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snapchatdollar640

Only a few months after closing a Series B round of $60 million that valued the ephemeral messaging company at $800 million, Snapchat has been in talks for another funding that values it at up to $3.6 billion, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources also added that the funding itself would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and that the lead investor might be a strategic party from Asia.

Such a deal could still fall apart, of course, but the effort has become well known among several Silicon Valley venture firms, who have considered investing.

A spokeswoman for Snapchat declined to comment.

The investor is neither China’s Alibaba Group nor Japan’s Rakuten, which has put a lot of money in Silicon Valley startups of late, said sources. One interesting possibility would be China’s Internet giant Tencent, which makes money from in-app transactions.

The move by the Los Angeles-based company comes on the heels of another massive funding round raised by social scrapbooking company Pinterest, which announced earlier this week that it just raised $225 million at a $3.8 billion valuation.

Besides the huge piles of investment dough being poured into them, here’s what else the pair have in common: Little to no revenue.

That does not seem to have stopped a panoply of venture and other investors from jumping in and ponying up with huge amounts of cash for the privilege of investing in several fast-growing startups, hoping to grab ahold of the next Twitter or Facebook early.

Launched in 2011, Snapchat has grown wildly popular in a relatively short span of time, effectively creating an entirely new genre of messaging category with its “ephemeral” pictures and videos that last for only a matter of seconds.

Snapchat’s last round – which it called a “scaling round” for infrastructure improvements – was announced in late June, led by Institutional Venture Partners, with participation from General Catalyst Partners and SV Angel. Previous investors Benchmark Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated. With that round, the company had raised around $75 million in total.

Snapchat's Evan Spiegel

Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel

All the fervor has been due to Snapchat’s fast growth and younger demographic. Only a few months ago, co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel boasted that the service had more than 200 million snapped pictures and video taken by its users on a daily basis, up from 150 million just months before. Then in September at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, he said that the number had grown to 350 million self-destructing messages daily.

At the time, there was also an additional $20 million in a secondary offering just four months ago.

At the time of the June funding, in an interview with AllThingsD, Spiegel noted: “We’re excited about in-app transactions because of what we’ve seen in the Asian markets.”

A clue!

Snapchat has clearly been a phenom of late.

Indeed, the app has proved so popular – and potentially worrisome to established social players – that sources said when Spiegel continually rebuffed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition offers, Zuckerberg cloned the app outright with a service called Poke. Zuckerberg’s offering famously flopped, while Snapchat continues to grow.

Most recently, Snapchat has begun to experiment with features outside of its core ephemeral messaging service. The company launched its Stories product last month, essentially a long-form play on Facebook’s status update in the form of a picture or video. And recently, Spiegel has grown more keen on the idea of monetization, experimenting with bands and listening to music inside the app.

The company, however, has not been without its problems. Early on in its history, Snapchat had to fight the perception that it was a “sexting service” for tweens, a fly-by-night app used to easily spread lewd photos. And it is still involved in ongoing litigation with Frank Brown, a collaborator from the service’s early days, who is suing the company he was pushed out of.

The way things are going, the term “cable TV” may have to be replaced by “phone TV.”

Nearly a decade after Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. began building pipelines to carry TV service to U.S. homes, they are nearing the market share of cable operators in areas where they operate, according to third-quarter results released by cable and phone companies in recent days. The top two cable providers, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc., shed 435,000 video customers in the quarter, while AT&T and Verizon added 400,000.

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powershell

The leaks were right – Logitech has a gamepad case for the iPhone and iPod touch, and it will be widely available in early December.

The PowerShell is part of the gaming-focused G Series, costs $99.99 and contains a standard directional pad; four main buttons, labeled A, B, X and Y; two trigger buttons; a dedicated pause button; and a 1500 mAh battery that charges the iPhone/iPod. It works with the iPhone 5 and 5s and the fifth-generation iPod touch on iOS 7.

Notice what’s missing from that list? Logitech said the case won’t work with the new iPhone 5c because the 5c is 0.4-1.37 mm bigger in all dimensions. In order to accommodate the iPod touch, which is 1.5 mm thinner than the phones, the case includes a removable sheet of padding.

Global product marketing manager Mark Starrett said Logitech has been working with Apple since before the official announcement of iOS 7’s third-party controller support at this year’s WWDC. That OS-level support means the accessory manufacturer has not had to work with developers to ensure their games’ compatibility, but is talking with a handful about marketing partnerships.

Logitech is not currently planning to make a comparable gamepad case for Android devices, even though Google has offered third-party controller support on its OS for much longer. With “four or five” competing standards, “Android is just a mess,” Starrett said.

Unlike the Moga Ace Power gamepad case, also unveiled this week, the PowerShell does not collapse for portability. The rigid case is designed to be used in landscape mode, with the home button pointing toward the user’s right hand.

At launch, about 300 games will work with the case, but they’ll be universal, meaning that PowerShell owners won’t have to download different versions of the apps for touch and non-touch gameplay. Starrett said Logitech has already tested dozens of those games with the PowerShell, and expects Apple to roll out a new section in the iOS App Store for gamepad-compatible games.

hug_it_out

Unsubtle reminder from Facebook to media companies: We’re really big, and we can send you a lot of traffic.

The longer version comes here, via a Facebook blog post boasting about all the eyeballs they have passed along to sites like BuzzFeed and Bleacher Report recently, in an experiment to boost referral traffic.

Facebook said it got those sites and 27 others to increase by 57 percent the number of articles they posted to the social network, and that those sites saw their referral traffic jump by 80 percent.

The bigger picture is that Facebook is making a renewed effort to get media companies to distribute their stuff on the site.

Today’s blog post is specifically about Web publishers. But Facebook has been making a particular push to engage TV programmers and networks to use the site, in the way that Twitter has been doing for a couple of years.

bubl

Meet Bublcam: a 360 degree camera made by Canadian startup Bubl that lets you capture spherical panoramas of what’s going on around you – either as still photographs or spherical video that allows you to swipe around and explore the scene. The camera can even stream video in real-time over Wi-Fi, in case you want to broadcast every possible vista of your skiing holiday as it happens.

Or it will be able to if Bubl hits its Kickstarter funding goal. Bublcam’s makers have taken to the crowdfunding site looking for $100,000 to go into production – aiming for a May 2014 shipping date. They’ve been working on the project for more than two years, funding the R&D work themselves – including by selling a previous business. “We’re all tapped out,” says Bubl founder and CEO Sean Ramsay, explaining why it’s taking to Kickstarter now.

The ability to capture still panorama photography makes Bublcam similar to a device such as Ricoh’s Theta. However there are differences: Bublcam has zero blind spots in the image, thanks to its tetrahedral design which positions four 190 lenses so that they overlap and can therefore create a perfect image. Its video capture ability also sets it apart. Bublcam captures 14 mega pixel spherical photos, and videos at 1080p at 15 fps and 720p at 30fps.

And then there’s the spherical playback. Neat hardware design aside, it’s Bubl’s software that does the real grunt work – taking a multiplex image consisting of the four separate camera views and stitching those quadrants together in real-time so that the user can share their environment spherically as events unfold.

“Calibration became quite a bottleneck,” says Ramsay, discussing the process of creating software capable of stitching a quad-multiplex image into a sphere in real-time. “It went through a lot of iterations before we got that right.”

Getting that right involved teaming up with university professors and students in Canada to hone the algorithms required to turn something flat and segmented into a dynamic sphere of content shaped more like life. (If you don’t fancy a fancy sphere, Bublcam’s output can also be converted into a flat equirectangular.)

“Multiplex imagery was an untested area in general. Most people weren’t using it for anything other than security footage,” he adds. “There was very little use for multiplex imagery so it became something that I realised very quickly was free and open for patenting.

“When we discovered a way to do it, that’s when we realised we really had something special.”

So it’s the software process – of turning a multiplex image into a sphere in real-time, utilising techniques such as UV mapping – that Bubl is hoping will ultimately give it an edge, rather than just the selling of the camera hardware itself.

That said, it’s starting with the basic hardware sales play on Kickstarter. The initial Bublcam is going to be priced at around $800, with the aim of pushing it down to around $700. Even so, that’s pretty steep for a single-use consumer gadget. (Kickstarter early birds do get the chance to bag a Bublcam for $400.) In future, if all goes to plan, Ramsay said Bubl is hoping to produce two additional versions of the camera: a cheaper version aimed at the consumer market, and a higher quality camera (that is capable of taking higher resolution shots) for the prosumer market.

But selling camera hardware is just one quadrant of what Bubl plans. It sees the greatest potential in licensing both its hardware and software – and having that handle on both hardware and software combined is what gives it its competitive advantage vs rivals in this space, argues Ramsay.

“When Google came out with their Google Trekker… I was just like is this where the technology is really heading?… I’m still a little surprised,” he says. “There’s been a couple of other companies that have come out with portable 360 devices. And the problem they have – which has become the biggest problem for this entire market – is you have the hardware and then you have the software, and most people try to tackle one or the other.

“No one’s really tried to tackle them both together as a solution. That has made a huge differentiator for us.”

Bubl is making a photo viewer and a video viewer (for desktop, desktop browser and as mobile apps) so that content captured with the Bublcam can be properly explored (although it will also be possible to export content in formats such as Jpeg and MP4 for viewing elsewhere). Bubl’s Kickstarter campaign notes:

The bubl players have been developed to allow users to look up, down and all around and create their own experiences. It also provides users with imaging controls in order to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and zoom. Currently developed for desktop, desktop browser and in beta on iOS devices. Our development schedule also includes WebGL and Android devices, which will be released in the very near future.

It’s also developing an open software API and hardware SDK so that developers can tap into Bublcam’s universe – envisaging applications for an AR gaming device like the Oculus Rift, or viewing bubls using the gesture-based Leap Motion controller.

Down the line, assuming Bublcam captures enough imaginations, it’s aiming to license the camera technology to other electronics manufacturers – the Sonys, the LGs, the Samsungs of the world, as Ramsay puts it – and is working on an enterprise version of its software suite for licensing to various vertical markets that are focused on content creation.

“There’s the opportunities to sit down with the ad agencies, and production companies, and televisions studios and broadcast networks,” he says. “We’re creating software with some interesting features pulled in to it to allow those places to create a lot more dynamic version of a bubl. Interactive features like if you want to create a virtual tour where you can click from one bubl to the next, if you want to have branding information included directly into the video.

“Or if you want to create an experience where the content of the video had data visualisations – like image recognition, facial recognition. We want to be able to allow those features to built either on top of our player – through the API – and as the company grows, leverage some of those features ourselves internally so if you decide to license the software suite you will get access to feature that you’re not going to get through the free application.”

Ramsay tells TechCrunch he originally came up with the idea for Bublcam some five years ago, while working at an ad agency and being asked by a client to come up with an experience where the car sat in the middle of the screen and was viewable from all angles and directions.

“In developing that idea we realised that the technology wasn’t really there, and we’ll have to do something ourselves,” he says. “And after we did it, I realised that if we could do this for a still image, why couldn’t we do this for video?”

Exactly who or what Bublcam is going to be for is TBC at this point. It’s partly why Bubl is taking to Kickstarter, rather than choosing and targeting one specific vertical itself. The concept is proven, the prototype is working but the applications still need to dreamt up. And that is probably Bublcam’s biggest barrier: getting people to see the potential in spherical video.

Initially, Ramsay says he thought the security industry would be the likely adopters of Bublcam but various other applications have since suggested themselves – from gaming to action sports to immersive videochatting to advertising/industry applications – hence the decision to “put the content and the camera out into the world to see where it sticks best”. To see what early adopters do with it. (The quick-to-adopt-new-tech adult entertainment industry may well be one such early taker for Bublcam. Time will tell.)

As it kicks off its Kickstarter campaign, Bubl is still tweaking the camera hardware to improve video capture so it can better compete with GoPro for action sports use-cases, says Ramsay – an enhancement that it has factored into its May 2014 ship date. In the meantime, it will be waiting to see what the crowdfunding community makes of Bublcam, and what the first crop of backers end up doing with it.

“We are still in a place where we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go to first, how it’s going to be adopted quickest. We kind of wanted to put it out there and let the world dictate exactly how we want to use it. We have built a system and a product that will entertain and fit into many different verticals,” he says.

“And although our goal is to try to disrupt as many markets as possible, which one’s going to be first, which one’s going to provide us with the best type of results, which one’s going to create the largest revenue stream – is still unfamiliar. This technology is really new, and people still don’t fully comprehend where it’s going to be able to go. We want to discover that along with everyone else.”

marissa_mayer_at_d_600-2

If you were onstage, talking to Charlie Rose, in front of a very crowded room of ad people, and you were asked to describe the unique qualities of Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg, you might get flustered.

Not Marissa Mayer.

Here’s what the Yahoo CEO had to say about the Google CEO and the Facebook CEO at the IAB/MIXX conference in New York today:

I’ve thought about it before. They each have their superpower.

Larry’s superpower is asking “Why not? Why does it have to be this way?”

I once witnessed a conversation where Larry really started challenging Dean Kamen, the guy who invented the Segway. He started saying “Why, why, why does it have to be this way?”

And he was actually having an argument over a physical constant. Finally [Kamen] said “because it’s a physical constant – an intrinsic property of the universe.”

And so, he loves to ask “why not, why not, why not.” His super power is asking “why not.” On everything. It helps him challenge.

Zuckerberg’s incredibly insightful about people. And that makes him a great leader, it makes him a great recruiter.

And I think it also makes him a great person to run a platform that connects us all. He really understands people and what makes them tick.”

An outside review of Bloomberg LP’s data compliance and news reporting revealed that the financial data and news provider didn’t curtail reporters’ access to subscriber data two years ago, when concerns about the access first emerged, due to internal “misunderstandings.”

The review, by Promontory Financial Group and law firm Hogan Lovells, didn’t point to any evidence of widespread abuse of customer data by Bloomberg News. It concluded that “a number of journalists” used subscriber data in the course of their reporting, such as for looking up contact information, but it identified only two occasions where subscriber information or other sensitive data was clearly reflected in stories.

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How mobile apps find people to use them tends to be kind of a dark secret. Though nearly everybody advertises, some app makers are a bit shy about the notion of “buying users,” particularly given that much shadiness has occurred in that industry around cross-selling apps. Analytics company Onavo says it will now shine a light on what app makers are actually doing – for paying customers, that is.

Onavo’s new Acquisition Insights will provide its customers with ways to see whether new downloads of any app were driven by organic or paid discovery by dipping into data from about 12 different ad networks.

Customers can also monitor their own campaigns and see how they compare to the competition. For that privilege, Onavo will charge annual subscriptions costing about $60,000.

For us voyeurs and reporters, the announcement gives an opportunity to look into how effective a couple of sample ad campaigns were.

For instance, some Zynga campaigns for Running With Friends Free on InMobi, Flurry and MdotM are correlated with a couple of download spikes, according to Onavo data:

OnavoZynga

And Onavo monitoring shows that Google’s pick for advertising Google+ recently was Millennial Media:

OnavoGoogle

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