Solve Media, a startup that turns CAPTCHA verification systems into ads, says that it’s growing quickly.
There were more than 1 billion engagements with Solve’s Type-In ads last year, the company says. It will exceed that number in the second quarter of 2013 alone, and it should hit 4 billion for all of 2013. Solve also says that it’s on-track to bring in $13 million to $16 million in revenue for 2013.
The technology takes advantage of all those CAPTCHAs we have to fill out to we’re verify that we’re not robots while using different online services. When a site is running a Type-In ad, instead of just forcing you to enter a random collection of letters and numbers, you’ll see an ad (it can be a display ad or a video) and be asked to type in a brand name or message instead. The publisher gets extra revenue and the advertiser gets the attention of consumers in way that’s supposed to deliver 6.7 times higher brand recall than standard ads. The company also runs a similar ad as a preroll before videos.
“Soon we will release a mobile product that performs as well, from an effectiveness standpoint, as our desktop products,” CEO Ari Jacoby told me via email. “Our main goal this year is to remain number 1 on every campaign that we serve for performance. So far, so good.”
Solve is also announcing that it’s opening an office in London, which it says is the first step in its plans for international expansion.
With today’s update to its iPhone app The Scoop, The New York Times may have accomplished something that advertisers and publishers often boast about but rarely achieve — it may have found a genuinely useful way to incorporate sponsored content.
And the update isn’t only relevant to New Yorkers (who can actually take advantage of The Scoop’s recommendations for the best restaurants, bars, coffee shops and more), but also to observers of the Times as a business, suggesting new ways that the company could monetize its content on mobile. The Times said this is the first time it has featured advertising content outside of an actual ad unit in one of its mobile apps.
The Times’ mobile product manager Dan Blumberg told me that when users open the updated app, the main menu will include an additional icon for Citi Bike, the new bikesharing service operated by NYC Bike Share. When users tap on the icon, they’ll see a map showing data from the Citi Bike app, specifically nearby Citi Bike locations and the current number of bikes and docks. The map will also show the location of Times editorial picks for the best restaurants and coffee shops.
So if you’re thinking about going out and you like to bike, or at least you aren’t set on a specific mode of transportation, this could be a way to figure out where you’re going and how you can get there — something that The Scoop could conceivably have included even if Citi Bike weren’t an advertiser. At the same time, Alexandra Hardiman, executive director of mobile products at the Times, noted that the Citi Bike icon will be clearly marked as sponsored: “There will be no confusion for users about whether or not they’re looking at a piece of advertiser content.”
Hardiman said that this update is “part of a larger strategic relationship” with Citibank, and that there’s no specific end date planned for the integration between The Scoop and Citi Bike. She added that the integration goes both ways, with the bike-sharing service’s own smartphone app adding listings from The Scoop later this summer.
As for how campaigns like this might apply to other Times apps, Hardiman argued that her team has “more latitude” to do something like this in The Scoop, which doesn’t run hard news. (Other standalone apps from The Times include The New York Times Real Estate app and a fashion app called The Collection.) This is very much an experiment, she said, but she could “see lessons coming out of it — things that we could extend to other properties.”
You can download the new version of The Scoop here.
Google and Facebook working together? They’re actually friends, in no small part thanks to Erick Tseng. The former Android leader, now Facebook’s mobile product manager, today launched the official Facebook For Google Glass app. Here he tells me about how a tiny team designed the app around simple photo sharing and Facebook’s strengthening relationship with Google.
Josh Constine, TechCrunch: What was it like getting Facebook involved in the Glass program?
Erick Tseng, mobile product manager for special projects at Facebook: It was great. I used to work at Google [as the lead product manager on Android until 2010]. We’re very close, but I have a personal relationship with a bunch of folks on the Glass team. It came out of a pretty informal chat with folks on that team. We both quickly came to the conclusion that it would be pretty awesome to get Facebook on Google Glass.
It all developed in just a few months. Two engineers built the whole app. There were no formal designers. Just me project-managing it. We got early access to some developer hardware and Google Glass prototypes. We had a very small team build a prototype [of our app]. We liked what we saw, showed it to Google, they liked what they saw, then we productized it. It was fun to work on a new platform like Google Glass.
“Our starting principle was the user experience”
TechCrunch: What was it like working on a fast-moving development platform like Google Glass? How do you think about what features to include in Facebook For Glass?
Tseng: From a developer perspective, our starting principle was the user experience. What functionality makes the most sense when you have a device like Glass sitting in front of you? What we came up with was the idea that we wanted to do things very simply and easily. You don’t want a lot of text. We started playing with it and saw photos as a very powerful user interaction with Glass. It’s natural that when you take photos on Glass, you want to share them with the people you care about. We wanted to make the photo uploading process as quick and easy as possible, so we focused on that use case.
As we were playing with Glass, we were really impressed with voice functionality, so we added in the ability to speak a photo description that gets added to your photo.
TechCrunch: There’s a lot of other functionality you could have added. Did you run into constraints on the Glass platform?
Tseng: To be fair, it wasn’t all that much of a constrained platform, considering we wanted to do photo sharing. Photo-taking on Glass is very fast. It’s just one click to share, and one more to decide who to share with. It’s going to be an evolving platform and we’re excited to see what Google has for developers. My expectation is that over time a lot of the user functionality will get easier.
“When you have an opportunity like this, you jump in with eyes wide open”
TechCrunch: What was it like working on a moving target, where you might not know what the device your app eventually launches on would be able to do?
Tseng: It was fun! When you have an opportunity to jump in on an emerging category like this you jump in with eyes wide open, knowing there will be some dynamics before things start settling in. We went in fully aware that this is very early and still in development, but the opportunity to build on Google Glass was quite thrilling.
We always like to think of massive scale and how we can increase happiness in our users live. With Glass, even though it’s very early, it does feel like the natural evolution of where computing is going. As it evolves from the desktop to phones to computers we wear all over our bodies, it behooves us to start only on any technology like this so we get an early glimpse of what users want.
TechCrunch: There’s no way to read the feed or get notifications on Facebook For Glass right now. Did you consider the balance between building an immersive experience and one that might interrupt and overwhelm people?
Tseng: I think it really comes down to how a device like Glass will continue to evolve in our daily lives and the role it will play. We wanted to keep it simple, but it was a no-brainer that photos are a very enjoyable use case. Starting with that was a very straight-forward decision. We’re excited to see Google’s feedback and get people to tell us what they think, what they wish the device could do in addition to photo uploading and we’ll take that into consideration.
TechCrunch: What’s it like being at Facebook and working with Google? Is there any of the animosity people think there is?
Tseng: We love working with the Google Glass team. From the very first conversation I had with the team when we said “Wouldn’t it be great if we did this?” to launch was just a couple months. That’s a testament to both teams working very closely together to get this shipped.
More broadly, it’s often forgotten that we have a great relationship. Facebook is one of most popular Android apps today. We already work very closely on that experience as well. And then Home is the latest manifestation of that relationship.
TechCrunch: What about your previous arguments about data portability and who can import whose email contacts or social graph?
Tseng: Data importation? With the Glass team that never came up at all, so I haven’t even thought about that in this context.
TechCrunch: Is wearable computing the future of social networking?
Tseng: No, I think social networking is a broader concept. It permeates everything we do in our lives. Wearable computing is a way of helping you connect more closely and see context about what’s around you, but I think it’s a misnomer to say it represents the future of social networking.
TechCrunch: Are there specific Google Glass features you’d like to see?
Tseng: Oh yeah! I’d like to keep some of those secret for now. We want to surprise folks when they come out. This app is really our first foray into anything like a Glass form factor. We expect to learn a lot.
After losing mobile product head and Facebook Home team member Charles Jolley to Battery Ventures, Facebook is facing another departure from a previous Home staffer. Draper Fisher Jurvetson announced today that Facebook’s head of product for Android, Bubba Murarka, has joined the firm as General Partner and Managing Director.
Murarka has been with Facebook since 2008, and has held positions as business development lead, and was most recently head of product for Facebook for Android where he started the Facebook Home project.
Murarka helped scale Facebook’s Android product team to more than 50 members and pivot the mobile development strategy toward native applications. During his tenure, Murarka oversaw business strategy for search, photos, places and helped negotiate a number of strategic deals with key Facebook partners including Microsoft, Netflix and Yahoo.
Prior to Facebook, Murarka spent seven years in technical and product roles at Microsoft. While there, he acted as group program manager for Bing’s Bay Area development team. He originally started his career at Microsoft in Seattle as part of the original threedegrees team, which developed an early messaging app.
At DFJ, Murarka will identify new investment opportunities in the early-stage consumer and mobile space. He will also advise current companies on strategic partnerships, growth, product vision, and strategy. For Murarka, the DFJ role makes sense as he has been an angel investor and advisor to more than 10 companies in the consumer mobile and online education sectors since 2008.
This has been a big week for Facebook engineering and product departures. AllThingsD reported yesterday that engineering director Josh Wiseman has departed the social network for an EIR role at Social+Capital.
TenFarms, a startup working on a couple of interesting mobile product ideas, just announced that it has raised $2.7 million in funding from undisclosed angel investors.
The company has already released its first product, Photopoll, which allows users to share photos (you can pull them from your camera roll, Amazon.com, or Instagram), tell stories around those photos, and ask their friends for opinions. There are lots of other polling apps, but when founder and CEO Nils Forsblom showed me Photopoll, he emphasized the ease with which users can share multiple photos. The app has attracted a largely female audience, he said, and it will be tailoring the experience to that audience with future releases.
More interesting to me is what TenFarms is working on next — Adtile, which delivers mobile ads that don’t interrupt the user experience until someone chooses to view them. If you’re browsing an app with a stream of content, some of that content might have an Adtile icon, and if you tap on, say, that photo, it will flip over and show a related ad.
Will anyone actually tap on the ads? Forsblom said that he’s been happy with the results from the early tests, though he declined to offer any specific numbers.
Forsblom said this approach has some big advantages over other types of mobile advertising. For one thing, he said the ads themselves offer a good user experience. For example, one ad he showed me not only highlights a relevant product, but also maps out the location of nearby stores and allows users to call those stores. He said the experience is designed natively for iOS, and he argued that it’s almost wrong to call it an ad — it’s more of “an app within an app.”
The other advantage is targeting. Adtile will allow advertisers to advertise in apps in a specific topic or vertical, and they can also target by geography. Even better, Forsblom said, “We understand what’s the product or thing that it’s showing — when you flip [the content] around, there should a very, very close relationship with with the ad itself.” At the same time, he cautioned, “None of these things are ever perfect.”
Forsblom said he won’t be selling Adtile units directly, but instead working with ad networks. He also said that he wants to experiment with different pricing models, so that it’s “more democratic” and the ad that gets served isn’t always the one that comes from the advertiser with the biggest budget.
Before TenFarms, Forsblom founded Fruugo, a shopping startup that seems to have flamed out despite raising $48 million in funding. In a recent interview, Forsblom said that after taking on investors at Fruugo, he was “basically powerless”: “That was my biggest mistake, giving those voting powers to the investors and basically just being an employee of the company.” That’s why he said he’s being careful and retaining control this time around.