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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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June 30, 2008 12:00 AM

Happy Fourth of July

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'll be having an independence week, back in the office after the holiday.

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June 29, 2008 9:01 PM

RealNetworks opens DRM-free store, hooks up with iLike, MTV and Yahoo

Posted by Brier Dudley

After years of encouraging people to rent rather than buy music, RealNetworks today is changing its strategy and opening an online music store featuring songs unprotected by digital rights management software.

The store, plus new partnerships it's announcing with Seattle's iLike, MTV and Yahoo, puts Real in direct competition with Apple and, the leaders in offering online sales of DRM-free music.
An earlier deal with Verizon also takes effect today, putting Real's music services on phones, giving the company a trifecta that it hopes will renew interest in its music services.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 25, 2008 9:00 PM

The house that Windows Mobile built, on sale in Medina

Posted by Brier Dudley

Now that former Microsoft Senior Vice President Pieter Knook has a new job at Vodafone, near London, he's selling his waterfront mansion on Lake Washington. The British wireless company hired him February to head its Internet services business.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 25, 2008 8:00 PM

Billionaire divorcee suing ex-Microsoft manager's Bellevue startup

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's too bad Edra Blixseth and Michael Sandoval couldn't settle their business differences over a bottle of wine -- without any lawyers, judges or accountants.

But instead, a feud over Blixseth's investment in Sandoval's ventures is unfolding in King County Superior Court.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 25, 2008 12:49 PM

Report: Starbucks cutting back on CD sales

Posted by Brier Dudley

From Silicon Alley Insider:

"We hear that by September, the chain will have dumped almost all of its in-store music retail offerings."

Although the chain is scaling back on its media offerings in its stores, it will still offer a selection of four CDs and offer free wireless access to iTunes, the report said.

UPDATE: The report was off a bit. Starbucks told Melissa Allison here - in a story with a named source, on the record - that the iTunes items are just moving elsewhere in the store. They are getting rid of the rotating CD racks.

The most interesting tidbit is that a handful of employees here and in Los Angeles choose the CDs. I wonder if the team in each city gets to pick two of the discs that will be sold by cash registers.

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June 25, 2008 11:12 AM

Mini review of T-Mobile@Home service, by telco veteran

Posted by Brier Dudley

Among the feedback today on the story about T-Mobile's @Home service was an e-mail from Rob Meldrum, an Edmonds veteran of the telco industry and chief executive of an advanced calling services venture back in the dot-com era.

Meldrum used Vonage's voice over IP service for years, then switched to @Home three months ago, after T-Mobile began offering the service here on a trial basis.

Here's Meldrum's take on T-Mobile's service, which he likes a lot:

Continue reading this post ...

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June 24, 2008 9:01 PM

T-Mobile USA boss on @Home, Symbian and (sort of) iPhone 2.0

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of the most exciting places in tech lately is wireless mobile devices, and Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA is in the thick of it.

So when I was chatting Tuesday with T-Mobile Chief Executive Robert Dotson about the company's new @Home phone service - which is going national today, after trials in Seattle and Dallas - it was hard to stay on topic.

We touched on the iPhone 2.0, Virgin Mobile's new pricing and Nokia's move Tuesday, to buy out the Symbian phone platform and make it open-source, increasing competition with the "Android" phone platform that Google is developing with heavy support from T-Mobile.

Dotson insisted that T-Mobile isn't trying to become a land-line phone provider, even though @Home lets customers shift their traditional phone service to T-Mobile. It's providing the $10 per month service via customers' broadband line.

"I'm not trying to be a land-line provider, I'm not trying to get into that business," he said. "What I'm trying to do is leverage the communications experience that happens on a T-Mobile device today and extend it inside the home."

Qwest may have a different interpretation, especially if @Home takes off the way Dotson expects.

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation:

Q: You said @Home is a big launch taking T-Mobile into a new category. Do you need to add new services to continue growing, with the U.S. market saturated and facing a weaker economy?

A: Yes, reaching outside the traditional four walls of how we define wireless is definitely part of our core mission. We have to continue to redefine - not just the competitive set, for us it's how do we define the industry we compete in?

If you define that industry strictly as wireless, it's a far too narrow definition for us. We are a trusted communication provider for people. That is why the consumer has allowed us to go inside the home without reservation. That's what we look for - what are those logical things we can do to extend existing behavior and existing relationships we have today.

Q: What do you think about Virgin Mobile announcing an $80 flat-rate plan that undercuts your rates?

A: I think Virgin - I don't know how many consecutive quarters of losses now (they've had) - they better do something. Virgin is not one that we lose a lot of sleep on, day in and day out. When you're in the pricing paradigm that they are and you have a transient customer base, that's a really tough model to stay competitive on. So it's not surprising to me to see them take what I consider a very desperate move to try to stay relevant in the consumer space.

Q: How about Nokia's announcement that it's buying out Symbian and taking it open source - T-Mobile's pretty invested in an alternative, Google's Android platform.

A: We are invested in an alternative but anytime that there's a good, ubiquitous, open platform it's a healthy thing overall for consumers and as a result it's a healthy space for us to be. We're going to have to continue to innovate in our space and make sure the integration of applications devices and networks is as seamless as possible and traditionally that’s been fairly clunky - because of the traditional relationships in the wireless category with manufacturers, you just work with a myriad of different operating systems that have different manufacturers underneath them but different applications, you're trying to make work across a myriad of different providers.

To the extent we can get an open environment so all of those pieces integrate together better, those are good, healthy things to have happen. Yes we are invested in an alternative with the Android platform, but I would tell you I welcome any open operating platform that's going to come into the market as a good thing.

Joe Sims, vice president of broadband services, chimed in: Think back to what happened in computing in the '80s - how many operating systems there were then, how many proprietary systems, how hard was it to develop and get a real growth in that industry until we really standardized on a couple different platforms and developers could predictably know how to write to those platforms, then the growth really happened. With the advent of the web, it exploded. We're seeing the same thing.

What we're seeing is a couple of alternatives. Android's an alternative, this is another alternative. There maybe another couple that are out there. Most of them aren't going to make it, some of them will. We're looking to see which ones make the most sense right now. Android makes sense, this may make sense, too. It's not a matter of either-or, it's a matter of which ones are going to be the best in order to really foster the growth of the industry overall. It's not about the handsets, it's more about the developers that are out there, it's more about the applications and services. To the extent this supports and drives that, it's got to be interesting for the industry.

Q: A Wall Street Journal story on Monday suggested that some carriers are getting frustarted with the pace of Android's development ...

A: We're really satisfied with the progress it's making and we still intend to have that product out in the fourth quarter as we previously announced, so I don't see any change there, really. I think a lot of that was speculation. On the ground here, we're still expecting to launch that product in Q4.

The first generation of anything, it's going to be tough. You're giving birth to your first kid ... our view is that pain is definitely not anymore convoluted than we expected a year ago. It is exactly running as we expected. If anything, I'm probably surprised timelines are holding together as firmly as they are.

Q: I wonder if that story was driven by a few participants, like Sprint, that want to get more of their stuff into the platform.

A: One hundred percent of it comes from that. On our side, this is not new for us, it's probably been a year now that we've had a dedicated community working on the Android platform. We put those kind of resources in. I don't know this, but my guess would be our competitors didn't do that.

Q: So if you were in there early, you have more say about what it's going to be like?

A: We're definitely tied into what the experience is. We know what it is, we know how to be plan-ful, we know how to make sure the integration of the Android platform into hardware works how we want to see it work … We're looking to make sure you make a quantum step from where we are today.

Q: It looks like the new iPhone pricing plan in the U.S. is an acknowledgment that Apple had to back down and go with a traditional subsidy approach. Is the iPhone experiment in new mobile device business models over?

A: It's an area I don’t feel comfrotable commenting on because I sit in a unique position - I compete against the iPhone here, and my parent company carries the iPhone.

Q: Okay, I'll ask a different way. Do you expect to see a lot more innovation in the business model going forward, or will the innovation be happening more on the device and application side?

A: It has to be on the devices and the experience. At the end of the day, there are just too many sophisticated components to make that stuff come to market, that you can't own all the pieces. Maybe that's another way of answering what you're asking.

The network performance is every bit as important as what the device does. To the extent that there's any hiccup in those two things I'm going to compromise the customers' experience. That clearly is a different place than where Apple has come from traditionally.

Q: The @Home service seems like a good way to reduce customer churn.

A: Absolutely.

Q: Once you get your home wired with T-Mobile, it's probably a lot harder psychologically to switch carriers.

A: It's also a lot harder to say I'm going to go from a $10 monthly bill to a $50 monthly bill. I think that's what's going to make it more sticky for customers, to say I'm getting all the service I had before, I'm paying in some cases 20, 25 percent of my bill before.

Q: Qwest is trying to deregulate land line phone services. Are we all going to move to broadband phone services? (An aside: This makes me nervous, having experienced a lot of power outages when broadband went away but the old phone kept working, something to think about before cutting the copper cord ...)

A: No. My guess is land-line losses can't continue with the tradtional carriers the way they've been, which means there will be ever more pressure on the land-line carriers to reduce price.

P.S., here are the requirements for using @Home, as provided by T-Mobile:

- A T-Mobile @Home plan ($10/month) added to a qualifying T-Mobile wireless rate plan
- A new HiPort wireless router ($49.99 with a two-year contract)
- An existing broadband Internet connection
- A touch-tone corded or cordless phone (As an option, T-Mobile will offer a VTech cordless phone system for $59.99)

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June 24, 2008 6:00 AM

Seattle's Skytap partners with Chicago on-demand vendor

Posted by Brier Dudley

Taking advantage of the focus this week on cloud computing at the Virtualization Conference in New York and GigaOm Structure 08 conference in San Francisco, Skytap today is announcing a partnership with Chicago-based CohesiveFT.

They're working together to distribute Cohesive's Elastic Servers to Skytap's Virtual Lab platform, adding to the collection of virtual machine images in Skytap's library.

The deal will "deliver a new class of solution where the ability to dynamically assemble and provision virtual machines is possible over the Web,'' CohesiveFT President Pat Kerpan said in the release.

(So do cloud computing companies make a splash when they announce things, or do they just drift along, morphing into different shapes and blending together?)

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June 23, 2008 5:13 PM

PopCap's Gwertzman heading to Shanghai to lead Asia push

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you think the slog over Lake Washington is a bear, ask James Gwertzman about his commute over the Pacific.

Gwertzman spent the past six months flying back and forth to Asia, setting up PopCap's new Asia-Pacific hub in Shanghai. It will get easier in July when Gwertzman moves there as regional vice president, a promotion that PopCap's announcing on Tuesday.

"We have the ambition of being the No. 1 developer-publisher of casual games worldwide. You just can't do that without being in Asia,'' he said.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 23, 2008 11:09 AM

More details on AP vs. blogs

Posted by Brier Dudley

It must be media-in-turmoil day.

A batch of stories in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal add some context to the picture I drew today ("AP vs. blogs") of old media companies finally sharpening their focus on content protection, after learning in recent years that giving it all away in search of traffic isn't paying off.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 19, 2008 12:00 AM

Gannett cozies up to Cozi, buys big stake in ex Microsofties' venture

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cozi, a Seattle producer of family management software and services, is announcing today that it received a major strategic investor.

Gannett, the McLean, Va.-based media giant and publisher of USA Today, bought a minority stake in the privately held Pioneer Square startup.

The size of the deal wasn't disclosed, but Cozi Chief Executive Robbie Cape said it's "significant." For context, he said the company has raised $15 million, and Gannett will be its largest single investor.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 18, 2008 12:26 PM

Best Web sites list includes Seattle's Penny Arcade, Picnik

Posted by Brier Dudley

Making Time's list of the 50 best Web sites in 2008 is nice exposure for Penny Arcade, the cult game comic site, and Picnik, which offers free online photo editing tools.

But even more impressive may be their showing in Time's follow-on reader poll, where the public ranks the best of the best Web sites.

At last check Penny Arcade was the first choice by a mile, with a three-to-one lead over the next most popular site, the GasBuddy fuel prices site. Picnik was holding onto a top 20 spot at 19th.

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June 17, 2008 4:18 PM

Jon Shirley finally leaving Microsoft, hopefully not Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Who will step in to play Dumbledore at Microsoft after Jon Shirley retires in November?

Microsoft announced today that the man who has been its elder sage since 1983 is retiring from the board of directors in November.

The former Tandy executive sorted out Microsoft's early management and business challenges and laid the foundation for its amazing growth in the 1990s while serving as president and chief operating officer from 1983 to 1990.

Shirley also served on the board since 1983, longer than anyone besides Gates and venture capitalist David Marquardt, who joined in 1981.

The Medina resident decided not to seek re-election at the annual shareholders meeting in November. His statement in the press release:

"Having turned 70-years-old this year, I'm at a point in my life where I want to reduce my professional commitments and allow more time pursuing some of my personal interests. I could only make this decision knowing that Microsoft is well-positioned for success in the years ahead. I have the utmost confidence in the leadership of Microsoft and believe we have established the strongest board in the history of the company."

Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said in the release, "We are grateful for his incredible leadership and dedication and fully understand his desire to retire considering his extensive service to the company."

After becoming one of the richest men in the world, Shirley became one of the more generous Microsoft megamillionaires, supporting the arts in particular. He is chairman of the board of trustees at the Seattle Art Museum, where his biggest project so far was instigating the Olympic Sculpture Park -- after deciding in 2005 to share his collection.

The Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation, formed with his wife, gave away $9 million in 2006, including $8.7 million to arts and cultural organizations.

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June 17, 2008 11:13 AM

Delve goes for vid platform smackdown, rips Brightcove's overhaul

Posted by Brier Dudley

Now that Delve Networks (formerly Pluggd) has its new business model and technology sorted out, the Pioneer Square company's not wasting time going after Brightcove, the big incumbent in the next-generation video publishing platform market.

Maybe it's just blogazine guerrilla marketing to keep Delve's relaunch momentum going, but it's fun to see startup feistiness like the blog post today by Alex Castro, Delve's chief executive:***

Continue reading this post ...

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June 16, 2008 3:50 PM

Marchex scores prime address in new domain book

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Marchex turned out to be a treasure trove for Wall Street Journal reporter David Kesmodel, who just published "The Domain Game," a book on "the secretive world of domain investing."

A turning point in the domain gold rush explored by Chicago-based Kesmodel was the huge acquisition that Marchex made in 2004, when it spent $164 million acquiring the domain portfolio of speculator Yun Ye.

"It was the boldest statement yet that generic domains were valuable, long-term investments ... after Marchex's audacious leap, private-equity investors, wealthy families and other public companies jumped into the fray,'' he wrote in a lengthy section with lots of new details on how the pivotal deal came together.

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June 16, 2008 1:30 PM

Video and more on TN Games and its body-shot vests

Posted by Brier Dudley

More evidence that Redmond's TN Games is on to something with its force-feedback vests that I wrote about today: Dutch electronics giant Philips just announced a big win for its similar line of accessories adding physical effects to PC games.

Philips said Ubisoft is licensing its "amBX" technology for its upcoming Tom Clancy HAWX air fighter game coming in September.

HAWX will work with a line of Philips accessories, "including RGB LED lights capable of 16 million different colours, variable speed desktop fans capable of up to 5000 RPM and the variable rotation speed wrist rumble strip" that will "create all kinds of spectacular air combat lighting, air movement and rumble effects, taking the gameplay out of the screen and into the real world."

It didn't mention a vest, though, so maybe there's still room for Ubisoft to add TN Games' software to the game. Or maybe Philips will buy the company one of these days?

For more of the TN Games story, including some fun anecdotes and background on how founder Mark Ombrellaro used his medical knowledge to make the vests realistic, here are a few videos I took last week in his office (simultaneously testing out the new Flip Mino ...)

Continue reading this post ...

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June 16, 2008 11:58 AM

Spokane IP firm expands in Seattle, hires Rick White

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lee & Hayes announced today that it's expanding its Seattle office and that former congressman and TechNet chief executive, Rick White, has joined the office as an advisor.

White said he's hoping to help the firm as it works on efforts to reform U.S. patent law and may do lobbying in the future, but his initial job is making connections.

"My focus right now is to make sure these guys are plugged into all the right technology circles,'' he said.

Since he left TechNet in 2005, White has been a business consultant and serves on the board of Motricity. He was also considered last year as a candidate for U.S. Attorney for Western Washington.

Lee & Hayes already has some pretty good connections with the tech industry.

The 50-person firm's clients include Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Boeing. It has specialized in software and electronics intellectual property since it was formed in 1994 by two lawyers with electrical engineering degrees from Washington State University.

The firm employs about a dozen people in Seattle, where it first expanded in 2003, and should reach 20 people within the next two years, co-founder Lewis Lee said.

It also recently opened another satellite office in Austin, Texas, and plans to open a Beijing office later this year.

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June 16, 2008 10:51 AM

Ex-Amazon GM launches Trusera social health info network

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about making lemonade from lemons. GM Keith Schorsch's new venture, Trusera, began with a nasty tick bite on a family vacation to the East Coast in 2004.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 13, 2008 2:40 PM

Microsoft president reveals Yahoo offer, bangs antitrust war drum

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest scoop on the Microsoft offer that Yahoo rejected comes from a source familiar with Microsoft's position -- Kevin Johnson, president of the platforms and services division.

In a memo sent today to employees, Johnson clarifies exactly what Microsoft offered: buying Yahoo's search business for $1 billion cash, forming an ad partnership and buying $8 billion worth of Yahoo stock at $35 per share.

The total value to Yahoo would have been more than $33 a share, he said. The offer, as Johnson decribed it in the memo:

- Microsoft would have invested $8 billion in Yahoo! at $35/share;
- Microsoft would have purchased Yahoo!'s search assets for $1 billion, and assumed the operations and R&D expense while returning data back to Yahoo! for use in their advertising business; and
- Microsoft and Yahoo! would have entered into a long-term search partnership, where Microsoft would have provided favorable economics to Yahoo! search, including a three-year guarantee of higher monetization than Yahoo!'s Panama paid search system currently provides.

The memo was sent to employees, but it seems aimed equally at investors and pundits, with Johnson noting that the deal "would have created compelling value for Yahoo! and its shareholders."

Johnson also previews the company's antitrust argument against a Google-Yahoo partnership:

"Unfortunately Yahoo! has chosen a different course, and yesterday announced an agreement that would start to consolidate over 90% of the paid search advertising market in Google's hands. This will make the market far less competitive. There are many experts who suggest that a host of legal and regulatory problems lie ahead for Google and Yahoo!."

The full text follows:

Continue reading this post ...

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June 12, 2008 3:55 PM

Yahoo lets Google handle ads, replaying the fate of newspapers?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Are the Internet giants going the way of newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s, when papers started consolidating and signing joint-operating agreements to sustain themselves?

The Yahoo-Google deal sounds like a step toward a JOA, a federally approved agreement like the one between The Seattle Times and the P-I.

This is a gross simplification, but in these cases the stronger entity takes over business operations for a weaker partner, which continues to produce a separate editorial product.

Lawyers had the upper hand writing the Yahoo+Google announcement about a partnership, but basically Google's going to start handling ads that appear on Yahoo's pages -- just as The Times sells and places the ads that appear on the P-I's pages.

But Yahoo didn't go all the way. It's still going to handle some ads. Yahoo's also going to decide which search terms and pages are handled by Google's ad machine, and which ones are handled by Yahoo's relatively new "Panama" ad system.

That may stave off antitrust regulators (although the Senate's antitrust subcommittee chairman, Herb Kohl, D-Wis., is already vowing to "closely examine" the deal) and preserve some of Yahoo's dignity, but it will probably also confuse the heck out of advertisers. Will they bother to sort out which ad system is placing their ads where, or will they simply migrate to Google, thinking that will get their ads distributed onto both Google and Yahoo networks? Until they get a clear message about what's happening, it undermines the alleged simplicity and precision of their ads.

If this torpedos Yahoo's Panama, will Google take over the rest of Yahoo's ads?

Yahoo expects the deal will increase its cash flow by roughly $20 million to $40 million a month in the first year. Had it peaked otherwise? Will this cover up whether Google's search business is starting to peak as well?

I'll bet Microsoft senses that peak. That's probably why it's no longer offering top dollar for Yahoo and willing to watch and wait for Yahoo's value to fall, before pouncing again.

Consolidations and JOAs preceded the decline of newspapers' grand monopoly. It's not much consolation to papers, but the Yahoo deal suggests that the Internet giants steamrolling them aren't all invincible.

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June 12, 2008 1:46 PM

Shakeup in Microsoft games group: Shane Kim replaced by Phil Spencer

Posted by Brier Dudley

Did Microsoft use the Yahoo storm as cover for its announcement of a big reorganization in its games group?

The company announced studio boss Shane Kim is moving into a strategy and business development position, a new VP position in the Interactive Entertainment Business. The release said: "His focus will be on future external relationships and partnerships, as well as developing growth strategies for the entire business."

Taking his place at the studio helm is Phil Spencer, formerly general manager of Microsoft Games Studios Europe. Spencer will relocate to Redmond from U.K. for the position leading all of Microsoft's first-party development and publishing efforts.

Also leaving is Jeff Bell, the group's vice president for global marketing. He "has decided to pursue other opportunities outside Microsoft," according to the release. But Bell will stay through the summer to work through the transition. Filling in will be Matt Barlow, Charlotte Stuyvenberg and Jim Merrick from the marketing and communication teams.

Now all they need to do is start making more first-party games.

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June 12, 2008 1:11 PM

Yahoo says it's over, Microsoft still playing, time for a break

Posted by Brier Dudley

Time for a summer vacation, or a cooling off period, in the Yahoo-Microsoft drama.

Either way, I don't think it's as final as Yahoo is trying to make it sound with its announcement this afternoon that "discussions with Microsoft regarding a potential transaction -- whether for an acquisition of all of Yahoo! or a partial acquisition -- have concluded."

Continue reading this post ...

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June 12, 2008 10:36 AM

Investors double down on WidgetBucks' ad tech

Posted by Brier Dudley

I still like Mpire's comparison shopping site, even if it doesn't give money back like Microsoft's new Live shopping service.

But with its second round of investment announced today - $10 million from DFJ and Ignition, matching the $10 million it received earlier from Ignition - the nearly three-year-old Seattle startup seems to be completing its transformation into an advertising network and services provider.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 11, 2008 6:07 PM

Video demo: Cool video search tool from Delve Networks, formerly Pluggd

Posted by Brier Dudley

I never got around to meeting Alex Castro when his Pioneer Square startup, Pluggd, was building tools for podcasters, maybe because podcasting seemed a bit like a flash in the pan.

But now that Castro's 12-person company has turned its focus to video search, it's probably time to pay more attention.

The company today announced a new name, Delve Networks, that's less audio focused and emphasizes its technology for delving into video content.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 11, 2008 5:37 PM

Zillow ranks well in Rich Barton's new workplace gossip venture

Posted by Brier Dudley

Surprisingly, Zillow gets glowing compliments from the five workers who contributed to workplace gossip Web site, a side venture of Zillow Chief Executive Rich Barton.

The Sausalito, Calif.-based venture, which opened to the public late Tuesday, lets people anonymously talk about their workplaces and share salary information. It's led by Barton and other former Expedia executives, including Robert Hohman and Erik Blachford.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 11, 2008 4:18 PM

A bit of "Sex" thrills Seattle startup

Posted by Brier Dudley

It seems too good to be true for Seattle Web startup Bag Borrow or Steal.

But the purse and accessory rental venture did not pay to get its name prominently mentioned by a major character in the "Sex and the City" movie.

"Actually it was a gift from the heavens,'' said Mark Belanger, director of direct marketing.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 11, 2008 9:55 AM

Google co-founder following Simonyi's path to space

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's co-founder and president, Sergey Brin, paid $5 million to secure a spot on a future orbital spaceflight, Space Adventures announced this morning.

It's the same outfit that flew former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi to space in April 2007.

Simonyi and Brin are likely to get together at some point to discuss their trips. I wonder if that will lead to Simonyi -- "the father of Word" -- sharing tips on building productivity applications, and Brin trying out Simonyi's new Intentional Software programming tools.

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June 11, 2008 12:00 AM

Madrona raises $250 million in fourth fund, still NW tech focused

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Madrona Venture Group is announcing today that it closed its fourth venture fund, raising $250 million to continue investing in early-stage Northwest technology startups.

"We're going to stick to what has worked well,'' said managing director Matt McIlwain.

McIlwain noted that Madrona-backed companies had five positive exits over the last 18 months -- four companies were sold and one went public.

The fund exceeded its target of $225 million, with all of Madrona's existing institutional investors signing up, including the University of Washington. Also participating are several new individual investors and institutions, including Cambridge and Oxford universities.

Among the company's recent hits were investments in ShareBuilder, Isilon Systems, World Wide Packets and iConclude.

Although economic conditions are poor, McIlwain said Madrona and its investors have a long-term view and the 10-year fund will continue beyond the current cycle.

"Maybe it will be a little slower the rest of this year but market cycles tend to go up and down,'' he said.

Madrona will likely begin making investments from the fund in the fall. Among the areas where the firm still sees opportunity are online advertising and sub-categories of virtualization.

Some of the money is also likely to end up backing companies spun out of the University of Washington, which has been especially fertile ground for Madrona.

The fund also validates a decision the firm made with its last ($167 million) fund in 2005 to turn its focus to institutional investors, more than the high net-worth individuals who were the primary investors in its 1999 fund, McIlwain said.

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June 10, 2008 5:29 PM

Disney streaming full-length movies, with Seattle touch

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest Disney online service based on technology developed at its Seattle offices is a movie-streaming service.

Starting this month, it will offer free streaming movies for a week, Monday through Friday, after they air on ABC on Saturdays.

The lineup:

"Finding Nemo" - currently available online through June 13
"Monsters Inc." available June 16-20
"Haunted Mansion" - June 30-July 4
"Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" - July 7-11
"Princess Diaries 2" - July 14-18
"Freaky Friday" - July 21-25
"Peter Pan" on Aug. 4-8

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June 10, 2008 5:11 PM

Appature joins Microsoft bandwagon, launches HealthVault app platform

Posted by Brier Dudley

Appature, a little Seattle healthcare marketing software startup that I wrote about in a January column on startup recruiting, is branching out with an application development platform announced today at Microsoft's HealthVault conference in Bellevue.

Appature said its onKey platform is "a complete solution for any company interested in developing Web applications compatible with Microsoft HealthVault."

Nice local partnership, but it was a little overshadowed by Monday's announcement that Kaiser Permanente is doing a pilot HealthVault program.

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June 9, 2008 3:33 PM

A grab bag of tech tidbits

Posted by Brier Dudley

A bunch of stuff that I didn't get to last week but want to mention, in digest form:

Continue reading this post ...

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June 9, 2008 2:40 PM

New iPhone: Cheaper is a relative term, especially if you own AT&T

Posted by Brier Dudley

The new iPhone looks great and it's finally within reach, price wise. Sort of.

Even with the price falling to $199 for the entry-level model, the iPhone is still a big investment -- at least $1,879 to join the club....

Continue reading this post ...

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June 9, 2008 9:32 AM

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen on innovation, airplanes and Bill Gates retiring

Posted by Brier Dudley

A fun conversation with Paul Allen last week led to today's Q&A piece, keyed to Friday's opening of his aviation museum in Everett.

A tidbit:

Q: Are you going to mark Bill's retirement by bringing him here to play with your planes?

A: I've talked to him about it. He wants to come up at some point, but he's a very busy man right now.

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June 8, 2008 9:00 AM

Sunny Gupta takes covers off Apptio, his biggest hit yet?

Posted by Brier Dudley

A year after selling his last startup, iConclude, for $60 million, Sunny Gupta today is taking the covers of Apptio, a new venture that's also aimed at simplifying the management of enterprise information-technology operations.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 5, 2008 5:03 PM

A chat with Google guru Matt Cutts

Posted by Brier Dudley

I thought I was getting a preview of the new Mike Myers "Love Guru" movie when I approached Google's Matt Cutts, sitting cross-legged on a stage at the SMX search marketing conference in Seattle this week.

He was surrounded by fans taking his picture and seeking advice on how to get more love from Google, the search engine that dictates so much of their online marketing strategies.

While Cutts was at Bell Harbor for the conference, a Google mapping/photography crew was spotted doing its survey business a few blocks away in Pioneer Square. I wonder if they travel together.

Anyway, here are some excerpts from a chat I had with Cutts during his visit:

Q: You head Google's Webspam team. Has the spam war been won yet?

Continue reading this post ...

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June 4, 2008 11:00 PM

Craig Newmark interview: On journalism, partnering with Google and adding news to Craigslist

Posted by Brier Dudley

With the Internet giants turning their focus to local advertising, Wal-Mart starting a free classifieds site and newspapers running on fumes, it's a perfect time to talk to Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.

Fortunately Newmark was in Seattle this week for the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance conference at the Seattle Westin.

The 55-year-old San Francisco Web phenomenon long ago turned management of his business to Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster, giving Newmark time to work on customer service and devote more time doing outreach and pursuing interests such as media. He's also stepping up his philanthropy, backing efforts such as a microfinance program in the West Bank.

Here are edited excerpts of a conversation we had Wednesday at the conference:

Continue reading this post ...

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June 4, 2008 3:25 PM

Icahn on Microsoft-Yahoo merger: Within six months, hopefully mid-30s

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few tidbits from a transcript of Carl Icahn's interview on CNBC's "Fast Money" this afternoon, provided (in all caps) by the network:

On whether the deal's going to happen:


Icahn obviously doesn't want a partnership or partial deal, he wants Ballmer to take the whole enchilada:



Asked about the minimum price Icahn wants to see:


Meaning that?


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June 4, 2008 11:21 AM

Craig of Craigslist talks about spam, online threats and feuding pet lovers

Posted by Brier Dudley

With his trademark self-depracating humor, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark shared tips on dealing with spammers and online miscreants during a presentation this morning at the Authentication & Online Trust Alliance conference, which began today at the Seattle Westin.

The gist of Newmark's advice was that people need to trust one another -- they'll help each other out in online communities, and work together to address threats like scams and spam -- and that companies need to really listen to user feedback and followup in meaningful ways.

Here are excerpts of the on-stage chat Newmark had with analyst David Daniels of JupiterResearch:

Continue reading this post ...

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June 4, 2008 12:00 AM

Three-ounce Flip Video "Mino" debuts today

Posted by Brier Dudley

Will camcorders soon be the size of USB memory sticks?

Pure Digital is getting closer with the latest version of its hit Flip Video series, the three-ounce "Mino" that's debuting today.


Continue reading this post ...

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June 3, 2008 12:37 PM

Starbucks Wi-Fi: It's not completely free

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm among the jillions of people who are glad that Starbucks is finally offering "free" wireless access in its stores. As I said before, it's about time.

But you may want to think carefully before rushing in to log on ...

Continue reading this post ...

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June 3, 2008 9:34 AM

Microsoft's Kevin Johnson: Our browser better than Firefox, Google wars, etc.

Posted by Brier Dudley

How can Microsoft catch Google in search?

By taking advantage of its underdog status to try new things and change the search experience, Platforms & Services President Kevin Johnson said during an interview/keynote with search guru Danny Sullivan at the Search Marketing Expo conference in Seattle today.

One way that Microsoft's going to differentiate itself is by emphasizing its Live search as a tool for commercial transactions, highlighting categories such as travel and shopping. That's a smaller share of overall search -- about 30 percent -- but it's where 80 percent of the ad spending occurs.

"If you look at the last three to five years, the user experience hasn't changed. I think there's a new paradigm users will want and embrace,'' he said.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 3, 2008 12:00 AM

BlackBerry getting Whrrl today, a Pelago smoothie?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hot Seattle social discovery startup Pelago got attention for being an early iPhone app developer, but they aren't limited to that device.

Today the company's making its Whrrl serice available for free to users of BlackBerry Pearl and Curve handsets in the U.S.

Whrrl describes its mapping/microblogging service as being "at the nexus of social networking, local discovery and user-generated content."

In addition to BlackBerry support, Whrrl today announced expanded event and calendar features to provide more local information on devices. The software's available at

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.