People Using Their $500+ iPads To Search For Bargains

Yahoo has just released some statistics for what they’re seeing from people doing searches with Yahoo on the iPad. The results are a little humorous.

According to this post, “the top searches over the last few weeks tended toward the thrifty and economical.” That seems a bit odd considering that the iPad is a $500 to $800+ device that, while possibly the future of computing, is hardly a must-have right now in tough economic times. eBay and Craigslist were at the top of shopping-related iPad searches followed by big discount retailers Walmart and Target, according to Yahoo’s data.

Other popular searches on Yahoo from the iPad include queries for the Netflix app, and one for Flickr (even though there is no native Yahoo-built Flickr iPad app yet). People are also searching for ABC, NBC, Hulu, Pandora, Farmville, and even Chatroutlette.

The data is also interesting because Yahoo isn’t the default search engine on the iPad — Google is. So these people are clearly going to Yahoo.com (or setting the search box to be Yahoo) specifically to search for something. Yahoo also reports a 327% increase in mobile searches for the term “iPad reviews” and 138% for “iPad cost.”

Back at the end of April, we noted that the iPad was already accounting for 1.18% of the traffic to TechCrunch for the past 30 days. In the past 30 days, that number has jumped to 2.42%.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Zynga CEO Mark Pincus: “Frontierville Is The Most Successful Launch We’ve Ever Had”

With a massive membership of more than 230 million gamers, one of the biggest challenges that social game company Zynga faces is keeping up its growth. One of the secrets to its success is the ability to use its existing hits (Farmville, Texas HoldEm Poker, Mafia Wars, etc.) to cross-promote new games and help launch those games. Its other advantage is that so many people now play its games that new games now get free a ton of press and blog coverage.

Last week, Zynga introduced its latest game, FrontierVille. Speaking at the Wired Business Conference today, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus reports, “FrontierVille is the most successful launch we’ve ever had.” More than 100,000 people tried the game the first day, with roughly half of those coming from blogs and news sites. Pincus says the second-day retention rate (people who came back to play again on Day 2) was 70 percent. Less than a week later, the game has more than one million daily active users.

Zynga spent more money developing FrontierVille than any other game so far. It lets players interact with their friends’ game boards, increasing the social aspect of the game beyond simply buying someone a virtual gift. Players of FrontierVille get a plot of land out West and have to help each other to develop their farms. Pincus believes there is a huge opportunity in pumping up the social aspects across all of his games. In Farmville, for instance, Zynga recently turned on a new farmer’s market feature where players can sell their produce. Up next will be craft fairs, which will allow different players to specialize in different skills such as wine making or energy production.

In other words, Farmville and other Zynga games will behave more like virtual economies, with trade centered around specialization. And where there is trade and markets there are more social interactions, just like in the real world.

The other big opportunity is to link the virtual goods in the games with real-world goods or e-commerce goods via affiliate marketing. “There is a lot of opportunity for you to take game mechanics and incentives and intersperse it around all sorts of things we do,” says Pincus. Zynga’s first big partner in this regard is 7-Eleven, which now offers Farmville-branded Big Gulps, Slurpees and other items. But Zynga needs to be careful with exactly how many virtual goods it gives away, because they have a real cost and players have a huge appetite for them as the company recently learned with Mafia Wars.

Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images, courtesy Wired


As Formspring.me Passes 700 Million Questions, Brands Start Taking Notice

Back in January, I wrote about a new Q&A service called Formspring.me that allowed users to have their friends “ask them anything”: sign up for a profile, and anyone can submit a question that you can choose to answer at your discretion. At the time the service had around one million users. Fast forward six months: the service now has over 12 million accounts and users have asked each other 700 million questions.  According to Quantcast, it’s the 61st most visited site in the United States. Formspring has also just launched a preview of its API in private beta, which you can request an invite to here.

As it has taken off, Formspring has started to draw the attention of some major brands — last month, Fiat used it to help launch the Uno in Brazil, and Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort regularly takes to the site to answer fan questions (he’s responded to over 3,000 of them). Red Bull has just launched a new page. As with Facebook Pages, Formspring gives brands a relatively easy way to engage directly with their fans — this could well be the start of a new trend.

The history of Formspring is interesting — it actually started off over four years ago as a service that makes it easy to generate web forms of all sorts. Last summer, the company noticed that a significant number of users were using the service to build out Q&A forms, which was driving a lot of traffic but was also hurting their conversion metrics (none of these users were looking for a premium product). So the company decided to launch a little side project at Formspring.me in November 2009 that would cater specifically to these individuals. A month and a half later, the service had a million users. Now that it’s taking off, the ‘old’ Formspring has been renamed Formstack, and Formspring.me now has an office of 14 based in San Francisco.

The appeal of Formspring.me is obvious: it lets you talk about yourself at great length without coming off as a total narcissist (of course, the success of the service relies on your vanity). Better yet, you can optionally allow users ask their questions anonymously. This anonymity has led to some issues though, spurring reports of teenagers harassing each other through the service. The Formspring team is well aware of these problems, and plans to launch a suite of new features to address them in the near future.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Kinect’s Launch Lineup: Something For Everybody

Microsoft has been touting its Kinect interface for the 360 all morning, and it’s clearly being marketed as a family-oriented device. They demoed quite a few games, covering a lot of territory; gaming rags are already whispering that this is where much of the MS development muscle is going to be applied for the foreseeable future. Not everything is going to be a hit, but among the dozen or so launch titles, there are definitely a few worth checking out, though a lot depends on your gaming tendencies — and age.

Here are our picks for which games will and will not impress buyers when November 4th comes around.

Continue reading…


Sprint Employee Terminated For Leaking EVO 4G Sales Figures

The tales surrounding the launch of the EVO 4G have been intriguing, to say the least. On June 4th, the device launched. By June 7th, Sprint was touting the phone’s sales as mammoth, claiming that it had broken their previous one-day sales records (as held by the Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre) by as much as 3 times. Just two days later, they recanted that story, declaring that they had “erred” in their original estimations, and that the sales numbers were inline with those of their previous top sellers.

There was, however, a bit of the story which we didn’t see: the part where a Sprint employee used the inventory system to figure out exactly how many EVO 4Gs were sold and posted that number online, resulting in a speedy investigation by Sprint HQ and the employee’s immediate termination.

Read the rest at MobileCrunch>>


Microsoft’s Oprah Moment: You’re All Getting Xboxes

Although there was plenty of news coming out of Microsoft today, the most interesting move is their decision to begin shipping the brand new XBox – it’s basically the old XBox with 802.11n Wi-Fi, a 250GB hard drive, and Kinect support – the same week they announced it. It’s not quite same day, but it’s close.

However, another treat came when they announced all the media at their press event will be getting XBox 360s immediately and that they would be showing up at their domiciles and places of business posthaste. Ethical issues aside, this is an interesting marketing effort.

These sort of giveaways are common at developer events (well, actually just Google IO) and I suspect they’ll become more popular in the coming months. Gear is so cheap to build and ship that it almost makes sense to blanket the evangelists with it. Whereas the old model of “selective releases” works for some products – Apple, in particular excels at this – the XBox team is dealing with an entrenched base of hardware users who will be loathe to swap out their old XBox, provided they’re not RRODed.

Read more…


Apple Reverses Block Of Oscar Wilde Graphic Novel’s Gay Kissing


In the last few days, a pair of stories have emerged illustrating the issues with Apple’s App Store and its potential to censor content. The latest was Apple’s blocking of an iPad graphic novel adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. According to a report in The Big Money, the application was barred from the App Store until its author added ugly black blocks to censor the illustrations of men kissing (which included depictions of mens’ buttocks, but no frontal nudity). We’ve just gotten word from Apple that they’ve reversed the decision (they say it was a mistake) and that the application’s developers can resubmit the graphic novel in its original form.

The news comes on the heels of a very similar situation involving a comic adaptation of the classic epic Ulysses called Ulysses Seen, which was blocked from the App Store until its authors removed some illustrated nudity featured in the comic. Apple reversed that block this morning.

Apple representative Trudy Muller explained:

“We made a mistake. When the art panel edits of the Ulysses Seen app and the graphic novel adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest app were brought to our attention, we offered the developers the opportunity to resubmit their original drawings and update their apps.”

This isn’t the first time Apple has run into similar issues — in April it was in hot water for blocking a satirical application created by a Pulitzer Prize winner (it quickly reversed the block as soon as the press caught wind of it).  Apple may not be censoring this content as a matter of official policy, but it’s clear that some of its reviewers are doing it anyway, or are at least unsure about what the rules are. And it isn’t comforting that it took the media spotlight to get these cases reversed.

Image via The Big Money.


Xbox 360 Gets Live Sports In HD From ESPN. Canceling My Cable In 5, 4, 3…

Everyone is busy talking about Microsoft Kinect (the project formerly known as Natal), but to me, some much bigger news just dropped at E3 from Microsoft: ESPN live sports access. Simply put: this was the only thing holding me back from completely canceling my cable subscription. As soon as this goes live, I’m done with cable forever.

No, this live sporting access won’t be entirely free, but it’s one hell of a deal. You simply have be an Xbox Live Gold member (about $50 a year), and you’ll get access to over 3,500 live events a year. In HD. Did I mention it was $50 a year? My cable bill is currently double that — a month.

According to BusinessofVideo.com:

Content includes college basketball, college football, soccer, MLB and NBA amongst others.

It’s hard to overstate just how big this news is for people fed up for cable. A little over a year ago I tried to cancel my cable after being fed up with Comcast’s sub-par (a nice way of saying it) service and absurd prices. I was fine using only my Xbox 360, Apple TV, and computer for all my content for several months. One thing I severely missed though was live sports. As crazy as it sounds, there’s only so many times you can drag yourself to a bar on a weeknight to watch every game you want to see.

So when I moved a few months ago, I signed up for cable again (this time without Comcast, thankfully). Once again, I find the only thing I regularly watch on cable is live sports — so I’m effectively paying $100 a month for that privilege since the cable companies still refuse to do a-la-carte packages where you can choose only the channels you want. With this new Xbox Live ESPN service, I can officially cancel cable — and never look back.

One thing not mentioned in the announcement was the biggest sports league in the U.S.: the NFL. Still, if I only have to drag myself to bars to watch those games, I’ll be a happy camper.

Back in December, when it looked like Apple was on the verge of talking some of the television networks into doing subscription-based TV packages through iTunes, I wrote that Apple may be on the verge of kneecapping the cable industry. Those deals have yet to come to fruition. And so their rival Microsoft beat them to the knee bashing. As long as I can throw that crappy cable box and its piece of garbage remote out the window, I don’t care who destroys big cable’s monopoly, I just care that it’s done.


Flash Ported To The iPod Touch, In A Manner Of Speaking

Sure it looks horrible and the video is awful, but believe us when we tell you that the same guys who created the Spirit jailbreak have ported Flash to the iPhone. The video, apparently taken through the pinhole camera truck the Bloodhound Gang built back in the 1980s to see where they were being taken after a kidnapping, shows a Strongbad clip.

This is obviously a proof of concept in its purest sense – it’s basically a bit of Flash ported to the iPod Touch using some unknown method – but it proves that it’s possible. You can keep your eye on the project by following Comex on Twitter.

Read more…


Gogobot Unveils Plans To Evolve Online Travel, Takes $4 Million From Battery Ventures

Apparently it’s former MySpace exec venture capital funding day. Earlier we announced the BeachMint news ($5 million). And now gogobot, a new travel website founded by MySpace’s former GM International Travis Katz and Ori Zaltzman, the former Chief Architect of Yahoo Boss, are announcing an impressive venture funding of their own. They first hinted about their startup in March.

They aren’t saying much about gogobot now, except that they think online travel is still woefully inadequate when it comes to discovery and that adding a social layer may fix that problem. “Online travel is a $100 billion a year market in the U.S., and there has been very little innovation in this space in the last ten years,” Katz tells me. “We will leverage the social graph to make planning trips easy and fun.”

I’m in! If you know where you want to go and don’t want to extend discovery beyond price comparisons, Trip Advisor reviews and maybe a few pictures and some descriptive text then current services are fine. But let’s say you’re planning to take a month off and want to rent a house somewhere in the world but you don’t know, say, the perfect village and villa in Tuscany to stay (something I’m currently planning for August). “Will you help me figure that out?” I asked Katz. “Yes,” he says, but pointing out that the site isn’t just for long and/or expensive vacations. But for now, he won’t say exactly how it will all work.

Launch is still months away, but whatever they’re planning seems to have impressed Battery Ventures. The venture firm put $4 million into gogobot and principal Satya Patel has joined the board of directors. And former MySpace founder and CEO Chris DeWolfe is an advisor to the company.

Want to know more? Sign up to join the private beta when it launches on their home page. The company, which is based in Palo Alto, is also aggressively hiring – details here.


News Corp. Buys E-Reading Platform Skiff From Hearst, Invests In Journalism Online

News Corp. has just announced that it has acquired e-reader Skiff from Hearst and made an investment in Journalism Online, news monetization venture founded by Leo Hindery, Steve Brill, and Gordon Crovitz. The financial terms of both agreements were not disclosed. Additionally, Jon Housman has been named President of News Corporation’s digital journalism initiatives.

As we’ve written in the past, Skiff is sort of like a Roku box for magazines. The e-reading platform is focused on the representation of magazines in their native format and aims to help move paid subscribers to a different delivery system as quickly and easily as possible.

Journalism Online aims to help news publishers monetize content. Publishers can choose adjust multiple options for paid access. This includes the “metered model” or having to pay for full access. Of course, we know that News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch is a fan of paid content so, the investment isn’t surprising. But’s unclear if an how Murdoch and the company will be integrating Journalism Online’s technologies into News Corp. properties.

In the release, Jon Miller, Chief Digital Officer for News Corp said “Both Skiff and Journalism Online serve as key building blocks in our strategy to transform the publishing industry and ensure consumers will have continued access to the highest quality journalism.”


Free WiFi Coming To All U.S. Starbucks Stores Beginning July 1

At Wired’s Business Conference in New York City, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz announced that the coffee giant is now offering free Wifi to customers beginning July 1.

Currently, you can connect to AT&T WiFi in Starbucks stores, which is free for two hours if you have a registered Starbucks card. And if you are an AT&T customer, you can access connectivity in coffee shops for free. If you’re not a registered Starbucks or AT&T customer, you have to pay $3.99 for two consecutive hours of Wi-Fi access.

Schultz said at the conference that the company aims to launch its own digital network by creating a third place between home and work. Starbucks wants to create proprietary way to give access to new sources of information and content that you can get only at Starbucks. He addded, “The rules of engagement in building a major brand have changed forever. The consumer is so cynical and distrusting of everything, there has to be a level of intimacy and trust.”

Starbucks is partnering with a number of media companies, including Yahoo, for this new digital venture. When you go to Starbucks and log-in to wifi, you’ll be served with targeted content and news. Yahoo will help run the portal and Starbucks is also working with AOL to integrate local content from Patch in the network. And you’ll get free versions of content from WSJ, Zagat, New York Times, USA Today, and free pick of the week iTunes download. Additionally, there will be no advertising on Starbuck’s digital portal.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Online Gambling Company 888 Picks Up Real Dice’s Social Games Studio Mytopia For $18M

Online gambling company 888 has bought the assets of the Mytopia social games development studio from Real Dice. Mytopia, which launched at TechCrunch50 in 2008, is an online social gaming community where people can play casual games together in real time.

The base price is $18 million cash with an additional earn out payment that will be made calculated on the basis of net profit for the calendar year 2011. The total payment to Real Dice for Mytopia’s games is capped at $48 million.

Mytopia sold 12 games in total to 888, which is planning to add microtransactions to the games to monetize the platform. Mytopia also offers a platform that allows developers to write code once and have it immediately distributed and syndicated to various smartphones and mobile operating systems. 888 has licensed this technology along with the acquisition of the social gaming studio.

Information provided by CrunchBase


NPR’s iPad App Downloaded 350,000 Times, New Public Media API Announced

NPR always has among the most popular news apps in the iTunes Store. Its latest iPad app has been downloaded 350,000 times, according to CEO Vivian Schiller, who spoke this morning at Wired’s Business Conference in New York City. Considering that only about 2 million iPads have been sold, about one in six iPad owners have downloaded the iPad app.

Asked whether she minds getting links from Google News, as Rupert Murdoch and other news organizations like to complain apparently do, she responded: “I have no problems with that whatsoever. I am not in the camp of Google bashers, Google sends a lot of traffic to us. We want our content to be as easily discoverable as possible.”

Of course, NPR’s mission is to provide free journalism to the public, so she is not a big fan of paywalls either. As listeners shift to the Web, NPR is committed to following them and serving them there as well. Ignoring consumer preference, she notes, would be a “path to destruction.” She estimates NPR’s Website traffic to currently be around 12 million unique visitors per month.

To the extent that other traditional media outlets talk actually start erecting paywalls and blocking Google, NPR and other open media sites will benefit.

Schiller also announced the development of a new API for public media broadcasters called the Public Media Platform to share news, content, and data among the websites of public broadcasters, such as NPR and PBS. The Public Media Platform (PMP) will be funded by a $1 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The PMP will initially be available to public broadcasters and eventually may open up to other media organizations as well, although it is unclear to what extent commercial media sites or developers will be able to tap into the PMP.


Ex-Slingshot Execs (And MySpace Cofounder) Raise $5 Million For Social Commerce Startup BeachMint

In April, we reported that Diego Berdakin and MySpace co-founder Josh Berman, the two heads of News Corp’s incubator Slightshot Labs, were leaving the company. They haven’t wasted any time in launching their next project: today, less than two months later, Berman and Berdakin are announcing that they’ve raised $5 million from New Enterprise Associates and Anthem Venture Partners for a new startup called BeachMint, Inc.

At this point details on the startup are still a little sparse, but Berman and Berdakin were willing to talk broadly about what BeachMint will be doing. The company will be entering the social commerce arena, with plans to launch a suite of sites catering to individual verticals. The goal, Berman says, is to drive people to curated, authentic choices with recommendations from celebrities and other ‘influencers’— think Kim Kardashian’s association with ShoeDazzle, but for numerous different verticals. Berman also noted that these recommendations will be authentic and may come from people who have less high profiles (it sounds like the sites may tap into your social graph).

The company will be launching its first vertical before this holiday season, with plans to announce it by the end of summer. Each new vertical will have its own brand, but all of the site names will likely incorporate the ‘Mint’ branding (e.g. BookMint or WineMint, though Berdakin was quick to point out that neither of these would be part of the company’s initial launch). Berdakin and Berman are well aware of the established competitors like Gilt Groupe, but believe that there’s still a huge opportunity in online retail spending, explaining that only 6% of retail spending happens online.

The Santa Monica-based company currently has seven engineers building out its product. We’ll have more on BeachMint this summer.