There are myriad video on-demand and movie-streaming services in the U.K., from big hitters such as Amazon-owned Lovefilm, to lesser-known brands such as DSG’s KnowHow. In fact, so crowded is the space, you’d be forgiven for thinking that VOD is a commodity business. Except that the movie catalogs — and in some cases prices – that these services are able to offer vary greatly, with those companies with the deepest pockets sometimes picking up content on an exclusive basis. Plus each service operates within the context of arcane distribution models based on predefined ‘release’ windows that see movie studios dictate when new releases eventually make their way to on-demand and movie subscription-based streaming or free-to-view.
Movie fans don’t care about that stuff, of course. They just want an easy way to discover, find and watch movies they’ll enjoy, no matter on what online service they are made available. Enter Tank Top Movies, which launches today to help U.K. movie watchers do just that. Part search engine, part movie recommendation engine, the company, backed by Telefonica’s Wayra startup accelerator, lets users search across 18 movie services in the U.K., add movies to a unified ‘watch list,’ be alerted when movies become available, and click through to begin watching.
“If you want to watch a movie at home tonight in the U.K., there are around 13,000 different films to choose from, and at least 20 different legal services,” says Tank Top Movies co-founder Liz Rice, who noted that each service licenses different content, and have different commercial models — free to view, subscription, and pay-as-you-go. “As users, we thought it was crazy that a relaxing evening watching a movie would be preceded by 20 minutes of tedious searching around to see what’s playing on the different services we use, cross-checking with sites like Rotten Tomatoes to see whether the films are any good. In most cases, the on-demand film services really don’t offer a great user experience for browsing what’s on.”
It was faced with this problem that the founding team — members of which have previously worked at Skype, Last.fm, Just-Eat and Metaswitch Networks — decided to build a service that consolidated the experience. “With Tank Top Movies we’re aiming for ‘serendipitous discovery,’” says Rice. “We use various factors, including critic and user ratings, recency and your previous choices to create a personalized list that’s fun to browse, where we hope you’ll quickly find something you’d like to watch, from across the services you use. You can build a watchlist for keeping track of the films you want to see, and if you missed a film at the cinema, we can notify you as soon as it’s out on one of the on-demand services you use.”
Rice says the company is also trialling widgets for film websites, “so that any film blogger or publisher can connect their readers directly with the film they’re writing about.”
Tank Top Movies makes money from any available affiliate revenue generated from the leads it produces, though the primary business model is a more ambitious data play: It wants to help the film industry better understand their audience by selling aggregated viewer behaviour and preferences back to them — but only when, and if, it’s able to reach enough scale to be in a position to do so.
All of which hasn’t gone unnoticed by other players in the industry, not least Netflix which pulled the plug on Tank Top Movies earlier this month, meaning that the startup is unable to list Netflix’s content in its index. It’s easy to presume that the movie streaming giant wasn’t too keen on a service that enabled users to compare competing offerings so transparently, though I suspect it was Tank Top’s universal watch list feature that likely caused the fall out.
“It’s disappointing that Netflix asked to be removed, and it’s strange because you’d think that any on-demand movie service would be happy to receive visitors looking for a film that they can watch on that service,” says Rice, adding that Netflix appears to tolerate similar functionality offered by Fan TV in the U.S.
“Fortunately there are plenty of other streaming services in this country, and in fact Netflix were only the fifth most popular on our site in terms of clicking out to movies, so it hasn’t caused too much disruption to the majority of our users.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Today, Google has introduced a few new features for when you’re searching on the go. The ability to find the information that you want on the fly is something that is required for mobile searching and the company continues to tweak its result pages to help you get to the details that you need to make decisions or perform another search or task.
All of these tweaks are speeding up mobile search, 30% over the last 12 months, the company says. With Quick links and Quick view, that 30% might increase.
An example of the new features, starting with “Quick links”, you’ll find “In Theaters” underneath a search result for say, Rotten Tomatoes, when you’re looking for movie reviews. The links expand and then give you the information that you need right away. From those quick views, you can then find a list of movies in a theater near you. By taking out a few extra steps of tapping, Google wants to send you on your way happy and satisfied.
Along with those Quick links, Google is experimenting with something it calls “Quick view” which shows a badge that links to a bit of information pulled directly from Wikipedia. In this example, a Google search can be used as a “cheat sheet” for things like a list of poker hands:
Once you tap on the Quick view, you’ll see an overlay of info like this:
Google says that this is an experimental project, which makes mobile sites come up in around 100 milliseconds, and is only available for Wikipedia results when you search in English on Google.com. More sites are coming soon, and the company is working with webmasters on bringing more sites in, and they can sign up here for details.
As more users start playing around with Google Now, Google’s mobile “Siri”, people are going to expect their search results to get smarter and more in tune to what they’re really thinking. Over the years, Google has focused on bringing people answers to their questions, as that’s how most people perform search queries. With these new features, someone could be asking “What do people think about Jurassic Park 3D,” and when the result is coupled with a quick link to purchase tickets, a great review serves as an advertisement.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Calm.com, which began as a website that helped busy, information-overloaded web workers take a mental break, is now turning into a real business. The company is today announcing a $415,000 round of funding from a number of notable angel investors, and the debut of a mobile application initially aimed at teaching relaxation.
The new investors in Calm include Michael Birch (Monkey Inferno, Bebo), Joe Greenstein (Flixster, Rotten Tomatoes), Andy McLoughlin (Huddle), Tabreez Verjee (GAC, Kiva), Oleg Tscheltzoff (Fotolia), Kirill Makharinsky (Ostrovok), Jeff Cantalupo (Listen), Darius Contractor (formerly Bebo), Darran Garnham (Mind Candy / Moshi Monsters), Steve Pankhurst (Friends Reunited), Sokratis Papafloratos (Trusted Places), and Saki Georgiadis.
You may remember reading about Calm.com last summer when it was starting to generate some buzz. (For example, this Business Insider headline summed it up rather hilariously: “The Hyperactive Weirdos Of Silicon Valley Are Going Crazy For This Site That Calms Them Down.”) The idea, apparently seemed to have hit a nerve in a culture where it’s all about pushing forward, not resting, not sleeping, and always being connected.
The Calm.com website was created by Alex Tew, known for previous efforts like PopJam, The Million Dollar Homepage, and Calm’s 2011 pre-cursor, Do Nothing For 2 Minutes.
“I struggle on a daily basis with addiction to social media and information,” Tew says. “I noticed over the years that it has affected my attention…and I think that’s true of most people nowadays.”
Tew, who has been meditating since age 14, says he has been interested in relaxation techniques like what Calm offers for some time. But what surprised him was the reaction to the “Do Nothing” website – after jumping up to 2 million uniques in its first day, he realized that there might be the potential for something beyond just a fun side project.
He teamed up with Calm co-founder Michael Acton Smith shortly thereafter to work on the new effort. Smith is still a co-founder today, though not involved day-to-day, as he’s also CEO and founder of gaming company Mind Candy, maker of the popular Moshi Monsters title. Tew says that Smith checks in weekly, and still sits on the board, but development to date comes from himself and one other engineer currently. (But he’s now looking to hire.)
With the mobile app, iPhone-only to start, users are walked through a program called “The 7 Steps of Calm,” which was developed with a London-based meditation teacher, Maggie Richards. The app is a free download, and the first session is free, but to unlock the rest it’s a $4.99 in-app purchase.
“We’re trying not to use the word ‘meditation’”, Tew notes. He says that the word puts off some people who see it as some whole new skill they would have to learn. “We want people to go to Calm.com rather than having to learn to meditate which is seen as this heavy, high-friction thing,” he says. “We want to have a much simpler thing. If you need to be Calm, you can just go to Calm.com and follow the instructions.”
The longer-term vision for the company is to grow beyond being an easy app for relaxation, into a platform for offering other sorts of personal development tools for things that range from quitting smoking to learning to be more creative. Users could choose to subscribe to Calm’s content on a subscription basis. ”If we could be the Netflix of personal development,” says Tew, “that would be cool.”
Getting deeper into the personal development market would mean that Calm could compete against marketplace-style resources like LiveNinja for instance, which more broadly offers a way for users to teach others and offer advice or services. But Tew says that he wouldn’t take Calm down the marketplace route, as the company will remain the producer of all content itself.
Calm’s new app is available now in the Apple App Store here.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Google just added a few more features to Google Now on Android 4.1+. Starting today, Android users will be able to see information from even more third-party services on Google Now, including movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, tickets you have purchased on Fandango and, if Google realizes you are looking for real estate, listings from Zillow.
Google has been expanding its list of Google Now features at a steady pace since the service launched last summer. This is the fourth major update to the service and, as Google notes, Now will “continue to get better at delivering you more of the information you need, before you even ask.”
The Rotten Tomatoes listings will appear in the regular movie card that Now already displays and the Fandango integration is similar to what Google is already doing with other reservations from its partners you may have for restaurants, flights, hotels and events.
The new Zillow card will show you nearby real estate listings when Google sees that you regularly look for real estate sites. It’s not clear how smart this card is (does Google know how much house you can afford?), but it will surely drive new traffic to Zillow and could turn out to be useful for those looking for a new home.
Until now, all of this information only lived in the dedicated Google Now screen on Android, but the team also just launched a Google Now widget in connection with the Google Search app that brings this information to the front and center on your home screen as well.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg debuted Graph Search in January, he explained it as being one of the three pillars of the social network. He sees Timeline, News Feed and Search as the primary ways users experience the Facebook graph and build new connections.
Timeline is the company’s reinvented approach to the profile, and Graph Search is a new take on how to navigate Facebook and discover things about your friends and the world. But News Feed, despite its many redesigns over the years, hasn’t had the sort of transformation that the other two pillars have seen in the past 18 months. That’s bound to change, perhaps even this year.
Not only is News Feed due for an overhaul, reports from Business Insider and TechCrunch support this notion. Business Insider heard from someone close to Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox, who is reportedly tasked with evolving the feed. TechCrunch got a peek at an unlaunched version of the Facebook mobile app that puts content into more immersive feeds organized by category.
As Zuckerberg often explains, the amount that people share on Facebook doubles each year, whether because of new features like location tagging, third-party apps like Spotify or the proliferation of connected devices. Combine that with the explosion of Facebook page marketing and advertising, and it’s clear that News Feed will have to evolve. At Facebook’s current state, more sharing either means a more crowded feed or a lot of information left out. Neither is ideal, so we could see the company address this by giving users more options to see what they want when they want it.
Graph Search is a start. Users can look up people, places, photos, pages and apps, either to navigate to something specific or to get recommendations and discover new things. But not only is this limited by what isn’t yet indexed — status updates, Open Graph apps, links — it’s too much work for users. Graph Search serves a great purpose when people want to seek something out, but that’s the opposite of News Feed. News Feed is about having interesting content pushed to you.
To reinvent News Feed, Facebook needs to apply the power of its ranking algorithms to different categories users can select at will, whether its news articles that friends and pages are sharing, videos they’ve posted, food they ate, movies they’re talking about or products they’re interested in. Facebook already has a separate pages feed, games feed and music feed. The social network could create others for movies, products and more. But simply splitting News Feed into many more feeds would be a ho-hum change, even if it would useful. Instead, Facebook could combine this idea with a radical redesign that considers the ideal format for each type of story or content.
Imagine if the music feed wasn’t simply a feed, as it appears above, but a playlist that began as you browsed the artists your friends recently Liked or the latest concerts that were coming up near you. There could be a section for videos and YouTube links which began playing fullscreen when you clicked play. Similarly, your friends photos could be a fullscreen slideshow. News articles could be presented in more of a broadsheet design with options to save stories to read later, either on the web or mobile. Status updates could work well in a Tumblr-like layout.
We’ve also seen trends of Facebook putting stories into the feed that do not originate with friends. Instead, they’re aggregations of what’s trending among other users or recommendations based on what Facebook knows about an individual. There’s upcoming events, trending articles and recently released albums modules, for example. These types of stories could be very important to a new version of the feed. A page dedicated to movies, for instance, could highlight the most talked about movies on Facebook on a given day, as well as those currently most popular among friends. This could automatically pull in posts from movie pages and movie-related Open Graph apps like Rotten Tomatoes and Netflix. Something like this would also lend itself well to sponsored content and e-commerce opportunities.
These sorts of dynamic dashboards that show the latest stories about a user’s friends and interests in a format that is optimized for each category could be an interesting evolution for News Feed, which can’t contain everything people share, but could serve as the gateway for people to dive into other areas more deeply whenever they want.
Article courtesy of Inside Facebook
Instagram takes the No. 1 spot on our list of top non-game Facebook apps growing by monthly active users this week with 5 percent gain. The app recently became the most popular app overall on the Facebook platform.
Titles on our list gained the most MAU of any non-game apps on the platform, growing from between 200,000 and 2.1 million MAU, based on our AppData tracking service.
No. 2 Amazon got a 25 percent bump, likely related to the holiday shopping season. Mobile integrations from Nokia, HTC Sense and Facebook for Windows Phone could be up in part because of people getting new devices as gifts.
Chat apps ooVoo, WhatsApp and WeChat are gaining in popularity. And navigation app Waze had a 9 percent increase to close our list at No. 20. Earlier today it was reported that Apple could be looking to acquire Waze to help with its Maps application.
Article courtesy of Inside Facebook
Sōsh, the personal concierge and offline activity recommendation app that debuted back in July of last year, is announcing a $4 million Series A round of funding today, led by Battery Ventures. The money will help Sōsh expand to new cities, taking flight from its home territory of San Francisco with a carefully staged rollout that will likely begin with New York City.
What Sōsh provides are recommendations not only about venues like the kind you’d be able to find from crowdsourced efforts like Yelp, but about specific activities, events, and services that you’d be likely to actually attend or use. It combines data-analysis efforts and algorithmic recommendations with human-curated selection to pare down the wealth of things to do in any given city to effectively a top 15 percent that should actually be relevant and high quality.
Sōsh founder and CEO Rishi Mandal explained in an interview that what makes his company special in a world of similar types of products is the special attention paid to typical flags of low-quality events, like over-emphatic language and other subtle cues. It’s an approach that Mandal thinks makes Sōsh better than others tackling personalized recommendations, like TechCrunch Battlefield candidate Livestar or Ness Computing.
“This is almost a stupidly hard problem to try to solve, and yet it’s also a very crowded space,” Mandal explained about what’s missing in the space, and what uses are really looking for in terms of finding worthwhile offline activities. “But primarily, all of the other solutions out there basically focus on venues, so offering you 12 great restaurants to choose from [...] but I think unfortunately, those kinds of things ultimately fail at helping you make a decision.”
Sōsh’s careful approach is also why the startup hasn’t looked beyond San Francisco so far. Mandal says that an important aspect of getting this right is knowing a city inside and out, as well as speaking to its residents personally in a manner they understand. By way of illustration, he points to looking for restaurants in L.A. vs. doing the same in San Francisco: In L.A., people are actually willing to venture pretty far out to find something good, taking hour-long trips to neighboring cities, whereas in San Francisco that same idea seems pretty ludicrous.
Scaling the tech behind Sōsh isn’t the issue when it comes to growth, Mandal says. Instead, it’s learning how to approach each new market in a way that appeals to its residents, and that’s what this newly raised $4 million will really help with.
The Sōsh app has also been updated with improvements to speed and functionality, and Mandal shared that engagement is doing very well. Users are spending an average of 25 minutes per month in the service, with 2 million recommendations to date and a 30 percent email open rate over Sōsh’s existence. Users new to Sōsh typically enter already connected to an average of nine friends, which indicates that the company is doing very well in terms of saturation in its inaugural target market.
Right now, Sōsh is focusing squarely on growth, and is looking to hire engineers, product people, and designers to help with those efforts. Given the right talent, and the ability to find the right ways to target new markets, Sōsh could become one of the few newer players in this space to actually make a lasting impression on consumers and users.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Once, buyers were overwhelmed with choice. Now, they’re just overwhelmed with a choice of tools to help them choose. But gdgt, one such site, is hoping that it can build the ultimate solution for consumers looking to make smart gadget buying solutions, is launching new custom search tools it hopes will make using it to clear up shopper confusion a no-brainer.
Gdgt is the brainchild of former Engadget founder Peter Rojas and former editor-in-chief of the same site Ryan Block, offering users a huge database of products to rate, review, compare and declare both their ownership of and desire for. For the gadget space, which is pretty strongly rooted in conspicuous consumption, it is a mecca. You can search for search for virtually anything that runs on electricity and get a look at how it’s been reviewed around the web by professionals, and what other users think. Lately, the team behind it has been quietly and steadily adding new features to make it even better at its job.
“We look at everything holistically when we make an evaluation of a product,” Block told me in an interview, explaining that a lot of what gdgt is has to do with what the founding team saw at Engadget. “We kind of sat down and we took a look at what was wrong with the consumer electronics buying experience online, and we came up with this idea that was somewhat akin to Rotten Tomatoes for personal technology, and that is that we wanted to look at everything there was to know about a product and come up with a very simple, easy-to-digest assessment.”
The new gdgt is all about providing a clear ranking methodology to help users get an at-a-glance look at what they should be buying in any given category. All devices get a score, which is built from a variety of different source data, including reviews at tech sites including this one, user reviews, and first-hand research and testing from the gdgt staff themselves. Categories each get Must Haves taken from the highest scoring gadgets (no more than three per) to help make sure that there’s very little digging to do to come up with the best devices overall.
Gdgt’s latest addition is the redesigned ‘Finder’ (the one for cameras is here, but it’s active for all popular product categories and should be available across the site within the week), which uses simple sliders for important factors like price range and screen size, as well as a couple other simple check box filters to instantly narrow the pool of available products. That process is manually tailored for each individual product category, meaning you’ll never have to wade through unnecessary or irrelevant criteria, and Block is keen to note that gdgt also never scrapes its data, instead using a team of editors and curators to manually prune its results so that you won’t run into the sort of screw-ups typical when you hand these kinds of duties over to a robot.
The people-driven approach also means that gdgt can apply a rubric to reviews from sites that don’t necessarily quantify reviews with a firm number score, and still incorporate that input into its recommendations, something a site that scrapes can’t achieve. That leads to the inclusion of high-quality sources, like the New York Times, which otherwise might go overlooked at sites that depend more on strictly data-driven models like Decide.com and Snapsort.
It hasn’t happened overnight, but gdgt’s approach to the world of consumer tech now puts it in the same basic space as something like The Wirecutter, looking to find a better way to help consumers shop. Block notes however that the approach taken by former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam leans even more heavily toward the editorial side of things and away from data-driven techniques, and he sees the two sites as complimentary, not competitive.
The new focused identity of gdgt as an aide for consumers looking for the best way to spend should help the site with its affiliate revenue from retailers, and overall the site’s reputation and growing library of gadget-related knowledge help it with its growing event-driven business. Overall, gdgt has tied its fortunes to the appetites of early adopters and the rapidly growing community of tech consumers, so if it can continue figuring out ways to continue better serving that community, it should be in a very good place.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
So here’s the good news: There are more movies available online than ever before. And the bad news: There are also more movie services than ever. What that means for consumers is a hugely fragmented experience, where they never know where one movie is available for purchase or rental, or even if it’s available through a video subscription service like Netflix. With a relaunch of its web site, Time Warner-owned Flixster is looking to help users get at whatever movie they want to see, wherever it’s available.
Time Warner acquired Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes last May, and then made the Flixster website and apps part of its UltraViolet rollout. Unfortunately, reaction to the new Flixster — and the UltraViolet digital rights locker it was linked to — was pretty negative at launch. Flixster has in the last several months worked to improve it, and is launching a site-wide refresh in beta that will take it back to its video discovery roots.
With the UltraViolet launch late last year, Flixster focused mostly on getting users to purchase movies through its own UltraViolet-enabled VOD service. But that’s since changed: In addition to titles available for purchase on Flixster, the site now highlights purchase and rental options from Vudu, Amazon, and iTunes. And it even shows users when movies are available through subscription services like Netflix. That means that pretty much any movie available online can be found on the app — which is big news for movie lovers.
The homepage allows users to view and rate movies, save them to watch later or say they’re not interested. There’s also a number of tools for refining video search. Users can filter results based on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, as well as the year a film was released. And it lets users really drill down by genre, with a dozen different categories to choose from. Users can also filter down whether or not they want to see movies that are just in wide release, filter out movies they’re not interested in, and only show titles available on Flixster — but who would actually want to do that?
Anyway, just because it’s letting users check out movies on different services doesn’t mean that Flixster isn’t still interested in getting them signed up for UltraViolet. The site has simplified the UltraViolet signup process, with a one-click registration enabled by Facebook Connect. Anyone who joins the new Flixster will receive a free gift movie in their UltraViolet digital locker, and users can earn more movies by performing tasks like downloading the Flixster mobile app or creating a “want-to-see” movie list.
Of course, Flixster isn’t the only video discovery engine out there focused on premium content. There’s Fanhattan, which also hooks into multiple video services, and is available for the iPhone and iPad. In addition to getting the web site redesign out of beta, Flixster is working on a relaunch of its mobile apps, which will bring a lot of the same functionality to those devices.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch