Monday, July 30, 2012

Stipple: Connecting Images and Information

Pictures tell a thousand words, but images that are posted to the Internet often become disconnected from their source and story. You see a photo of a cute dress on someone's Tumblr – but there's no information about who designed it or where you can purchase it. Stipple is a new service that turns online photos into “intelligent images” that include details about the subject, i.e. relevant links to other pictures, videos, or websites.

Going back to our example, a “Stippled” image of the dress can include a tag stating the designer's name, a link to an online retailer that sells it, or a link to the website of the photographer who snapped the picture. Tags will remain on Stipple photos that are shared and embedded. Aside from tying an image back to its source, Stipple displays analytics that let you know how many people viewed your photo and how they interacted with it.

[via TechCrunch]

Tablets and Apps for Kids From VINCI

Like many of today's children, Dan Yang's young daughter was exposed to technology at an early age, often playing with her mother's iPhone. As Yang looked into introducing her child to technology responsibly, she saw that there was very little educational technology designed for kids. In addition, smartphones and tablets are built with materials that may be hazardous to youngsters. Yang, an entrepreneur and optical engineer, therefore started VINCI Early Learning Systems using $10 million of her personal savings.

Two child-friendly tablets form the cornerstone of the system: the 7-inch VINCI Tab II, which features a protective soft-cornered handle made from food-grade material, and the 5-inch VINCI Tab II M, a more affordable and portable version of the former that can be linked to other Tab II M's for group playing. Both devices are powered by the Android platform and come with a number of pre-installed apps such as Google Play, Adobe Reader, and QuickOffice.

Yang, with the assistance of experts, also developed the VINCI Curriculum, which is divided into three levels: babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Designed to run only on the VINCI tablets, the learning materials help develop thinking skills, emotional and social skills, language and literacy, maths and logical reasoning, science, and general knowledge.

Recently, VINCI launched its app library for kids. There are currently over 500 apps and videos that are free for a limited time. Some are from noted educational content providers such as The Jim Henson Company, TVO, and Mightybooks. The VINCI Kids Library promises to be free of commercials, violence, adult content, and in-app purchases. Yang and company are also inviting developers to submit more content to the library – qualified apps get a 75 percent revenue share. The VINCI Kids Library will be making its way to other Android devices soon and is expected to have 1,000 titles by the end of the year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Award-Winning Apps By 955 Dreams

Years ago, Kiran Bellubbi helped develop India's first handheld computer and the first apps for the Palm. In 2010, he founded 955 Dreams, the Mountain View, California-based company that brought music lovers the Band of the Day app. The runner-up for Apple's 2011 App of the Year, Band of the Day features a new music act daily, complete with artist bios, music videos, band buzz, and entire song streams.

Independent musician Kishi Bashi, who had been showcased on Band of the Day, says the app helped him grow his fan base, release an album, and go on tour with The Barr Brothers and Of Montreal.

Band of the Day, which was built especially for mobile, is, according to Bellubbi, “the world's first daily music magazine native to iOS.” 955 Dreams has also released two other music-related apps: The History of Jazz, an interactive timeline of jazz's history, and On the Way to Woodstock, which pays homage to the Woodstock generation.

A Better Way of Gifting With Wantful

Based in San Francisco and New York City, Wantful aims to put an end to “forced smiles and poorly suited gifts that never see the light of day.” According to founder and CEO John Poisson, the startup wants to create a gift-giving experience that's richer, more thoughtful, and more personalized. How?

As the gift giver, you simply head on over to the Wantful site and enter a few details about your recipient, including gender, age, relation, and occasion. You will also have to answer some questions about their sense of style and interests, as well as tell the site how much you want to spend. Wantful will then suggest some items that match all that information, but you can easily swap them out if you like. Once you've selected 16 items, Wantful will whip up a customized printed gift book to be delivered to your recipient (or you can have it sent to your own address so you can present it yourself). You get to choose the cover image of the book and include a personal message inside.

The gift book, which is hand-wrapped in Japanese rice paper and Wantful's signature black envelope, shows a gift code for all 16 items. Your recipient can enter the codes at the Wantful website to learn more about each item and then select which one they like most. Prices are not revealed to recipients. If you need a gift right away, you can skip the printed book and just opt for the email version, which includes a link to each item.

Wantful has partnered with over 200 designers, brands and producers to offer hundreds of one of a kind items ranging from $30 to $500. “We're going after really small products that are interesting, hard to find, and have a great story behind them,” says Poisson. “These are not the things you'd find if you walked into a department store or went on Amazon.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Meetupcall Relaunches With Better, Easier Conference Calls

Officially relaunched today, UK-based Meetupcall promises to make conference calls “simpler, better, and cheaper.” Founded by Simon Moxon, the company first launched in 2009, during which the service, according to Moxon, “worked the same way conference calls did in 1995.” Now, after an overhaul, Meetupcall takes care of pretty much everything, letting users host conference calls without having to send out dial-in numbers and PINs.

To host a conference call, users simply schedule it on a calendar app and enter all participants' email addresses, including Meetupcall will then deliver the instructions on how to join the call. Participants can choose to be called when the conference is about to start or dial in themselves by clicking a link in the email invite.

In addition, Meetupcall shows the LinkedIn profile of every person on the call (name, photo, location, and job title) to avoid any confusion, especially when the participants have never met.

Gigmark Reinvents the Flash Drive

Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Gigmark Interactive Media is breathing new life into the humble USB stick. Gigmark's interactive flash drive or IFD turns the familiar storage solution into something more – a marketing platform that allows companies to engage their customers sans paper catalogs. Co-founded by entrepreneurs Parker Frost, Rob Balchunas, and Mark Myers in 2008, Gigmark is evidence that the USB stick is here to stay.

“People are saying the flash drive is dead. The flash drive isn't dead. Millions of these devices are still being sold and used. What we're doing is taking it to the next level,” says Balchunas.

Basically, the Gigmark IFD is a really smart USB stick. The physical device itself can be branded and built to clients' specifications and comes loaded with customized interactive software to present a brand and its objectives through an attractive interface. If a business needs to edit its information, then the IFD will automatically update its contents to reflect the latest version. It also sends user analytics back to its home base, so businesses can see what content is being read and how often to better understand their customers' needs.

Dura-Line, a plastic pipes manufacturer in Knoxville, is one of Gigmark's many clients. Dura-Line's IFD, which looks like the company's colorful piping that's used to protect electrical and fiber-optic cables, allows customers to place and customize orders straight from the device.

The IFD isn't just limited to businesses – artists such as Cody Canada & The Departed have also joined in. The band released its record This is Indian Land with a specially designed IFD that looks like a backstage pass lanyard. The 2GB  “Boarding Pass”, as it is called, contains a full-length digital album, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and videos and tour information.

In 2011, Gigmark's sales reached $10 million. Who said the flash drive is dead?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sell Your Online Content With Paya

Hundreds of millions of photos are posted to Facebook every day. On YouTube, over 70 hours of footage are uploaded per minute.

“It's staggering,” says Kevin Schaff, founder and CEO of T3Media. His company recently concluded the beta phase of Paya (“pay-ya”), a new online tool for buying and selling digital content. With Paya, anyone can sell their photos and videos from Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, and over 200 other sites, at no cost and with a just a few mouse clicks. Users set their own price and keep 80 percent of each sale.

Additionally, Paya lets users tag their content on the original site. For instance, if a potential buyer came across a YouTube video that was for sale, they will also see a link to the uploader's Paya page. Upcoming features include a newsroom, where news organizations get first dibs on Paya sellers' content, and a content request tool, where interested buyers can send a request to purchase a piece of online content.

Online Game Helps People Overcome Health Challenges

“We need to get over this idea that games are just for fun. Games have so much potential to make us feel and think and let us explore humanity,” says Chelsea Howe. Howe is a renowned game designer, who previously worked on Zynga's FarmVille. Today, she is director of design at SuperBetter Labs, a San Francisco-based design and technology studio founded by John Yost.

SuperBetter Labs makes games that “empower individuals and communities to lead epic lives.” Its first project is SuperBetter, an online social game that helps build personal resilience – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. SuperBetter was created by Jane McGonigal, noted alternate reality game designer and chief creative officer of the company. She was also the game's first player; an accident in the summer of 2009 left McGonigal with a concussion that didn't heal properly. According to McGonigal, she couldn't read, write, or go out and was constantly nauseated. At some point during her ordeal, however, she had an aha moment.

“All of my training in game design and my research into how games provoke positive emotions and build up our social relationships – it all poked through the mental fog,” she says. That's when she decided to turn her recovery into a game. Within a week, McGonigal's cognitive symptoms began to improve.

SuperBetter, which is currently in open beta, was designed to help players achieve their health goals – whether it's healing from an illness or injury, overcoming anxiety or depression, quitting smoking, or losing weight. Backed by the fields of medicine, neuroscience, and positive psychology, SuperBetter was developed by SuperBetter Labs in collaboration with scientists, university researchers, medical doctors, and thought leaders.

McGonigal says that with SuperBetter, people can grow stronger instead of be diminished by life's obstacles. “This isn't just a theory. Scientists have demonstrated that dramatic, positive changes can occur in our lives as a direct result of facing an extreme challenge... Researchers call this 'post-traumatic growth'. We call it getting SuperBetter.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Marco Bitran Launches AI Exchange, Inc.

Under the leadership of Founder and Chief Executive Officer Marco Bitran, AI Exchange, Inc. raised $1.5 million in a 2011 venture capital funding round, garnering support for its innovative investment advisory platform from General Catalyst, Common Angels, Founder Collective, and LaunchCapital. A veteran Financial Analyst whose long resume of achievements includes work for Qualcomm Incorporated, Morgan Stanley, and the Wellington Management Company, Mr. Bitran is well suited to guide AI Exchange as it expands in the coming years. Shortly after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Marco Bitran established Digital Entertainment Media, Inc., a Silicon Valley start-up that provided mid-size websites with premium quality Internet streaming services. After obtaining an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School (HBS), Mr. Bitran formed GMB Capital Management, LLC, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) he oversaw for five years in his capacity as the enterprise’s Portfolio Manager.

Seeking a viable platform to connect clients with ROI-driven alternative investments, Marco Bitran developed a proprietary web-based technology rooted in long/short equity, event-driven, and market neutral strategies. Aiming for a notably liquid and transparent business practice format, Mr. Bitran explained that “quality alternative strategies are a highly valuable diversifier in any client portfolio, however, structural issues of traditional alternative investment products have limited the availability of these strategies.” Aiming for better approach when he created AI Exchange, Marco Bitran opted to utilize separately managed and unified managed accounts as investment vehicles, a forward-thinking move that helped the firm connect with its high caliber network of fiscal partners.

Already gaining widespread attention from the national media, Boston-headquartered AI Exchange recently won the New England Regional Round of Harvard Business School’s Second Annual Alumni Venture Contest. This accomplishment further highlights the multiple strengths of the hedge fund’s cutting-edge business structure, placing Marco Bitran and his associates in a prime position to transform the alternative investment landscape.

Monday, July 2, 2012

#waywire: CNN for Gen Y

Founded by Newark mayor Cory Booker, Nathan Richardson, and Sarah Ross, #waywire is a new video news network for millennials. The site, which is set to launch in beta later this summer, will feature original and syndicated news content that targets today's youth. According to a press release, “The idea behind #waywire came from Mayor Booker and grew from his desire to shift America's public conversation away from divisiveness toward a debate focused on achieving solutions.”

The company plans to have 10,000 minutes of original content hosted by millennial newscasters when #waywire launches. Viewers can upload their own video responses, as well as get a chance to become part of the site's curators, based on a badge and reward system.

#waywire has already raised $1.75 million in capital from investors such as LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors, and Oprah Winfrey. Richardson leads the company as CEO, and Mayor Booker will act as advisor while he remains in public office.

Never Miss a Concert Again With Songkick

Like many music fans, Ian Hogarth, Pete Smith, and Michelle You thought it was too difficult to keep track of all their favorite bands and know when they were playing in town. Constantly checking band websites, browsing generic concert newsletters, and subscribing to venue mailing lists proved to be too much of a hassle – the three friends wanted their favorite artists' information in one place, not scattered across various channels. Hence, in 2007, they founded Songkick, an online database of gigs for music aficionados.

Initially launched on the Web and on iOS, Songkick tells users when their favorite bands are coming to their area. Concert alerts are personalized and sent early, so there's no need to worry about spam or missing out on a show. Using information from different venue websites, ticket vendors, and local newspapers, Songkick provides the most comprehensive database of upcoming gigs worldwide, including music festivals that artists are taking part in. Songkick can also be linked to Facebook, Google Music, Spotify,, and Pandora; it will then make music recommendations based on the user's activities on those sites.

Last month, Songkick arrived on Android. Similar to its iOS counterpart, the Android app displays  show dates in your current location after scanning your music library, though you can manually add other locations as well. Songkick will also show the venue, map, and best ticket offers for each concert.

Moreover, Songkick wants to become the “definitive live music resource online”. So for one year, the team behind the startup compiled over a million tour dates from as early as the 1960s to the present. Now, users can share their experience and photos from concerts as well as talk to others who were also there. Songkick aims to not only be an app that tracks bands and gigs, but also serve as an extensive record of every single music event that's ever happened.