Archive for May 2013
60+ Investors Band Together To Form BitAngels, The First Multi-City Angel Network & Incubator For Bitcoin Startups
With New Study And Marketing Campaign, Microsoft Puts Renewed Emphasis On Its Social Tools For The Enterprise
How Cirne Follows Dorsey's Ways
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Writing is one of the hardest things to do.
You're so beautiful… I'm continually amazed and delighted by how you've grown. Your awkward years are behind you. Best of all, through it all, you've stuck with the principles that got you started in the first place. You're always changing but that never changes. You're unafraid to try new things that may seem wacky or unpopular at first.
I would not have bought my .1 ($13.17) in Bitcoin if it weren’t for a startup called Coinbase, which is “one of the places that looked less sketchy” according to TechCrunch editor and Bitcoin bug John Biggs. “It’s one of the ones I would tell my Mom to use,” Biggs insisted. Indeed, if your mom knows how to link a bank account to a Fidelity or Charles Schwab account and buy mutual funds, buying Bitcoin through Coinbase is a similar deal. Just input her account and routing number, verify a couple of small transactions and your mom will be one step closer to Silk Road.
As a Bitcoin wallet, an exchange and a merchant payment processing system, Coinbase is one of the most, if not the most, “legit,” user-friendly bitcoin startups out there, solidifying that position by raising $5 million from Twitter investor Fred Wilson among others — the largest investment to date in a Bitcoin startup. It took Wilson over two years to find a Bitcoin startup that had what it took: a solid team, product and plan. And Coinbase’s founders have a pretty legit pedigree — with Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam having spent time at Airbnb and Goldman Sachs respectively.
In addition to investor interest, the startup is starting to see some traction — In January, it launched its Bitcoin to US dollars exchange feature, and saw $1 million dollars converted in and out of Bitcoin, in February it saw $2.5 million and this April the startup saw $15 million — figures inevitably rising with the rise in the Bitcoin exchange rate. Armstrong holds that the startup, which takes a 1% transaction fee from all conversions, is growing 15% week over week in terms of transaction volume, revenue and users signing up. ”Coinbase is becoming the most trustworthy consumer brand in Bitcoin,” investor Bobby Goodlatte told me.
Any abstracted currency –gold, fiat money, Klout — has value because the collective believes it has value, unlike, let’s say, food, which is a resource that actually has value that you can trade currency for. Like a lot of things in life, currency is like the Emperor’s New Clothes: As long as we all believe that a Starbucks latte is worth $3.50 in San Francisco it continues to be. The trick is now convincing people it is also worth 0.03 BTC.
As to when that will happen, the jury’s still out. Will people lose trust in a string of random digits? Will Bitcoin be the Friendster to Ripple’s Facebook? How big a business can you build taking a 1% transaction fee off conversions of a currency with a $2 billion market cap?
And, most importantly, when will it be easy to buy a Bitcoffee at Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto? When I called today to ask, the first person I spoke to at Coupa had no clue. Apparently I have to “Send Money” using Coinbase to Coupa’s wallet. Which I can’t do via the Coinbase iOS app.
Max Wright, author of the Bitcoin Revolution, estimates that Bitcoin will go mainstream — i.e. where multiple vendors in the vast majority of niches accept bitcoin as payment – in the next 24-36 months. Okay. “Bitcoin's advantages over traditional banking and credit systems are undeniable. Bitcoin has zero transaction costs, which is a huge advantage over our existing credit card, pay-on-line paradigm that incurs fees of 2-5% on every transaction.”
A16z partner and OpenCoin investor Chris Dixon, who called the digital currency “the red pill” at TechCrunch Disrupt NY was more circumspect as to an exact date of Bitcoin mass adoption, “These things are incredibly hard to predict. Bitcoin could flame out altogether. The key to going mainstream is for technologists and entrepreneurs to build out the infrastructure to make Bitcoin easier to use, easier to integrate, more reliable, more trustworthy etc. This means both back-end technologies and merchant/consumer facing services. From what I can tell, this is beginning to happen. “
As to what Armstrong, who pays his employees in Bitcoin, tells skeptics, “In our mind, it’s just low fees. If you can reduce fees it means more money in consumer’s pockets, And that means more money in small business owners’ pockets.”
Alexia Tsotsis 28 May, 2013
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The campus of Washington State University in Southeast Washington's agricultural region looks like a typical land-grant university. The connected mix of art-deco, modern, and post-modern buildings that collectively house the College of Engineering and Architecture hide a strange and incredible secret: that the researchers inside are close to making human-compatible ceramic bone grafts and custom-made prostheses and implants. In short, they're building cyborgs in Palouse.
In the same way that commercial 3D printing has changed product design and prototyping, these researchers are creating a way to build body parts. Their cheap, iterative designs take the best of the 3D-printing industry and add novel materials like resorbable ceramic powders and titanium. The resulting artificial body parts can then be placed on humans, creating some of the most complex chimeras in existence.
"Using 3D-printing technology, and optimum material chemistry, one can control the geometry and shape of the scaffold and bone-like material chemistry at the same time. We can control the resorption and dissolution kinetics in a controlled manner that can be used based on application need. If you can resorp the scaffold, then the ultimate result would be for the natural healing to replace the scaffold and need for a second surgery, as is needed with current technologies," explains Dr. Bose on a recent visit to her office.
The calcium phosphate-based ceramic bone grafts, for low-load-bearing bones, and titanium prostheses, for high-load-bearing applications, that the MRG is making are not ready for human use yet, but Dr. Bose and Dr. Bandyopadhyay both think 3D-printing technology will have a place in medicine.
At the Materials Research Group, Dr. Bose, Dr. Bandyopadhyay, and their graduate students run an impressive, interdisciplinary program. Dr. Bandyopadhyay stated that their work is "primarily an engineering-based solution to a biological problem." The work, according to Dr. Bose, combines chemistry, materials characterization, materials processing and biological characterization.
When asked if we might see 3D printers in hospitals, ready to make custom grafts and prostheses, Dr. Bandyopadhyay says simply that "Co-location is not required." He tells a story of working with CAD files generated from an MRI that he received from a neurosurgeon in India. Dr. Bandyopadhyay had never met the surgeon or the patient, but using the CAD files, he was able to print a custom titanium plate for a large section of the patient's skull that was destroyed in a motorcycle crash.
"It takes one to two days to print a piece like that, and it takes up to one to two days to stabilize a patient after major trauma," said Dr. Bandyopadhyay.
"Use of 3D printing can be used in a much broader sense, we can also develop a remedy or structure for a defect-specific or patient-specific bone defect. If the doctor provides a scan, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the bone scaffold specific to the defect size or shape," said Dr. Bose. With current bone graft and prosthesis manufacturing methods, making a device from a patient specific image or out of an unusual material, due to a patient allergy to chromium for example, is prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Dr. Bose and Dr. Bandyopadhyay are working on making 3D printers into a cheaper, faster and more precise manufacturing methods.
The Group also works with WSU professors of veterinary medicine for testing the viability of their grafts and prostheses. Graduate students work on all aspects of the research, from imaging to CAD to 3D printing to veterinary surgery, explains Dr. Bandyopadhyay.
A walk through the Materials Research Group's labs reveals the sequence of the process for printing and testing the ceramic and metal. The first room holds several 3D printers, one for ceramic powder and polymer binder, one for metal powder and one for just polymer. The next room houses a plasma sprayer for further refining products with additional coatings. And finally, a room for cell culture, where cells are grown for introduction to printed objects. Seeing where each of these phases happens gives an appreciation of how much Dr. Bose and Dr. Bandyopadhyay have accomplished since 1998.
But what about using 3D printers to build living things, with cell-based inks? A number of researchers at universities and private companies are doing just that.
Looking to revolutionize how doctors obtain organs and tissues, specialists in regenerative medicine are using 3D printers with cell-based ink in conjunction with existing tissue culture techniques to create organs and tissues that could save, extend, and improve patients' lives. 3D printers with ink containing cultured cells deposit at least one type of cell on a protein scaffold or within a mold made of a dissolvable gel. When the printed tissues are kept in an environment with temperature and oxygen levels resembling those inside a living animal, the natural embryonic development processes make cells grow together, just as happens in living animals.
Professor Gabor Forgacs, of the University of Missouri-Columbia's Biological Physics department, founded San Diego-based company Organovo in 2007. Organovo began operations in 2009, seeking to use 3D-printing technology in regenerative medicine.
Organovo uses 3D printers to assemble 2D layers of cellular material corralled within a mold of non-invasive gel. Cellular self-assembly takes over and leads to the 2D layers flowing together, leaving the tissue with the desired shape and function. The non-invasive gel allows Organovo to print and grow tissue without using a protein scaffold for printed cells to adhere to and grow on. Protein scaffolds, whether made from an existing organ stripped of its cells or created in a lab, have been a staple of other efforts to cultivate organs and tissues.
On April 22, 2013, Organovo announced that it had created the world's "first fully cellular 3D bioprinted liver tissue.” This multicellular material is able to perform many functions of a natural liver, including cholesterol biosynthesis, enzymatic activities, and production of other compounds. Organovo stated the liver tissue is up to 500 microns and 20 cells thick, and exhibits "tissue-like cellular density."
Organovo has developed its own 3D printer and software package for scaffold-free bioprinting, the NovoGen MMX Bioprinter. While Organovo has yet to produce any tissue that has gone into a patient, pharmaceutical researchers are already using the NovoGen MMX Bioprinter to create human tissues for drug development and disease modeling. In February 2013, Organovo and ZenBio announced a partnership for using ZenBio's expertise in providing human cell solutions with Organovo's printing technology. Organovo offers training and support to companies that purchase the printer. In December 2012, Organovo announced a collaboration with Autodesk "to create the first 3D design software for bioprinting."
Besides Organovo, several universities have been developing 3D bioprinting technology. Chief among these are the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM), Cornell University and the University of Iowa.
WFIRM was the first facility in the world to transplant a lab-grown organ into a human. Dr. Anthony Atala, chair and director of the institute as well as the head of the Wake Forest Urology Department, has transplanted "hundreds" of lab-grown bladders into patients since the early 2000s. WFIRM does not use a printer for these bladders; rather they use a biopsy from the patient's bladder to culture cells around a scaffold, and then incubate the bladder in a chamber whose temperature and oxygen level are meant to mimic conditions inside a healthy human.
WFIRM has now pioneered use of printers in its regenerative medicine labs. Researchers have used a modified inkjet printer, with solution of cells in the ink cartridge, to print organs, including a mouse heart. WFIRM researchers have developed techniques to grow large areas of skin from human foreskins, and are now developing a vial-based scan-and-print system to apply skin cells to burns that would normally require taking skin grafts from other areas on a patient's body. In lab experiments, wounds on mice treated with printed skin cells healed in three weeks, versus five weeks for mice not treated with the printed skin.
Now, WFIRM is combining its expertise in culturing cells and using inkjet printers with cell-based inks to use 3D printers to create major organs with multiple tissue types. The 3D printer uses morphometric models based on CT scans. Dr. Atala brought one of WFIRM's customized 3D printers to a 2011 TED Talk and presented a human kidney that was printed backstage. While the organ Dr. Atala presented in his talk is not suitable for transplant, it shows the amazing potential of 3D printers to create organs for transplants that do not require a finding and transporting an organ from a donor. Since a 3D printer can use ink created from a patient's own cells, donor compatibility issues and threats to transplanted organs from the patient's immune system will disappear.
The University of Iowa's Biomanufacturing Laboratory, part of the Mechanical and Industrial Department, has Dr. Ibrahim Ozbolat using the world’s only multi-arm 3D bio-printer to make organs. The multi-arm printer, developed at the University of Iowa's Center for Computer Aided Design's Advanced Manufacturing Technology group, or AMTech, can print complex structures using different kinds of cells simultaneously. For example, one arm can print vascular tissue while another arm prints tissue specific to the organ being printed, such as the glucose-sensitive pancreatic tissue.
Ozbolat is a co-director at AMTech, and he hopes to print usable organs within five to ten years. AMTech is currently focusing on creating pancreatic tissue, using an interdisciplinary team that includes specialists in medicine, biology, anatomy, mechanical engineering, robotics and computer aided design. According to Ozbolat, creating blood vessels is essential to printing any tissue that is more than one centimeter thick, to keep cells from dying.
At Cornell University, Dr. Lawrence Bonassar of the Biomedical Engineering Department recently made news when his lab used a 3D printer to create a human earlobe. The process begins by scanning the patient's head in order to create a computer model of the ear's shape. This model then directs a 3D printer using a cell-based ink to print the ear. Ears are a good option for printing, because cartilage does not require a blood supply.
Stepping away from medical uses for 3D bioprinting, Professor Gabor Forgacs of Organovo and his son Andras founded Modern Meadow with Dr. Francoise Marga and Dr. Karoly Jakab in 2011. The Columbia, Mo.-based company wants to use 3D printers and other processes that allow for large-scale production to make meat and leather. Modern Meadow's founders believe that meat and leather printed from lab-grown cells can provide safer, more environmentally friendly animal products than farming and ranching.
Modern Meadow's process starts with a biopsy from a healthy animal, taking skin for leather, or muscle, fat and other tissues for meat. Modern Meadow claims that cultured meat requires 99 percent less land, 96 percent less water and 45 percent less energy than meat from livestock. In addition, cultured meat produces 96 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, and does not risk spreading livestock-borne disease.
"If we can get this technology right, and if we can mainstream it, then it supports a different, positive vision from science fiction, one where we can locally grow on-demand, cruelty free, sustainably abundant amounts of meat and leather in a way that can protect and preserve our future on this planet and beyond."
Modern Meadow has made some meat and leather in their labs, but the products are far from ready for the marketplace. Modern Meadow's plan is to test-market higher-end fashion products and gourmet meat before broadening into lower-priced markets as Modern Meadow's production costs decrease and its reputation grows. Modern Meadow expects leather products to be ready before meat. Aside from the regulatory, cultural and engineering challenges to selling engineered meat, Gabor Forgacs explains in this TED Talk, where he eats a bite-sized morsel of printed pork, that Modern Meadow is still fine-tuning the fat content and electrical stimulation of muscle tissue during development that are necessary to make lab-grown meat taste like farm-raised meat.
This is just the beginning. Andras Forgacs explained in a Reddit IAMA, "Real steak is a big stretch. It won’t be the first product since steak is very hard to make for now. Instead, the first wave of meat products to be made with this approach will likely be minced meats (burgers, sausages, etc.) and pates (goose liver pate, etc.). Also seafood is an early possibility since the texture requires may be easier to achieve than premium cuts."
Andras Forgacs closes a 2013 Solve for X presentation by summing up Modern Meadow's goal nicely. "If we can get this technology right, and if we can mainstream it, then it supports a different, positive vision from science fiction, one where we can locally grow on-demand, cruelty free, sustainably, abundant amounts of meat and leather in a way that can protect and preserve our future on this planet and beyond."
You won't be eating a steak that comes from a 3D printer in 2013 or 2014, nor will you have a kidney, pancreas or bone graft from a 3D printer. But a number of academics and entrepreneurs are working on promising projects with 3D bioprinting that may well revolutionize our food industry and organ-transplant system within the next decade. It’s just a matter of time that some of us will be listening to the music of the spheres with our strange and revolutionary 3D-printed ears.
[Image: AFP Photo/Cornell University/Lindsay France]
Dan Solmon 28 May, 2013
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One of the biggest challenges many entreprenuers face is finding the right technical partner when building a company. Some startups can have a single leader, but more often than not, there is a balanced team behind every successful business.
Ooga Labs founders Stan Chudnovsky and James Currier began their partnership when Currier moved Emode, the business he started with BranchOut founder Rick Marini, to San Francisco in 2000. A recent business school grad, Currier realized very quickly that he needed an engineering leader to help him grow the company. August Capital partner David Hornik (then-partner Andrew Ankur had just invested in the company) set Chudnovsky, a talented engineer, and Currier up on a quasi-blind date at the Penn Dragon Cafe in Hayes Valley in 2001, and soon after Chudnovsky joined Currier and Marini on their journey to create an online testing company.
More than 10 years later, Chudnovsky and Currier are still partners, but have taken a different direction. The pair run and operate Ooga Labs, a startup studio and product-focused investment vehicle, that has backed Flickr, SecondLife, Path, Wanelo, and Lyft, among others. With the growing number of company builders and studios emerging, it’s clear that Currier and Chudnovsky are early pioneers in this movement.
The Tickle Effect
Back in 2001, Currier, Marini and Chudnovsky continued to chug along despite the bubble bursting and the weak climate for startups. They tried a number of ways to reinvigorate the product, including changing Emode’s name to Tickle. Currier says that the testing application didn’t have a ton of retention and people wouldn’t stay on the site, and he quickly realized that they needed to build a system that had a network effect. So Tickle became more of a social network, pivoting slightly to a matchmaking service based on IQ and other tests.
Within two years the startup became profitable and made the cover of Business 2.0 magazine. “It was during this period when we realized about the power of network effect,” says Currier. Tickle sold to Monster in 2004 for around $110 million. Currier stayed on to run the division of Monster for two years and when he departed, Chudnovsky ran the same group.
Following the acquisition, Currier and Chudnovsky were starting to think about how to enter the investing world and it made sense to continue the partnership together under Ooga Labs. Both felt that their skills and value-add complemented each other. They rarely fought, and when they do they always end up arguing to the point where they forget what they were fighting about. One of the newly formed firm’s first investments was Flickr in 2004, and turned out to be immediately successful as the photo sharing site sold to Yahoo in 2005 for $35 million.
A Network-Focused Investor
From the start, Currier and Chudnovsky knew they wanted to differentiate themselves as investors. First, the duo chose to focus on being product-driven advisors and investors. “I had a sense of what being a VC was like when working as an associate at Battery Ventures and I didn’t want that. But I also didn’t want to jump in with one company. We love working on product and design. That’s where Stan and I live,” explains Currier. Part of owning product as an investor also gives Currier and Chudnovsky the advantage when it comes to giving entrepreneurs value-add beyond just a check.
Second, Ooga only focuses on investing in networks and marketplaces (the one exception to this rule says Currier is PandoDaily, the technology news site started by former TechCrunch editor Sarah Lacy). Currier and Chudnovsky both decided that their expertise from creating an early social network at Tickle gave them skills and knowledge they could pass on to any startup building a network or a marketplace.
And through Currier and Chudnovsky’s past experiences and bets on successful networks like Flickr, GoodReads (sold to Amazon), AffinityLabs (sold to Monster), Maya’s Mom (sold to Johnson & Johnson), Ooga quietly began to build a reputation as the investor and advisor you want as a fledgling marketplace or network.
As mentioned above, Ooga has gone on to fund a number of hot networks and marketplaces including BranchOut, Lyft, Path, Wanelo, Poshmark, Scripted and others.
Typical investments are anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000, and all of the money is Chudnovsky and Currier’s, meaning there are no limited partners in Ooga. While Ooga serves as one of the most active advisors to a startup, the firm does not take board seats. In terms of stage, Ooga sometimes invests early, but will also put money into a company in a post A or B round (as was the case with Path and Lyft).
“Entrepreneurs bring us into a startup not because they just want cash, it’s because we have a massive amount of knowledge about how successful networks and marketplaces are built,” Currier says. And this has happened through the company’s ongoing investments and creation of companies.
Building Companies And Knowledge Share
Entrepreneurs at heart, Currier and Chudnovsky realized early on at Ooga that they also wanted to turn some of their own ideas into businesses, as well. “We felt like we had enough bandwidth that we could both build companies and advise,” he explains. “We both thought that the life between a focused operator and venture guy would be the best life.”
In 2008, Ooga built a social gaming company called WonderHill, which created a hit game called Dragons of Atlantis. Currier and Chudnovsky ended up merging the company in 2010 with Kabam.
Another recent success came in the form of an internal web analytics and user-acquisition tool that Currier and Chudnovsky built internally which was used across the companies the duo was advising and building. Ooga realized that companies would actually pay to use this app and launched the tool, called IronPearl, earlier this year. The startup provides optimization tools that will track a user through a site or app and test which combinations work best to keep them coming back after a week or a month.
PayPal caught wind of IronPearl and quickly acquired the company in April of this year to help grow its own 100 million-plus userbase. Chudnovsky became VP of Growth at PayPal with the acquisition, and has continued in that role.
Health care is another area where Currier and Chudnovsky see the potential for the network and marketplace effect. Ooga co-founded Jiff, a platform that allows consumers and health care professionals to build personalized and private communities of care around the digital health interventions and applications they prefer and can access, from wireless sensors to mobile apps to wearable devices.
And of late, Ooga has expanded into events. Last week, the firm held NFX, a meeting of the minds in Palo Alto that brought together the CEOs, founders and product leaders of a number of successful marketplaces and networks. Currier tells us that it was a curated, off the record event that aimed to be an open forum to share ideas on network effects, how to produce viral user experiences, creating transactions that add value and more. The attendee list was a who’s who of the Valley, including Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, oDesk’s Gary Swart, and Meebo’s (and Googler), Seth Sternberg. Currier says the firm will hold many more of these events in the future.
At the end of the day, Currier and Chudnovsky have created a new model in venture that works for them, and gives startups more value-add than just a check or a big-name in your TechCrunch post about your funding. And Ooga Labs has been able to differentiate itself in the massive sea of angel and institutional investors in the current climate. “It’s really about taking companies and ideas that don’t yet have network effects and helping change that, create growth and create retention,” says Currier.
In terms of expansion, the firm plans to scale out additional investments in marketplaces. And as Chudnovsky explains, Ooga Labs has become a network-effect business, facilitating the sharing of ideas around creating growth and social marketplaces. “We simply have a different way of interacting with our companies than most investors” he says.
When asked, Currier and Chudnovsky don’t really know how to phrase exactly what Ooga Labs is doing. The firm is part product and design consultancy, part investment firm, part knowledge-sharing forum, and part company builder. But who says you can’t do it all?
Leena Rao 28 May, 2013
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So iOS 7, it seems, is going to do away with much of the skeuomorphic design that has crept into the operating system and its utilities. Jony Ive, rumor has it, has done away with all the textures and real-world analogs in iOS 7 and has switched to a flat design instead. Good for him, but if that’s all that is new in iOS 7, Apple has a real problem. It’s not the design of iOS, but rather the fact that its own service offerings like Siri, iCloud and iTunes aren’t all that great when compared to what its competitors in Mountain View (and may startups) are working on.
Phones, for all intents and purposes, are pretty much thin slabs of metal or plastic with a high-res screen on top. There are few ways a company can use design to really set itself apart. Sure, Apple still has the better build quality than most of its competitors, but that margin is getting narrower and narrower. While Apple could always claim that it had the better apps, that’s less of an argument today than it was even a year ago, given that all of the most interesting apps are now generally available for both platforms (and maybe even for Windows Phone).
The area where manufacturers can distinguish themselves from their competitors is in the services they offer. Samsung has understood this and so has Google. Apple also knows that it needs killer services to keep its crown, but the ones it currently has aren’t all that great. Siri, for all its hype, still remains relatively useless. I still don’t quite understand iCloud, and developers now have better cross-platform choices than Apple’s cloud storage service (including Drive and SkyDrive from Google and Microsoft). iMessage is nice, but it’s not a killer feature and not something WhatsApp and other third-party developers haven’t already replicated and improved upon. The less said about Maps, the better.
But look at what Google can offer. There is Google Now, which gives you information before you even need it. The new Google Play All Access music all-you-can-listen-to subscription service launched ahead of Apple’s iTunes/iRadio offering. Its online storage, productivity and mapping services are light years ahead of Apple’s. Now that it owns Quickoffice, Google’s productivity apps for iPad are, at least in some respects, even more capable than Apple’s mostly ignored Pages, Numbers and Keynote. And even though Google+ may not be as big a hit as Facebook, it gives Google data about its users that Apple can’t even dream of (remember Ping?).
Google gets services – and it has the data to make them useful. It’s also slowly getting design. Apple, so far, doesn’t. Apple may have a few data centers, but it’s still mostly a hardware manufacturer. Its problem is that its competitors can now make hardware that is at least close to what it can build, so to remain competitive, it needs these services to set itself apart from the others.
iOS 7 will probably look better than iOS 6, but that’s just window dressing. Few will shed tears for Apple’s Notes app, but what Apple really needs are killer services – and so far, it doesn’t have those.
Frederic Lardinois 28 May, 2013
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A lot of the gadgets that help people monitor and track their physical health focus on providing feedback related to physical activity for use with tracking workout data and energy expenditure during the day. Now, a new Kickstarter projected called the W/Me band wants to leverage similar data sources, but with the goal of providing a more holistic picture of wellness.
The W/Me wristband is based around a sensor that monitors your body’s automatic nervous system, providing feedback on body activity that you may not be at all aware of, including breathing patterns and heart rate, to let you know about automatic reactions you may be having that are detrimental to your state of health or physical wellbeing. Then, with rhythmic breathing exercises, the idea is that you’ll be able to correct these negative patterns and improve your general health and mood for the better.
The W/Me project is different from most activity tracking in that it takes a very specific goal of managing breathing and describing a user’s mental state. It provides readings for agility score and ANS (autonomic nervous system) age in addition to a general description of your mental state, which provides information that tells you both how good you might be at dealing with stress, and how old your nervous system is, independent of your actual biological age.
The wristband will have Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, as well as an LED readout that can provide information independent from an attached smartphone. It advertises a full week’s worth of use on a full battery charge, and also has a built-in USB connector for charging. It uses a built-in heart rate variability sensor, combined with the company’s own algorithms to arrive at its various readings, which can be displayed either on the band itself or on a companion app.
Whether or not you believe in the science behind this, this is a clear growth market for quantified-self devices. There’s plenty of opportunity to explore the intersection of these devices and alternative theories of medicine and wellness, so it’ll be interesting to see if these kinds of gadgets can help bring health- and self-monitoring tech into the mainstream.
Darrell Etherington 28 May, 2013
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Nextpeer, the mobile gaming network that adds multi-player mode to indie titles, is entering private beta on the Android platform.
Although the platform launched about two years ago, it only started picking up momentum in the last few months, growing to 1,000 live games from 100 back in January. They’ve also 10X-ed the number of monthly active users in the network, reaching 8 million from 800,000 at the beginning of the year.
Those 8 million users have actually used Nextpeer’s tournaments; the actual reach of the games in the company’s network is much larger at somewhere between 20 to 30 million monthly actives.
Nextpeer adds multiplayer mode to mobile games. When gamers launch an app, they can tap an online tournaments or multi-player button inside the game, sign in directly or through Facebook, and then join a live table. You can see an example in the video above.
The idea is that multiplayer makes games much stickier and more engaging as players actually compete with each other in real-time. The platform offers both asynchronous multi-player and synchronous multi-player modes. So you can either play with people in real-time, or with different people even if they’re not playing at the same time as you.
They were originally going to use a virtual currency-based approached to monetization with players making bets that they would win tournaments.
But they’ve since moved more toward an advertising-centric model where games in the Nextpeer network will cross-promote other titles. This isn’t launched yet but it’s coming soon. The company’s CEO Shai Magzimof didn’t reveal what the revenue share will be with developers, but he said it would be in favor of them.
The company will also give developers the ability to customize the multi-player screen, so that it feels more native and natural to the game. Nextpeer has raised almost $2 million in funding from investors including OurCrowd and Wolfson Group, along with other private individuals.
Kim-Mai Cutler 27 May, 2013
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Mojang, the creative force behind Minecraft, is releasing its next title to the public a week from today on June 3rd. The new game, called Scrolls, is a digital collectible card game, similar in concept to Magic: The Gathering, and therefore a very different beast from the free-form world-building and exploration sim Minecraft. Like Minecraft, it’ll allow users to access the software very early, inviting the to become a key part of the development process. But can lightning strike twice for Mojang?
Minecraft is an unbridled success, by virtually every measure. At I/O, the Play team revealed that it plays a game called “Where’s Minecraft?” which has them find the title in the top grossing list. It’s always near the top, which is a remarkable exception for a game that offers a straightforward, one-time purchase pricing scheme; free-to-play titles rule the charts these days. The mobile version has sold over 10 million copies, Mojang says, and revenue is up well past $100 million at this point.
Scrolls has been in development for a few years now, and after Mojang and Bethesda settled a lawsuit over the name last year, it’s now ready for a public release. It’s hard to imagine Scrolls putting up Minecraft numbers – it’s hard to imagine anything putting up Minecraft numbers – but there’s no question all eyes will be on Scrolls when it drops next week, and the trailer definitely shows something that looks like it could be very addictive fodder for gamers.
Darrell Etherington 27 May, 2013
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Facebook used to have a blogging system called Notes. It still does, but it got buried by the Timeline redesign and widely forgotten. But now signs point to a Notes overhaul in the works. It could make the feature a legitimate competitor to Tumblr, help people express themselves, and soften the blow of Facebook reportedly losing a bid to buy Yahoo’s new baby.
Back in March, Facebook acqui-hired the team from Storylane, a sort of blogging platform its founders described as the "the home for personal thoughts and stories that go deeper than a quick Facebook or Twitter update.” It illustrated the rift between Facebook and Tumblr. Twitter is defined by its simplicity, so we’ll leave it out of this discussion.
When it comes down to it, Facebook is more limiting but consistent and easy for the masses. Tumblr gives you more freedom and control. Facebook’s brevity is sufficient for some, but others crave a more customizable presence on the web that’s separate from reports about their day-to-day life. If Facebook wants to house our whole digital lives, it may need to get serious about blogging. It’d be a big undertaking for the social network that could take a while to come to fruition. But better Notes could fill it with high-quality content, pull in ad views, and box out competitors trying to pick away at the Facebook empire.
Updates Vs Blogs: The Difference Matters
On Facebook, you write ‘status updates’ — short descriptions of your current life to keep your friends in the loop. They’re typically concocted for the news feed, rather than your Timeline, and have to adhere to Facebook’s style and format standards. They don’t have a home you’d be proud to show off.
Tumblr blogs feel like you’re writing for yourself. Strange, longer-f0rm dives into niche ideas that might weird out your Facebook friends fit naturally on your own blog alongside quick hits of images and content you’ve stumbled across or created. Tumblrs reach a like-minded audience of those who seek them out, rather than being forced on your social graph. There’s an emphasis on reblogging — lending your audience to content you appreciate. On Facebook there’s not much of a re-sharing culture. You just ‘Like”, which nets creators much less added influence.
When Notes launched in 2006, Facebook’s user base may not have needed it. It was around the same time the site was opening up to the public, and launching the news feed and status updates. For most of the social network’s users, short-form updates were enough. But the world has grown more tech savvy in the seven years since. People increasingly long for a place to call their own on the web. That desire, along with network effect and an improving state of mobile, led to massive, hockey-stick growth for Tumblr in 2010.
Now the signs say it’s time for Facebook to get back in the blogging game. There’s the Storylane acqui-hire. When that went down I asked Facebook about Notes and it was atypically cagey, which made me suspect something was in the works for the feature. Then there was Forbes’ report that Facebook was in talks with Tumblr about a potential acquisition before Yahoo successfully bought the startup. When I asked Facebook’s spokespeople flat-out whether the social network was redesigning Notes, I was met with a coy look and vague advice to watch out for something.
If you remember, Facebook launched its own Camera app just weeks after announcing it would buy Instagram. It had been working on it for a while and decided to launch it anyways. Similarly, a Notes overhaul may be in store, but without a successful acquisition of Tumblr running in parallel.
Fixing Facebook Notes
Facebook’s got a long way to go if it wants Notes to seriously compete with Tumblr and other populist blogging platforms. As of a few years ago I was one of the few people I knew using the feature. I’d employ Notes to host sets of links and descriptions of mixtapes I’d made or a calendar of upcoming concerts I’d compiled. Now I pretty much only see Notes used by outgoing Facebook employees leaving a long goodbye message, or Facebook divisions like Engineering posting deep descriptions of their latest coding adventures. I’m friends with a lot of power users, and if they’re not Noting, I bet the feature has quite poor traction overall.
It’s not hard to see why. First, Notes is totally buried. You have to fish the boomark out of your massive list of third-party apps. Writing a Note presents you with a sterile white canvas, with no hint of personalization. You can add basic text formatting and some markup, plus embed photos. However, you can’t add videos or animated .Gifs, Tumblr’s lifeblood. Once you publish, the Notes get published to the news feed (probably their greatest strength), but live on a boring white feed hidden within Timeline’s “More” drop-down or the optional Notes section.
Compare that to Tumblr where there’s a wealth of customization options, and the ability to embed most kinds of media. Posts are distributed to a Tumblr’s followers. The Tumblr dashboard might not be as popular as the Facebook news feed, but there, posts don’t have to compete with the barrage of other content types.
To make Notes competitive, Facebook would need to make the product instantly accessible from the home page. It could become a selectable feed in the recently launched news feeds menu, and you could opt to write them straight from the status update composer. If someone actively writes, Facebook would need to prominently display a link to their feed of Notes on their profile so friends could discover their posts beyond the feed. Notes would need to offer stylish themes, accept more media types, and preferably support drag-and-drop uploading and formatting.
Figuring out privacy could be a challenge. Typically, blogs are public but Facebook is usually about sharing with friends. Defaulting to public would make Notes more sharable and help Facebook rack up ad impressions through page views, but it’d need to ensure people don’t accidentally expose themselves. As for incentivizing authors, making it quick to reshare a Note (like reblogging on Tumblr) could give people wider reach than just their friends. That could attract both average Joes who don’t have much of an audience (similar to the intention of Quora’s new blogging feature), as well as public figures looking for massive influence.
On the business end, highly viral Notes could bring in traffic, but also box out Tumblr, which wants to monetize with sponsored posts in the dashboard that could compete with Facebook for ad dollars
In the end, the goals would be to:
- Make it so even kids or Grandma could create a personalized, simple-to-update blog,
- Allow the Tumblr demographic of hardcore Internet users to publish beautiful posts that reach their Facebook friends via the news feed so they don’t have to cultivate a new following elsewhere
- Be classy enough for big names to want to house their opinions on Facebook’s blogging feature.
If given a proper reintroduction, Notes might be a departure from Facebook’s highly-standardized look. Keeping tighter control of how people expressed themselves made Facebook easier to use and differentiated it from the chaos of Myspace. But if done right, Notes could give people a vivid way to share and connect. It could make sure Facebook hosts not just our pasts with Timeline, or our day-to-day with news feed, but also be the manicured nest for our deepest thoughts and the content we love.
Considering Facebook’s penchant for naming things what they are, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Notes eventually revived as “Facebook Blogs”.
Josh Constine 27 May, 2013
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