Pico Projectors for Presentations on the Fly

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Plug your smartphone into a portable pico projector and use any wall
for movies, presentations, or life-sized Angry Birds.

When these pocket-sized movie machines first started popping up a few
years ago, the earliest models were dim, chunky-looking, and had poor
color balance. Not only have the optics and the display technologies
improved significantly since then, but our source files have gotten a
bump as well. We’re carrying around hours and hours of HD video in our
pockets or on our iPads, and pico projectors have stepped up their
game accordingly.

The newest generation of projector tech affords better color control,
contrast and focus. The latest crop is also brighter. Most picos pump
out between 15 and 50 lumens— you’ll still need a dark room, but
that’s a big improvement. Some models will also dress up your visuals
with additional processing like white balance correction and auto
keystone correction.

And what fun is Office Space on your cubicle wall without
great sound to match? Some of the units we tested glossed over that
part of the equation, but some of them crank out the decibels at a
level that rivals the best speaker docks.

Photo: Jens Mortensen

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Commuting Is Easier With These Electric Bikes

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Electric bikes can make urban commuting faster and easier than getting
to the office by car—and a whole lot more fun.

Though they look and generally handle just like regular bikes, most
electrics employ an intelligent pedal-assist system that adds a motorized
boost to your own pedaling efforts. Most will often let you dial in exactly
how much assistance you want, all the way up to levels that will let you hit
Tour de France speeds without breaking a sweat.

You can buy aftermarket kits, like the one from Bionix, to convert your
current bike to pedal assist. Or you can opt for a fully-motorized design
with no pedals, like the YikeBike. But most e-bikes are designed from the
ground up, with the electronics neatly integrated into the wheels and frame.
E-bikes are generally at least 50 percent heavier than a typical city bike,
so beware if you have to take the stairs. Depending on the setting, the
batteries will last from 30 minutes to several hours. If you ever do run out
of juice, though, you wont be stranded. Even without power, an e-bike is
still a bike.

1. Kalkhoff Pro Connect Sport Dual Drive

We’re not saying texting while cycling is smart. It isn’t. But the Kalkhoff is comfortable and forgiving, we found ourselves concocting tweets on the go. Branded the “BMW of e-bikes,” this touring ride does indeed handle as smoothly as a luxury sedan, with a suspension fork and a long wheelbase for extra stability.

The 300-watt motor and 6.8-pound Lithium-ion battery is mounted near the cranks to keep the weight low and centered and, as is common with e-bikes bikes, has multiple power settings. In this case, the choices are between 50, 100, or 200 percent pedal assist. So, for instance, in the middle setting, whatever power your legs put into the pedals will be doubled by the time it gets to the rear wheel.

Beyond bonus details like the Ergon handlebar grips and full-length chain guard, the drive train was, frankly, bananas. The 3-speed internal hub combines with a rear derailleur and 9-speed cassette for a whopping 27 gears, which ensures that you can take the motor to its limits at both speed and incline. Translation: We rarely stood up while climbing. Even on 20-percent grades, the Kalkhoff maintained a gentility that was unmatched by the other e-bikes we’ve tested.

Comfort is king as far as Kalkhoff is concerned. Though for this princely a sum, it sure better be!

WIRED: Motor got us up every San Francisco hill we threw it at, often in half the time of other e-bikes we’ve ridden. Battery life for days and days (after 30+ miles, more than 50 percent juice remained). On-board computer with speedometer, odometer, and vivid backlit LCD. Headlights and taillights included. Dual-drive SRAM grip shift allows for single-handed gear changes. Biggest gear range of all the e-bikes we tested.

TIRED: Motor won’t help you handle the steep price tag. (Another $500 buys you a new Vespa. Really!). It’s great at hills but, at 49 pounds, is a beast on the stairs. As with actual Beemers, public parking causes anxiety for the owner.

$4,000, Kalkhoff

Rating: 9 out of 10

Photo: Stan Musilek

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Fetish: Fight Fires With a Chrome-Plated Knockout

Photo: Dan Forbes

On looks alone, the HalGuard HG250C fire extinguisher announces that it has little in common with that red cylinder languishing under the kitchen sink. (By the way, when was the last time you checked the charge on that thing?) This chrome-plated steel knockout is corrosion-resistant and holds 2.5 pounds of Halotron 1, an EPA-approved nonconductive liquefied gas. If that nest of plugs and wires under your desk catches fire, the HalGuard will put it out without frying the electronics. Halotron 1 also vaporizes almost instantly, leaving behind none of those sticky residues and lingering clouds of powder- and foam-based retardants—so it’s also great for kitchen fires. And since the HalGuard looks at home next to modern appliances, you can use the grooved bracket (optional, shown here) to mount it by your Sub-Zero fridge. Then you won’t accidently grab the Drano when you’re battling a fire.

Barnes & Noble: Microsoft-Patented Nook Features “Trivial,” Licensing Fees “Exorbitant”

The licensing fracas Microsoft is whipping up around Android and, in particular, Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader gets another chapter today, as B&N submits its 50-page response to Microsoft’s suit. Their position and language are aggressive out of the gate, accusing Microsoft of trying to “marginalize the competition” and describing the contents of the patents in question as “highly obvious at the time [they] were filed.”

It’s a bold rebuttal, but not entirely convincing. Amazon and HTC, after all, didn’t find them onerous enough to object, and countless other companies great and small find licensing patented Microsoft software and patents no problem at all. But by attacking the patents themselves and Microsoft’s greater market-driven intentions, they might be able to poison the well sufficiently to make their case at least plausible.

Continue reading…

Sony Shares More Details On PlayStation Network Breach

Yesterday Sony revealed that some 77 million members of its Playstation Network had their personal information harvested by hackers, including name, address, and possibly credit card numbers in a massive security breach. Sony pulled down PSN as soon as it detected the breach, (we’ve been following the story since it first began last week), and it’s now regularly sharing more details to provide clarity to the situation.

This evening Sony posted a lengthy Q&A discussing the security measures it had taken to keep user data in the first place. Among the answers:

  • Sony says that it’s working with law encroachment and views this as a criminal act.
  • Personal data (name, address, etc) was not encrypted, but credit card information was — though Sony can’t rule out that it was accessed.
  • Credit card security codes (the three digit numbers on the back of the card) were not stored, so they weren’t compromised
  • Sony suggests looking at your email confirmations for past transactions to determine which credit card you had connected to the account.

In an update last night, Sony also clarified that while it detected the breach on April 19, it didn’t know the scope of the data that was harvested until April 25, the day before its announcement (Sony has come under lots of fire for apparently waiting a long time to disclose the information). However, Sony’s defense isn’t that solid — if it even thought there was a possibility credit cards might have been taken, it seems like it should have given users fair warning.

Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A — you can find the whole thing here, and should check it out if your information was compromised.

Q: Was my credit card data taken?
A: While all credit card information stored in our systems is encrypted and there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained. Keep in mind, however that your credit card security code (sometimes called a CVC or CSC number) has not been obtained because we never requested it from anyone who has joined the PlayStation Network or Qriocity, and is therefore not stored anywhere in our system.
Q: What steps should I take at this point to help protect my personal data?

A: For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well. To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, we encourage you to remain vigilant, to review your account statements and to monitor your credit reports.

Cult Clothing Line Betabrand Pockets $1.3 Million From OATV

Home of the “DARPA” hoodie, the “Bike To Work” pants, the “Disco” shorts, the “Cornucopia” backpack, the “Vagisoft (yes)” blanket and the TSA-proof “Privates” underwear, Betabrand is an online-only marketplace for unconventional clothes in the same eclectic e-commerce space as Modcloth and Threadless.

The company’s emphasis on original in-house designs, in addition to its 100K-200K in monthly revenue, certainly piqued the interest of O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures which led Betabrand’s $1.3 million Series A round followed by Morado Ventures this week. Along with the recent financing, OATV’s Mark Jacobsen will be joining the Betabrand board.

The San Francisco-based Betabrand has 12 employees who come up with the quirky designs and complete the production on items like “Sons of Britches” or the “Harvester Collection”(launched today) in-house. The company releases between 4-6 designs a month, manufacturing locally and in small batches.

Founder Chris Lindland likens the design process to a startup being in beta, hence the Betabrands name, “We have an iterative process that resembles beta development of websites, and that might be a disruptive idea in the world of fashion … Businesses like Zara and H&M jam out new products all the time, but they’re following fashion. We put out a new product every week. It creates a non-stop idea machine.”

Lindland plans on using the new financing to speed up the production process to 12-16 products a month and add a women’s line in the fall. He also wants to crowdsource more of the designs and expand on the “Model Citizen” program where customers send in pictures of themselves modeling Betabrand designs for use in actual campaigns.

So what’s Lindlands take on a VC firm investing in what is essentially a clothing company, “E-Commerce is such an exploding area, and there aren’t really companies failing at it. There will be a ton of online clothing brands that pop up over the next year. The next Quicksilver or the next Patagonia is going to start on the internet.”


Information provided by CrunchBase

Lost In The iPhone Location FUD

Last week, I was on vacation and I promised myself that I wouldn’t do any work. I was still lightly browsing tech news just because I really enjoy reading tech news — yes, even on vacations. I came across the Apple location story and started to read some of the commentary about the situation. Most of it was idiotic. Pure FUD. It was really hard not to open my laptop and start typing — so I tweeted some snark instead. But now I’m back. And now Apple has officially weighed in. It’s time to start typing.

The situation is a joke.

That’s not to say the actual issue at hand is a joke, but rather the coverage of the issue is. In that regard, it reminds me a lot of “Antennagate” last year. It was the biggest deal ever. It was the death of the iPhone. It was the end of Apple. …in the press. The reality of the situation was the vast majority of actual consumers didn’t give a shit — and rightly so. Apple sold more iPhones than ever last year — by a wide margin. The device is now the source of the majority of revenues for the company.

But it’s a broken device, remember?

As I maintained throughout the fiasco, the issue with the antenna was real, but it really wasn’t a big deal. The same is true here.

Reading the press coverage this past week, you’d think Apple was watching your every move. You might think they were plotting to rob your home. Or at the very least, they were going to make it easy for criminals to use your iPhone against you to rob your home. If you carried an iPhone, you were going to be attacked by shadowy villains tracking you. That was the basic gist across dozens of publications.

This fear mongering quickly spread to other companies in the mobile space. Google. Microsoft. They’re all out to get you. They’re all tracking your information to give to criminals. The motives weren’t entirely clear. But the intent was. Evil.

And now that Apple has formally weighed in with a lengthy explanation (which Robin translated into slightly easier to understand and humorous terms) of the issues, the FUD has slowed, but doesn’t appear to be stopping. “Okay, so Apple isn’t tracking you, but they’re tracking the cell towers you’re close to — which is the same thing.” That’s this week’s more convoluted variation of “Apple is tracking you.” The underlying FUD is the same. They’re out to get you. And they will!

Let’s take a step back for a moment.

What Apple is actually doing is collecting data points to build up their own location database, as Erick explained last week. Why? Because as we first reported last year, in April 2010, Apple made the move to ditch former partners Skyhook Wireless and Google, who were previously supplying them with such a database — information necessary for all location services on the phone.

And guess how those guys built-up and updated those databases? The same way (though as Apple briefly mentioned today, each company that collects such information has different methods for doing so). Previously, the iPhone was sending this same type of information to Skyhook. Now they’ve taken full control of that information. Apple likes to be in control of its own products. This should be absolutely no surprise.

Building an all-encompassing location database is hard. Really hard. By far the best way to do it is to crowdsource the creation. And the best way to do that is to use the mobile devices that people have on them. Otherwise it would be back to using cars to drive around constantly getting this information (which I believe both Skyhook and Google have done) and the data is less consistent, less up-to-date, and harder to get.

The alternative is to use GPS data. But that can take several minutes to get at times. Or if you’re indoors, it might not work at all. This means that location services, including many of the location-based apps that are now popular, would not work.

So instead your mobile device is used to anonymously record, encrypt and send this cell tower and WiFi hotspot data to Apple. The keywords “anonymously” and “encrypt” are paramount here, yet both have been downplayed in nearly every story on the issue. Apple has no clue who you are based on this data. They have no way to know that. And they have no reason to want to know that. And anyone trying to snatch this data out of the sky would not be able to read it.

The problem — that is, the actual problem — is the way each iPhone has been keeping these logs. That leads to three sub-issues, none of which are as big as the FUD would have you believe. But they do need to be addressed. And they are.

The first issue is that the location log is really big. In fact, it could span years, showing your general movements throughout that time. That’s how the nifty research behind this ordeal came about.

Theoretically, someone could steal your phone, hack it, and get access to this data. This could potentially show them where you were up until the point they stole your phone. (Of course, given that they stole/found your phone, they would probably already know that.)

But wait. If they stole/found your phone, couldn’t they also have access to information like your address, the addresses of friends/family, all your phone numbers, perhaps some passwords, maybe monetary information? Yes, but that’s not as sexy of a story.

Oh, and if your phone had any app like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, etc, they could just open those apps and get all your actual location information without hacking the device? Yep, but again, Apple has nefarious intent here, remember?

Let’s face it, our phones have a lot of potentially personal information about us on them beyond just location. That’s why it really sucks when we lose them or they’re stolen. And just imagine when these devices all have NFC chips in them for easy payments. That’s really going to suck. I’m sure the FUD stories will start about that in the next year or so.

But back to the issue at hand. Apple SVP Scott Forstall explains the log length mistake (and that’s exactly what Apple is claiming it is — and there doesn’t appear to be a reason to believe otherwise) pretty well in an interview with Mobilized’s Ina Fried:

We picked a size, around 2MB, which is less than half a song. It turns out it was fairly large and could hold items for a long time.

Two megabytes does sound very small. But this data is very small, so the iPhone is holding a lot of it. Apple will be correcting this to make sure only roughly seven days worth of data is cached on the device going forward with a software update.

Why cache at all? As Forstall explains and Apple hits on a bit in their statement, if they didn’t do this, they’d have to do location calculations on the server. Though not explicitly said, that would be both slower and potentially less secure. Also only briefly mentioned is that this anonymous data can help third-party developers debug when an app crashes.

Another — again, real, but minor — issue is that when you backed up your iPhone, this location data log was transfered over to your computer. If you select to encrypt your backups as an option, it was encrypted. If you don’t, it was not (but still protected). Because of that, someone could technically steal or access the computer you sync your iPhone with and get access to this file(s).

Of course, if they stole or accessed your computer… hopefully you know where I’m going here.

Regardless, Apple has determined that they should no longer backup this location cache, and with the upcoming software update, they no longer will.

The final — and actually most important — issue is that when you turned off sharing your location, Apple was still generating the anonymous logs for their location database. They shouldn’t have been, and they acknowledge that saying it too was a “bug”. Bug or oversight, they’re also going to correct this shortly.

So that’s it. Three issues, each of which is being corrected with a simple software update. Were these mistakes? Yes. But they could each be easily chalked up to rookie mistakes in Apple’s first foray into location database building. What they cannot be chalked up to is evil intent.

Further, the fear-mongering going on about these issues is just insane. These issues have persisted in iOS for a long time now. How many incidents have they lead to? Even if Apple didn’t fix them, what’s the likelihood that they would lead to any sort of incident? It would take a separate criminal act (stealing or illegally accessing/hacking your phone/computer) to even get to the point where a perpetrator could potentially do something with the data. And even then they would only know approximately where you’ve been in the past.

Okay, well what about the police or government using this data to track you? If they really wanted/needed to, they would go to the phone companies and do it that way. They would not look at your WiFi triangulation logs.

I’ve been sitting on panels about location issues for a few years now. The discussion always falls to the same place: privacy and security. But the funny thing is that increasingly, it’s not the “regular” users who take the discussion there, it’s those of us in the media who know this is the sexy thing to talk about because it sounds scary.

This also extends to the recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and other publications that range from oddly out of touch to wildly misinformed about technology, privacy, and security in general. (As a sidenote, isn’t it great when a company that makes money by dishing out subscriber data to marketers complains about privacy and security?)


Are there real issues to think about and debate? Of course. But there’s a way to do that without knowingly being an asshat in an attempt to drive fear.

Guess what? The phone that you bought at least partially because it offers you access to cool new location services, needs location data for those services to work. How dare they! Let’s sue! Oh, you’re a Senator? Let’s attempt to make a name for ourselves in the press by leveraging this overblown controversy in the guise of protecting the people.

Let’s be honest: no one is going to be talking about this issue in a few weeks. Why? Because it’s not actually a huge security issue and never was. It’s one that the press really badly wanted to be one. It generated hundreds if not thousands of widely read stories this past week. And it will generate more such stories for the next few weeks or so, depending on if and when Apple is actually called to Washington to testify about this.

Forget about balancing the budget, Apple’s phones with location capabilities that need to collect locations to work are collecting locations! I just read about it in all the major papers! It’s a big deal. We’ll figure out why later.

Then all of a sudden, everyone will stop talking about this issue. It will be completely forgotten. On to the next FUD.

[image: Warner Brothers]

Information provided by CrunchBase

Chrome OS “ZGB” Netbook And Potential “Seaboard” Tablet Surface In Bug Reports

Recent bug reports within the Chromium testing community have turned up a couple new devices running Chrome OS. There’s the expected netbook from Acer, different from the ZGA we saw a while back, and a mystery device referred to as Seaboard that may or may not be a Chrome OS tablet.

Could these be the devices on track for the rumored early summer public release of Google’s browser-based OS?

Continue reading…

Contest: Win Qualcomm’s 1.5 Ghz, 13 Megapixel Android Development Superphone (Worth $1,350!)

I get to give away lots of cool stuff on MobileCrunch… but this might be the coolest thing we’ve given away yet.

This morning, Qualcomm began selling an Android device called the Snapdragon MDP MSM8660. This thing is, in a sense, a glimpse of the future. Built on top of a dual-core, 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon CPU, the crazy fast Adreno 220 graphics chip, and sporting a 13 megapixel camera, the MDP is primarily meant for developers to get a head start on the tech that’ll be hitting handsets later this year.

As you might expect, this thing doesn’t come cheap. If you were to buy it direct from Qualcomm, it’d set you back $1,350. Win it from us, however, and it won’t cost you a dime.

Find out how to win at MobileCrunch >>

Twitter To Hold Official #Devnest Developer Events

Sad that Twitter Developer conference Chirp did not celebrate its first birthday this year? Well Twitter’s Jason Costa has just given those anticipating the gathering a slight ray of hope by announcing an official smaller #Devnest event to take place at Twitter HQ San Francisco on May 12th.

For those of you unaware, Devnest was a Twitter Developer event out of London started in 2010 by British Twitter developer Jonathan Markwell and organized by Angus Fox. Looks like Twitter has now appropriated the successful event as its own, planning a “string of dates in several cities around the US.” Ooh.

From Costa:

Hi everyone,

On May 12th from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, we’re going to be hosting a developer event, Twitter #devnestSF, here at our headquarters in San Francisco.

Please RSVP to join us for the evening. Due to space constraints, we’ll only be able to accommodate the first 200 sign-ups, and each RSVP is limited to one person. If you can’t attend this time around, don’t worry – this is going to be the first of many events to come. And for those not based in San Francisco, we’re planning to do a string of dates in several cities around the US, and in other cities around the world. Plus, we’re planning to record the event and release it on YouTube. More details will be released on that soon.

Rather than create a new event format, we’re choosing to embrace and extend what certain developers in the community are already doing – specifically the Devnest UK guys. Thanks to Angus Fox and Jonathan Markwell for letting us build on their work.

Please RSVP here, and we look forward to seeing you on May 12th:




Costa is the recently hired Twitter Developer Relations manager, brought on to smooth over what have certainly been some bumpy relations.  Twitter recently told developers straight out to stop building clients and focus on verticals, and then reportedly started a bidding war with Bill Gross’ Ubermedia for client Tweetdeck.

Costa’s got a long row to hoe.

Information provided by CrunchBase

NYC Disrupt: Back in Hack

The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon is back May 21st and 22nd in NYC. Signup now!

Our goal is to create and expose opportunities for great developers and startups in New York. We want to help grow the burgeoning NYC tech scene by creating the premier hacking event in the Big Apple. The 24 hour Hackathon will happen the weekend before Disrupt at the gigantic Pier 94.

The Hackathon is free. There will be great food, fast wifi and each presenting team will get tickets to the full conference. Teams will be judged by an audience of tech luminaries. Winners will present on Wednesday, May 25th on the Disrupt main stage. The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon promises to be one of the best attended hacking events of the year—if you’re a developer/hacker/maker this is a do-not-miss opportunity. Last year, GroupMe was born at the Disrupt Hackathon. Will another great startup will emerge from this year’s pack? Will it be yours?

If you’re curious but have never hacked before, here are some reasons to come:

Scratch an itch. There’s so many awesome new technologies out there to explore. Most of developers don’t have the opportunity to fit them into our full-time work. What better way to try something than dive in and make it!

Network. We can’t think of a better place to meet new techies who share your passion. They can help you build something, help you debug something or set the stage for an exciting career change.

Demo or die. It’s exciting and nerve racking to share an idea with others. Time to get off the couch and find out if that garage project has legs. Get on stage and demo your hack to a roomfull of folks interested in hearing from you. Maybe someone will reach out and help you take it to the next level—it’s happened before!

Win a prize. There will be a host of prizes. Many of our sponsors will be giving away their own awards. In addition, any team that demos on stage on Sunday will get 2 tickets to the Disrupt Conference. Finally, the judges’ favorite hack wins a chance to demo on stage on Wed in front of ,ore than 1,000 conference goers and judges.

Grow the NYC tech community. We’re really excited to give hackers a platform to do their thing and shine. If you aren’t hacking but wanna show your love, please come Sunday, May 22nd at 11am when we kickoff the demos. Everyone is welcome!

Signup now!

The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon is being organized by Tarikh Korula and Daniel Raffel on behalf of TechCrunch.

Photo credit: Flickr/eva meszaros

Indian Social Network SMS GupShup Now Processing Over 2 Billion Messages Per Month

SMS GupShup, a Twitter-like service in India that is primarily accessed via SMS, is announcing a number of new milestones today, including that the service is processing over 2 billion messages per month (up from 480 million messages a month a year ago) and is adding over 1 million members per month.

Launched in April 2007, SMS GupShup (spawned from Webaroo) serves 45 million users (which is up from 26 million users last year) across India. The startup has seen rapid growth in users primarily due to the immense popularity of mobile devices in India.

The company’s is also revealing that it is seeing record revenue. Revenue increased by over 400% in 2010 despite a ten-day SMS ban by the Indian government issued in advance of the verdict to the highly controversial Babri Mosque land dispute that raised tensions between Muslim and Hindu groups.

The seeing strong use of the platform from advertisers and brands. Businesses can target users based on location and community. Advertisers on the platform include Pepsi, eBay, ICICI Lombard, Microsoft, Cadbury, Vodafone, Nokia, Ford, Puma, Maybelline, Dell, Kingfisher, Sun Microsystems and ING Financial.

While SMS GupShup is seeing traction, I’m curious how the network will continue to fare as Facebook and Twitter continue to grow in the country. As more consumers have access to the internet, it would make sense that these services will attract more members, especially as they serve as a conduit to members outside of India.

An Update To My Investment Policy

Before TechCrunch I was an occasional angel investor, going back to the mid 1990s. I’ve also made investments since TechCrunch, in companies like Dogster, DanceJam, Seesmic and Daylife. Some people have seen this as a conflict of interest, which it of course is. To counter that I’ve always disclosed investments, and try not to cover these startups myself. Occasionally when news is breaking quickly or for other reasons, I will write about the company, but with the appropriate disclosure.

In 2009 the accusations of conflicts of interest by our competitors became somewhat distracting, and for a couple of years I discontinued investing in startups completely.

That policy has now changed. Over the last several months I have begun investing actively again. We’ve noted these investments in Shawn Fanning’s new startup and in Kevin Rose’s new startup.

I have also become a limited partner in two venture funds, Benchmark Capital and SoftTech VC. I am considering investments in a few other venture funds and a couple of startups as well, but have nothing further to announce yet.

There’s a period of time with any investment when I know an investment is possible or likely but it can’t be announced yet. During that time I don’t write about the startup at all, because I can’t disclose the investment. When another writer wants to break a story we may have to hold that story, or it becomes a forcing function in announcing sooner. That’s what happened with Yo. MG had the story independently and wanted to run with it. I can’t reasonably ask him to hold the story (THAT would be a conflict of interest in itself), but he can’t publish it here without the disclosure that I’m investing. Which led to the interesting situation where I was the only investor who confirmed on the record.

When these investments are complete, in a few months, there’s a very good chance that I’ll be a direct or indirect investor in a lot of the new startups in Silicon Valley, and that will mean that there will be financial conflicts of interests in a lot of my stories. Either because I write about those companies, or write about a competitor, or don’t write about a competitor.

The easiest way for me to handle this is to be up front about all of these investments and disclose it in posts, which I’ve done and will continue to do.

I think that this will all be fine. I’ll still be very hard on companies I invest in when they deserve it (ask Seesmic founder Loic LeMeur about that sometime), and I will still be quick to high five a company that’s doing well even if I’m not an investor, or if I’m an investor in a competitor.

Other tech press will make hay out of this because they don’t like the fact that we are, simply, a lot better than them. That’s fine, but when you read their coverage remember that they’re our direct competitors, even though they won’t “disclose” that particular conflict of interest. Luckily they don’t get to make the rules we operate under. We do, and you, as readers, can choose to accept those rules and read, or not and leave.

Maybe now I can get into those Bin38 dinners. You’ll always be able to see my investments on my CrunchBase page as well.

eBay Beats The Street; Revenue Up 16 Percent To $2.5B; Net Income Up 12 Percent

eBay just reported first quarter earnings today posting revenue of $2.5 billion, an increase of 16% from the same period of 2010. eBay’s net income on a GAAP basis of $475.9 million, or $0.36 per diluted share, and non-GAAP net income of $619.0 million, or $0.47 per diluted share, representing a 12% increase compared to the same period of 2010. The retail giant narrowly beat analyst expectations, which were 46 cents per share on revenues of $2.48 billion. eBay says that the first quarter increase in earnings was due primarily to sales growth and a lower effective tax rate.

PayPal continued to help buoy eBay’s results, net total payment volume growing 28% to $27.4 billion in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period of last year, driven primarily by strong 38% year-over-year growth in its Merchant Services business across global markets, increased merchant adoption and greater usage by customers. PayPal now represents 39 percent of eBay’s total revenue.

PayPal grew active registered accounts 16% year over year, ending the quarter with 97.7 million and adding approximately one million active accounts per month for the sixth consecutive quarter. eBay also reported that income increased from mobile payments and digital goods, with higher usage of Mobile Express Checkout, PayPal Send Money apps and the newly-launched PayPal for Digital Goods service.

eBay President and CEO John Donahoe said this in a statement: In the first quarter, PayPal continued to drive strong growth globally, eBay sharply accelerated growth in the U.S. and we announced several acquisitions that we believe will enhance our leadership and innovation in commerce and payments. The year is off to a strong start.

In terms of eBay’s Marketplace business, eBay’s merchandise volume grew at a slightly slower pace than PayPal. Gross merchandise volume excluding vehicles (GMV), increased by 8% year over year to $14.5 billion, GMV in the U.S. increased 10% year over year and international GMV increased 8% year over year, driven by continued strength in Europe and partially offset by weakness in Korea. eBay says the company is on track to double eBay’s mobile GMV to $4 billion in 2011. Worldwide, active users increased 5% year over year to 95.9 million, with growth in North America, the U.K., Germany and Australia.

For the second quarter of 2011, eBay expects net revenues in the range of $2.55 to $2.65 billion with GAAP earnings per diluted share in the range of $0.36 to $0.37 and non-GAAP earnings per diluted share in the range of $0.45 to $0.46.

From the earnings call:

Donohoe says that in the emerging new retail environment, the company is playing offence when it comes to redefining retail and leading the next generation of payments and commerce. At its current growth rate, PayPal will pass 100 million active users in Q2. He adds that PayPal’s mobile transaction volume will hit $2 billion in 2011. And PayPal merchant services accounts for almost two-thirds of global transaction volume.

While, eBay continues to grow in Europe, Asian markets aren’t growing, especially because of competition in Korea.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Giftiki Raises $1M From Tim Draper, Others, To Help You Get Better Gifts

Like a Charity:Water plus Kickstarter for everything, collaborative gifting startup Giftiki has raised just under one million in Series A financing, led by investor Tim Draper and including VC firms Crosslink Capital, GoldHill Capital and Transmedia Capital.

Elaborating on payment platforms like Venmo and Wepay, Giftiki lets users send small amounts of money as gifts, allowing recipients join a pool in order to gift their friends the more substantial things that they actually want, like the perfect Lanvin ballet slippers or a Frieda and Nellie bracelet, instead of individually buying less expensive (and less treasured) items from Forever 21, for example. I think this is an amazing idea.

Like Charity Water, Giftiki leverages social ties and game mechanics to get users to contribute to the gifting process and add more money to the pool (anyone who’s every felt the Charity Water peer pressure knows what I mean here). But the concept expands beyond birthdays to any gifting situation, holidays, graduations, fundraising and weddings and baby showers and it isn’t just for charitable causes. Woo hoo!

Says CEO Justin Stanislaw, “There was a big inefficiency in the gifting marketplace. People are receiving unwanted gifts and others don’t know what to buy someone. We wanted to solve the problem and create anengine for collaborative gifting, and in a sense collaborative social commerce.”

The Brandery accelerator graduate Giftiki recently moved to San Francisco from Cincinnati and will be using its new funding to hire more engineers like everybody else. iOS and Android apps are currently in development and Giftiki plans on launching in alpha in the next couple of months.

Information provided by CrunchBase