Monday, April 30, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from TechCrunch

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


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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Alexia Tsotsis.

from TechCrunch

Hack Your Housing: Check Out This Berkeley Freshman’s ‘Ridiculously Automated’ Dorm Room

So this is pretty fun. A University of California at Berkeley freshman named Derek Low uploaded a video to YouTube today of what he’s calling the “BRAD”, or the Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm. Apparently, Low set out three months ago to make “the most ridiculously automated dorm room in the school ever.” That’s a hard claim to verify, but by the looks of the results — which apparently only set Low back a few hundred dollars — I’d venture to say he has probably taken the crown.

You should really just watch the video above, which is fun and well-edited, but some highlights include:

  • Motion sensors that detect when someone enters or exits the room
  • The ability to control things in the room such as the lights, window shades, and music via voice controls and mobile apps
  • An emergency red “party mode” button that closes the shades, swaps out the overhead lights for flashing neon and strobe ones, and turns on dance music

A quick glance at Low’s web presence shows that the BRAD is far from his only hack — he actually has an entire website he describes as “a home laboratory site which showcases the projects and experiments I’ve done in my free time,” and categories on the site include High Voltage, Lasers, Pyro, Weapons & Ballistics, Electronics, and Chemistry. In general, it’s a refreshing sign that not all young people are consumed in listening to bad pop music, playing Fantasy Football, and sexting (not that there’s anything wrong with those things, per se, but this world is not going to engineer itself.)

At this point Low is still only a teenager, so it’ll be interesting to see what more he comes up with in the years ahead — and actually, whether he makes it through Cal before getting swept up in the tech hiring-pocalypse. Getting an education is important, but something tells me that there are lots of startups and larger tech companies out there that are chomping at the bit to have more people like him on their teams.

from TechCrunch

500 Characters Or Less: Shortmail Updates Its iPhone App With Offline Mode, “Let’s Chill” Feature

App Store - Shortmail

There aren’t too many people who love email these days, but few of us can actually live without it. Thankfully, there are a number of startups that are trying to make email more manageable. One of them is 410 Labs’ Shortmail, which restricts messages to 500 characters or less. If anybody tries to send a longer message to your @shortmail address, the email will bounce and your sender will be asked to write a short message. This Twitter-like model should make for briefer and more focused discussion. Shortmail just launched its updated iPhone app today, which includes an offline mode, as well as the ability to “put a message on ice” and have the app remind you to answer at a later date. The update now also lets you see which of your recipients have read your messages.

The highlight of the new app, 410 Labs co-founder Dave Troy told me earlier today, is its offline mode. Most email clients for the iPhone, says Troy, don’t handle being offline well. Instead, they usually “freak out” and throw error messages at their users. The new Shortmail app, on the other hand, simply notices that your are offline and just lets you reply to your messages in quiet. Once you are back online, it’ll quietly send your queued messages and sync up every other action you took in the app while you were on that long international flight.

The other interesting new feature in the app is its “Let’s Chill” tool. If you are familiar with Boomerang for Gmail, you already know how this works: instead of answering a message right away, you simply tell the app to put it on ice for the time being and then put it back into your queue at a later date.

One issue with the service, of course, is that it requires you to use a new email platform and address. The Shortmail team is quite aware of this and is working on making it easier for people to use it in conjunction with their existing email provider.

Last summer, 410 Labs raised $750,000 in a Series A round with participation by 500 Startups, True Ventures, Fortify Ventures and the Maryland Venture Fund.

from TechCrunch

Per Vices, The Rare YC Hardware Startup, Sets Out To Disrupt Wireless Communications

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Y Combinator might be best known for software plays like Dropbox and Airbnb. But it’s also harbored a few hardware companies, notably the one that blew out Kickstarter funding records with Pebble Watch this month.

There’s actually one more waiting in the wings.

Per Vices is a startup from the latest class that’s looking to disrupt how wireless communications are sent. They’ve built a device called Phi that can interact with any wireless or radio signal. It’s a transceiver that can demodulate and process signal data up to 4 Gigahertz.

In plain English, that means one of Per Vices’ devices can re-route your cell phone calls through your landline connection, if for example you have bad 3G service in your house. In theory, that means you could set up a decentralized wireless network where mobile devices and desktops are sending communications to each other instead of one where all mobile phones have to send and receive signals from carrier-operated cell phone towers. It’s a critical issue the industry needs to solve as data-hogging mobile subscribers eat into the profit margins of the carriers.

For now, however, the company is focusing on the hacker and hobbyist market as the device is a PCI card that supports Linux machines. (So yes, that limits the current potential audience size).

However, the longer-term goal is to build something that’s both accessible and affordable to the mainstream market. On their site, Phi retails for $666 for just the card or $750 with antennas, but the cost of producing it (as with many interesting hardware products) is getting lower every year. Comparable products from rivals like Ettus Research sell for $1,300 or higher.

They’ve hacked a few demos with the product, including one where you can pick-up HDTV transmissions and watch shows on your phone or call a walkie talkie using your mobile phone. They’re hoping that hackers will find even more interesting ways of using the Phi, like how some developers figured out how to subvert Microsoft’s Kinect.

Per Vices founders, Victor Wollesen and Yi Yao, are a physicist and an electrical engineer who used to work in the defense industry. But sales cycles there are endlessly long, so going the consumer route promises a faster time to market.

from TechCrunch

Rumor: Hulu Will Soon Require Viewers To Have A Cable Subscription


If you love watching TV shows on Hulu but don’t have a cable subscription, things could get a bit more complicated in the near future. According to the New York Post, Hulu could soon start requiring its users to prove that they also have a cable or satellite subscription. This would obviously turn Hulu’s current business model on its head. It’s not clear how many of the service’s 31 million users currently don’t subscribe to cable TV, but chances are that the service’s audience would shrink after this move.

Keep in mind, this is just a rumor for now, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. It’s also not clear if this subscription requirement – assuming it is actually going to happen – will just apply to Hulu’s free service, or if it will also apply to Hulu Plus subscribers. Hulu Plus, which costs $7.99 per month, currently has somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million paying subscribers.

As our own Alexia Tsotsis noted last year when the FCC gave the go-ahead for the Comcast-NBC merger, it issued a number of specific rules to ensure that this merger wouldn’t influence Hulu’s operations. These rules, however, did not specifically touch upon any future provisions that would tie access to Hulu to a cable subscription.

NBCUniversal, News Corporation, The Walt Disney Company and Providence Equity Partners currently share ownership of Hulu. There have been persistent rumors that Providence Equity Partners is looking to sell its stake in the company to the rest of the owners, though. The New York Post’s Claire Atkinson argues that this move toward an authentication model is one of the main reasons why Providence Equity Partners is trying to sell its stake in the company.

We asked Hulu for a comment about these rumors and will update the story once/if we hear more.

One group that has already commented on these rumors is Public Knowledge, a group that works to “preserve the openness of the Internet” and promotes “creativity through balanced copyright.” In a statement, the group’s president and CEO Gigi B. Sohn writes that “restricting access to legal content will only drive consumers to find illegal content. In particular, we are concerned about restricting access to TV programming available over free over-the-air broadcasting. It should be available online, regardless whether anyone subscribes to cable or satellite TV. By putting more restrictions on consumer access to popular content, the entertainment industry only removes any justification for stronger ‘anti-piracy’ laws it is perpetually seeking from Congress.”

from TechCrunch