Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Secret Windows 8 Weapon: Kinect Built Into Your Laptop


The Windows release of Kinect is coming up in a couple days, but for most people that won’t be a major event: the Kinect they have is sitting on their TV or in a drawer, waiting to be taken out for an impromptu Dance Central 2 party. Of the 10 million Kinects out there, the only ones connected to computers are the ones being fiddled with by the various hackers and students making science projects out the things.
But according to the Daily, Microsoft is hoping to remedy this particular situation by building Kinect sensors right into your laptops. TechCrunch alum Matt Hickey got to handle a pair of prototypes, which were confirmed to be official, not just one of the many experiments that hide within Microsoft’s various lairs.
Unfortunately the laptops were not ready for their debut and no pictures seem to have been permitted. But they are described as netbook-like, with a number of smaller sensors instead of a webcam, and what could be an IR LED at the bottom of the screen.
The inclusion of depth-sensing cameras on a laptop is an interesting idea, and if they can drive the price of the sensor array down, it might become a standard feature. Microsoft has clearly also been focusing on miniaturizing the Kinect hardware, as the bulky original would seem somewhat out of place on a petite netbook. Whether this smaller sensor set has the same capabilities as the larger isn’t clear and wasn’t discussed.
A smaller Kinect would also suggest that Microsoft’s next console, rumored to have Kinect built in, is nearing readiness. While many gaming industry insiders have discounted the idea that the next generation of consoles will be announced this year, the rumor mill says otherwise.

How Google+ Can Win: Make Publishing Universal


Larry Page recently announced that he is quite thrilled with Google+’s explosive growth — with 90 million registered accounts and 80% of the people engaging on a weekly basis across all Google properties. The problem, of course, is that very few of these 90M users are actively publishing on Google+. The Google+ strategy of fine-grained sharing of personal content using Circles has not been very effective. It takes a lot of effort to create and maintain circles, and Facebook has proven that most users seem to be comfortable sharing personal content such as family albums and baby pictures with their complete social graph.
It is indeed a tall order for Google+ to win against Facebook in this area of communicating and sharing with your friends and family as it needs a significant exodus of a your social graph from Facebook.
One area where Google+ seems have gained traction is public sharing and broadcasting – a la Twitter. It has been impressive to see Google execute nimbly by adding multiple features to emerge as the iPhone of publishing platforms.
However, in order to take considerable user attention away from Facebook, Google+ needs to solve the biggest issue with public sharing — it is far less universal compared to communicating with friends and family.
There were 60 million active content creators on Twitter. Compare this to the 2 billion-plus Internet users and 800 million active Facebook users. Even if you include the few million users who are active in other public places like MySpace and Tumblr, only around 5 percent of the world’s Internet population is currently sharing on public profiles.
In order to make public sharing universal, user behaviour needs to change dramatically. The good news is that Google touches pretty much every Internet user and is in a great position to make this happen. Here are some ideas on how they can do this:
1. Help people build a meaningful audience
Most new users who start Google+ or Twitter accounts discover that it is really hard to get a following. Even importing Facebook or email contacts doesn’t help, because one-way follow semantics result in only a few of those contacts following you back.
The suggested-user list approach only serves to make things worse. New users end up following a bunch of famous personalities, with whom they do not have any meaningful interactions. Some brave souls end up posting a few times, but after seeing little or no engagement on their posts, give up pretty soon.
Behavior in online communities is very-peer driven and when people see similar, like minded people posting and interacting with others, they tend to follow suit. Google has the technology chops to suggest following these types of people instead of celebrities.
If we could get people to post about topics that they care about and get them to connect with people who both care about the same topics and are at the same audience level, we will see a lot more high-fidelity content and engagement as opposed to simply re-sharing the most popular image/video on the web.
For example, I am into technology, politics, fashion and food. As part of their onboarding process, Google+ could prompt me to post on these topics (even surfacing existing conversations as inspiration) and based on these posts suggest I circle other people who have the same interests and are likely to interact with me.
Over time, suggesting more of these kinds of relevant, actively engaged people, not only ensures that new users connect with people they want to meet, but also rewards activity with a larger audience.
This new “interest graph” is inherently a lot more valuable to the user than the “social graph” which simply moves your offline friends online.
The serotonin kick that you get from having strangers taking the time to read your post and make intelligent comments will soon get addictive, and kick-start a virtuous cycle of publishing and consumption.
2. Make public sharing safe and clean
One of the biggest issues with sharing publicly is having to deal with trolls, stalkers and unwanted spam comments/messages. I can tell from personal experience, that this issue is exacerbated if you are a woman. This is one of the main reasons you don’t see that many women sharing on Google+.
Google+ needs to identify and actively deactivate spam accounts who post irrelevant links on posts. While everyone should be allowed to like and re-share your posts, by default Google+ should only allow for comments with no-moderation from people you circle. All other comments should only be posted once the commenter has been reviewed by the publisher. Again technology could help with automatic flagging of comments for review.
Of course, users like Robert Scoble, can and will choose to turn off moderation but my bet is a large number of people would rather review comments in some way before having them show up on their profiles. In contrast, Twitter avoids this problem by simply not having any commenting features.
3. Get people to share on Google+ when they are already sharing elsewhere
Email is still one of the primary ways people share information with each other. Every day, millions of videos, links to articles and documents are shared via email.
Just like Google calender integration, Gmail could detect when you are sharing a public link/video and automatically cc that message to post on your public profile. This feature would immediately give Google millions of new active publishers.
Similarly, users on Blogger and YouTube should be able to share blog posts and comments by checking a box that gives them the option to share the content on Google+.
Allowing the user to choose and customize the post that is published on Google+ will ensure that Google+ posts continue to have high fidelity and user profiles don’t turn into noisy “dead-feeds” of information.

Twitter has already shown the world how much of an impact public sharing can have even with a small percentage of people doing it. One can only imagine how much bigger the impact will be if this number becomes 5 times what it is now.
Revolutions, large scale social change, shaking up entrenched “old boys networks” all become more possible, when everyone has a voice and an audience.
We are in the middle of a huge shift in how information is created and curated on the Internet. Making publishing more universal plays very well to Google’s strength as an information company. In line with Google’s mission, its algorithms can work their magic to organize this information and make it universally accessible

nanox: High-Quality iPod nano Watch Conversion Kit

nanox feat

Do you own the latest version of the iPod nano (sixth generation)? Do you look for a way to turn it into a watch? If yes, then this watch conversion kit might be the right solution for you. Dubbed nanox, the kit just went on sale in a total of 39 countries via Amazon (US, UK, Japan), and it’s probably the one with the highest quality out there (Facebook page).
Made from aircraft-grade anodized aluminum, the nanox is available in the seven colors Apple offers the iPod nano itself in. The kit, which doesn’t require using tools or screws, comes with 2mm thin straps made of 100% silicone and an anti-glare sheet for the nano display.

Maker emonster says the nanox is produced at the same factory as other Apple devices (it’s made of the same aluminum 6061 alloy Apple uses for its products). The kit was designed by acclaimed Japanese designer Noriaki Miyata.

And quality has its price: the nanox costs US$125.99 in the US Amazon store (£79.99 in the UK, Yen 9,800 in Japan).

With Funds Frozen & Bills Due, Megaupload’s Servers May Be Wiped As Soon As Thursday


First the US Justice Department raided Kim Dotcom’s sprawling New Zealand estate and seized random items from cars to Predator statues. Then they shut down the massive website, froze their assets and threw seven men into a New Zealand jail pending an extradition trial.
Dotcom and his cronies weren’t the only ones felling the pinch, though. Megaupload’s 180 million reported users were left locked out, unable to access their files. Now those files might be deleted forever as soon as Thursday.
The word comes from a letter to Megaupload from the US Attorney indicating that since the Justice Dept. already executed their search warrants, they were done with the servers. Because of past due bills, the management was delegated to the storage hosting companies, Carpathia Hosting Inc. and Cogent Communications Group Inc, who can start wiping the servers as soon as this Thursday, February 2, 2012.
Megaupload’s legal team is actively seeking the help of the prosecutors to prevent the data genocide.
Upon filing the charges against Megaupload, the company’s funds were frozen. Without cash Megaupload cannot pay the past-due bills to turn the servers back on. However, Megaupload’s lawyers are arguing that the company needs its servers and the files they contain for the company’s legal defense. Hopefully, if the this tactic is successful, users will once again gain at least read-only access to their files.
“Megaupload’s assets were frozen by the United States. Mega needs funds unfrozen to pay for bandwidth, hosting, and systems administration in order to allow consumers to get access to their data stored in the Mega cloud and to back up the same for safekeeping.” MegaUpload lawyer Ira Rothken told TorrentFreak.
Megaupload might be gone forever. Many of its users probably learned their lesson to entrust critic data to the cloud. But won’t someone please think of the innocent files? Someone?

Yahoo Shuts Down 10 Mobile Apps, Says Its Going “Mobile First” (?)


Yahoo is moving forward with a “mobile first” mindset, the company stated via blog post late last week, then incongruously announced it would be shuttering 10 of its mobile applications. The list, which contains a mix of iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps, includes an odd, and somewhat surprising group of underperforming properties. Yahoo Deals, News, Shopping, Finance and Movies, were included among the shutdowns, for example.
Yahoo isn’t cutting all of its News and Finance apps, however – only those on platforms it hasn’t found to be worth the effort to support, it appears. Also, Yahoo’s bread-and-butter apps like Mail and Messenger are safe, as well as newer apps like its TV companion IntoNow and its iPad mag Livestand.
As for Sketch-a-Search and AppSpot, the apps’ technologies won’t be abandoned, but will rather be incorporated into Yahoo’s main search app.
The full list of apps being shut down includes:
  • Yahoo! Meme (iPad and iPhone)
  • Yahoo! Mim (iPad)
  • Yahoo! Answers (Android)
  • Yahoo! AppSpot (Android and iPhone)
  • Yahoo! Deals (iPhone)
  • Yahoo! Finance (BlackBerry)
  • Yahoo! Movies (Android)
  • Yahoo! News (Android)
  • Yahoo! Shopping (iPhone)
  • Yahoo! Sketch-a-Search (iPad and iPhone)
I’ll be honest – I don’t remember hearing of Meme or Mim, so those won’t be missed, I’ll wager. However, it’s a little surprising to see Finance dumped from BlackBerry – after all, who still rocks a ‘berry, but those busy banker/corporate types who constantly check headlines and stock quotes? And neither Yahoo Shopping nor Deals apps could survive on the phones preferred by those with disposable incomes (that is, the iPhone)? Crazy.
Given the news, it was kind of funny to read Yahoo’s declaration of its “mobile first” ambitions, but what the company means is that it’s going to spend time on its more innovative and popular apps, and less on these general purpose (read: boring) creations.

In Partnership With Microsoft, RIM Launches BlackBerry Business Cloud Services


Microsoft and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) are teaming up today on the public release of BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365, a name which surely Microsoft itself had a hand in creating. The new service will allow corporate customers to manage their deployed BlackBerry devices using Exchange Online, the hosted version of Microsoft’s messaging platform.
The addition comes at no extra cost to current subscribers of the Office 365 suite or the standalone Exchange Online offering, and supports any BlackBerry devices, whether on a business or consumer data plan.
Once enabled, the managed BlackBerry smartphones will be able to sync with Microsoft Exchange Online email, calendar and organizer data. BlackBerry Balance, a new technology that helps admins manage the corporate data on the device, while leaving personal data untouched, will also be available with this new offering. I.T. will be able to manage the phones using a web-based console, but employees will have access to self-service tools for password and device resets, remote lock and remote wipe functions.
BlackBerry Business Cloud Services is live now in 50 countries. More info is here.
Partnerships like this are one of the reasons why some mobile industry insiders believe that RIM could be a viable acquisition target for Microsoft. The companies are already working so closely together to integrate their technologies, and both share a similar end user customer base: the enterprise market. Reports that RIM has even engaged in takeover talks with Microsoft emerged in December, but nothing has yet to come of that. Instead, the company’s recent moves like the co-CEO step-down and (misguided) statements from new CEO Thorsten Heins (“I don’t think any drastic change is needed”) imply that company is attempting a turnaround, not putting itself on the auction block. At least for now.

SocialCam Is Growing, But It’s The Latest Alum Startup Returning To Y Combinator Anyway

Screen Shot 2012-01-30 at 3.34.27 PM

Having spun out of online broadcaster Justin.tv last year, SocialCam has managed to get a strong footing on iOS and Android. It passed 3 million downloads in December, and it’s now sending 3 million notifications a day, with video uploads and following counts up by 700% and 800% in the last few months, according to cofounder Michael Seibel.
But the three-man team is going back into Y Combinator, the early-stage seed fund that Justin.tv had grown out of, instead of taking the more obvious routes of raising venture funding or simply continuing to build on its own.
This is part of a trend within YC, that has begun to show itself over the last year or so. Previous double-alums include Steve Huffman of Reddit/Hipmunk, Patrick and John Collison with Auctomatic then Stripe, Tikhon Bernstam of Scribd and Parse, and Kulveer Taggar with Auctomatic and Tagstand.
I caught up with Seibel recently to learn more about why he and other entrepreneurs are returning.
Having been a cofounder at Justin.tv (which by the way is killing it with its Twitch.tv video game site, I keep hearing), Seibel says that first off the YC environment is helping his company get more productive. “We love the challenge of sprinting with 60-plus companies, many of which will go from idea to product launch in 3 months or less. It’s like living in a barracks with 200 Olympic athletes — it would be impossible to not be healthier.”
While YC has grown its class size over the years from a dozen to dozens, it has also managed to grow its partners to help provide more hands-on advice to new companies. “Just the other day our team was wrestling with a design/UI problem,” Seibel says, “and [Posterous cofounder] Garry Tan rolled up his sleeves, pulled out his laptop, and helped use wireframe our way to a solution. On another occasion, we were tackling the challenge of tracking users through iOS download process and Harj Taggar and Paul Buchheit offered a suggestion that ended up saving us at least two weeks of work.”
A couple more obvious reasons are loyalty, and the who’s-who speaker list. “It’s not a coincidence that a large number of YC alums come back to do YC again.” I would have never been introduced to the tech world it if wasn’t for my Justin.tv co-founders Justin Kan and Emmett Shear [alums of the very first YC class, via Kiko]. Justin.tv would never have gotten off the ground without Paul Graham’s and Jessica Livingston’s support and encouragement.”
Are we looking at a trend that will sweep accelerator programs worldwide as they mature, where each program pulls successful people from previous classes? If so, it will further cement the place these programs have in the startup ecosystem as the go-to spot for venture investors. The returning founders listed above all had successful products and exits in some form, which is evidence that they can do so again.
If they’re successful this time around, these second-time alumni could inspire other programs to bring in more past founders. Y Combinator was arguably the first modern seed-stage fund/accelerator so it has the biggest set of potential founders to re-attract, but now there are lots of other prominent ones out there, including TechStars, SeedCamp, and others variously associated with universities, large companies, cities, venture funds, etc….