Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: apps, Enterprise, Europe, Mobile | No Comments » | 0 views
iZettle, the mobile payments company that has been described as a European version of Square, is today making a move that places it one national boundary away from the U.S. mobile payment company’s own backyard: iZettle is launching its iOS and Android service in Mexico. This is the Swedish company’s first move outside of Europe, and comes in the wake of a $6.6 million funding round from the Spanish financial services behemoth Banco Santander, announced just last week and made specifically to build out the solution into more markets globally.
Yes, the mobile payments market — like those chilies being sold by the small merchant pictured here, who probably only accepts cash payments today — is heating up.
To coincide with the launch, iZettle is also appointing a new MD for Mexico, Luis Arceo, who had been with Visa.
Jacob de Geer, the founder and CEO of iZettle, tells me that of the many markets where Banco Santander is active — the bank has operations across Latin America, the U.S., Portugal, Germany and Poland, in addition to the UK and Spain, with $1.86 trillion in managed funds, 102 million customers and 14,392 branches — it chose Mexico first for three reasons.
For starters, he notes that nearly all (99.8%) of the businesses in Mexico are small and medium enterprises, iZettle’s target market because, compared to bigger chains, they may be more likely to lack enough turnover to justify the investment needed for more tradition card payment processing services.
Similar to Square’s dongle and those of Here and many other competitors, iZettle’s smartphone accessory lets merchants and other businesses process credit cards using an app on a smartphone or tablet. iZettle’s particular service works on iOS and Android devices, and the company today is launching a new device that is all-in-one for all platforms and payment methods, be they chip or mag stripe. Interestingly, though, it looks like iZettle will be hiking up fees in the country. In Europe, the company charges a flat 2.75% fee, while in Mexico the fee for chip-based transactions will be 3.75% and for mag-stripe 4.75%. On top of that, merchants need to pay $499 (MXN) — about 40 U.S. dollars — for the reader, but Banco Santander customers will get a discount.
De Geer notes that 95% of cards in Mexico are chip-based. That, in fact, may be one reason why Square, whose dongle reads the magnetic stripe for transactions, may have yet to make a move here. (It’s thought that this is one reason why it has yet to launch in Europe as well.)
There is also the Santander angle: the bank is the third largest in the country and “growing rapidly,” deGeer notes.
And the third is perhaps the most contentious of all from a competitive standpoint: “Mexico is an interesting bridgehead given its geographical location,” deGeer notes. “With our new Chip & Mag reader that we’re launching, we could theoretically continue expanding north or south with the current infrastructure.”
Them’s fightin’ words, I think. iZettle, prior to today’s news, had operations in the UK, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. More specifically, in the past, deGeer has made a point of saying that it would not be looking to tussle with Square in any of the markets where it currently operates, which include the U.S., Canada and most recently Japan.
When iZettle picked up $31.4 million in June 2012 (it’s now raised $66 million in total), the intention was to be the biggest player of its kind in Europe.
“Our priority is to get the UK fully launched, and then look at other major markets like Spain, Italy, France and Germany,” de Geer told TechCrunch at the time. “We’re not interested in the U.S. They’re doing really well with Square and others.”
That tune has changed quite a lot in the last year. Rather than ruling out the U.S., now deGeer says, “Time will tell” when and if that move gets made.
Given that iZettle already has services in Spanish because of its operations in Spain, this will make one of the challenges of entering a new market a little less complicated. The backing of Santander will also help with connecting with and marketing to local small businesses. “The biggest challenge for us in any market we want to enter is always to localize the service in terms of language, currency, sign up process as well as finding the right distribution channels,” de Geer notes. “We live in a globalized world but to be successful you still need to act local. For those reasons, we believe our strategic partnership with Santander will be very valuable.”
For Santander, it will be one more way of picking up and locking in customers at a time of disruption across the financial services industry, as behemoths like Visa find themselves disrupted by much smaller startups, with everything else in between. “This partnership extends our offering of payment methods available on Banco Santander’s platform globally, and strengthens our position as the leading bank for SMEs,” noted Jorge Alfaro Lara, deputy general director of payment systems at Banco Santander Mexico, in a statement. “We are pushing the boundaries of banking with relevant technological innovation that helps small and medium businesses.”
Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: apps, Europe, Mobile, Search | No Comments » | 0 views
Yandex, referred to as the “Google of Russia” for its dominance in search and subsequent extension into cloud-based services like maps, online storage and apps, today is unveiling another service that will give it a stronger foothold in the fast-growing mobile market: it is debuting a dedicated mobile browser, which will feature a single box for URLs and searches, voice recognition features and more. But Yandex is still stopping short of launching a full-blown, Android-style mobile platform to complete the picture.
There are “no plans” to develop a mobile operating system, a spokesperson tells me. “It doesn’t make sense for us. It is a totally different business. Anyway, we [now] have everything for our own mobile ecosystem on Android: search, apps like Mail and Maps, 3D UI (Yandex.Shell), app store and now the browser.”
Yandex.Browser for mobile comes on the back of Yandex last year launching a dedicated desktop browser of the same name in October 2012. That browser now has around 8 million users in Russia, or a 5%-6% market share.
The mobile version will launch, the company says, “later this year.”
The move comes at a time when Yandex is already a strong player in mobile. Not only are its maps and other apps already popular among iOS and Android users (and it has a deal with Apple to help power its native mapping product on iOS devices in Russian-speaking countries, as part of the latter company’s gradual distancing from Google), but Yandex already holds about half of all searches on Android devices. This is a significant metric and perhaps more significant than where Yandex is positioned right now on iOS: Android is the platform where it concentrates a lot of its energy because it is the fastest-growing in Russia, across a range of low-cost and high-end handsets.
“According to our stats Yandex have about 49% of searches on Android, but for sure we want more,” the spokesperson notes. It has around a 60% stake in online search in Russia, with other big players including Google.
While Yandex has focused, and continues to focus, a lot of its efforts to date on Russian-language markets and to a lesser extent Turkey, new mobile services, where the playing field remains open has been an opportunity for Yandex to test out and export more services in English. In that vein, it’s launching Yandex.Browser for mobile in both Russian and English-language users.
(The ill-fated, but full-of-potential Wonder app in the U.S. is one example of how that hasn’t always worked, though.)
Like the online browser, the mobile browser is built WebKit (Blink on Android). And like Chrome, it lets users incorporate both URLs and searches into a single box that Yandex calls “Smartbox.” This will tie a user into using Yandex search first on the browser.
Interestingly, although Yandex competes fairly fiercely with Google in Russia and other markets where Yandex is established, outside of it the search giant becomes a major partner. The English version of the mobile browser, Yandex notes, will have Google as its default search (except in China, where Baidu is the default. “This is because we want to make the browser really convinient for people outside of Russia, CIS and Turkey,” the spokesperson says. Users can also set the default search to either Bing or Yahoo in the English version.
These are not commercial deals, but if and when Yandex gets more users on the browser, “we will think about some alternative ways to monetize it, like revenue-sharing models for search engines and websites preset on browser’s launch page.” In home markets, the browser’s main revenue stream will come from search ads.
Other features to come will also include “integration with social networks, synchronization between mobile and desktop versions of the browser and improved user experience,” the company says. And as you can see in some of the screenshots in this post, it looks like there will also be some integration of voice-based search and potentially other features, too.
Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: apps, Mobile, Social, Startups | No Comments » | 0 views
Advertising giant WPP is taking another step into the world of startup investments, this time specifically in mobile and social media. WPP Ventures, an investment arm of WPP digital, today announced a stake in Muzy, a social media platform arranged in a Pinterest-style grid layout that lets users incorporate links to images, games, text and more, which they then share with their friends, or with the world at large. The site, in some regards, has flown under the radar, but it has some 20 million users and is adding 1 million each month. Terms of the investment were not disclosed but we are trying to find out.
That growth, however, and the facts that Muzy is social and mobile, are three possible reasons for why WPP took an interest in the site.
Muzy, founded in 2011 and based in San Francisco, was founded by Andrew Chen (CEO) and Matt Rubens (CTO). Chen had also held positions at Mohr Davidow Ventures and Revenue Science, while Rubens, an engineer, has worked at Amazon.com, among other places. According to a release, the company will be using the funding to staff up — it currently employs less than 10 people — and “build out the suite of creative publishing tools for the Muzy platform.” At the moment, when you go to the site, you can choose from some 50 widgets to publish content into your page. It’s this app-within-app facility that sets Muzy apart from other platforms focused on content creation and self-expression, and could be one way for the company to differentiate longer term.
It could also be a way for WPP to potentially look at ways of monetizing. You can imagine, for example, widgets or channels getting sponsored by brands, not to mention pages themselves. In an age where users are getting increasingly desensitized to display advertising online, you can see how new formats like these will continue to be tested out as ways of getting users to engage with marketing (as a way, also, of financing sites like these).
WPP has developed something of a track record in making strategic investments into digital, specifically mobile and other emerging areas, as a way of shoring up against larger trends in the industry away from more traditional forms of media like print.
Following where the consumer masses (and their eyeballs) are going, WPP has taken stakes in e-commerce sites like MySupermarket ($10 million in April 2012); and more straight media plays, such as yesterday’s news, a stake in Fullscreen (undisclosed amount). Perhaps the biggest of these for a long time will be the company’s acquisition of digital agency AKQA (June 2012, reportedly at a $550 million valuation).
It’s the AKQA deal that has provided the engine to today’s news around Muzy. The investment is being led by WPP Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based operation for WPP’s bigger investment efforts. WPP Ventures is being led by president Tom Bedecarré, who is also chairman of AKQA.
WPP, one of the world’s very biggest ad agencies, says that in 2012 its digital revenues were over $5 billion, some 33% of its total revenues of $16.5 billion. It’s long been pursuing a target of getting 40% of its revenues coming from digital by 2018.
We have reached out to WPP and Muzy for more details and will update this post as we learn more.
Posted: June 17th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Disconnect, Privacy, Startups | No Comments » | 0 views
As we continue to see more details brought to light in how the government requests and uses information about what we do on the web and on our mobile devices, an ex-Googler and a consumer rights attorney who have dedicated themselves to helping users remain private have raised some funding to do this better and in more places.
Disconnect, the startup behind the Disconnect.me extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers, which lets users of Facebook, Google and Twitter keep themselves from being tracked by third party sites, and the Disconnect 2 app that covers some has raised a $3.5 million Series A round.
At the same time, as a measure of dedication to its principle of being positioned not for profit but for social good, Disconnect has been designated as a B Corporation, a semi-charitable certification. With the tax breaks and other help that this offers, it will let Disconnect dedicate time to raising awareness and campaigning as well as to creating for-profit products.
“As a B Corporation, we’re able to spend more time than a traditional company on activities such as consumer education, petition drives, and close collaboration with non-profits,” Gus Warren, a former Venture Partner at FirstMark Capital who is part of Disconnect’s executive team, noted in a statement. “Disconnect is committed to benefiting not just shareholders but all stakeholders, including the public.” Warren will run the company’s New York office.
This most recent round of funding was led by FirstMark Capital, and comes on the back of a $600,000 seed round announced in March 2012. That round was led by Highland Capital Partners with participation from Charles River Ventures, and angels including David Cancel, Mark Jacobstein, Ramesh Haridas, Vikas Taneja, Chris Hobbs, and Andy Toebben.
Founders Brian Kennish, formerly an engineer at Google who left to work on this full-time, and Casey Oppenheim, a consumer rights attorney, say the startup will be using the funding first of all to help with the launch of Disconnect 2 for Safari and Opera browsers.
Disconnect 2, launched in April 2013 as a Chrome and Firefox extension, blocks some 2,000 third-party websites that track you across the web. That vastly expands the power of the service that initially focused on a handful of portals Disconnect.me first kicked off when Kennish was still at Google and created the Chrome extension for Facebook specifically, in October 2010.
Kennish notes that Disconnect 2 has gotten more than 250,000 new users since launching in April and that all the startup’s apps combined have more than 1,000,000 weekly active users. Within the current range of software, it is charged on a pay-what-you-want model. “Like Humble
Bundle,” says Kennish, who adds, “Some of our upcoming releases will also include freemium
In addition to helping block some 2,000 third-party sites that track users’ browsing histories, the Disconnect 2 extension also helps filter out malware and encrypts data that you share on sites “to prevent wireless eavesdropping.” The company also promises that by cutting down on a lot of the tracking noise, users are actually able to see faster-loading pages and use 17% less bandwidth on average.
“Increasingly, people want to know who’s tracking them online and want to have a say about what information is being collected about them,” Oppenheim noted in a statement. “Our software is designed to put users back in control so they can decide how their personal data is used,” adds Kennish.
Longer term, the company also hopes to focus more on protecting users around the various features of data mining. “We’ve always thought one of the biggest threats to people’s online privacy is just how big data mining is getting,” noted Kennish. “There’s so much personal data being collected about us in so many places now and all that data is susceptible to being used in ways we don’t want. So our goal is to help people minimize the unwanted collection and use of their data. We started by tackling third-party tracking because most people don’t know their browsing history is being tracked by thousands of invisible websites they’ve probably never even heard of.”
The company is also becoming increasingly focused on security services? “We think there are way
too many holes in online consumer security, which recent events have made even more obvious, and we want to help plug some of those holes.”
Posted: June 17th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: apps, Facebook, Instagram, Media, Mobile, Social, VIDEO | No Comments » | 0 views
We’ve been working on getting more details on a press event that Facebook is having this week. Earlier, we wrote it could launch a news-reading app, but we have since heard more details that point to something else entirely. On June 20, a source says Facebook will unveil that Instagram, its popular photo-sharing app, will begin to let people also take and share short videos. Call it the Vine effect.
We are still looking for more information because we understand that Facebook has not wanted the details of June 20 to leak out — so this could be an intentional blind alley. But if the Instagram video report is true, you could say the event invite itself — sent by snail mail, coffee cup stain charmingly in one corner — is a red herring of its own.
Earlier reports about Instagram getting video provide some indication, though, that this is not coming out of the blue. Most recently, about three weeks ago Matthew Keys broke a story noting that such a service was getting tested internally. At the time, there wasn’t any information on when it would be coming out, nor whether there would be filters, nor whether this would be in a separate app or part of an Instagram update. The videos would be between five and 10 seconds in length, he noted.
Getting video on Instagram is a move that would make sense. Specifically, it looks like a direct response to the rising popularity of video-sharing services, namely Twitter’s Vine. It, and others like Viddy, Cinemagram and Socialcam, sometimes get described as “Instragram for video” apps.
The Vine app — which lets users take six seconds of video footage on an iOS or Android handset and then share those clips to Vine’s own network, Twitter or Facebook — has shot up in popularity since going live in January. After Twitter debuted an Android version of Vine in the beginning of June, usage reached a tipping point: shares of Vines surpassed those of Instagram photos on Twitter — usage that has only diverged even more since then:
Of course, you could argue that part of the reason is because Twitter no longer shows inline views of Instagram photos — that may have affected how many Instagram photos have been shared to Twitter.
When those Instagram/Twitter cards disappeared, we noted that part of the reason for the move — taken by Facebook/Instagram, not Twitter — appeared to be to drive more direct traffic to Instagram itself, a popular social network in its own right, with over 100 million monthly active users, rising sharply since Facebook bought the company last year for $715 million.
Putting in a video service could serve to further that strategy even more, before new-but-already-popular services like Vine get more of a foothold. It will mean one less app and social network for users to build up, and, for those who like to take and share videos, another reason to visit Instagram. You can see how something like video could be a very sticky complement to its photo service.
There could be another reason for adding video to the service: it’s a very attractive medium for advertisers and marketers.
Of course, Instagram is not running any ads yet — in fact, Facebook and Instagram got a lot of heat over changes in their terms of service in December over how it could implement advertising services in the future — so much heat that they rolled back the ToS and apologized. And in Facebook’s last quarterly earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a point of noting that while big brands were interested in advertising on Instagram, for now there were no plans to implement this. (That’s not to say that Instagram is not already a substantial marketing platform for brands.)
And with 100 million+ users, you could argue that there may not be enough scale there yet to really monetize ads properly. Adding in video is laying the groundwork — and providing one more engine to grow that Instagrammer base.
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
Photo: ripleyb, Instagram
Additional reporting: Josh Constine
Posted: June 14th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Europe, Google, Mobile, Nokia | No Comments » | 0 views
The Google deal to buy Waze — reportedly for $1.1 billion — is a strong move for both companies to enhance their respective mapping services, and to help monetize them better. But it could also serve as the tipping point for Nokia to turn the screws on getting Google to take licenses for certain mapping patents that it owns, or else face legal consequences.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Nokia has been eyeing up taking legal action against the search, mobile (and mapping) giant for a while now, and the Waze deal could be the tipping point for that to finally happen.
“Nokia has held off on a suit against Nokia for Google Maps for several years just waiting for the right time to approach with an overall suit covering Android and Maps,” our source says. The right time, it seems, could be based on two patents owned by Nokia, 7,628,704 and its extension, 8,070,608, along with a possible third, 7,092,964, which is more related to location-based mobile advertising. Nokia has more than 9,000 patents both filed and granted in the area of spatial relationships (some covering software, some hardware).
On the first of these, the ’704, our source notes that this specific patent covers Waze directly, in relation to the fundamental technology behind encouraging users to collect spatial data without paying them via money, with a specific call-out for games. “This is at the core of Waze,” the source says.
“It is very likely that they would file on the spatial data side against Google,” our source added. “The Google Maps and Maps API only impacted them somewhat because of what Microsoft, Garmin, Samsung and so many others pay but Waze likely pushed it too far from a risk standpoint.”
The ’704 patent was first filed in 2006 and granted in 2009. From the abstract, it looks like it was conceived for gaming first, and location tracking second:
A method is disclosed for collecting geographic data during game play. A game scenario includes an activity for the game player to perform. The game player may be given an incentive within the context of the game for performing the activity. The incentive may be of non-monetary, monetary or in-game value. Performing the activity within the context of the game directly or indirectly results in the generation of data that is collected and used for the purpose of updating, adding to or supplementing a geographic database.
The patent and the related patents all come from a trove that Nokia picked up as part of its $8 billion acquisition of Navteq, which forms the basis now of its here mapping division.
That division is still loss-making, but has also been highlighted as a core part of Nokia’s mobile strategy. That is both for their own devices now running on Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, and as a way of moving in as a third-party player for IP for other mobile companies. After losing its position as the world’s biggest phone maker after the rise of Apple’s iPhone, Android and a number of strong handset makers (like current world leader Samsung) that have build devices on Google’s OS, maps are arguably one of Nokia’s strongest products.
On another track for revenue generation, CEO Stephen Elop has noted that Nokia will make $653 million in patent licensing revenues this year, and it is “watching closely” for more targets.
One of the lead inventors named on the patent, Kurt Uhlir, ran Navteq’s skunkworks for years, along with board-level projects. His patents are used for a number of video games including Flight Simulator X from Microsoft (going back to the gaming element of these patents).
Nokia does not details of all its patent licensing deals, but Facebook, Foursquare, Garmin and Motorola are among those who are believed to have already licensed the ’704 and related patents, some possibly in connection with licensing mapping data or in exchange for providing other data to Nokia.
As you can see from this SEC request to Apple for details of its patent licensing settlement with Nokia, the exact terms of what licenses get granted to whom are not required to be made public (and that, by default, could raise questions of whether Apple also has access to this patent). Another company that could fall into that category is TeleAtlas, now owned by TomTom (which provides some data to Apple for its mapping product), which also settled with Navteq over patents (but also sued it for antitrust violations).
Asked for a response, Nokia would not confirm anything to TechCrunch. “We don’t comment on our legal strategy,” a spokesperson said. “We also don’t discuss whether we may or may not have been in talks with other companies. But, as a long term innovator in this industry, and with a portfolio of around 10,000 patent families, it should be no surprise that we have a number of patents for leading edge technologies.”
Posted: June 14th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Media, Mobile, Music, Social | No Comments » | 0 views
Songbird, an early digital music service that aimed to compete against the iTunes, Pandoras and Spotifies of this world with an open source platform, is shutting down on June 28, after running out of money and failing to find a buyer. The startup, backed by Sequoia, Atlas Venture and Phillips, had raised at least $11 million and is planning to formally announce the news on its own site later today.
“Unfortunately, the company has found ourselves unable to fund further business operations and as of June 28, 2013 all of Songbird’s operations and associated services will be discontinued,” CEO Eric Wittman wrote in an email to TechCrunch. A post in Digital Trends on the closure notes that a sale of the company had fallen through at the last minute.
Songbird is the flagship product launched back in 2007 by Pioneers of the Inevitable, first as a desktop open source alternative to iTunes, and more recently as an online, Android and iPhone app that also offers ways to stream music, incorporating different audio formats and making an especially strong emphasis on higher-quality audio FLAC files, and offering YouTube-powered access to playlists. The online social music service, songbird.me, was attracting over one million users each month, Wittman says.
The open-source code behind Songbird was used as the basis for other services that could then customize the look and features (and subsequent monetization) around it. That code is still available to download, but it’s not sure for how long, and it’s also the basis of a service, Nightingale, that Wittman and Songbird are now recommending as an alternative to Songbird’s users.
It looks like POTI will close along with the demise of Songbird. It is unclear how many employees will be affected. We have reached out to the company, as well as its investors, and will update this post as we learn more.
You can see how it may have been hard for a company like Songbird, which lost its founder Rob Lord back in 2009 amid a bid to improve its monetization, to compete and get enough scale in the margin-squeezed world of digital music.
On the download side, companies like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon are oversized players. Meanwhile, mindshare (and marketshare) in streaming music services go to Spotify, Pandora and to a lesser extent companies like Rdio and Deezer; and there are yet more, well-backed names wading into the game every day, including Apple’s iTunes Radio and Twitter Music.
Update: that announcement is now live, and Wittman has also answered some of our questions. He says that plans for Songbird now are to work on placing the team members, “do our best to transition customers and to find a buyer for the assets. We’ll be working hard to do all of this over the next few weeks.”
He notes that the company, after a restructure in 2012, had 11 employees. “These folks were rock stars in their respective areas and loved working together as a team and did so very well.” It was during the restructure in 2012 that Wittman, who had been SVP of product, became CEO. He’s been with the company since June 2011.
“We currently have enough [cash] to sustain minimal operations through end of the month,” he adds. The company had been in the middle of pivoting the business from being one primarily focused on licensing our Desktop product to 3rd parties to one focused on offering premium features such as remote music collection access; music in HD formats like FLAC; and advertising. “Sadly we were unable to make this transition in time before cash ran out.”
Posted: June 13th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: apps, Google, Mobile | No Comments » | 0 views
Google, the worldwide leader in mobile advertising, today made another move that could help consolidate its position a little bit further. The company today announced to developers that it would be shutting down AdWhirl, a platform that let app developers switch between different ad networks on the fly. AdWhirl was a part of AdMob, acquired by the mobile ad network after a flurry of competition, just months before AdMob was acquired itself by Google for $750 million.
In a letter to developers sent out today (embedded below), Google said that they will until September 30 to decide where they would like to move their ads. It’s encouraging them to migrate to AdMob Mediation, a competing tool that it launched after the acquisition while continuing to support AdWhirl. They can also continue to use AdWhirl, if they care to use the open source code “to run their own AdWhirl service.” But Google won’t be involved with hosting or supporting it.
Predictably, some developers are not happy with the decision because they believe the timeline is too short.
“We developers understand that it might be discontinued in the future, but terminating this in three months is just too fast for us to migrate,” writes Vinh Nguyen, a developer at Mad Rabbit, who forwarded us the letter. “A lot of developers depended on most of their revenue through this product.”
Others are commenting on Google’s forums. “Some of us have used AdWhirl for 4 years and have tons of apps to update for this change,” one wrote. “When you killed off Google Ads and forced us to use AdMob at least you gave us till the end of the year. What about the users that don’t upgrade, will you continue serving them ads?”
Eric Leichtenschlag, an engineer with AdMob, notes that AdWhirl.com will also be shut down, so users will not be able to log into their accounts after September 30. For those apps that don’t migrate from the service, mediation will stop working. “This means we will return a 404 to the SDK and there will be a blank space where the ad used to be.”
Those 404s will be a thorny issue for some developers. Nguyen says AdWhirl is not just used to aggregate ad networks for apps, but distribution of those apps across different app stores. “We now have a lot of users who have downloaded our apps through these third party sites, and they are right now generating a lot of ad request (revenue) for us,” he says. “On third party sites it’s a lot harder to reach the users again for an update of our apps. This is because most these sites do not have update notification build in like with the Play Store. We are mostly depended on users to go back to the site and check for an update themselves.”
It’s a whimper of an ending for a service that was once a thorn in the side of AdMob, since it was initially used as a way for competing networks like Quattro (now part of Apple) and Jumptap (still independent) to have more leverage against the most dominant player. Until that player took AdWhirl, and its revenues, for itself, users of the mediation platform could swap in ads on their apps on the fly from a number of networks (an unlimited number, AdWhirl says on its site), a model that forces more competition in pricing.
But in the greater scheme of things, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
As Google continues to earn more than half of all worldwide revenues in mobile ads (in 2013, eMarketer predicts Google will make nearly $9 billion out of global sales of nearly $16 billion), it has been making a number of efforts to streamline its mobile ad operations.
That includes a rebuild of AdMob’s developer tools in May, and integrating AdMob and AdWords. And it points out that the newer system is actually better, because it covers more ad formats, better reporting (for AdMob, at least), and has better Google support built in (of course), among other things. A Google service is still a Google service, by any other name.
Dear AdWhirl by AdMob Developer,
AdWhirl has been supported by Google since 2010, when it became part of the Google family through the acquisition of AdMob. Since then, we’ve invested in helping AdMob developers serve ads in their apps from any number of ad networks through AdMob Mediation, which many developers use today. As we continue to improve AdMob Mediation, we’ve decided to retire AdWhirl, and will be discontinuing the service on 30 September 2013. The open source code for AdWhirl will still be available if anyone wants to run their own AdWhirl service.
AdMob Mediation is at no cost and more robust, with features like network-level reporting, country-level allocation and support for more ad formats. You can learn more about the specific features of AdMob Mediation here.
We encourage you to start using AdMob Mediation prior to 30 September. You’ll need an AdMob account to begin using AdMob Mediation. If you have one already you can find instructions for switching from AdWhirl here. If not, you can sign up for an AdMob account here.
The Google AdMob Team
[story updated with additional quote from developer]
Posted: June 13th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Facebook, Social | No Comments » | 0 views
Move over Reeder, Feedly, Digg, NewsBlur, Feedbin and the rest of the RSS players who hope to pick up some new users with the impending demise of Google Reader. Facebook may also be looking to wade into the game.
Asked whether Facebook is planning to launch an RSS product, a spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch, “We’re not commenting.” But there are some hints in Facebook’s Graph API code that could indicate otherwise.
Lines of code referring to “rssfeeds” have recently started to appear in Facebook’s Graph API code. Linking the RSS feed to a user’s Facebook ID, the code schema also covers such aspects as title, URL and update time. Each RSS feed subsequently has entries and subscribers.
Sleuthing developer Tom Waddington, who brought the new RSS code to our attention, notes that when he tried to run this new code through Facebook’s Graph API Explorer, the results come up as restricted only to whitelisted addresses.
While Google has decided to shut down its Reader product because “usage has declined,” it pointed out at the time that “the product has a loyal following.” Facebook, always on the search for users to spend more time on its site, could use an RSS service as one route to achieving that, while at the same time getting its chance to play the hero out of one of Google’s many bouts of spring cleaning.
It also makes sense that Facebook would want to offer users an alternative way to consume content on its platform. It’s already become a go-to homepage of sorts for users aggregating news, information, social updates and entertainment feeds into one stream; this could be used as another.
It could also be connected with a rumored update to Notes to better compete with Tumblr. This too could use an RSS feed to bring in content.
Indeed, what the code doesn’t seem to make clear is whether the feeds would be of Facebook content or content from the broader web. Nor is it clear that whatever RSS feeds end up powering, it would ever be positioned as a straight Google Reader replacement, since, as my colleague Sarah points out, RSS never went mainstream so most users would not know what this means.
Creating a feature that could aggregate content from the wider web would make sense: if Graph Search already lets you look in the wider web for content, why not an RSS feed to help aggregate that better?
Facebook has dabbled in RSS before. In 2011, it added a “Subscribe via RSS” option to Pages, along with “Subscribe via SMS.” This is how that option looked:
In December 2012, Facebook dropped Subscribe in favor of a new “Follow” feature. At some point around that and the Timeline update, it appears to have quietly dropped the “Subscribe via RSS” feature.
You can still apparently subscribe to a Page in RSS, but it’s not exactly one step. (Here’s an example of a slightly laborious how-to.). Facebook also lets users create RSS feeds for their own Notifications, but again it’s not something you can do with one click of your mouse. In both cases, there are separate windows and manual copying of code involved — easy and nothing for some geeks; but not a mass-market opportunity.
Still, I wondered if the code that Waddington found in the Graph API might be somehow related to that Notification feature. “The simplest way to know it’s unrelated to those Notification RSS points is that it’s also in the API,” he tells me. You can add, remove and edit multiple RSS feeds per user in the newer code. “Spitting out the data Facebook already has wouldn’t involve the API like that.”
The new code that’s appeared describes connections from a user to RSS feeds, an RSS feed having multiple entries, and each RSS feed being subscribed to by multiple users. “It’s *exactly* what you’d code to start up a Google Reader clone,” he says.
Posted: June 13th, 2013 | Author: Ingrid Lunden | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: apps, Mobile, Startups, YouTube | No Comments » | 0 views
When it comes to online video networks, Google’s YouTube is the oversized and undisputed king of the hill with 1 billion monthly unique visitors. Yet that domination sometimes obscures some of the interesting developments that are afoot the smaller startups also working in the same space. Vuclip, the California-based mobile video streaming network that focuses its efforts mainly in emerging markets, is today reporting that it now has 80 million monthly unique users, nearly double the 45 million it reported back in February, along with 1.5 billion minutes of mobile video served every month across 700 channels+ of content from Disney, Sony and other premium providers.
Backed by $27 million from the likes of NEA and SingTel, the startup’s CEO, Nickhil Jakatdar, tells TechCrunch that with the current rate of growth, it expects to be profitable by the end of 2014, without needing to raise any more money.
That, and Vuclip’s video streaming inventory and the technology underpinning it, are now making the company an acquisition target. We have heard from well-placed sources that Vuclip has been approached both by large portal companies, as well as carriers, looking for assets like these.
On the portal side, it seems that the interest may be in the video platform and the technology — both offering inventory and ways of monetizing it to companies looking to sell more rich-media online advertising. Carriers, meanwhile, might be more interested in picking up Vuclip’s captive video audience as a way of connecting and selling services to mobile consumers. (Reminder: one of Vuclip’s investors is the carrier Singtel.)
Jakatdar avoids commenting on the details of who may have approached the company, but he does admit it has been, and that he has said no for now, partly because he wants to see how much further he can grow the company before it either gets transformed or shut down by a new owner (not uncommon practice in the world of M&A).
“We’re not ready to hand over the keys,” he says, but he also adds that the company is interested in buying more assets itself.
In February, Vuclip made its first acquisition, the mobile video company Jigsee, to expand its own premium content inventory and app capabilities in India, one of Vuclip’s biggest markets. Now the aim is for “a few more” acquisitions in the next year. These, he notes, will be about picking up more technology to improve its platform, rather than to acquire users or content (which it seems to be doing fine on its own steam).
The fact that Vuclip is significantly smaller than YouTube has pushed it to think beyond advertising when considering how best to make money.
Not only does it lack the scale needed to get any kind of decent return on ads placed alongside premium content — let alone those trying to monetize long-tail content — but mobile advertising is still a small-time game, especially in the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America where Vuclip is used most.
Mobile data networks constrained in these parts of the world, and the mobile ad business is simply not big enough there yet. “In the U.S., mobile advertising is only now starting to become an interesting business,” he says — mobile ads cracked the $1 billion mark a couple of years ago, and are rising rapidly to $15.8 billion worldwide in 2013, says eMarketer — but emerging markets are still getting a small proportion of that. Recall, too, that overall digital ad spend in 2012 was nearly $100 billion; mobile ads are still relatively small.
In addition, Vuclip’s user base is not yet premium enough to merit high CPMs: the majority of devices, he says, are “the Asha’s of this world, not the Galaxy’s,” referring to Nokia’s low-end smartphones and Samsung’s high-end Android devices. That’s changing, of course. In the Middle East, he notes, iPhones are booming on their network; but not fast or big enough to drive a mobile ads business.
And so Vuclip is turning to something else to make money alongside mobile marketing: paid content and carrier billing. The company offers content on an a la carte, bucket pre-purchase, and subscription basis, with one-off and “valuepacks” seeing the most usage, Jakatdar says. Right now, the conversion rate on paid content offerings is between 5% and 6% — meaning of all the video views it sees on its network, that’s the percentage that are paying for the privilege, usually for cents per view.
The carrier billing decision is because these are emerging markets we’re talking about, where users often don’t have payment cards and so cannot hold iTunes accounts and the like.
But while carrier billing, charging purchases to a user’s bill or off a prepaid account, is often touted as a very easy, user-friendly, successful way to charge for content on phones, it also has its challenges.
Interestingly, the company’s projections on breakeven are based on the fact that right now, only 25% of its user base is actually being offered paid content. That’s because many carriers in the markets where Vuclip is most popular are not offering carrier billing yet themselves. Jakatdar says that it will be adding 10 more carriers to the roster this year in Asia before focusing on adding carrier billing in Latin America next year.