The first rule of being cool is not telling people you want to be cool. Yahoo is not following this rule, with its M&A team in full pray-and-spray acquisition mode post-Marissa Mayer hire, hitting on everything that walks, or at least has traction.
I’ve heard rumors that Yahoo was trying to get into the following deals over the past couple of months: Foursquare (at an $800 million asking price). Path (at a $2 billion asking price). Pinterest. Hulu. Zynga. Daily Motion. And at a smaller scale: Gdgt. Wavii. Media Ocean (?). A spate of others. And now Tumblr. “Literally they talk to everyone,” said one person familiar with the matter on the matter.
There was a kid in my high school who used to buy the popular kids lunch so he could sit with them. Yahoo has become that kid. At a reported $1b Tumblr would be a pricey picnic, about 1/4 of the cash Yahoo has on hand.
But it could work if it goes through, which I don’t think it will. A Tumblr buy fixes the issue of declining Yahoo traction, particularly amongst us wild, mobile-addicted youth. Yahoo, which wants to be a “key part of everyday life,” is limited by the fact that young people don’t want to use it at all, let alone every day. Tumblr is the exact opposite, hitting the sweet spot of mobile, social communications, messaging and viral distribution — Even bringing in some coin in the process.
Just to heap another dollop of speculation on top of this already absurdly speculative post: It wouldn’t be surprising if Google was also courting David Karp, as Mayer, a former Googler, still thinks like she’s in Google M&A, “Hey, a critical mass of people are using it … Let’s buy it and stick ads on it!.” Imagine what the social blogging platform could do to revive Google+ engagement and content creation … And how much more it would be worth to Google?
And it certainly makes sense for Yahoo to explore this strategy as well, in its larger, non-acquihire deals. But perhaps it should try being less promiscuous about it.Read More →
Social analytics startup Awe.sm has been growing quickly and getting a lot of interest from brands that want to use its platform for measuring the effectiveness of their social media campaigns. With that in mind, the company has hired a new CEO, industry veteran Fred McIntyre.
It’s been a long time since we checked in with Awe.sm. The company, which started out as a link-shortener but quickly transitioned to focus on measuring the influence of various social sharing activities, raised a Series A round of funding about 18 months ago.
Since then, the company has been quietly tweaking its business model, moving from a platform primarily used by developers to track social sharing data, to one used by brands and marketers. That shift came about at the request of various agencies that were looking to get a deeper look at their earned media through social networks.
Awe.sm provides them with a way to track the value of individual tweets, likes, and pins, as well as their effects on traffic, page views, and sales conversions. That gives marketers insights and measurement to determine the effectiveness and ROI of social media campaigns which they never really had before. Clients include companies like Zynga, Playdom, Topspin Media, Maker Studios, and Groupon.
Anyway, with that new direction (or should we say, new opportunity?), Awe.sm was going beyond just being a pure technology company, and it was looking for someone who would help work with brands and advertisers and agencies. And in that search, it found former CBS Interactive and AOL exec Fred McIntyre.
McIntyre was most recently SVP of CBSi’s music group, which includes brands like Last.fm, MP3.com, and Radio.com. Under his leadership, those brands were consolidated into a single unit and the group acquired lyrics database Metrolyrics.com. Prior to that, he had held various executive roles at AOL, including SVP of business development, as well as overseeing the company’s Video and Music divisions at different times.
According to Awe.sm co-founder Jonathan Strauss, the decision to bring in a veteran executive to run things became necessary as the company began scaling up. Taking the Awe.sm platform and packaging it up for social media marketers meant growing the business, growing the team, managing people, and selling to brands and agencies — all of which left him feeling spread a little too thin. While McIntyre takes the reins, Strauss will take over as head of product management.
For his part, McIntyre was interested in the opportunity to start off on the ground floor of an emerging new industry. After being part of streaming music pioneer Spinner, as well as heading up AOL Video in the mid-to-late aughts, he said he’s used to seeing new markets emerge. Being there for the inevitable growth of a social media marketing business was of huge interest.
According to McIntyre, social media marketing makes up about 8 percent of marketing budgets today, and are expected to grow to about 12 percent by the end of the year, representing a huge opportunity for growth. Awe.sm, he believes, will be a part of that growth, as it provides better tracking than competitive products.Read More →
Google I/O, the company’s sixth annual developer conference, got officially underway in San Francisco on Wednesday, and it was an eventful day. It took the company every minute of its epic three-hour keynote to unfurl a laundry list of announcements and updates, seemingly across every product category in its arsenal — from Android, Chrome and Search to Maps, Google+ and Hangouts — each with a fresh coat of paint. We even saw the arrival of Google’s very own subscription music service, today, which is already being touted as a potential Spotify killer.
Amidst Larry Page’s triumphant return to the stage (after addressing his much-discussed vocal issues yesterday), Google’s soaring stock price and sexy smartphone demos, it was easy to miss an important announcement concerning Google’s foray into a considerably less sexy market: Education. (And K-12 education, no less.)
Android Engineering Director Chris Yerga took the stage to introduce Google Play for Education, through which Google hopes to extend Play — its application and content marketplace for Android — into the classroom. The new store, which is scheduled to launch this fall, aims to simplify the content discovery process for schools, giving teachers and students access to the same tools that are now native to the Google Play experience.
Teachers will now be able to search for and recommend learning content by category, grade level, and a variety of other criteria, and will have the opportunity to discover content recommended by other educators, for example. What’s more, every piece of content served within its curated portal is pre-approved by educators before being posted, so that teachers can rest easy knowing the recommended content is quality and school-appropriate.
Google has already begun to recruit content partners, with NASA and PBS among those that have already signed on to make their content available to users when the store goes live this fall. Yerga said that the team plans to begin accepting content submissions from developers at some point this summer.
Today, Apple is far and away the de facto leader in the education space, but with its new educational app marketplace, Google is clearly positioning itself such that it can begin to make a real play at challenging that dominance. To that point, the real key to Google’s new product is the fact that it enables administrators to distribute applications to their entire team. If a teacher wants to shoot content to a couple hundred Android devices, they simply have to type in their group’s name and voila, Google will push that sucker out to everyone on the list.
Another important perk for cash-strapped teachers is that the marketplace doesn’t require them to use credit cards to purchase content. Instead, educators have the option to buy apps and content in bulk and charge those purchases to their account. These are important features for educational users, removing a great deal of the friction around acquiring learning content.
Not only that, but, while schools and educators are eager to bring apps and other digital learning tools into their classrooms, it’s critical for them to be able to manage and to bring some oversight to the content distribution process. Plus, the Android Marketplace, er, Google Play, has had a long-standing malware problem, so that extra layer of teacher control can help get schools over the hump.
While the penetration of Apple’s mobile devices into education is significant, when it comes to other hardware, IT departments don’t want to deal with the hassle of networking iDevices. Plus, Apple products are expensive — and especially for bulk orders, schools will want to turn elsewhere.
Where Google can have a real advantage over Apple is in its ability to combine Google Play for Education with Google Appls for Ed. Small businesses have been adopting Google’s productivity software in droves, and the interest has started to grow among school boards who want to introduce tablets into their classrooms and use Google Apps as the standard.
Together these two products can work hand in hand in the classroom, with each becoming more powerful as a result. In turn this could help create the incentive or leverage that it needs to begin attracting new users.
The biggest takeaway: If it weren’t already abundantly clear, Google is no longer just a search company. The company has been exerting tremendous effort to achieve a unification among its products, not only in terms of design, but in the way its products interact with each other. That is best demonstrated by the fact that Google products now touch just about everyone. In a sense, Google is becoming a utility provider — for both consumers and developers — and, in turn, a data company.
While Apple has long been focused most of its attention on design over the years, Google’s focus on utility has allowed it to build a massive infrastructure, collecting data from across a broad range of software products at a nearly unprecedented scale. For me, there’s no better testament to the utility and wide application of Google’s infrastructure than Education.
Naturally, in juxtaposition with sexy new smartphones and mobile technology, streaming music services and re-imagined social networks, Google’s work in Education tends to end up in the backseat. But, for this reason, Google has quietly (and quickly) gained noticeable traction in Education, thanks to the adaptation of its utilities and gadgets, like Google Apps and Chromebooks, to the learning market.
For example, in February, Google announced in February that Chromebooks are now in over 2,000 schools across the U.S. For awhile now, Apple has grabbed most of the attention in the education space thanks to the rapid adoption of iPads among schools and teachers. Furthermore, when we talk about Google having positioned itself as a provider of essential utilities, there’s probably no better than the company’s recent announcement that the entire country of Malaysia — that’s 10 million students, teachers and parents — will use Google Apps for Education as part of the country’s effort to improve its education system.
Through its Google Apps products, Google allows students and teachers to collaborate in realtime through Web apps, while using already-familiar tools like Google search and Gmail. The other part of this is, Google’s cloud, its infrastructure, allows it to operate its software products at scale without the traditionally high costs. For that reason, the company can make its educational products accessible to cash-strapped IT departments, for example.
With infrastructure that allows it to run its software at scale from the cloud, Google’s products become more flexible. That foundation behind it, with Google Apps having found penetration among small businesses, it adapted the suite to address similar productivity and collaboration inefficiencies in education.
Apply that to Google Play and pair it with Google Apps, and you can start to see why EdTech entrepreneurs and investors, when asked what the biggest trends are in education (that no one’s talking about yet), more than a few have said “start paying attention to Google.”
And with the impending arrival of Google Play for Education, if Google can start to get Android tablets into the hands of kids, it looks like they might just be onto something…
Google Developer page here.Read More →
Lucky Sort, a Portland, Oregon-based startup behind a visualization and navigation engine called TopicWatch that helped to discover patterns in live data streams, has been acquired by Twitter. Terms of the deal were not immediately available, but the company has announced via its website that it will be shuttering its service in the coming months, and several members of the team will now be relocating to Twitter’s San Francisco offices to join the company’s “revenue engineering department.”
The startup had operated somewhat stealthily until early 2012, when word came out that it has raised a half-million seed round from Neu Venture Capital, Invite Investments (founders of Invite Media) and several angel investors, including Adam Riggs (Shutterstock.com), BankSimple co-founder Alex Payne, plus chaos theory physicist, quantitative trading pioneer, and roulette wheel hacker Norman Packard, Ph.D., who became the Chief Science Officer at the firm.
With the company’s first product, TopicWatch, users could sift through social media, government filings, news and commentary in real time to find, summarize and analyze any text-based content. It was more than a “social listening” or “sentiment analysis” firm – those were only subsets of its overall capabilities.
Analysis of Twitter data was also only part of what this platform could accomplish, as well.
In effect, Lucky Sort was a big data play – it used NLP (natural language processing) techniques to discover information from huge, unstructured data sets. What made it unique was its ability to derive structure without having to first define a database of nouns, verbs, etc. as traditionally would be the case with NLP. Instead, Lucky Sort was moved towards data mining through statistics rather than input ontologies.
Last November, the engine was put to practical use through a partnership with the social network for traders, StockTwits. The relationship offered the entire historical database of StockTwits (everything that had been tweeted or shared within the community), as well as a real-time feed coming into its service. These data sets were made available in Lucky Sort’s analysis interface, allowing investors to come in and examine how chatter in the StockTwits community has correlated with price action.
This could produce visualizations (like the one below), which could be operated via touch – including on the iPad.
Today, Lucky Sort says that three of its team members are headed to Twitter, and a plan to transition customers off of its platform is underway. Asked what he meant by Twitter’s “revenue engineering department,” Pepper would only say, “it’s where we’ll be shoveling coal into the money printing machine.”
However he did say that as far as he knew, Twitter is not interested in getting into the finance vertical itself. “They wanted our technology and expertise for other things,” he says.
Lucky Sort had raised a total of $600,000 before the acquisition, with $100,000 coming from Howard Lindzon, StockTwits CEO and co-founder.
The startup joins other recent Twitter acquisitions, including another previously data-focused service called Ubalo, as well as others like We Are Hunted (which led to Twitter Music), Vine, Crashlytics, Bluefin Labs, and more.
The company’s official announcement is below:
Lucky Sort acquired by Twitter!
Two years ago I started Lucky Sort with several friends. Our goal was to make huge document sets easier to analyze, summarize and visualize by building elegant and user friendly tools for text analysis.
Today I’m very excited to announce that our journey has entered a new phase: Lucky Sort has been acquired by Twitter!
Several of us will be moving to San Francisco to join Twitter’s revenue engineering department, so if you’re in the neighborhood and want to talk about text mining or data visualization give us a shout.
We’ll be helping current customers transition off our system in the coming months such that we can focus fully on our future at Twitter.
In building Lucky Sort we had an enormous amount of support from friends, employees, advisors and investors. It has been uplifting to have so many people help us and it highlighted just how much business is a social endeavour.
Chief Executive Officer
This story is developing….
Correction: An earlier version of this post said Packard was joining Twitter. He is not.Read More →
Editor’s note: Sid Venkatesan is an IP partner specializing in high stakes IP disputes and IP counseling for technology companies in the Silicon Valley office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. James Freedman is an associate in Orrick’s IP group and a recent Stanford Law School graduate.
A New York appellate court has recently ruled in UMG Recordings v. Escape Media Group that the safe harbor protections that Congress designed for Internet companies do not cover sound recordings made before 1972. The decision is a new and unexpected break with earlier decisions by state and federal trial courts.
As a result, Internet companies that host or transmit songs before 1972, including hits from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley, may no longer rely upon the DMCA’s safe harbors to insulate them from potentially crippling legal liability as a result of copyright infringement that arises from downloading, hosting or transmitting copyrighted sound recordings.
Escape Media Group, which owns the Grooveshark music hosting site, was sued by Universal Music Group, a major rights-holder, in New York state court for infringing UMG copyrights in pre-1972 works. Grooveshark permits users to upload recordings to its servers and lets other users stream that music. UMG sued Grooveshark for hosting UMG-owned copyrighted songs from prior to 1972 without a license.
Grooveshark argued in the trial court that its services were protected by the DMCA safe harbors, specifically Section 512(c). As we’ve discussed before, this safe harbor immunizes service providers that host user uploaded content so long as the service provider posts a DMCA policy, adheres to DMCA notice and takedown provisions, and complies with other formalities. The trial court agreed with Grooveshark (as well as an earlier federal court decision) and found that Grooveshark’s hosting of pre-1972 songs was protectable under the DMCA. UMG appealed, and on April 23, this decision was reversed by a New York appellate judge that found the DMCA safe harbors inapplicable to copyright infringement of sound recordings created before 1972.
Why does 1972 matter? In 1971, Congress amended the U.S. Copyright Act to include federal protection for sound recordings “fixed” on February 15, 1972. At the same time, Congress included in Section 301(c) of the Copyright Act that “any rights or remedies under the common law or statutes of any State shall not be annulled or limited” by the Copyright Act until 2067. UMG argued that it had common law rights in sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972 and its rights could not be annulled by the DMCA safe harbors.
Grooveshark countered with a public policy point, arguing that Congress could not have intended the Copyright Act to be read in this way, as it would “eviscerate the DMCA.” Unluckily for Grooveshark, shortly before this decision was issued, the U.S. Copyright Office sent a letter to Congress stating that the DMCA did not cover pre-1972 sound recordings, and urged Congress to fix the issue. At the end of the day, the appellate court rejected Grooveshark’s position and held that pre-1972 sound recordings were not covered based on the text of Section 301(c) and the legislative history. The court punted the issue back to Congress, stating “it would be far more appropriate for Congress, if necessary, to amend the DMCA to clarify its intent, than for this Court to do so by fiat.”
Though it has its critics, the DMCA provides Internet services, including content-hosting sites, certain peer-to-peer services, search engines and ISPs with defined protections from copyright infringement claims based on the transmission, downloading, uploading, caching, or linking to digital copyrighted content. Under Section 512, the DMCA protects four types of Internet services — called “service providers” under the Act: 1) conduits, like ISPs, that transmit material through a network; 2) caching services; 3) service providers like YouTube or Veoh that store user uploaded content; and 4) information location tools, like search engines. The DMCA also exempts nonprofit educational institutions from liability.
With this decision, those protections may have gone up in smoke. Therefore, Internet companies hosting pre-1972 sound recordings can face claims for actual damages and injunctions under common law. Actual damages can be substantial. For example, BlueBeat.com settled a lawsuit for approximately $1 million for claims to streaming and selling Beatles songs, many of which were recorded prior to 1972. On the flip side, since this decision applies to state common-law copyright protections, it means that service providers may be clear of the worst penalties for copyright infringement for infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings. Under federal law, which would be subject to the DMCA, a service provider can face “statutory damages” that can range from $750 to $30,000 per work (meaning that, for example, a service that is found to host 1,000 infringing copyrighted songs could be hit with a $30 million award).
Further, though UMG has won the day in New York, there remain a lot of uncertainties regarding its claim. The copyright rules of the road that have developed in cases involving Internet companies have developed in connection with claims arising under the federal law. It is uncertain how legal issues, like the determination of indirect liability, the evaluation of affirmative defenses (such as fair use and “Betamax defense”), and the calculation of damages will occur under New York common law.
As a result of this case, Internet companies with a presence in New York (and perhaps other states, should this decision prove persuasive in other states) are now facing a two-regime copyright system and will face increased regulatory costs as a result. Going forward, these companies should take a hard look at what content is hosted, transmitted or cached through their services using, for example, logging techniques or third-party systems, such as the Content ID systems employed by sites like YouTube, to audit content on their service. This can inform appropriate action—either identifying a need for content licenses or a need to engage in increased technical self-help measures to curb infringement.
[This column reflects Sid’s and James’ general views and does not constitute legal advice or the views of Orrick or its clients.]
[Image Flickr]Read More →
Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and his wife Princess Mette-Marit were in Silicon Valley this week, and I asked them about their hopes to bring more startups and innovation to their home country.
I interviewed Haakon and Mette-Marit at Norway’s Innovation House Silicon Valley, a co-working space in Palo Alto for Norwegian startups looking to enter the US market. The couple saw demos from several startups — the prince even tried on some Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles — it was part of Making View‘s demo of its technology for capturing and exploring 360-degree video footage. (He said it was “pretty awesome.”)
Haakon actually lived in the Bay Area a decade ago, when he was attending UC Berkeley. He told me that he also attended the opening of the Innovation House 18 months earlier — since then, it has been used by more than 25 companies. Norway is “constantly trying to foster a culture of innovation,” he said.
When I asked what kind of relationship they would like to see between Norway and Silicon Valley, Mette-Marit said:
I think it’s important that we have this house as a starting point. But obviously, we also have examples of companies that have been doing very good here before this house came … I think that’s important that you have some companies that have done well and are willing to take on a sort of mentoring role for the other companies coming after.
I didn’t get a chance to go into too much depth with the couple, but I though it was interesting to see them discussing these issues at all. The video concludes with a short interview and demo of technology from Elliptic Labs, one of the companies at the Innovation House. It’s developing gesture-based controls, sort of like Leap Motion, but designed to integrate with tablets and smartphones.
By the way, you might notice that I usually refer to the crown prince and princess in the third person. That’s because I was told that’s the polite way to address royalty, though I suspect I still messed it up somehow.Read More →
Video discovery startup Boxfish wants to help people find out what’s new and trending on TV, by scouring broadcast and cable networks to find out what people are talking about. After making its second-screen discovery application available for iOS, the startup has just released an Android version, and is opening up to allow other developers to take advantage of the technology it’s built.
To recap: Boxfish works by scanning network satellite signals for captions and figuring out which words or topics or phrases are being talked about across a wide number of TV programs. It started with a real-time TV search engine, letting its users say where and when certain topics are being mentioned. But it’s expanded to enable users to see which topics are most popular.
The result was an app for the iPad providing a “Live Video Guide” to what’s new and important on TV. That app, not surprisingly, was also designed with the idea of connecting to users’ set-top boxes or TVs and allowing them to control the TV and switch the channel to things that they find interesting on the app.
With the launch on Android, Boxfish will be available to even more phones and tablets and users, bringing all the same trending and favorites options that iPad users had. One big new feature that it added with Android, though, was the ability to use Google’s voice recognition technology to talk to the app and search for shows or whatever without having to type them out.
But Boxfish isn’t looking to just be another consumer-facing app. It’s realized that the data it collects could also be useful to third parties. So it’s making its real-time TV API available to some partners and allowing them to use it in their own apps. That includes big consumer electronics manufacturers which may seek to provide a real-time data or trending layer on top of their existing TV guides.
The data is also being made available to universities — like the University of California, Berkeley or Columbia University — for their media schools to better understand the topics that are being discussed on 24-hour news networks, for instance. Other applications include real-time fact checking and sentiment analysis.
Boxfish was founded in 2011, and has raised $3 million in funding led by T-Venture, the Venture Capital arm of Deutsche Telekom.Read More →
Accel Partners is making a big talent announcement today, with former Groupon COO and Yahoo exec Rob Solomon joining the firm as a venture partner.
Prior to his time at Groupon, Solomon was a venture partner at Technology Crossover Ventures, which he joined after selling travel search engine SideStep to Kayak for $200 million. Before the Kayak sale, Solomon was the VP of Yahoo Shopping and a member of the company’s executive management team. Solomon also sits on the board of directors for HomeAway, and HighGear Media (backed by Accel Partners and Greylock). He’s also been an active angel investor, investing in Trippy and a number of other startups.
As Venture Partner, Solomon will be evaluating early stage and growth equity opportunities with Accel. He will also advise the firm’s portfolio companies on a wide range of strategic and operational issues like product management, scaling infrastructure, business operations, and mergers and acquisitions. Clearly Solomon’s experience as an entrepreneur, executive and investor should help Accel’s portfolio companies.Read More →