Cisco buys into social networking fray

Cisco Systems is making its first move toward courting big media companies with the acquisition of a small San Francisco social networking company.

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The company plans to announce that it’s buying Five Across, an 11-person company based in San Francisco that has developed software that allows large companies to easily add social-networking features to their Web sites without needing to hire a team of engineers from Stanford to do it. Using this tool, companies will be able to add communities so that users can share audio, video and photos, as well as post blogs, podcasts and profiles.

Cisco has not disclosed terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter Cisco’s fiscal year 2007, which ends April 28, 2007. While at first blush it seems odd that Cisco, a company that sells hardware to shuttle bits around the Internet, would buy a software-based, social-networking company, analysts following the company say it actually fits in well with Cisco’s long-term strategy.

“Social networking is all about attracting more eyeballs,” said Danielle Levitas, senior analyst and vice president for IDC. “And it’s interactive in nature, so people are downloading and uploading pictures and video. They are streaming media. It drives a lot of traffic on the network, which causes a need for more capacity. And Cisco is the company that provides all that infrastructure.” For more than a year, Cisco has been implementing a strategy to broaden its product portfolio beyond simply being the “plumbers of the Internet.” The company has been aggressively pushing into new markets that are more consumer focused, such as video, home networking and even consumer electronics.

Late last year, it created the Media Solutions business unit, which develops and markets products to digital media content owners. The head of the group, Dan Scheinman, has said the next step for Cisco is to work more closely with the companies that are creating the movies, TV shows, music and other multimedia content that end up in consumers’ homes. Cisco executives say this acquisition will likely lay the cornerstone of its digital media strategy, because social networking is an important way that people connect with and discover content. This will become critical for big media companies, such as the movie studios and television networks, as they continue to move their content onto the Internet.

As audiences find more ways to consume content, whether it be on the Web, on a cell phone or on another portable device like an iPod, media companies need to maintain their connection to these consumers to continue to make their brands relevant. Disney has already seen the value in the social networking phenomenon. It recently revamped its Web site to create a MySpace for tots. Kids are able to play games, watch music videos, customize their web sites with Disney characters like Tinkerbell or chat with other kids.

Disney’s new site was home grown and took more than a year to design. But Cisco hopes that with the Five Across software, it can help other media companies build these features much more quickly, making it more plug-and-play. Cisco is approaching this market much like it has any other new market it has entered. Executives at Cisco said that Five Across is just the first of many acquisitions to come. That said, it’s still unclear what other pieces Cisco may feel it needs to assemble to fully build out its portfolio.

But one thing is becoming clear. As Cisco moves into this new market, it’s going to face a slew of new competitors from Google to Yahoo to Microsoft, which either own social-networking sites or offer tools to help build social networking into Web sites. So far, these companies have focused on allowing people to add social-networking features to their personal blogs and Web sites. None of them has developed a comprehensive solution that could be sold directly to large companies. “It will likely change who Cisco views as competitors in the future,” Levitas said. “But it won’t happen over night. Yahoo and Google are offering some of these tools piecemeal. And it’s not like everyone will rush out to buy Cisco’s software right away.”

By Marguerite Reardon Staff Writer, CNET News.com

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February 9, 2007 at 12:52 am 2 comments

Yahoo wants more mashups

The Web giant on Wednesday released Yahoo Pipes, a hosted visual-development tool that lets people manipulate data feeds from Web sites to create new applications.

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Mashup applications combine data from different Web services; some of the most popular mashups involve taking data from one source, such as real-estate listings, and displaying them on Web-based mapping services.

With Yahoo Pipes, which is in beta, the company is trying to give developers–and tech-savvy users–more power in combining structured data feeds, typically done through the Really Simple Syndication or Atom protocols.

Although the service currently works only with RSS and Atom feeds, Yahoo intends to expand the number of data sources with which people can work. It also plans to allow third parties to create add-on modules and to expand the service’s information output composition to include formats such as maps.

For example, someone can use Yahoo Pipes to combine multiple Web calendar feeds to display as one. He can customize news alerts to filter through several news feeds, and he can create an individualized eBay price watcher that monitors an RSS feed to find items within a certain price range.

#textCarousel { BORDER-RIGHT: #360 1px solid; PADDING-RIGHT: 10px; BACKGROUND-POSITION: -150px top; BORDER-TOP: #360 1px solid; PADDING-LEFT: 10px; FLOAT: right; BACKGROUND-IMAGE: url(/i/ne05/fmwk/greyfadeback.jpg); PADDING-BOTTOM: 10px; MARGIN: 15px 0px 15px 15px; BORDER-LEFT: #360 1px solid; WIDTH: 140px; PADDING-TOP: 10px; BORDER-BOTTOM: #360 1px solid; BACKGROUND-REPEAT: no-repeat } #textCarousel LI { FONT-SIZE: 95%; MARGIN-BOTTOM: 10px; LINE-HEIGHT: 1em } #textCarousel H4 { FONT-SIZE: 110%; MARGIN: 0px 0px 5px }The technical inspiration for Yahoo Pipes comes from Unix, an operating system with which programmers can establish a pipeline of connected data sources, said Jeremy Zawodny, a Yahoo blogger who works in Yahoo’s platform engineering group.

“On the Web, however, it’s harder,” Zawodny wrote. “There are data sources and feeds, but until now, we’ve had no pipes! Pulling together and integrating data sources using JavaScript isn’t on the client for the faint of heart.”

The point of Yahoo Pipes is to give people better tools to connect the growing number of structured data sources, Zawodny said.

Initial reactions among technology bloggers are highly enthusiastic. O’Reilly Media Publisher Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term Web 2.0, said Yahoo Pipes marks a “milestone in the history of the Internet.”

The service’s beta site was accessible only intermittently Thursday morning.

Reported at http://news.com.com/Yahoo+Pipe+in+data%2C+then+mash+it+up/2100-1032_3-6157508.html

February 8, 2007 at 4:21 pm Leave a comment

Crushpad custom winery completes $3.5M financing round

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Crushpad, a custom wine-making company that helps wine lovers and professionals make boutique wines, said Wednesday that it’s finalized $3.5 million in equity and debt financing to help it roughly double production this year.

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Customers — who include wine enthusiasts, professional winemakers, wine retailers and restaurateurs — can make small batches of wines or significantly larger quantities using grapes from some of the state’s high-end vineyards, such as Amber Ridge Vineyard in the Russian River area, Anderson Valley’s Hein Vineyard, Napa Valley’s ToKalon Vineyard, and Mendocino’s Eaglepoint Ranch, according Crushpad’s web site. It now has about 1,500 members in 35 states and six countries. The new financing will enable San Francisco-based Crushpad to expand this year’s production to between 25,000 and 30,000 cases, and dramatically expand its social networking site — crushnet.com — officials said Feb. 7, setting the stage “for national expansion into new urban locations.”

Noah Dorrance, Crushpad’s marketing director, told the San Francisco Business Times that more than half of its current customers live outside the Bay Area, and many fly in or link up electronically to keep tabs on their wine’s progress. “We’re in talks in a number of different markets, both nationally and internationally” to expand into new geographic regions within the next year or so, he said, but declined to be more specific. Professional investors and Crushpad customers provided equity financing of $2.7 million, augmented by a line of credit provided by City National Bank.

In mid-December, Crushpad said its customers produced 15,000 cases of luxury wines from almost 300 tons of grapes last year, creating more than 400 distinct wines. Roughly half of that volume came through Crushpad Commerce, a service that allows customers to start and sell their own commercial brands.

Crushpad is positioning itself as a player in the new wave of so-called “social production” companies where consumers help define and create the end product, and clearly aims to be thought of as the YouTube or MySpace of luxury wine production. “Crushpad clients define the wine style, participate as much or as little as they want and end up with barrel-size lots of luxury-class wine made to their specification,” officials said in the statement. The company was founded three years ago by wine industry veterans and “technology refugees,” according to Wednesday’s statement. For example, Kian Tavakoli, Crushpad’s lead winemaker, has been a winemaker for luxury wine Opus One and Clos Du Val Wine Co.

The typical cost at Crushpad to produce a barrel of wine, or about 25 cases, ranges from $4,500 to $9,600, which translates into $15 to $32 per bottle. Some customers use its San Francisco warehouse-style facility to make and sell wine for commercial purposes, and the company helps them to produce as few as 50 cases and as many as thousands. Some users participate in making their wine over the Internet, using Crushpad’s interactive webcams and help from its crushnet.com “online community.”

“Over the past three years we’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of people to pursue their dream of making wine. This financing will allow us to fulfill that dream for many more as we begin entering new markets,” Michael Brill, Crushpad’s founder and CEO, said in the Feb. 7 statement.

San Francisco Business Times by Chris Rauber

February 8, 2007 at 9:03 am 2 comments

Two flaws found in Firefox

By Caroline McCarthy Staff writer, CNET News.com

A security company has reported two new flaws in the Mozilla Firefox browser that may leave locally saved files vulnerable to outside attacks.

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Both flaws were announced by SecuriTeam, a division of Beyond Security, this week. The first flaw lies in Firefox’s pop-up blocker feature, according to a SecuriTeam statement on Monday. The browser typically does not allow Web sites to access files that are stored locally, according to the official report, but this URL permission check is superseded when a Firefox user has turned off pop-up windows manually. As a result, an attacker could use this flaw to steal locally stored files and personal information that might be stored in them.

A possible scenario for such an attack would involve the user clicking on a malicious link that would furtively plant a target file equipped with an exploit code on the computer’s hard drive. Then it would display a prompt asking the user to allow a pop-up to appear in order to play a video file or download. The attacker-supplied file would then be loaded thanks to the browser flaw, which could give the attacker local file read privileges.

It appears that this flaw may only apply to older versions of Firefox, prior to the current 2.0 release, but Beyond Security was unavailable for comment on the matter.

The second flaw, announced by SecuriTeam on Wednesday, concerns Firefox’s phishing protection feature. With this vulnerability, an adept phisher could fool the browser into believing that a fraudulent site is actually secure by adding particular characters into the URL of its Web site.

The phishing flaw does appear to apply to the current 2.0.0.1 version of Firefox.

Mozilla was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

February 8, 2007 at 12:34 am Leave a comment

Interview with Bryan Kennedy, co-founder of Likebetter

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Below is an interview with Bryan Kennedy, co-founder of Likebetter. We hope you find the interview informative and useful. Please visit their website and check it out! http://likebetter.com/.

TechAddress: Tell me a bit about your company, what it does and what’s your value proposition?

Likebetter: I don’t know about you, but I take a ton of digital photos. I literally have ten thousand photos on my hard drive, just sitting there in folders. No one besides me has ever seen them, and really, I only saw them when I took the picture in the first place. This shouldn’t be.

We want to help you dust off those monster collections of photos, by acting as a “goodness filter” that only the best photos can pass through. You upload your collection to likebetter, send a link to your friends, and within minutes you have a list of your best photos – which you can then do cool stuff with, like exporting them to flickr, printing them, or posting them on your blog.

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TechAddress: What makes your company stand apart from your competitors?

Likebetter: There are a ton of companies in the photo space. No one that we know of has tackled this particular problem in the way we have.

A lot of companies have adopted our lovely interface though. Which we take as a compliment, and then we make catnip voodoo dolls of their creators, and introduce them to Felix.

Likebetter.com stands out from other photo-centered sites like Flickr because it’s all about helping you find your best photos. Since finding your best photos is hard, and Flickr isn’t helping much, we’re fixing it ourselves.

TechAddress: What are some of the main features?

Likebetter:

* It’s much easier to upload tons of photos at once here than there.

* Social editing features – your friends sort and rotate your images for you.

* Photo viewing and voting are the same – whenever someone views your photos, they’re giving you feedback. Everyone participates in some small way.

* Exporting to other photo sites (soon): no one we know does/allows this. Most photo sharing sites don’t allow sharing in this way, which sort of defeats the purpose. You own your photos, so we’re going to help you do what you want with them.

* Our interface is super-simple and really, really pretty.

TechAddress: Who’s your target customer or audience?

Likebetter: Anyone with a digital camera, really. Since that list now includes my mom, it must be really, really big.

Our power users are photographers, graphic designers, web designers; anyone who works with visual information, and needs to evaluate it in some way. There’s nothing stopping you from finding your best logo designs, web site layouts, or whatever you want. We’ve kept likebetter general on purpose.

TechAddress: Any new things in particular that you’re working on right now?

Likebetter: Lots of stuff. Right now we’re fleshing out the flickr/smugmug/etc integration. That’s coming soon.

TechAddress: Where do you see your company heading in the future?

Likebetter: Likebetter should be the place you put your pictures as soon as you plug in your camera.

TechAddress: Any negative feedback or criticism regarding technology and services?

Likebetter: No, none really (hurray!). Some people complain about a lack of so-and-so a feature, but we just add it and they’re happy.

Scaling was a hard problem to lick, and will likely continue to prove difficult in the future. It’s just one of those things you need to deal with.

TechAddress: So what would you say is the guiding principle behind your company?

Likebetter: Make something that people want.

TechAddress: What is the mission of your company and what are you bringing to the market that is innovative?

Likebetter: Wait, is this a trick question? Are you trying to get me to change my story? Likebetter is going to revolutionize the telecommunications industry, of course.

TechAddress: Where are you in terms of funding and your lifecycle?

Likebetter: We were funded by ycombinator.

TechAddress: If your technology or service is not formally launched yet, when’s the launch date? If you have already launched, when was your launch date?

Likebetter: October 2006. Digg was very helpful.

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February 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm 1 comment

Vodafone in deal to access MySpace via mobiles

(Reuters) – British mobile phone company Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L: Quote, Profile , Research) unveiled a deal with News Corp’s (NWSa.N: Quote, Profile , Research) MySpace on Wednesday that will allow its customers to access the popular web-based social network using cell phones.

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The exclusive deal will help Vodafone, Europe’s biggest mobile operator, boost mobile usage and with it data revenues, and also helps MySpace launch itself in the European mobile market.

MySpace, bought by media giant News Corp for $580 million in 2005, has been looking to boost its global network of users via international expansion, offering mobile and video-related content.

“The partnership will enable millions of Vodafone customers to access MySpace mobile, allowing them to edit their own MySpace profiles, find and add friends, post photos and blogs and send and receive MySpace messages while on the move,” the two companies said in a statement.

Vodafone, which plans to initially roll out the service in the UK in the first half of 2007, said it would pre-load MySpace mobile software on select handsets in the future, and also make it available for download from its Vodafone live! portal.

MySpace, which lets members look up friends’ blogs and songs posted by their favorite artists, launched in the UK last year and has been looking to spread its wings in Europe. Last month it launched its French website and it has a beta site in Germany.

© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

February 7, 2007 at 9:51 am Leave a comment

Facebook ready to make TV debut

By Reuters

Facebook.com, the social-networking Web site, said Tuesday it is moving into television by teaming up with cable operator Comcast’s online video site Ziddio to produce a new series from users’ clips called Facebook Diaries.

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The companies are enlisting Hollywood TV producer R.J. Cutler, to choose the best submissions and create 10 half-hour-long episodes that will be streamed online and on Comcast On-Demand. The program will start in March. Terms were not disclosed.

Online video is one of the fastest growing sectors on the Web and major sites including Google’s YouTube and News Corp.’s MySpace are investing heavily in building their video capacity. Analysts say there is high demand for online video inventory from advertisers.

Though 2-year-old Facebook is one of the biggest social-networking sites on the Web with more than 16 million users, this is the first major move it is making to push video on the site.

“We think the opportunity for our users to have their content shown on television is a real draw,” said Owen Van Natta, chief operating officer at Facebook.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook in September opened up its site beyond its original core of students to reach a wider audience and believes that exposure on television will raise the brand’s profile.

“The brand has always been associated with college students but we’re seeing from the growth of our users that the utility and value of Facebook is beyond that,” Van Natta said.

The partnership could also help raise the profile of Comcast’s Ziddio site with online users.

Ziddio was soft-launched last November as a site for uploading personal videos like YouTube. But Comcast hopes it will be differentiated from others by airing users’ best videos feature on Comcast’s TV On-Demand service. Both companies hope the partnership will attract advertisers.

“Working with Facebook is a terrific opportunity for sponsors who want to reach a youth demographic–it’s one that advertisers most want to reach,” said Liz Schimel, senior vice president entertainment, Comcast Interactive Media.

Story Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

February 7, 2007 at 12:27 am 5 comments

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