When Andrew Mason launched Groupon in 2008, he would never have imagined that his brand would create a whole new industry. Even though Groupon is still the market leader, hundreds of other companies have since emerged adopting the same business model of offering local deals powered by group purchasing. This year alone, we have seen giant brands like Google and AT&T jump on the band wagon and the latest one to add to the list is Amazon.
AmazonLocal which has been launched within past few hours is Amazon’s own version of Groupon, or for that matter, LivingSocial in which Amazon invested $175 Million last year. You can choose your city to view local deals offering products and services at a discount of at least 50%, however, AmazonLocal only displays deals for Boise,ID right now and will be coming to more cities soon. Similar to other competitors, you can also subscribe to get daily deals in your inbox, see how many people have purchased a specific deal, and view/print the deals that you have already purchased. Interestingly, a little note under today’s deal says “Sold By LivingSocial”, so it is not entirely clear yet if AmazonLocal would be it’s own separate entity or just another front for selling deals that are powered by LivingSocial.
Amazon’s entry in this market increases competition several fold and it will be interesting to see if a lot of consolidation and acquisition is seen within the next few months.
China’s venture into space missions is pretty recent, with the first spacewalk taking place just 3 years ago and the history of Chinese astronauts in orbit less than 10 years old. But with a stronger-than-ever economy and a bid to be the next super power, China is taking a bold step. Chinese authorities announced this week their plan to build a manned space station within next 10 years.
Though the name has not been finalized yet, the station may be called Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace”. The station will weigh 66 tons and would support a crew of three people along with hosting two laboratories for different scientific disciplines including astronomy and biology. The station would have one central module and two science lab modules, with the central module being 60 feet long and the labs around 50 feet each. A part of the preparations, China will send 3 modules in space with the first one being later this year and the last module in 2015.
One of the most interesting observation, however, is the scheduled retiring of ISS (International Space Station) in 2020. If the ISS, sponsored by US, retires as scheduled and the Tiangong goes live as planned, it will be the only manned space station in the orbit. This will give China a great scientific and political advantage over other countries, something which doesn’t usually play well with most developed countries of the world. However, with the long history of space related projects being postponed and even cancelled regularly, we will have to see how this one turns out.
SurveyMonkey, one of the best and most popular web survey provider, has acquired the hip startup Wufoo for $35 Million in cash and stock. Wufoo, though much smaller in size than SurveyMonkey, provides a more diverse range of services including forms, surveys, invitations and just about anything that can be build using their WYSIWYG form building technology.
One of the YCombinator startups, Wufoo has been doing well in the recent past by continuously adding more features and making their platform one of the most-user friendly ones when it comes to creating forms. According the founders, SurveyMonkey will keep all the Wufoo services and will actually help to grow them in international markets and allowing them to utilize the SurveyMonkey technologies to solve problems such as improving the data collection systems. The entire team of Wufoo will move to SurveyMonkey offices in Palo Alto, California to be integrated into the new organization.
The acquisition comes as a surprise to many, however, after their $100 Million debt financing late last year, SurveyMonkey has been growing quite rapidly and this opportunity will provide the two startups with considerable synergies and a wider/better range of services from a single platform.
More details about the transaction are available via the official press release, the official announcement from Wufoo or the FAQ that explain how users will be affected from this transaction.
US Army has been thinking about handing a smartphone to all its soldiers for a while now, but the age old dilemma of Android vs iPhone delayed things. However, things seems to be moving ahead as the Army has decided to go with Android technology instead of the iPhone.
The platform used by Army will not be the default Android OS that an average consumer uses, rather, it will be tweaked in specifications and features and would be called Joint Battle Command Platform. Army is designing and customizing the software internally, but all the details have not been finalized yet. As with any smartphone, third-party developers will be able to develop apps for this platform just like they do for consumer-oriented phones. On the other hand, Army is also working to internally build a number of mission critical apps including a mapping program and a messaging tool.
Analysts think that Apple’s relatively closed architecture and smaller choice of hardware, prompted the Army officials to go with Android. With a launch target of fiscal year 2013, Army hopes it will be able to equip every soldier with a smartphone, hence, nurturing a stronger communication network within the institution.
The system is expected to be established enough by October this year, so that it can be tested rigorously.
Speculation about Google’s own Groupon-like portal have been going around ever since Groupon rejected the $5.3 Billion offer made by Google. These rumors were later confirmed when some users spotted placeholder pages for the URL Google.com/offers.
Today, Google is taking the much anticipated service one step closer to launch by starting a BETA service for the cities of Portland, San Francisco and New York. Even though all you can do right now is subscribe to receive emails for offers related to one of these cities, the message posted on the page confirms that Google Offers would be something very similar to Groupon in terms of its features:
Once signed up, Google sends you a confirmation email saying:
Thanks for subscribing to Google Offers BETA – NYC Midtown! We’re excited that you’ve joined us as we partner with some of the best local businesses in your area to bring you great deals at 50% off or more.
Once Google Offers is available in NYC Midtown we’ll send you regular emails letting you in on amazing offers in your area.
We’ll be in touch.
-The Google Offers Team
Google is also accepting submissions from local business who want to partner up with Google to offer their products:
An interesting thing is that Google Offers displays a zoomed-in map of the city you are subscribing for. This can definitely be an indication towards a strong integration of Google Maps and more location based features then sites like Groupon and LivingSocial currently offer.
Google is entering the group messaging market with its latest launch, an app for iPhone called Disco. As predictable, the app allows users to create groups from their contacts and send them messages, letting any user who is a member of the group then reply to the message.
The app is currently available for the iPhone but not for Android devices which is pretty ironic. The only thing that may explain this is the fact that the app is developed by an autonomous business unit within Google called Slide. Slide was an independent app development house before Google acquired last year for a whopping $182 Million. Slide apparently still works on its own as a separate business unit. When you create a group, a new phone number is also assigned to your group; any messages sent to that number are visible to the whole group. Group members can also be added online at Disco.com and each group can include up to 25 members. Google acquired the Disco.com domain last year for $255,000 at DomainFest.
The app has a neat functionality but doesn’t add much innovation compared to similar apps that already exist in the market place. Time will tell if Disco follows the trend of Gmail and Android when it comes to being a success, or follows other social efforts like Google Wave and Google Buzz into obscurity. The app can be downloaded from iTunes.
Looks like the team at Microsoft’s search engine Bing, is having a rough day. A tweet posted by Bing earlier today offered donating $1 to Japan quake relief for every retweet. Here’s the actual tweet sent out:
As anyone would imagine, the message wasn’t taken very positively by people who saw the tweet. The statement automatically was perceived as an attempt to use the calamity as a marketing opportunity. People tweeted back critizing the whole scheme, as clear by these examples:
Within hours, the Bing team realized what they have done and fearing a fiasco like Kenneth Cole or Groupon, they quickly apologized for their tweet and claimed that they have donated $100,000 to the quake relief fund.
The complete message reads:
We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K.
This example clearly illustrates the power of social media and the uncertainty brands face when using tools like Twitter and Facebook as their marketing platform. Even though hundreds of people retweeted Bing’s tweet and didn’t think of it as insensitive or shameful, many others did. It also makes one wonder if , indeed, negative news travels much faster in the cyber space compared to a positive one.
As if the competition for digital movie streaming service wasn’t fierce enough, Facebook is adding itself to the list of contenders to cater to your movie needs. The social giant today announced a partnership with Warner Bros that will allow the production house to offer digital movie rentals via Facebook to its 600 Million users.
The service starts with The Dark Knight which is being offered for $3 for a 48 hour rental. Or, you can get it for 30 Facebook credits, something which Facebook prefers as the medium of financial exchange on its network. More movies will be added soon along with the option to purchase them as opposed to simply renting them out. However, as always, the service is only available to users in the U.S. now. According to President of Warner Bros’ Digital Distribution :
Making our films available through Facebook is a natural extension of our digital distribution efforts. It gives consumers a simple, convenient way to access and enjoy our films through the world’s largest social network
Whether this would give Netflix a serious competition remains up for debate, but the fact that it will give a hard time to new players like Amazon and YouTube for streaming full length movies is a definite thing. With already 600 Million users actively using the network, Facebook has no need to spend any money on marketing or give incentives to potential users like Netflix and Amazon have to do.
If anybody needs a proof that web video is here to stay, they don’t need to go any further than the latest YouTube acquisition. Next new Network is a web only video production house that mostly broadcasts its videos through various channels on YouTube. With their plan to produce and own original content, YouTube had been planning to acquire Next New Network for a while now and today the deal finalized for an amount that is still undisclosed but surely under $100 Million.
Next New Network was founded in March 2007 and broadcasts its videos through 123 different channels to a subscriber base of around 7 million users. If you are wondering how much activity that is, well their cumulative video views as of today stand at 2,791,536,754. As announced by the Next New Network CEO, the team will become part of a new YouTube group called YouTube Next that will focus on “supercharging content creator development on YouTube, driving deeper expertise in partner audience development, and incubating new ideas that can be shared with the broader community”.
This initiative by YouTube reaffirms its plan to expand its partner network to bring in more original content and move away from the premise that YouTube is simply a video hosting company. There is also a lot of buzz about YouTube trying to lure various Hollywood artists to have their own branded channels on YouTube and do small 3 minute shows. Adding to that is the YouTube’s Partner Grants Program that gives advance advertisement revenue to high-quality content producers to ease their financial burden of production costs. Next New Network was one of the first participants of the program.
A few years ago, people had started wondering if Skype will ever be able to turn itself around. Now, it seems like Skype is growing above and beyond everybody’s expectations. In a recently filed S-1 statement, Skype revealed that it earned $860 Million of total revenue in year 2010 which translates into a 20% increase from 2009.
The number of total users jumped from 474 Million to 663 Million, and the average monthly paying users increased from 7.3 Million to 8.8 Million. An average paying user generates $97 of net revenue for Skype each year. No matter which statistic you pick up, Skype has witnessed a double digit growth which tells a lot about the success of recent initiatives Skype has been taking. However, the new CEO Tony Bates thinks Skype still needs some more work to do before launching a public offering, that is expected sometime this year.
In terms of usage growth, the total number of voice and video call minutes jumped to a massive 207 billion minutes and the users sent over 176 million text messages using Skype last year. As always, the growth in business also meant growth in human capital, with the number of employees increasing to 911, up from 733 in 2009. A good number of those, 63 to be exact, are Qik employees that joined when Skype acquired Qik earlier this year for $121 Million.
However, the almost $900 million that Skype earned last year was still just revenue and does not represent any net income. Skype still has to do a lot more to achieve profitability in the current year.