips, took $10 million in its fourth round of financing. Nantero is in the process of developing NRAM, a “high-density nonvolatile random access storage device” which the company says would ultimately replace al existing forms of storage and provide universal memory. This investment will go towards bringing the technology to the commercial market. Charles River Associates, Draper Fisher Jurveston, Globespan Capital Partners, Stata Venture Partners, and Harris & Harris group participated. Read the press release.

Prediki raises $600K from Austria Wirtschaftsservice GMBH

Stealth startup Prediki closed a seed round of $650,000 for its predictive analytics platform. Prediki claims the technology can unveil information about the future, to help companies, organizations and governments make decisions. The support from this Vienna-based startup came from  Austria’s Federal Promotional Bank Austria Wirtschaftsservice GMBH (10 points for typing that whole thing out). The money will bring Prediki to launch in the first quarter of 2013 and drive initial traction.

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Samsung Galaxy Camera with LTE radio passes through FCC, may be headed to Verizon

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Gallery Photo: Samsung Galaxy Camera hands-on photos

Samsung’s curious Galaxy Camera has been limited to solely AT&T for would-be suitors in the US, but an FCC filing suggests that Verizon Wireless may soon offer the Android device. The filing shows a Galaxy Camera with an LTE radio, as well as the requisite Wi-Fi and GPS antennas. While the presence of an LTE radio doesn’t mean it the product is destined for any particular carrier, the filing reveals that the radio is for LTE Band 13, which is used by Verizon Wireless. Somewhat surprisingly, the camera does not have a 3G CDMA radio to fall back onto, according to the FCC documentation, which means that users would be without internet access in the (mostly rural and suburban) areas without LTE service.

When AT&T’s version of the Galaxy…

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The Weekly Good: Gurbaksh Chahal, And Putting An End To Hate

This post is by Drew Olanoff from TechCrunch

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[Note: This is a weekly series. If your company is doing something amazing to help a charitable cause or doing some good in your community, please reach out.]

Sometimes, it’s not only political powerhouses who have the power to change the world. Sometimes it’s true-blue entrepreneurs who live to solve problems. One such person is Gurbaksh Chahal, who, with some pretty impressive backers, launched after the shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August 2012.

The point of the multi-million-dollar campaign is to put an end to hatred and to encourage self-pride. Using the web to help bring attention to this is a fantastic idea. I had a chance to chat with Chahal on his background and the future of the BeProud initiative.


TechCrunch: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Gurbaksh Chahal: I am a three-time Internet entrepreneur, with two successful tech ventures under my belt. I am currently working on my third business as the founder and CEO of RadiumOne, which delivers programmatic advertising across the web, mobile, and Facebook.

TechCrunch: What is it about your history that made you want to dedicate your life to making things better for others?

Gurbaksh Chahal: I’m a big believer in the more you give back to the universe, the more it gives right back to you. For the first 18 years, I faced immense racism and hardship because I looked different. I thought I had it tough growing up, but I never imagined at 30 I’d watch a massacre unfold when in early August a white supremacist stormed into a peaceful Sikh temple in Wisconsin and murdered six people and wounded several others. I was sickened. I realized the only way change could happen is if I made this my problem and did something about it. Violent hate crimes, including unnecessary gun violence, have escalated to a grotesque level; we need to do all we can to eliminate them. BeProud isn’t about raising awareness for any particular group. It is greater than any religion, culture, nationality or appearance. It’s about realizing we are all human first and we should be proud of what makes us unique.

TechCrunch: What have you learned along the way with that makes the foundation and campaign special and long-lasting?

Gurbaksh Chahal: I’ve learned that you need to give a voice to those who have something to say but aren’t being heard. BeProud is an awareness and advocacy program dedicated to ending hate in the world. By unifying this country under one common goal, we are putting a stop to this horrific epidemic. We have great traction with dozens of influencers (Nelson Mandela Family), various celebrities (Deepak Chopra), and international stars endorsing the cause to help raise awareness.

TechCrunch: What are your goals for this in the next 3-5-10 years?

Gurbaksh Chahal: We will continue to create thought-provoking campaigns that evoke powerful emotions. Hate is something that we’re taught not born with. I’m convinced if you can connect with people on a universal level, change will happen. Our initial campaign was just the beginning. Our next step will be to build deeper, engaging campaigns online and offline, allowing people to connect and become part of the solution. Hate takes effort. Love is constant.

TechCrunch: What tools have you used to help get the word out there, what has worked for you? What didn’t?

Gurbaksh Chahal: BeProud is a multimillion-dollar campaign that crosses traditional and social media. We launched a prime-time PSA that ran 133 times in November. Mark Cuban has also shown his support by running the PSA across his TV networks for free through January 21st. An extended web version of the PSA has already been viewed 100,000 times and can be viewed here:

We launched a Facebook application that turns profile pictures into your own BeProud stamp, created a Twitter account and a YouTube channel. Users are encouraged to upload 60 second videos to YouTube answering the questions: “What are you most proud of and what do you stand for?” including the tags, #BeProud and #EndHate. I’m a big believer in social media as a long-term outlet for social causes to elicit change. If governments can be overthrown through social media, then we have the power to evolve as a society by connecting everyone together to end hate.

TechCrunch: What are some of your personal favorite foundations that “do things right”?

Gurbaksh Chahal: I am a big fan of how the Kony2012 movement started and loved the viral nature of the “It Gets Better” campaign. The power of social media was the ingredient behind their success. I am convinced long-term, with over 1 billion people connected across various social networks, the power of information will become the power of change.

While the “whats” of a social campaign for change are great, it’s nice to hear about all of the thought and mechanics behind it. If you’re a company or non-profit wanting to grab awareness and support for your cause, then Chahal is someone worth reaching out to, asking questions of and getting advice from.

The web is a wonderful place, you just have to dig a little bit deeper to find the good sometimes.


The Weekly Good: Cory Booker On Public Service, Twitter, And…Burning Buildings

Top 5 Spotify Apps For Music Discovery

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Spotify wasn’t built for discovery. The Swedish music streaming company realizes this and instead of trying to natively bake a zillion features into its service, it launched a platform for third party developers about a year ago. 

Spotify’s app directory now features almost 60 HTML5-based add-ons for the service’s desktop client. These apps perform a lot of different functions – some are social, while others sonically augment album reviews from big name publishers. The thing for which they’re probably most useful is discovering music you might like but may never have heard otherwise.

1. Moodagent

Since launching on Spotify last year, Moodagent has been one of the most interesting apps on the platform. That’s because it takes standard algorithmic music recommendations and beefs them up with emotional intelligence. 

There are at least a dozen apps that let you build a playlist based on related artists, but Moodagent factors in the mood of each song to build out something that feels more consistent. The options look broad, but are surprisingly powerful. A playlist can be sensual, angry, happy, tender or some combination of all four. You can even base them on tempo, playing back a series of similarly paced songs. Tie these characteristics to the same kind of artist-to-artist matching algorithm that fuels so many other music-discovery apps, and you have a uniquely intelligent system for finding new music. 

2. has been around for a decade now, but the Internet radio and music recommendation service is still a reliable tool for discovering new artists. It works by keeping track of everything you listen to and using a Pandora-style algorithm to recommend related artists and albums. It’s a simple concept, but one that apparently holds up quite well over time. 

Existing users of will feel right at home in its Spotify app, which more or less frames a slightly modified version of the service’s usual interface into Spotify’s desktop client. The results occasionally need to be tweaked, but on the whole the recommendations are pretty solid. A few albums in my own physical record collection landed there thanks to’s ability to turn up hidden gems.  


Oh great, another social music-discovery app. Ho-hum.

Actually, is pretty useful. It uses data from Facebook to show you what music your friends are listening to, even if they’re not signed up for If they are, that data becomes much more detailed and easily explored. will also let you know if any artists in your own collection have new releases, which is far more relevant than the new releases coughed up by Spotify itself. 

That tag cloud on the home tab might look like just another collection of metadata, but it’s actually informed by your social music data. I listen to a number of artists who don the tag “space rock” – and when I click that tag, it shows me dozens of similar bands. I can then sort those artists by popularity and what’s trending on, which is a good way to pinpoint worthwhile listens.

4. ShareMyPlaylists

When I first opened ShareMyPlaylists, I thought “Oh, this is looks fairly generic.” Alternative, Classical, Blues, Dance. One-size-fits-all playlists.

I was wrong. 

When you scroll down, you see a wide variety of very specific playlists: Beatles covers, the songs sampled by Nas and music from Quentin Tarantino films, songs featuring Moog synthesizers. It’s a random conglomeration of curated listening experiences, but one that is well worth browsing. 

ShareMyPlaylists has something for absolutely everyone. Devotees of popular music from the charts can browse the “Top 50” tab while those with more under-the-radar tastes will find plenty of new stuff under the “Recommended” tab, which finds playlists based on the artists you listen to the most. If nothing in either section suits your mood, you can always run a search or use the app’s built-in playlist generator. 

5. The Hype Machine

It’s been a wildly popular MP3 aggregator on the Web for years, so it only makes sense that The Hype Machine would find its way into Spotify’s app store. It’s right at home on top of the streaming service’s massive library of music. 

The Hype Machine eschews the complex algorithm in favor of human-curated playlists. Specifically, it aggregates tracks from popular music blogs across a wide range of genres, each of them very heavily populated. Dream Pop, for example, isn’t exactly a top 40 genre of music, but the Hype Machine pulls together no fewer than 100 different blogs classified as such. It’s loaded with music, all hand-selected by Internet tastemakers and guaranteed to introduce you to something you haven’t heard before. 

A Growing Universe Of Music Discovery Apps

Narrowing this list to just five selections wasn’t easy. There are plenty of discovery apps on Spotify worth checking out – top charts from We Are Hunted and Billboard and social music from TweetVine, Soundrop and Sifter. Depending on your tastes, the critic-curated recommendations from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NME or KCRW can be invaluable. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the new, supposedly Pandora-killing Spotify Radio feature is worth playing with. Its Echo Nest-powered recommendations are not quite as granular and effective as Pandora’s, but they’re quite good. Not only can you create a station based on any album or artist, but you can build one off of an entire playlist. This is pretty powerful. For instance, if you’ve starred a lot of music on Spotify, you can build a radio station based solely on those favorites. 

Here’s another Spotify Radio trick: The app will let you generate a Spotify a playlist based on your dozen or so most-played  albums of all time. You can then start a Spotify radio station based on that playlist, which is sure to contain a few tracks you’ll love, but have never heard before. And isn’t that the point of music discovery?

Backops Outsources Your Startup’s Back Office Using The Best Enterprise Apps, Raises $1.5M

This post is by Eric Eldon from TechCrunch

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 3.24.42 PM

Early-stage startups die if they don’t nail their core products quickly. But like all companies, they also need to process loads of paperwork required for basic operations, from crunching numbers in Quickbooks to churning out piles of human-resource forms for new hires. So, as any startup executive knows, the balance between product development and rote paperwork is a constant frustration — which is where Backops comes in.

The company, which has just closed a $1.5 million seed round, combines 15 or so modern business productivity tools with crowdsourced labor from stay-at-home workers. Startups get a simple dashboard that shows them what’s happening across the organization, from accounts received to job offers accepted.

If the exec wants more detail than the dashboard’s accounting summaries and human resource statuses provides, they can request custom reports or data dumps from Backops.

So, sure, there are a few established office outsourcing businesses out there already, like TriNet for human resources, but a closer look at Backops plans shows why it’s such a smart new idea.

The first is the overall “consumerization of IT” trend. A wave of well-designed online business software has been gradually rising over the past decade, sweeping away expensive legacy systems for accounting, HR, content management, customer relations, and more. The result is that workers can learn new systems and produce results more easily.

This fits in well with the other trend that Backops takes advantage of, which is crowdsourcing labor from people who work from home. A long list of companies, like Amazon and its Mechanical Turk, have created marketplaces for workers. Perhaps pushed by high unemployment and underemployment, more and more workers are looking for additional income through online jobs.

Backops does a few other smart things to capitalize on these trends. On the software side, it’s staying nimble, swapping in new productivity apps as they become available. Right now it’s using Expensify to help process expenses, for bill processing, and popular accounting software like Quickbooks. It doesn’t disclose the full list of vendors, but cofounder Mark H Goldstein tells me that they just brought in a new HR system over the weekend. That adaptability is in sharp contrast to the time it would take a business to change its own internal software, or the time it would take a traditional vendor.

Even if business software is getting easier to use, experienced workers can do a better job faster. Goldstein adds that Backops has gone looking for past employees from firms like H&R Block to help staff its accounting needs.

All in all, Backops is becoming a platform for hot new enterprise startups.

The biggest issue could be defensibility. In addition to its list of vendors and its experienced employees, it also has proprietary software knitting its vendors together. Others, including modern market leaders like Salesforce and Google, could take a similar approach. In fact, both already offer platforms for other vendors to reach existing enterprise clients — just not tightly integrated like what Backops does.

The startup also has some early momentum and great investors. So far more than 50 startups have signed up, including AngelList, BadgeVille and Socialize. After raising an initial $1 million from angels including Zynga’s Mark Pincus, AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, and others last month, it has added another half a million from additional ones, including Max Levchin, and closed the large seed round.

Backops’ founding team is also well-equipped to grow the company. The CEO is Kristen Goldstein, a long-time financial officer who has dealt with these problems across the companies she’s worked at — including startups that her husband Mark has cofounded. As successful serial entrepreneurs, they have the experience, skills and connections to go big.

And going big is the plan. Mark Goldstein tells me that the plan is to grow niche by niche. Early-stage startups are an obvious place to start given the needs and the team’s familiarity with the problem (he adds that right now it’s designed for companies in seed through Series C stages, not later ones). The plan is to eventually expand into other areas, like NGOs, and various small business verticals, with Backops setups templated for the needs of each type of business.

The key for the company now is to grow quickly and establish itself as the de facto back office solution before other startups (or nimble big companies) decide to move in.

Don’t get SaaS-y with me: 5 CloudBeat lessons you need to know

This post is by Sean Ludwig from VentureBeat

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post


Big business is embracing the cloud more than ever. Cloud tech has reached a level of acceptance in the past year, with many companies moving out of pilot projects and into full-on deployments of critical parts of their business onto cloud-based systems.

This week, VentureBeat hosted CloudBeat 2012 in Redwood Shores, Calif., where executives from VMWare, Dropbox, Box, SAP, PepsiCo, Nebula, and more gave us tons of details on how they are using the cloud to disrupt business as usual.

Sure, we faced a challenge when Amazon decided to schedule its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas at the exact same time. There’s no question Re:Invent, with its sold-out crowd, peeled some of our attendees away, but we had remarkable attendance (over 400 people) and content regardless.

And through the sessions, we saw several big themes emerge.

1. Security needs to step up in the cloud

One of the biggest concerns people had at CloudBeat was security. At a surprisingly lively panel with experts from HP, Qualys, and CloudPassage, these folks all agreed that cloud security was getting more scrutiny than ever.

Some of that scrutiny is unfair because security is problematic no matter if we rely on cloud services or not. Still, in the increasingly interconnected world of cloud services, a security weakness in one service can lead to breaches in many others, raising the stakes.

Thankfully, the speakers agreed on one easy step to move businesses and consumers in the right direction: Everyone needs to turn on multi-factor authentication if they can. Multi-factor authentication basically means you need to verify an account (part one) on a specific device (part two). Some of them even thought that every site and service on the web needs to turn it on too.

One reason so many people haven’t turned it on is because it’s sometimes a pain in the ass. During our Innovation Showdown, for example, the startup MuleSoft had trouble with its live demo because of multi-factor authentication on a Salesforce account.

2. PaaS is starting to catch on, but the enterprise will decide its fate

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS), once the ugly duckling of the cloud, is starting to get way more attention. In an exciting standing-room-only session, four PaaS CEOs discussed how their businesses were changing rapidly by offering more languages and options that even slow-moving enterprises could get behind.

PaaS providers offer tools that make application development easier and faster than ever, so there are lots of reasons for companies and devs to get on board. And PaaS is getting big enough that there’s even a new startup called Appsecute that offers a dashboard for managing multiple PaaS services. But the big question is, which PaaS companies will survive when major corporations start biting?

3. Healthcare in the cloud is gonna be huge

One thing we heard from several speakers at CloudBeat was about the intersection of health care and the cloud. With electronic medical records taking off and companies investing in numerous health-care solutions, things are changing quickly. It’s a bit of a “perfect storm.”

“There is market pressure, pressure from physicians and audience groups,” Scott Whyte, VP of IT Connectivity at Dignity Health, the fifth largest hospital provider in the nation, said on stage.

While there are many hurdles to electronic medical records — including security, breaches, compliance and regulatory issues, and legacy systems — the Affordable Care Act mandates the transition to them by 2014. This will mean a bit of forced innovation is coming and lots of players who will benefit.

4. Big bets on ‘big data’

Yet another topic we heard a lot about the conference was “big data.” Companies are looking for more ways to take advantage of vast amounts of unstructured data that they’re collecting from social networks and other sources and put it to better use.

Ken Stineman, the senior director of enterprise architecture and security at Genomic Health, told us on stage that companies can do better. “We are generating terabytes of data about the human genome,” he said. With that data in hand, Genomic Health hopes to do things like improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy on cancer patients.

A big data startup called AgilOne — which tries to foretell the future using the cloud — used CloudBeat to announce its $10 million funding round and the launch of its product. It provides cloud-based predictive marketing intelligence to help marketers figure out what their customers are going to do next.

5. Cloud compute is getting super cheap

Amazon lowered its S3 prices yet again during Re:Invent, prompting Google to lower its prices as well. We had Google exec Amit Singh tell us Google was “happy to compete.” Clearly cloud computing power is racing to the bottom when it comes to price. This is a great thing for startups and businesses that want to take advantage of the cloud. You could almost say it has a “Robin Hood” effect: It’s bridging the gap between rich and poor businesses.

Singh later told us he believes pricing for the public cloud, especially from major companies like Google should continue to go down. When asked whether it will eventually be free, Singh said he didn’t know if that would actually happen. He did say, however, that it was “possible.”

Photo credit: Michael O’Donnell

Filed under: Cloud

Settle Down, Facebook Users, ‘Cause You’re Not Getting $1M For Sharing A Pic Of A Fake Lottery Ticket

This post is by from TechCrunch

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post


In today’s edition of Facebook scams comes the story of Nolan Daniels and his $1 million lottery ticket picture. “Looks like I won’t be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!”, says the Facebook pic. Of course this is legit. It’s on Facebook. Never mind that the numbers on the ticket are out of order.

It doesn’t take Gawker to figure out that this is just a well-timed scam. But that hasn’t stopped 638,006 people (and counting!) from hedging their credibility for a chance at a chunk of this guy’s winnings.

The fake picture was uploaded Thursday night, the day after a $550 million Powerball lottery drawing went to two winning tickets. When the pic was uploaded, only one of the winners had come forward. The second winner has yet to claim his riches.

But alas, the picture is fake. While the ticket has all the right numbers, they’re not in the proper order. Per the Powerball FAQ: “The tickets print the white ball numbers (the first five numbers) in numerical order.”

Sorry, folks. The only way to make a quick buck is to play the lottery.

I didn’t reach out to Nolan because this is a harmless scam.

Don’t bother uploading mobile photos to Facebook, Photo Sync does that for you

This post is by Jennifer Van Grove from VentureBeat

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

camera photo mobile

Why bother uploading photos when Facebook can do the work for you?

The social network today added a feature called “Photo Sync” to its iPhone and Android applications that automatically syncs your phone’s camera roll to a private album for bulk sharing whenever the mood strikes — no manual uploads required.

Facebook first started testing the automatic photo uploader in August on Android, and later on iOS. Today, people with the most current version of the Facebook for iOS or Android application can participate in the frictionless upload process.

The feature, which makes a seamless connection between your mobile camera and the social network, really shouldn’t be unsettling, unless you’re the type of person that doesn’t trust Facebook with your private moments. Facebook stores your synced shots in a private album until you manually go in and pick the shots that you want to share with friends.

synced photos

See. Totally not creepy. Well, save for the fact that whatever you shoot is stored on a Facebook server somewhere. I’d understand if that gave you pause. But then again if you have Photo Stream enabled on any of your iOS devices, you’re essentially trusting Apple with the same responsibility.

Skeptic that I am, I’ve chosen to enable Photo Sync for the simple reason that sometimes it would be nice to more easily share more of my photos on Facebook, especially the best ones that I forget to post while lost in a moment. I suspect that plenty of Facebook’s 1 billion users will feel the same, which means the social network will easily maintain its status as the most popular online destination for photo-sharing. Currently, Facebook members upload more than 300 million photos to the social newtork each day.

To enable Photo Sync, visit your Facebook Timeline from the Facebook for iPhone or Android app, click on photos, then select to enable Sync. The feature is gradually being rolled out to U.S. iOS app users and all Android app users who’ve previously uploaded at least one photo via web or mobile.

Photo credit: maaco/Flickr

Filed under: Mobile, Social