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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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November 6, 2012 3:43 PM

Bravo's geek week: Seattle "LOLwork" trounces "Silicon Valley"

Posted by Brier Dudley

If there were a vote this week on which place has a better startup scene, Silicon Valley or Seattle, the Emerald City would win by a mile.

At least among voters who watch the new "reality" shows set in the West Coast tech hubs, which are debuting during the Bravo network's geek week.

On Monday, Bravo aired the first episode of "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley," which follows a handful of improbably attractive young startup wannabes.

Several come across as vapid, self-centered and repellent. Overall, what I saw of the show felt like a lame attempt to generate "buzz" and pander to a mid-20s demographic that's appealing to advertisers. It was produced by Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Things should improve Wednesday night with the 11 p.m. debut of "LOLwork," a Bravo series that follows life inside Cheezburger, the Seattle-based online humor network known mostly for putting funny captions on cute cat pictures.

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The LOLworkers (pictured) are quirky, charming and engaging, which is good since they could come to be seen as the new face of Seattle's tech community.

Perhaps the show is more enjoyable and authentic-feeling because they're actually working for a living, at a real and profitable company that reaches 20 million people a month. Or because I watched the previews in Seattle.

"LOLwork" is so polished and funny at times that you wonder if the workers are flexing their humor muscles for the film crew, helping them produce a Seattle tech version of "The Office."

Maybe it's just smart editing. The Bravo crew didn't coach or prep Cheezburger employees much, said Chief Executive Ben Huh (pictured with cat).

"They had a big meeting in the beginning and they're like, 'Be yourself, don't ham it up. You're funny because of who you are and what you do.' "

Cheezburger employs about 90 people on Lower Queen Anne, but the show focuses on a handful of characters who volunteered for the scrutiny.

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Bravo said the "30-minute doc-com" presents the world of Huh "and his eccentric staff as they attempt to make the world laugh five minutes a day by putting nimble yet grammatically incorrect captions on cute photos of domesticated pets and animals. The series begin as the staff at Cheezburger competes to create a new comedic web series for the site."

Huh said the show was "an amazing experience of a lifetime," but it's not exactly the reality he sees at work.

"It's a show -- it's a TV show. It's been edited," he said. "It's not what I see in the company, but it does capture the essence of what we do."

Huh said some of the things filmed that were really funny to him didn't make it onto the show, because the show was edited to tell a story and some things didn't quite fit.

Bravo paid Cheezburger for the opportunity. Huh wouldn't say how much, but said it was negligible.

"We didn't do it for the compensation," he said. "It wasn't actually very much. Basically we have a half an hour infomercial on Bravo."

Wasn't there a risk in letting people see how the sausage is made?

"I think we're much more attractive than sausages," Huh said. "I didn't really have that concern. ... We talked about what does it mean for our brand. What does it mean for our companies? What if we look like idiots?"

Cheezburger concluded that it would have to trust the producers to tell the company's story.

Huh said the company insisted on one rule, requiring Bravo to respect the consumers of Cheezburger's content. The rule was that "you can make fun of us. You can laugh at us. But you cannot make fun of users," he said.

Still, by drawing out humor in the daily grind of producing funny websites, Bravo may have missed what's really happening at Cheezburger.

The company has been steadily repositioning itself and changing its focus. It's transforming from a media company to a platform company, building tools that other companies can use to manage and distribute content.

There's a ceiling for growth for media, which isn't as scalable as a platform, Huh said. A platform can be used around the world, in places that might not get the humor that works so well for Cheezburger in the U.S.

Cheezburger also has had management changes that aren't reflected in the show. One of the business foils on the show, Chief Revenue Officer Todd Sawicki, left the company last month after filming was done.

"From top to bottom," Huh said, "this company's been going through a huge transformation."

Meanwhile, Bravo's team in Silicon Valley is trying to get funding for an app.

Here's a Seattle Times video of Huh offering tips on how to write good captions:


Comments | Category: Cheezburger , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Facebook , Startups , Tech work , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 11, 2011 9:45 AM

The 2012 Audi A6: Loaded and connected

Posted by Brier Dudley

Please excuse any typos here. My fingers are still tingling from an incredibly fast wireless device I tested last week.

This one costs nearly $60,000, plus $30 a month for a data plan, and it weighs 4,045 pounds.

It's the 2012 Audi A6 sedan that went on sale last week.

A6100012_large__mid.jpg
Audi provided a fully loaded model with a supercharger, eight-speed transmission and a wireless system that turns the car into a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot that connects up to eight devices at once.

The wireless system -- called "Audi Connect" -- is available with a $4,220 option package on the A6, which starts at $41,700.

Earlier this year, Audi became the first carmaker to offer a factory-installed hot spot. Previously, cars connected to information services via satellites, embedded wireless devices or drivers' phones.

Audi's A6 and A7 are also the first cars to use Google Earth in their navigation systems. They display the search giant's aerial imagery and use its local search to provide details on restaurants, hotels and other points of interest; there's even a touch-screen input system. (Here's a video I shot of Audi's Google system in action.)

Automotive electronics are going through a surge of innovation, parallel to what's happening with smartphones and Web tablets.

The number of cars shipping with factory-installed telematics systems will leap from less than 10 percent last year to more than 62 percent in 2016, according to an ABI Research report in January. Analyst Dominique Bonte said in the release that carmakers are "borrowing the hugely successful application store paradigm from the mobile industry" to release products more quickly and at lower costs.

Audi is extending its wireless technology from higher-end models down through its product line, but it's still a pricey system. There's convenience in having a connected car, but there are other options, including new phones that function as Wi-Fi hot spots and portable, puck-sized modems that connect multiple devices to the latest wireless networks.

My guess is that systems like Audi Connect won't take off in the U.S. until the prices come down further and wireless companies move toward pay-as-you-go metered data plans, similar to those in Europe. Under that approach, customers use the same data plan for multiple devices -- phones and cars -- instead of paying $30 a month for each one.

The Audis connect to T-Mobile's 3G wireless network, using a SIM card that fits into a slot on the dashboard. After a six-month trial period, "unlimited" data plans cost $30 a month or $324 for a prepaid yearly plan. T-Mobile doesn't specify a usage limit, but the contract says the carrier reserves the right to throttle your data throughput in a given month if usage is excessive.

IMG_1662.JPG
The taut and sprightly A6 showed two to five bars of 3G coverage while driving around Seattle and Bellevue. The Speedtest site measured download speeds of 267 to 798 kilobits per second.

Most important, the A6 passed the Netflix test: In an experiment, a passenger could watch a movie streamed to an iPad over the Wi-Fi connection while driving. It took a while to get started, but then played without a hiccup at a decent resolution.

Google Earth imagery is fun but nonessential. The navigation system gives you the choice of displaying regular maps or Google's aerial photos on a 7-inch diagonal color screen that slides out and flips up when you turn the car on. The computer uses an Nvidia processor and middleware from Ottawa-based QNX.

Spinning a control knob on the console, you can zoom out to see the entire globe or down to a particular block. Audi and Google are working together to eventually display "Street View" street-level images as well.

The aerial imagery is realistic enough that you may be fooled into thinking it's a live image, but your car's not on the screen and things outside the window don't look exactly the same. It also made one of my passengers feel a little queasy, watching aerial images scroll around as we drove.


Applications on the system include a Wikipedia search and news feeds, which can be customized via an Audi website. It also provides real-time weather, traffic and nearby gas prices (provided by Kirkland's Inrix). The system is also used to choose music from the radio, an attached device or the car's hard drive, but it won't play video content.

There are multiple ways to control the system -- too many, perhaps. You'd probably settle on a preferred control method after driving the A6 for a while, but several days of testing made me think the interface isn't yet as smooth and refined as the rest of the car.

The primary control is a large knob on the center console that you twist and press. It's encircled by 11 buttons -- four for navigating on-screen menus and four for launching primary functions: navigation, radio, hands-free calling and stored digital media. There's also a back button, one for car settings and one that calls up on-screen menus. I was grateful for the "back" button.

Nearby there's another knob and buttons for controlling the music volume and track selection.

IMG_1700.JPG
The touch pad on the console is about the size of a credit card. When I first heard about it, I thought it would be like a touch-screen PC or phone that reads handwriting, but it only reads one letter at a time and works best if you write carefully with capital letters. It reminded me of the game where you write with a finger on someone's back and they guess the words.

You can also select letters using the knob and an on-screen menu. Either way, it's too tedious to use while driving.

The touch pad can also be used to enter radio stations or navigate maps with a fingertip, but I kept changing stations when trying to use the map, and ended up mostly using the knob.

That's not all. The system also works with voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel.

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Fortunately, there are detailed instructions: The A6 manual is 295-pages long, plus a 106-page supplement for its Multi Media Interface.

That's another way connected cars are just like computers and smartphones: By the time you've figured out all their tricks, a more powerful model will be on sale. Audi is testing a new version that connects to faster 4G LTE networks, for instance.

In the meantime, A6 buyers who pony up for the wireless option will probably use it mostly to keep passengers occupied with gadgets, so they can enjoy the drive.

Comments | Category: Automotive , Gadgets & products , Google , T-Mobile , Telecom , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 25, 2011 2:53 PM

Interview: Why and how Google bought Sparkbuy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Networking really is worthwhile for startup entrepreneurs, or at least the ones who want to sell their companies to Google.

Dan Shapiro said friendships and chance encounters helped him start comparison shopping site Sparkbuy last year and sell it to Google in a deal announced on Monday.

Shapiro and Scott Silver, site director of Google's Kirkland campus, explained in an interview how the deal went down and a few more details of what's next for the Sparkbuy team.

They also left the strong impression that Google is still hunting for startups to acquire in the Seattle area and beyond.

Google may have to pick up the pace if it wants to meet the aggressive growth projections it laid out at the start of the year. It bought 48 companies last year, but only 10 so far this year, as it approaches the mid-year point.

Maybe that's why it moved so fast on Sparkbuy.

Silver kept an eye on the company since it was just an idea Shapiro was batting around with friends. Shapiro had had trouble shopping for a new laptop and thought there was a need for a new comparison shopping site. He floated this idea while having dinner with Silver in early 2010, and heard the magic words.

"He said that's really interesting from a Google perspective," Shapiro recalled.

Later, Shapiro received more encouragement when he happened to sit next to another Google employee on an airplane and talked about the startup. Sparkbuy launched a beta version in November and formally launched March 29.

Shapiro is a veteran of Microsoft and RealNetworks who started mobile photo business Ontela in 2005. It merged with News Corp.'s Photobucket in 2009 and Shapiro left his management position there in February 2010.

While starting Sparkbuy, Shapiro also stayed in contact with Jonathan Sposato, another Seattle entrepreneur who sold his company, Picnik, to Google.

"One of the things that was really encouraging was that going to Google wasn't something totally unfamiliar -- there were a whole bunch of people I knew and respected," Shapiro said.

It wasn't confirmed during the interview, but I wonder if Sposato's a model for what may happen to Shapiro at Google.

Sposato was chief executive of Picnik, a photo editing service, when it was acquired in March 2010. He's since been promoted to lead not just Picnik but all of Google's photo business, including a team in Santa Monica, Calif.

Shapiro downplayed the chance he'll play a larger role. "I'm still learning how the conference phones work," he joked.

(Although Sposato had a similarly awkward entrance -- on his first visit to the Kirkland office, he smashed a Segway scooter into a drink fridge, throwing him off and marking his arrival with a big dent in the appliance.)

Silver said the acquisition is one of the benefits of having a big engineering presence in the Seattle area. The company employs more than 800 in Kirkland, where it occupies about 150,000 square feet, and in Fremont, where it's expanding to 78,000 square feet.

"I wish Dan had agreed to join Google six months earlier from my perspective," Silver said.

Silver, a former Amazon.com manager, said Sparkbuy fits with Google's broad mission of taking information that's available online and making it useful for customers.

"Dan had a novel take on that and we realy liked what we saw," he said.

Although Sparkbuy's shopping site was shut down when the deal was announced, Silver said Google was acquiring more than just three talented developers.

"From my perspective I wanted Dan to build his business at Google and not outside Google ... this isn't about talent, this is about the ideas and executing them," Silver said.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Shapiro would only say "this was an unexpected but delightful outcome."

Shapiro said it usually takes about six years for a startup to have some sort of exit. Being able "to proceed directly to the 'build a business at Google scale' while skipping a whole bunch of those intermediate years of financing and fundraising and everything else, that was just too great an opportunity."

The Sparkbuy team is going to work with a group in Kirkland that last week released Advisor, a site where consumers can comparison shop for loans and credit offers.

"This problem is not an easy problem," Silver said. "It's very hard to figure out how you get enough information about services so you can help consumers make decisions about complex financial products."

Sorting through the options available on different laptops is similarly complex, they said. Shapiro said the "next great frontier" is using online information to directly answer consumers' questions and help them solve problems.

Google hopes to continue tapping the local cluster of expertise in online shopping, which includes companies such as Amazon.com, Expedia, REI and Nordstrom.

"Seattle's just a gold mine for expertise in these areas," Shapiro said.

Comments | Category: Google , Startups , Tech work , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 28, 2011 1:10 PM

Cheezburger memes up, buys NY-based KnowYourMeme.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Two months after raising $30 million, Seattle-based Cheezburger (the humor network formerly known as Icanhascheezburger.com) spent a chunk of the money buying New York-based Know Your Meme.

Know Your Meme operates a sort of meme-o-pedia - an online reference guide that aggregates and categorizes the ideas or concepts that build up enough online traction to become what's known as a meme.

Started by Rocketboom founder Andrew Baron, Know Your Meme "is dedicated to giving people an accurate inside look at up-and-coming as well as already viral Internet memes," according to the release.

"Since Cheezburger is the playground of choice for millions of Internet culture fans, this acquisition is a natural compliment for our community," Cheezburger Chief Executive Ben Huh said in the release. "Now, in addition to delivering 5 minutes of happiness through I Can Has Cheezburger?, FAIL Blog, Memebase, and The Daily What, we can help the public understand the origins of memes and how content goes viral on the Web."

Huh told me in January that he planned to buy more companies "that work well within our model."

Tubefilter News reported that Know Your Meme sold for a "low seven-figure sum," based on "sources close to the deal."

Cheezburger spokeswoman Deanna Leung Madden said the company "can't confirm" the sale price.

The four employees of Know Your Meme are now part of the company's New York office - "Cheezburger East."

If you're still wondering about memes, here's how the companies define an Internet meme, as opposed to viral content:

An Internet meme is a piece of content or an idea that's passed from person to person, changing and evolving along the way. A piece of content that is passed from person to person, but does not evolve or change during the transmission process is considered viral content.

Comments | Category: Cheezburger , Entrepreneurs , Startups , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 13, 2011 2:14 PM

Cubeduel launches, a "hot or not" for LinkedIn

Posted by Brier Dudley

Two Seattle startup veterans today launched a venture that adds a little competition to LinkedIn, letting the business network users rank colleagues.

Cubeduel.com uses the LinkedIn API to call up a poll when you sign in to the site. It pulls up contacts with experience at the same company and lets users vote on which one they'd rather work with, then builds lists of "top" employees at particular companies.

The site adds a little spice to LinkedIn, which is relatively dry compared with other social networks. But I wonder how well anonymously submitted personality rankings will go over on a site where contacts and resumes are shared for business networking.

The company was started by UrbanSpoon co-founder Adam Doppelt and Tony Wright, co-founder of RescueTime. They're so far the only employees at the boot-strapped company, which is being advised by Microsoft veteran and iLike co-founder Hadi Partovi.

Monetization plans are still being developed. Options include job ads, selling lists of top-rated employees and selling ranking information to recruiters doing background checks.

Here's a screenshot of a duel drawn from my meager LinkedIn contact list:

cube2.jpg

Here's the site's current list of the top-rated current and former Microsoft employees, topped by Nat Brown, who worked with Partovi at iLike and then MySpace's Seattle office.

cube1.jpg

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December 1, 2010 11:21 AM

Cozi cozies up AOL, Intel, Working Mother

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Cozi family is getting bigger.

The Seattle company today announced that AOL and Working Mother will use its family calendar and communication platform, which should boost the site's usage beyond its current 3 million members.

Cozi helped AOL's MyDaily.com create the "MyDaily Family Organizer." With Working Mother, it built a "Family Control Center" that connects to Cozi's calendar, shopping list and journal applications.

The company also said it's built a "Cozi Express" version of its service for Intel-based netbooks.

Cozi was started in 2005 by veterans of the Microsoft Money team.

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Microsoft , Startups , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 17, 2010 10:47 AM

Pastor: Thou shall not use Facebook

Posted by Brier Dudley

Click bait of the day: A New Jersey pastor is suggesting his flock drop their Facebook accounts after so many of them got into marital trouble finding old flames on the site.

In just the past six months, 40 of the 1,100 members of the Living Word Christian Fellowship Church had such problems, according to this report in The Guardian.

Church officials have to delete their accounts, but it's optional for everyone else. The Rev. Cedric Miller earlier suggested that spouses share passwords but that apparently didn't help, so now he's going to suggest they drop the accounts, according to the report.

Comments | Category: Facebook , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 12, 2010 11:43 AM

Facebook email service coming Monday?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Facebook is expected to announce a new messaging service on Monday and some are predicting that it's going to unveil a Web email system to compete with Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail.

Fmail, perhaps?

The move comes as Facebook and Google are in a tiff over exporting contact lists. Google last week making it more difficult for Facebook to hoover up contact lists.

PCWorld has a rundown of the rumors. The latest is TechCrunch's report that the social networking site will launch a "Gmail killer" code-named Project Titan that will offer personal email addresses ending with "@facebook.com."

GigaOm earlier speculated that Facebook's going to upgrade its mobile chat feature and add a "one to many" group chat capability.

The move could make Facebook even more central to users' lives. Avid users may be excited to unify their mail and social network services.

Others may want to keep in mind Facebook's evolving approach to privacy - and challenges simplifying its privacy management tools - before giving it responsibility for their personal mail.

Given the spat with Google over sharing contact information, a big question will be how Facebook's message system syncs with the established Web mail services.

I wonder if Facebook's friendly uncle Microsoft will be involved, supporting Facebook mail with easy connections to its Live.com online services, or perhaps even powering the mail system.

Comments | Category: Facebook , Google , Microsoft , Web , Yahoo! |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 13, 2010 3:42 PM

Conversation Prism 3.0 released, where's Microsoft?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Silicon Valley marketing guru Brian Solis and the Jess3 creative agency released a new version of their "Conversation Prism" diagramming the "social media universe."

Version 3.0 is just in time for Web 3.0, but where's Microsoft?

Maybe I missed something, but beyond Newsvine, which was acquired by MSNBC.com in 2007, I couldn't see any Microsoft services on the chart. (Click to enlarge, or get the whole thing here)

Convo.jpg

Comments | Category: Microsoft , Startups , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 27, 2010 4:42 PM

GigaOm: TechCrunch selling to AOL

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nice scoop -- if it's true -- by GigaOM: AOL is close to buying TechCrunch. An excerpt:

The deal is at a sensitive stage and might fall apart yet, but I don't think so. Sources familiar with both entities says that the announcement is likely to come onstage at Disrupt, TechCrunch's flagship conference currently underway in San Francisco.

There's been speculation that TechCrunch was on the block since founder Michael Arrington announced in May that he had moved to Seattle. Not only is the city closer to his parents in the Anacortes area, it's also in a state that doesn't have an income tax, for the time being.

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September 22, 2010 12:26 PM

Microsoft IE vet heads to Google Fremont

Posted by Brier Dudley

After 15 years learning the software business at Microsoft, Chris Wilson was ready for a new school.

The principal program manager on Microsoft's Internet Explorer team left Microsoft yesterday for a new job as a developer advocate for Google, based at its Fremont office.

"I've learned a tremendous amount at Microsoft, learned tons from all the people I worked with," he said in a phone interview. "I think that it's time for some different lessons now."

Wilson's move comes amid a growing browser war between the companies, but his non-compete agreement with Microsoft prevents him from working on Google's Chrome browser for a year.

Google will find something for Wilson to do, after he takes a six-week break between jobs.

"What I'm really super passionate about is using the Web platform and building out the Web platform as a whole," he said. "There's so much opportunity in what services get offered and how people can tie these things together - that really is not what I've been doing."

Wilson's going to work with developers all over the place, but he'll also be part of the company's effort to step up its work with developers in the Seattle region as well.

The Illinois native came to Seattle more than 15 years ago when his wife went to graduate school at the University of Washington. Wilson, 40, found work on the software team at Spry, working on its "Internet in a Box" product, and joined Microsoft in 1995.

Wilson said the timing was right for his move, now that Internet Explorer 9 is released.

"They're in a pretty good place, they've got a pretty good product with IE9," he said. "What I really want to focus on in the long-term is how people use the Web platform, both developers and consumers, and I think Google is a really good place to do that."

(I first learned of Wilson's move from Mary-Jo Foley, who also noted that Brian Arbogast, Microsoft vice president for mobile services and a 24-year veteran, left the company Aug. 16 after a sabbatical.)

Comments | Category: Google , Microsoft , Seattle , Tech work , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 31, 2010 1:19 PM

Digg confirms new CEO from Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Digg founder Kevin Rose confirmed on his blog that the Web media site's new chief executive is Matt Williams, general manager of consumer payments at Amazon.com.

Williams joined Amazon in 1999 when the company acquired his startup, LiveBid.com.

Rose has been interim chief executive since an April shakeup and recently launched a major redesign of the site.

In Rose's blog post, he included a quote from Williams:

"The launch of version 4 was a big moment for Digg and I believe in the potential of this new platform. There is so much innovation yet to come -- being the best in the world at curating news means solving the information overload we all experience every day. The Digg team has already made great strides in this direction and there is much more ahead. I'm excited to join such a talented team and such a vibrant Digg community."

TechCrunch reported this morning that Williams was hired by Digg.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 30, 2010 2:17 PM

SEO tips: Twitterific words, scoring a Google 7 pack and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Grand wizards of the search marketing world were sharing secrets today at a seminar hosted by SEOmoz, the Seattle search marketing software provider.

Here are a few search marketing (and Twitter) tips and tricks from the sessions I attended at the Seattle Westin today.


Continue reading this post ...


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August 25, 2010 9:56 AM

Google adds free phone calls to Gmail, wow

Posted by Brier Dudley

Remember how Google lured people to Gmail by providing huge amounts of online storage? It's doing it again with phone calls.

Google today announced that Gmail users can make free long distance calls in the U.S. and Canada through a cool new feature that lets you place calls from wtihin Gmail to a mobile or landline phone.

"Call phone" is a new option in Gmail's list of contacts to chat with, on the left side of the page. You can dial with a keypad that pops up, or enter a contact's name to call them.

Gcalls.jpg
Calling phones from computers isn't new but Google's built a simple system and underwritten its launch with a generous batch of free calling.

From Google's announcement:

Gmail voice and video chat makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family using your computer's microphone and speakers. But until now, this required both people to be at their computers, signed into Gmail at the same time. Given that most of us don't spend all day in front of our computers, we thought, "wouldn't it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?"

The offer's the latest way consumers are benefiting from the ongoing battle over Web services Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. It also comes as students are heading back to school, setting up new email accounts and choosing which services they'll use to stay in touch with friends and family.

Gmail's calling is a great deal, but it also reflects the new financial realism affecting the maturing seach company.

Unlike the online storage accounts provided with Gmail, which are perpetually free and continue to expand, the free long distance calling is promised only for the next four months.

After that, Gmail customers accustomed to the service - and new Gmail users drawn by the calling - will presumably have to start paying fees.

Google's also charging from the start for international calls placed through Gmail. They have per minute fees ranging from .02 cents to $4.99. Calls to Mexico are 10 cents a minute.

Comments | Category: Google , Microsoft , Web , Yahoo! |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 24, 2010 11:48 AM

Bill Gates cheers online education phenom

Posted by Brier Dudley

A former hedge fund manager offering free academic tutorials via YouTube has a pretty big fan in Medina.

Sal Khan produces the short, free tutorials on topics such as biology and calculus from a closet in his Silicon Valley home. He's reaching more than 200,000 viewers a month, including Bill Gates.

Gates has been watching the videos with his 11-year-old son, Rory, and is meeting soon with Khan, according to a Fortune magazine story.

Gates also called out Khan's teaching last month at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Khan was already on his way to becoming a celebrity, at least among tech tycoons interested in online education.

The "Khan Academy" was featured on PBS NewsHour in February, and venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife have provided more than $100,000 to support Khan.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Education , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 23, 2010 3:07 PM

Social media strategies on tap

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you want to sound hip to the social media thing, and don't mind a little profanity, check out my favorite new Web site - What The **** Is My Social Media "Strategy"?

The site automatically generates social media strategies, chock full of buzzwords, with a click. I came to it via Boing Boing.

It's a snarky promotion for a marketer, who is poking fun at social media strategies larded with jargon. The site's "making it up so you don't have to."

But the buzzword generator is probably just fine for your next mission-statement planning session, when you need to fill out those huge sticky notes.

Or you can use it on your phone, under the table, if you want to shine during that next meeting with the boss.

A few sample strategies to clip 'n save:

"Target influencers with engaging assets to act as platforms for conversation"

"Encourage positive conversations to drive advocacy"

"Utilise social currency to amplify experiences and drive conversations"

"Increase organic growth by exposing audiences to the brand through breakthrough viral communications"

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August 11, 2010 10:39 AM

MySpace gets makeover, more Facebookish

Posted by Brier Dudley

It may be too late to catch up with Facebook, but MySpace is trying with a new page design it announced today, giving users a preview of a makeover that takes effect on Monday.

The new page "prominently displays the activity stream and simplifies the content discovery experience," MySpace said in the announcement.

MySpace is owned by News Corp. and based in the Los Angeles area but has a big engineering office in Seattle.

A new "My Stuff" module provides access to photos, videos and music from users' homepages and recommendations have been combined into a single module.

Also being updated are the site's alerts system and address book. Here it is, with MySpace annotations:

myspace homepage.jpg

Comments | Category: Facebook , Web , myspace |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 5, 2010 1:17 PM

Google buys Oregon tool vendor, builds up Portland shop

Posted by Brier Dudley

To build up its software toolkit for Web developers, Google today bought Instantiations, a Tualatin, Ore., company that makes tools for open-source developers.

Google hasn't yet announced the deal but Instantiations disclosed the deal on its Web site. The deal was also confirmed by Bellevue's Corum Group, which represented Instantiations.

Terms weren't disclosed.

A report in the Portland Business Journal said the 30-person company spun out of Textronix in the late 1980s and will relocate to a new Google office in downtown Portland.

UPDATE: A Google spokeswoman confirmed the deal but said it just closed and the company doesn't yet have details to share about its plans for Portland.

"We're pleased to welcome Instantiations' very talented team to Google, and we're excited to have them begin working as part of our developer tools team," she said.

Mike Rogoway at the Oregonian has a few more details about Google's new Portland office and how Instantiations will continue as a separate company in Vancouver, Wash.

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August 2, 2010 11:07 AM

Delve sold to Limelight, expanding in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

After four years and several overhauls of its business strategy, Seattle startup Delve Networks was sold today to Limelight Networks, an Arizona-based content delivery network.

The price was undisclosed but one report - based on unnamed sources - pegged it at $10 million, a notch above the roughly $7 milion that Delve had raised from investors.

"I'm certainly very happy," said Delve Chief Executive Alex Castro, a veteran of Microsoft and Amazon.com.

Castro's company started as a podcasting venture called Pluggd and, after a name change in 2008, morphed into a video delivery platform for Web publishers.

Delve's grown to 20 employees and 120 customers, up from fewer than 20 customers in early 2009.

Castro said he'd been talking to a number of suitors before the deal was reached with Limelight. "We were having conversations with a lot of folks, we had multiple people interested, multiple people who made offers," he said.

Delve was at a point where it needed to either make a big investment in a bigger sales team or hook up with a company like Limelight, which already has the reach.

"We've been growing rapidly," he said. "To keep up that pace we would have had to build out a much larger sales organization."

Limelight's going to add Delve to the stack of technology it offers customers - including Castro's former employers in the Seattle area.

The deal comes as online video service providers have begun consolidating, but it's also part of Limelight's effort to build up its technology team and presence in Seattle. It already had some technical people and sales reps supporting customers here but Delve is its first full Seattle office, according to Paul Alfieri, marketing vice president.

Alfieri said Limelight bought Delve as much for the people as its products.

"At the end of the day the talent of the engineers and the resumes and the experience are actually what make acquisitions like this work," he said.

The company is expected to continue expanding in Seattle in the coming year but Castro wouldn't specify the plans.

"This is about growth," he said of the deal. "We're not closing the office, we're not moving, we're not getting rid of folks."

Alfieri said more details about the acquisition may be disclosed around the time Limelight reports its earnings on Aug. 5.

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July 27, 2010 4:00 AM

Seattle's Daptiv sold, no layoffs expected

Posted by Brier Dudley

A California buyout company is acquiring Daptiv, a Seattle company that provides project and portfolio management software and services. Terms of the deal with Parallax Capital Partners of Laguna Hills, Calif., weren't disclosed.

A spokeswoman said all Daptiv employees will be retained except for Chief Executive Mark Klebanoff, who is being replaced by John Baldwin, a Parallax partner and executive at Artemis International.

Daptiv survived several cycles of the tech industry - and a few major layoffs - since it was founded in 1997 as eProject. The company now has around 90 employees, $20 million in annual sales and more than 500 enterprise customers.

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July 13, 2010 12:00 AM

Tableau Software doubles sales, hiring 100

Posted by Brier Dudley

Data isn't the only thing that Tableau Software is visualizing. It's also seeing crazy growth.

The data visualization company, headquartered in the Fremont neighborhood, today is announcing that its sales grew 106 percent from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010, and it's going on a hiring spree to double its team.

Tableau is privately held but disclosed that it grossed more than $20 million last year and is adding new clients daily to a list that has 5,000 customers, from Apple to Zynga.

It employs 136, up from 100 at the start of the year, and plans to fill 100 new positions in the next 12 to 18 months. That's more than double the pace of hiring that Chief Executive Christian Chabot expected in April, when he launched a free online version of the company's visualization toolbox.

Chabot -- who spun the company out of Stanford University in 2003 -- has said he may take Tableau public in three to five years.

Here's an example of a Tableau Public visualization developed for PC Magazine's analysis of mobile network data performance; use your mouse to call up more details:

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July 8, 2010 3:30 PM

Search marketer to tone down promises, refunds coming

Posted by Brier Dudley

A Redmond search marketing firm that promised top results to small businesses is toning it down and paying for refunds under a settlement with the state.

The AG's office has received about 160 complaints about Visible.net, which also does business as Captures.com and WebMarketingSource.com. In April a judge ruled that the company violated the state's telemarketing law, leading to a settlement announced today.

The company agreed to pay $250,000, of which $50,000 will reimburse the state's costs and $200,000 will be refunded to customers. Eligible customers will be notified by mail and could receive payments in early 2012.

Visible sells Web site design, search optimization, online payment processing and other marketing services, charging setup fees of $3,750 to $9,750 and monthly fees of $40 to $100, according to the state's release.

It had promised too much. The settlement notes a sample pitch, deemed an unfair and deceptive trade practice:

"Just like my last client, you will be blown away when you can see what having a top search engine ranking can do for your business and pocketbook."

Under the settlement, the company agreed to not:

-- Misrepresent its ability to significantly increase traffic to customer Web sites by achieving top search-engine rankings.

-- Fail to provide refunds or honor cancellation requests.

-- Claim to provide around-the-clock customer support, technical advice or consultations, unless available. The attorney general's office believes the defendants misrepresented customer service representatives could be reached at any time.

-- Fail to register with the Department of Licensing as a commercial telephone solicitor.

-- Charge consumers' credit cards without authorization.

-- Misrepresent its affiliation with other marketers.

UPDATE: The company posted a statement on its blog, asserting that competitors were behind some of the "so called 'consumer complaints.'" It told customers that the settlement "will allow Visible to get back to doing what it does best: providing exceptional products and services to its customers."

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June 30, 2010 3:23 PM

Amazon buys Woot! (check the rap video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Funky online shopping site Woot.com, which offers single items daily through a handful of snarky Web sites, is being acquired by Amazon.com.

That's according to a characteristic letter posted by its chief executive, Matt Rutledge. An excerpt:

Today is a big day in Woot history. This morning, I woke up to find Jeff Bezos the Mighty had seized our magic sword. Using the Arthurian model as a corporate structure was something our CFO had warned against from the very beginning, but now that's water under the bridge. What is important is that our company is on the verge of becoming a part of the Amazon.com dynasty. And our plans for Grail.Woot are on indefinite hold.

Woot will remain autonomous and based in the Dallas area, according to Amazon.com. The purchase price isn't being disclosed and the deal should close in the third quarter.

"The acquisition will foster the long-term growth of Woot, allowing it to continue its passion for serving customers with low prices across a broad selection of products," spokesman Craig Berman said via email.

In addition to gadgets offered through Woot.com, Woot sells wine, toys and clothes through companion sites.

Rutledge provided a more expansive explanation of the deal:

Amazon is interested in us because they recognize the value of our people, our brand, and our unique style of deep-tissue, toxin-releasing massage. And they don't want to start changing things now. Amazon's hoping our nutty Woot steez continues to grow and develop (and perhaps even rubs off on them a little). They're not looking to have their folks come in and run Woot unless we ask them to, which incidentally you can do by turning off the bathroom lights and saying the word "Kindle" three times; a helpful Amazon employee will appear in the mirror. That said, Amazon clearly knows what they're doing in a lot of areas, so we're geeked about the opportunities to tap into that knowledge and those resources, especially on the technology side. This is about making the Woot brand, culture, and business even stronger than it is today, and we expect that any changes will be for the better or we wouldn't bother with this endless paperwork.

Better yet is the video in which Woot sings the news: "When we heard we were like 'that's some kind of scamazon' but it's true, we got acquired by aaamazon ... we're hooking up with the notorious crew."

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June 29, 2010 9:00 PM

Cheezburger hires CFO, founder gets down to business

Posted by Brier Dudley

In the latest indication of its phenomenal growth, Seattle's Cheezburger Network hired a fulltime chief financial officer.

The move -- being announced Wednesday -- frees up founder Ben Huh, 32, to focus on recruiting developers, tuning business operations and pursuing more partnerships for a network of Web sites that's become one of the world's biggest online humor companies.

"After three years of being stressed out I'd like to take a day off or two," he said.

Cheezburger hired Pearl Chan (at left) to handle its finances and compliance with human resources policies.

Pearl Chan.jpg

Chan had worked with the company before through CFO Selections, where she also worked with Picnik just before it was sold to Google.

So is Chan cleaning up the Cheezburger finances prior to a sale?

"No, not at all, no such plan in the works," Huh said.

The company "recognized we need a little bit more structure," he explained.

Cheezburger has grown to 45 people and is recruiting more editorial staff and developers to work on its internal tools, including a proprietary system for handling and publishing user-generated content. It recently expanded into additional offices on Lower Queen Anne and Huh's mulling whether to open satellites in Los Angeles and New York.

Cheezburger operates more than 50 humor sites, including its flagship I Can Has Cheezburger, that together generate 340 million page views and 110 million views per month.

Huh said the company continues to be profitable, but it should be generating more revenue from its traffic, which is another thing he's going to focus on now that he's built up an executive team.

The big question for fans, though, is whether Huh will be any less funny now that he's hired more managers to take some pressure off.

Fear not -- there's a new kind of angst to milk for inspiration.

"As I take my hands off more day-to-day operations there's a little bit of feeling of helplessness," he said. "There is definitely a feeling of 'I'm not sure what's going on over there.' "

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June 24, 2010 3:30 PM

World Cup USA vs. Algeria upped Web traffic, firm says

Posted by Brier Dudley

More evidence that the World Cup frenzy is also a Web phenomenon in the U.S. is coming from Experian Hitwise today.

The research firm said U.S. traffic to soccer and media Web sites was up 22 percent yesterday, after the U.S.-Algeria match yesterday.

Broadcaster sites jumped 6 percent, print media sites were up 3 percent and Yahoo Sports' World Cup site leapt 32 percent, the firm said.

That's for Algeria in an early round. Yahoo ought to give Landon Donovan a bonus.

Here's Experian's list of soccer-related gains yesterday:

- US visits to Soccer websites increased 22% on Wednesday (6/23/10) versus Tuesday (6/22/10). Visits were up 10% versus the previous Wednesday.
- US visits to Broadcast Media websites increased 6% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 8% versus the previous Wednesday.
- US visits to Print Media websites increased 3% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 5% versus the previous Wednesday.
- US visits to News Media websites overall increased 2% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 8% versus the previous Wednesday.
- Yahoo! Sports - World Cup 2010 website received the most visits, 32.36%, among Soccer sites on Wednesday.
- Yahoo! Sports - World Cup 2010 website visits increased 21% on Wednesday versus Tuesday.
- FIFA.com website visits increased 23% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 75% versus the previous Wednesday.
- ESPN Soccernet website visits increased 45% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 94% versus the previous Wednesday.
- ESPN3.com website visits increased 25% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 45% versus the previous Wednesday.
- FoxSports Soccer website visits increased 25% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 45% versus the previous Wednesday.
- Twitter.com visits increased 4% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. (note - does not include traffic from 3rd party applications)
- Facebook.com visits increased 1% on Wednesday versus Tuesday.

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June 24, 2010 11:12 AM

WhitePages upgrades business search, adds "store finder"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle online directory service WhitePages.com unveiled a big upgrade to its business search today, aiming to offer simplified search results for people looking for nearby businesses and stores.

The company's drawing on a database of 15 million business directory listings and 1 million store locations in the U.S. It's also adding social features for sharing business listings by email or text messages, and the ability to directly save them to Outlook.

It also begins the searches with a guess about the searcher's location based on IP address, so my search for "Starbucks stores" showed 118 nearby in the downtown Seattle area. A similar Google search returned the location of a Starbucks in North Bend.

A Starbucks store search at WhitePages.com:
whitepages-sbx.jpg

A similar search at Google:

WhitePages may the easiest option for some business searches, if you're just looking for the phone number or address of a particular business, for instance. But it's a pretty dynamic space, with Google, Bing and others are putting more effort into local business services.

Even WhitePages' business search is evolving. When I did a search for "Seattle Times," the site and accompanying Bing map said the company's in the location of a defunct newspaper along Elliott Way. It actually provided 14 listings for the Times, none of which was shown at its actual location:
whitepages-stimes.jpg

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June 8, 2010 5:08 PM

Google's Matt Cutts on Caffeine index boost, HTML5 and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google search guru Matt Cutts just happened to be in Seattle the day the company announced its new "Caffeine" Web indexing system that's intended to provide 50 percent fresher search results.

"Fundamentally the change is as soon as a document gets crawled boom, it gets indexed," Cutts said at the SMX Advanced search conference, where his audience Q&A is a highlight of the annual event.

Cutts told host Danny Sullivan that the upgrade enables Google to immediately index the results of its Web crawling, rather than updating the index in a staggered process.

"This essentially makes the entire index closer to real time," he said.

He compared the change to going from a bus to a limo.

"Before you might have waited until a bus came by - if you were the document, you'd wait 20 minutes for the bus to come. Now its like the document walks out the front door and there's a limo waiting for it."

Here's how Google's announcement explained the change:

Our old index had several layers, some of which were refreshed at a faster rate than others; the main layer would update every couple of weeks. To refresh a layer of the old index, we would analyze the entire web, which meant there was a significant delay between when we found a page and made it available to you.


With Caffeine, we analyze the web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally. As we find new pages, or new information on existing pages, we can add these straight to the index. That means you can find fresher information than ever before -- no matter when or where it was published.

Questions from the audience included, is there anything new with HTML5 and Caffeine?

Cutts said HTML5 is "completely unrelated" to caffeine. "But, as part of the switchover to the caffeine indexing system we are looking at ways to improve our HTLM parsing ... and might be able to help with HTML5."

Sullivan asked Cutts how the new interface "that Google stole from Bing" is working out.

"It's working out well for me as a user," Cutts said, noting the site's redesign uses a lot of math to figure out the right information to display in its left column.

"What we have seen in all the testing we have done and the usage is it looks good."

Sullivan prompted Cutts to talk about Google Buzz, which Cutts compared to Twitter in its early days when people weren't sure what to do with the service.

"I think there's this period where after awhile you get hooked," Cutts said.

For several months Cutts didn't do much with Buzz but he's using it more, finding it "fits between something I just want to tweet like a link and a full-fledged blog post," he said.

The two bantered about Bing here and there.

Mentioning the weather results that Bing returns, showing graphics that can push actual search results below the fold, Cutts said, "It seems like a lot of engines, they just want to show you the pretty stuff."

"A lot of engines?" Sullivan interjected. "Who's that? The other two..."

Cutts was also asked whether Google will get rid of the indents in search results, which Sullivan said could get more links higher in results.

"We've done tests," Cutts said, adding that "It's something we look at" but Google hasn't yet decided it makes sense to get rid of indents.

The audience was mixed, with some booing at the suggestion indents be removed, sowing seeds of tech's next great controversy.

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June 8, 2010 10:55 AM

Deal of the day: Free Microsoft Office on SkyDrive open to public

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hands-down, the best deal on the Web today is Microsoft's SkyDrive combined with the free online version of its Office apps.

This package has been available to beta testers for a while, but Microsoft today opened it up to the general public (in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Ireland).

In returning for signing in to Microsoft's Live service, you get 25 gigabytes of online storage -- basically a hard drive in the cloud -- where you can now create, edit, save and share Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files.

All for free, with no commitments or software to install.

It's as easy, if not easier, than using Office on the desktop. To create a Word document, for instance, you click the big Word icon in your browser and start typing. The document is saved to SkyDrive and accessible from different computers.

If you own a recent version of Office, you can click the "Open in Word" button and the file you've been working with online opens up in your desktop application. No cutting and pasting or dragging, it just works (after you've entered your log in information).

You can work on the document on the desktop, hit save and it syncs with the online version -- so the changes you made offline appear online as well.

Here's a quick walk through. To create a document, click the Office icon that appears on your "SkyDrive desktop" (I added the blue arrow ...):

skydriveoffice.jpg

Here's the online version of Word in action:

WordSkyDrive.jpg

If you click "share," you get a great slider tool for setting permission (Facebook ought to license this interface ...):

SkyDrive share.jpg

You're also able to access them via smartphones, though the Android-based Evo I'm using froze when I tried to open a Web Word doc. First it said there were problems with the site's security certificate, then I had to "force close" the operating system. Hmmm:

officeandroid.jpg

I had slightly better luck on the Windows Mobile 6.5-based HD2. I could get to the site but it was painful - every time I saved or did anything I had to install security certificates (why do I need "mktplassets-ssl.xbox.com, tiles" to run this?) and handling a document on the touchscreen was too tricky for me.

hd2sky.jpg

My quick take: It's magic on the desktop but the mobile story is a work in progress. Maybe it needs Windows Phone 7.

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June 3, 2010 11:12 AM

D8: AOL boss on local push, chasing clicks and Bebo

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- AOL was overly focused on a few metrics -- gross revenue and page views -- according to Tim Armstrong, who left Google to become AOL's chief executive last year.

Now the venerable portal is remaking itself, in part by developing a sort of digital newspaper with local coverage and ad sales in cities across the country.

In an interview with Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital Conference, Armstrong explained how he's rebuilding the Web company and pushing to build local news portals in more than 65 cities. Earlier in his career he was a marketing executive at Starwave in Bellevue.

"I think it's bringing together journalism and technology," he said.

The company is going into towns and "digitizing" them by assembling a collection of local Web sites and assigning a full-time reporter to add local coverage. It's also offering new systems for local advertisers, he said.

"We're more focused on journalism in general, which is how do you figure out what people's needs are," he said.

When he first joined AOL he found it was "managed on gross revenue and page views." Chasing page views affected decisions the company made, such as "photo galleries with 80 photos" and the ill-fated acquisition of social networking site Bebo for $850 million in 2008.

Armstrong said Bebo's now going to be sold or shut down.

Although AOL and Armstrong have history with Google, AO i's reviewing which search engine to use when its search partnership with Google expires later this year.

"I think there's probably more than two potential partners," he said.

Swisher asked if AOL is still relevant and whether Armstrong can revive the brand, which is suffering the same sort of fate as MySpace.

"There is a warm fuzzy feeling about AOL for the vast majority of people who don't work in our industry," Armstrong said.

That brand is worth reviving, which the 4,700-person company has to do by showing people better services and products, he said.

"I believe AOL will be a very successful company in the future," he said.

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May 4, 2010 5:14 PM

Mee-ow! Check out Mariners' Cheezburger bobblehead

Posted by Brier Dudley

This has to be the geekiest collectors' item since the Pets.com sock puppet.

It's the Cheezburger Night Bobblehead that's being given away at the Mariners' June 3 game against the Twins, during a promotion sponsored by Seattle Web sensation Icanhascheezburger.com.

Only 1,500 of the jiggly kitties are being given away starting at 5:10 to holders of special Cheezburger tickets.

cheezburger_bobble.jpg

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March 25, 2010 10:58 AM

Video: "Big Fish Babes" on "Today Show"

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Big Fish Babes I profiled last summer are still together and were highlighted this morning on "The Today Show," which included video taken at Seattle's Big Fish Games, the company whose casual titles brought the group of women together.

Here's the original story about the Babes and the "Today" video:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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March 15, 2010 1:37 PM

Report: Facebook overtakes Google.com in U.S.

Posted by Brier Dudley

Experian Hitwise is reporting that Facebook hit a big milestone and passed Google to become the most-visited U.S. Web site during the week that ended March 13.

The research firm said Facebook's share of visits grew 185 percent last week compared with the same period in 2009. Google.com visits grew 9 percent. The two sites accounted for 14 percent of U.S. Internet visits last week, it noted.

facebookgoog.JPG

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March 10, 2010 2:45 PM

Fishkin's hard look at ROI of Twitter, social media

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm a little late writing about this, but I keep thinking about a blog entry that Seattle SEO guru Rand Fishkin posted a few days ago, analyzing the ROI on social media marketing.

Fishkin said the traffic and response from using Twitter, Facebook and other community sites is immediate and gratifying. But he warns that they can drain time and energy away from other online efforts with greater monetary payback.

His hypothesis is that most marketers engaging in social media aren't doing it because it produces greater return on investment "but because the metrics are more immediately tangible and emotionally rewarding."

Of course, Fishkin is in the business of supporting search engine marketers, but it's still a thoughtful take on the currently hyped phenomenon. An excerpt:

Social media engagement, whether it's building a name for yourself on Twitter, growing your connections on Facebook, increasing the number of followers on Digg or ratcheting up your popularity in a niche service or forum, produces some very compelling results. Changing some title tags, tweaking internal links or writing an article on a boring, business-relevant subject may bring more direct financial ROI per hour invested, but the metrics don't FEEL as emotionally rewarding.

Twitter generated 14,928 visits to his site during one period (compared with 666,642 from Google) that he shared to support his theory.

"That's huge, right?


Here's the problem... It's also the lowest converting traffic of any referral source -- less than half that of aggregate Google referrals.

I grant that direct referrals are never the whole story, and that there is real branding, marketing and user acquisition value to the traffic, participation and effort spent in social media. What I worry about is whether these intangibles are worth the expenditure."

Comments | Category: Facebook , Startups , Twitter , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 8, 2010 1:54 PM

Allrecipes fires up "Man Tested Recipes," Dude Food contest

Posted by Brier Dudley

Beef, bacon, beer and butter figure heavily at ManTestedRecipes.com, a site launched today by Seattle's Allrecipes.com.

Naturally the launch sponsor is Seattle-based Bacon Salt. I'm guessing Lipitor will be next.

Allrecipes Chief Executive Lisa Sharples said the new site is "the genuine voice of men and what they want in food."

"Our research shows men genuinely enjoy cooking but have uniquely masculine interests and tastes; they deserve a dedicated and authentic community to connect with each other," she said in the release.

The site is similar to Allrecipes' user-generated format but with more social features for friendly men, such as tagging, friending and following. Users also get a "fridge" similar to a Facebook wall, on which people can post messages.

To get things going, there's a "Dude Food" recipe contest through April 30, encouraging visitors to "boast about your roast" and compete for a $500 prize.

manfood.JPG

Allrecipes said the site was inspired by market research, including comScore findings that 36 percent of community food site visitors are male and Allrecipes findings that 70 percent of men "were more interested in visiting a men's food site than a general food site," the release said.

Other findings from its research, pulled from the release:

Continue reading this post ...


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March 8, 2010 12:03 PM

Google Labs visualizes Seattle's Tableau with "Data Explorer"

Posted by Brier Dudley

A month after Seattle's Tableau Software launched a free online tool for creating and sharing dynamic data visualization charts, Google Labs has announced a free online tool for creating and sharing dynamic data visualization charts.

Like Tableau Public, Google's "Public Data Explorer" comes as the federal government is posting huge buckets of data online through its Data.gov transparency project, stoking demand for tools to analyze and present the information.

But there are a few big differences in what's being offered to end users.

Google's experiment is relatively closed and seems aimed at building partnerships with public agencies as much as providing free Web tools. At this point its tools can only be used to analyze a handful of datasets that Google's procured from public sources. Google's asking agencies to suggest additional data that it can upload and publish on its platform.

Tableau already has partnerships with agencies using its commercial visualization tools in-house. The free public version released last month is more open than Google's and can be used on any data. Users of the free version also have to share the underlying data via the visualization, while Google's tool doesn't yet allow the data to be downloaded directly.

Here's an example of a visualization created with Google's new tool:

Here's a Tableau Public visualization blending unemployment with venture capital and housing data:

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February 23, 2010 2:14 PM

Bellevue startup Strings launches "social tracking" service

Posted by Brier Dudley

A former Microsoft engineer's longtime vision for a user-centered Web service is launching today at Strings.com.

Strings creates "personalized activity streams" by tracking users' Web activity so they can share and organize their online media consumption. A key difference with similar services is that Strings isn't advertising funded and won't disclose user activity to advertisers, the company said.

Founder Edward Balassanian left Microsoft in 1995 to start BeComm, a predecessor company focused on digital media. A year ago he restarted the self-funded venture in earnest and now employs 15 people working on Strings.

"The whole premise was the Web is so noisy," he said. "The best way to filter all the noise is for some automated system to understand 'me' intimately."

The service is free to end-users. Strings will make money from product purchases made through the site and later may monetize the service by helping commerce sites tailor product recommendations.

Balassanian hopes to have 100,000 Strings users within a year, and plans to open up the service for application developers to build upon.

(But first he'll have to beef up the site, which was overwhelmed by traffic on its debut ...)

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February 23, 2010 10:57 AM

Seattle startup list shows newcomers, Survey Analytics jumps

Posted by Brier Dudley

Survey Analytics' contracts providing interactivity tools to the federal government gave the company a big boost on the monthly ranking of Seattle Web startups produced by Seattle 2.0.

Survey Analytics rose three spots to fifth place, with an estimated reach of 1.8 million unique visitors. Still on the top are Cheezburger Network, Zillow, BuddyTV and Picnik.

List curator Marcelo Calbucci reports eight new companies on the list: Tanga, Amaranth Games, Tweeajob, Foonthu, BigRuby, WebOnyx (SIX), Hooked In Motion (iCollect Movies) and iVersant (Contactize).

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February 12, 2010 1:30 PM

Google pulls Vancouver luge crash video off YouTube, still up elsewhere

Posted by Brier Dudley

The horrific luge crash in Vancouver today won't get much play on YouTube: Google quickly removed uploaded film clips at the request of the International Olympic Committee, activating its copy-protection tools.

Attempts to play YouTube videos of the crash at YouTube.com or embedded on other sites return a message saying "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by International Olympic Committee."

It's not unusual for Google to pull copyrighted material from YouTube but it may be the first major, public copyright protection of the Vancouver Olympics, during which the IOC and broadcasters are taking extra steps to control access to coverage.

luge.JPG

The same clip was still up at video-sharing site Vimeo a few moments ago.

UPDATE: Google spokesman Scott Rubin declined to comment on the specific videos but noted YouTube relies on users and copyright holders to flag videos of concern.

"We approach each video individually, and we do not prescreen content. Instead, we count on our community members to know the Guidelines and to flag videos they think violate them. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that a video does break the rules, we remove it, usually in under an hour," he said via e-mail.

Google also provides tools for owners of copyrighted content "to claim their materials and to resolve any disputes, per DMCA rules."

UPDATE 2: I just heard from a Fox affiliate in Sacramento where the news director said "we felt we had a fair use argument and the public should see the potential dangers on the track." He noted that CNN also decided to distribute the video.

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February 11, 2010 12:00 AM

Tableau rolls out free data visualization tools for Web

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of companies start out offering free products on the Web and then move to premium, paid versions.

Seattle's Tableau Software is going the other direction. After building a strong business selling data visualization tools to corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations, Tableau decided to give away a free version for use on the Web.

The software, available today at Tableaupublic.com, is a set of tools for building interactive graphics based on spreadsheet data. Interactivity depends on the features added, but these are the types of graphics that dynamically change as you click to analyze and explore the data.

Graphics built with Tableau Public can be embedded into blogs and Web sites and shared online. Also made available are the underlying sets of data; if users want to restrict use of the graphics or the data they'll have to upgrade to paid versions of Tableau that start at $1,000.

Chief Executive Christian Chabot hopes that Tableau's free tools will help data become a "first class citizen" on the Web, similar to the way tools such as YouTube advanced online video.

"Data on the Web is like video in 1997," he said.

Chabot, 38, co-founded Tableau after its tools were initially developed with Defense Department funding at Stanford University. The Fremont-based company moved to Seattle in 2003 and now employs 105.

Sales grew 55 percent last year to more than $20 million. Chabot expects to hire another 50 people this year and offer shares in the company in three to five years.

"Our plan is to take it public and employ thousands of people in Seattle,'' he said.

In the meantime, Chabot's hoping Tableau's free tools will raise awareness of its products and help people better understand data.

Sharing a free version online was encouraged by Adobe co-founder Chuck Geschke, who joined Tableau's board in 2007, Chabot said.

Chabot is especially enthusiastic about seeing Tableau Public used to analyze data the federal government is increasingly sharing through new transparency initiatives.

"It is for the public at large to use with public information for the public good,'' he said.

Here's a Tableau Public graphic that Chabot built using TechCrunch data to show where VC's funded companies in 2009. You can explore the graphic and change the display by clicking on the various modules:



Here's another example, in which the Pan American Health Organization presented detailed information about the Haiti earthquake:

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February 10, 2010 11:59 AM

Cheezburger empire launches new site, with funny graffiti

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cute kitty tycoon Ben Huh's getting edgier with his latest pop culture Web site - HackedIRL - celebrating snarky graffiti.

Its tagline: "Truth in Sarcasm."

The name means "Hacked in Real Life," Huh explained in a Twitter post.

I guess that's better than IcanhasSharpie.

A sample:

hackedirl.jpg

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February 8, 2010 11:45 AM

Vancouver Olympics online video: The cableization of the Web?

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Today's column looks at the online broadcast of the Vancouver Olympics and how it may preview cable TV business practices coming to the Web. This version also includes some images from my testing.)

You'd think the Vancouver Olympics would be a great time to shift from viewing the games on TV to viewing them online.

NBC is delaying broadcasts of major events until prime time, and Canadian TV coverage is largely unavailable here this year.

Networks instead are delivering live event coverage online, plus on-demand replays, in high-definition video using a special Web player built by Microsoft.

This comes as all sorts of new gadgets are making it easier to display Web video on a TV.

Some 52 million people watched 600 million minutes of the Beijing Olympics online in 2008, and Vancouver's Web video will be even better, streaming in 720p high-def with better controls to pause, fast-forward and rewind.

It sounds terrific, and some may find it's the best way to watch the Games.

But don't expect an online utopia, free from the shackles that networks, cable companies and the Olympics organizers put on event coverage.

Although the technology for streaming video is getting better, it's also enabling content owners to apply more restrictions and controls to online video.

In some ways, online broadcasts of the Vancouver Olympics preview what's coming from media companies, as they explore ways to charge for online content that used to be free.

This will be apparent when you try to watch a Vancouver event live online at NBCOlympics.com, the Games' official, exclusive broadcaster in the U.S.

For the first time, viewers will have to prove that they subscribe to premium-cable service to access "live and full-event replay video."

During previous Olympic Games, you only had to provide a Zip code to identify yourself as a cable customer.

This time, you've got to register for access through your cable or satellite company, which checks to see that you have a cable package that includes MSNBC and CNBC.

login.JPG

People without cable or those who subscribe only to limited basic cable can watch video highlights, commentary and feature stories at the site, but not live events or full replays. The delivery system has progressed from a ski jump to a bobsled course.

msnbc required.JPG

It's basically the cable model extending to the Web, where improved authentication systems enable broadcasters to limit the really good stuff to paying subscribers. If this is what NBC does now, I can't wait to see what it's like after Comcast finishes acquiring the network.

Maybe I'm being crotchety.

The vast majority of people still prefer to watch the Games on TV, and most online viewers watch only the highlights that are available to everyone, according to Perkins Miller, digital-media senior vice president at NBC Sports and Olympics.

NBC's research after the Beijing Olympics found that 93 to 95 percent of people would rather watch the Games on a TV than a PC.

"Given a choice that's what they want ... they've got the big screen, they've got the couch, they've got the fridge," Miller said.

Miller believes the online broadcast is complementary - something people do when they can't get to the TV - as opposed to competing with regular TV broadcasts.

But he's not stuck waiting until prime time to see events happening earlier in the day in Vancouver. For those who can't wait, or who want to see more than NBC chooses to broadcast, online video becomes must-see TV.

The exclusive Olympics broadcaster in Canada, CTV, appears to be a bit less strict about checking whether you have premium cable. But its live video and full-event replays are restricted to people whose computers have Canadian Internet protocol addresses.

If you're willing to fudge during the sign-in process and spoof your IP address, you may be able to connect through a proxy server in Canada, but you'll have to find one that's fast enough to handle the video.

The easiest part may be connecting your TV to the Web. Most new PCs have powerful enough graphics and outputs for connecting directly to a TV, and you can buy a tiny home-theater PC for under $400 nowadays.

One option is the new "WiDi" wireless display technology that Intel, Netgear and Best Buy announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

In preparation for the Olympics, I've been trying an $899 bundle from Best Buy that includes a Toshiba laptop with built-in WiDi and a hand-sized Netgear "Push2TV," which fits behind the TV.

The wireless system is a breeze and a nice feature to have on a new PC. After connecting the receiver with an HDMI cable, it connects by pushing a button on the laptop. Whatever is on the laptop screen then appears on the TV, with audio.

Watching videos streamed from NBCOlympics.com worked pretty well over my slow DSL broadband. There wasn't buffering but there were some jagged edges during fast action.

But the Olympics' "full-screen" playback isn't quite as promised.

I was hoping for a true full-screen display, as you would get from YouTube and Hulu.com. Olympics videos are shown inside a PC-like media player frame, with a banner ad permanently appearing on the upper right corner of the screen.

Here's a screen shot of what appeared on my TV when using the WiDi setup:

frame.JPG

NBC is trying to strike a balance between entertaining users and making sure companies paying for the coverage get exposure, Miller said. He's hoping the quality of video is so good the "frame won't be a distraction."

You'll get a similar frame if you find a way into CTV's Olympics video stream.

I'm stubborn about not paying for premium cable so maybe I'll just keep the WiDi pointed at Hulu.com until it starts charging, and hope for the best from the London Games in 2012.

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February 1, 2010 2:37 PM

Web marketer mania: SEOmoz shuffle, BlueKai cash and a rant

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few online marketer moves that went down today:

-- Seattle search engine optimization company SEOmoz is backing out of the consulting business so it can focus on developing software for online marketers. SEOmoz passed its $1 million yearly consulting business to British SEO firm Distilled, which is setting up a Seattle office.

The move takes a load off SEOmoz founder Rand Fishkin and clears up any awkwardness caused by SEOmoz's selling software and services to SEO consultants, while doing consulting itself.

Fishkin said in his blog that his company is preparing to release several new tools and a new software platform this summer.

-- BlueKai, a Seattle firm that provides online advertising data to marketers and publishers, raised $21 million in its third funding round from GGV Capital, plus previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Battery Ventures. Its previous two rounds raised a total of $13.7 million.

BlueKai described itself in the release as "the online industry's largest intent-focused, auction-based data exchange."

-- Their moves were perhaps overshadowed by a NSFW blog rant by Silicon Valley startup investor and adviser Dave McClure.

He's the latest pundit to point out that the companies drank too much Google Kool-Aid and spent too much time chasing eyeballs and clicks over the last decade and it's time for them to build businesses based on selling subscriptions.

A few excerpts:

Everyone seems to have assumed that since Yahoo and Google were giants in internet advertising, therefore all internet startups should be using some form of CPM or CPC ad-monetization.

THIS IS A VERY LARGE LEMMING-LIKE ERROR IN LOGIC THAT MUST BE CORRECTED IMMEDIATELY.

We have largely WASTED an entire web decade of time, energy & venture capital on extremely inefficient revenue models.

On subscriptions:

ASSERTION #2: The default startup business model for 2010 & beyond will be subscriptions and transactions (e-commerce, digital goods).

Newsflash folks: The Internet does NOT want to be FREE... It wants to GET PAID on F**** Friday, just like everybody else on the damn planet.

More:

Free is not Forever, unless you never want to be in control of your own fate.

Gradually we are discovering that the default revenue model on the internet should probably be the simplest one -- that is: basic transactions for physical or digital goods, and recurring transactions (aka subscriptions) for repeat usage.

Let me say that one more time so you don't miss it.

Get Dem Bitches to *PAY* You, G.

(Can someone get McClure to speak at the next newspaper industry convention?)

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November 30, 2009 11:51 AM

Cyber Monday madness: Web retail traffic up 39 percent

Posted by Brier Dudley

Akamai has fascinating dashboard showing how crazy the cyber Monday traffic has become: It's approaching 8 million visitors per minute -- 39 percent higher than normal -- at the company's sample of 270 global e-commerce sites:

akamai.JPG

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November 19, 2009 10:55 AM

Startup fever returns? Seattle adds 17 new companies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle 2.0's monthly list of Web startups has one significant change this month - 17 new companies appeared in October, compiler Marcelo Calbucci reports.

The list gets an average of six new companies a month but startup activity has picked up in the last four months, he said.

New startups on the list include: HasOffers, BigStartups, Team Apart, Boxoh.com, EnergySavvy.com, Couchsoft (Mentby), Osnapz, Social Kind (TweetToCall, Escape My Date), Fotozio (PicTranslator), Adometry (Veracity), Qbiki Networks (iPhoneSeattle), HotelsOutlook, BuzzMinder (2Reminders), Splitts.com, Data Applied, Baldy Beanbag (The Big Magoo) and Megosi.

The top ranked sites, traffic-wise, remain the same:

1. Cheezburger Network

2. Zillow

3. Picnik

4. BuddyTV

5. Wetpaint

6. Robot Co-Op

7. Survey Analytics

8. ActiveRain

9. PayScale

10. SEOmoz


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November 18, 2009 6:41 PM

WTIA predictions for 2010: Twitter bashing, Google at $720, MSFT to $40

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Washington Technology Industry Association held its annual predictions dinner tonight at the Grand Hyatt in Seattle, with a group of tech entrepreneurs and investors sharing a few thoughts on what may happen in 2010.

Speakers include Greg Gottesman, managing director of Madrona Venture Group; Bill Bryant, venture partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson; Redfin Chief Executive Glenn Kelman; Curious Office founding partner Kelly Smith and entrepreneur and investor Andy Sack. John Cook of the Puget Sound Business Journal's tech blog moderated.

A few of their predictions:

How does Twitter make money?

Kelman: Charge for search. "In general, I think that Twitter is overvalued. I think people are paying too much attention to Twitter and not enough to Facebook."

Sack: Twitter's going to make more money than Facebook in 2010. "It is a promotional vehicle. ... I think the potential to make more revenue dollars is with Twitter."

Bryant: "Twitter's not mainstream and the traffic numbers suggest it's not going to be."

Gottesman: "I'm not sure how much money they can make but my sense is there's a lot of buyers out there who have a perception they could do a lot more than Twitter" than twitter itself as a relatively small startup.

Smith: "Twitter's going to sell a bill of goods to a buyer with deep pockets ... it's going to be absorbed by a big company" and "go nowhere."

Google's stock price at the end of 2010?

Sack: $701.

Smith: $720. The Google phone "is going to go crazy."

Gottesman: About where it is now (around $577).

Kelman: $650, driven by enterprise products.

Bryant: $500. "To me Google is still a one-trick pony."

Where will Microsoft's stock be at the end of 2010 and will Ballmer still be CEO then?

Sack: $31.75, Ballmer stays.

Kelman: $32, Ballmer stays.

Gottesman: About where it is today after a Windows 7 run-up. Ballmer stays.

Smith: $40. "Windows 7 is a giant step forward for them."

Bryant: It will at least touch $40. Win7 Mobile, Azure and desktop factors.

Amazon.com is at around $130. Where will it be?

Sack: I think AMZN is a juggernaut. $155-160.

Kelman: I'd second that. I think it's the most entrenched brand on the Internet.

Gottesman: Around where it is today - the market feels rich to me now.

Smith: Probably $150.

Bryant: $152, after buying Netflix, Blockbuster and Hulu.

Mergers and acquisitions happening around here in 2010?

Gottesman: Microsoft buys RIM, Cisco buys F5.

Sack: Picnik will get purchased by Adobe, Icanhascheezburger will be bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Smith: Adobe adds analytics.

Bryant: Every mid-size technology company ... will likely be acquired in the next few years.

When will Chinese companies start gobbling up U.S. technology companies?

Smith: I don't think it's going to be a factor in 2010.

Gottesman: I don't know if it will be 2010 but in the next couple of years they'll be a force to reckon with.

Bryant: Domestic markets are so robust in China you don't have to look outside the borders for growth opportunities.

What is going to be the dominant cloud architecture in 2010 and going forward?

Gottesman: Next year, Amazon.

Kelman: I think Google's going to deploy more resources than Amazon.

Smith: It's going to be Google on price, Amazon on features and flexibility and Microsoft's always going to be more interesting for people deploying on Windows infrastructure.

What sort of startup would you invest $2 million in during 2010?

Smith: I would start a fun, online site that basically is a music creation service in the cloud - pro-tools in the cloud for consumers.

Sack: Put it in Founders Co-op and invest in three or four - $2 million today is too much to start a company with. I like P.R. 2.0, lead-generation companies and healthcare.

Gottesman: Location-based entertainment - experiences you can have in the physical world but with your mobile phone.

Kelman: I'd start a newspaper. I think more people are reading more than ever before. In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years .... every community is going to need it's own authoritative voice, people will pay for that authoritative voice.

Bryant: Augmented reality, combining that with location-based services.

What ideas would you shoot down?

New social networks, iPhone Apps, video management.

What new consumer platforms may emerge in 2010?

Gottesman: Google on mobile devices in 2010 could be huge.

Sack: Crowdsourcing will transform radio, TV and video.

Kelman: Someone sooner or later needs to challenge Microsoft's living room franchise.

Smith: Games are too expensive - gravity is pulling the cost of the gaming experience to basically zero.

Will mobile web change so it's a mobile web experience versus an app experience?

Sack: Let's hope so.

Smith: It's not going to happen anytime soon in terms of the process being easy. For the forseeable future you're going to have to work hard to make stripped down duplicatory experiences for the mobile phone.

Kelman: Developers want to work on mobile apps. They're going to do cool things and then the money's going to follow.

What's going to happen with power meter graphing services from Microsoft and Google?

Gottesman: I think there's an opportunity there.

Sack: The price of oil has to go back up.

Kelman: I worry about green tech being emphasized more in Silicon Valley than Seattle. No one has really been interested in green tech here.

Gottesman: There is some cool stuff going on at the University of Washington.

Big, bold prediction for 2010?

Kelman: There's an enormous amount of pressure from investors on startups to sell, not to build them.

Gottesman: It depends on who you're talking to.

Smith: Venture capital market's concept of "our business is built on big hits" will change to "our business is built on base hits."

Gottesman: Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl.

Bryant: Cisco buys Dell.

Sack: Microsoft buys Twitter and New England will win the Super Bowl.

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November 16, 2009 10:52 AM

Majority of consumers would pay for online news, study says

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wish I'd had this study in hand for today's column on the decline of free content and other Web freebies coming in 2010:

More than half of consumers are willing to pay for news online, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group that's likely to be referred to a lot as media and Web companies finalize their 2010 plans.

The firm surveyed 5,000 people in nine countries to find out what they would pay for online news, among other things. It said the average amount ranges from a low of $3 a month in the U.S. and Australia to a high of $7 in Italy.

"The good news is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, consumers are willing to pay for meaningful content. The bad news is that they are not willing to pay much. But cumulatively, these payments could help offset one to three years of anticipated declines in advertising revenue," John Rose, a senior partner in the firm, said in the release.

Rose told The New York Times that willingness to pay is lower in the U.S. compared to other countries because it has so much free online content available.

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October 12, 2009 9:00 PM

Marchex offering online reputation tools to small businesses

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle online marketing company Marchex is joining the growing cluster of "reputation management" vendors with a new service it's announcing today.

Marchex built a console for small businesses to monitor how they're being described in online reviews, on blogs and on social networking services. The console -- built on top of the Web index Marchex uses for marketing services -- also lets users watch for keywords and compare their online reputation with that of competitors.

Marchex Rep Mgmt Overview.jpg

Continue reading this post ...


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September 17, 2009 12:09 PM

HP's new touch Tablet: Windows 7 ultimate remote?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hewlett-Packard announced today a new wireless, touchscreen tablet that's a cross between a wireless photo frame and a super duper remote control.

A 10-inch diagonal model lists for $250 and a 13-incher is $299.

DreamScreenA.JPG

It looks like a great accessory for Windows 7 PCs, if its streaming features work with the new Windows Media Player.

I wonder if the tablet could work as an a/v device, similar to the Sonos and Logitech Squeezebox, to stream music from a home network to a stereo receiver (although it only has a headphone audio output connection) or control music on a PC linked somehow to a stereo.

In addition to handling music, the DreamScreen plays videos, displays photos and streams Facebook updates.

Persistent rumors suggest Apple may introduce a similar device early next year, although I'd bet Apple's will have more computing power, so it can run iTunes and apps.

DreamScreens devices are pretty close to the Mira hardware concept that Microsoft briefly pushed in 2002, but it makes more sense now that wireless home networks are more common and the hardware cost has fallen below $300.

Microsoft has worked on a variety of lightweight devices to display information from a PC and information services, and smaller companies like Chumby have tried selling gadgets that display widgets similiar to those on a PC desktop.

Yet the closest thing to a hit in the category has the digital photo frame, which generally has sub-par software.

Here are the DreamScreen specs:

Display: Widescreen (10.2") 15:9 aspect ratio
Display Resolution: 800 x 480 pixels
Built-in memory: 2GB (1.5GB approximate available space)
I/O: USB Port, Memory Card Reader, Headphone output
Memory Cards Supported: Compact Flash® I/II + Micro Drive + Secure Digital/Secure
Digital High Capacity + Memory Stick™ & Memory Stick Pro™ + xD Picture Card™
Audio: Built-in high-fidelity speakers
Networking: 10/100 LAN & Wireless 802.11 b/g
Media Files Supported:
Video File Formats: MPEG 1, 2, 4, H.264
Photo File Formats: JPEG, PNG, BMP
Audio File Formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV

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July 31, 2009 12:00 PM

Martin Tobias less Kashless, sells QA pad for $4.3 million

Posted by Brier Dudley

Serial entrepreneur Martin Tobias finally unloaded his swish south Queen Anne house, selling it for $4.3 million to a Florida biotech executive.

Tobias worked at Microsoft before starting Loudeye Technologies, joining Ignition Partners and leading biofuel venture Imperium Renewables until just before it scuttled its IPO.

Most recently, Tobias started a Web site called Kashless where people can list free stuff they're trying to get rid of, a bit like the free listings service on Craigslist.

Along the way Tobias built a modern house on West Prospect Street, not far from Queen Anne's Kerry Park viewpoint.

The four bedroom, 3.5 bath house, featured in this Pacific Northwest magazine spread, included 10-foot-tall glass doors and an acrylic staircase. Here's a pic by our Benjamin Benschneider:

c_Tobias_living1.JPG

Last summer the place was listed for $5.9 million, but sat on the market through the economic downturn. King County values it at $2.65 million.

King County records show that Tobias sold the house a week ago to Brent Stiefel.

It turns out he's the same Brent Stiefel whose family sold its Florida-based dermatology drug company to GlaxoSmithKline for $3.6 billion in April.

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July 29, 2009 2:57 PM

Web usage flattens, traditional media hold steady

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another huge assumption about the Web and its perpetual growth was thrown out the window by Forrester Research.

The firm said the amount of time people spend online has leveled off, at around 12 hours per week.

Meanwhile, the usage of traditional media -- including TV, radio, newspapers and magazines -- has also leveled off after giving up ground to the Web earlier in the decade. Glad to hear usage of print media has held steady over the past year.

Online, people are getting more efficient about getting the information they need, a Forrester analyst said.

Internet usage soared initially as people were learning their way around, back in the days of "hard-core surfing, people just floating through the internet, not really sure what they were looking for, but just spending time looking around," Forrester's Jackie Rousseau-Anderson told Advertising Age.

"Now people's use is more defined. People who have been online awhile understand how to use the Internet sufficiently and can maximize the time they have to spend on it. They generally know which sites they are going to when they log in."

No wonder Microsoft's casting Bing as "decision engine" to help people find or learn something specific.

(I came across this piece just looking around, after Ad Age's strong reporting on the Microsoft-Yahoo deal drew me to its site ...)

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July 14, 2009 5:00 AM

WhitePages launches $2.5 million overhaul

Posted by Brier Dudley

Making a big bet on continued growth, Seattle-based WhitePages.com sank $2.5 million into a complete rebuild of its site, including new hardware, database, networking and a complete migration to the Ruby on Rails platform.

Continue reading this post ...


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July 9, 2009 9:12 PM

"Naked" highlights, Mike Arrington vs Fred Wilson on Twitter

Posted by Brier Dudley

It could have been 2007, or 1997, tonight at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Continue reading this post ...


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July 9, 2009 5:30 PM

Live video from "Naked Truth" event

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a live feed from the "The Naked Truth: Show Me the Money" event, via Seattle 2.0.

The panel discussion of online revenue models for online consumer services is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. tonight.






allowscriptaccess="always" id="utv755599b" name="utv_n_116962" src="http://www.ustream.tv/flash/live/1/511828"
type="application/x-shockwave-flash" />

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July 9, 2009 2:33 PM

Seattle 2.0 launches video channel, in time to get "Naked"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle online tech site Seattle 2.0 today added a new video channel that's going to include original content such as interviews and event coverage and shared clips gathered from the Web.

"Seattle 2.0 TV" is more than just a bunch of embedded Flash clips, according to Seattle 2.0 founder Marcelo Calbucci.

Continue reading this post ...


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April 29, 2009 1:12 PM

Microsoft taps Wetpaint for new MSN entertainment fan sites

Posted by Brier Dudley

A nice cross-lake collaboration: Microsoft's MSN group is building new entertainment fan sites using the community-interactivity tools from Seattle's Wetpaint.

You'd think Microsoft would have Web 2.0-type interactivity tools on the shelf, but Wetpaint has been doing this sort of thing for big media companies like Showtime, HBO and Fox.

MSN will introduce more than 24 Wetpaint-powered fan sites this year, starting this quarter, the release said. The group's been tinkering with its entertainment offerings, testing different configurations of the portal that place a higher emphasis on the topic.

In the release, MSN Director Lisa Gurry said it's a "new fan-driven initiative on MSN Entertainment where the fans do the writing, meet each other and share their interests."

The release quote from Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz said, in part: "With their SuperFan initiative, MSN recognizes the power of the voices of fans and the ability of this motivated audience to drive buzz and traffic above and beyond static fan pages and message forums."

In the old days, wouldn't MSN have just bought Wetpaint to do this sort of thing?

Elowitz said it was relatively inexpensive for MSN to form the partnership.

"I cetainly want to develop a great relationshp with them and deepen the relationship," he said in an interview.

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April 22, 2009 11:59 PM

Zango goes bango, CEO bankrupt

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a tumultuous decade in business that included a federal judgment against obnoxious Web ad practices, Bellevue Web company Zango was sold last week after a bank foreclosure.

But that's just part of the story.

While fending off banks to which it owed $44 million, Zango was also fighting a lawsuit by a former employee who sued to recover compensation he contended he was owed.

Michael Lockhart won a $4.6 million judgment in January against the company and co-founders Keith Smith and Daniel Todd. Smith and Todd then declared bankruptcy, complicating payment while they appealed the Lockhart case.

Bankruptcy filings by Smith, Zango's chief executive, reveal how much trouble the Web advertising company was in even before Lockhart sued.

Continue reading this post ...


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April 22, 2009 12:00 AM

Mpire-WidgetBucks launches analytics & optimization tools

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle Web startup Mpire has spawned another subsidiary.

The company today is announcing AdXpose, a set of tools for advertisers to analyze and optimize their online advertising campaigns.

AdXpose joins Mpire's WidgetBucks ad network as one of Mpire's primary brands. The company's launching an invite-only beta today, after quietly testing the service with firms such as Atom.com, Jones Soda, Keen Footwear, OpenX, Traffiq and Wetpaint.

Here's an explainer chart provided by Mpire:

adexpose2.JPG

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April 20, 2009 1:40 PM

Annotation for social media rant

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here is some of the material that influenced today's column on Twitter and social media, plus a few other things.

Clay Shirky's blog on the failure of the Amazon.com gay-themed books protest:

I was wrong, because I believed things that weren't true. As bad as that was, though, far worse is the retrofitting of alternate rationales to continue to view Amazon with suspicion, rationales that would not have provoked the outrage we felt had they been all we were asked to react to in the first place.

The New York Times on "ghost twitterers":

In its short history, Twitter -- a microblogging tool that uses 140 characters in bursts of text -- has become an important marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses, promising a level of intimacy never before approached online, as well as giving the public the ability to speak directly to people and institutions once comfortably on a pedestal.

But someone has to do all that writing, even if each entry is barely a sentence long. In many cases, celebrities and their handlers have turned to outside writers -- ghost Twitterers, if you will -- who keep fans updated on the latest twists and turns, often in the star's own voice.

Because Twitter is seen as an intimate link between celebrities and their fans, many performers are not willing to divulge the help they use to put their thoughts into cyberspace.

Bloomberg on Twitter users getting spammed by marketers, tells the story of new Twitter user Rachel Gard:

Gard, who was planning to paint her bedroom gray with red pinstripes, posted an update April 1 telling her friends that she needed to shop for paint at Home Depot, Lowe's or Ace Hardware. Within 15 minutes, Home Depot sent Gard a message on Twitter wishing her luck and telling her to let them know if she needed help.

Days later, when she complained about an ear infection, she got a message from Eardoc, which sells a device for treating ear ailments. The company sent Gard a message saying, "Fast and safe relief for ear infection is Eardoc."

"I was like, 'What?" Gard said. "I was really confused. I didn't even know businesses did that."

From a Los Angeles Times story today warning companies to start Twittering (or hire consultants and P.R. firms?) to protect their brands:

"There's a mob mentality to social tools where people quickly try to put fuel on the fire, really encouraging brand damage and damage to individuals," said Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

A blog entry by Somerville, Mass., programmer Paul Lamere examining how a group of Web enthusiasts were able to precisely manipulate Time magazine's online poll of the world's most influential people. Instead of reflecting public sentiment, the poll, for a time, spelled "marblecake also the game":

It has always seemed to me that such coordinating manipulation was a blunt instrument. The commanded horde could push a specific item to the top of a poll faster than a Kansas school board could lose Darwin's notebook, but the horde lacked any subtlety or finesse. Sure you could promote or demote an individual or issue, but fine tuned manipulation would just be too difficult. Well, I've been proved wrong.

Don't feel too bad for Jeff Bezos getting Twitsmashed for the miscategorization snafu: The Amazon.com boss is hedged -- he's also an investor in Twitter.

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April 14, 2009 1:49 PM

Twitter's killer app? A chair that tweets when you toot

Posted by Brier Dudley

This is a killer app in more ways than one.

It's a chair that automatically notifies friends and followers on Twitter when you cut the cheese, the latest thing in human-computer interface design.

It's pop art, amplified by the 1,249 people who signed up to follow every utterance.

From the intro to the piece at Instructables.com, which I first saw via Gizmodo:

"The Twittering office chair "tweets" (posts a Twitter update) upon the detection of natural gas such as that produced by human flatulence. This is part of my commitment to accurately document and share my life as it happens."

Sounds like it's time for Mike's Chili Parlor in Ballard to join the Twitter marketing craze.

The materials list:

-- Office chair
-- Squidbee TX/RX pair
-- 1/8" piece of acrylic
-- 50K trimpot
-- Natural gas sensor
-- Solid hookup wire
-- Soldering setup
-- Laser cutter (or saw and drill)
-- Razor blade
-- Screwdriver set
-- Drill
-- Nuts and bolts (or screws)
-- Pliers
-- Staple gun
-- Python (software)
-- A Twitter account

Here's a screenshot of the Twitter feed. Looks like it was a foggy morning in San Francisco:

chair.JPG

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April 14, 2009 9:31 AM

Startup roundup: AdReady's new suite, Kelpp underfoot and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a batch of startup announcements:

Seattle's AdReady today announced new premium suites of its online display ad tools - AdReady for Advertisers Premium, AdReady for Agencies and AdReady for Publishers. CEO Aaron Finn said in the release that the comapny is "excited to extend our suite of solutions to larger advertisers, agencies and media owners during a period of time when marketing budgets are lean and dollars spent cannot be wasted."

Two veteran Microsoft software developers have launched their side project: Kelpp, a location-based, social recommendation service. Anthony Chavez and Ram Viswanathan started discussing the concept last summer and began actively developing the self-funded startup earlier this year. Kelpp allows community tagging of businesses and services, and integrates with Facebook to connect users with recommendations from friends and family.

And the name? Chavez noted via email that kelp "provides a rich, dynamic underwater ecosystem" while Kelpp similarly "provides an ecosystem that connects the user's social graph + businesses + 'tags' that describe goods or services, which enables a much richer recommendation experience."

"We also just liked the way the name sounds,'' he said.

Catching up here, but Wetpaint and Picnik have formed a partnership, adding Picnik's photo editing tools to Wetpaint's platform. Wetpaint announced it to users on April 8 and a release went out Monday.

There's no investment happening between the two Seattle ventures, a spokeswoman said. The deal "is purely between two local Seattle companies who feel that they have each done a great job in their respective areas and feel '1 + 1 = 3."

Several positive signs here.

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April 10, 2009 2:28 PM

New directory of Northwest tech companies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Northwest Washington, that is: The directory was assembled by the Technology Assliance Group for Northwest Washington and includes about 600 companies in Whatcom County.

Love to see a statewide version. WTIA has a tech company directory but it's just members.

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April 9, 2009 5:29 PM

Microsoft cuts Live Labs in half, disperses team

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently Microsoft can run only so many experimental labs during a downturn.

The company today confirmed that it's cutting by half the staff of Live Labs, the search-oriented research group created in 2005. PaidContent.org broke the story this morning.

Lab founder Gary Flake, who started a similar group at Yahoo before he was recruited by Microsoft in 2005, will continue to lead the remaining group.

This won't necessarily contribute to Microsoft's frugality pledge to trim its headcount.

Lab members are being diverted to product groups "that are in need of Live Labs talent to accelerate existing projects,'' spokeswoman Stacy Drake said.

"We are restructuring Live Labs to a narrow focus on Web experiences,'' she said. "The team will focus on rich data exploration and information retrieval, discovery, navigation and organizational approaches that include but also go beyond search."

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April 3, 2009 9:56 AM

Gwitter? Gtwit? Twoogle?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Rumor of the day in techville is that Google is interested in buying Twitter, a story floated by Michael Arrington.

It would be a return trip to the First National Bank of Mountain View for the Twitter founders, who previously sold Blogger to Google.

But Arrington tamped down the froth with updates to his post, suggesting it could be just a search partnership and then referring to a blog post by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone that it shouldn't be a surprise that the hot startup regularly talks to various companies.

Could Arrington's story be the product of hopeful brokers? Maybe they're amping up the Google talks to get the price higher and motivate other potential buyers.

It's a smart time for Twitter to sell: The microblogging service seems to have hit the peak of its buzz. It's becoming mainstream, and the corporate marketers embracing Twitter as the latest social media tool haven't tarnished its techie hipster image too much yet. (About the same point at which Google bought Blogger in 2003?)

More interesting, perhaps, than who will finally buy Twitter could be the question of whether Google is reopening the acquisition spigot. The company has been aggressively managing its capital expenses to keep the earnings looking as good as possible in the downturn, but perhaps the Twitter acquisition wouldn't be big enough to signify a comeback.

UPDATE: Ad Age yesterday noted that Google's already using Twitter, without buying it - advertisers can pay Google to redistribute their 140 character tweets so they reach beyond Twitter's 7 million users.

Even better is the ad mag's take on tweets and other new media jargon. Perhaps investors read that March 30 piece and decided it was time to get serious about selling.

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April 2, 2009 2:20 PM

Free Clearwire 4G for Valley developers, what about Seattle?

Posted by Brier Dudley

To drum up enthusiasm for its 4G Clear service, Clearwire today announced a developer program that will provide a year of free access to a special network for software developers in Silicon Valley.

The idea is to give developers "a head start" on the service that Clearwire will launch next year in the Bay Area. It

By the end of the summer, the "WiMax Innovation Network" will cover 20 miles, including the campuses of Cisco and Clearwire backers Intel and Google and a university in the area.

What about developers in Clearwire's hometown?

A spokeswoman said the Seattle area could get a similar developer program if the one in Silicon Valley works out, although Seattle doesn't need as much of a head start since it's getting Clear service later this year.

"Seattle has a significant amount of developer talent and we look forward to working with them in the future. However, given the location of our active development partners (Google, Cisco, Intel, the university), the development support resources, and the coming availability of our commercial network in Seattle, Silicon Valley felt right as the place to launch the beta network and the developer program,'' spokeswoman Susan Johnston said. "We encourage open development of devices and applications for WiMax and, if successful, we could see an expansion of the program to Seattle."

Tricia Duryee has more from Clearwire's CTIA keynote here.

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March 26, 2009 1:12 PM

SeattlePI.com starting from behind, or behinds?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Media oracle Alan Mutter posted a thoughtful analysis of the Seattle P-I's chances as an online-only publication.

Mutter is dissecting what is, for now, Seattle's highest profile Web startup.

At best, the site may bring in $7 million a year, he wrote in a post headlined "SeattlePI.Com, starting up from behind."

"Because initial sales will be nowhere near that theoretical number, the Hearst Corp. almost certainly will face multimillion-dollar losses in the early days of an experiment being monitored by publishers eager to learn if life after print will be worth living."

Hate to be catty, but the P-I site's been starting with behinds for some time now -- lots of them.

It consistently devotes the best real estate on its home page -- top of page near the center, the equivalent of its A1 banner headline -- to galleries of sexy fashion show and cheerleader photos, including an outrageous 72-pager on the second day of this grand experiment in online journalism. (The Sounders' opening merited 20 pages).

If the P-I survives online, will other newspapers and online media sites emulate this traffic-boosting trick?

btm.JPG

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March 25, 2009 9:00 PM

Visible, Wetpaint, Ontela and AdReady win WTIA awards

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Washington Technology Industry Association shook things up this year for its annual awards event.

Instead of using a committee of executives, investors and academics to choose the state's top tech companies, the trade group instead held an online poll.

The winners, announced at a gala event at the Paramount Theatre, also marked the group's 25th anniversary:

Commercial Product or Service of the Year: Visible Technologies for its TruCast social media analysis platform.

Consumer Product or Service of the Year: Wetpaint and its platform for creating "socially published" Web sites.

Breakthrough Startup of the Year: Ontela for Ontela PicDeck, a one-click system for distributing camera phone pictures.

Service Provider of the Year: AdReady, which offers a service that simplifies the creation and management of online display ad campaigns.

Best Use of Technology in Government, Non-Profit or Education: Snohomish County Planning & Development Services for its "inspection improvement project."

Technology Innovator of the Year: Darrin Massena, co-founder and chief technology officer of Picnik, which provides free online photo editing tools.

Technology Leader of Tomorrow: Israel Zemeadim, an 8th grader at Washington Middle School.

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March 25, 2009 3:19 PM

A Microsoft lament, from Amazon.com's Erik Selberg

Posted by Brier Dudley

Erik Selberg deosn't blog very often, but it's usually worth reading when he does.

Late last night, he gave Microsoft's search efforts a bittersweet raspberry. He also questioned why Microsoft isn't being bolder and more aggressive.

This isn't cross-town rivalry: Selberg was a senior engineer on Microsoft's search team and a founding member of its Live Search Labs before he left for Amazon.com in 2007.

Selberg starts off by saying that Microsoft's search product "is pretty much the same as when I left" and he's not too optimistic about the "Kumo" rebranding:

I admit, I'm a fan, and Microsoft's recent actions have left me feeling... well, let's just say the peanut gallery is unimpressed.

No, it's worse than that. The peanut gallery is disheartened, and disappointed.

Selberg hoped that Steve Ballmer "would come out fighting." Instead of laying people off, Microsoft should be investing heavily, gearing up for when the economy recovers, he said:

"Because of Microsoft's diverse, and somewhat inelastic, revenue streams, Microsoft could do this. Microsoft was not going to be just another company hunkering down, Microsoft was going to invest for the future. And when that future came, Microsoft would be in a prime position to take advantage of the situation.

At least, that's what I had hoped for. Ah well."

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March 24, 2009 10:45 AM

IBM goes for Sun, Microsoft gets solar system in huge NASA deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope is getting a huge boost from NASA, which just announced that it's going to provide its planetary images and data to the service.

The deal involves more than 100 terabytes of data NASA will host at its Ames Research Center (near Google headquarters) that Microsoft will add to the telescope's explorable online map of the skies later this year.

Microsoft Research unveiled WorldWide Telescope last spring as a technology showcase and educational resource.

Also being added to the telescope is data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2005. It's been gathering high-resolution images and other data from Mars since 2006.

Continue reading this post ...


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March 19, 2009 5:11 PM

What's the coolest thing about IE8 (besides p_rn mode)?

Posted by Brier Dudley

My favorite feature so far in Internet Explorer 8, the new browser that Microsoft launched today:

Fine-tuned cookie handling. And not just because I'm still recovering from the latest Girl Scout fundraiser.

It's a good habit to purge the temporary files, cookies and other browsing detritus that can bog down your system. But it's also a headache, because you can end up zapping useful cookies that remember passwords and settings at Web sites you use regularly.

With IE8, you can clear the cache of temporary files, cookies and other browsing detritus, but still save cookies from "favorite" Web sites.

Microsoft made this happen by adding a "preserve favorites Web site data" option in the "safety" section -- you check a box, and then the next time you delete history, it won't delete your Seattletimes.com password.

It's so simple, you wonder why it wasn't there before.

IE8 seemed a little slow when I first installed it. I didn't do exhaustive tests like Walt Mossberg, who liked it except for the speed, or Computerworld, where reviewer Preston Gralla loved the software but benchmark testing found slow JavaScript performance.

But I don't think it's significant enough to bother the millions of people who will soon be using IE8.

They'll probably be excited by nifty new features like color-coded tabs that make it easy to tell which open pages are related, a one-click button that switches you from the browser to your e-mail program, and the overdue upgrade of the "organize favorites" controls.

Web developers will probably be excited about the ability to write "accelerator" tools. These are little pop-up applications that you can run with a few clicks, letting you translate a Web page or blog a snippet. They're handy for people who like to use various services while browsing, but for people who just use browsers as a reading window, the recurring accelerator button may get annoying.

Then there's the private browsing feature. It's been dubbed the "porn mode," but it's a terrific addition for adding a layer of privacy when searching, especially when using a kiosk or shared computer.

To activate the feature, you click "InPrivate Browsing" in the "safety" menu. From then on, the browser won't store any information about the sites you are visiting during that session, even if you open multiple tabs.

screenshot_privatebrowsing.jpg

The safety menu also offers another cloaking option: "InPrivate Filtering," which prevents Web sites you're visiting from passing along details about your browsing to other sites. This can prevent sites from targeting ads based on your location or previous sites you've visited, for instance.

Also worth mentioning is something outside the browser itself: IE8's remarkable privacy policy.

Almost nobody reads privacy policies because they're generally unreadable, burying disclosures under reams of legalese.

IE8 breaks the mold with what may be the best written privacy policy for any software product ever.

Eventually it gets into the nitty gritty of how Microsoft may collect information about you from the browser, but it reads more like a friendly, handy users guide than an obligatory legal disclosure. Are they up to something, being so clear about all this stuff?

Maybe someone decided that being nice and clear is the best strategy, since Windows 7 will make it easier for users to delete Internet Explorer at will.

Any other particularly cool -- or not cool -- features of IE8?

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March 18, 2009 1:08 PM

Googler mods Google.com, replaces logo with Cheez kitty

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google guru Matt Cutts explains how you, too, can substitute one of Ben Huh's kitty pics for the Google logo in three easy (for some) steps.

cheezg.JPG

Looks fun, but is it enough to distract Web developers from the cascade of goodies Microsoft's unveiling at its Mix conference?

Sample headline from blog gushing over Microsoft's new Web design tools: "Expression Web SuperPreview makes cross-browser testing like moist delicious cake."

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March 17, 2009 5:58 PM

Amazing: UPS students snag top SXSW blog award

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you missed the Wired report on Sunday, two English majors from UPS in Tacoma won the top blog awards at the South By Southwest conference happening this week in Austin.

Seniors Nick Martens, 21, and Kevin Nguyen, 22, beat pro bloggers to win the best blog category with "The Bygone Bureau: A Journal of Modern Thought."

They're the two in the big photo on Wired's blog from Sunday's award ceremony.

Bygone Bureau was started in 2007 as "a journal of modern thought, specializing in travel writing and cultural criticism."

It would have been a good name for the online version of the P-I.

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March 13, 2009 10:31 AM

A delightful use of Google 20 percent time: Stevey's Story Time

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you've got 20 percent of your day to spare, check out the latest Stevey's Blog Rants.

The amazing blog is written by Steve Yegge, a developer at Google's Kirkland office who used to work at Amazon.com.

I'm being flip about his 20 percent time. The blog's not an official Google work product, but it must take 20 percent of his bandwidth to produce gems like last night's "Story Time" opus. No wonder he posts only about once or twice per lunar cycle.

Story Time has everything -- Pike Place druggies, submariners in Idaho, adventures in Chinatown and the hilarious El Gaucho pants incident.

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March 12, 2009 3:07 PM

Xbox Live creator's new gig: stealthy Seattle startup

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cam Ferroni, a founding member of the Xbox team and creator of Xbox Live at Microsoft, is cooking up a new business.

Continue reading this post ...


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March 11, 2009 2:31 PM

Marchex bio target of San Diego stock sleuth

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Marchex is the latest target of Barry Minkow, a reformed stock scammer who now trolls corporate biographies, looking for false information to expose after he's shorted the stock.

This, according to the latest piece by Al Lewis, a Dow Jones columnist who raised Minkow's profile last month.

In a followup piece today, Lewis shares a new tip from Minkow: the Marchex official biography of Peter Christothoulou, co-founder and chief operating officer, said he received a bachelor's in economics from the University of Washington but he never graduated.

From the column:

Christothoulou responded to my questions in an e-mail and promised to fix his corporate bio.

"I attended the University of Washington from 1991 to 1995 with Economics as my declared major," he wrote. "Because of my father's battle with cancer and subsequent death, I was forced to take a leave ... and despite returning and doubling up on my classes, I ended up one quarter shy of the degree. ... I have always intended to complete the remaining classes, but with work and family obligations, I have not yet been able to do so."

Christothoulou's bio has indeed been edited - the UW reference in the last line, visible in the Google cache, is now gone. He's not alone: All the education references for the executive team are gone today.

Christothoulou wouldn't discuss the situation when I called this afternoon. He referred me to a spokeswoman, Leigh McMillan.

"We frankly think there's not that much to say,'' she said. "We're aware of the situation. We made the appropriate corrections to his bio and now we're getting back to business. He's a co-founder of the company and he has everyone here's full support."

If Minkow was trying to make a few bucks shorting Marchex, he should have bought before its Feb. 19 earnings report.

The company said it lost $128 million in the fourth quarter, when it wrote down $176.7 million worth of goodwill and assets. It also declined to provide guidance on 2009 earnings.

After the report, the stock fell from $5.03 to $3.95 the next day, going as low as $3 on Monday.

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March 11, 2009 1:57 PM

The USB finger guy adds his two bits

Posted by Brier Dudley

This week's most amazing blog item, about a Finnish software developer who lost his finger in a motorcycle accident and replaced it with a prosthetic USB drive, just scratched the surface.

Jerry Jalava's sci-fi finger became a Web sensation after a friend of his blogged about the creation, noting that the drive was loaded with a version of Linux.

Jalava clarified the situation on his blog last night. For one thing, it's not permanent. For another, it's loaded with more than just the Billix version of Linux.

First of all it is not attached permanently in to my body, it is removable prosthetic which has USB memorystick inside it.

Secondly when I'm using the USB, I just leave my finger inside the slot and pick it up after I'm ready.

Currently I have Billix, CouchDBX and Ajatus installed inside it.
I'm planning to use the other prosthetic as a shell for the next version, which will have removable fingertip and RFID tag.

Separately, on his startling Flickr page, he answered the capacity question: His finger holds 2 gigabytes.

Here's a screen grab of the page:

finger.jpg

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March 10, 2009 12:00 AM

More startup reality: Zumobi's "official" American Idol app

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle mobile application developer Zumobi's jumping on the reality TV train today, releasing the "official" "American Idol" app for the iPhone.

Chief Executive Ken Willner said the $1.99 app is built around content, including exclusive material such as interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. It also has a "buzz" section with blogs, news feeds and other updates, plus a module devoted to show participants, with biographies and photos.

Willner has some history with "Idol": In his previous job as vice president of advertising and media at AT&T Wireless when it built a major campaign around the show, including public voting by text messages.

Those connections helped Zumobi pitch for the iPhone app contract but "it was a competitive process and we won based on the quality of the work we delivered and the team we have here,'' Willner said.

The app won't have interactivity live during the show, but it does have a bracket feature fans can use to rank their expected winners, and show their predictions to friends. (Maybe Zumobi should partner with BuddyTV's new reality fantasy league service.)

Revenues from the app -- and advertising that may eventually appear -- will be shared with "American Idol." Apple's also participating as a marketing supporter, Willner said.

Willner said the application will be exclusive to the iPhone during this season of the show.

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March 6, 2009 11:59 AM

Legal startup Avvo goes more national

Posted by Brier Dudley

Avvo is continuing its march across the country. It announced today that it's extending its online legal directory and referral service to eight more states, bringing the total to 30, plus Washington, D.C.

Chief Executive Mark Britton said it's now covering about 85 percent of the lawyers in the U.S.

Avvo's new states - now in beta - are Louisiana, Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, Maine and Wyoming.

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March 5, 2009 9:00 PM

Choose your idols: BuddyTV launches reality TV fantasy league

Posted by Brier Dudley

Around the time American Idol finishes tonight, Seattle TV fan site BuddyTV will launch a major upgrade of its site.

The company's adding a fantasy league for reality TV fans, similar to sports fantasy leagues, except you pick a roster of reality show contestants. Leagues can be public or you can set up a private league with friends, all free on the ad-supported site.

BuddyTV is offering leagues for American Idol, Survivor, The Amazing Race, America's Next Top Model, Hell's Kitchen, Rock of Love, Make Me a Supermodel and Dancing with the Stars.

BuddyTV isn't the first to offer a reality show fantasy league but co-founder and chief executive, Andy Liu, thinks its big audience - 6 million visitors viewing 90 million pages a month - will give it an edge.

"There's nobody that's really dominant,'' he said. "Because we have such a large community we think we can come out of the gate with a pretty strong offering."

Fantasy leagues should make the site stickier, drawing fans back to check on standings before and after shows and to research their picks, Liu said.

A few screenshots:

buddy1.jpg

buddy2.jpg

The 20-person company started in October 2005 and has about $9 million in funding. Liu said it could be profitable immediately if it shifted from investment mode.

"Ad rates have fallen a bit but it's still holding fairly steady because we've been growing - people are spending more time at home,'' he said.

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March 4, 2009 3:12 PM

comScore: YouTube crosses 100 million viewer mark

Posted by Brier Dudley

Who knows if it will ever be profitable for Google, but YouTube's numbers are amazing.

This afternoon, comScore reported that the video service crossed the 100 million viewer mark in January.

The research firm estimated that 76.8 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience watched Web videos in January. The average viewer watched about six hours of online video during the month, up 15 percent from December.

Averages seem a little dicey here, though, because they're probably skewed by a smaller set of avid viewers.

In total, U.S. residents watched 14.8 billion online videos during the month, up 4 percent from December. YouTube accounted for 91 percent of the monthly gain, comScore said.

The release said 100 million viewers watched 6.3 billion videos on YouTube during the month, or 62.6 apiece. MySpace drew 54.1 million viewers who watched 473 million clips, or 8.7 videos apiece.

Could there be a connection with the surge in unemployment?

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February 26, 2009 2:49 PM

Timely "self sufficiency" calculator wins NPower award

Posted by Brier Dudley

A free online "self sufficiency" calculator that helps people figure out their living expenses and financial situation won the NPower Seattle Innovation Award at the organization's luncheon today.

The awards recognize technology developed by non-profits in the Puget Sound region. Judges were from event sponsors Microsoft, Accenture and Avanade.

The calculator - at www.thecalculator.org - was developed by the Workforce Development Council. It helps people develop goals, evaluate job offers and see if they're eligible for public assistance programs.

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February 26, 2009 10:30 AM

WiFi coming to Alaska Air, free for now

Posted by Brier Dudley

Alaska Airlines today announced that it's starting a trial of in-flight WiFi service, beginning with afternoon flights between Seattle and San Jose, Calif., on a 737-700.

The service is free for now but it sounds like Alaska plans to charge for usage after the 60-day trial. Then the airline will figure out how long it will take to extend the service throughout its fleet.

"This is a service that everyone can use, whether it's for business or entertainment,'' Steve Jarvis, Alaska's vice president of marketing, sales and customer experience, said in the release. "Our service gives passengers a choice in how they spend their time while traveling and enhances the inflight experience."

Alaska's working with technology vendor Row 44 on the project.

WiFi's already offered by some other airlines, including Delta and Virgin America.

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February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

Mobui launches way to chat with celebrities, live

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're the sort who likes to send messages to interactive TV shows and vote on contestants, you'll love the new application that Redmond's Mobui is launching today.

Called Mobile Audience Chat, the software is aimed at TV networks that want to add a new level of interactivity to their shows.

The system lets them create chat rooms that match programming or "host celebrity moderated chat rooms to allow the audience to interact with on-air talent when the celebrity's show is airing," the release said.

It runs on more than 100 mobile phones, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Java and Brew platforms.

Audience members can set up their own chat rooms, invite friends to join, create profiles and manage friend lists.

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February 24, 2009 1:54 PM

Scuse me while I pinch the sky: Microsoft's wild new way to move through space, virtual worlds

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft Research is holding its annual TechFest science fair on the Redmond campus this week, showing off advanced research experiments that could eventually work their way into the company's products.

One of the coolest is an experimental interface that lets you control a video projector using gestures, such as pinching your fingers, above the lens to zoom in and around the display. It's a wild experience when added to an upward pointing projector and a domed screen.

Demonstrating the system today, researcher Hrvoje Benko would pinch to zoom around images taken inside the lobby of the Microsoft Research building.

But it was best for exploring the solar system, as captured by Microsoft's Worldwide Telescope - with a few simle gestures, you can zoom up to a planet or nebula or race through the stars at warp speed.

Here's a video I took that shows the system in action, but doesn't capture the immersive feel. The space travel gets cool around 1:12:

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February 17, 2009 4:45 PM

Evo Media launches DevHub, signs 1,000 users on Day 1

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Evo Media launched DevHub today, a free platform for non-technical entrepreneurs to build a network of Web sites.

By this afternoon, nine hours after the launch, DevHub had signed more than 1,000 new users, according to senior vp and co-founder, Mark Michael.

During beta testing, more than 55,000 sites were built with the system, which apparently has more reach than Evo's last venture, the now-defunct Down2Night nightlife Web service.

DevHub users produce their own content and may supplement it with content from partner sites in the DevHub network. They'll get a cut of ad sales that are generated.

Evo's funded by a group of local investors who also backed BuddyTV and Pet Holdings, the I Can Has Cheezburger folks. They include Jeff Schrock, Geoff Entress, John Cunningham, Alex Algard, Richard Wolpert, Bob Senoff.

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February 11, 2009 5:00 PM

Hookup with Amazon's Turk gives Smartsheet "Viagra moment"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Smartsheet.com co-founder Brent Frei said his Bellevue startup had its "Viagra moment" when it hooked its software to Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk Web service.

He wasn't referring to how excited Smartsheet is about the partnership. Frei was talking instead about the accidental discovery that its software was a wonderful front-end for Turk, a service that brokers projects to independent workers around the world. He equated this with Pfizer's chance discovery that a planned hypertension drug could treat erectile dysfunction.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 10, 2009 2:43 PM

Downturn hits Seattle Startup list, 25 companies gone (UPDATED)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle Web entrepreneur Marcelo Calbucci, who produces a monthly rank of local startups, added a new tool that gauges whether companies are defunct.

The result: 25 companies disappeared from this month's list, which he released today.

The ventures shut down, failed to launch, restructured or were sold. Some of the closures were publicized earlier and some date to last year, but it's still a striking list.

Calbucci also noted that fewer new Web startups are appearing. The list used to be growing by six to 10 companies a month, but this month added just four.

Zillow continues to top the list, followed by Pet Holdings, iLike, Picnik and BuddyTV.

Here's Calbucci's tally of startups that faded from the list:

Continue reading this post ...


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February 6, 2009 3:48 PM

Microsoft confirms new phone service: "MyPhone" to offer free cloud sync

Posted by Brier Dudley

After inadvertently posting details of its new MyPhone service online, Microsoft went ahead and confirmed that it will unveil the service at the upcoming Mobile World Congress wireless show starting Feb. 16.

It looks pretty interesting -- and like Windows Mobile finally has an answer to the groovy cloud services offered by Nokia, Apple and Google.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 5, 2009 4:04 PM

InfoSpace names William Lansing CEO

Posted by Brier Dudley

InfoSpace today announced that William Lansing is its new chief executive, succeeding Jim Voelker, who is retiring.

They actually made the switch on Monday, and Voelker is staying as chairman through 2010.

"InfoSpace's strong balance sheet, metasearch applications, consumer Web sites, and its highly talented employees will translate into attractive opportunities over the next few years,'' Lansing said in the release. "Jim has done a great job in building shareholder value during his tenure. I'm looking forward to working with the InfoSpace team and board to continue in that tradition."

Lansing started his career as a securities lawyer, worked for Jack Welch at General Electric and went on to lead several high profile companies.

He was previously president and chief executive of Value Vision Media, where he launched Shop NBC.TV. Earlier, he was a partner at private equity firm General Atlantic Partners; chief executive of NBC Internet and chief executive of Fingerhut, where he led its sale to Federated Department Stores.

At GE, he was vice president of business development. Before that, he was chief operating officer of Prodigy, where he led a management buyout that took the IBM-Sears joint venture private.

Lansing, a Wesleyan University English major and Georgetown Law graduate, is on the boards of Digital River, RightNow Technologies and Fair Isaac.

InfoSpace stock didn't move much after the news was released. It closed down 0.48 percent, at $8.21.

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February 2, 2009 12:00 AM

Laid-off tech workers get entrepreneurial for Valentine's Day

Posted by Brier Dudley

In case you missed Iamsaintnick.com, the fun Christmas gift referral service started by two laid-off Seattle techies - they're back with a Valentine's version launching today.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 30, 2009 11:03 AM

Advice for non-profits on social networking, getting webby

Posted by Brier Dudley

NPower Seattle,a group that helps non-profits with technology, is marking its 10th anniversary with a luncheon and workshops offering non-profits advice on using social networks, blogs and other Web tools.

Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff, co-author of "Groundswell," will speak at the Feb. 26 luncheon.

NPower will also award its annual Innovation Award. Finalists include:

Arts Corps, for its integrated database and Web site that helps youth find information about its classes in their neighborhoods and schools.

Workforce Development Council, for its "Self-Sufficiency Calculator," an online tool that measures the cost of living for more than 70 different family types in Washington state.

Washington Health Foundation, for an online tool to help Washington residents set, track and reach health goals.


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January 28, 2009 10:30 AM

Startup grab bag: Mixpo lands ad partners, Avvo crosses 1 million and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

It must be momentum week at Seattle startups, which are releasing all sorts of tidbits. They include:

-- Mixpo, an online video ad platform, announced partnerships with five big publishers that will now use Mixpo's VideoAd technology: NBC Local Media, Tribune, Freedom Communications, TownNews.com and Fisher Communications.

"We share the conviction that it is at the local market level that customers want to engage, and where advertisers want to be present,'' Mixpo Chief Executive Anupam Gupta said in the release.

-- Avvo, the online legal directory, rating and referral service, announced that it's now getting more than 1 million visitors a month. Founder Mark Britton said the company's also hiring three people -- two sales reps plus a coordinator -- to ramp up the ad platform it launched in November.

-- WidgetBucks announced the general release of YieldSense, its technology for automatically displaying its best-performing widget ads on participating publisher sites. The company said more than 20,000 site owners and bloggers are using its ad network.

-- A group of friends in the tech, social services and healthcare fields created 44ree.com, a Web site where people can trade or donate material. The idea is to "promote a green-friendly environment through recycling while giving back to those in need,'' co-founder Joseph Rogel said. The site formally launches next month, and a portion of the company's profits will be donated to charity. It sounds like a competitor to Martin Tobias' Kashless.com barter site, and both will compete with Craigslist.

-- It's beyond the startup phase, but McObject, the Issaquah-based embedded database developer, also announced the release of its Perst 4.0 embedded, open-source database. It includes new tools for developing on the Android and Java ME platforms.

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January 22, 2009 3:55 PM

The Pink Slip Special: Startup deals for laid-off Microsoft workers (updated)

Posted by Brier Dudley

As Seattle's startup community came to terms with the big cuts at Microsoft today, several vendors emerged with special deals to help laid-off 'softies start their own software companies.

Deals that surfaced today on the Seattle Tech Startups mailing list include:

-- StartPad.org's "Pink Slip Special," which offers laid-off workers 30 days' free use of its downtown Seattle offices, a pay-as-you-go space aimed at software startups.

"If there is one silver lining to the Microsoft layoffs, it may be the kick-in-the-pants that some employees needed to become entrepreneurs in their own right. We'd like to do our part to help with the transition,'' StartPad's Mike Koss wrote. "If you're one of the employees that have been laid off, or you see the writing on the wall and feel it's time to make the jump, we have a special deal for you."

-- Tacoma hosting company Blue Box Group, which offered 60 days' free use of a 512MB Linux-based virtual server to help laid-off Microsoft workers start a software project.

"Our Virtual Servers aren't a MS platform, but it provides a good opportunity to use your skills in a new arena and build something great," Blue Box's Jesse Proudman wrote.

Both extended the offer to Microsoft workers who have been salaried within the last four months and are thinking about building their own software product or service.

Any other offers out there to help "the 1,400" start something new?

UPDATE: Some helpful comments, plus Seattle entrepreneur Roy Leban suggests attending a "Startup Brainstorming Session" from 2-5 p.m. Feb. 5, also at StartPad.

From his invite announcement:

"The goal of the session is for entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs to have an opportunity to discuss their ideas with others in a supportive environment. If you come with an idea, I hope you walk away with an improved idea or an improved understanding of how you can make it real. If you come without an idea, I hope you walk away inspired."

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January 22, 2009 12:06 AM

FriendlyFavor launches free online service to ask for help, advice and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a way to start leveraging your social network.

FriendlyFavor, a Seattle "social media utility" launching today, offers a system for tapping into your network of friends, family and acquaintances. It's designed to complement social networking services such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.

Started by local tech veterans Scott Larson and John Patton, FriendlyFavor calls itself an "all-purpose request tool" designed to help people "more efficiently leverage their trusted networks of friends, family, and colleagues for help with referrals, recommendations, advice and other favors or requests."

The service delivers, archives and manages requests for registered users. It can also be used to build tailored contact lists, including lists where sensitive favors -- such as requests for a babysitter -- can be handled and narrowly targeted.

FriendlyFavor can also be used to broadcast "favors" being offered by users, such as extra tickets to an event or services that can be provided.

In addition to handling "favors" directly for users, the company is offering a white-label version of its platform that other companies can incorporate into their sites.

The five-person company was started in 2007 and raised $500,000 from angel investors affiliated with companies including Microsoft, Google and Amazon.com.

It's expecting to make money from targeted ads, licensing its platform and commissions on "thank you gifts" purchased at Amazon.com and other sites.

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January 15, 2009 2:35 PM

New YouTube TV channel for Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation3

Posted by Brier Dudley

"YouTube for Television," a new initiative announced last summer and highlighted last week at CES, is now available via Wii and PS3 game consoles.

Google created a special Web site for the service, which is accessible through the consoles' browsers in 22 regions in more than 12 languages. It follows an effort that began with AppleTV in June 2007; here's a timeline.

At the special site, YouTube videos are optimized for TV display. The interface also has bigger text and simplified navigation tools, plus an "auto-play capability" that "enables users to view related videos sequentially, emulating a traditional television experience,'' according to today's announcement on YouTube's official blog.

To access the site from a console, point its browser to youtube.com/tv. The new site doesn't appear in a PC browser yet, apparently.

Then, from the comfort of your sofa, you'll be able to enjoy content such as today's most popular YouTube clips, including "No Pants Subway Ride 2009" and "Oprah Loves Kate Winslets Breasts."

Here's a demo pulled from Sony's PlayStation blog:

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December 8, 2008 3:05 PM

Seattle startup ranking: Zillow holds lead, barely, while Picnik jumps

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zillow's just holding onto the top position in Marcelo Calbucci's monthly ranking of Seattle Web startups.

Picnik jumped to number three - maybe people are using the browser-based photo editing tools to touch up their Christmas cards?

Calbucci noted that BigOven and WidgetBucks are now int he top 10, bumping out PayScale and ActiveRain. Athelon was up 37 spots to number 75, and Visible.net moved up 24 spots to 72nd.

The top 10:

1. Zillow

2. Pet Holdings, Inc.

3. Picnik

4. iLike

5. Wetpaint

6. Robot Co-Op

7. Smilebox

8. BuddyTV

9. BigOven

10. WidgetBucks

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November 25, 2008 9:46 AM

Cozi hits 1 million users, hooks up with Better Homes & Gardens

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cozi, the Seattle maker of family management software, continues to march ahead.

Today it's announcing that it reached a milestone -- 1 million people are using its software. More will likely come from a new deal with Better Homes & Gardens, which will distribute a co-branded version of the software through its Web site.

(updated: earlier I'd referred to families, but it's actually 1 million family members ... )

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November 25, 2008 9:37 AM

Freebie of the day: Opera's new mobile browser

Posted by Brier Dudley

Norwegian browser maker Opera today released a new version of its great Opera Mini for mobile phones.

The company said version 4.2 will be 30 percent faster in the U.S. because of a new server park, although wouldn't that also speed the performance of previous versions?

Anyway, Opera Mini 4.2 also adds new language support, skins for customizing its appearance and improve mobile video performance. It also works with the Android-based G1 from T-Mobile.

Opera says 21 million people used Mini to browse 5 billion pages in October, up 490 percent from October 2007.

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October 16, 2008 10:51 AM

A priceless Twitter treatise

Posted by Brier Dudley

Loved The Weekly Standard piece on politics and Twitter, the texting-for-grownups service making technorati feel young and groovy again.

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October 16, 2008 9:29 AM

UPDATE 2: Ballmer says "perhaps" another Yahoo deal, but official line is "no"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Speaking at the Gartner conference in Orlando, Florida, Steve Ballmer said he hasn't given up on a Yahoo deal, prompting YHOO to reach out of the gutter a bit (YHOO was up on the news around 14 percent, to $13.25, but it's now at $12.73, up 8 percent for the day).

But is Ballmer talking about partnering with Yahoo's search business, not buying the whole company, even though it seems like a relative bargain? Bloomberg's report says he's talking about a search deal, although he also said that an outright purchase would "still make sense economically," according to Marketwatch.

Gartner has a link to the Ballmer webcast here. I wasn't able to open it; Gartner's site is saying "the event has not yet begun."

To clarify, a Microsoft spokesman in Bellevue just issued this statement:

"Our position hasn't changed. Microsoft has no interest in acquiring Yahoo!; there are no discussions between the companies."

A search partnership would be interesting, but the big merger is what got everyone wondering. Ballmer's got to be glad that didn't come to pass, especially with Yahoo's market cap down to around $18 billion, compared to the $47.5 billion he was offering earlier this year.

If Yahoo falls just a bit more, Ballmer could afford to buy the thing himself.

Or maybe we'll be seeing Microsofties wearing t-shirts next week that say "My CEO went to Orlando and all I got was this downtrodden Internet company."

From a Bloomberg report:

"It's clear that Yahoo did not want to sell the company. It didn't want to sell when we offered $33," Ballmer said. "Perhaps there will be continuing opportunities to" talk about a search partnership in the future, he said.

If the spokesman's statement is right, maybe Ballmer's just horsing around.

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October 8, 2008 4:36 PM

Startup's calculators show how much e-mail, meetings cost you

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're looking for ways to save money nowadays, perhaps you can start by cutting down on e-mails and meetings.

The interruptions they cause can cost you thousands of dollars a year in lost wages.

At least that's the message from Bellevue startup Kamune, which debuted this week. The company is offering free online calculators to help estimate the cost of e-mail, meetings and disorganized information.

Continue reading this post ...


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October 8, 2008 3:52 PM

Seattle 2.0 startup blog gets serious, adds contributors, feeds and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Marcelo Calbucci dramatically overhauled his Seatle 2.0 blog today, remaking it as a sort of community resource for Web startups.

It's no longer just Calbucci's blog; it's an aggregator of feeds from startup-oriented blogs around the area.

Calbucci also assembled friends from the startup community to create an editorial team producing content for the blog. To start, Alyssa Royse is editor, Matt Hulett will contribute pieces on entrepreneurship, Rebecca Lovell will post on angel investing, Danielle Morrill will write on events and Keven Leneway will contribute product reviews.

The site has also moved from Sampa, Calbucci's family Web site creation service, to www.seattle20.com.

It also has a great list of links to local startup blogs, including dozens of startup corporate and founder blogs.

I wonder if he's reserved seattle30, to prepare for the next cycle.

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November 5, 2007 5:39 PM

P2P warning: Limewire I.D. thief pleads guilty

Posted by Brier Dudley

A little reminder to be cautious when using P2P networks: Federal prosecutors announced today that Gregory Kopiloff, a 35-year-old Seattleite, pleaded guilty today to using networks such as Limewire to probe other people's computers and steal their financial information.

Kopiloff "admits he used file sharing programs to invade the computers of victims across the United States to get access to their personal information in tax returns, credit reports, bank statements and student financial aid applications,'' according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for Western Washington.

He used the information taken from more than 50 people to buy and resell more than $73,000 worth of merchandise, the release said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 28. Mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the unauthorized access penalty is up to five yeras and $250k. Aggravated ID theft "mandates a two-year prison sentence to run consecutive to the prison time imposed on the underlying conviction,'' the release said.

Here's an AP writeup.

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October 29, 2007 5:59 PM

Fishkin on Live vs. Google, SEO issues and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

As promised, here are more excerpts from my interview with SEOmoz Chief Executive Rand Fishkin. They've been edited a bit for space and clarity.

Q: How long will the SEO industry be this important, if search engines get more precise and start giving people exactly what they're looking for?

A: There's big limitations to search engines. Some folks in the industry will say search engines will never advance to the point where you won't need to have some sort of [SEO] strategy. I would agree with that to some degree.

One, there's a competitive side to it -- not everyone can have the top one to three ranking, the search engines have to order those results by something. There are always going to be people who are attempting to push the envelope in what they can do to make those things happen. It's the same way the offline marketing world works ... so there's going to be competition, and because of the competition, there's going to be people engaged in whatever the competitive practice is that helps you do better.

However, a ton of search engine optimization work right now is accessibility, right? Just making sure that you're not hiding content from the search engines, that you're putting it in ways that they can access.

It's estimated that Microsoft thinks they've got around 20 billion pages in their index, and the estimate is that the Web contains more than 100 million pages. What's the difference? ... There's limitations to how content is presented -- there's content in Flash, there's content in images, there's content in Java applets, there's content that's only in Ajax ...

When folks talk about search engines advancing their technology, maybe that's what they-re thinking -- that much more of the Web will become accessible and crawlable. But as far as never needing someone to help with that competitive angle, that's tough for me to imagine. The guy who is ranking No. 4 is always going to want to be ranking rank No. 1, and there's got to be some way for him to do that, and someone who will help him do that.

Q: I wonder if business models of the search companies will change that minimizes the importance of SEO, maybe a hybrid of paid and unpaid results.

A: Depending on the search query, you're getting between 15 and 30 percent of the traffic clicks on paid vs. organic, so organic's always going to be the lion's share there

Q: What's to stop Microsoft, Google and Yahoo from saying to companies, instead of putting all this effort into SEO, why not work directly with us?

A: Yahoo has their search-submit program, which is a paid inclusion program, so you pay them for organic listings. But all you get is the fact that they promise to spider and index you. They don't promise any particular rankings. The search engines have all found, the more they move away from paid relationships, the more relevant and the better experiences their searchers have. ... The search engines are probably unlikely to switch back to that paid-only or more-paid system because they'll lose market share to their competitors where their users are having a better experience.

Q: What about SEO -- do you expect them to offer more SEO services?

A: We've almost seen it go the other way.... An engineer friend of mine with an unnamed search engine, we were hanging out> He said, dude, I had to take this call with some big Fortune 500 company because they spend so many hundreds of millions on advertising. Of course the ad guys are like, "Hey, get on the phone with these guys and tell them why they're not ranking for any of these terms." He's like, "Gosh, I don't have to do this, this isn't my job."

Q: So they're providing some premium service on the side?

A: It wasn't premium service. He had to take the call and talk to them: "Well, we can't reach any of your content because it's behind this board. You should go work with an SEO who can help you, you need to make your Web site more accessible." Which is not all that different from someone saying blind people can't access your Web site, go find a usability expert who can make it readable on a screen for them.

Q: What's your prediction for the future of Microsoft's Live Search?

A: Tough call for me. I get to see things from Live that other people don't get to see so I'm not sure I feel entirely comfortable or safe giving my two cents there. I really like a lot of people on the team. I think the latest upgrade they did with the searchification program and all that is a significant step forward. By my estimation they still have a long way to go to catch with Google from the relevancy side. But I could see them getting close to even if not even with Google's relevancy and search experience. The biggest problem they're going to continue to encounter is branding and whether they can have people think of them the same way people think of Google.

Q: How many SEO guys are really focused on Microsoft or Yahoo?

A: It's not that you're not focused on them. What we all try and do is say what are the reasons I might be ranking on Google but not Microsoft or Yahoo.

Q: Are there any hot topics in SEO besides Google's PageRank?

A: I think paid links is going to be a hot topic for many months to come. It depends on who you're talking to.... For clients or for companies who are trying to break into the field, one of the big things we talk about now is vertical search. It used to be you do any search at Google, you get 10 blue links. Now you get images, you get maps, you get instant answers, You get the weather with these little pictures. So there's all sorts the folks saying, "Gee, the search engines are trying to fill so much more of their results with other kinds of information, information that's coming from other sources." So inclusion in local, in maps, images.

Q: So you have to optimize for each one of those search silos bundled into universal search results?

A: Depending on who you are and what you're doing, you're probably going to have to do at least some. It has become a huge part of what you do.

Q: It almost seems like Google's universal search has become it's own take on SEO -- you're searching for, say, "Transformers," and it gives you standard search results plus images plus showtimes. Can you compete with that because it seems like they've basically claimed the top of the first pag. Are you going to be then fighting for the bottom of the first page, or the top of the second?

A: No, you're going to be fighting in product search results or in map search results or in image search results as opposed to just in Web search results.

Q: Because those are the ones Google is going to grab and put at the top?

A: Right.

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October 29, 2007 9:35 AM

More from SEOmoz's Rand Fishkin

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's one of the explanatory videos shared by Rand Fishkin, chief executive of SEOmoz, a Seattle search-optimization company I wrote about in today's column.

I'll post more from an interview with Fishkin shortly.

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October 24, 2007 8:05 PM

Microsoft's Facebook coup

Posted by Brier Dudley

Inventory is the word I kept hearing when Microsoft and Facebook announced their deal today.

Kevin Johnson, president of the Platforms and Services Division, twice mentioned how much inventory the deal was providing for Microsoft's AdCenter business.

"This deal brings more inventory and more value to that ad platform. At the same time it enables both parties to collaborate as Faceook looks to develep new ad type as it relates to the social experience."

By inventory he was referring to space where Microsoft can place ads for clients. It may seem like there's an infinite number of Web pages, but there's actually a limited amount of premium real estate for companies to hang their billboards.

That's why the online ad titans are so aggressively pursuing contracts like the one Microsoft made to be Facebook's exclusive ad platform.

It's also one of the great tricks of search advertising - every time you click search, you're helping Google or whoever create a page with inventory that can be sold to advertisers. But that's high-volume, low-rent stuff.

Facebook is like a prosperous new suburb, a place with lots of opportunities for a developer like Microsoft to build and rent space to companies.

What I have trouble reconciling is the scarcity of inventory and the difficulty Web startups have breaking into the major leagues. I guess users are limited in the amount of personal-time inventory they have, and hot sites like Facebook are allegedly where they spend more of that time.

People are quick to write off Microsoft's ad business because Google seems to have it all. But Facebook helps Microsoft's inventory build critical mass, and it's a great place for Microsoft to develop and show off its new, post-search ad technologies.

The companies didn't share other details, but Microsoft has to have access to Facebook user profiles, at least as much access is needed to target ads.

Facebook and other social networks are like honey pots. They attract users who share their interests and friends' contact information. This creates a detailed list of profiles that can be used to target advertising.

Combine that with all the profiles Microsoft gathers through other ad partners and its own sites, and it's pretty formidable (and spooky).

Maybe Microsoft will finally have a chance to show in the great online ad race. But how long will it take? A decade ago the company invested billions in telecom companies, hoping to win a seat at the table. It's hard to measure when and how those investments paid off, but in comparison the $240 million it put into Facebook is less than pocket change.

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October 18, 2007 12:13 PM

Mukilteo hacker busted for SWAT hoax

Posted by Brier Dudley

Just in time for Halloween, a scary story that a reader passed along:

A teenager in Mukilteo was arrested for allegedly spoofing authorities in Orange County, Calif., into sending a team of heavily armed police into a randomly picked family's home.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Randal T. Ellis, 19, was arrested Friday, eight months after the prank.

Ellis allegedly manipulated AOL and Verizon systems and pretended to report a killer on the loose at the home, where a SWAT team accompanied by dogs and a helicopter stormed a house and handcuffed at gunpoint the parents of two toddlers.

Police allege he's done the same thing in Washington, Arizona and Pennsylvania since 2005. From the story:

He was in the process of being extradited to California on Tuesday and was charged with false imprisonment by violence and assault with an assault weapon by proxy.

The crimes carry a possible prison sentence of 18 years.

I didn't know we had laws protecting us from that sort of violence and assault, and I especially didn't expect to learn of them from Los Angeles.

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October 18, 2007 12:02 PM

Social networking: Essential or not

Posted by Brier Dudley

Social networking is fun but people must not think it's essential, judging from a new Parks Associates survey.

It found that 72 percent of Internet users would stop using a social networking site if they had to pay a $2 monthly fee.

The survey also found that 39 percent would flee if the site had too many ads.

Currently 80 percent of broaband users aged 18 to 25 use social networking sites "on a monthly basis," the firm said.

Other findings of the survey of 2,000 Internet users ages 13 and up:

-- 6 percent are tired of their current networking service and ready to switch.
-- 26 percent want all social networking sites to be connected.
-- 26 percent "would stop using this site if it were not for the fact that most of my friends are using this site."

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October 9, 2007 9:40 AM

Blendables: IdentityMine's product play

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of the biggest beneficiaries so far of Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) may be Tacoma's IdentityMine.

The Web and software development company built early demos of WPF and .Net 3.0 such as newsreaders and applications that Microsoft used to show off its platform.

Now IdentityMine has taken the big step from services to products by releasing a set of tools called Blendables for designers and developers. The company has been developing the kit with its user community for months. It released the kit on Oct. 3 and formally announced the launch today.

IdentityMine was an alpha and beta tester of Microsoft's XAML-based presentation technologies, said Kurt Brockett, director of product manager:

"We had all these tools laying aound that we had built ourself. Once it shipped, there was a natural market out there for components - it was just a matter of productizing our components."

The kit includes tools such as Zoombox, which "allows content to be panned in any direction or zoomed in or out using a multitude of user inputs" and ElementSnapshot that "enables greater designer creativity by alleviating performance degradation when exploiting advanced visual effects."

Blendables starts at $395 and the company is offering a downloadable 60-day trial.

IdentityMine has about 50 employees, mostly in Tacoma. It also has offices in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas and about 20 in Kochi, India.

(Updated with Brockett's comment and details about employees)

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September 28, 2007 9:48 AM

Does chatter matter? Web 2.0 startups to discuss

Posted by Brier Dudley

Several local startup founders will present a guide "through the minefield of blogs, wikis, social networks, video mail and television advertising - Web 2.0 style," at a marketing group dinner event Wednesday in Seattle.

The SDMA "Content Generated Marketing" panel will be moderated by Eyejot and WhatCounts founder David Geller. Speakers include Wetpaint founder Ben Elowitz, Zoodango founder James Sun, Parnassus Ventures founder Steve Brobak and Tim Lambert, VP of sales for SpotRunner in Los Angeles. Details are at the link above.

I hope at least one of them likes newspapers.

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September 18, 2007 11:27 AM

Seattle's SEOmoz takes funding, eyes sale

Posted by Brier Dudley

The search marketing company SEOmoz has lined up $1.25 million from Ignition and Curious Office, Kelly Smith and Adrian Hanauer's investment firm.

Chief Executive and co-founder Rand Fishkin said the move will likely result in the company being sold within four to seven years. He announced the pending deal today on his blog, saying the money will be used to expand the team from seven to 12 people, build new technology and market to a wider audience.

Fishkin was almost apologetic about it, after getting heat in August when he floated the idea of outside investment:

The biggest outcry I felt from folks was the "Noooo!! Don't sell out to the man," line. I promise you, we are doing anything but.

For one thing, he notes, "the man" is actually a woman, Ignition Partner Michelle Goldberg.

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September 12, 2007 10:31 AM

UW's Etzioni launches mutilingual search engine

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new visual, multilingual search tool developed at the University of Washington's Turing Center is being presented today at the Machine Translation Summit in Copenhagen.

The idea was to help people who don't speak major languages, said Oren Etzioni, a UW computer science professor, in a release:

"We want to serve the vast number of people who don't speak one of the major languages. As the Internet becomes more widely available outside of the major industrialized nations, it becomes increasingly important to serve people who don't speak English, French or Chinese."

"PanImages" uses tagging, online image collections and translation tools to improve search results for people who speak languages that aren't well-served by today's online services.

The service automatically translates search terms into about 300 languages and returns images from Google and Flickr, according to the release:

PanImages promises to help people who speak languages that have a small Web presence. Imagine you are a Zulu speaker looking for a picture of a refrigerator, Etzioni said. You type the Zulu word for refrigerator ("ifriji") into an image search and get two results. The same search using PanImages generates 472,000 hits. In a test of so-called minor languages, PanImages was able to find 57 times more results, on average, than a Google image search.

PanImages includes around 300 languages and 2.5 million words, but it's designed to grow through user contributions of words and translations.

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August 16, 2007 5:22 PM

Latest word on Skype outage: Deficient algorithm

Posted by Brier Dudley

A statement just issued by Skype, via spokesman Ryan Wallace:

Apologies for the delay, but we can now update you on the Skype sign-on issue. As we continue to work hard at resolving the problem, we wanted to dispel some of the concerns that you may have. The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack. We love our customers too much to let that happen. This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user's own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.

Rest assured that everyone at Skype is working around the clock -- from Tallinn to Luxembourg to San Jose -- to resume normal service as quickly as possible.

Wallace said he "will be reachable by cell during the evening."

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August 6, 2007 4:34 PM

Fake Steve Jobs outed on purpose?

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's Valleywag's snarky take on the New York Times' outing of a Forbes editor as author of the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.

Valleywag questioned whether the outing was nudged along to promote an upcoming book.

I wonder if the outing is payback for the satirical blog's particularly sharp (and relatively unfunny ...) jabs at the New York Times lately.

Payback or not, the blog seems to go off track when it does insidery media critiques. Would Steve Jobs bother to parse the coverage of Microsoft's financial analyst meeting?

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August 1, 2007 3:24 PM

B.C. Web company cashes in with Disney

Posted by Brier Dudley

You can hear the ka-ching sound all the way down here in Seattle, after Kelowna, B.C.-based Club Penguin sold to Disney today in a deal worth up to $700 million.

Disney is buying Club Penguin as part of a bigger effort to develop online portals based on franchises, such as a pirates site that blends games, video and advertising.

I wonder how much the 60-person company will interact with Disney's Internet team in Seattle's Smith Tower. If immigration issues weren't so sticky, I'd be guessing that they might combine at least some of the operations.

Club Penguin is interesting all by itself. It has proved that you can build a big subscription service catering to kids. The 2-year-old company has more than 700,000 subscribers paying $5.95 a month, plus more than 12 million "activated" users.

In the announcement, the site was described as "one of the fastest growing online destinations for kids ages 6 to 14. The site features animated penguin avatars that inhabit a snow-covered virtual world, converse with other users, participate in group activities and create and furnish a virtual home with currency earned inside the game."

Disney's paying $350 million in cash for the company, and giving it the option of another $350 million if it hits growth targets.

That's a lot of cash, but Disney boss Bob Iger is hot for online properties. I covered his presentation at CES in January, which sounded like his quote in today's announcement:

"This acquisition is consistent with our strategy of leveraging technology to create and deliver high-quality entertainment around the world and our commitment to investing our capital to generate growth and value for our shareholders/ Club Penguin embodies principles that are of the utmost importance to Disney -- providing high-quality family entertainment and fostering parental trust. The founders have woven together new technologies and creativity to build an incredibly compelling, immersive entertainment experience for kids and families. ... Combining the creativity and knowledge of the Club Penguin team with our existing Disney Online assets will help us further achieve our objective of establishing clear leadership in the kids and families online virtual worlds space around the globe."

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June 6, 2007 3:04 PM

Comparing bubbles: The dotcom and real estate

Posted by Brier Dudley

Blogs usually aren't chilling, but that's how it felt reading a post today by Henry Blodget, the former Merrill Lynch analyst accused of hyping Internet stocks in the last boom.

Blodget said he "can't help but note the similarities between the dotcom-crash rhetoric/predictions back in 2000 and the housing-crash rhetoric/predictions in the last 12 months."

All the way down, we kept revising forecasts (read: cutting estimates) to previously inconceivable levels, and each time we cut them, we reiterated our expectation that the inevitable trough and upturn was about six months away. It wasn't until two years after the shakeout began, when half of online advertising revenue had evaporated and more than 75% of the companies in the sector had keeled over that the downturn finally ended.... And by that time, most of us were so demoralized that we'd stopped predicting that there would ever be an upturn.

Housing obviously won't experience as deep a correction as the dotcoms did, but I haven't heard a single persuasive argument explaining why this downturn won't look like every previous housing downturn: i.e., will last a lot longer and drop much farther than most people think -- until price/rent and price/income ratios return to or below their long-term trend."

Blodget ran into trouble in part because he was publicly upbeat about companies like InfoSpace that he criticized in private, internal Merrill e-mails.

I hope real estate market analysts keep Blodget in mind.

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May 31, 2007 11:24 AM

Viacom boss: We'll build more than buy

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- So Viacom won't be buying Facebook, apparently.

Philippe Dauman, the new chief executive of the media giant who made waves by suing YouTube over copyright violations, said during a D session today that he may buy some smaller companies but isn't interested in blockbuster acquisitions.

"We're focusing on creating things within Viacom ... rather than paying an inflated price for an outside company,'' he said.

"I'd rather spend the extra $700 million developing new experiences," such as the virtual worlds built around Viacom franchises such as SpongeBob.

Regarding the ongoing lawsuit, Dauman said Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt called shortly after he took over Viacom nine months ago and they tried to negotiate a deal. Sticking points included how much control Google would have over Viacom content on YouTube, how Google would sell ads around the content and whether Google could contact Viacom's advertisers, he said.

Dauman spoke at the D conference after YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. They had stressed that they're educating consumers about copyright laws on their site, drawing guffaws from moderator Walt Mossberg.

Dauman said he was glad to hear them talking that way.

"Well, I think maybe they're starting to get the idea. I may have helped provide a graduate education in copyright," he said.

The big disclosure by Hurley and Chen was around YouTube's plans to start inserting ads in videos within a few months. Chen said their testing found that consumers were turned off by 30-second ads that play at the start of videos.

"I don't think we'll ever do 30-second pre-rolls," Chen said. "I think it's going to be somewhere between five and 10 seconds, as well as making it as relevant as we can."

Hurley said content creators would have the option of participating in the system, which would share revenue with them along the lines of Google's AdSense system. The site is already testing the approach.

"Within the next few months we're going to roll out more video-centric advertising," Hurley said.

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May 24, 2007 3:39 PM

"iPod Amnesty" photographer says lighten up

Posted by Brier Dudley


Rex Sorgatz / Fimoculous.com

The iPod Amnesty bin at Zune headquarters in Redmond.

The source of the now-famous photo of the iPod Amnesty recycling bin at Zune HQ in Redmond?

It was MSNBC.com's Rex Sorgatz, who took the photo last week and casually threw the image onto Flickr. He didn't even mention it on his Fimoculous blog until today, after it had been discovered and spun into a blogosphere hissy fit.

Rex responded on Flickr to an outraged Apple fan who decried the waste, the sacrilege, the travesty:

I think it's more of a joke than you're suggesting. Microsoft isn't actually dumb enough to think that people are going to drop their iPods in the bin -- it's a way to show they have a reasonable degree of levity.

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May 24, 2007 2:07 PM

Seattle's Eyejot faces off against Google, Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

In Cnet's Webware 100 contest, that is.

Eyejot, a Pioneer Square startup offering a service for sending video messages as if they were e-mail, is a finalist in the communication category.

Its competition for the award looks tough -- in addition to various Web 2.0 startups, the contenders include Google Talk, Gmail, Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail and Messenger.

They're among 250 finalists chosen from 5,000 entries. Vote on your favorites here; winners will be announced June 18.

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May 22, 2007 1:49 PM

How to get on TechCrunch: Cry on the phone

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's one interesting tidbit in the post of the day: Michael Arrington's lament for the good old days of 2005, before questions about Bubble 2.0 began in earnest.

Apparently he's a victim of his own success.

He misses the time when he thought people wanted to appear on his blog merely to start a discussion, before TechCrunch was profitable, before he became Web 2.0's kingmaker and a mandatory stop for startup promo tours bringing wine, flowers and "hot PR chicks."

He misses having burgers and beers with entrepreneurs, and hashing out business ideas in his living room:

"I left Silicon Valley at the peak of the insanity last time around, and I was pleasantly surprised when I returned in 2005 to see so much goodwill and community surrounding innovation. Now, it's just like the old days again, and Silicon Valley is no longer any fun. In fact, it's turned downright nasty. It may be time for some of us to leave for a while and watch the craziness from the outside again. In a few years, things will be beautiful again. The big money will be slumbering away, and the marketing departments will be a distant memory. We can focus, once again, on the technology. And the burgers and beer."

Will things be idyllic again after the bubble bursts? Who knows.

In the meantime, the tip of the day is that there's a cheaper way to get on Arrington's billboard, with no PR firm retainer required:

More than once I've had a CEO break down and cry on the phone when we said we weren't covering them. And more than once, I folded and wrote about them after those conversations.

Another way to get on Arrington's radar: Register for the tech conference he's holding in San Francisco in September. Tickets are $1,995 until July 15, when they go up to $2,495. For that price, the burgers better be good.

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May 3, 2007 3:40 PM

New search conference debuts in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new search marketing conference is scheduled for June 4 and 5 in Seattle.

SMX Search Marketing Expo is making its debut here, at Bell Harbor, before heading to Denver, New York and Orlando, Fla.

Headliners include speakers from the big three -- Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! -- and niche experts like Rand Fishkin of Seattle's SEOmoz and Marchex Senior Vice President Scott Greenberg.

Microsoft's lineup includes Rob Ashby, a business development manager who formerly led Expedia's search team; Brian Boland, adCenter marketing manager, and Doug Stotland, adCenter director.

The conference costs $1,200 to $1,500, depending on when you register, or $25 to just visit the exposition area.

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May 3, 2007 12:17 PM

Dining with geeks: Upcoming events

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Web entrepreneurs don't seem to have as many of the ad hoc gatherings as the Bay Area blognoscenti, but that may be changing.

A Friday dinner event is coming together to toast Hugh MacLeod, a British marketing consultant with a popular blog featuring cartoons he scribbles on the back of business cards.

MacLeod is coming to visit Microsoft, which hired him to work on its image. He apparently won them over with his depiction of the company as a blue monster saying "change the world or go home." He's also speaking at the MarketSmart conference at Bell Harbor.

Details are being worked out here for the dinner, which sounds like it will end up someplace between Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market.

MacLeod received similar treatment in San Francisco, where Robert Scoble organized a dinner for him on Tuesday. Maybe more of us ought to try cartooning.

Separately, Seattle blogger and EMC employee Josh Maher is suggesting a more regular gathering similar to the Bay Area's Lunch 2.0 series.

I can't make the Friday event but I'd love to participate in the lunch thing if it takes off. I might even be able to convince the Times to buy a round of appetizers.

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April 24, 2007 1:47 PM

Arrington raves about Yapta, disses Seattle weather

Posted by Brier Dudley

Power pundit Michael Arrington said Yapta, a Seattle travel-deal service launching next month, "will be awesome for heavy travelers":

"I don't know what it is about Seattle and travel startups, but newcomer Yapta now joins Farecast and TripHub, two other startups we've been tracking from that cold, rainy place."

Expedia's the most obvious influence, but Seattle's been spawning innovative travel companies for a while now.

Yapta's passel of founders include Chairman Brett Allsop, who started sports retailer Fogdog in the late 1990s, former Microsoft program manager Amy Terrell, and Chief Executive Tom Romary, who has been a marketing executive at Fogdog, RealNetworks and Alaska Airlines. They're working out of Pioneer Square and Bellingham, with $750,000 in seed capital.

Arrington said it will offer a bookmarking tool for compiling and comparing flights and travel options. Buyers that purchase via Yapta may also be notified if the price falls, with a suggestion that they seek a refund or a coupon.

Glad to have TechCrunch reminding his California pals how terrible the weather is up here in the freezing northern territories.

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April 20, 2007 4:23 PM

Geek gaming alert issued for Capitol Hill

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Ignite folks are organizing a SmartMob game Saturday afternoon around Cal Anderson Park.

So don't be alarmed if you see cellphone-sporting hipsters talking about booty and saying strange things to each other on Capitol Hill. They may not stand out.

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April 4, 2007 9:31 AM

Zillow gets interactive

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the essence of the Home Q&A feature the company is unveiling today. I alluded to the upcoming changes in Monday's column on Zillow's attitude toward the softening real estate market.

Chief Executive Rich Barton described the feature as the tip of the iceberg and he's so right - there's a lot more happening here than a neighborhood discussion forum.

The top line is that people can pose and answer questions about homes and neighborhoods, providing a resource to home buyers, but it seems like this is really about building a sticky community site.

To participate in the discussions, users have to register and create profiles. Most of the profiles and discussions are likely to involve people actively selling homes or in the business.

Just as significant to the company, Zillow's busting a move into Google-style, self-serve, locally targeted box ads. These will run down the side of the page and probably be used mostly by realty firms, mortgage brokers and building service providers. The company will also continue to run larger, higher- cost ads.

I'm guessing the ads, profiles and discussion forums could thaw the chilly relationship the real estate industry has with Zillow. Most of the new features unveiled today can be seen as tools that agents could use to promote their listings and engage with potential buyers.

But Zillow and others Web companies are still changing the game by giving buyers better tools to find and research properties and neighborhoods. Zillow's also giving homeowners the ability to directly "list" their homes by tagging them as for sale, whether or not they're working with agents and the trade's Multiple Listing Service.

The ones who ought to get their hackles up now are newspaper publishers. Not only is Zillow trying to become a source of really local news and information, the EZ Ads are going after one of newspapers' last strongholds in classified advertising.

Papers are expanding online ad opportunities as well, and a coalition of large publishers is now running one of the top online real estate sites, HomeGain.com. Yet Zillow's engineering and design talent really shows on the "EZ Ads" ad placement console the company is unveiling today.

Barton and Zillow President Lloyd Frink briefed me on the new features.

One of my questions was whether Zillow would end up getting subpoenas, if someone takes issue with a home seller's disclosure report and sees that additional information has been disclosed in Zillow's Q&As. Barton said that's not a concern:

"This doesn't affect that process because those disclosures are being made in the normal real estate process ... there are professionals involved in those things. This is kind of additive information."

Opening up the site to community input may also help Zillow address one of its weak spots, the accuracy and credibility of its cornerstone Zestimate property valuations. The responsibility for providing accurate details of a home is now spread between Zillow, homeowners, listing agents and "the community."

On one hand that will give a richer picture than the Zestimates' blend of algorithms and public records. But I wonder if there's a risk that Zestimates - the site's secret sauce - will be overpowered by the discussions and user inputs. They may do a great job with forums, ads and a niche social network focused on real estate, but those thing aren't unique.

Barton said there are still more opportunities for Zillow to bring online the offline real estate experience:

"There's a pinata and it's full of great candy. We're taking swings at that pinata. We've kind of hit the leg a little bit and a couple pieces of candy have dropped out, but we think there are a lot of interesting swings that we can take to break open, expose, all of this information, all of these conversations."

The company raised $57 million and doesn't need more at this point, Barton said. It employs 135, mostly engineers, and is adding about 15 to 20 positions.

What will Zillow look like in five years? Barton's answer:

"Our bet is this really vibrant bazaar - it's a place where everybody who is interested in homes and real estate can come to get really smart and get their questions answered - it's just a community, a forum."

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April 3, 2007 11:44 AM

Phew! Blogs' meteoric growth rate finally slowing

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder productivity is tapering off -- people are spending all their time trying to keep up with blogs.

Blogs are continuing to grow exponentially, but at a slower rate, according to a report that blog ranking and search service Technorati will release tomorrow. They offered one intriguing nugget in a news release today:

From Q2 2004 through Q2 2006 the Blogosphere (total Blogs tracked) doubled every 5-7 months (150-220 days). While the growth rate of the Blogosphere remains strong, the overall doubling rate has now extended to over 320 days by March 2007.

What I want to know is how long the doubling will continue. It can't go on forever, unless we start calling everything a blog.

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March 28, 2007 1:17 PM

How Microsoft manipulates the media

Posted by Brier Dudley

Alternative headline: Did the Long Tail guy get wagged?

What am I talking about?

Wired has a story about Microsoft becoming more transparent and using blogs and other Web tools to have more conversations with customers and software developers.

It turns out Microsoft evangelists like Charles Fitzgerald placed (planted?) the story idea with reporter Fred Vogelstein and Wired's editor, Chris Anderson (the "long tail" guy). They took the bait and, during Fred's reporting, Microsoft's PR firm inadvertently sent him a briefing report that included details of how Microsoft was orchestrating the story.

Today the Wired guys bemusedly shared the details, after putting the story Microsoft planted on the cover. Amazing.

From Anderson's blog:

On a personal note, it's kind of freaky to read the memo describe how I was wooed (even manipulated, if you want to think of it that way) into commissioning the piece:

"CharlesF met with Chris Anderson during his fall tour in '06, placing the idea that Microsoft is thinking differently and creatively about its outreach.... Dan'l Lewin met with Chris Anderson in October and also emphasized the company's work in the arena, pushing the story further... Jeff Sandquist traveled to the Bay Area to meet with Chris and his editorial team. They were highly engaged in Jeff's conversation...."

And so on. By the way, as far as I can tell, everything in the memo is accurate. I also think the executives were very well served by the document; they did indeed stick to their message and they got pretty much the story they wanted. This was also, as it happens, the story I wanted -- or was it just the story I thought I wanted because I was so effectively spun by Microsoft's PR machine? The mind reels....

Why not pull the story and run something else after it became evident how clearly it had been shaped by Microsoft? There's plenty to write about.

Fred's a great writer and he's written super stories about Microsoft, especially at Fortune, but I wonder what readers will think about his stuff now.

Maybe it's sour grapes, but the briefing confirms my suspicions he's been getting the red carpet at Microsoft (leading to those framed magazine covers hanging in Building 34) while provincial reporters are lucky to get 15 minutes with Bill or Steve in a Las Vegas hotel suite once every few years.

Wired posted the Microsoft briefing online. It's perfectly normal for a company to brief executives before an interview, and for P.R. types to pitch stories, haggle with reporters and track their progress. But the amount of control they exerted over this story is stunning.

An excerpt:

We're pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing. I will connect with him Monday and based on that call we may have Charles provide Microsoft's final, closing comments given Fred's emphasis around Charles' involvement and his question to you today around any discussion that went on below you in the organization. Your emphasis on being connected to your org and the discussion around Channel 9 was ideal and we'll want to emphasize the broad support around the direction.

• We will continue to push Fred to make sure there are no surprises. We'll also be working with him on any art that Wired is likely to use.

• We anticipate an advance draft of the piece by mid-March with the final hitting newsstands at the close of March for the April edition.

Perhaps they'd like to suggest a headline as well?

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March 28, 2007 12:43 PM

Amazon.com partners with Federation of the Blind

Posted by Brier Dudley

The e-commerce giant will work with the National Federation of the Blind "to promote and improve technology that enables blind people to access and use the World Wide Web,'' they announced today.

Amazon will "continue improving the accessibility of its Web site platform" and the NFB will contribute expertise in Web accessibility, the release said.

I asked for more specifics and was told one aspect of the partnership involves "screen access software" that enables blind people to independently navigate the Web, access site aurally or through Braille displays and interact with sites using keyboard commands. The software relies on features that can be built into Web sites such as "alt-tags" describing images and keyboard command equivalents to mouse actions.

Amazon will make changes to its site by Dec. 31, but the agreement is in place for six years, said John G. Paré Jr, spokesman for Baltimore-based NFB.

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March 28, 2007 12:03 PM

Microsoft-DoubleClick deal to boost aQuantive?

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I saw the Wall Street Journal report that Microsoft may pay $2 billion for DoubleClick, I thought it might be a negative for Seattle online ad company aQuantive to have the folks in Redmond expanding their online ad services portfolio.

But Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Fine said the opposite. In a note to clients today she said the $2 billion valuation for DoubleClick suggests that aQuantive may be undervalued:

aQuantive's current market cap is around $2.4bn and its ad serving business, Atlas, is expected to generate approximately $150mn in revenues in FY07 as well. If DoubleClick can fetch $2bn, this could imply that aQuantive shares are highly undervalued and its agency business is worth only $400mn. Most interactive agencies have fetched more than 20x-25x EBITDA. Valuing aQuantive's agency business at these multiples implies a value of approximately $1.7bn and including $2bn would suggest upside potential of 54%! However, we do note that it is hard to know what DoubleClick's financials truly look like today.

AQNT was down with the rest of the market before her note came out but it has recently leveled out, to unchanged at last check.

What I want to know is whether Dow Jones ought to get a cut of the increased value of Internet companies that use its pages to pit Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and others against each other and land a better deal.

It's getting to be standard practice whenever a big deal goes down -- remember how AOL and eBay negotiated up their search partnerships? It has to be worth a fortune to the companies. Call it the $200 million press release.

Don't get me wrong. I'd love to break stories like this, and the reporters did a great job getting this one out first. But the pattern is troubling.

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March 28, 2007 11:02 AM

Jubii's Microsoft connection

Posted by Brier Dudley

That would be Jan Wergin, executive vice president at the bold new Danish social networking site.

Wergin studied and taught communications and languages at the University of Washington from 1995 to 2000, eventually receiving a Ph.D., before joining Microsoft. He was a program manager in the business tools division, working on Visio and Project, and then worked on the Office and Vista teams.

Now he's executive vice president of Jubii, which is based in Denmark. But he also travels a lot -- the company is a subsidiary of Germany-based Lycos, and it has a development office in Armenia. Within a few months it will also open an office in the San Francisco area.

Despite its international background, Jubii is initially targeting the U.S. market. In April it will launch in Germany and then other countries in Europe.

I said bold because Jubii's squaring off against companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! with its all-in-one social networking, file sharing, online storage and communications suite.

"I think there's still a lot of opportunity in the whole market,'' said Wergin.

He said consumers are tired of using multiple services with different logins and Jubii's simple, consolidated approach will appeal to them.

"I think at some point people are going to get very tired of having to manage all these different sites and profiles and inboxes,'' he said. "I think what we will see in the industry is a consolidation of these services. The service that is positioned the best is the one that will win eventually."

Jubii has been taking registrations for a few weeks but formally went live with its service on Tuesday.

It's one of several next-generation social networking sites with advanced privacy and sharing controls like Vox and Microsoft's Wallop.

Wergin said the service was designed to feel like a desktop application, rather than a mishmash of online services.

"Basically everything a user will use or can use on a normal desktop application he can also do in Jubii,'' he said. "We wanted to make sure people don't have to switch paradigms or think in different ways."

Jubii has a few lures that may help it stand out from the pack. One is the offer of 10 gigabytes of free online storage (it's going to eventually be offering tiers of free and premium services and storage).

The other offer -- and the one that gives Jubii a fighting chance, I think -- is free telephone calling services that could put pressure on free Internet calling services such as Skype, Google Talk and Microsoft's Live Messenger.

Jubii's trick is that you don't have to rig up a headset and talk through a computer. To place a call, you click on one of your contacts. Jubii routes the call through its network, and rings your phone and the phone of the person you are calling. Pick it up and you are connected.

Users can place free calls up to five minutes long apiece, totaling 30 minutes a day. That's for calls between land lines, or land lines to cellphones. Beyond that, you'll have to buy a bundle of minutes from the company.

The free level of service will be supported by advertising.

Jubii's also pitching itself to telecommunication companies as a potential partner. At first I thought that was odd -- wouldn't they be miffed about the free calls?

But Wergin explained that Jubii offers a compelling online package for telcos to add to their mix of services.

I'll bet Jubii is positioning itself as a way for phone companies to compete with Skype in particular. It will appeal to Skype users, and give phone companies a way to get in the online VoIP game (and charge for the additional minutes beyond the free ones).

Wergin put it differently. "I think we have a very competitive product,'' he said. "It gives a little bit different spin on this communication environment."

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March 27, 2007 4:34 PM

Party in Lynnwood, at NetRiver's new data center

Posted by Brier Dudley

Giveaways are on tap Thursday from 1 to 8:30 p.m. during the grand opening of NetRiver's colocation center in a former REI store.

The company started started providing Web hosting from a house in Spokane in 1999, then expanded into the basement of the historic Davenport Hotel.

Last year NetRiver moved into the REI space, which was available since the store had relocated to Alderwood Mall. It has 330 racks and plans to add 250 more, in addition to the 60 it still operates below the Spokane hotel.

Among the new site's selling points: The added security of being across the street from the Lynnwood Police Department.

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March 13, 2007 5:29 PM

Trying out Windows Live Writer

Posted by Brier Dudley

This post is sort of an experiment to see how Microsoft's Windows Live Writer works.

It's an application that lets you compose and upload entries to various blogging services, using an Office-like interface on a PC.

So far it's had a fairly good reception from the in-crowd bloggers, and Microsoft's letting people use the trial version for free. I'll bet we'll hear more about it -- perhaps a new version and launch date? -- at Microsoft's Mix Web conference next month in Las Vegas.

Among its tricks is a tool for inserting maps, like this one of The Seattle Times (I'm sitting behind those trees on the upper left side):

It also has a nifty tool for inserting photos. I'm probably not supposed to use it, since we have a system for routing images through the photo department.

I did try the tool and posted a picture of my dog. The tool was nice for sizing and watermarking the image, but the image bled over into the previous blog entry.

It's funny, the layout looked fine in the "preview" Live Writer provided, but it came out wrong on the blog. I'm not sure if it's the Live Writer or the blogging software we use. I know we've had challenges placing photos with the latter, and the former is still beta. But the most likely explanation is operator error.

So, my first impression: Nice tool for writing blog entries. I'm looking forward to trying different features and seeing if I can get the image thing right. If this was my personal blog and not a product of the Times, I'd be all over this one. 

UPDATE: Thanks for the tips, commenters. I gave it another shot this morning and it worked fine when I placed the photo higher in the posting, as I did with the Netgear entry above. The problem I had yesterday was with an image at the bottom of the post.

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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.