As Foursquare evolves, it wants to help you find either new places to check out or lead you to places where your friends have already been. Mixed in with that is recommendation technology to show you places that you might be interested in based on where you’ve been before. Today, Foursquare updated its iOS and Android apps with an advanced search option that lets you control how the service seeks out new venues for you.
In its blog post today, Foursquare “dares” you to get “super specific” with your searches. Basically, the company is saying that they have enough data to find any place that you could imagine. One of the example searches is: “A cheap sushi place that’s nearby and open now, but that I haven’t been to yet.” Again, this is a search performed based on all of the data that Foursquare has collected over the years, but its first move into a more conversational search experience. Companies like Google are jumping on this bandwagon as well.
When you perform a search like the one suggested above, you just get results as you’d normally expect. Foursquare is processing these inquiries surprisingly fast, which means that you’re likely to settle on a place quickly:
The interesting part comes with the new filter options, where you can home in on a venue based on whether you or a friend have checked in before, by price, if the venue has a special or if you’ve saved it to check out later:
With these dynamic search and filter options, Foursquare has made the jump to become a true utility that might even cancel out a Google search or a Yelp deep-dive. That’s a pretty bold thought, but when you think about how much data Foursquare has, a lot of things that we haven’t even seen yet are possible.
The filter options make all of this data more manageable and of course, usable, to get you to try out more places. It’s also an incentive for more businesses to adopt Foursquare’s offerings, such as specials. If people start filtering their searches in the way that Foursquare suggests, then it behooves these restaurants and bars to have multiple specials lined up and ready to go. Think of it as a highlighted ad in Google search.
Urturn, the social expressions platform that soft-launched as stealthily as possible last year by intentionally hiding under a really boring name, is getting ready to turn the volume up to 11 to start seriously recruiting teens and trend-setters to its meme-stuffed, fashion-friendly, music-loving platform. Today it has announced a $13.4 million Series A funding round, led by Balderton Capital with a $10.7 million investment. The private equity arm of Debiopharm Group invested the remaining $2.7 million. As part of the investment, Balderton founding partner Barry Maloney will join the Urturn board.
The London-based startup, which also has an office in the Valley, is also launching an iOS app today, funded by its Series A, to extend its web-based platform to mobile. An Android app is also in the works, due later this year. Prior to the Series A, Urturn had raised around $500,000 in friends/family funding.
So what exactly is a social expression platform? Urturn — pronounced ‘your turn’ — is best described as a viral meme-generator. It offers both a social toolbox for creating and sharing ‘expressions’ with other users, with support for sharing these out to other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and also a space to hang your creations and browse others (and/or follow celebrity users or your friends). It also has its own bookmarklet browser button to make grabbing source material for meme-making purposes even easier, as Pinterest does.
Expressions is Urturn’s term for the visual composites that are its social currency. These often start with a photo but can also include multimedia elements like video and audio, which are then augmented with text or doodles or other graphical elements, by a user selecting the relevant template. So, instead of having to go to Google to copy and paste the meme du jour to post to Facebook or Twitter, Urturn gives its users the tools to make their own version of that meme. Or something else entirely.
The image at the top of this post is a basic example of an expression created with Urturn — by first uploading a photo and then adding a series of pointers to the image. Other templates currently available on the site include doodles, collages, quotes, speech bubbles, hashtag tags, cartoon elements (such as the Bunnify expression, below right) and more.
There are also templates that support interactions, such as love it/leave or this/that which ask other users to vote on whether they like whatever else they’re seeing in that template. And templates to incorporate multimedia elements, as noted above. In short, everything an angst-ridden teenager needs to express themselves online. Or a fashion blogger to ask their followers which slacks they dig.
Another core piece of site apparatus is Urturn’s ‘Your Turn’ button which encourages the viral component by letting users click a button to easily create their own version of an expression that someone else has made — leading to waves of similarly themed expressions to be generated by, for instance, fans of the musicians who have a presence on the site.
The main topics Urturn is focusing on for now are music, fashion, beauty and art & design. It notes that it has received “significant interest” from the music industry as a new way for artists to connect with their fans. Artists already signed up to the platform include Alicia Keys, David Bowie, One Direction, Green Day, UNIONJ, Ellie Goulding, The Gossip, Carly Rae Jepsen and Kendrick Lamar. Urturn has also attracted interest as a blogging platform to engage with readers from fashion magazines such as Cosmo.
Urturn is not currently breaking out its total user numbers but says its biggest markets globally are the U.S., followed by the U.K. and then South America.
The original idea for Urturn stemmed from a sense of frustration with the limitions of existing social tools as a medium of expression explains Stelio Tzonis, CEO and also the co-founder pictured top, left, with Urturn’s fashion & lifestyle hire, Sophie O’Kelly.
“We were sharing some stuff on social media like Facebook, Twitter. And the frustration we got is most of the time we wanted just to play around with content, like taking an image and doodling on the top, or writing something. And you end up having to take the picture, go to Photoshop or whatever, so all the work flow were really complex,” he tells TechCrunch.
“We just want to be more expressive. Sometimes you just want to have a picture and ask something to your friends, or put a quote on it, or point to something. This is really what we mean by be more expressive.”
Urturn plans to open up its templates feature in future via an API, to further expand the scope of the expressions it offers.
“Social networks really enabled the way to connect people with friends and followers, and a way to share with like, reblog, repost, retweet. Other things like this. But when you come to express yourself it’s really limited,” Tzonis continues.
“What we saw was unlimited ways to express yourself. And what we were dreaming is to have a palette [of templates like Urturn's expressions] — if you want to record you just find something to record, if you want to create a quote, if you want to share some music, you want to point something you want to doodle, and we believe that there is unlimited different numbers to express yourself. That was really the beginning where everything started with Urturn.”
Balderton’s Maloney says the fund saw a lot more in Urturn than just A N Other photo-sharing social network/comms network. “We see it as a medium for self-expression which we don’t think has been done very well yet,” he tells TechCrunch. “Photos are an important part but it’s not just photos. What we liked about it was it brings together the idea of music, goes into segments like fashion so for us what grabbed our attention about it was the engagement that’s possible, when you can really use self-expression to engage with our audience.”
“The social networks that are out there do a great job at what they’re designed to do which is communicating. What this one really does is it gets to the heart of self-expression and we think that’s where the value is,” Maloney adds. “The way the audience has taken to the tools, the way they’ve made them pretty simple to use, they way they’ve presented them in a multi-fashion, multi-dimensional way where you can almost drop and drag any of the connotations that you want to get that engagement going, and then to watch the users that are on, how long they stay on, and what they’re doing are all really great early signs for us of something that’s got great potential.”
Urturn’s Tzonis says the startup is still exploring monetisation strategies, with possibilities under consideration being promoted posts, much like Twitter’s promoted tweets model. But the first order of business is to scale up the number of Urturn users and grow the community.
“There are a lot of different opportunities to monetise this because it’s so expressive, that we have a lot of brands asking us [about Urturn]. It’s a lot better than an ad because an ad it’s just broadcasting something. Here you have the audience that just take your message and do it their own way, so when you see your feed you don’t see again that ad — you see ‘hey, my friend has done that with that product’ or whatever,” he says. “If you have an audience you will get revenue from it… We have a lot of opportunity and people are coming to us with ideas directly.”
Zalora, a Zappos-style fashion e-commerce site in South East Asia backed by the Samwer brothers’ Rocket Internet incubator in Germany, is today announcing its latest investment — $100 million, led by Rocket Internet itself, along with regular Samwer investing partners Summit Partners, Investment AB Kinnevik, Verlinvest and Tengelmann Group. The is the largest investment in Zalora to date, and one of the biggest in an e-commerce startup in the region.
Zalora has operations in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and this round comes amid a new flush of money for fashion e-commerce companies: just yesterday it was reported that Fab is raising $250 million at a $1 billion valuation (a deal that only one month ago appeared to be for a $100 million raise).
This is not the first flush of money to come to Zalora. The startup had raised at least two other rounds since launching in March 2012, a “significant double-digit million” investment from JP Morgan in September 2012, and $26 million from Tengelmann in March 2013. It’s been using the funds to build out its footprint into more countries, invest in its logistics and also in R&D, out of its HQ in Singapore, and new platforms — among those, the launch of a iOS app.
As seems to be par for the course with Rocket Internet portfolio companies, Zalora has been no stranger to being subject to the negative rumor mill. In March 2013, Zalora was reported to be shutting down its regional operations in Taiwan, although the company said that it was streamlining and moving some functions to Singapore. That comes after other reports that Oliver Samwer had to go hands-on soon after Zalora’s launch for a little staff motivation. The company appears to already have changed MDs at the company. Today it is being run by Michele Farrario; in September 2012 the MD was Mato Peric.
But any signs of turmoil seem to be behind the company, for now at least. The company is claiming “months of steady growth,” recently delivering its one millionth order, although it doesn’t spell out what those revenues are specifically, noting just “double-digit million USD revenues.” It says that mobile sales make up 25% of all of its sales, which cover 500 brands and some 20,000 products per country site.
“Our company is one of the fastest growing e-commerce companies in South-East Asia and has bright prospects,” said Ferrario in a statement. “It is an honor for us that investors of such great repute have invested into an e-commerce company as young as ZALORA. Our goal is to continue serving up world-class products and services, so everyone in South-East Asia can benefit.”
Rocket Internet got its beginnings building out e-commerce startups across Europe. Mimicking the functions of well-funded e-commerce startups in the U.S., some of those Rocket Internet startups even got acquired as part of the Americans’ inorganic growth strategies.
Rocket Internet still has a strong presence in Europe, but the Samwer brothers have been putting a lot more of their efforts lately into emerging markets like those in South East Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and further afield (case in point: Azmalo, a new Amazon-style online marketplace site in Pakistan launched just this week). The idea is to try to reach a swathe of consumers that represent a new middle class who are only starting to go online to shop, and therefore represent a faster growing user base than consumers in more mature, and more penetrated, markets.
Often the Samwers’ movements are in countries that Rocket’s U.S. counterparts have yet to tackle, making companies like Zalora into potential acquisition targets. In the meantime, adding more Rocket Internet e-commerce startups in each country to bolster existing ones means that they can share backend systems, logistics and get faster economies of scale, essential in getting e-commerce businesses to profit. You can see the full extent of the Rocket Internet empire here.
OK Go (the band behind hit music videos like “This Too Shall Pass” and “Here It Goes Again”) launched its very own game for iOS and Android earlier this month.
You can play the game, titled Say The Same Thing, with one of your friends or with a randomly chosen player. (If you sign up now, you can also participate in a temporary promotion where people are randomly selected to play with a band member.) Each player types in a word, then you see what the other player said, and you use that as prompt for another word. As the game’s title implies, you win when each of you enters the same word.
It helps if you understand the other player’s interests. For example, I was playing with Graphicly‘s Micah Baldwin — after several rounds, I entered “Perry White,” he entered “Smallville,” and we won by both entering “Lana Lang.”
I also got a chance to play the game with OK Go’s lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash. (Like how I just dropped that in casually?) I don’t want to give away exactly what happens in the video, but I will say that we totally nailed it.
This isn’t just an app that OK Go stuck its name on, either — Kulash said it was programmed by the band’s guitarist Andy Ross. Apparently band members play a live version of the game together, so eventually they decided to turn it into an app:
At some point we realized, hey, there’s no reason why we need to just put out songs. We can put out everything we want — we make videos, we make shows, why not make apps. … We’ve always been interested in tech as a sort of canvas. We try to make art for the world we live in, and this is where we live now. We live on Skype, we live on our laptops and on our phones.
Traditional recordings of music live in this space really well. Like, we’re making an album right now that will be finished sometime this summer, and we’ll probably put it out in the fall or maybe in the winter, and it’s great to listen to on your phone, it’s great to listen to on your laptop, but there’s all these other things that your laptop and your phone can do that musicians 30 years ago couldn’t imagine and artists 30 years ago couldn’t imagine. I think working in these spaces has always been exciting to us, and we’re just lucky that we have a programmer in our band, because it means that we can test things out like this.
Clueful, the mobile privacy app Apple booted from its App Store for being too revealing — or possibly because of its own behavior – is staging a comeback. This time around, Clueful’s maker Bitdefender is targeting Android users instead, with plans to reveal what the apps on your phone are doing, and how your privacy may be compromised in the process.
Bitdefender, a company that makes a variety of anti-virus, anti-theft, and other security applications for web and mobile, first launched Clueful a year ago as a $4 iOS app that detailed how the apps on users’ phones handle – or mishandle, as the case may be – personal data. The app launched in the wake of a number of high-profile security events, like address book-gate and locationgate, for example. (And you know they’re bad when there’s a “gate” attached, right?)
For “unknown reasons,” Apple removed Clueful from its App Store shortly after its debut. The company spins this as “we revealed too much!” of course, but the more informed answer points to the fact that, to work, the app itself had to pull a list of apps from a user’s device, send them to Clueful’s servers and then cross-reference those with the apps it had in its database. Apple might not have cared for this process, especially considering the end result may have discouraged app downloads. Clueful later returned in a watered down web version.
Apple mobile device users, of course, don’t have much to fear in terms of malware because of how Apple tests and approves apps ahead of making them publicly accessible in its iTunes App Store. However, Clueful still plays on the sometimes misguided fears some have, who believe that software makers are always purposely and maliciously trying to track your location, acquire your personal or financial data, spam you or your friends with unwanted messages or emails, and more.
Often, apps accused of doing some or all of these things are more the result of a rush to launch or shoddy coding, more so than malicious intent. And sometimes, they’re just early stage startups, making mistakes. Then there’s the fact that some apps are designed to work with this “sensitive” data in ways that help you – an app that wants to help you find nearby events or set geo-fenced reminders, for instance, needs to know where you are.
Yes, there are malicious, virus-laden apps as well as those over-reaching in terms of what they need to function, but many operate in a gray area. So to the uninformed, being told that some app is “tracking you” can perhaps cause concern when little to none is warranted.
To Bitdefender’s credit then, at least the Android version of the application now ranks applications as low, medium or high risk, based on their “danger levels.” And you can also filter to just see those with “intrusive ads” that “send unencrypted data,” or “are viruses,” for example, which could be useful if you’re not prone to being careful with your installs or are worried you have a problem app on your hands.
On Android, Clueful is available for free, with an option to upgrade for added security, including a real-time web scanner, on-install and on-demand app scanner, and more. This is provided by the company’s anti-virus app, which costs $9.95 per year. That undercuts competitor Lookout’s Premium option, but it also lacks Lookout’s more comprehensive feature set which also includes remote wipe, lock, signal flare, locating lost phones, backup and restore, cross-platform support, and more. (Some of these options are available through Bitdefender’s other freemium apps, but not all.)
Clueful may find better footing on Android, though, where users do have to be more cautious because apps are not vetted ahead of launch. Plus, a good chunk of Android’s user base are those upgrading from feature phones to a low-cost smartphone, and are still technically unsophisticated when it comes to sorting the good apps from the bad.
The new version of Clueful is available here in Google Play.