Oh, Yahoo! Mail. It’s one of those products that many of us used at one point, and it either stuck or didn’t. For a lot of users it did stick, as it is currently the No. 3 mail product on the web, behind Microsoft and Google’s products, of course.
Today, the company announced a redesign across all platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone and web. Internally, the company called it the “Cuatro” release, for obvious reasons. I had a chance to speak with Adam Cahan, SVP, Emerging Products & Tech, at Yahoo!, who is in a role that’s just a month old, set up by its CEO Marissa Mayer.
We talked about today’s release, and how Yahoo! is entering a shift into iterative product design and maintenance, letting user feedback and usage patterns guide their way. This is nothing new as far as products go, but for Yahoo!, this might be a complete cultural shift.
Adam Cahan: I think the most important piece is that we’re really focusing on the user behaviors and what users are here to do with email. The funny line we’re using internally is “we want to re-imagine email to be email.” When it comes to email, what you want is fast and easy, anywhere access. What we learned is that speed and simplicity are features, and that’s what users are trusting us with. We spent a lot of time not only on the details of the performance here, but also watching how it impacts everyone. We do a lot of bucket testing to see what happens.
It takes a tiny bit of time for users to re-adapt, then we observe behavior. What we’ve found is that we’re getting more of their time.
In terms of mobile, people expect that their products and providers are available anywhere they go. For email, it’s important for our users to have access to that.
TechCrunch: Tell us about the cross-platform approach to your products, specifically something like Mail.
Adam Cahan: There’s a tremendous amount of nuance on every platform. Folks have been using webmail, so they come to expect certain things from Yahoo! and expect consistently. Each platform has its own subtlety. Nobody wants Mail on iOS and Android to act the same way. Our principles carry across though.
For iPhone, infinite scroll is something that’s there. In the same way, for Android, we focus on screen density, seeing how many things you can display on a single screen. These are metaphors you see across devices. On Windows 8, we’re emphasizing things like Snap view and tiles, which are a new thing.
The big emphasis is when we focus on these questions about users’ daily habits and what they’re doing on a regular basis, you start to see how small improvements on performance impact their daily life.
The metric we know from the web release is that we’re saving 36 million minutes a day, which are tremendously meaningful minutes. That’s the scale of impact. We’re watching performance by the seconds and the minutes.
TechCrunch: How do you talk to your users?
Adam Cahan: It depends on the nature of the product and design. In the case of something like Mail, you have the classic opportunity for bucket testing. This is where we can test behaviors. We want people to come back to email more, and get more done. It’s a bit more complex on mobile. We’re monitoring true performance there and the core technology: scroll view, battery, and things like that. Very product centric.
We do get user feedback all of the time, we do read them and see what people are saying about the product. We have customer care that people reach out to, and we learn a lot through those channels. Something like speed and performance isn’t something that can really be articulated. If users are happy with your product, and your product is speedy and easy, they will change their behavior.
TechCrunch: Iterative design. Tell us how launching things more often beats big yearly redesigns.
Adam Cahan: I was not directly involved in the 2010 Mail design. I’ve taken on my new role as taking on mobile. I will say this, you’re starting to see a lot of the guiding principles that we focus on coming to light in these products.
We’re really actually focusing on the user and ensuring that we’re bringing out high-quality products with great design and performance. Also, we’re raising the bar on ourselves. We’re following a much more rapid cadence with iterating on our products now.
There’s lots of other things going on.
TechCrunch: Your role is new. Can you tell us more about it?
Adam Cahan: My group is called “Emerging products and technology” – we brought together our mobile teams, any product that has a mobile component. Flickr and our connected TV platform. Bringing those three together as a focus is about these shifts in behaviors. People are engaging with all different forms of devices and we wanted teams to engage with our products on them.
Personally, I came to Yahoo! a little over a year ago through the acquisition of IntoNow, a second screen application. I previously worked at Google as well, and did another startup called Auditude that Adobe acquired. Marissa created this role about a month ago.
So here you have a golden opportunity for Yahoo! to grab marketshare in any number of verticals. Mail is clearly the focus right now, as it’s one of the most-used, fully-owned products at Yahoo’s disposal. Can it do the job right? Can it really bring an experience that keeps users happy, as well as potentially pull others away? Those are questions that need time to be answered.
Without a doubt, Yahoo! Mail is starting to a look a little like Gmail, and that’s not a bad thing. Simple is better, especially when it comes to something like email, which nobody likes to do.
What I can say is that for a lot of Yahoo’s products, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up. Make no mistake though, there is a long, long road ahead for Yahoo! Will it be paved in purple and gold? Stay tuned.
[Photo credit: GigaOm]Read More →
Whether you use Google+ knowingly or not, meaning whether or not you actually engage on the destination site, you have to realize that the project has been a complete shift for the entire company as a whole. Even though it has a separate name and a separate URL, you simply cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the social tools within the project have been weaved into Google’s biggest products. If you call Google+ another “social network”, you are simply missing the point.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to the actual innovation that’s happening with Google+, which is quite impressive. Today, the company announced a whole new set of features called “Communities”, which allow you, or anyone, to set up a place that’s not your own profile and not a business “Page” to have discussions on any number of topics.
The feature will be rolling out to all users today.
If you’ve been a heavy Internet user over the past ten years, you might be familiar with this concept. Yahoo! really nailed it with Yahoo! Groups, as it quickly became the destination to set up a place to discuss your kid’s soccer team, technology, sports, world events and everything in between. The flaw with products like that, including Google’s own “Groups”, is that it’s not integrated with anything else, they were standalone. It meant that you had to stop what you were doing and go somewhere else to interact. That was fine when there was nothing to do on the Internet, but now that we have a multitude of sites and options to keep us busy, that simply doesn’t fly anymore.
With Communities, you can create say, a TechCrunch community, and nest a bunch of sub-topics within it. For us, it would be Apple, Google, Microsoft, Social…you get the point. Anyone can then come along and start a discussion within that Community, sharing things from all over the web with the flick of a wrist, just like you would to a circle. The idea is that if you have a video of your cat jumping off of the couch, not everyone in the world wants to see that. Maybe your “Cat Lovers” circle does, and so will your new “Cat Mega Lovers” Google+ Community. Make sense?
Again, nothing new here concept-wise, the innovation is in the Google+ integration. By seeing what Google has done with its social project, you can then imagine how Communities could become an integral part of your work flow, search experience and social life. All from anywhere on the web.
Sharing (responsibly) is caring
I had a chance to take Communities for a quick spin while I visited the Googleplex this week. It will pop up on the left-hand side of the destination site, allowing you to create your own or search out others. You can of course find ones that interest you within the Google+ unified search experience. As far as options on what types of Communities you can make, that’s simple too: public, public with membership required to interact, private but discoverable, and private but not discoverable or indexed.
This could be great for your church group, gamer guild, drone clan or just a place to bring your family together to go wild with sharing things. Since it’s a static “place”, it’s easy to go back through an entire stream within topics without losing your place. It’s really slick. This is the first major release since last Google I/O’s announcement of Events, which are also integrated with Communities, of course.
The downside to this release is that it’s not readily available on the Google+ mobile apps, which is a bummer. If I start a Community on Google+, I want to be able to take it with me wherever I go. Of course, you can use the mobile web version of Google+, but the native app is too beautiful and intuitive not to use. Hopefully, the update comes soon.
By making Communities, and the rest of Google+, available throughout the web, you’ll often hear Googlers call this approach “Activating the web”, and it is to a degree. You can now share this article to a Community and a Google+ circle, including your mom, using our +1 button. Even she’ll understand how it works.Read More →
Groupon got put through the meat-grinder last week as founder and CEO Andrew Mason defended himself and managed to hold onto his role after another terrible earnings quarter. Now Groupon is getting down to the business of streamlining: Mike DeLuca, the VP of sales for Groupon’s restaurant reservation system Savored (just bought in September), is now also VP of sales for Breadcrumb, the company’s iPad-based point of sale system.
He will report to Rob Kilgarriff, Groupon’s North American head, who himself was only appointed in September.
The move, of course, makes perfect sense for Groupon. If the company is already sending people out to drum up business for one service that caters to restaurants, then it should be talking about and selling related services, too.
By offering a more complete portfolio, this falls into the wider remit that Andrew Mason put forward earlier in the year for Groupon to go beyond the daily deal and offer a one-stop shop for local e-commerce.
There is another message here, too, however.
Last week, my colleague Colleen Taylor brought attention to some of the talent drain at Groupon, noting specifically how the whip-smart founders of recently-acquired Adku all left within months. DeLuca joined Groupon with its Savored acquisition — he had played a key role at the company as its chief revenue officer — and so by giving him a bigger role at Savored’s new owner, Groupon is trying to demonstrate that it does recognise leaders and is holding on to them and helping them grow.
DeLuca himself could become a key person for Groupon as it continues to build up its local commerce operations. This is where most of his experience has been for years. Before Savored, he served as SVP at AOL Local, and before that as an SVP at Yahoo.
This doesn’t mean that Groupon is pulling away from daily deals, however. The company, just last week, made a move to expand how it offers its daily deals platform on a wholesale basis for third parties, inking an agreement with Major League Baseball to power its daily deals service.
Full release below.
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Groupon Appoints Mike DeLuca as VP of Sales for Breadcrumb
Groupon (www.groupon.com) (NASDAQ: GRPN) announced today that effective immediately Mike DeLuca has assumed the role of VP of Sales for Breadcrumb, the company’s iPad-based point-of-sale system for restaurants, bars and cafes. In addition, DeLuca will remain in his current role as VP of Sales and Operations for Savored, a Groupon-owned restaurant reservation and yield management platform for high-end establishments. He will continue to report to Rob Kilgarriff, VP and GM of North American Sales and Account Management, Groupon.
DeLuca is a 20-year sales veteran with experience at a number of technology companies that cater to local businesses. In the early days of Savored, he played a key role as Chief Revenue Officer, and prior to that he served as SVP of Sales and Operations at AOL Local, where he managed all revenue and operations for a sales team of more than 300 inside and field representatives. DeLuca has also held SVP and VP sales and operations roles at Yahoo and Yodle, a New York-based startup specializing in marketing management tools.
“Mike is a seasoned sales leader with an innate understanding of the needs and operational challenges hospitality businesses face,” said Kilgarriff. “He has greatly accelerated our efforts to introduce both Breadcrumb and Savored to restaurants.”
DeLuca has a B.S. in Communications and Human Development from Boston College.
Founded in New York City in January 2011 by a team of restaurant industry veterans, Breadcrumb is an easy-to-use, powerful and affordable iPad point-of-sale (POS) solution for food and beverage businesses. Breadcrumb removes the complexities, costs and headaches of antiquated POS systems. Plans start as low as $99 per month and include free installation and 24/7 phone and email support. Businesses interested in learning more about Breadcrumb can visit www.breadcrumbpos.com. The Breadcrumb App can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store.
Savored is a leading provider of restaurant reservations and high-end restaurants discounts. More than 1,000 businesses nationwide have used Savored’s platform for restaurant yield management to offer diners the lowest possible prices at some of the best restaurants. After booking a reservation on Savored.com and visiting the restaurant, diners enjoy up to a 40 percent discount applied automatically to their bill. Merchants enjoy incremental revenue for tables that would otherwise be empty, and consumers are incentivized by the ‘built-in’ discount and roster of high-end eateries to explore. Merchants can learn more about Savored’s free 30-day trial at http://savored.com/free-trial/ or by calling (877) 801-1209. Consumers can sign up to receive Savored emails at http://savored.com/signup/.
Groupon (NASDAQ: GRPN) is a global leader in local commerce, making it easy for people around the world to search and discover great businesses at unbeatable prices. Groupon is reinventing the traditional small business world by providing merchants with a suite of products and services, including customizable deal campaigns, credit card payments processing capabilities and point-of-sale solutions to help them attract more customers and run their operations more effectively. By leveraging the company’s global relationships and scale, Groupon offers consumers incredible deals on the best stuff to eat, see, do, and buy in 48 countries. With Groupon, shoppers discover the best a city has to offer with Groupon Local, enjoy vacations with Groupon Getaways, and find a curated selection of electronics, fashion, home furnishings and more with Groupon Goods. To subscribe to Groupon emails, visit www.Groupon.com. To learn more about the company’s merchant solutions and how to work with Groupon, visit www.GrouponWorks.com.
Yahoo Acquires Video Chat Startup OnTheAir Who Joins Its Mobile Team To Help It Compete With Hangouts
Just nine months after launch, video chat broadcasting app OnTheAir has been acquired by Yahoo for an undisclosed sum. All five team members are coming along to work on the mobile team at Yahoo under Adam Cahan. OnTheAir lets friends chat and content producers webcast single or split-screen interviews. The team could help Yahoo compete with Google Hangouts or build mobile communication apps.
All of OnTheAir’s five founding teammates are joining Yahoo. They are Stanford CS Masters, former Facebook intern, and Apple iCloud employee Erik Goldman; Cooliris founding team member Josh Schwarzapel; former Meebo interaction designer Abel Allison; Gmail interaction engineer Dan Hopkins; and Apple OS X engineer Mike Kerzhner.
OnTheAir had raised an $880,000 seed round led by Scott Banister and True Ventures plus Howard Lindzon, Ben Narasin, Will Smith, and Triple Point Ventures. Lean startup guru Eric Ries was also an advisor.
I profiled OnTheAir when they launched back in March. The app lets people set up adhoc webinars that can be watched over live stream by large audiences. The real differentiator was that OnTheAir could serve as a sort of video call-in radio show for the Internet age. A host could take requests from viewers to come “onstage,” then broadcast a split screen chat with them.
However, with Airtime unable to gain traction and big players like Google investing heavily in the space, being successful while staying independent may have been tough for the team. An early acquisition bid before having to raise more money may have been the smartest move.
The deal is also fascinating as it shows how serious Yahoo is about getting into the rapid M&A game that Facebook and Google have been dominating lately. Sure it could have built its own video chat broadcasting system, but why not buy one along with some bright young guys and get to market much quicker. It follows Yahoo’s purchase of Stamped in October.
OnTheAir left this note on its homepage:
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OnTheAir is Joining Forces with Yahoo!
Friends of OnTheAir,
We are excited to share some big news: OnTheAir has been acquired by Yahoo!.
When we started OnTheAir, we had dreams of building a company that made a difference in the daily lives of millions. Our pursuit was challenging: We put in late nights together. We debated intensely. We worked like crazy to build a product we were proud to put our name on.
Despite the challenges, our experience has been a rewarding one. We got to launch multiple products to a wonderful community. We were coached and mentored by some of the brightest investors and advisors in Technology (see our list below and work with them if you ever get the chance!). Most importantly, we developed deep bonds as a team and learned how to work together as a unit.
While we haven’t yet attained our dream of building a widespread daily use product, we are just as committed to it. And this is why we’re so excited to be joining Yahoo!. When we first met with the team at Yahoo!, it was clear that everybody there is committed to making mobile products the backbone for the world’s daily habits. All in all, it’s a fascinating time to be joining Yahoo!. There’s a tremendous amount of energy in the company. There are big things to be done and great products to be built, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.
We want to conclude this letter with a word of gratitude. Thank you to all of our customers, team members, mentors, advisors, investors, consultants, friends, and family for being a special part of OnTheAir. Building a company is no easy task, and we realize we wouldn’t be anywhere without your support.
The OnTheAir Team
Abel, Dan, Erik, Josh, and Mike
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are discussing a potential partnership, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph.
The story is based on anonymous sources, who seem primarily to be “Yahoo insiders.” It’s vague on the details of the partnership, perhaps because those details are still being worked out, but “board members expect the talks to lead to much more substantial collaboration based around web-based search.”
If the two companies did reach a deal, how significant would it be? The Telegraph argues that this could “reorder the hierarchy of the world’s biggest technology companies,” giving Yahoo a big selling point in its efforts to win over both web searchers and engineers, while also making Facebook more useful for its members.
That might just be wishful thinking on Yahoo’s part — the social network’s partnership with Microsoft doesn’t seem to have provided a significant lift to Bing. On the other hand, this could provide Facebook an opportunity to take a different approach to search integration.
If nothing else, these discussions suggest that the relationship between Facebook and Yahoo have thawed after their patent dispute earlier this year, which was settled in July.
I’ve emailed Facebook and Yahoo for comment and will update if I hear back.Read More →
As promised last month, Microsoft today expanded access to its Internet Explorer 10 web browser, by launching a preview of IE 10 for Windows 7. Previously, IE 10 was only available on Windows 8. The update includes the same standards-based platform that Windows 8 users received, says Microsoft, including support for touch, a full screen user interface, security improvements, and support for HTML5 and CSS3.
The update will also send the “Do Not Track” signal to websites, also now supported by the latest version of Google Chrome, which is meant to enable consumers to protect their privacy by opting out of having online advertisers and websites track their movements for the purpose of sending them targeted ads. That option, however, is somewhat ineffective in its present form as it requires websites and services to respond to the DTR requests appropriately. Yahoo, notably, said it would not support DTR, despite being partners with Microsoft, where the option was switched on by default. (Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari have it shut off).
Microsoft took the time in today’s official announcement to further press the issue, saying:
Microsoft’s customers have been clear that they want more control over how their personal information is used online. While “Do Not Track” is a technology solution that’s still in its formative stages, it holds the promise of giving people greater choice and control of their privacy as they browse the Web.
The link above points to a lengthy post from Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel & EVP, Legal & Corporate Affairs, which sets forth the case as to why Microsoft wants to make DTR a web standard, adopted by the W3C.
Although the world is rapidly shifting to mobile, IE still holds a top spot in desktop browser share. According to Net Applications, IE has 54.1% of the desktop market, ahead of Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Other browser tracking services, which analyze data differently, have seen Chrome overtake IE in months past, though. And on mobile, Safari leads.
The IE 10 preview (which is something like Microsoft’s code for “beta”), is available for download today, here.Read More →
With the NBA season now fully underway and our attention spans being continuously pushed to the max (not to mention Yahoo’s pissing off fantasy football fans), it seems like the perfect time to introduce you to The Chadwick Project.
Nikolai Yakovenko, a former Google Search engineer and rabid basketball fan, founded Chadwick earlier this year to bring some machine learning and artificial intelligence to NBA coverage in an attempt to reduce the noise and personalize our consumption thereof. Chadwick, now live on the App Store and Google Play, is what Yakovenko calls a “non-intrusive,” realtime sports app, which delivers immediate coverage of live NBA games to your phone via text and push notifications.
Realtime sports coverage is something that most of the big content houses are in various stages of testing, as has become evident from ESPN’s recent announcements. BleacherReport is doing the same, as is Evri with SportStream — to name a few.
Twitter and other social networks have become a vital part of how sports fans check into games and peruse content, both during play and after. These “second-screen” apps provide better ways to consume and share content in realtime, with the idea being that TV viewing and more become more participatory and interactive as a result.
This second screen experience is one of the use cases Yakovenko envisions for Chadwick. Having created a proprietary, patent-pending artificial intelligence tech, the app generates instant commentary and updates on live sporting events, as it tracks events as they happen in realtime. Chadwick peruses social media and game stats, picking out the most relevant Twitter updates from professional sportswriters and fans alike, for example, and then generates live updates that are personalized for the viewer and pushed to their phones.
The idea, in case it’s not clear, is to send player news, expert commentary and comprehensive stats to you, the viewer, within seconds of the game-changing goal, highlight dunk, etc. While Chadwick is currently only available for the NBA, the founder tells us that it is developing a similar system for football, which the team hopes to launch in the next few months. One can see the application here for fantasy sports nuts, who want to receive personalized updates on their teams and players in realtime. The NBA isn’t quite as popular among fantasy players, but when Chadwick opens to football, it will have the potential to reach a much larger audience.
The key, the Chadwick founder tells us, is that users can tune into either the subdued narrative of a national sports writer or the more effusive live-tweeting from a local sports writer. Either way, the startup’s technology focuses on bringing you high-quality writing and content.
“It’s difficult to do sports reporting well,” Yakovenko says, “and the difference between an excellent sports reporter and the rest can be dramatic, so the advantage of Chadwick, for sports fans, is that they have access to instant reporting for every game, without the mistakes and without missing a play.”
While that may sound like a threat to those who make their living covering these games, the founder says that Chadwick isn’t meant to replace TV or sports reporters. Instead, it extends live coverage not just to the 30 NBA teams, but to all 335 NCAA D-1 teams, to give users live, quality reporting in a mobile-first user experience.
This quality, realtime coverage is not an easy thing to do, especially when analyzing all of the noise inherent to social media. That’s where Yakovenko thinks Chadwick has a leg up on the competition, because it takes a Watson-like approach to coverage, separating emotional content from the repertorial. If Lebron just hit a game-tying three-pointer with 15 seconds left in the game, you want to see the facts, will there be a time out? Who’s in the game, what players have fouled out? As opposed to seeing an excited tweet in caps from a Miami fan.
This is where the founder’s experience as a Google search engineer comes into play, as Chadwick is analyzing hundreds of different signals (syntax, natural language, etc) in terms of how fans and writers are sharing their thoughts. While Chadwick has plenty of competition — if not directly — the founder is of the perspective that it’s a relatively open field at this point, because this kind of technology isn’t built overnight. And “it sucks” — or, is a pain, to create — he says.
Once the team launches its football version, they will be focused on building partnerships around Chadwick’s other use cases. Yakovenko sees the app being a benefit to drivers who want to check in on games from the road and ask direct questions of Chadwick, like “How many fouls does Kobe have?” for example.
Right now, the app serves its results in a single stream, but the team is considering adding multiple streams so that users can pick and choose whether they want their updates coming from, say, professional writers in one app, specific content sources, or, say, just Twitter. It’s still early in the game for Chadwick, but it’s already got a head start on most of the competition. If it’s tech holds up during early experimentation, it seems as if there are plenty of potential use cases out there for content-hungry sports fans.Read More →