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January 29 2014

15:35
Scribd Launches App for Kindle Fire, Nipping at Amazon
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E-book subscription service Scribd is looking to take on Amazon from within.

The company launched a new app for the Kindle Fire on Wednesday that will provide an alternative to Amazon's e-book market

Scribd was originally started as a document sharing service but added a book subscription service in October, which featured an agreement with publisher HarperCollins.

The company has positioned itself alongside other digital subscription offerings like Netflix and Spotify, and is competing directly with another book subscription startup, Oyster.

Scribd is already available on iOS and Android devices as well as on the web, but its Kindle Fire app is the first push into e-readers specialized for books. One quirk of the app, however, is that it cannot be found through a search on Amazon's app store; rather, you must access it directly from Scribd. Read more...

More about Amazon, Scribd, Apps, E Books, and Business

October 31 2013

13:00

New E-Book Services Borrow a Page From Netflix

If you’re a voracious reader, you know that keeping up with your habit can get expensive, whether you’re buying physical books or e-books. The public library makes for a good alternative, but sometimes there’s a waiting list for a title. And if you’re looking for a digital version to borrow, your options are limited. But what if you could instantly access an unlimited number of books right on your smartphone or tablet every month, for about the price of a paperback?

That’s the sales pitch for two new e-book subscription services I’ve been testing, called Oyster and Scribd. Frequently described as a “Netflix for e-books,” these services allow you to read as many books as you want for a monthly fee. Oyster costs $9.95 per month, and Scribd is $8.99 per month.


[ See post to watch video ]

To make it worth the cost, the services must have a good selection of content, and that’s something both companies are working on. Oyster currently offers more than 100,000 in-copyright books from hundreds of publishers, including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Melville House and Rodale. Scribd’s catalog also includes more than 100,000 titles, from the likes of HarperCollins, Workman, Rosetta Books and Kensington.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s really not a lot of books, and both services are still missing works from four of the five big publishing houses (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), though they say they’re constantly updating their library with new content. I have a long list of titles on my reading wish list, such as Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” and Susan Casey’s “The Wave,” and I was only able to find a couple of them on Oyster and Scribd.

oyster

But that doesn’t mean I was lacking for reading material — quite the opposite, actually. Both services had a nice range of current and older titles, and the curated sections and categories were a great way to discover new books.

Oyster and Scribd say their services are designed for anyone and everyone, but I think they’re best suited for the avid reader, since it can save them money in the long run. For those who read one or two books a month, it might not be worth the monthly commitment.

Of the two, I enjoyed Oyster’s user experience better, but the downside is that the app is currently only available for Apple devices running iOS 7. The company says an Android app is in the works for next year.

I downloaded the dedicated iPad app, and it’s beautiful and easy to navigate. At the top, you’ll see your most recent books, and the app allows you to store up to 10 books offline, so you can read them even if you don’t have an Internet connection. Below that, there are curated sections, such as Oyster’s Picks, Chillers and Cliffhangers, and Sports Culture, and you can tap on each book cover to get more details, such as a synopsis and related content.

oyster2

You can also search for books by title, author or keyboard, using the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner. There you’ll also find more general categories, like Fiction and Literature, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and History.

I tried looking up some books that I’ve been wanting to read, but wasn’t very successful. Instead, I ended up perusing the different sections looking for reading material, which is what I often do when I have time to go to a physical bookstore.

“Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff, Charles Bukowski’s “Ham on Rye” and John Reed’s “Snowball’s Chance” are just three of the titles I added to my reading list.

Oyster keeps the reading experience pretty simple. There aren’t any fancy animations when turning pages. Instead, you can swipe up or tap on the screen to advance to the next page. You can also adjust the font size and background theme.

scribd

There’s a social aspect, too. You can find and follow friends using Oyster via Facebook, Twitter, or your contact list, to see what they’re reading and vice versa. But I appreciate that this feature isn’t forced on you. There’s even a “Read Privately” option, in case you don’t want something published to your public feed.

Scribd, which first began as a document-sharing service, works very similarly to Oyster. The company offers an iOS and Android app. But, even better, you can access your library on almost any device or platform simply by logging into your account via a Web browser. For my tests, I used the iPad app.

The main page provides a long stream of curated lists and categories. Compared to Oyster, I thought Scribd offered some more interesting and specific topics, like Noir and Women Sleuths. They even had a section dedicated to the subject of cheese. Scribd also displays a greater number of titles under each section. But this also made it little overwhelming, and the app felt more sluggish than Oyster.

scribd2

You can, of course, search for a book by title, author or keyword. I had a bit more success with Scribd in finding some of the books on my reading list, such as “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Craft Rubin. This is one I’ve been debating about buying for a while, and the nice thing about Scribd and Oyster is that it makes that decision easier, since you’re not paying for each individual book.

Once you’ve selected a book, you can add it to your media library, store it on your device for offline reading (up to 10 books), or read it immediately. There are options to change the size and style of font and background color, and you can turn pages by either swiping right to left, or tapping once on the screen. Scribd also offers social features, where you can follow people and share what you’re reading via email, Twitter or Facebook.

Like Netflix has done for movies and TV shows, Scribd and Oyster provides readers with all-you-can-eat access to books for less than the price of most novels. Both services still need to expand their libraries, but each offer a free-month trial, and I’d say they’re worth a try.

May 09 2013

19:32

Box to Acquire Web Document Company Crocodoc

Aaron Levie Box OneCloudBox, the fast-growing IPO-bound enterprise cloud file-sharing and collaboration service has agreed to acquire Crocodoc, a Web-based document sharing and embedding service.

CEO Aaron Levie just announced the deal in a corporate blog post. Crocodoc is a seven-person team hailing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its technology has powered the document sharing and embedding capabilities of Yammer, LinkedIn and SAP.

The company had raised a small amount of capital from Y Combinator and Dave McClure, among others. Box isn’t disclosing the financial terms of the deal, though Levie just told me in a phone conversation that “everyone concerned is happy with the deal.”

Crocodoc, Levie said, has gone deeper into the experience of rendering documents on the Web and on mobile devices using HTML5 than other companies that are involved in presenting and sharing documents, like, say, Scribd and DocStoc.

If you think of Scribd as sort of a YouTube for documents, then Crocodoc, Levie says, is comparable to Brightcove. Where YouTube presents video in a consumer friendly way, Brightcove powers video experiences for other companies. “They’re going out and powering the experience of presenting documents. We do this now when it comes to collaboration and content, but we don’t do it yet for documents.”

Crocodoc CEO Ryan Damico will become Box’s director of platform, and the rest of the Crocodoc team will be joining Box. Eventually the Crocodoc brand will fade away inside Box, Levie said.

The deal is Box’s second acquisition. In 2009 it acquired Incredo, a company focused on document and media viewing. Levie said that as Box continues to expand, it will occasionally make opportunistic acquisitions of small companies.

It can probably afford to do more deals. Box has raised a combined total of $312 million. Its most recent round was $150 million, led by private equity firm General Atlantic. It also has strategic investments from Salesforce.com and SAP. Levie has said publicly that Box is eyeing an IPO sometime in 2014.

May 01 2012

15:00

HTML5 Start-Up Crocodoc Signs Up Dropbox, LinkedIn and SAP as Paying Customers

Crocodoc, a start-up that quickly converts PDFs and Office documents to HTML5, already has an impressive list of customers: Dropbox, LinkedIn, SAP, Yammer and Edomodo.

The Crocodoc founding team breaks for a glamor shot.

Document viewing in HTML5 might not sound like a big deal, but being able to search and highlight and copy text can be pretty clutch.

What Crocodoc doesn’t do is allow users to edit documents — something co-founder Ryan Damico called “the holy grail.” Cause if there’s one thing we cloud lovers hate, it’s firing up desktop software to mess with a file.

One other Web service that does good HTML5 doc conversion is Scribd, but Crocodoc improves on Scribd’s basic hosting by offering its enterprise customers hooks to integrate documents within their own products. Crocodoc is also quite speedy, with an average PDF-to-HTML time of three seconds, according to Damico

Here’s a comparison Damico sent me that nicely demonstrates what Crocodoc can do:

Damico said each of Crocodoc’s customers are paying “pennies per document, with discounts.” So far, the customers are all swallowing the cost and providing document viewing as a free addition to their existing products.

Crocodoc has a small team of four founders, who have worked together on similar tools for the past seven years since meeting at MIT. They’ve tried a whole bunch of different businesses for their technology — first a web clipping tool similar to Evernote (that was called WebNotes and is still running “on autopilot”), then a consumer product for marking up documents (that will continue to exist as Crocodoc Personal), and now an enterprise product. After raising $1 million in funding, the company is now profitable, Damico said.

January 17 2012

21:00

SOPA protest swells as Google, Scribd, and Wordpress join

Google will join Wednesday's protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, linking to anti-SOPA information on the firm's US home page.

"Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet," a Google spokesman told Ars. "So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page."

Google did not elaborate on exactly how it would change its site, but its plans will be less drastic than those of Wikipedia and reddit, which will "go dark."

Also joining in the protest will be Scribd, the document hosting website. "Visitors to the site will see a popup with a call to action featuring a petition," Scribd said in a statement.

"The future of the Internet cannot be beholden to ill-conceived legislation," said Scribed CTO Jared Friedman. "We believe that global intellectual property rights and a free and open Internet can co-exist."

A number of other major sites have announced plans to join the protest, including Wordpress, TwitPic, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. OpenSUSE is also "going on strike." There is also an in-person protest planned in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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July 27 2011

14:00

Smartling, a Language Translation Engine for the Web, Raises $10 Million

Last Friday, I was collecting the grim news from Norway from local news sites in that country. News sources like NRK.no, it seemed to me, were publishing details of the attacks faster than international news sites in English, so, perhaps stubbornly, I stuck with them. But I’m not a Norwegian speaker, so I was at the mercy of Google Translate, and while it largely worked, I kept running across weird things. The phrase “shooting at vermin” kept appearing in stories about the shootings on Utøya Island, and I never figured out why. (If you’re a Norwegian speaker and can enlighten me in the comments, please do.)

Aside from the horror at the events in Norway, the incident gave me new insight into the language chasm that still exists on the Web. It seems to me, for instance, that there may have been lots of people turning to Norwegian news sites from outside that country, many of them non-Norwegian speakers — and for that matter, not English speakers, either. It should be easy to have text written in one language reliably served up in the one you speak and read most often.

It turns out there’s a company right here in New York that’s doing just that. Smartling describes itself as a Translation Delivery Network, and uses the cloud to give sites the tools they need to easily serve up their pages in pretty much any language. Its customers already include foursquare, Scribd and SurveyMonkey, and it just landed a $10 million Series B funding round from IDG Ventures, with prior investors US Venture Partners, Venrock and First Round Capital also participating. Its Series A was $4 million.

I talked earlier this week with Smartling’s CEO and founder Jack Welde. He’s a former Air Force pilot who still flies today. He came up with an interesting language problem: In one context, “going into a bank,” means walking into a financial institution; in another it means maneuvering a plane. Most translation engines use a statistical method and so assume that “bank” means the financial building, without allowing for the fact you may be reading an aviation site. Context is kind of a big deal.

Welde tells me there’s a significant opportunity for companies on the Web to reach out to speakers of other languages. Four-fifths of U.S. residents are already on the Web, but only about 30 percent of China’s population is on the Web, to say nothing of other countries like Brazil, India and elsewhere. “The growth in Web users is occurring outside the U.S., and language is a key component to taking advantage of it,” he says.

Welde compares Smartling to Akamai, the Web-caching specialist that caches content to make its delivery more efficient. Smartling serves up on-demand versions of Web content from the cloud. Site owners choose the languages they want their content translated into, and redirect their domain name servers to point to those controlled by Smartling. There are three options for translation: One is machine translation, one is crowdsourced by a network of volunteers, and there’s also an option for professional translation. There are three tiers of service, starting at free and going up to $249 a month.

One advantage over relying on static translations like those delivered by Google Translate, Bing Translator or Yahoo’s Babel Fish is that the content becomes searchable in the translated language. That’s Smartling’s cloud network dynamically serving multilanguage versions of a client’s site, and then discarding them a few hundred times a second. It’s currently serving about 500 million page views a month.

Smartling has also partnered with CloudFlare, the Web security start-up to offer Smartling’s translation service as an optional add-on for its customers.

July 19 2011

15:30

Float Is a Social Reading App on the Web and for the iPhone [Downloads]

iPhone/Web: Float is a new digital reading app from social publishing site Scribd. The app pulls in content from over 150 websites as well as shared articles and posts from your Twitter, Facebook, and Scribd networks. More »


15:30

Float Is a Social Reading App on the Web and for the iPhone [Downloads]

iPhone/Web: Float is a new digital reading app from social publishing site Scribd. The app pulls in content from over 150 websites as well as shared articles and posts from your Twitter, Facebook, and Scribd networks. More »


14:55

Float: the "Netflix of reading" brought to you by the "YouTube of documents"

“Reading for pleasure is an extraordinary activity,” psychologist Victor Nell once wrote. “The black squiggles on the white page are still as the grave, colorless as the moonlit desert; but they give the skilled reader a pleasure as acute as the touch of a loved body….”

Nell crafted that passage in 1988, predating smartphones, iPads, and e-reading devices like the Kindle. Now, his words tantalize us. Our shiny new devices deliver the written word to us anywhere, instantly. Yet we yearn for a reading experience as vivid as those black squiggles on the white page that he mentions.

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13:01

With Float, Scribd Hopes To Become The Netflix Of Reading

It’s a big day for online document sharing and social reading site Scribd. Today at Fortune’s Brianstorm conference, CEO Trip Adler will be revealing a major initiate that introduces a suite of new products and an entirely new brand: meet Float.

Float is Scribd’s first iPhone application. It’s also an entirely new web app, and there will be additional mobile applications coming later this year. It’s part Instapaper, part RSS reader — and it also ties in nicely with your social graph to make it easy to consume all the links your friends are sharing. And Scribd has lined up 150 publisher partners to help get the app off to a running start.

Adler says the idea behind Float is to give readers a single app to consume all of the reading material they might be interested in, be it PDFs, news articles from traditional publishers, or blog posts. So content can be accessed from a few sources. First, as you’d expect, the app is tightly integrated with your Scribd account, so you’ll automatically have access to your Scribd docs. There’s also a ‘social’ tab, which lets you quickly read excerpts of any articles and docs your friends have shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Scribd. And there’s a ‘Reading List’ that’s a lot like Instapaper — you can add a bookmarklet to your browser that lets you ‘Float’ whatever page you’re viewing. And then there’s the publisher tab.

Scribd has 150 partners, including The Atlantic, Time, Salon (and, disclosure, TechCrunch) who are offering full-text versions of their articles within the mobile app — you browse through a list of publishers, tap the ones you like, and you’ll see a list of the articles they’re offering. This content is all optimized for the mobile screen and does not currently include advertising, so it’s a pretty optimal reading experience. Note that while these publisher articles are full-text, the articles viewed via the social channel are excerpts (unless they’re from a publisher partner). Scribd had considered offering full-text versions of these shared links too, but decided against it.

The Float name stems in part from the way the app lets you scroll through text. Most document viewers display content that’s either paginated (you flip between pages by swiping horizontally) or scrolls upward (like in a browser) — Float will do either of them on the fly. Want to jump to a full screen of new content? Swipe left. Want to nudge the text just a little further up? You can do that too.

This floating text effect probably isn’t game changing, but it’s pretty nifty — and the app includes plenty of other nice touches, like a variety of themes (light mode, dark mode, etc), and font resizing that doesn’t muck up the text. In fact, the app generally looks quite polished. Another very handy feature: the app will locally store any content you’ve started reading, and it’ll also pre-fetch content when it can.

So, how exactly is Scribd going to make money off of this? Later this year, the company has plans to roll out two paths to monetization: it’ll run ads against some of the content that’s available. Publishing partners that are distributing full-text versions of their content will get a rev-share on these ads.

And then there’s the more ambitious plan: Scribd wants to use Float to become the ‘Netflix of reading’. Pay one flat fee, and you’ll be able to access content that’s typically behind a pay wall from a variety of publishers. This will, of course, take the cooperation of the publishers. But it’s something that could have broad appeal — it’s hard enough to get people to pull out their credit cards to jump over one paywall, and it’s certainly not something they’re going to want to do for every newspaper or online magazine they want to access.




Tags: TC scribd
13:01

With Float, Scribd Hopes To Become The Netflix Of Reading

It’s a big day for online document sharing and social reading site Scribd. Today at Fortune’s Brianstorm conference, CEO Trip Adler will be revealing a major initiate that introduces a suite of new products and an entirely new brand: meet Float.

Float is Scribd’s first iPhone application. It’s also an entirely new web app, and there will be additional mobile applications coming later this year. It’s part Instapaper, part RSS reader — and it also ties in nicely with your social graph to make it easy to consume all the links your friends are sharing. And Scribd has lined up 150 publisher partners to help get the app off to a running start.

Adler says the idea behind Float is to give readers a single app to consume all of the reading material they might be interested in, be it PDFs, news articles from traditional publishers, or blog posts. So content can be accessed from a few sources. First, as you’d expect, the app is tightly integrated with your Scribd account, so you’ll automatically have access to your Scribd docs. There’s also a ‘social’ tab, which lets you quickly read excerpts of any articles and docs your friends have shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Scribd. And then there’s the publisher tab.

Scribd has 150 partners, including The Atlantic, Time, Salon (and, disclosure, TechCrunch) who are offering full-text versions of their articles within the mobile app — you browse through a list of publishers, tap the ones you like, and you’ll see a list of the articles they’re offering. This content is all optimized for the mobile screen and does not currently include advertising, so it’s a pretty optimal reading experience. Note that while these publisher articles are full-text, the articles viewed via the social channel are excerpts (unless they’re from a publisher partner). Scribd had considered offering full-text versions of these shared links too, but decided against it.

The Float name stems in part from the way the app lets you scroll through text. Most document viewers display content that’s either paginated (you flip between pages by swiping horizontally) or scrolls upward (like in a browser) — Float will do either of them on the fly. Want to jump to a full screen of new content? Swipe left. Want to nudge the text just a little further up? You can do that too.

This floating text effect probably isn’t game changing, but it’s pretty nifty — and the app includes plenty of other nice touches, like a variety of themes (light mode, dark mode, etc), and font resizing that doesn’t muck up the text. In fact, the app generally looks quite polished. Another very handy feature: the app will locally store any content you’ve started reading, and it’ll also pre-fetch content when it can.

So, how exactly is Scribd going to make money off of this? Later this year, the company has plans to roll out two paths to monetization: it’ll run ads against some of the content that’s available. Publishing partners that are distributing full-text versions of their content will get a rev-share on these ads.

And then there’s the more ambitious plan: Scribd wants to use Float to become the ‘Netflix of reading’. Pay one flat fee, and you’ll be able to access content that’s typically behind a pay wall from a variety of publishers. This will, of course, take the cooperation of the publishers. But it’s something that could have broad appeal — it’s hard enough to get people to pull out their credit cards to jump over one paywall, and it’s certainly not something they’re going to want to do for every newspaper or online magazine they want to access.



Tags: TC scribd
13:00

Scribd Jumps From Publishing to Reading With Float App

Scribd today is unveiling a major new initiative called Float. While the company has historically created Web tools for users to upload and access PDFs, now it’s extending that technology to something potentially much broader: Reading.

While Float follows the debut of other reading apps like Flipboard and Pulse, and for now it’s iPhone- and Web-only, it has one important differentiator at launch: Agreements with 150 publishers to reformat their full content. Participants include the Associated Press, the Huffington Post and Time.

Somewhat surprisingly, Float is four-year-old Scribd’s first big mobile foray. “The idea of building a mobile app for docs was not compelling,” CEO Trip Adler said. An app for general-purpose reading, though, was a different story.

Adler said Float is a “huge bet” for Scribd, and that his whole company has been devoted to the new product for much of the last six months.

The way Scribd lured publishers was with the 75 million existing monthly visitors to its document site, and a promise to share advertising and subscription revenue with them, according to Adler. Plus, publishers who had been burned by the scrape-first-ask-questions-later approach of other apps were primed to be receptive to Float, Adler said.

Scribd has put considerable effort into making content readable through an interface it calls “floating text,” which automatically flows to fill the screen at a reader’s preferred font size. Users can make text larger and smaller on the iPhone screen with their thumb and pointer finger, and swipe left and right to access text like pages in a book. They can also choose between different fonts and colors, including preset styles like sunlight mode and battery-saving mode.

Float’s many reading options include a publisher index; a feed of social recommendations; a tool to save articles for offline reading (which is public by default); featured curators; and a personal reading library.

One of the ultimate goals of Float, said Adler, is to be a Netflix for written content, where users can sign up for subscriptions to get access to a broad swath of premium articles.

13:00

New Scribd App Makes Reading on a Smartphone Bearable


Online document hosting service Scribd launched an iPhone app Tuesday that aims to make reading on small smartphone screens bearable.

“For the most part, browsers were built for computers and sort of retrofitted for cellphones,” says Scribd Director of Product Matt Riley, “and they really haven’t provided a great reading experience so far.”

To — for lack of better words — “smartphonize” reading, Riley and his team built Float, an app that strips the external links, ads and any clutter from an article to make it easier to read on a small screen. When reading an article on Float, users have a choice between scrolling up and down or swiping right to left in order to see the next page of content. If they pinch the screen to zoom in, the text rewraps.

The app’s easy reading format is useful and improves the reading experience. But it makes less than a bold headline. What is really nifty about Scribd’s new app are the four ways that content gets loaded onto it.

The app links to your Scribd account and downloads any documents in it for offline mobile reading. But it also links to your Facebook and Twitter accounts and searches for links that friends have posted on those platforms and loads such articles into a “social feed” for offline reading. Readers can also browse for articles from more than 150 publications directly from the app. (Disclosure: Mashable is one of them.) Scribd had the foresight to partner with these publications instead of merely scraping their content in order to avoid a Zite-style legal fiasco.

Scribd also joined Apple in borrowing a trick from online reading tool Instapaper. With a browser bookmarklet, you can easily send articles you find online to your account for reading later.

For now Float is completely free, but Riley says eventually Scribd might charge for premium content or show ads on certain pages. Paid or not, it’s not a particular surprise that Scribd is aggressively pursuing a mobile audience. The company launched a send-to-device feature last year and CEO Trip Adler mentioned mobile strategy when he announced a $13 million round of funding in January.

“As the world rapidly changes the way it reads,” he said in a statement at the time, “we are rapidly preparing to change the way we deliver what they read.”

More About: Instapaper, iphone, scribd, smartphone reader, startups

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July 13 2011

12:15

Visual.ly Wants to Bring Nifty Charts and Graphs to the Rest of Us

The personal finance start-up Mint famously built its userbase by posting engaging topical content on its corporate blog. Some of its most successful posts were infographics — some 130 of them — which garner 30 to 40 times the page views of a comparable article.

That’s according to Stew Langille, former VP of marketing at Mint, who says the success of those infographics helped spark a data visualization renaissance on the Web (as well as the creation of far too many less rigorous “info posters”).

Now Langille has co-founded a start-up called Visual.ly to build a community, market and tools for infographics.

Visual.ly is kind of similar to Scribd or SlideShare, but for infographics. Infographics may be less popular and universal than PDFs and PowerPoints, but since infographics can be works of art, and can also be quite hard to build, Langille thinks he has ample opportunities for premium businesses.

Later this year, Visual.ly will release web-based “prosumer” tools for editorial, marketing, student and other users to create their own shiny infographics. It also plans to give professional data visualization folks the opportunity to sell stylized templates for other people to use in their infographics.

Though infographics may seem kind of niche, what’s particularly neat about the ones Visual.ly creates is they can be interactive, and they can be quickly rejiggered with new data. So a financial news site, for example, could automatically generate graphs for users to see how the Dow Chart has changed this week. (Here’s an example interactive chart Visual.ly created for CNN.)

The idea is for Visual.ly to be more flexible and easier to use than alternatives like PhotoShop, Illustrator or Tableau. More serious users will have to pay something like $100-$250 per month, Langille said.

For today, though, Visual.ly is just opening up its community, which is already seeded with 60,000 members and 2,000 infographics, to allow people to view, upload and embed infographics. It also created a fun Twitter visualization tool with Infochimps and Alchemy for users to see Visual.ly in action.

I don’t know how easy it will actually be to create charts and graphs in Visual.ly, but I can imagine the first kids who use these infographics for school reports, the first local news sites that start churning out living stats, and the first interns who add Visual.ly to their bosses’ PowerPoints are going to get some serious kudos.

Visual.ly has seed funding and was incubated at 500 Startups, and is now raising a Series A round, Langille said.

May 14 2011

21:01

Gaining Authority in the Age of Digital Overload


We’re entering into a new era of the Internet, where users are now looking to find validated sources within the mix of information overload that we all experience, said Steve Rubel, EVP of Global Strategy and Insights for Edelman during his presentation at Mashable Connect 2011. This shift is changing the nature of authority.

“The reality is, there’s too much content and not enough time,” says Rubel. “More content will be created today than existed in entirety before 2003.” With limited time and attention spans, people are experiencing information overload as well as “people overload.” Rubel called it a “friending arms race,” referring to the Facebook phenomena in which “he or she who dies with the most ‘friends’ wins.”

While Facebook is known as the most intimate of the large social networks, the simple truth is that the average user doesn’t know 20% of his Facebook friends. Rubel pointed to this — and the fact that in 2009, the New Oxford American Dictionary‘s Word of the Year was “unfriend” — to propose that the new “Validation” era of Internet life has begun, as of 2010.

Prior to the Validation era, the Internet experienced two other distinct eras, says Rubel. The first was the era of “Commercialization” (1994-2002), in which publishing was “costly and inaccessible to the masses.” As a result, media companies and brands ruled the digital space and the dot-com boom gave rise to a few new players, including Yahoo, Amazon and Google.

With the dot-com crash, though, publishing costs decreased, enabling almost anyone to be a publisher — thus, the era of “Democratization” (2002-2010). Cue the entrance of mainstream bloggers and Twitter fiends, accompanied by the shift of authority and trust from brands to individuals.

Edelman publishes an annual “Trust Barometer,” which gauges attitudes about the state of trust in business, government, NGOs and media across 23 countries. In 2006, during the pinnacle of the era of Democratization, the study found that people trusted their peers most when forming opinions about companies. Rubel pointed to the rise of social media to explain this finding.

The 2011 Trust Barometer survey illustrated an essential shift in trust, with academics, experts and technical experts within companies rising to become the most trusted sources. Meanwhile, the authority of peers has notably declined 4% since 2009.

With this shift in authority, Rubel proposes that as of 2010, the Internet has entered the Validation era, in which Internet users are beginning to “find the signal in the noise” and hold on to only those pieces of information and people that are most important to them online. The rise of intimate social networks such as Path, and group messaging apps such as GroupMe, Beluga, Fast Society and Kik, is an indicator that “people want to be closer to people they care about and let all the riffraff set aside,” says Rubel.

How do brands gain authority in the age of digital overload, then? Rubel pointed to the “Media Cloverleaf” as a solution, calling it the brainchild of Edelman’s CEO Richard Edelman. The Media Cloverleaf features four distinct spheres of media which should all be utilized to engage the public on a regular basis, he said. This is the idea of transmedia storytelling. Here are the four spheres of media:

  • Traditional media encompasses the big media companies that have “survived and thrived.” This includes radio, TV and print media outlets.
  • “Tradigital” media includes “digitally native media companies that are largely blogs, sometimes niche-focused, sometimes horizontal,” explained Rubel. These outlets are characterized by having high social amplification, SEO sophistication and sometimes a blur between advertising and editorial, says Rubel.
  • Owned media was defined by Rubel via a quote from Andy Heyward, former President of CBS News: “Every company can be a media company.” This is the idea that every brand can create valuable content.
  • Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are driving increased engagement with brands and increased traffic to the other media spheres.

Consumers see these media channels as one, not as four distinct areas, Rubel warns. As a result, the opportunity for businesses is to “propagate new ideas across the Cloverleaf.” Here are Rubel’s five steps for success:


1. Elevate the Experts


Find your company’s subject-matter experts and empower them to “cultivate new ideas and engage in meaningful conversation around them,” advises Rubel. These experts could be employees or even your most valuable customers. Start by setting them up with press interviews or enabling them to represent your company on Twitter, Rubel suggests.

Cisco Together, for example, is an owned media project from Cisco that brings together subject matter experts to discuss how technology is connecting people in all new ways across various industries.


2. Curate to Connect


Rubel pointed out an unprecedented opportunity for companies and individuals to gain authority and become thought leaders by being the ones who “separate art from junk for people to understand it.” Curation is just as important as creation.

Social video king YouTube, for example, is finding new ways to curate the massive amount of videos that YouTube users upload on a daily basis. Most recently, the company partnered with curation startup Storyful to put together playlists for each day of the Egyptian protests.


3. Dazzle with Data


“People on the Internet do not read,” Rubel says. “They read 20% of a webpage before they move on; 57% never come back to that page; and we spend 15-20 seconds on a webpage before we move on. We are a global planet of fruit flies.”

The solution is to make data and information more visual and entertaining. The New York Times understands this idea and even employs a team specifically for data visualization. From visualizing America’s consumption of meat and how various groups of people spend their days, to making interactive maps of homicides in New York City and minorities in China, The Times has produced some of the most compelling graphics on the web.


4. Put Pubs on Hubs


Publish your company’s content, such as slideshows and white papers, on hubs like SlideShare and Scribd, so that interested parties can access it and “go deeper” when they want to.

Facebook, for example, is using Scribd to publish guides and case studies for developers, journalists and Facebook Page administrators.


5. Ask & Answer


“Be a source of knowledge,” says Rubel. Social media is a great outlet for doing just that. Rubel recommends that companies empower all of their employees to ask and answer questions via social media, instead of putting a few people in charge of that responsibility.

While at Mashable, I have sourced experts from “Help a Reporter Out,” Quora, Twitter, Facebook, blog comments and many other online outlets. Answering and asking questions online is just as valid as doing the same thing in person. The Internet is not just a playland; it is an extension of our offline lives, a place where individuals and companies can become highly influential and respected.

Which companies are best positioned to gain authority as we move into the era of Validation? Let us know what you think in the comments.

View Steve Rubel’s Mashable Connect presentation:

More About: business, cisco, content curation, curation, facebook, mashable connect, mashable connect 2011, scribd, steve rubel, the new york times, youtube

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March 18 2011

17:45

Scribd HTML5 viewer goes mobile, Flash ditched on 20 million embeds

In 2010, Scribd announced that it planned to dump Adobe Flash embeds in favor of an HTML5 viewer for its user-uploaded documents. Now, the Scribd HTML5 experience has gone mobile as well. That's a very welcome update, since certain shiny touchscreen mobile devices don't offer support for Flash embeds.

Scribd has also announced that all of its existing embeds -- which number more than 20 million -- are in the process of being updated to the new HTML5 viewer code. The conversion will happen automatically, and CTO Jared Friedman told TechCrunch that site owners don't need to worry about any breakages occurring.

Scribd HTML5 viewer goes mobile, Flash ditched on 20 million embeds originally appeared on Download Squad on Fri, 18 Mar 2011 12:45:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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February 18 2011

18:00

Crocodoc launches plug-in free, embeddable document viewer

Looking for a slick way to share documents and allow collaborators to add annotations? Check out Crocodoc, which has launched a plug-in free document viewer powered by the standard Web code we both love and hate to refer to as HTML5.

Just like competitor Scribd, files you upload to Crocodoc can be easily embedded on any site (check out a demo after the break). Readers can also post comments and annotations and download documents as a PDF with or without markup applied.

Crocodoc offers a full API and the company's Ryan Damico says it is more focused on attracting developers, whereas Scribd is aimed at publishers. Even so, Crocodoc is an excellent option for users who want to share and embed documents on the Web.

Continue reading Crocodoc launches plug-in free, embeddable document viewer

Crocodoc launches plug-in free, embeddable document viewer originally appeared on Download Squad on Fri, 18 Feb 2011 13:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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February 16 2011

20:55

Crocodoc Launches Embeddable HTML5 Document Viewer & Annotator


Y Combinator-funded startup Crocodoc has launched what it calls the world’s first embeddable HTML5 document viewer and annotator.

Most document-hosting embedding services like Scribd (another Y Combinator startup) or Docstoc utilize Adobe Flash to display documents. Although Scribd has an HTML5 viewer, it’s limited to use on Scribd.com.

Crocodoc‘s document viewer though is built entirely in HTML5. That means it’s viewable on not only modern browsers, but on mobile devices like the iPhone as well. It also lets users annotate documents. Collaborative highlighting, drawing and note taking are all available in the HTML5 embeddable viewer.

As part of today’s launch, Crocodoc is also launching a partner program for integrating Crocodoc into other web services. Its inaugural partner is enterprise social communication tool Yammer, which is using the company’s new API to launch documents shared on Yammer in an embedded version of Crocodoc.

Unlike Scribd or Docstoc though, Crocodoc is focused on the enteprise and application business. The service lets users quickly upload documents and share them with friends or co-workers. Its simple set of tools let users annotate the document in real time.

We’ve embedded an example of Crocodoc’s HTML5 document viewer:

More About: Crocodoc, HTML5, HTML5 Viewer, scribd, y combinator

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February 12 2011

21:07

Why Starting Justin.tv Was A Really Bad Idea, But I’m Glad We Did It Anyway

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Justin Kan, founder of Justin.tv.

Right now I’m neck deep in product launch mode, putting the finishing touches on our new mobile video application—Socialcam. Of course, I’ve been here before . . .

Years ago when we launched the Justin.tv show we had no idea what we were doing. This much was obvious to anyone who watched. Outsiders attribute far more strategic thought to the venture than we gave it. Some think that we planned all along to start a live platform, and that the Justin.tv show itself was a way of promoting that platform. While this ended up happening, none of it had crossed our minds at the time.

Emmett Shear and I had been working on Kiko, the first Javascript web calendaring application in the Microsoft Outlook style. We prototyped the application in our final year at Yale, went on to raise money from Y Combinator, then continued working on it for over a year.

Then Google Calendar was released—boom—absorbing most of our nascent user base and capturing most of the early adopter mindshare. But to be perfectly honest, Kiko would have failed regardless. We were too easily distracted and hadn’t really thought through the strategic implications of owning a standalone calendaring property (hint: no one wants a calendar without email). A short time later we were burned out and spending most of our time playing Xbox with the Reddit guys in Davis Square—hardly a startup success story.

Emmett and I started thinking about possible ways to get out of the calendar business. At the same time, I was startup fatigued. We had spent over a year paying ourselves nothing. The seed and angel investment market conditions were the polar opposite of what they are today. It had been a struggle to even raise a paltry $70,000, and we had failed to build a product with real traction. I was starting to think about moving back to Seattle to try something new, maybe in a different industry.

Still, we learned a ton and it was fun to be part of the early Y Combinator startup community (then largely in Boston). We became friends with Matt Brezina and Adam Smith (of Xobni), Trip Adler, Tikhon Bernstam and Jared Friedman (of Scribd), and many others. It’s amazing to see how many of those friendships persist today, and even more amazing how well many of those companies are doing.

Coming back from one particular YC dinner, Emmett and I were discussing strategic ideas for Kiko, and I remember telling Emmett an idea that popped into my head: what if you could hear an audio feed on the web of our discussion? Wouldn’t that be interesting to other like-minded entrepreneurial types? We kept going, and eventually the idea morphed into a video feed. Then it became a live video feed. Then it became a continuous live video feed that followed someone around 24/7. Then it had chat, and a community built around watching this live show, which was now a new form of entertainment. I was hooked.

I couldn’t stop talking about the idea. I mentioned it at YC dinners and to other friends. I even came up with a perfect name for it: Justin.tv. On one trip to DC, I told my Dad and my college friend Michael Seibel what I was thinking. Eventually, in-between drinking sessions, we thought of a brilliant idea for divesting ourselves of Kiko, which is a story for another day. After that, Emmett and I were coming up with other startup ideas (I guess we got excited about staying in the industry after all). One particular favorite was the idea of a web app that would ingest your blog’s RSS feed and then allow you to layout and print physical magazines from it. Excitedly, we drove one afternoon to Paul Graham’s house to pitch it.

We explained the idea to Paul and Robert Morris, who just happened to be at the house visiting. I vaguely recall there also being a “this will kill academic publishing” angle, although I can’t figure out how that sensibly fits in now. Paul didn’t particularly like the idea: he didn’t think people would use it. “Well,” he said, “what else do you have?”

I said the only thing I could think of: “Justin.tv.”

Because it was something I was clearly passionate about, and because creating a new form of entertainment was clearly a big market (if you could invent one!), Paul was actually into it. Robert’s addition to the conversation was “I’ll fund that just to see you make a fool of yourself.” Emmett and I walked out of there with a check for $50,000.

Six months later, we’d recruited two other cofounders (Kyle Vogt, our hardware hacker, who we convinced to drop out of MIT on a temporary leave of absence, and Michael Seibel, my college friend from DC, who became our “producer”). We built a site with a video player and chat and two prototype cameras that captured, encoded and streamed live video over cell data networks, negotiated with a CDN to carry our live video traffic, and raised an additional couple hundred thousand dollars. Our plan? Launch the show and see what happens.

Now, let me just tell you why this was a bad idea:

  • We didn’t have a plan. We loosely figured if the show became popular we could sell sponsorships or advertising, but we didn’t have a plan to scale the number of shows, nor did we understand what our marginal costs on streaming, customer acquisition, or actually selling ads were.
  • We didn’t understand the industry. We didn’t know what kinds of content advertisers would pay for. We didn’t have good insight into what kind of content people wanted to watch, either.
  • We relied on proprietary hardware that we were going to mass-produce ourselves. Smart angels told us to drop the hardware and figure out how to do it with commodity equipment, but we wouldn’t listen because we thought hardware would be easy (or at least, doable). Ironically, months after we were told this we switched to using a laptop.
  • We were trying to build a “hits” based business without any experience making hits. We knew a lot about websites, but little about content creation. Smart VCs (who took our calls because Paul referred us) told us as much: nobody really likes investing in hits based businesses, because it requires the continual generation of new hits to be successful (instead of, say, building a platform like eBay or Google whose success is built on masses of regular users).

How did we get as far as we did?

  • We were passionate. We honestly believed we could create a new form of reality entertainment. Put to the side that we had no experience with creating video (or any kind of content), by God, we were going to make this work.
  • Early stage investing is often about the people, not the idea. Paul has said as much about what he looks for. As two-time YC founders he knew that we worked well together and even if we were working on something totally inane we were going to stick it out with the company and iterate until we found a business model.
  • We sold the shit out of it. Everyone we knew was excited for Justin.tv. Why? Because our excitement was infectious. That’s how we got Kyle to drop out of school. That’s how we got Michael to quit his job and move across the country.

Ultimately, the show failed. But all told, I’m thankful every day that things went the way they did. Why?

  • We built a strong team. The four of us started, and the four of us all still have leadership roles in the company. Along the way we recruited the smartest engineers and best product designers we could find.
  • We were willing to learn, and to pivot. After quickly realizing the initial show wasn’t a sustainable model, we decided to go the platform route, and built the world’s largest live video platform (both on the web and in our mobile apps, which have millions of downloads).
  • It got us started. Some people wait until the stars are aligned before they jump in. Maybe that’s the right move, but plenty of businesses get started with something that seems implausible, stupid, or not-a-real-business but turn into something of value (think Groupon). If we hadn’t started then, would we have later?

Today, I’m more excited about Justin.tv than I’ve been at any time since we launched the initial platform. Why? We’re taking everything we’ve gathered and learned over the past four and half years building the largest live video platform on the Web (17 million monthly unique visitors in Dec according to comScore’s MediaMetrix), and applying it to tackle a new generation of problems in mobile video. Our world class web and mobile engineering team, all of our product development knowledge, our substantial, scaled video infrastructure, and everything we’ve learned about building engineering teams has all been put to work on a new app that we think is going to change everything.

Our new app is called Socialcam, but that’s another story.

Photo by Terry Chay



January 18 2011

20:40

Scribd Closes $13M Round of Funding


Scribd, the popular service for embedding and sharing documents around the web, has just inked a deal with investors for a $13 million Series C. The round was led by MLC Investments and SVB Capital, with Redpoint Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Kinsey Hills Group participating.

This is the first money the four-year-old startup has taken in more than two years; its Series B was a $9 million round in December 2008. The company’s total funding to date is $26 million.

The San Francisco-based Scribd will use some of this new money for hiring new engineers — with a likely concentration on devs with mobile experience — and other key staff.

The company’s focus on mobile, with the ultimate goal being universal accessibility, is alluded to in a statement from CEO Trip Adler.

“2011 is going to be a milestone year for us,” he said. “As the world rapidly changes the way it reads, we are rapidly preparing to change the way we deliver what they read.”

SVB Capital managing director Sulu Mamdani also said in the same statement, “Smartphones are the next computer for billions of consumers, and Scribd’s aggressive expansion plans in the mobile space could bring social reading into the hands of every one of those users.

“Product growth, combined with the site’s already impressive advertising revenue, presents enormous opportunity in the year ahead.”

In fact, Scribd has been working on its mobile offering for at least the past year. In February 2010, the company rolled out a send-to-device feature intended to make its service play nicely with smartphones and e-readers.

Scribd reps say the site’s documents garner around 60 million readers each month.


Reviews: Scribd

More About: business, charles river, funding, investment, kinsey hills, MLC, RedPoint, scribd, series c, SVB, vc, venture capital

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