Wixi does media sharing differently

Wixi Logo New

A new startup called Wixi puts a twist on media sharing by giving each person that registers on their site a virtual desktop to arrange their pictures, movies and audio files, with storage space to boot.

Once you upload a file, it appears on your “desktop.” From there, you can drop it into an existing folder, create a new folder for it, or, if you’re like me, you’ll just let it sit there because you like to clutter things. Any type of video or sound file you upload is automatically converted to Wixi’s “universal media player” flash format, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues (the system is licensed from the guys that do the same thing for DailyMotion). Once it’s there, other friends you have on Wixi can check it out, or you can distribute it outside of the program via a permalink or embeddable player. One of the really cool options Wixi has when it comes to media sharing is privacy options. The app lets you select specific privacy settings for each piece of media you upload. If you only want a certain friend knowing that you uploaded the music video for that one Madonna song you like but never tell anyone about, Wixi lets you do that.

The upload utility itself is still a work in progress. Although Wixi says you will eventually be able to upload multiple files at once (a feature that is definitely needed), currently you can only do one at a time. Also, right now the files have to be on your local hard drive, but according to a button that’s currently inoperable you will be able to point it to the url of a file on the web and Wixi will grab it.

This is one of those Web 2.0 ideas that doesn’t just sound cool in theory, but seems like something that I’ll actually use. Wixi’s creator points out that although there are a lot of different places out there to upload media (Flickr, YouTube, etc), there’s nowhere to aggregate it all in one place. Facebook has some limited functionality in this area now that you can post videos and images. However, Wixi really blows it out of the water when it comes to privacy options for individual files. Also, FB just isn’t set up to focus on the media area. Wixi fills this gap. It may even find itself a future acquisition target.

Wixi, based out of New York, just premiered at TechCrunch40. Check out TC’s coverage for a password that allows you to beta test the app.

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Facebook launches fund focused on apps

Facebook LogoMark Zuckerberg announced today at TechCrunch40 that Facebook is launching “fbFund.” The fund, which is done in cooperation with Accel Partners and The Founders Fund, will focus solely on the creation of new Facebook applications. The investment total? $10 million, with $25,000-$250,000 going towards each different app. Zuckerberg says that apart from having exclusive first-in rights for any company that sees a first round of financing, there will be no equity exchanged for the money, which will essentially be given in the form of a grant.

The investment committee is made up of Zuckerberg, Chamath Palihapitaya (Facebook’s V.P. of product marketing and operations), and Facebook board members Jim Breyer from Accel Partners and Peter Thiel from The Founders Fund. Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) and Rajeev Motwani (early Google advisor) are also acting as advisors.

The creation of this fund seemingly contradicts a comment made during Zuckerberg’s keynote speech at TC40 earlier today in which he explained that the app system was not designed for startups to be built solely around a Facebook application, but that companies should have a non-Facebook presence as well. As the F8 platform’s short history has shown, apps that are anchored to non-FB sites that have an established user base are, predictably, generally more successful than those that are on FB only: iLike was able to pitch their FB app to the user base of Garageband.com, the founder of the popular app “Food Fight” used his existing Trakzor.com property (3.5m registered users) to promote his app, etc. (article about the start of these and other apps found here).

News of this fund comes after Stanford announced a course in the Computer Science department that the university will offer this fall titled “Create Engaging Web Applications Using Metrics and Learning on Facebook.” Also, Graphing Social Patterns, a “new conference devoted to building and distributing apps on the Facebook platform,” will take place Oct. 7-9 in San Jose, Calif.

Business plans may be mailed to platform AT facebook DOT com.

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“A YouTube for Education”

TeachA startup on the horizon allows anyone to become a teacher and community builder. Teach The People, founded in January with a $300,000 angel around, gives people a platform to spread their knowledge pertaining to any subject. When you register, the site gives you 5 gigs of space to host content, including video lectures, to teach others about any field you are a quasi-expert in.

The company just premiered at TechCrunch40. From TC:

The site encourages quality content by letting users become community creators and by giving users points for rating, referring friends and answering questions. Community creators help create content and run day-to-day community operations. They can charge other users fees for monthly community access, content views or content downloads. They can also share in site advertising revenues.

While there are existing sites that teach you how to do things (eHow.com and VideoJug come to mind), what makes Teach The People interesting is its community building aspect. While other how-to sites simply give you information, Teach The People fosters the creation of communities made up of people interested in learning about specific topics. This makes the site much more social.

It’s unclear, however, if people will be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for information when there is so much info already out there for free on practically every subject imaginable. I imagine it would only be a small number of very qualified people who create high quality lectures on niche topics that would draw subscribers. No one’s going to pay your neighbor’s kid to teach people what he knows about Spiderman. Also, there are already places on the web where you can go to find video lectures: Videolectures.net (clever, huh?) has a variety of free lectures with a focus on computer science, Princeton University streams lectures from their website on a wide number of topics, tons of math lectures can be found here, etc. Granted, there isn’t currently a site that aggregates all of these videos, but the content is out there, right now, for free.

Teach The People hasn’t yet officially launched to the public, although you can register for the private beta from their site.

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Remember the conference call? ShoePhone doesn’t.

ShoeMost probably read that title and said, “What’s he talking about? Conference calling is a frequent part of my business.” What if there was something better?

That’s where TalkShoe comes in. The Pittsburgh-based company, which was founded in 2005, recently came out with a new piece of software named ShoePhone. Although its branded as a VoIP service, you only use VoIP to create the connection; your actual calls take place over a “telco-grade conferencing system.” In fact, ShoePhone is able to facilitate calls between virtually any device out there: participants can connect using land lines, mobile phones, Skype, or other 3rd party VoIP clients like Gizmo.

The beauty of ShoePhone is in how it both simplifies conference calling while also adding new features to make calls more useful and efficient. First, when someone is speaking their name is clearly displayed on the screen, immediately clearing up confusion as to who is talking. Also, If the request-to-talk queing feature is turned and you wish to say something, you press a button to insert yourself in the speaking que which is ran through on a first-come-first-serve basis. Another feature that reduces cross-chatter is private messaging: you are able to initiate a secret IM chat with anyone else on the call that takes place completely in the background. To top it off, ShoePhone records the call and puts it online for anyone with a PIN number to replay the call in its entirety or download it to their hard drive.

ShoePhone supports up to 250 participants in one conference call, in addition to thousands more that are able to listen to the call live (but can’t speak).

While we’ve been focusing on the private conference call capabilities of ShoePhone, a lot of the emphasis the company places on the software focuses on its more public podcasting capability. Any recorded call automatically becomes a “Talkcast” which can then be distributed and played as an MP3 or embedded into a website/blog/Facebook page using a player widget. The embeddable widget lets people listen to your latest call as well as any previous recordings, in addition to listing scheduled upcoming calls. TalkShoe offers monetization options to anyone who can draw 20 live participants and average 1,000 downloads per week.

The software is currently free to download (you have to register first). Whether its used for conference calling or podcasting, this is another great software addition to the Web 2.0 sphere.

In March, a podcast host utilized TalkShoe’s infrastructure to put on a live 24 hour “Kiva Talkathon” designed to bring the microlending site to the attention of podcast listeners everywhere. TalkShoe agreed to transfer any revenue generated by the internationally-broadcast show to Kiva itself, helping entrepreneurs in developing countries. Our recent post about Kiva can be found here.
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A startup that gets paid to read your mail

LogoOne of the reasons that profiling startups never gets boring is because of the constant stream of creative ideas and concepts that they come up with. Some create never-before-seen products, while others take ordinary, mundane processes and make them more interesting. Earth Class Mail, based out of Seattle, falls into the latter category.

The company deals with one of the common problem people face when they go out of town: their mail. And I’m talking about actual mail… you know, the kind that comes to your house. In the past, if you wanted to keep up on your snail mail while you were away from home, you would need to make an agreement with someone ahead of time to collect your mail and forward it to you.

Earth Class Mail changes that. By becoming their customer, you can arrange to have all of your mail (business, personal or both) forwarded to their massive warehouse located in Oregon. From there, they scan it all and put it online for your eyes only.

As a customer, you have the option of telling them what to do with each individual piece of mail. First, they scan each unopened envelope and display it to you. From there, you can tell them to open it and scan the contents into a PDF, shred it, or forward it to another location. The company is also planning to have a check-cashing feature up and running soon.

The company’s pricing plans run as low as $14.95 a month or $155 a year.

Earth Class Mail, which is being profiled on a new HD reality show called “Startup Junkies” on the MOJO network in January ‘08, is taking one step closer towards a paperless society. They just received $7.4 million in funding during a series A round.

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Hulu acquires video startup

TechCrunch reports that Hulu, an online video site that is a joint venture between News Corp. and NBC, just acquired Mojiti, another video platform based in Beijing. Rumored price? $10 million.

From Mojito’s website: Mojiti allows you to tell the story your way with any online video. Whether or not you created the video, you can now do more than just watch- you can dive into the experience and tell everyone what you really think. Moment by moment, Mojiti makes it easy to annotate scenes, highlight objects or add shapes, Flash art, audio or video on the screen to share your unique take on the video with everyone.

Basically, the site allows you to overlay custom objects onto already existing videos and then share the new product, either via email or embedding onto your own site. Arrington points out that “the annotation feature is somewhat similar to another startup, click.tv, which is rumored to have been acquired by Cisco.” They have other competitors as well: Veotag, BubblyPLY, Rakugaki, and Viddler all have the video annotation function.

Previously we wrote about Hulu, which will stream many of NBC’s popular television shows, possibly playing into NBC’s decision to pull their shows from Apple’s iTunes store.

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Google to invest $10M into green start-ups

Googleuse-2Google announced today that they are looking to invest $10 million into companies that are working towards creating “sustainable transportation solutions.” Previously, Google has given grants totaling $1 million to non-profit organizations also focused on reducing automobile emissions.

Google launched RechargeIT in June, a project “aimed at accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.” The search engine giant has contracted with Hymotion, a company that converts regular gas guzzling cars to hybrids, to modify six vehicles used for demonstration of the technology (you can see the actual vehicle data here).

The deadline to submit proposals is October 22nd, ‘07.

Earlier, we posted an article about Google putting itself into competition with VC’s by investing in a variety of start-ups that they eventually acquire. And recently we reported on two promising solar power start-ups.

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Ausra gets funding to create solar power plants

Ausra

This solar start-up is attempting to use the sun to reach for the stars. Ausra, based out of Palo Alto, Calif., has just raised $40 million from Silicon Valley VC firms. But Ausra isn’t just any solar company; the firm aims to build utility-scale solar power plants to directly compete with traditional fossil fuel plants.

Here’s how it works: “Locally manufactured solar concentrators made of steel and glass focus sunlight to boil water, generating high-pressure steam that drives conventional turbine generators. New thermal energy storage systems using pressurized water and low cost materials will provide for on-demand generation day and night.” This means that the plant can provide energy even when the sun isn’t out, a point that Morgan, the company’s chief development officer, says is key for keeping costs low during times of peak demand.

A 1 megawatt prototype of the system was built in New South Wales in 2004. Now, the firm plans to complete a 38 megawatt field by 2009. According to Morgan, a 100-500 megawatt solar plant can run at 8 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to the 12 cents per kilowatt hour cost of traditional coal plants. The company currently has plans to build a large plant in central California.

According to Ausra, if they used their technology to build a 92 sq. mile plant it would be able to power the entire United States.

Their competitors include Brightsource and the Abengoa Group, which has already built a solar thermal plant in Spain, among others.

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Facebook fundraising

Over at All Things Digital, Kara Swisher says that she has credible information that Facebook is getting ready to open another investment round “at a huge valuation.” Last year, Yahoo offered $1 billion and was turned down by Zuckerberg, not to mention the rumored Microsoft deal for $6 billion. The last round Facebook did raised $25 million at a $525M pre-money. This time, look for a valuation in the billions, sources say.

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IMMI creates a cell phone that really listens

ImiThe NYT published an article yesterday profiling Integrated Media Measurement (IMMI), a start-up based in San Mateo, Calif. that has taken the concept of measuring advertising effectiveness a step further.
Although companies can accurately track how effective their online ads are thanks to click-thru percentages and a variety of other metrics, someone has yet to come up with a reliable system to determine the success rate of ads for television and radio media. IMMI is prepared to tackle this problem with a creative, if not invasive, solution.

Once you agree to participate, IMMI provides you with a cell phone. Not only do they give you a phone for free, but they pick up the bill for all the calls you make on it. Here’s where it gets interesting: every 30 seconds, the phone records a 10 second sound clip from your surroundings. When you’re carrying the phone, a third of everything you hear is captured. That data is then uploaded to IMMI, at which point it is analyzed to determine exactly what advertisements you heard through out the day. That information is that cross-referenced with purchases you make; the company can install “Bluetooth beacons” in the stores of their clients, recording exactly when you enter and leave, in addition to what you buy.

The company launched in 2003 and so far has taken on 10 clients, among them ESPN and NBC. They currently have over 3,000 participants enrolled in the program (they recruit teenagers up to adults at 54 years old), each under an agreement to carry the phone for 2 years.

Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Advanced Technology Ventures funded the firm for a combined $14 million.

This technology brings us one step closer to the imagined future of the Tom Cruise flick “Minority Report,” in which stores scan your retina and identify you as soon as you walk in. Thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth, IMMI is already doing this. We’re still waiting on a company to come out with free designer sunglasses that record what ads you look at. This type of tech is surely coming. If IMMI is any indicator, we may not have to wait long.

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Virtual eBay for virtual world

Bidsl
Of course, eBay is the number one web auction house. Now, there is a company that has taken their style of auctions and applied it inside of a different online context. BidSL launched on Friday, bringing auctions to the virtual world of Second Life.

For anyone not familiar with Second Life, its economy is based on “Linden dollars,” or L$; virtual dollars that can be exchanged for real money (the current exchange rate is L$256 = $1US).

With BidSL, Second Life inhabitants can pay L$1-5 in order to put something up for auction (either a real item or a virtual item). Other SL citizens can then bid on that item in $L, with their money automatically redeposited in their account should they happen to be outbid before the auction deadline is over. BidSL also offers to franchise their auction house system to anyone who wants to run their own in exchange a 5% cut of the auction fees the franchise generates.

This comes just as ICANN CEO Paul Twomey told audience members at the 2007 Influence Forum that virtual worlds are the future of global commerce.

Previously we posted an article discussing the future of virtual worlds, comparing an open world like Second Life with worlds that are closed and privately branded. Perhaps a mix between the two will be what ends up prevailing. Virtual worlds definitely have a place in the internet landscape now, and as they become larger we will see many more services like this on the horizon.

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Solar startup raises $21 million

Solaruse

A company that caught our eye recently is SolarCity, which just received $21 million during a third round of funding, bringing its total to just over $31M.

SolarCity, based in Foster City, CA near the Bay Area, provides solar power to homes and small-to-medium businesses at reduced prices compared to competitors. They do it by signing up a large number of residents at once and then contracting out the actual installation of the panels. VentureBeat calls them the “Swiss arms dealer” of the solar industry, in that they essentially take advantage of economies of scale.

The recent green movement has brought a lot of attention to energy-saving products. Solar power has been around for decades, and while it has yet to really take off, its usage numbers have been steadily rising: the demand for solar power has risen around 20-25% annually over the last 20 years. Much of this growth has been due to dropping technology costs and improvement in manufacturing methods. Perhaps this latest push to go green will be what causes solar power to become more popular. Regardless, startups like SolarCity are definitely helping the cause.

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Facebook: A model for Web 2.0

Logo FacebookWired posted an article yesterday titled “How Mark Zuckerberg Turned Facebook Into the Web’s Hottest Platform.” Author Fred Vogelstein does a great job pointing out some of the key factors that turned Facebook into the Web 2.0 superstar it is today. And it’s still growing. These principles can be applied to any web startup that’s aimed at virtually any flavor of social interaction. Here are the elements that made it happen.

  • Real-world identity. At the start of the web, it was the companies you heard about. The AOLs, the Compuserves, the Netscapes. As the web has evolved, its no longer the companies that are the stars; now its the people: Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington, Mark Cuban, even Zuckerberg himself. With AOL, you were a screen name. Everyone was anonymous. Now, everyone wants to be themselves. Web 2.0 has people publicizing their thoughts on blogs, their photo albums on Flickr, and their bookmarks on del.icio.us. Facebook has capitalized and taken this a step further; now even your relationships between friends and significant others have their public place online. With people putting so much of their personal life onto the internet, its no wonder they want credit for it. Zuckerberg recognized that the value of internet socializing is not restricted to exchanges between faceless screen names in foreign chat rooms, but that people actually want to assume their own identity. Vogelstein writes, “Sites like MySpace practically encouraged users to create new identities and meet and link to people they barely knew. Zuckerberg didn’t care about using the Internet to make new friends. ‘People already have their friends, acquaintances, and business connections,” he explains. “So rather than building new connections, what we are doing is just mapping them out.‘”
  • The beauty of broadcasting. Although the web has always been a collection of information that perpetually updates itself, the way those updates are distributed to users is one of the major changes that Web 2.0 has brought about. Applications like Twitter allow you to notify your network of friends of exactly what you’re doing, thinking or feeling at the press of a button. RSS feeds mean you no longer have to tediously go down your list of bookmarks one by one to see what new information has been posted on your favorite sites; simply sit back and let it all come to you in one easily-managable stream. Facebook adopted this principle the day that they unveiled the “news feed”: now, every time you login to Facebook the first screen you are greeted with tells you all about what your friends have been up to. If they post new photo albums, send each other public comments or join a new group, the news feed will let you know about it by way of an easy to read list that comes off as surprisingly uncluttered. The feed is the key feature that allows anything interesting put on Facebook to do what interesting things in Web 2.0 do best: go viral. So, what’s the most interesting thing on Facebook right now? Actually, there are 3,200 of them with 180 being added per week. Which takes us to…
  • Unlimited functionality. On May 24th, Facebook unveiled their open development system to the rest of the world. This allows anyone to develop applications, or widgets, that can run right out of peoples’ profile. Best of all, as soon as a member adds an application to their page, it gets broadcast to all of their friends via the news feed. Its no wonder that developers have jumped at this opportunity; everyone from independent one man teams to companies with established revenue like LastFM are writing for Zuckerberg’s platform. Basically, if you can think of something you’d like to be able to do on Facebook, it can probably be done… if it isn’t already. Vogelstein writes, “more than 3,200 new applications have sprung up on the site, a number that is growing by about 180 a week. Those offerings have made Facebook a fully functioning social hub, where users can keep track of one another’s favorite music and videos, share and compare movie reviews, and hit one another up for contributions to pet causes.” This doesn’t even include the professional side of Facebook that is growing at a rapid pace: before the app platform, businesses were already sifting through Facebook’s broad member base to find potential applicants and recruit employees (both Microsoft and the CIA have a Facebook presence). Now, companies can use applications to actually generate cash flow from ads or otherwise, with Zuckerberg letting them keep 100% of the revenue (for the moment). With such a flexible platform, literally almost anything is possible.

Regardless of where Facebook and Zuckerberg’s future lead, right now Facebook is a living example of what it means to be at the edge of Web 2.0. And I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

    But hey, if it does, I’m sure my news feed will let me know.

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    Apple’s stock loses traction after iPhone price cuts

    Steve Jobs’ announcement on Wednesday that Apple is cutting the price of their 8 gigabyte iPhone by $200 to $399 immediately angered early adopters that have already purchased the iPod/phone. News of the price cut and prediction of the backlash hit Wall Street the day before, causing a slide for the company’s stock that continued through today: AAPL is currently down 9% from Tuesday, equating to a market cap loss of $11 billion. In the same announcement, Jobs revealed a new iPod model sharing many UI similarities with the iPhone, including Safari and Wi-fi support.

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    Nirvanix launches out of San Diego

    Nirv2For web-based startups, sometimes too much success can be a bad thing. Sure, you can create and market a great product, but what happens if it really catches on? Unless you have enough servers to keep up, more likely than not your potential customers will find they can’t access what you and your team have worked so hard to create. That translates to lost dollars. Which is where Nirvanix, based out of San Diego, comes in. Nirvanix, which recently received $12M in funding, officially launched their beta service yesterday. From Socaltech:

    Nirvanix said today that it has emerged from stealth, and has unveiled a new business-to-business storage service. Nirvanix said that the new service will provide storage targeted at Web 2.0, media application, service provider, and consumer electronics firms. The new service will be offered as a service to companies. The company is headed by Patrick Harr, former CEO of storage over the Internet provider Streamload (now MediaMax). Nirvanix said the firm’s services are in public beta and will be generally available this month, and will be priced at $0.18 per gigabyte per month of storage and $.18 per gigabyte transferred from the service. The firm’s services are similar to storage services offered by Amazon through its Amazon S3 storage services.


    By contrast, Amazon’s SE service charges the same amount per GB transferred but their prices are slightly less for storage: only $0.15 per GB/month. One thing Nirvanix has that Amazon’s SE doesn’t, however, is a service level agreement guaranteeing 99.9% uptime for the service. No doubt this will be very important to startups attempting to scale their business by relying on an outside storage solution.

    So far Amazon seems to be the only big player in this space; both Google’s rumored G Drive (which may have been scrapped, although they did recently open up extra storage space for a free) and Windows recently-launched SkyDrive do not have B2B functionality.

    You can view a demo of Nirvanix’s service here.
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