Tag Archive: general


It all starts with the best of intentions. You want to get some friends together for dinner, or grab drinks with a few colleagues after work, so you send out an invitation via email or group text message. Then things spiral out of control, as people message back and forth about where to go, and what time to meet. Pretty soon you’re entangled in an endless chain of messages that makes you wonder, “What have I done?” But planning events doesn’t have to feel like you’re herding cats.

WePopp and Rundavoo are two mobile apps that aim to make the task of event planning a little more organized. Both are free, and allow you to create events right from your smartphone, and then send out invites where people can vote on details, suggest alternatives and exchange messages all in one place. After everything is finalized, you can lock it down and add it to your calendar.

After using WePopp and Rundavoo to plan various events over the past few days, I wouldn’t recommend either app if you’re just trying to get together with one person. Email or phone is better for that. And if you already have an event with a set venue, date and time, I don’t see any advantage to using WePopp or Rundavoo over something like Evite or Facebook events.

Instead, these two apps are useful for more impromptu gatherings and activities that involve larger groups of people. The voting feature in both of these apps is particularly useful for getting input and nailing down details. But they both have their flaws.

For example, WePopp’s text notifications can get annoying. Meanwhile, Rundavoo crashed on me a few times, and its interface can be confusing. Of the two, I’d recommend WePopp, because it’s easier to use and doesn’t require your invitees to download the app or sign up for an account, though if you don’t sign up you won’t get access to all the features.

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WePopp is currently only available for iOS devices, but an Android version is coming soon. I downloaded it to my iPhone 5, and the interface is basic and intuitive. Everyone who I sent an invitation to using both apps preferred WePopp’s interface because it was simple and easy to understand.

To start planning an event, just slide the “Create a Popp” button, and it will take you to a screen where you can choose from a variety of preset invitations: Meal, Drink, Party, Movie, Sport, Weekend or Other. WePopp will then ask you to enter a date, name and description for the event, time, place and invitee list.

You can enter more than one suggestion for each section, so people can vote for their favorite option. I created one for a happy hour, and listed three different locations. It was nice to see at a glance which place had the most votes. I’ve done this before over email, and usually, I have to search through messages to tally people’s responses.

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One thing to note: The “Invite friends” section currently sits at the top of the page, above date, time and place, and when I first started using the app, I automatically started filling this section out first. But, after pressing the “check” button, it sent out invites, even though I had yet to fill out the time and place. I think it would be better to put the invite link at the bottom of the page; the company said they are looking to change that in the next version.

Invites can be sent via Facebook or text message. But WePopp can get overzealous with texts. When an invite goes out, your recipients get two messages: One saying that an invitation is on the way, and another with the link. It would be nice if WePopp consolidated that into one message.

Also, when I received a WePopp invite from a friend, it came via text message, even though I had the app. I’d prefer to be alerted via push notification; the company said they’re working to add that in the future.

The good thing about WePopp is that your friends don’t need an account or the app to respond to invites. Instead, they can simply click on the invitation link to open up a mobile site and tap the buttons to RSVP and vote for their favorite choices. Without an account, though, you can’t make other suggestions, and you won’t receive notifications if someone posts a message to the group chat section.

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Once everything is decided, you can finalize plans (another text is sent to invitees), and WePopp even gives you the option to add it to your calendar.

Rundavoo works similarly to WePopp. The app is iOS-only for now, but you can also send and respond to invites using Rundavoo’s website. An Android app is planned for the new year.

I found Rundavoo’s interface to be prettier, but it’s slightly more complicated. To start, you can choose from preset invites or create your own. You’ll then be asked to fill in the what, when and where. I like that Rundavoo uses your phone’s location services to populate search results for places (WePopp also does this), and then pulls in images of the business to use in the invite. It also integrates with Foursquare and Yelp.

Like WePopp, you can enter multiple suggestions for people to vote on. But, by default, Rundavoo locks down the venue, date and time, so you have to press the little lock icon to add other suggestions. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s an extra step I’d rather not have to deal with.

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Invites can be sent via text or email, but if you send via text, your friends will need to sign up for an account to respond. If sent by email, users can simply click on the links to RSVP, but if they want to add any suggestions, they will need an account. Most of my friends were not thrilled about this, but they did it for me (such good friends, they are). Even then, they said they found the interface confusing.

On the organizer’s side, votes were clearly displayed, but I never received notifications when people RSVPed, even after double-checking my iPhone’s notifications settings. More annoying was the fact that Rundavoo crashed on me multiple times, often when I was in the middle of creating an invitation. But Rundavoo told me they are working on a number of improvements, including the ability to respond via text without an account.

Trying to plan an outing with friends shouldn’t be a frustrating experience, and WePopp and Rundavoo offer an alternative to the back and forth of planning events over email. For now, you’ll get a simpler and more stable experience with WePopp.

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Twitter’s entire premise is based on publicness. “Join the conversation in the global town square!” the company likes to say.

But, over the past year, Twitter has come around to seeing the value of being more discreet.

The company plans to significantly update its direct-messaging product in the near future, according to multiple sources, bringing the long-buried feature to the forefront for the first time in years.

Part of the new reemphasis on direct messaging is already here. For weeks, Twitter has been internally testing a setting that allows users to send and receive direct messages from others without needing to mutually follow one another. And, earlier this week, the company began to roll it out to the public in a limited capacity.

But Twitter’s new vision for direct messages will go further. It has kicked around the idea of launching a standalone direct-messaging application separate from the Twitter app, according to three people familiar with the matter. It is unclear, however, what form the final revamp of direct messages will take.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment when asked about future messaging plans.

Twitter’s move comes as a defensive riposte to personal-messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Line and KakaoTalk, all of which have drastically increased in popularity over the past two years. KakaoTalk, in particular, was mentioned as a threat in Twitter’s S-1 IPO documentation, filed earlier this month. To cope with such an increase in attention, other social networks, like Facebook and Path, have also made significant updates to their messaging capabilities.

Twitter paid specific attention to Snapchat, the massively popular ephemeral-messaging service, during its rapid ascent to popular use. Twitter even ran one of its own surveys, according to sources familiar with the matter, finding that people are indeed using Snapchat to engage more with others. And one of Twitter’s updates to Android tablet apps earlier this month borrows heavily from Snapchat’s in-message illustration features.

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Earlier in the year, Twitter also met with employees from MessageMe, another popular mobile-messaging application, according to sources.

Moving private messaging up the food chain hasn’t always been in the company’s plans. At one point in Twitter’s history, employees discussed possibly killing direct messaging off altogether, according to multiple sources, making Twitter a truly public service once and for all. It is said that Jack Dorsey was one of the biggest proponents of the “all-public” version of Twitter.

Instead, Twitter went in a considerably less drastic direction. Under the direction of Dorsey and then product VP Satya Patel, the company launched a complete redesign of its desktop and mobile products in December of 2011, plucking the direct-messaging menu from the home screen and burying it under a separate, less visible menu. Eventually, the idea was that the product could have possibly been phased out.

Besides dealing with a public that wants personal-messaging services, Twitter also must attempt to solve its serious growth problem, one that seems to have alienated the service from becoming truly mainstream. The company hopes that an upcoming redesign will put an end to its retention issues and ultimately boost Twitter’s overall user ranks.

It is likely that we will see both updates before the year’s end, perhaps in time for the company’s much-anticipated initial public offering next month.

The National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of other world leaders after an internal Obama administration review started this summer revealed to the White House the existence of the operations, U.S. officials said.

Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that the U.S. government tapped the phones of world leaders.

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According to sources close to the situation, Twitter is planning on waiting until after its IPO – which is set to take place next week – to name its first woman to its board.

The move makes some level of sense, mostly because it would be difficult to have any new board member join the San Francisco-based social microblogging company now, given that that person would have to sign off on the public offering with little knowledge of its details.

Sources also added that while many are expecting Twitter to seek out a female director with media or tech experience – and there are many laudable candidates in both those areas – the company’s execs, especially CEO Dick Costolo, believe that one with international expertise is more important.

The reason is clear – Twitter is a global player, and runs into thorny issues all over the world around the proliferation of its open service. You might imagine that, in the future, as it grows, the company will face even more international conundrums that it will need a lot of mental heavy lifting to work out.

While the board had put former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the top of its overall list, she has not been contacted about joining as a director. She’s also likely to not be available, either, especially given that she is expected to run for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in the 2016 election.

(Sorry, but she’s busy, boys! While Twitter chairman and co-founder Jack Dorsey will be bummed, most there actually considered her a very long shot.)

The number of women with international experience is also long. But if I were to bet on whom Twitter is considering for its top picks, I would name only two: Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.

Albright, among her many diplomatic roles, was the first woman to become the Secretary of State, named in the Clinton administration. She is now a professor of international relations at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (disclosure: I went there), and is also chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm.

Also – keep up, Peter Fenton! – she is fluent in French, Russian, Czech, Polish and Serbo-Croatian, serves on important boards such as the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, and has written five books.

In addition – and this is just from my several encounters with her over the years – Albright takes no guff.

Neither does Rice, who also has some big cred in her corner. Along with other big government posts, she also served as Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush.

Rice also has some Silicon Valley links, both as a top administrator and professor at Stanford University, and her recent relationship with Khosla Ventures.

The VC firm signed a deal late last year with RiceHadleyGates, the international consulting firm that Rice runs, to “bring global and domestic insight to Khosla’s portfolio companies, helping them achieve their strategic goals in industries such as technology, energy, security and healthcare.”

No matter their gender – although that would also be a plus – either Rice or Albright would certainly be an asset for Twitter. The company has attracted not-undeserved scrutiny over not having a woman – or any diversity at all, really – on its board.

That board now includes: Former Netscape CFO and investor Peter Currie; former News Corp COO and Hollywood mogul Peter Chernin; Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Fenton, of Benchmark Capital; former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt; Jack Dorsey (also CEO and founder of hot payments startup Square); co-founder and serial entrepreneur Evan Williams (now working on an innovative new publishing platform called Medium); and CEO Dick Costolo, who has already attracted controversy over the issue.

The lack of a woman on the board of a company is particularly glaring, given that numerous studies show that more women use Twitter than men, and that it is aiming to be a global company that represents, well, all of humanity.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Chairman Reid Hoffman

Asa Mathat / AllThingsD.com LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Chairman Reid Hoffman

LinkedIn posted its third-quarter earnings results on Tuesday, and it’s yet another big quarterly beat.

The company reported 39 cents in earnings per share on revenue of $393 million. That’s against analysts’ estimates of 32 cents per share on revenue of $385.41 million.

It was a good quarter for growth as well, as the company added another 21 million monthly active users to its base, bringing the total to 259 million overall. That’s 38 percent year-on-year overall growth for the company.

“Increased member growth and engagement helped drive strong financial results in the third quarter,” said LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in a statement. “We continue to deliver value to professionals through investment in core products and strategic initiatives such as mobile, students, and the professional publishing platform.”

The company’s talent solutions product continues to be the main revenue driver, accounting for 57 percent of overall revenue at $224.7 million. Marketing solutions and Premium subscriptions followed at $88.5 million and $79.8 million, respectively.

The slightly downbeat point was LinkedIn’s lowered guidance for the fourth quarter coming in at about $420 million, short of the approximately $440 million analysts had expected.

Though, if you’ll recall from earlier this year, LinkedIn has consistently provided lowered guidance for coming quarters, a move some analysts think has been intended to manage future expectations – especially if the company doesn’t deliver consistently stellar results as it has in the past.

Shares dipped slightly on the news, trading down two percent at around $242.

On a conference call, Weiner highlighted the company’s mobile efforts over the past quarter, paying particular attention to the recent LinkedIn mobile product launch; along with a number of redesigns, LinkedIn introduced Intro, a way for the company to stick its data inside of the iOS email app.

Sponsored updates – the company’s version of a “native” mobile ad unit – drive two-thirds of mobile revenue. It’s certainly a significant amount, and one the company expects to grow in the future.

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According to sources close to the situation, Snapchat could announce its latest massive funding later this week.

Sources said the round being raised – up to $200 million – will come in part from China’s Internet giant Tencent and value the self-destructing mobile messaging startup from $3.6 billion to $4 billion. But, said sources, there are likely to be other new investors in the round.

AllThingsD broke the news of the possible funding last week.

The new funding comes only a few months after closing a Series B round of $60 million that valued Snapchat at $800 million.

While such a deal could still be delayed or even fall apart, sources said it was on track to be announced as early as this Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Snapchat did not as yet return an email and text requesting comment.

The move by the Los Angeles-based Snapchat is the second giant funding of late of a small Internet startup with little to no revenue.

Social scrapbooking company Pinterest announced earlier this week that it just raised $225 million at a $3.8 billion valuation.

But investors are piling on, hoping to grab an early hold on the next Twitter or Facebook.

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 was 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.

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

He has called out Tencent specifically in a series of interviews as being an innovative player there.

The interest in investing is because the mobile Snapchat app has proved so popular and has become global. It has also become potentially worrisome to established social players – so much so 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.

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Amazon is known for pouring the revenue it generates back into its business. Now, it’s ready to give a chunk away.

The Seattle-based retailer today announced a corporate philanthropy program called AmazonSmile, which allows Amazon shoppers to direct 0.5 percent of their purchase totals at the e-commerce giant toward a charitable organization of their choice. Amazon will then donate the money on behalf of its customers.

At launch, “basically every physical product is eligible” for the program, according to AmazonSmile general manager Ian McAllister.

But there are exceptions. Digital-media products such as Kindle e-books won’t be eligible for the program, although that could change, McAllister said. Purchases made through Amazon’s subscribe-and-save subscription program are also ineligible.

There will be no cap on donation amount.

The program will only be available to shoppers who visit Amazon via a special Web address – smile.amazon.com – instead of the normal Amazon.com homepage.

When customers enter through the new gateway, they will be prompted to select from one of a handful of featured charitable organizations, or to search a database of nearly a million 501(c)(3) organizations if they are looking to support a cause that isn’t featured. That breadth of choice pretty much matches up with the Amazon brand.

The shopping experience the customers encounter on the AmazonSmile landing page will otherwise be identical to the regular Amazon.com site – same selection, same prices – with the exception that eligible products will be marked as such on product detail pages, the company said.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company will market the program on Amazon.com, via email, and on its social network accounts.

A rep for Charity:Water, one of the organizations Amazon touts in its press release, said it will not do paid advertising of its own to promote AmazonSmile, but will publicize it to its social network followers.

Corporate charitable giving is nothing new, of course, and can take on varied forms. Google’s charitable initiatives include grants, free product handouts and an overall pledge of one percent of its profits toward its charitable organizations.

Last year, Walmart said it gave $1 billion in cash and in-kind contributions to U.S. organizations.

And Salesforce is known for donations and discounts to nonprofits of its customer-relationship-management software.

But the sheer size of Amazon’s customer base, the ease with which donations are made once someone becomes aware of the program and the charity choice given to shoppers make for a unique program. For those who end up making a routine out of shopping through smile.amazon.com, there will likely be the feeling that you’re doing good while shopping, which has the potential to be another powerful differentiator to set Amazon apart.

“At their scale, there’s potential to truly test whether &#8216cause’ affects buying decisions,” said Jeff Smith, chief innovation officer at Matter Unlimited, a boutique creative agency focused on social-responsibility campaigns. “It would be fascinating to really connect the dots.”

A side benefit of corporate-giving initiatives like this one are the tax deductions – and Amazon’s case is no different. The company, not Amazon shoppers, will receive the tax benefits for the donations. Donations will be made through an entity called AmazonSmile Foundation and will come out of Amazon’s pockets, not from any of its marketplace sellers.

McAllister, AmazonSmile’s GM, said tax benefits did not guide the decision to launch AmazonSmile. Nor did focus groups or customer surveys.

“We thought our customers would love it,” he said of the reason for the initiative.

When I asked a spokesperson whether Amazon cares about what Wall Street and its shareholders will think about a company that doesn’t frequently turn a profit creating such a charitable initiative, the response was similar.

“We think our customers will love it,” he said.

Whether that will really move ratings, I think we don’t know.

- Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, talking about plans for the “See It” program it is launching next month with Twitter, which is supposed to promote live TV viewing. On an earnings call this morning, Roberts described the program as an experiment, but said he feels optimistic about it.

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Even after back-to-back quarterly wins, the heat is still on for Facebook to knock its next ad product out of the park.

Take a look at the market performance Wednesday afternoon. After delivering another quarter of stellar earnings numbers, Facebook CFO David Ebersman said something that made investors twitch: Facebook won’t “significantly increase” the number of ads it is sticking into users’ News Feeds – the current biggest driver of Facebook’s money machine.

The big bet for Facebook instead: Improving the quality of its existing ads.

That’s sort of a no-brainer. Make the ad look as “native” as possible, and it’ll probably perform better. It’s all the rage these days with competitors like Twitter.

Investors were spooked at Ebersman’s words nonetheless. After shares first surged 15 percent after hours on the original numbers, the stock plummeted back down to its closing price when Ebersman mentioned ad load, and ended up ultimately trading down – $18 billion in market value lost in a matter of seconds.

So the onus, then, is on Facebook for its next big thing. Will it be the long-awaited video ads, which look likely to auto-play inside the News Feed as users scroll through? That’s certainly one way to get higher-value ads without upping load. And let’s not forget Instagram, which also recently stated it would start dipping its toes into in-stream ads.

The company is treading very carefully. In-stream videos could be much more intrusive than the ads we’re seeing these days. Facebook doesn’t want to upset its users by sticking a bunch of auto-playing ads in our faces in the wrong way. That’s why the product has been delayed multiple times, and why the tests have come slowly but surely.

A quick aside: Seems almost silly for the Street to punish Facebook for stating it won’t increase ad load. If you jam the stream with even more ads, it’ll only serve to make the customer experience worse, right?

But maybe investors realized that, too; shares of Facebook were trading up nearly five percent Thursday morning, at around $51.

Long before I started work as the CEO of Apple, I became aware of a fundamental truth: People are much more willing to give of themselves when they feel that their selves are being fully recognized and embraced.

At Apple, we try to make sure people understand that they don’t have to check their identity at the door. We’re committed to creating a safe and welcoming workplace for all employees, regardless of their race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation.

As we see it, embracing people’s individuality is a matter of basic human dignity and civil rights. It also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business. We’ve found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives.

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