Skype Opens Up SkypeKit SDK To All Devices And Desktop Apps

Today, Skype is releasing an open software development kit (SDK) for developers called SkypeKit which will allow Skype calls, instant messaging, video chat and other features to be integrated into consumer electronics and computers. For the past few years, Skype has found its way into a variety of devices from cordless phones and mobile phones to TVs through direct partnerships with device manufacturers. But with SkypeKit, the SDK is now available to all developers.

“The SDK is very similar to what we use internally,” says general manager Jonathan Christensen. It goes much deeper than Skype’s public API, which is more for accessories like headphones. The initial release of SkypeKit is targeted at consumer electronics companies and desktop app developers. SkypeKit supports Linux now and in a few weeks Windows and Mac support will come out as well. As TVs, digital picture frames, and other consumer devices become linked to the Internet and get cameras and screens, they will become good candidates for adding Skype functionality. Anyone creating a desktop app can add in Skype features, but it still cannot be built into Web applications. Like Skype itself, it requires a separate runtime.

Part of the SDK is Skype’s SILK audio codec, which it is trying to make a standard by making it available royalty-free. “The value of the codec is in the breadth of its adoption,” says Christensen, “we want it to be a common codec.”

The next natural step for SkypeKit is to start supporting tablet and mobile operating systems like Apple’s iOS and Android. “We are looking at the relevant operating systems,” confirms Christensen. There is already an official Skype app on the iPhone and third-party apps on Android, so extending the SDK to those mobile platforms is a no-brainer.

Information provided by CrunchBase

LinkedIn Takes Groups To The Next Level With Likes, Follows And More

On the heels of reaching the 70 million member mark, professional social network LinkedIn is adding new functionality to its Groups feature on the site. Launched last August, Groups essentially allows anyone on the network to create an open forum around a specific subject or profession where users can comment and share news and information. Currently there are over 650,000 groups on LinkedIn, with the largest amassing 200,000 members (for an E-Marketing Association).

Today, Groups has undergone a bit of a facelift. LinkedIn has improved the look and feel of the Groups feature, making threaded conversations within groups similar to face-to-face professional interactions by removing the wall between original remarks and off-site content such as news articles. You can share links on Groups the same way you would on the homepage. And your profile picture will now be attached to any comment you make on a group, personalizing the experience.

You can also now roll over the images of the last three participants on any thread to see comment previews and click their profile pictures to jump to their part of the conversation. If you are new to the thread, you can easily view an entire discussion by clicking the discussion headline or “See all comments” link, which will tale you to the beginning of the discussion.

One of the significant changes in the the groups experience is the ability to curate new content and vote on shared content by liking and commenting on discussions with a “like” button. Content that is “liked” will be highlighted. You can also see who has liked a conversation to get a sense for topics that group members are gravitating toward.

Group members can now get email alerts when select members of a group participate by simply following a member within the group. The following feature was originally added to LinkedIn a few months ago. And LinkedIn will begin to highlight active group participants as “top influencers,” which designate the the member whose contributions stimulate the most participation from other group members.

LinkedIn’s principal product manager Ian McCarthy says that overall, Groups has been upgraded to be more engaging with users and a place where people can have conversations on the platform. The interface looks almost like a Facebook or FriendFeed, which isn’t surprising considering that LinkedIn has taken inspiration from other social networks for some of its features.

The network has been adding social features continuously over the past six months to broaden LinkedIn’s reach across the web, including adding a deeper Twitter integration, adding the ability to follow, and enhancing sharing options.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Snaptu Hits 10 Million Users, Raises $6 Million More From Carmel And Sequoia

ExclusiveSnaptu, the company that aims to bring a smartphone-like experience to regular handsets, hit an important milestone today: 10 million registered users.

Coincidentally, the announcement comes at a time when the startup is disclosing that it has secured $6 million in Series B funding in a round led by Carmel Ventures and joined by early backer Sequoia Capital.

As a result of the funding deal, Carmel partner Rina Shainski will join the Snaptu board.

Snaptu is in essence a mobile application company that targets users of regular phones rather than high-end handsets like the iPhone, DROID and Nexus One that get much more attention from the press but boast much smaller numbers in worldwide usage.

The startup’s service incorporates a suite of popular social networking, news, informational and sports applications, including Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and Flickr. The app, which can be downloaded by visiting, works on any data-capable phone that can run Java – some 2,500 different phone models according to the Israeli company.

In addition, the company has agreements with mobile operators around the world to ensure compatibility with their “app store for phones that don’t have their own app store”. Just two months ago, the startup struck a deal with AT&T to make sure that the mobile application works nicely with the carrier.

You can see it in action here:

American Express Open Partners With Clickable To Launch SearchManager For Small Businesses

Clickable, the ad management platform that lets search marketers measure and track the performance of their online marketing campaigns across different search engines and advertising networks, is partnering with American Express OPEN to launch SearchManager, a product that allows small business owners to streamline search advertising and marketing.

American Express is essentially white-labeling Clickable’s platform for its millions of OPEN business customer via SearchManager. SearchManager is a self-managed solution for small business marketers who are currently doing search advertising, but are looking for a simple and more efficient bid management experience via a centralized dashboard. SearchManager provides an unified access platform to advertise via Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing, Microsoft AdCenter and even Facebook Ads. SearchManager allows business owners to manage their campaigns with one interface.

After Four Months In Private Beta, Salesforce Chatter Finally Arrives As A Public Conversation

Salesforce’s foray into injecting social features into the enterprise world, Chatter, is finally open to the public after four months in private beta. Announced last November, Chatter leverages what Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff calls the Cloud 2, delivering realtime access to data and information, using social sources, such as YouTube and Twitter. In Feburary, Chatter was launched in private beta to 100 companies and eventually expanded to more than 5,000 customers. Today, Chatter will be available to Salesforce’s 77,300 customers and the rest of the enterprise world.

Similar to Facebook, employees can create business profiles with professional information like personal contact data, area of expertise, and work history. Searching other people’s profiles, colleagues can quickly identify individuals who are relevant to their enterprise needs. Users can post status updates to share communications, files and links around a project, sales deal or customer support case. And users can see realtime feeds of personalized updates from people, applications and documents.

Online Panel Company uSamp Raises $10 Million From OpenView Venture Partners

uSamp (short for United Sample), an Internet panel company with offices in Los Angeles, India, Connecticut and London, this morning announced that it has closed a $10 million Series C round of financing. The funding round was led by Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners.

The capital injection will be used for expansion through acquisition, development of its Web-based panel management platform and other social media technology enhancements.

Founded in March 2008 by panel industry vets Matthew Dusig and Gregg Lavin, uSamp now employs 90 people all around the world, more than half work out of their offices in India.

The company currently boasts a database of 2 million active global panelists for the market research industry. Top segments are said to include automotive, entertainment, financial services, food and beverage, gamers, telecommunications and travel.

The fresh financing round brings the total of venture capital raised by the startup to $14.3 million – the company is also backed by Greycroft Partners and DFJ Frontier.

Co-founders Dusig and Lavin were the driving forces behind dotcom startup goZing, which was sold in 2005 to competitor Greenfield Online for approximately $30 million in cash.

(Source: press release)

UShip Acquires UK Courier Marketplace Boxby

uShip, the Austin-based transport marketplace, has acquired the UK’s boxby, which offers a similar but also complementary service by connecting couriers and transporters with customers in need of delivery.

The deal, of which terms are undisclosed, will “support the global growth” of uShip, which already offers localized versions of its reverse auction site for couriers and shippers in the US, Australia, Canada, UK, Germany and other parts of the EU, with further international roll outs planned this year. The boxby site and brand will remain with the “incorporation of key uShip processes and functionality”, while boxby co-founder Sandra Patterson will stay on in a consulting capacity only.

Adobe Starts Shipping Flash Player 10.1 for Mobile – Let The Real Testing Begin

About 7 months after the release of Flash Player 10.1 for desktops (beta), Adobe has today announced it has shipped its mobile sister to partners worldwide.

Adobe unveiled a beta version of Flash Player for Android about a month ago, but has been dabbling with bringing Flash to mobile devices – including Android handsets – for much, much longer.

Make no mistake about it: Adobe really needs to get this completely right.

They need to, considering the harsh criticism it has been given for the shipment delays and claims regarding its stability, security, resource usage and whatnot, the majority of the deriding notably coming from Apple chief Steve Jobs.

Adobe can prove Apple’s decision to bar Flash from running on some of the world’s most popular and capable smartphones and the iPad wrong, but only by doing what it is doing now: by actually shipping Flash for Mobile and showing that it knows how to make it an integral part of the mobile experience, without slowing things down.

Running a bunch of ads, pre-approved demos and canned ‘industry feedback’ won’t cut it. If Adobe thinks Apple is wrong for blocking Flash from their mobile devices and referring to it as a technology only fit for “PCs and mice”, let them prove it where it really matters: in the hands of phone users all across the globe.

Flash Player 10.1 for Mobile should be available for download today on devices using the latest iteration of Android, version 2.2 aka Froyo (no surprise there). As Adobe writes, devices supporting Android 2.2 and Flash Player 10.1 are expected to include the Dell Streak, Google Nexus One (that one actually already does), HTC Evo, HTC Desire, HTC Incredible, Motorola DROID, Motorola Milestone, Samsung Galaxy S and others.

Once upgraded, smartphones, tablets and other devices can be updated with Flash Player 10.1 over-the-air in a variety of ways, including content triggered downloads, system software updates and on-device app catalogs such as Android Market, Adobe Labs and others.

Adobe says it has shipped also Flash Player to its other device partners, readying its roll-out on BlackBerry, Palm webOS, Windows Phone 7, LiMo, MeeGo, and Symbian phones.

All eyes are now on Adobe. Soon, the real testing will commence and it will continue for a couple more years as Flash Player makes its way to mobile platforms other than Android 2.2. By 2012, Adobe plans to have Flash 10.1 on more than half of all smartphones shipped – assuming no major market share changes.

If Adobe manages to deliver a great product, consumers will be better off and Steve Jobs will become pretty much the only person who continues to badmouth Flash for being a technology of the past rather than the future. If it doesn’t, Adobe stands to lose credibility, and face.

That may not sound like much, but it makes a world of difference in the software industry.

Apple Telling Customers To Expect iPhone 4 A Day Early, June 23

So this is a little weird. iPhone 4 launch day is this Thursday, June 24. You know it, I know it, presumably, FedEx knows it. And of course, Apple knows it. And yet, they’re still telling customers that their new iPhones will be delivered on June 23.

It’s not unusual for FedEx to show screwy delivery dates in the online tracking information when a company (like Apple) has a hold on a product’s delivery until a certain date.  FedEx’s systems often simply reflect how much time it would normally take to deliver the product. But what’s odd here is that Apple is emailing customers telling them to be sure they’re around on the 23rd to accept their new iPhones.

And that’s not all. They also acknowledge that the tracking information may have a “later date,” but still say the 23rd will be the day.

We’ve gotten about four of these tips so far — all of whom received the email below. Twitter is also abuzz with these confirmations.

So could it be that FedEx will actually deliver the iPhone 4 a day early to those who pre-ordered it? I wouldn’t hold my breath, but who knows, even if Apple puts out the word at the last minute not to deliver these until the 24th, maybe some of the FedEx offices will screw up and deliver early.

Dear Apple Store Customer,

You recently received a Shipment Notification email from Apple advising you that your iPhone has shipped.

This email is to confirm that your delivery will occur on June 23rd. Although Apple and FedEx tracking information may currently indicate a later date, you can check the FedEx website the morning of the June 23rd to track your package to your doorstep.

In the event that you will not be available to accept delivery on June 23rd, it may be more convenient to use our pre-sign delivery option by visiting our Order Status website at


The Apple Store Team

Information provided by CrunchBase

Playdom Pulls Down $33 Million More In Funding – Disney’s Steamboat Ventures Gets In On The Action

Late last year we broke the news that social gaming startup Playdom closed a big round of funding at quite a healthy valuation: $43 million on a $260 million pre-money valuation. That’s not bad for a first round of financing.

But the march of the social gaming giants continues. Zynga raised another $150 million earlier this month. And now Playdom is set to announce an additional $33 million in funding – bringing their total to $76 million. This new money was added in a second closing of the Series A round at that same $260 million pre-money valuation, the company tells me.

Steamboat Ventures, Disney’s venture arm, is part of this round, and they generally only make investments of strategic interest to the parent company. Bessemer Venture Partners and New World Ventures also invested.

Playdom remains the largest social gaming network on MySpace (by number of installs), and continues to grow on Facebook and internationally. Lots more news coming from Playdom in the near future, we hear.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Wikinvest Already Tracking $1 Billion In Portfolio Assets

Sometimes a startup rolls out a new feature, and it just hits the sweet spot of what consumers are craving. It looks like Wikinvest has a hit on its hands with its new realtime portfolio tracker. Less than three weeks after its launch, Wikinvest is tracking $1 billion worth of real investments tied to the real brokerage accounts of about 10,000 members.

The Wikinvest portfolio tracker lets anyone link up their real brokerage accounts to Wikinvest so they can keep tabs on their actual holdings, which are updated automatically every time you make a trade. That way you don’t have to manually update your portfolio (which is what most finance sites make you do). Getting to $1 billion worth of tracked assets in such a short time suggests there is a real need for such a service. Social investing sites like Covestor and KaChing also let you track your real brokerage accounts, and even invest alongside other users—Covestor recently passed $100 million in tracked trades managed through its service.

The difference is that Wikinvest’s portfolio tracker is purely an information product. Wikinvest doesn’t hold or direct any of these assets. They are all in Etrade, Schwab, Ameritrade, Fidleity, and other brokers. But Wikinvest ingests the data and gives people one place to research and track all of their investments. Co-founder Mike Sha says the “vast vast majority of the adoption was from new users.”

One of the biggest requests for the product has been to add brokers who manage 401(k)s. Sha describes the pain financial consumers are feeling: “A lot of these financial institutions are really old school, whose wealth management products were centered around communicating with clients via phone calls and monthly/quarterly reports by mail. Times have changed and they’ve fallen way behind on their web-based self-service tools.”

Apple’s Small Problem: iOS 4 And iPhone 4 One-Up The iPad

The tech world is buzzing about iOS 4, the latest version of the iPhone operating system that Apple released today. And rightly so — it’s an improvement over the previous version in every way. In fact, once you’ve been using it for a while, it’s hard to go back to using iPhone OS 3.x. And there’s an unfortunate casualty there: the iPad.

I’ve been using developer builds of iOS 4 (then called iPhone OS 4) for weeks now. I’ve grown very used to using things such as the new app switcher and folders. In fact, I’ve grown so used to using them that when I switch back over to the iPad now (running iPhone OS 3.2), I can’t help but feel that it in some ways seems antiquated. Yes, I know that’s ridiculous for a device that’s not even three months old yet. But the feeling lingers.

I keep double-clicking the home button to bring up the app drawer, and nothing happens. And I’ve grown weary of navigating through pages and pages of apps when on my iPhone now, thanks to folders, I only have 3 pages (holding many more apps than I have on my iPad).

Obviously, this is a temporary problem, since iOS 4 is coming to the iPad. But it’s one many of us are going to have to deal with for months, since iOS 4 isn’t due on the iPad until the Fall (and there isn’t even a developer release available yet).

In some ways, this is reminiscent of the problem the Android platform has been having with regard to fragmentation. Some Android-powered phones can run the latest version of the Android software. Some can’t just yet (and some won’t be able to ever). I’ve had Android 2.2 on my Nexus One for weeks, but the EVO 4G still doesn’t have it. At least partially as a result, I find myself using the Nexus One a lot more. It’s just a better device, thanks in no small part to the better software.

There is some of this fragmentation in the iPhone line itself. For example, iOS 4 will not run on the original iPhone. But that device is also three years old. Most iPhones and iPod touches will be able to update to iOS 4 if the user chooses to do so. That’s not the case right now with the iPad — which again, is a little odd because it’s less than three months old. It seems almost as if Apple just decided to suck it up and launch the iPad knowing it would be upstaged by this new OS it can’t yet run, just a few months later.

But the problem is deeper. As I said, iOS 4 will eventually make its way to the iPad. But something launching on Thursday could be a bigger factor in making your new iPad feel a bit old: iPhone 4. The new hardware from Apple comes with two big new features your existing iPad is simply never going to get: double the RAM and a screen that is much sharper with a much higher pixel density.

As I noted after I got a chance to play with the iPhone 4 for about 20 minutes following the WWDC keynote, the new device kind of makes the iPhone 3GS feel like a toy. What I didn’t mention was how it makes the iPad feel. There’s no denying the hardware build quality of the iPad is great (much better than the iPhone 3GS and its plastic back, for example). But the screen of the iPhone 4 completely blows away the screen of the iPad. It’s even more noticeable than the difference between the iPhone 3GS screen because the iPad screen is so much bigger.

I would not be surprised if using the iPhone 4 and the iPad side-by-side on a daily basis is pretty jarring — in the same way that it’s jarring to switch from my MacBook Pro with the new high resolution screen to one of the older models without it. It’s not that the iPad has a bad screen — it doesn’t at all. It’s just that it’s a fairly major downgrade from the iPhone 4′s screen. And that again, makes the iPad seem a bit dated in comparison.

I didn’t use the iPhone 4 long enough to get a sense of how much the RAM will matter. But the fact that the iPhone 4 has 512 MB versus 256 MB for the iPad, should make a world of difference in things such as multitasking (again, when it eventually works on the iPad). And it should be fairly easy to tell the difference since both devices are running the same 1 GHz A4 chip. Again, I suspect this could make the iPad feel old when compared to the new iPhone.

Here’s why this really matters for Apple: the iPhone 4 likely points to the updates coming to the iPad in the not-too-distant future. Are there any doubts that the Retina Display and twice the RAM will make its way to that device? So why would you buy the iPad now if the device might get these updates in say, January? The proof will be right in front of your eyes on Thursday.

Sure, most average consumers may look past that. But I’d argue that it’s largely the more savvy consumers who have been buying iPads so far.

Of course, in some ways, this is just an extension of the same problem Apple users have faced for years now. You know a better version of the product is coming, so you have to decide if the time is right to buy now. The difference here is that the products lines haven’t been this fragmented in the past, with major upgrades so clearly pointing out deficiencies in another major product.

Apple could resolve half of this problem this Fall with a unification of iOS 4 for both iPhone/iPod touch and the iPad. But the hardware bifurcation between the lines may linger. I suspect Apple may try to ship new iPads in the January timeframe in the future, while it continues to ship new iPhones in the June timeframe to create a greater time gap between this split.

Zuckerberg Says Location Features “Soon”, Admits To Using Spotify In The U.S.

Facebook has been wooing the UK developer and media community over the weekend and today in London. It’s hard to believe that three months ago the social network was being pilloried in the media here for being perceived to have played some part in a brutal murder.

But at the first official Facebook developer day to be held outside California, Mark Zuckerberg and his European team pulled off a flawless event at London’s vast Barbican Centre, while throwing out a few hints about the future.

The most interesting was Zuckerberg’s hint that location based features were coming to the platform. To a packed audience he said: “We are finishing designing our application soon and hope to offer it soon.” Whether that means integrating location data from the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla was not elaborated on.

Quora’s Highly Praised Q&A Service Launches To The Public (And The Real Test Begins)

Quora, a Q&A service founded by early Facebook employees that has generated quite a bit of buzz, has launched to the public. The service first made its debut on January 4, 2010, but was previously restricted to users who had been invited (or had requested an invite from the site). The news was announced this evening in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Quora was attracting plenty of attention since the day it launched its private beta, but things really picked up in March, when we heard that the service raised around $11 million from Benchmark Capital at a whopping $86 million valuation (the WSJ says it eventually raised $14 million at a $87.5 million valuation, so there’s some discrepancy here that may be due to additional investors other than Benchmark). At the time, we sat down with Benchmark’s Matt Cohler and Quora cofounders Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, who outlined their goals with Quora and how they would face looming hurdles.

Their biggest challenge is about to begin. Quora has generated attention not just because of its slick interface, but because of the extremely high quality of its answers up until this point — it isn’t unusual for someone to ask a question and have it answered by a top expert in the field within a matter of hours (or less). Likewise, questions about various Internet companies often attract answers from longtime employees. The big question now is whether or not Quora will be able to maintain that quality as it deals with an influx of new users. When we asked about this during our interview, here’s what they said:

Part of it is making it so you see the stuff that you care about but you don’t see the other stuff. I think a lot of services lately have done a better and better job of that. Users follow topics and people that they’re interested in and that information is highlighted for them.

In other words, the site is going to help users filter out questions and answers by signing them up for the topics they’re interested in (something the site seems to be quite good at now, but may prove more difficult as the number of questions and topics increases quickly). However, if quality begins to suffer, the site will clamp down once again on new signups. Quora founder (and former Facebook CTO) Adam D’Angelo shared some more details on this launch in an answer on his own site:

Previously, there were two ways to register for Quora. You could either get an invitation from an existing user, or you could enter your email address in the box on our home page, and we’d invite you as soon as we scaled our capacity up.

We’ve gotten to the point where we are confident that we can integrate new users as they sign up and maintain the quality of the site, and so we are opening up registration today. However, we put quality ahead of growth as a priority, and so we will change plans and limit registration as necessary to achieve that goal.

We are not opening up to search engines at this point.

Quora faces plenty of competition from incumbents like Yahoo’s hugely popular Answers service, though the answer quality there tends to be poor. Even more threatening is Facebook Questions, the Q&A service that Facebook is currently testing in private beta and could be a new Facebook “killer app”. That said, one user we spoke to said that the service felt different from Quora because it “seems to be more intimate/fun/terse than intellectual/useful/detailed”, which is where Quora’s strength has been so far.

Information provided by CrunchBase

E-Readers Race To The Bottom As Tablet Market Solidifies

You must have heard that the Nook and the Kindle, two of the world’s best-selling e-readers, have dropped their prices to below $200 — down to $149 for the Wi-Fi Nook and $189 for the Kindle. It’s bad news for e-readers that recently placed themselves at low price points to compensate for fewer features (like the Kobo I just reviewed), but of course good news for everyone planning on buying an e-reader soon. When I considered secondary features and the possibility of “bulk” e-readers, I concluded that these devices would survive but find themselves marginalized both in price and market share. That seems to be just what’s happening, though of course the tablet market is still emerging, and Google may have a few cards up its sleeve. The brief age of “premium” e-readers is ending.

What can you expect from the e-readers? Well, first of all they can and must cut the hell out of the price, and that’s what we’re seeing now.

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