Know Thy Selfie

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When you’re mad, or happy, or looking into the eyes of your sweetie, do you know what your face looks like? Probably not, according to Dr. James Kilner, neuroscientist at the University College London.

Kilner holds that you know very little about what your face looks like most of the time, though you probably believe you look much more attractive and much younger than you actually are. Bummer, right?

But, according to Kilner’s research, you might find solace where you least expect it: in the front-facing camera of your smartphone.

His studies show that our ever-growing affinity towards selfies stems from the fact that we can now doctor them to match the perception we have of ourselves as total hotties. In an experiment, subjects were shown various versions of a selfie, some edited to be more attractive and others to be less attractive. When asked to choose the original, most subjects actually chose the version that showed a more attractive visage.

All Selfie Everything

Our devices, and the services we use with them, encourage selfies. There isn’t a new phone on the market that doesn’t have a front-facing camera. Instagram lets us beautify and distort those phone images. Twitter, Viber and countless other apps offer similar filters. Snapchat lets us add a bit of reality to our camera snaps, by sending a fleeting moment through the ether the same way we would in real life. And then there’s straight up Photoshop.

This, along with the intrinsic need to explore the self, may explain why selfies have grown so popular.

Everybody selfies. President Obama takes selfies. Biebs considers himself king of selfies. Tom Hanks. Meryl and Hilary. Tyra Banks. Lol.

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The #selfie tag on Instagram has over 72 million entries and new businesses are sprouting up to capitalize on the craze. People are taking so many selfies, that doctors are seeing an increase in head lice among teens.

More than ever before, we have the ability to capture our facial expressions, enhance them, and use them to communicate with each other with an unparalleled level of control over our appearance.

No longer just a teen pop culture trend, Selfies have become fodder for philosophical and psychological discussions.

Narcissus, Is That You?

The NYT’s Jenna Wortham wrote an excellent piece on the selfie, arguing that facial expressions belong in our conversations. By showing your face, you’re offering a more realistic window into your existence. It’s not about vanity; but rather about expressing yourself the same way you do in real life, and having a record of that expression over time.

But is it really “real life” that you’re expressing with an overly doctored selfie?

Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better, sees it as self-exploration.

Thompson believes that the narcissism theory  — that those who take selfies are simply (and pathetically) self-obsessed — is an argument that’s been used for ages during each big technological shift. When mirrors first became cheap, there was a great deal of resistance from many who believed that mirrors would unnaturally focus our attention on ourselves.

“Every time you take a selfie, you re-see yourself through a new set of eyes,” said Thompson. “Instagram did something even more interesting and added filtering. Not only are you looking at yourself in the original picture, but you can re-see the photo over and over and over again as you change filters.”

wrestlerResearch has not yet determined whether or not our edited selfies, the ones that make us look super sexy, have some sort of long-term affect on our self-esteem. But if selfies are helping us see ourselves the way we want to, as suggested by Kilner’s research, is that really a bad thing?

Many people out there, overwhelmed by Photoshopped super models and sexy studs in mainstream media, feel bad about their appearance. Selfies, whether through Instagram or Snapchat, might help with that in the long-term.

Self-ie Improvement

Selfies could lead to more self(i.e.)-confidence. That’s not to say that whoever wears out their front-facing camera first will get higher grades, or a better job, or a hotter lover. However, the more conscious you are of way you look, the way you interact, and the way your body language speaks for you, the more you can improve it.

Consider how much we pay attention to the behaviors and expressions of those around us. Body language accounts for the vast majority of our communication with each other. You know when someone’s distracted, or tired, or excited. You can tell the difference between how your girlfriend genuinely smiles at you and fakes it for her boss. You can tell when your mother or father is putting on a brave face for you, even though they’re really stressed.

Now imagine what you look like in those situations. Do you know the difference between your genuine smile and your fake one? What does your brave face look like?

Selfies, and every extension of them, offer an entryway into this era of self-exploration.

Selfie All The Things!

FaceTime, or Skype aren’t vessels for selfies, per se, but they do share many aspects of the selfie apps increasingly becoming popular.

Video chat is supposedly as close as we get to real-life, human interaction, but it’s not normal at all.

We aren’t accustomed to seeing our own faces in the middle of a conversation. As a result, we spend a good deal of our time in Skype video chat looking at ourselves, and ultimately having a less in-depth conversation.

Even trying to look the other person in the eye is impossible, because of the placement of the camera. If you look directly at the person, you appear to be looking just below them, from their perspective. If you look directly at the camera, you give the effect of looking directly at them, but you’re not.

Even the technology built specifically for selfies isn’t necessarily perfect.

Instagram gives you tools that give you total control over your appearance. With the right angle, blur effects, and filtering, Alf can start to look like Kate Upton. This enhancement gives you a confidence boost, but then you have to deal with the Instagram community, ever-ready to mete out judgement in the form of likes. One selfie may get five likes, and another fifty. Does that mean you should conform to the more “likeable” version of yourself.

Snapchat, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any quantification. There is no “like count” on your snaps, but there is ephemerality, destroying any record of the photo you took. Though you can filter these photos, you can’t look back on them.

Just Between Me And You (And Myself-ie)

cryiingWhether selfies will raise our self-esteem is still an unanswered question, but probably not for long. Selfies aren’t a passing trend. This is where communication is headed.

My mother, years ago, only saw her friends and family in person. She only spoke on the phone to plan a meeting, at the mall or the movie theater or wherever. I’m not sure where people hung out in the 60s. The post office, maybe? She had absolutely no idea what she looked like when communicating with others.

A generation later, you’ll find a 12-year-old Jordan talking constantly to her friends on the phone. And then on AIM. And on text. The barrier of location had been broken, permanently. At any time, in any place, I could communicate with just about anyone. Thanks, internet.

Flash forward five or ten years, to my younger sister in her glorious college years. She spends more time looking into her phone screen than anything else. She’s texting and FaceTimeing and Facebooking. If she’s not Snapchatting, she’s Instagramming. The majority of her Facebook photos include herself.

More so than ever before, we can see ourselves. During our conversations. During our time alone. Always.

For better or worse, we should all start preparing ourselves for a good look in the mirror. My mother always said, “no one can love you until you learn to love yourself(ie).”

WhatsApp Is Down, Confirms Server Issues [Update: It’s Back After A 210-Minute Outage]

WhatsApp Down

Update: WhatsApp experienced an outage for around 210 minutes today from 11am to 2:30 pm PST. Users around the world reported that they were unable to send messages, and WhatsApp confirmed these problems at 12:16pm PST with a tweet stating “sorry we currently experiencing server issues. we hope to be back up and recovered shortly.”

https://twitter.com/wa_status/status/437319926605680640

WhatsApp started to work again for some users at 2:30pm PST after around 150 to 210 minutes of downtime. Some users reported  that “last seen” stamps vanished from their conversations when WhatsApp first came back online, but now some say they’re appearing again.

At 2:48pm PST, WhatsApp confirmed it was back up with this tweet

https://twitter.com/wa_status/status/437319926605680640

Around the same time, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum apparently told the Wall Street Journal via email that “we had a server outage, should be OK now.”

WhatsApp users flocked to Twitter asking “Is WhatsApp down?”. They were met with memes joking that Facebook was shutting WhatsApp down, that its founders went on vacation, that there was a party in the server room, or Zuck himself was meddling with the app

Down

WhatsApp Vacation

WhatsApp Server Room

WhatsApp Server Room

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In reality, it’s more likely that WhatsApp’s $19 billion acquisition by Facebook announced Wednesday led to a surge of signups and usage that has overloaded its servers. We’ve contacted Facebook and are awaiting a response.

WhatsApp ConnectingWhen users (including me) tried to send messages or check their existing chat conversations, WhatsApp got stuck, showing an endless loading asterisk and the alert “Connecting…”

The “WhatsDown” reports started flooding in around 11am PST, but there were some troubles last night as well. We received tips from frustrated users in the US, India, Israel, and many places around the world. The outage could stoke fears that Facebook will screw up WhatsApp if the acquisition gets regulatory approval.

The down time may have pushed users to other chat apps, as Telegram tweeted:

In a testament to the global popularity of the 450 million user service, condom brand Durex’s Kenyan branch capitalized on the WhatsApp problems by doing some marketing:

As I wrote Thursday, being acquired by Facebook could give WhatsApp the engineering backup to be able to fight outages in the future. But today, being the biggest venture-backed acquisition in history worked against the messaging startup.

WhatsApp has suffered short downtimes every month or two for the last half-year. Stumbles like this are somewhat common for fast-growing apps, and users aren’t likely to permanently switch away since it was fixed relatively soon. Still, Facebook bought the startup for the astronomical sum in part because it is many people in the developing world’s first taste of the Internet. Now, their first taste of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been soured.

More Big WhatsApp News

Facebook Buys WhatsApp For $19 Billion

Why Facebook Acquired WhatsApp: International Reach

WhatsApp Won’t Start Showing Ads

WhatsApp Founders Rejected For Jobs At Facebook In 2008 But Get The Last Laugh

For all our Facebook/WhatsApp stories, click below

Hubub Raises $8.5M To Be The New Home For Conversations On The Web

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On the web, no one can hear you converse – or perhaps they can, but it’s not terribly easy to surface them and have a sustained, engaged dialogue around any particular topic.

Threaded comment streams do this to some extent, as do forums, message boards, and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But none do thematic or topic-based discussion well, according to Hubub‘s founders, hence the need for the startup.

Toronto- and New York-based Hubub launched in beta quietly late last year, and today it’s announcing its $8.5 million Series A round of funding. That money will help the company scale and add more engineering talent to its team to continue to build product, founder and CEO Peter L. Corsell explained to me in an interview. But it’s mostly business as usual, as the startup continues its mission of trying to build on what was started with the online forum, but never really improved since.

“Specifically what really gave us the idea was that we were watching the Egyptian protests, in the latter part of the Arab Spring and we looked at the way people were using Facebook and Twitter, which was both inspiring and novel,” Corsell explained in an interview. “Yet it occurred to us that there was also an unmet need to give a tool to rapidly convene passionate, engaged communities around a topic of interest.”

Thus was Hubub born, which is designed to build these communities, where users can jump in and contribute the best content, be it user-generated or collected from the best of the web, around specific topics. Hububs (the individual topic nodes created) are user-generated and user-curated, but there’s also a degree of automation where you can view auto-collected content around certain keywords, too, making this effectively an aggregation search engine, too.

“When you think about the future of search broadly, I see it bifurcating between what I would think of as more tactical queries where you have a question and there’s one right answer or a small finite pool of good answers,” Corsell said. “The other type of search is, if you Google for example ‘what were the most searched for terms in 2013,’ it’s topics: It’s ‘iPad,’ it’s Bengazi,’ it’s ‘Kate Middleton.’ What excites me about Hubub is as the community matures, it becomes a really great place to go to immerse yourself, in articles, in photos and videos and more.”

Other efforts attempting to build conversations around specific topics haven’t always fared too well: Branch nabbed a decent exit to Facebook, but even big league efforts like Google Wave fizzled quickly, and as Corsell himself notes, there hasn’t really been anything between the legacy (read: outdated) model of forums and the too fast-paced, stream-based vision of Twitter that manages to keep things on topic over a sustained period, with real back-and-forth.

Corsell thinks Hubub has the right mix of media, polls and sentiment analysis to make a real impact, and he says early traction backs up that belief. I’m still not sure that there’s a real need for this kind of platform between the existing social media giants, but Hubub’s investors in this round, which include a number of private investors, are definitely betting that there is. Hubub plans to launch its mobile client within the next few weeks, too, which could have a big impact in terms of validating the model.

How Facebook Can Supercharge WhatsApp

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Just because WhatsApp will “operate independently” doesn’t mean Facebook won’t put its 6,000-employee muscle behind its new acquisition. We’ve heard a lot about how WhatsApp will save Facebook from losing the international messaging war, but sources close to the parent company tell me it actually did a lot to help Instagram. Here are the ways you can expect it to do the same for WhatsApp.

Engineering

Instagram CTO Mike Krieger apparently wasn’t sleeping much in months before his company was bought by Facebook. In two years, Instagram had grown to 27 million registered iOS users before launching on Android where it picked up 1 million more in the first 24 hours. Krieger was known to spend late nights fighting server fires to keep Instagram from going down like the Hindenburg. With just a dozen total employees, he didn’t have much help.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 2.02.06 PMAfter the acquisition, Krieger could suddenly call on Facebook’s massive, world-class engineering team for help or guidance. When I saw him a few months after the deal, he’d regained his youthful glow and looked like he’d been sleeping more.

Now imagine what life’s been like for WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton. I’m gonna go on a hunch and say “stressed”. Over the past few months their service grew to serve 450 million users with just 32 engineers, each one supporting 14 million people. In Forbes’ profile of Koum, Parmy Olson writes that during his often-missed kickboxing class “Every few minutes Koum sits down for a break, slipping the gloves off and checking for messages from Acton about WhatsApp’s servers.”

Well lucky for them, the cavalry has arrived. WhatsApp will be able to draw on Facebook’s engineering know-how and team if their code breaks or servers stumble. That could help prevent outages and make WhatsApp work even faster, even if it doesn’t get slapped with a Facebook logo or any other design changes.

Recruiting

At over 6,000 employees and rapidly growing, Facebook knows a lot about recruiting. It’s far from perfect, considering Facebook rejected Koum and Acton when the two applied to work there around 2008, and it’s seen some brain drain since the IPO. Still, the company has feelers out around the world looking for top talent.

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Facebook can now pitch potential recruits a spot at WhatsApp. Sure, the upside potential is diminished now it’s already been acquired, but Facebook’s HR team can tempt people with the chance to work on an app serving almost a half a billion people.

Considering Facebook spent $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp, I’d bet it’d be willing to pony up to pay for high-profile poaches from other companies, or even smaller talent acquisitions to bring in whole teams of great staffers. Facebook’s deep pockets could change the game for what was a lean startup.

And some of that fresh blood could come from within Facebook itself. Instagram was able to lure Facebook’s Director Of Partnerships Emily White to help it kick off its advertising effort as Director Of Business Operations (though she’s since left for Snapchat). Facebook’s star mobile product manager Peter Deng also slid over to Instagram to become its Director Of Product. When top talent at Facebook gets a bit restless, they could inject some excitement without leaving the family by hopping to WhatsApp.

Growth

Facebook’s growth to 1.23 billion users is no accident. There’s a big team there dedicated to the science of adding and retaining users. They have a whole office lined with international flags and screens showing growth figures. The growth team’s tactics have become hallmarks of Facebook’s development style, as former member Andy Johns laid out in a Quora post.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 1.30.13 PMThey do intense A/B testing on every feature, often pushing dozens or even hundreds of different versions of Facebook to different users through a system called Gatekeeper to measure which changes are beneficial.

There’s intense funnel optimization to boost signups, get users onboarded, keep them engaged, and get them back if they lapse. Facebook even provides a totally different experience for new users designed to get them enough friends to fill their feed before they see the standard interface. Plus there’s internationalization to make sure the app is translated into every language and available on any type of phone.

Facebook’s growth team threw fuel on Instagram’s fire, helping it rocket from 27 million iOS registrations and a few million Androiders to the 150 million-plus active users it has today.

It could give WhatsApp a similar boost. Already at 450 million users and 1 million more signups per day, WhatsApp hasn’t needed Facebook’s help, but now it can have it if it wants. And I expect it will. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Koum said yesterday that not monetization but growth is WhatsApp’s top priority. As we wrote yesterday, Facebook bought WhatsApp because its own Messenger was too far behind in the global messaging race, so expanding that worldwide footprint across devices is crucial.

Spam

At moments in Instagram’s history, it’s had serious spam problems. Comments with scam links, hacked accounts posting spam photos, fake followers doling out likes in hopes of a follow-back so they could spam you more. Before it was acquired, it wouldn’t allow third-party apps to post photos to its feed, and chose not to have a web presence that would invite spammers.

Instagram SpamThankfully Facebook had extensive experience fighting spam. It managed to cut spam by 95% in 2010 according to former CTO Bret Taylor. In late 2012 it kill off 37% of fake Facebook accounts.

Sources tell me Instagram got “plugged in” to Facebook’s spam prevention team, to help it get serious about integrity. Instagram began blocking spam comments posted to multiple photos, quickly squashed the Smoothie hack, and was able to open its API to posts from other apps.

For WhatsApp, Facebook’s spam fighters could help it banish malicious users and stop hackers before they steal control of people’s accounts. The intimate nature of mobile messaging makes spam messages especially annoying. No company is 100% spam-proof, but thousands of extra Facebook engineers with domain expertise should surely get WhatsApp closer to that goal.

When Facebook says it’ll keep its hands off, that’s more about product direction and external branding than what happens under the hood. After paying so much to wrestle WhatsApp away from Google, you can bet Facebook will do whatever it can to help it trounce SMS and the other chat apps, even if users are none the wiser.

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Twitter Announces Its Marketing Platform Program, A Rebranding Of Its Ads API

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Twitter announced its Ads API program a year ago today, allowing advertisers to run their campaigns through API partners like Adobe and Salesforce. Now it’s giving the program a new name — the Twitter Marketing Platform Program — as well as a new website.

Why the change? In a company blog post, Twitter says, “We expanded this network of partners beyond advertising alone, and today we’re pleased to introduce a new name for our entire suite of partners.” (It’s not totally downplaying the Ads API’s role on the program, though, as you can see in the badge to the left.)

The Marketing Platform Program is part of Twitter’s broader certified products initiative. Building this kind of partner ecosystem has been a big part of Facebook’s ad strategy, too.

As for the new website, it’s basically a showcase (or, as Twitter describes it, a “marketplace”) for the various partners. Twitter uses the announcement blog post, to highlight partners too, quoting both SocialCode and Kinetic Social — for example, SocialCode says it ran a Promoted Tweet campaign for “a national network sitcom” and increased retweets by 60 percent.

Business As Usual In The New Silicon Valley

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Now here is one spectacular tale. A company, with little PR or marketing, grows in just a handful of years to connect half a billion people around the world through a simple messaging app. The company gets acquired for a hefty sum; in this case, the largest sum ever in the history of venture-backed startup acquisitions. Billionaires and millionaires are created almost out of thin air.

And yet, the story is so banal.

There were, of course, interesting threads in this particular version of the tale. We have a thread about immigration and secret police forces behind the Iron Curtain. We have a rags-to-riches tale of a founder moving from food stamps to the uppermost strata of wealth. And we have a story about rejection and later finding the ultimate redemption. But beneath these human-interest stories lies a far more simple message: the Silicon Valley of the past, which developed the awesome technology we use everyday, is simply dead. And it isn’t coming back.

My friends in Palo Alto and Mountain View have often groused to me about all those social media companies up in San Francisco. I can still hear the echoes in my head of the “idiots” who “waste their time” building social networking apps, instead of working on deeply technical products in areas like in-memory databases, advanced wireless technologies, or genetic analytical tools. There was, of course, always an air of intellectual superiority in these discussions, which is now deeply ironic, since those same social networking companies are now getting acquired for billions, while my friends are still grinding at their products.

Venture capitalists have long ago discovered that social media is where the money is. Facebook remains the largest technology IPO of all time, and WhatsApp is the largest venture-backed acquisition of all time. And they are hardly exceptional. In the last few years, we have had Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Viber, with more potentially on the way (Snapchat, Whisper, maybe even Secret). WhatsApp’s acquisition is simply business as usual in today’s Silicon Valley.

The attraction of these kinds of startups is not just their enormous exits though, but also their risk profile. Communications apps are not particularly challenging products to manage, given that their features haven’t changed all that much in the last two decades. They don’t require a lot of recruiting, since engineers enjoy scaling advantage given that these products have such limited features. The messaging category is evergreen, because there is always going to be a novel way to communicate or a new device that needs its core communications app. And these products have definitional virality that makes user growth practically free.

For VCs, these companies are like shots of cocaine. And we need our next hit.

In all honesty, how can a founder of any “hard technology” startup look a VC in the eye and talk about the benefits of working on a difficult challenge when the money can be made so easily somewhere else? I know founders trying to solve cancer, improve medical records, develop next-generation databases, and invent new 3D-printing tools who have had an enormously difficult time finding backers for their startups. Yes, there are VCs and others who will invest out of interest, but they are few and far between, particularly in later funding rounds where financial performance is prime.

Historically, we are walking in new territory. Just take a look at the earliest investments of prominent VC firms. Kleiner Perkins’ earliest investments included Genentech (which pioneered recombinant DNA technology) and Tandem (which developed fault-tolerant computers for finance). Sequoia Capital’s included Apple (which invented the personal computer), Cisco (which developed network routers), and Atari (which popularized video games). All of these were smash hits, and helped define entire product categories.

One of the problems here is that the cost of building a great company has increased – approaching an average of $200 million for the typical $1 billion valuation business. Why embark on a project with prodigious levels of technical risk and work and then end up making fewer returns?

In this way, I am distinctly reminded of Hollywood, where the creativity of the big studios has taken a back seat to remakes of popular franchises. Have you seen the top 20 highest-grossing films of all time? Sixteen of them are sequels or part of multiple movie franchises, almost all of them from the last decade. Hollywood has tended to become more conservative with blockbusters due to the ever-increasing costs of bringing a feature film to market. Sound familiar?

But there are other lessons to glean from WhatsApp’s acquisition than just how quickly companies can make billions in the communications space. For all the talk of design in Silicon Valley, it is interesting how little WhatsApp paid attention to such flourishes.

Its logo is boring, its name uninteresting, and its basic chat theme quite unappealing. In some ways, WhatsApp is more typical of the Silicon Valley of the past than the current incarnation that is obsessed with pretty pixels. Even more, the WhatsApp team appears to be dominated by engineers who actively shunned the limelight and focused on pure utility. That focus is perhaps why they had an 11-digit offer in the end.

While the classic Silicon Valley may have died, it doesn’t mean that innovation is going to just disappear. On the contrary, I think that Silicon Valley’s addiction to these sorts of companies offers the best hope for other regional innovation hubs like Austin or Boulder to thrive. There are wide markets out there that are underserved due to the way that the Valley conducts its business, and any one of these markets could form the basis for a strong startup ecosystem.

For Silicon Valley though, we have to take a moment and pause at this achievement. Even in a world of clones, WhatsApp was far and ahead of the pack. The team has built something truly remarkable, with a product roadmap that will be interesting to watch over the coming years. Now let me open XCode and get going on that email app.

Ringblingz Is Wearable Tech That Helps Teens Stay Connected

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The lack of wearable technology created just for teenagers is surprising, especially when you consider how tech-obsessed kids are: the average American teen spends 7.5 hours consuming media, while 70% of 13 to 17 year olds now own a smartphone. A new startup called Ringblingz wants to tap into this potentially lucrative market.

Ringblingz, which will start taking pre-orders in March, is currently part of the connected devices accelerator program launched in December by digital agency R/GA and Techstars.

Its first product, a smart ring that will make its public debut tomorrow at New York Fashion Week, focuses on what’s most important to teens—their social lives—by sending them alerts from favorite contacts on different social media channels so they don’t have to constantly check their phones. Photos won’t be available until the ring is unveiled, but head of marketing Jeanniey Mullen gave me a sneak peek. It looks like a signet ring and has an O-shaped diffused light on top that flashes different colors.

The first Ringblingz is aimed at teen girls and the most avid consumers will probably be high schoolers aged 15 to 17, says Mullen. The device taps into two lucrative markets: teens in the U.S.  on things for themselves, while the wearable tech market hit $8 billion last year.

From Jibbitz to Ringblingz

The startup boasts a team with an interesting pedigree. Co-founder Rich Schmelzer launched Jibbitz, a line of decorative charms for Crocs footwear, with his wife Sheri from their Colorado basement in 2005. 

If you don’t like Crocs and were mystified by their phenomenal success in the early 2000s, you are probably wondering why anybody would want to start a business dedicated to making the foam clogs look even more outrageous. But Jibbitz proved to be extremely popular and was acquired by Crocs for $10 million in 2006. Since then, the Schmelzers have also launched GeoPalz, which makes activity trackers for kids.

Mullen says Schmelzer’s background in kids’ accessories and wearable tech has been key to Ringblingz’s development. The founding team’s collective experience also includes Mullen’s stint as CMO of Zinio, one of the first newsstand apps; Alexandra O’Leary’s position as COO of GeoPalz; and Bill Phelps’ time as a product manager at EB Brands, which develops and licenses wearable tech to companies like Reebok.

RingBlingz logoRingBlingz has a good chance of grabbing the attention of teenagers for several reasons. First, a ring is more affordable (Ringblingz will retail for about $40 to $60) and less obtrusive than a wristband. Its alerts lets users watch for social media updates, texts, and calls from their best friends, crushes, parents, and other important people without having to keep their smartphone out.

This may seem frivolous, but less time spent fiddling with their mobiles every single time they get a push notification means teens can turn their attention to friends, studying, or not accidentally walking into things.

Ringblingz is also customizable, which Mullen says was a key point in focus groups because teens want to coordinate all their accessories with their outfits instead of wearing the same black band every day. The first ring is targeted at girls, but Mullen says there are styles planned especially for boys.

How it works

Ringblingz, which uses Bluetooth LE and connects to an iOS or Android app (a Windows Phone version is in the works), has to be within 100 feet of its paired smartphone to work and alerts teens when they move too far away. This will probably be a major selling point for parents who fret about kids losing expensive devices (maybe Ringblingz will also figure out a way to pair retainers).

Notifications on wearable devices are especially tricky. For example, when the Pebble smartwatch first launched, its constant stream of vibrating alerts for emails, texts, and calls was dubbed “a great way to be constantly irritated by technology.”

Since teens send a median of 60 texts each day, the Ringblingz team knew they had to make sure its app offers plenty of room for customization, with different light colors and patterns for each contact and social channel. Alerts can also be set for group conversations and the ring can be put into vibrate mode for class.

The ring’s non-rechargeable battery lasts three to six months and free replacements will be provided by the company. Mullen says the startup is looking at other sources of power, such as inductive charging, that will work with the device’s small size.

Ringblingz can serve as an introduction to wearable tech for kids–a novelty that is useful for them, but doesn’t have so many functions or such a high price tag that it puts off parents. The startup, which is currently looking for seed investment, plans to develop new devices for Ringblingz’s users as they enter their early twenties, as well as different consumer demographics.

“Ringblingz is meant to be a full line of products that will expand over time. We have considered a number of factors, like the engagement level of kids who have the ring, as they move into adulthood, and adding features like two-way communication,” says Mullen. “The potential is endless.”

Khosla Leads A $10.5M Round For Tapingo To Bring Mobile Food Ordering To A Campus Near You

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There are dozens of ways for people today to look for and order food online, but one startup that is focusing on how to do this best for a specific vertical has found a competitive edge. Tapingo, which has created mobile apps for  iOSAndroid and Facebook targeting hungry college students, is today announcing a $10.5 million round of funding led by Khosla Ventures.

It will use the funding to build out its network to more campuses, after seeing some 40% of all transactions get made through Tapingo in the 25 universities that it has already tapped — with participating institutions including  New York University, the University of Southern California, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, Case Western Reserve University and Louisiana State University.

The opportunity in universities and food on their own is big: 4,495 institutions of higher education in the U.S. alone translates to a lot of hungry college students and universities that are still ripe for the picking.

But what seems possibly more interesting about Tapingo is whether it takes its business model, which it describes as “contextual shopping”, to other campus-style environments — not just large businesses on their own, self-contained campuses, but also those in dense cities; or even airports, malls, sports stadiums and other places where you have captive audiences.

Similarly, going back to universities, you can see how a solution like this could be used for much more than food (I think there’s a reason why the app is called “Tapingo” and not “Tapineat”).

Extending into new areas does indeed seem to be what Tapingo has in mind.

“Our consumer-centric mentality drives our strategy on both fronts. Our goal is to impact buyers as many times as possible – where quantity of purchases is valued much higher than dollar amount,” CEO and co-founder Daniel Almog tells me. “We are currently targeting enterprise ecosystems with enough retail density to allow consumers to engage the service multiple times every day. College campuses have proven to fit that well. We do have plans to expand to other enterprises, and we are currently in the process of testing a few of those ecosystems.”

He adds that, “in choosing other verticals beyond food, we have a principal of ‘following the transactions.’ In other words, we mainly want to offer products that people are buying all the time so we can have a daily impact on their lives.”

The Series B round, which also had participation from existing investor Carmel Ventures, brings the total raised by San Francisco-based, Israeli-developed Tapingo to $14 million since 2012.

While you can order food through services like Seamless (and now Foursquare), Delivery.com, and directly through the apps of specific restaurants, and more these days, the key with Tapingo is that it tailors the restaurants that it lists, and subsequent food deals, specifically to colleges that are a part of its network.

That includes limiting listings to restaurants that are on campus or nearby; and integration with payment cards that are either university-issued or privately-held, letting students make purchases with one tap. The app includes menus for relevant eateries, and retains data on what you have ordered from each place. If you opt to pick up food, the promise is that you do not have to wait in line to get it; it also allows you to arrange for delivery if that’s offered by the eatery in question.

Commissions on the service begin at 10% for participating restaurants, with the rate likely going down based on the scale of the deployment. For users, the service speaks of convenience and good deals on food they were going to pay for regardless. Tapingo says that, in the colleges where it has been deployed, it’s finding 50% of undergraduates making purchases on Tapingo four to five times every week.

Ultimately, it’s that traction among users that has attracted Khosla Ventures.

“Tapingo has built a vibrant two-sided marketplace of students and restaurants,” notes Ben Ling, the ex-Googler, ex-Facebooker and ex-Badoo COO who is now an investment partner at Khosla Ventures. “Once someone tries Tapingo, they’re hooked and active — using it multiple times a week. Restaurants, meanwhile, see greater efficiency and enjoy more sales. Tapingo creates enormous value for micro-economies like college campuses, and we are thrilled to work with the team and help the company grow.” As part of the investment, Ling will join Tapingo’s board.

This is not Khosla’s first investment in a startup that is trying to disrupt established commerce business models. There are also stakes in payments juggernaut Stripe, retail software company Index, and Square – where Khosla partner Keith Rabois was once COO, among others.

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