Tag Archive | "top stories"

Google acquires MetaWeb, says Freebase will become “more open”

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Google has acquired Benchmark-backed Metaweb to improve the structure in its search results.

Over the past few years, Google has evolved beyond the “10 blue links” paradigm (where search results delivered only simple links) and begun breaking out specialty news, video or data snippets atop search results. Metaweb’s Freebase database catalogues more than 12 million objects like movies, books, TV shows and locations.

“The web isn’t merely words—it’s information about things in the real world, and understanding the relationships between real-world entities can help us deliver relevant information more quickly,” Google said in a blog post.

Google says the database will still remain open and free for use by other developers, and it’s encouraging other companies to contribute to the dataset.

Metaweb raised close to $57 million in two rounds, with the most recent one at the beginning of 2008. The considerable round of funding came at a time when investors were betting that a more powerful, “semantic” Web would emerge — and of course, before the global financial crisis.

That dream is still in the making, but several companies are making stabs at it. Google’s emerging rival Facebook recently announced the Open Graph, a way to map all objects on the web like movies and places and peoples’ relationships to them. The metadata required for this would create a rival structure to what Metaweb has built. And because Facebook has the “like” data recording the preferences of its 500 millions users, it would be in the best position to harness the metadata to create a compelling search product.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

Facebook acquires activity-recommendations startup NextStop

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Facebook is adding another talent acquisition to the mix. It has acquired Nextstop, a San Francisco-based startup for recommending things to do or places to go.

“This was a difficult decision for us,” the company said in a statement. “We felt like NextStop had a great future and recently released some major updates in response to user feedback over the past few months. In the end, however, we decided that pursuing our mission to help people discover the world around them was something that could be done with greater impact and scale as a part of Facebook.”

NextStop has two experienced former Google product managers: Adrian Graham, who managed Picasa, and Carl Sjogreen, who was the founding product manager for Calendar.

The site will shut down in September, and the company is offering export tools for users to take their work and content with them elsewhere. They’re also making the content on the site licensed under Creative Commons, a standard copyright license that allows the public to repurpose it. They’ll even allow commercial use. The company said it’s not sharing information that NextStop users have contributed to the site with Facebook.

Here’s an interview Robert Scoble did with the NextStop team in December:

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

Tesla makes magic happen, prices shares at $17

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Tesla Motors is already off to a good start before its debut on the Nasdaq as TSLA tomorrow. The electric car company’s shares have been priced at $17 a pop, exceeding the expected range of $14 to $16.

With 13.3 million shares, or about 14 percent of the company, selling on the public market, the total take will be around $226 million. This is higher than the $178 million the company anticipated last week, and much much higher than the $100 million it originally filed for. The pricing sets its valuation at about $1.6 billion, beating even the company’s goal of $1.4 billion.

It looks like the analysts who predicted Tesla to be a hot stock were right. Some dissenting voices thought that the IPO might be a bust considering recent public market trends in cleantech, and lingering doubts about the company’s long-term success. But they obviously underestimated the ability for sexy sports cars to stir investors’ hearts.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Tesla not only represents a breakthrough in automotive technology, it’s also making history as the first car company to go public in the U.S. since the Ford Motor Company in 1956. With this $17 victory, it has yet again earned its halo as the plug-in car player to watch.

Earlier today, we reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk will be selling close to a million of his own shares in the company, retaining 28.4 percent and a controlling interest in the company. He stands to personally rake in close to $16 million.

After tomorrow’s sale, Toyota will be buying $50 million worth of shares, as per the two companies’ agreement that also involved the electric car maker’s acquisition of the NUMMI automotive plant in Fremont, Calif.

So it looks like it will be a good first day out of the gate for Tesla. Whether the stock price will remain at this height for long is another matter, which we’ve explored extensively in other posts.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

How Skimlinks can write a publisher a monthly $300,000 check

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Skimlinks, a U.K.-based startup that tries to make it dead-simple for publishers to earn a cut of every product sale they drive, launched a product that automatically turns all product references in stories into affiliate links.

Publishers and bloggers typically earn advertising revenue through one of two ways — from the number of times an ad is exposed or the number of times that a visitor clicks on an ad.

But there’s also a third way. Publishers that happen to write about goods and services for sale can earn advertising revenue through affiliate links, which offer them a cut of every sale on Amazon they drive, for example. That commission can range from 4 to 15 percent of the price of the product.

The problem is that it can be time-consuming to input the special affiliate codes and links to earn affiliate fees. Skimlinks takes over that part, setting a publisher up with multiple affiliate networks, inputting affiliate links and even suggesting products to reference. It takes a 25 percent cut of the affiliate fee in return.

Its new service today, Skimwords, hunts for direct product references. It will turn a term like Canon Digital IXUS 130 into a link. (But it won’t take something more generic like “camera” and turn that into a link.)

Skimlinks has been part of a four-year journey for co-founder and chief executive Alicia Navarro. She originally started with an idea around social shopping but pivoted to focus on affiliate revenue on the advice of investors.

Since then, the company has grown to support 27 employees and has raised just over $2 million from investors including Sussex Place Ventures, the Accelerator Group and the U.K.’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Its competitors include Google Ventures-backed VigLink.

Commercialization of affiliate links isn’t an easy business model. It requires massive scale, since the company is effectively taking a tiny cut of a tiny cut of revenue. And of course, only a fraction of people even bother to click on a link to a product to begin with. Then an even tinier fraction of them buy the good.

But with the right audience size and content, affiliate fees can translate into meaningful revenue for a publisher. Navarro said Skimlinks’ biggest check so far has been $300,000 to a publisher around the holidays, when visitors were looking for just the right gift to buy.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » MediaBeat

New Brightcove development kit supports Android’s embrace of Flash

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Brightcove released a new software development kit today for Android applications that includes mobile templates supporting Adobe’s Flash technology

Developers will be able to design native apps that allow video playback, search and discovery or use out-of-the-box templates that play video using Flash.

“I’m really happy that we’re standing tall with Adobe as they release Flash Player 10.1,” wrote Jeff Whatcott, Brightcove’s vice president of marketing, who was involved in the development of Flash at Macromedia. “The last six months of rhetoric have been particularly bruising for Flash, and it’s great to see Adobe answering their critics with code.”

Brightcove’s move comes as it has to support a fractured market with a plethora of competing devices and platforms.  Android’s market share is on the increase, and the Google-backed operating system came to support more than 20 percent of mobile web traffic last month, according to Quantcast.

“We’ve entered an era where every website owner must have a strategy for the PC Web, Mobile Web, iOS Apps and Android Apps,” Whatcott added. “For our customers, it’s not about making high stakes either/or bets on one platform over another, it’s about a cross-platform both/and strategy.”

Adobe released Flash 10.1, the first full version of Flash to work on mobile phones, for download on Android last night. It says Flash 10.1 should be available on other phone platforms shortly.

Don’t miss MobileBeat 2010, VentureBeat’s conference on the future of mobile. The theme: “The year of the superphone and who will profit.” Now expanded to two days, MobileBeat 2010 will take place on July 12-13 at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Register now. Tickets are going quickly. For complete conference details, or to apply for the MobileBeat Startup Competition, click here.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » MediaBeat

Union Square Ventures, Spark Capital invest in Work Market

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Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital have invested in stealthy company called Work Market that allows business to manage their labor and services. Neither fund disclosed the size of the round.

The company’s site is delightfully spartan right now, except for listing job openings for MySQL and Java developers. Work Market was founded by Jeff Leventhal, who previously founded a company for on-site services, such as computer, repair called OnForce.

Union Square’s Principal Fred Wilson joins the board and writes:

Jeff has been working in this sector for the better part of twenty years and Work Market is his fourth startup. We love working with serial entrepreneurs with a deep passion for a particular domain. That’s Jeff and his passion is bringing transparency and efficiency to work markets.

Work Market is expanding their team and is looking for A+ development and product management talent (Java and PHP) in the Greater New York area; click here to see the company’s job openings.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

Soonr lands $4.5M to expand its cloud offerings for work on the go

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Soonr, one the older companies using the cloud to make users’ data accessible from anywhere, has nailed down $4.5 million in a fourth round of venture funding to strengthen its sales and marketing operations, and to build new partnerships — the company’s lifeblood.

Based in Campbell, Calif., Soonr provides users with a platform to store their documents in the cloud, allowing them to collaborate, easily search through content, and access files via both their computers and their mobile phones. And its auto-backup feature means you don’t ever have to manually sync these files.

“What we’re looking at with this investment is to extend these services,” says Soonr CEO Martin Frid-Nielsen. “In addition to that, we have been very focused on partners and working with mobile companies and others around the world, including Cisco and Intel. So we’re going to also use the funding to continue building partnerships.”

In addition to providing access to information on-the-go, Soonr emphasizes data security. The cloud industry is poised to explode to $295 million and the smartphone industry to $5 billion by 2013. With so much rapid growth, security measures are more important than ever, Frid-Nielsen says.

“There will be a need to make sure we have access to all information at all points in time, and that it’s secure and protected no matter what,” he says. “If you look at small businesses today, there is so much outsourcing, outside consulting, specialized talent — there’s a very dynamic workflow there that we’re focusing on enabling.”

One of the more notable facets of today’s news is that Soonr has brought on HighBAR Ventures as a new investor. While it’s not a very well-known name, it’s got several high-profile people behind it, including early Google and Sun Microsystems investors. The firm joins Cisco Systems, Intel Capital, Presidio Ventures and Clearstone Venture Partners.

“I think what they found exciting is that we’ve been able to crack the partner channel,” Frid-Nielsen says. “There are a lot of companies that come out with a service, get a million or so users, but then can’t monetize. We have a number of partnerships that shows we have the business model down.”

He says that Soonr boasts the three major driving forces that make cloud-based companies successful: the ability to cut down on IT personnel and streamline information technology infrastructure; access to a top-tier partner channel; and a buying audience of prospective users. Soonr reaches millions of users through its partnerships.

The company’s services work across carriers and mobile handsets, including the iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones. It previously raised $18.5 million. Frid-Nielsen says it will also have a series of announcements before the end of the year regarding new initiatives in the application space and fresh, expansive partnerships.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

Metacafe lands $5 million for curated movie site

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Online video sharing site Metacafe has secured $5 million of an expected $6 million in debt, options, warrants and securities, according to a filing with the SEC. This was an internal round of financing, according to Michelle Cox, the company’s vice president of marketing communications and sales. The Palo Alto, Calif. company is backed by Accel Partners, Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures and Highland Capital Partners.

Metacafe attracts roughly 14 million unique monthly U.S. visitors, according to Comscore and focuses on 18 to 34-year-olds. Cox said the company using the funds to build out its editorial and sales teams. The company, which filters videos based on viewer reactions, launched a new site dedicated to movies in late May. Competitors include YouTube and Dailymotion.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

Another reason for Facebook, Yelp, Zynga and Groupon not to IPO

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This afternoon’s market crash added yet another reason for why some of the most eagerly anticipated web companies are keeping their powder dry in public markets. After a yearlong reprieve cushioned by easy monetary policy and fiscal stimulus packages, it looks like market volatility may be back with a vengeance.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 998 points, or the largest intraday loss since the 1987 stock market crash, before paring losses and closing down 347.8 points or 3.2 percent. The VIX, or the benchmark index for U.S. stock options that’s often taken as a measure of market volatility, surged 60 percent to its highest since February 2007 amid the financial crisis. Although today’s losses may end up being attributed to a colossal trading error, the index has seen its biggest three-day drop since November 2008. It seems that market expectations have finally caught up to the debt that governments assumed through rescue efforts and weaker tax receipts during the recession.

Those economic headwinds aren’t promising for companies looking to go public in the near-term. Extreme market volatility makes it incredibly difficult to predict how a deal may be priced, regardless of a company’s fundamentals.

There are of course many more important reasons as to why companies are holding off. A company’s management might want keep more control of their board of directors. They might not want to be distracted by the market’s short-sighted expectations on quarterly earnings instead of long-term market share. They might not want to deal with the increased public scrutiny and onerous accounting regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. And of course, there’s building a sustainable and healthy stream of revenue.

Indeed, several of the tech community’s brightest stars have taken large, late-stage financing rounds to focus on growing their businesses instead of worrying about public offerings and the accompanying public scrutiny.

Social buying startup Groupon was the latest company to come to the table, bringing in a $135 million round led by Russia’s Digital Sky Technologies and Battery Ventures. That was just a few months after Elevation Partners agreed to invest as much as $100 million in local recommendations site Yelp. DST also backed Zynga and Facebook last year. One common thread between all of these rounds was that early employees and founders took money off the table, signaling that an IPO is no longer a primary route to an exit for entrepreneurs and early-stage investors.

In fact, Groupon chief executive Andrew Mason told us why he’s not too incredibly keen on an IPO in an unrelated interview today.

“I’m exclusively focused on building an awesome product and the investors that I’ve chosen are all ones that support that,” Mason said. “Money has never been a source of motivation for me in building this company. I look at money as a binary problem. You either have enough or you don’t. So our financing was a way that we could sell a very small percentage of the company and permanently solve that binary money problem.”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently expressed a similar sentiment in an interview, saying he was “definitely in no rush” in coming to the market.

If this market turbulence continues and we see deja vu all over again, it may even take a little bit longer.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More

DST’s pursuit of ICQ spurred its $300 million investment from Tencent

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The interesting backstory to Russian Internet holding company Digital Sky Technologies’s $187.5 million agreement to buy instant messaging service ICQ announced today is how it led to an investment from Chinese Internet giant Tencent earlier this month.

When instant messaging service ICQ was put up on the block by AOL last year, both DST and South African multinational Naspers bit.

DST, which has collected stakes in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga over the past year, didn’t want competitors in the Russian market, where it controls 70 percent of the pageviews via Mail.ru, Odnoklassniki and VKontakte. Adding ICQ would give it more than 90 percent market share in instant messaging.

So the two parties came up with an interesting solution. Naspers has a 35 percent stake in Tencent Holdings Ltd., a Chinese social networking company that has a market capitalization of $36.8 billion. If Tencent invested in DST, Naspers could still own an indirect stake in ICQ if DST went ahead and bought the company. That would come on top of indirect investments in some of the most prized privately-backed Internet companies in the U.S.

Tencent went ahead and bought a 10.26 percent stake in DST for $300 million, adding to the Russian firm’s four other primary external investors including Goldman Sachs, Renaissance Capital, Tiger Global and Alisher Usmanov. Co-founder Yuri Milner and Gregory Finger are the other primary shareholders of DST. It’s unclear if DST will merge ICQ with Mail.ru, which it partially owns.

The complicated relationships point to the rising influence of emerging market capital in technology venture investing. DST has secured stakes in several prominent U.S. venture-backed companies with comparatively larger valuations and less restrictive term sheets.

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Article courtesy of VentureBeat » Deals & More