TenFarms Raises $2.7M To Launch Adtile, A New Approach To Mobile Ads

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TenFarms, a startup working on couple of interesting mobile product ideas, just announced that it has raised $2.7 million in funding from undisclosed angel investors.

The company has already released its first product, Photopoll, which allows users to share photos (you can pull them from your camera roll, Amazon.com, or Instagram), tell stories around those photos, and ask their friends for opinions. There are lots of other polling apps, but when founder and CEO Nils Forsblom showed me Photopoll, he emphasized the ease with which users can share multiple photos. The app has attracted a largely female audience, he said, and it will be tailoring the experience to that audience with future releases.

More interesting to me is what TenFarms is working on next — Adtile, which delivers mobile ads that don’t interrupt the user experience until someone chooses to view them. If you’re browsing an app with a stream of content, some of that content might have an Adtile icon, and if you tap on, say, that photo, it will flip over and show a related ad.

Will anyone actually tap on the ads? Forsblom said that he’s been happy with the results from the early tests, though he declined to offer any specific numbers.

Forsblom said this approach has some big advantages over other types of mobile advertising. For one thing, he said the ads themselves offer a good user experience. For example, one ad he showed me not only highlights a relevant product, but also maps out the location of nearby stores and allows users to call those stores. He said the experience is designed natively for iOS, and he argued that it’s almost wrong to call it an ad — it’s more of “an app within an app.”

The other advantage is targeting. Adtile will allow advertisers to advertise in apps in a specific topic or vertical, and they can also target by geography. Even better, Forsblom said, “We understand what’s the product or thing that it’s showing — when you flip [the content] around, there should a very, very close relationship with with the ad itself.” At the same time, he cautioned, “None of these things are ever perfect.”

Forsblom said he won’t be selling Adtile units directly, but instead working with ad networks. He also said that he wants to experiment with different pricing models, so that it’s “more democratic” and the ad that gets served isn’t always the one that comes from the advertiser with the biggest budget.

Before TenFarms, Forsblom founded Fruugo, a shopping startup that seems to have flamed out despite raising $48 million in funding. In a recent interview, Forsblom said that after taking on investors at Fruugo, he was “basically powerless”: “That was my biggest mistake, giving those voting powers to the investors and basically just being an employee of the company.” That’s why he said he’s being careful and retaining control this time around.

Tapestry, The App To Help Seniors Stay Connected, Raises Further $400k To Bring Its Wares To iOS Ahead Of U.S. Launch

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Australian startup Tapestry, which makes an app for Android tablets to help seniors stay connected to family members, has raised $400,000 in new funding in the form of a grant from Commercialisation Australia — capital it will use to extend its wares to iOS (and beyond tablets), add additional community features, and gear up for a U.S. launch.

It follows $600,000 raised last November from Sydney Angels, with a list of investors that included David Greatorex (founding investor ResMed, SecureNet), Su-Ming Wong (CHAMP Private Equity), Brand Hoff (Tower Software, Director NICTA).

Targeting the ageing population and their family members, Tapestry’s service — currently an Android tablet app — is an attempt to simplify the social web and make it more accessible to less tech-savvy seniors in order to help them stay connected to family. It does this through a user interface that relies on two different account types — one for “sharing”, aimed at the more tech-savvy family members, and another, dubbed “simplicity”, for the senior(s) in the family who wish to mostly consume content and require the tailored Tapestry experience.

In addition to an Android app, the startup was offering its own (optional) hardware — a rebadged Toshiba tablet — though this appears to have been quietly dropped, a sensible move as Android hardware is fast becoming a commodity business.

Instead, the product roadmap looks to be in its software and service only, with expansion to the iPad and iOS in general, along with Android smartphones not just tablets. Tapestry also says it plans to extend its proposition beyond helping families stay connected, to include community-based features, which founder Andrew Dowling describes as “retirement and other group-based group packages”.

Meanwhile, further growth is also said to come from a planned U.S. launch, which the startup has been putting in place via a recent trip to the Valley to meet potential investors, partners and customers, backed by the Australian Federal Government-funded Advance Innovation Program.

On Rekindling A Sense Of Mystery

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A little disconnection goes a long way.

In the tangled web of digital social networks that we weave one thing is increasingly absent: a sense of mystery.

We are so wrapped up in our digital social graphs there’s rarely room for gaps. Our networks offer the promise of being entangled with ever more connections — reaching out to grasp the hands of friends’ friends (and so on to the edge of the digital universe) – reminding us how few degrees of separation there are between citizens of the wired world.

Networks turn strangers into quasi-acquaintances before we’ve ever met them IRL. Based on the digital recreations our networks generate, we may decide we never need to meet such and such a person. A social snub online doesn’t have to involve any socialising at all.

Add in the various knowledge graphs we constantly tap into — Internet search skewed to be social, networked mobile apps & services, the low and high level chatter of our connections as we track and trace their activity online – from what they watch and listen to, to who they talk to, where they go, what they see — and the sum of our networked knowledge starts to feel all seeing, all knowing.

Context is being pushed at us faster than we can escape it. Ignoring the minority of intentionally gated personal data, our digital networks are ripping off the masks of the many, leaving only the Anonymous few fighting for the right to remain unknown. We triage email, triangulate individuals.

Sidestepping the issue of privacy – which is a whole other (highly polarised) debate — where’s the fun in knowing everything before truly knowing anything? More importantly, what happens when we’re not engaging our creative faculties half so much because the mind isn’t being asked to fill in all those blanks? The ellipses are being overwritten.

It’s no longer about making mental leaps to join dots. The challenge now is about piecing together the endless jumble of data that’s being pushed at us. Instead of dreamers, we’re policemen sifting through a bottomless box of evidence.

Of course it’s churlish to complain about the interconnectedness afforded by networks and digital devices. Go back a handful of generations and the entire plot of a novel could hinge on whether someone received a paper letter slipped under a door at the right moment in time. That plot is no longer possible for those of us who have chosen to be wired in.

We don’t have to wait to get news. We’re unlikely to miss a message once it’s fired at us from the myriad channels now open for communication unless we’re deliberately trying to. Our problem is filtering the signals we’re receiving. Tuning out the noise so we can hear the stuff that’s relevant, important, valuable.

That’s the quotidian challenge. The philosophical and emotional challenge is that we’ve replaced life’s little mysteries with a barrage of sound and fury. That may not sound very important – and perhaps it’s not. But in my view it does leave a gap that developers could think about tapping into.

What’s mystery for? It fires the imagination, as well as working our logical, critical, analytical faculties (which are still getting a good workout online). If boredom is good for creativity – and there’s been lots written on the need to give the mind downtime to come up with great ideas — it follows that mystery oils the wheels of imagination.

An app I wrote about in March does just this: Rando is an anti-social photo sharing app. You take a photo and share it to a random stranger. It doesn’t tell you who gets it. In return you get a photo back – shared by another random stranger, with nothing to tell you who sent it beyond a general location which is revealed when you tap on the photo to turn it over.  There are no social networking tie-ins. You can’t post the photo straight to Facebook or Twitter. It’s deliberately disconnected.

Rando offers little glimpses into other worlds. Stripped of almost all their context, they are fascinatingly rich, replete with mystery – in a way that the photos your friends post to Facebook can never be. That’s not to say those photos don’t have any value or aren’t important — they do, and they are. But they just engage a different part of our minds.

In the same way that falling without distraction into a good book entices the mind’s creative faculties – really invites us to fall down our own mental rabbit hole like Alice tumbling into Wonderland — Rando’s randomness is a pocket-lighter for the imagination.

I find myself continually firing it up, just to see what it sparks.  And looking back through the photos I’ve received, trying to imagine a context for them, trying to figure out who sent that image, and why, and what they were trying to say.

The creativity flows both ways too. Creating a photo to send in this app means gifting a small piece of your world to a stranger. And when you start to see your world through the eyes of an unknown person, you see details afresh. Find mystery in dusty, overlooked corners. Kindle things and thoughts laid dormant.

A little disconnection goes a long way. Think on it.

[Original Alice in Wonderland illustration by John Tenniel, now in the public domain]

Iterations: A Youthful Rebellion Against The Permanence Of Facebook’s Walled Garden

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Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is a contributor to TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. Indeed, great things can come from this, and for many of its one billion users, Facebook isn’t just on the web — it is the web. It is where images, biographical data, and every speck of a connection to a person, place, or thing lives, both the dream of a doting family spread miles apart and a marketer close by. It is a place where generations of people now reside, hang out, fawn over public statuses and peek into the lives of others. Ironically, while Facebook’s aim is to make the world more open, they themselves are building a new web within their own closed garden, inaccessible and (mostly) unexportable to all. As the saying states, “what goes on the Internet is written in ink,” so what goes onto Facebook is etched in stone walls.

Yes, much of Facebook’s traffic comes from mobile now, too. For most people who don’t care about all the latest and greatest apps, Facebook works splendidly for them, simply yet powerfully connecting them to exercise the habits they’ve picked up on the web version. Yet, at the same time, mobile platforms (phones and tablets) have presented newer and younger audiences with new graphs of people, folks whose first computing device may have been of the latest iPod touches (complete with Facetime), folks who live in other countries with exploding mobile growth adoption curves. As working professionals have come to use the Internet to help define, cement, and reinforce their perceptions of their own identities, younger generations in search of their own identity can use a battery of new services and mobile apps which containerize their activities, isolating them from the permanence of the web, a permanence embodied by the likes of Facebook and Google+.

These ascendent generations may have a Facebook account for the web and to use Messenger, but they seem to be disinterested in a network where everyone hangs out, where their parents or schoolteachers may be lurking. (To be fair to Facebook, Google seems to invoke similar fears of permanence given all the apps data they have on us, combined with their integration of Google+.) The emergence of this trend isn’t an implicit criticism of Facebook, though the company sure does push its users to adopt certain behaviors — rather, this trend is merely the world evolving alongside the rapid spread of personalized computing interfaces, giving rise to services which snap, share, and explode digital pictures (SnapChat), allow users to buy disposable phone numbers (Burner), or to assume various pseudonyms and tag pictures associated with negative, potentially shameful, or embarrassing feelings to an audience who will empathize with them (Whisper) — and pay a monthly membership fee for the right to send private messages. (There are services which go steps further, encrypting information — such as Bitcoin or Wickr — allowing people to move without a trace.)

What I’m writing about here is not new or original. I have read a lot about this and have simply grown fascinated by the trend itself, the trend whereby more and more people enjoy the ease and shelter provided by lightweight mobile applications, ones that seemingly never touch the web and spread like a Facebook share. For a brief selection of items I’ve read on the topic, I’d suggest: PandaWhale’s Adam Rifkin on why teens are flocking to Tumblr over Facebook; TechCrunch’s Billy Gallagher on the “impermanence” of new mobile apps; Branch’s Josh Miller’s look into technology trends among teens; and USV’s Andy Weissman’s personal essay about how he doesn’t want to bring video memories from another era on to YouTube.

All in all, the questions this trend trigger are equally fascinating: Is this just the beginning of a big wave, or this simply a trendy byproduct of a world obsessed with social networking? If this is a trend, does it have the legs to provide the foundation for a company or set of companies to form around this organizing principle? What does this mean for the future of the Facebook newsfeed and its relevance to users? Will Facebook be reduced to a utility for public sharing backed by real identity, but miss out on all the texts, snaps, and other bits of mobile messaging exploding these days? Is this a new type of movement, or simply the ebb and flow of behavior as generations pass? And, as the trend continues, will the younger generation of users who grow up “app-first” seek to bypass the web and explicit social networks altogether, or will they join the masses as they mature?

I’ve been talking about this trend with knowledgeable folks for a few months now, and everyone has a different, interesting point of view. I certainly don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but questions themselves are undeniably fascinating. It’s not even been an entire year that Facebook has been a public company, and they are on track to make lots of money (especially on mobile), but there’s no denying that despite their growing mobile metrics and revenues, mobile apps that provide all varieties of private messaging seem to challenge Facebook’s immediate relevance. As these mobile apps grow, and as Facebook approach’s it’s 10th birthday next year, the next 10 years will likely be defined by a whole new set of what is considered “social networking” — and that might already be the new reality today. What is clear, however, is that while on the web, Facebook’s walled garden enjoys a captive audience already trained to do what it wants — on mobile, that walled garden is relegated to the size of an app icon alongside a sea of competing icons with very different or non-existant “sharing models,” and if today’s currents provide any trustworthy bellwether, the next 10 years for Facebook could present quiet a thorny challenge.

Photo Credit: gemsling / Creative Commons Flickr

Sequoia’s Aaref Hilaly Says Messaging Apps Are A New Kind Of Social Network

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Investor Chamath Palihapitiya’s skeptical comments about the current wave of tech startups (comments that included a not-too-veiled dig at Snapchat), ended up fueling plenty of discussion at our Disrupt NY conference earlier this week. In fact, when I interviewed Sequoia Capital partner Aaref Hilaly backstage, Palihapitiya’s remarks provided a springboard for Hilaly’s take on messaging apps, including Sequoia-backed WhatsApp:

To us, they’re a pretty significant change. We see a company like WhatsApp as reimagining the social network. And the way I think about it is, What’s your real social graph? Is it the people you communicate with and spend time with, or is it the 100 people you barely know on Facebook? We think it’s pretty clearly the first of those, and that’s what mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp capture.

Hilaly went on to praise WhatsApp’s growth (users are supposedly sending 20 billion messages per day) and its design, but he also said there are other companies doing well, especially if you look in other countries. I asked if there’s a bit of a generational divide in terms of usage (which is another way of asking if I’m too old), and Hilaly said “it’s generational and it’s geographic.”

“A lot of these messaging apps get traction outside the US,” he said. “They’re popular in the US, but people live on them outside of the US. I think both factors have made the world a little bit slower to wake up to them than to other big trends.”

If you watch the video, you can also listen to us discuss Hilaly’s move from the startup world to venture capital, and Sequoia’s involvement in New York.

Angry Birds Friends now available on iOS and Android, is totally free

Angry Birds Friends now available on iOS  Android, is totally free

It’s hard to believe, but there is seriously another Angry Birds game headed to mobile today, dubbed Angry Birds Friends. Like its Facebook counterpart, the game is focused on social versions of standard Angry Birds mechanics — flinging various bird types at various structures protecting pigs, with the ultimate goal of destroying said pigs. The twist in this iteration is that your score is tracked and stacked up against friends via Facebook, meaning that people on all platforms (Facebook, iOS and Android) can play against each other. Should you be wary of shelling out more cash for fowl, worry not, as Angry Birds Friends is free (supported by ads, as you might imagine). It’s available now on both iTunes and the Google Play store.

Filed under: Cellphones, Gaming, Tablets, Software, Mobile

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Source: Rovio

Skip Google+ Sharing And Tweet Photos Directly From Google Glass With GlassTweet

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We’re on the ground in New York City at the Disrupt Hackathon and there are a lot of interesting things being created. Since I’m walking around wearing Google Glass, I’ve obviously been looking for teams building apps for it.

I met up with Jonathan Gottfried, Twilio’s Developer Evangelist, and he built a quick and dirty app called GlassTweet, which lets you share photos to Twitter, rather than the out-of-the-box experience of sending shots to Google+.

Once you’ve installed the app and connected it to Glass and your Twitter account, a new contact comes up that you can share to, called “Tweet”:

The excitement about developing for Glass reminds me of the early days on Apple’s App Store. Gottfried explained: “It’s a great platform and being able to create all of the fundamental apps for people is a tremendous opportunity.”

There are only a few people testing GlassTweet out right now, but I imagine that small apps like this will be installed by most of the community who are looking for inspiration. It would be interesting to see a photo gallery of those who are using the app as well, perhaps with some geographic location attached to the photo. You can’t tweet videos yet, but Gottfried tells me that the feature is coming soon.

During the Glass Collective announcement this month, Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr mentioned that Twitter was thinking about working on its own app, and it’ll be interesting to see how they adapt their service for the small screen. Surely you don’t want every mention or reply lighting up in front of your face. At least I don’t.

Gottfried has built a few Glass apps so far, including ones that lets you purchase a dedicated number through Twilio for texting.

Let the Glass games begin.

[Photo credit: Flickr]

Facebook Sees Increase In Parse Signups, Tells Developers “No Plans To Change How App Data Is Used”

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Despite developers grumbling that they would ditch Parse’s mobile app backend service now that it’s been bought by Facebook, Parse CEO Ilya Suhkar tells me signups spiked 9.4x and fewer clients are leaving than before. Meanwhile, to calm fears about Facebook spying on Parse developer data, the company issued the statement “We currently have no plans to make any changes to how Parse app data is used.”

The acquisition marks Facebook’s entry into the paid B2B app development services business. However, the acquisition came as a bit of a shock to loyal developers who built over 60,000 apps on Parse’s mobile backend as a service (MBaaS). Complaints I’ve seen centered around Facebook degrading the Parse service, pushing its own social integrations and ad platform too hard, questions about who owns app data hosted on Parse due to language in Facebook’s terms of service, privacy of that app data, and worries about how Facebook might use access to that data for its own benefit.

Many developers claimed they would be moving to other MBaaS platforms. And one competitor, StackMob, built a special importer tool that Parse developers can use to export their app records and import them into these other services. These developers seem to be barking louder than they’re biting, though. Sukhar tells me, “The difference isn’t even statistically significant but, in absolute terms, the number of records exported per day since acquisition announcement is lower than before. Nobody’s using this tool and there is no overall exodus.”

I asked Facebook about the concerns above, and after talking for a while I came away more confident that much of the paranoia about the acquisition is unfounded.

Facebook understands that developers are finicky. The social network already has a spotty record in terms of platform stability. In the past, changes have come hard and fast without enough warning, sometimes causing apps to break. Other times, Facebook’s design or feed changes can crater the traction of apps built on it. Over the last year or so, Facebook has made a serious effort to become more developer-friendly, and are determined not to screw up Parse.

As far as ownership and privacy of data on the Parse platform, some developers may be confusing language in Facebook’s user-facing terms of service, aka the Statement Of Rights And Responsibilities, with its developer-facing Platform Policy. Facebook maintains that it can employ user data to improve its product or target ads, but doesn’t use third-party app data the same way. It seems Facebook’s intention is to run Parse similarly to how it works with apps on its canvas app platform. Essentially, it won’t be prying into private data or using it to inspire its own product development.

Of course Facebook’s “currently have no plans” statement could change in the future. And despite all its mission statements and talk, it’s still a business. But I think Parse can be a powerful tool for Facebook, and even its answer to iOS and Android in some ways, without doing anything too shady. Parse will create a distribution vector for Facebook’s identity and sharing integrations as well as a way to sell ads, but that can be accomplished without being too interruptive to the Parse experience. Scrutiny will be high, though, so Facebook needs to hold true to its word if it wants Parse’s valuable client base to stick around.