Monthly Archives: February 2013

Bradley Manning Pleads Guilty For Supplying WikiLeaks, Says Newspapers Ignored Calls



Private First Class Bradley Manning has pleaded guilty to leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks. Reading from a 35-page statement, Manning said he leaked diplomatic cables to “spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general,” but denies aiding the enemy. Perhaps most revealing, Manning said that he first attempted to go to media outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, but his calls were rerouted to voicemail.

The soldier, who has been held in detention for over 1,000 days, has become an icon of open information and civil liberties. Manning was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize after being widely credited for helping to spark the Arab Spring of 2010. Leaked documents corroborated long-held suspicions of Tunisia’s corrupt government, inciting the citizens to overthrow their leader and inspire similar revolutions throughout the Middle East.

While Manning’s lengthy detainment and bouts of solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day have been harshly criticized, a court found that he “has not been denied a speedy trial despite his lengthy pretrial confinement.” President Obama himself once explained that “he broke the law” in an implicit agreement with Manning’s treatment.

Manning, who pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges of misusing classified information, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

The 5 Commandments Of Data And Why Analytics Efforts Are Still A Big Old Mess



The perception that big data is still incredibly complex to understand is right on the money. There are examples of how the complexity is getting abstracted. But still, even when I talk to data scientists they will say how they are still mastering the tools to simply show data in something besides a spreadsheet.

Marck Vaisman, a freelance data scientist, said in an interview that the issue for most everyone is as much about the technology’s complexity as it is about the people who are trying to figure out what to do. Too often, only a few people actually understand how to use the data that they have. And their ability to explain it is limited. Further, there are few organizations that take holistic approaches to doing data analytics, leaving instead a fragmented array of projects that have differing approaches and overlap and do little to provide value.

Pitfalls abound but the fundamentals are what matters. Vaisman distills it down to five commandments, a set of principles he has developed and written about in a book by O’Reilly Publishing called “The Bad Data Handbook.”

In this confusion, we find vendors who promise great speed and ability. But often, what companies need is a more calibrated approach that matches the amount of data they want to work for them with applications that have a correlating velocity. Executives from Accenture, which has built a practice around data analytics, outlined how they view the market in a brief interview I also did at Strata.

Data has to be a strategic asset. The presence of consultants at a conference like Strata shows how much confusion people still have in realizing how to get the value that vendors promise in such bountiful amounts.

Fujitsu’s Senior-Focused Smartphone Is A Thoughtful Use Of Android That Tucks Away Complexity



Japanese electronics company Fujitsu has taken its time pushing beyond its home smartphone market. The company is best known for slick, slender high end smartphones in Japan but earlier this month it announced a European play — eschewing the crowded top tier of devices in favour of a niche in the seniors space, with a custom skinned Android-based smartphone. The Stylistic S-01 is designed to be easier for older people to use. Fujitsu is bringing the device to France in partnership with France Telecom/Orange in June but was showing it off at Mobile World Congress, where we went hands on.

Now Fujitsu is not the first to enter the senior mobile space. Other established players include Emporia, which basically makes simplified feature phones, and Doro, which makes a mix of devices (including dabbling in tablet software). Doro was showing off its own Android-based seniors phone at MWC last year so, again, Fujitsu is a follower here too. But late to the party though it is, it has crafted what feels like a solid and well thought through first offering.

The handset has a rubberised coating to add grip and more curves than the sleek, slick high end smartphones du jour so rests nicely on the palm and feels less inclined to take a tumble than the average slab phone. On the front, there’s a clearly labelled home button below the 4 inch touchscreen. The button is slightly convex making it stand out so it’s easy to press. The buttons on the side of the device — power and volume up & down keys on one side, plus a dedicated camera key on the other — are also labelled (albeit with icons). These keys are raised slightly but don’t feel like they stick out enough to press accidentally.

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Fujitsu has made the Stylistic S-01′s capacitive touchscreen deliberately less sensitive to cut back on erroneous key presses for a target group of users which isn’t likely to be as dexterous as the average mobile owner. The screen didn’t feel awkwardly unresponsive during my hands on but on-screen buttons did sometimes need a more deliberate press — which seems like a reassuring feature for the intended user-base.

There are a couple of odd hardware touches. The Micro USB port sits behind a cover which has to be prised off with a fingernail. The cover has likely been included because the phone is dust and waterproof but it does mean that accessing the charging port isn’t as easy as it could be.

The phone is also equipped with an alarm — in case of emergencies. This makes a loud noise to alert people in the vicinity that the owner is in trouble and also dials out pre-chosen contacts. The alarm is located on the back of the device, to the left of the camera lens. The physical switch is rather small and again has to be pushed out with a fingernail or similar. Of course it’s no good having the alarm go off accidentally but in an emergency it could prove a little difficult to activate.

Android but not as you know it

Moving on to the software, this is where the phone really stands out from the Android crowd, thanks to a simplified custom UI that foregrounds key functions, tucks away complexity and does a spot of thoughtful hand-holding — with help buttons and guides and even a phone manual included on the device. The homescreen is divided up into large, clearly labelled icons that decrease in size as you scroll down to reach functions that are likely to be accessed less. The two largest buttons are the call button, and the phonebook (a much more senior-friendly way to describe contacts).

Messages and email also appear on screen at the top of the homescreen, along with three numbered buttons that can be pre-set with specific functions for quick access. Scroll further down and there’s an info widget displaying news updates and weather. Below that, there are a variety of phone functions laid out in a grid of squares — and again clearly labelled. These include Internet, camera, maps, video, gallery, a help forum and a manual. The only button that stands out as slightly obtuse is the one labelled ‘Play Store’ (thanks Google).

Android apps can be downloaded to the phone via the Play Store, or via a ‘download apps’ button. Other preloaded apps are tucked away under ‘More applications’ and ‘Orange services’ — so although the phone has been simplified, the functionality has not been removed entirely. Rather they are cleared out of harm’s way until the user feels confident enough to drill a little deeper.

There are lots of thoughtful little touches in the design, such as the Phonebook app being made to resemble a traditional filofax, and the button called ‘My number’ to help users out who can’t remember their phone number. The gallery also includes a ‘Take a picture’ button, to steer anyone who went into the gallery looking for the camera in the right direction. The back button is also clearly labelled with the word ‘back’ — rather than having a cryptic symbol to confuse people. And the browser has a question mark button at the top which leads to a help page to explain the browsing process for first time mobile web users.

Elsewhere apps are nicely stripped down, simplified and clearly labelled — such as the camera app, which has just a camera button and a flash toggle button, and the dialler app which has two folder-style tabs to show either a dial option, or history (for call log). Time has clearly been well spent by the UI designer figuring out an intelligent way to layer a smartphone for a senior user-base that will probably feel most comfortable taking small steps away from telephones in order to get to know smartphones.

Click to view slideshow.

Hardware Startup Outex Takes To Kickstarter To Fund Its Go-Anywhere SLR Camera Housing




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I like to use my SLR, but there are many times when I leave it behind because I’m not sure whether it’ll be able to handle the conditions I plan to be using it in. LA-based hardware startup Outex is trying to make sure that photographers can use their cameras anywhere, without having to fork over north of $1,000 for environmental protection gear, and it’s taking to Kickstater to fund the latest piece in its product puzzle.

The Outex is a flexible casing for DSLR and other interchangeable lens cameras (it works with mirrorless systems, too) created by founder JR deSouza and his cousin Roberto Miglioli based on their shared love of photography, a hand-me-down from their grandfather, and a lack of good affordable options on the market for protecting cameras during use in harsh conditions. DeSouza told me in an interview that he and his cousin needed something that would work for surfing, kayaking, shooting around the pool, military applications and more, but that didn’t mean sacrificing portability or spending a mint to buy.

In a little over a year, the company has already managed to rack up some impressive customers, including photographers working for Red Bull, National Geographic, Outside Magazine and Vogue. The Outex is being used by a lot of videographers now, too, and the company wanted to build a solution into its product that better serves that market, while also opening up new possibilities for still photography. That’s what this Kickstarter project is about: funding the creation of the “Big O,” an LCD viewfinder window for the Outex.

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DeSouza says they came up with the window after first toying with the idea of adding some kind of external LCD monitor to the Outex, and then realizing that the simpler, better and more widely compatible solution would be to simply add a glass window to the case (which itself resembles a kind of camera wetsuit) that would allow the built-in monitors on cameras to be used in any circumstances. Being able to see the viewfinder while the camera was in the Outex was one of the most common customer requests, however, according to deSouza, so coming up with some kind of solution was necessary.

Seeking Kickstarter backing is a first for Outex, and deSouza explained that the reason it went the crowdfunding route this time around was actually the result of a combination of factors.

“I felt that Kickstarter would be a good opportunity to accelerate our development,” deSouza explained. “The key is to be genuine and to do Kickstarter for what it is, and it becomes a great opportunity to get the word out and discover other things[…] I really do think there’s value to the community and the discovery process that also comes along with Kickstarter.”

Outex isn’t meant to be hardcore scuba gear like the Ikelite protectors favored by professional photographers, but where those cost around $1,500, a $375 pledge gets you everything you need to outfit your SLR with protection for up to 10 meters of submersion, as well as a host of other environmental perils. With the cost of high-quality photo gear coming down, it’s only fitting that a hardware startup emerges to so challenge the price tag on some of the more expensive accessories, too.

Stitch Fix Gets $4.75M Series A To Scale Out Its Tech-Enabled Personal Shopping Service



Stitch Fix, the San Francisco-based startup that provides a subscription-based personal shopping and delivery service for women’s clothing, has closed on $4.75 million in new funding, the company tells TechCrunch.

The round, which serves as Stitch Fix’s Series A, was co-led by Baseline Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners with the participation of Western Technology Investment.

Stitch Fix has experienced some serious organic growth since it was founded back in February 2011, the company’s founder and CEO Katrina Lake told me in an interview this week, which you can watch in the video embedded above. The company has now served more than 10,000 clients, and has grown its own team to a staff of 50. Meanwhile, its revenue growth has been on a tear, with its annual sales run rate today double what it was just two months ago, in December 2012.

The new funding is meant to put some more fuel on that fire, Lake said, enabling Stitch Fix to hire more staff and further grow its inventory, logistical components, product offerings, and general reach. The company currently has a waitlist of people who are keen to use the service, so this should help it scale up to accommodate the demand.

How it works

Personal styling has been around for a long time, but it’s typically a very expensive and high-friction thing, with each stylist spending hours on just one client. Stitch Fix has created a proprietary set of technology and tools that lets its small team be much more efficient, bringing the cost of personal styling much closer to earth. The average price point of Stitch Fix clothing is $65, Lake says.

Essentially, Stitch Fix operates like a clothing version of Pandora, the personalized radio app — the idea is it gets better the more you use it. It works like this: A new user goes to the Stitch Fix website and fills out a basic form with details about her body shape, size, personal style, and budget. She also rates photos of clothing items and accessories to give Stitch Fix even more of an idea of her taste.

Then, a Stitch Fix stylist uses the provided data to select and ship a box of five items for the user to try on. The user keeps and pays for the items she likes and sends back the ones that she doesn’t (a $20 per box styling fee goes toward any purchases, but is kept by Stitch Fix if the user sends everything back.) The company keeps track of what each user keeps and returns, to further hone its individual client profiles — hence the Pandora Radio analogy. Stitch Fix sources its products just like a department store does, with its own team of buyers and inventory.

It’s a really clever business model that has been embraced by the early-adopting fashion blogger set from the start. It’ll be exciting to see how the company grows further into the mainstream now that it has some nice outside funding in its coffers.

Katrina Lake swung by TechCrunch TV this week to discuss the new funding and Stitch Fix’s technology. She also gave me a hands-on look at how Stitch Fix works by bringing along a box that was put together just for me (although I didn’t actually keep the clothes — darn journalistic ethics!) You can check that out in the video embedded above.

Report Says Facebook Gifts Is Struggling With Poor Sales And Revenue



A billion dollar business? Guess not. Despite lofty projections for Facebook Gifts from analysts, reporters, and me, a new report picks apart public statements from the company to suggest it earned a maximum of $1 million in Q4 2012 revenue on Gifts, and maybe a lot less. Sure, it’s early days, but Facebook may need to look elsewhere for a bottom line game changer.

Facebook launched the ability for friends to buy each other real-world Gifts in September, though it wasn’t rolled out to all U.S. users until December. That means it certainly didn’t get all of Q4 to rake in ecommerce cash. Still, it was the Christmas season, and Facebook hawked Gifts in the Birthdays sidebar and at the top of the mobile feed, plus with a big call-out to buy last-minute holiday presents.

The social network has kept the performance of Gifts close to the chest, and tried to calm hype about it. On the Q4 earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said:

“I do want to temper near-term expectations a little bit on revenue coming from other areas like Gifts or Graph Search…Payments and other revenue also included around $5 million from sources outside of games primarily user promoted posts and to a lesser extent from our new Gifts product. While we remain excited about the long-term potential of commerce on Facebook, current revenue from user promoted posts and Gifts is very small, and we expect 2013 contributions from these initiatives to remain very small given current run rates.”

Now thanks to competitive analysis research from Aggregift, another social gifting site, we have a better idea of what “very small” current revenue for Facebook Gifts actually looks like. Now keep in mind that Aggregift is a competitor to Facebook Gifts, but their data looks solid. I gave Facebook the chance to dispute the numbers but it ended up declining to comment

You can check out the full research report here, but essentially, of the $5 million in Q4 2012 revenue that Facebook ascribed to Promoted Posts and Gifts, a minimum of $4 million came from Promoted Posts alone. That’s because Facebook said 200,000 new Pages used them in Q4, posting an average of 4 at a minimum of $5 per post, totaling up to at least $4 million from Promoted Posts in Q4.

That’s a conservative estimate as large Pages must pay much more to show their posts to more fans in the news feed. Facebook also said 70% of Pages that use Promoted Posts become repeat customers and it already had 300,000 buyers of these ads in Q3. If just 17% of those Pages bought the average number in Q3, it would leave $0 in revenue from Gifts.

But using the bare minimum numbers for Promoted Posts, Facebook could have earned a maximum of $1 million for Gifts. At the end of November Facebook said the average amount spent per Gifts purchase was $25. While Facebook has not disclosed its revenue cut, this research uses 15% as a ballpark figure.

That means Facebook could have sold a maximum of just 267,000 Gifts in Q4.  The revenue and total sales numbers are likely a lot lower. If existing Promoted Post customers bought them again, and any Pages paid more than the $5 minimum, it would quickly whittle down Facebook’s Q4 Gift revenue from $1 million to zero.

The dealbreaker statistic is that at most, just 0.16% of Facebook’s U.S. users bought a Gift in Q4. Estimates like my now overzealous-sounding $1 billion in yearly Gifts revenue are predicated on Facebook averaging as much as one gift sale per user per year. Facebook has to find a way to make Gifts mainstream.

The somewhat disappointing stats confirm Mark Zuckerberg’s statements and might further dash hopes for Gifts to become a meaningful money-maker for the social network. They also explain why it’s been injecting new call outs to purchase them and discounts to lure in new buyers.

Last week Inside Facebook reported that Facebook appears to be scanning status updates for words about new jobs, pregnancies, and child births, and encouraging the author’s friends to buy them Gifts. Then yesterday, CNET reported that Facebook is offering some users up to $4 off a Gifts purchase of $5 or more. Meanwhile it’s launched the Facebook Gifts Card, a slice of plastic that can be loaded up with credits to physical stores like The Olive Garden and Target.

With time as Facebook learns more about commerce, Gifts could become a more natural and frequently used part of the social network. But right now, pushing so hard to get people to give Gifts instead of saying Happy Birthday or congrats on the new job feels a bit smarmy. If it’s not making hundreds of millions of dollars on Gifts, it might not be worth putting money before friends.

Facebook Confirms It Will Acquire Atlas Ad Measurement Suite From Microsoft To Close The Ad Spend Loop



After weeks of speculation and leaks, Facebook today announced it will buy the Atlas Advertiser Suite away from Microsoft. The Seattle-based Atlas team will stay put, but Facebook plans to invest in back-end scaling and better measurement to help advertisers “close the loop” and understand how their spend earns them money.

AdAge had been closely following the story and provided many leaked details, including that Microsoft had been aggressively searching for a buyer and that the price was to be less than $100 million, following previous bids in the $30 million to $50 million range. Microsoft originally acquired Atlas through a purchase of its parnet company aQuantive, which also owned Avenue A / Razorfish and DRIVE Performance Solutions.

Now the acquisition is official, though no price was announced. Atlas allows advertisers to measure the impact of their ads across the web, including on Facebook and other social properties. Facebook will gain a huge slew of clients from the deal, but and many advertisers who already work with the social network will gain a more holistic view of their marketing campaigns. By combining Atlas data with that from Nielsen and DataLogix, Facebook hopes to give businesses a way to see exactly how their Facebook ads drive on and offline spend and brand lift.

You can read the full announcement here, and we’ll have more analysis soon.

We’re pleased to announce that we have agreed to acquire the Atlas Advertiser Suite from Microsoft. Atlas is a leader in campaign management and measurement for marketers and agencies. We believe this acquisition will benefit both marketers and users, and we’d like to explain why.

Today’s marketing environment is much more complex than it was just a few short years ago. Marketers and agencies struggle to understand how their efforts across different channels complement and strengthen each other. Consequently, they are forced to adopt siloed marketing strategies for each channel, leading to poor and inconsistent end-user experiences.

This challenge also provides an opportunity. If marketers and agencies can get a holistic view of campaign performance, they will be able to do a much better job of making sure the right messages get in front of the right people at the right time. Atlas has built capabilities that allow for this kind of measurement, and enhancing these systems will give marketers a deeper understanding of effectiveness and lead to better digital advertising experiences for consumers.

Many marketers that advertise on Facebook today use Atlas, and Atlas has been an approved partner for measurement since June. Today’s agreement brings us closer together in a way that benefits both Facebook and Atlas’ agency and marketer clients. Atlas clients should not see any change to the service they receive today, and we will continue to innovate and invest in the Atlas platform.

We plan to improve Atlas’ capabilities by investing in scaling its back-end measurement systems and enhancing its current suite of advertiser tools on desktop and mobile. We will also work to improve the user interface and functionality with the goal of making Atlas the most effective, intuitive, and powerful ad serving, management and measurement platform in the industry. Ultimately, Atlas’s powerful platform, combined with Nielsen and Datalogix, will help advertisers close the loop and compare their Facebook campaigns to the rest of their ad spend across the web on desktop and mobile.

Our belief is that measuring various touch points in the marketing funnel will help advertisers to see a more complete view of the effectiveness of their campaigns. Acquiring Atlas will be an important step towards achieving this goal.

Atlas is based in Seattle and the team will continue to operate from there. Our Seattle engineering office already drives important parts of our ad system, and we plan to substantially invest in and build out our Seattle engineering and product teams. We look forward to further building out the Atlas platform to help marketers better understand how well their campaigns perform, and to help them optimize their campaigns.

We look forward to welcoming the Atlas team.

Responsive Design Framework Foundation 4 Goes Mobile-First, Switches From jQuery To Zepto



Product design company ZURB just launched the fourth version of Foundation, its responsive design framework that directly competes with Bootstrap. The new version, ZURB tells us, has been completely rewritten from a mobile-first perspective. The company says this “empowers a designer to reverse their thinking ” and lets you “design for the mobile experience before you design for the desktop one.”

In addition to a number of other new features, the Foundation team also decided to switch away from jQuery and use the smaller and lighter Zepto.js library instead. ZURB says this is meant to ensure “that pages load quickly and efficiently given our mobile focus.” Given that Zepto is API-compatible with jQuery, developers can always switch back to the jQuery library, too.

The team also made changes to how the developers and designers that use the framework write their code. In previous versions of Foundation – just like in Bootstrap – developers would write code that focused very specifically on the layout of the page (think

). Now, in Foundation 4, these presentational classes have been replaced by a more semantic approach (
,
, etc.) that moves the definition of the layout into the SCSS definitions.

Foundation 4 also features more mix-ins and placeholder classes, but besides the new semantic markup, the main difference from the last version is a focus on being mobile-first. This, ZURB partner and design lead Jonathan Smiley told me earlier today, means that ” the media queries in Foundation that determine what device sees which layout are reversed, meaning that you’re building the simple, mobile device layout first.”

Typically, developers build the mobile page first, but in this approach, he told me, you start with the mobile version and then “make the conscious decision to make the layout more complex and powerful as the devices used for the site become more full featured, have larger screens, etc.”

All of these changes obviously mean that you can’t just upgrade from version 3 to 4. ZURB has written an extensive migration guide for existing users, which should make the transition relatively painless (and you don’t have to upgrade, of course).

“In The Studio,” Skillshare’s Michael Karnjanaprakorn Talks Platforms And Marketplaces



Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is a contributor to TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

“In the Studio” welcomes a first-time founder with a diverse set of experiences — ranging from economics to advertising, from product management to design, and from startup CEO to advisor of a venture capital firm — who now is at the helm of one of the most interesting online education startups on the web today.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn, founder and CEO of Skillshare, has taken on the difficult work of launching an online/offline marketplace that also happens to be in one of the most competitive and dynamic industries today: online education. After working at Behance and Hot Potato, Karnajanaprakorn had the idea to start Skillshare as a way for people to teach and/or learn from others in real-world settings. Recently, Skillshare has opened online courses as well, is already revenue-positive, and while facing competition in a hot category, is well-positioned to scale because of the company’s platform and marketplace model. Karnjanaprakorn is a man of many talents, so that in the rare moments he’s not fully working on Skillshare, he’s an advisor to Collaborative Fund, is a TED Fellow, and was named one of the most 100 creative people by Fast Company. I usually wouldn’t care about such lists, but I think Michael deserves to be on that one.

In this video, we focus our discussion about the lessons Karnjanaprakorn and his colleagues face in building a platform and an online marketplace from scratch, how they solved the classic “chicken-or-the egg” problem many marketplaces face, how they viewed reaching liquidity as quickly as possible, how to prime the market, how to think about scale, how to build and prioritize the right tools for teachers and students, and a host of other lessons that would be relevant to anyone trying to build and/or maintain an online marketplace. He is a great person to learn from given his reflective nature and, in my opinion, Skillshare is well-positioned to build one of the premier online education platforms the world desperately needs.

The New Dyson AM05 Is The Darth Vader Of Space Heaters



Beautiful design and utility are, in many ways, paramount when it comes to home electronics. That’s why I was really impressed by the the new AM05 space heater/cooler from Dyson. It’s a completely quiet, blade-less system that comes in a black and nickel color scheme that looks like it fell off of Boba Fett’s Slave 1.

The AM05 is the successor to the AM04 and is 33% more powerful. It has a stock simple remote control, a nice front temperature readout, and a tilting head. In short, it’s a Dyson product – a little expensive ($399 for a fan is wild), a little weird, and a lot high tech.

I tested the device a bit over the past few days and it works a treat. Setting the heater in my cold attic filled the room up with hot air immediately and it looks and feels far safer than similar heaters. This is a fan I’d trust, say, in the kids’ room.

Why is this on TechCrunch? There are a few companies with both design and technology chops. Sonos comes to mind as does Apple. Bang & Olufsen are also in that category. But I think what’s most important about a company like Dyson is that they took commodity hardware and made it alluring. Who hasn’t gone to Target and looked at some off-brand vacuum and stacked it up against the surprisingly expensive yet strangely beautiful Dyson. I like when Dyson makes new stuff because it proves that there are people out there still thinking about the future of things that suck and blow.

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