One of the top tech companies in San Francisco floating just below the surface of broader consumer consciousness is StumbleUpon, the discovery engine that co-founder and CEO Garrett Camp calls the "forward button for the internet."
StumbleUpon helps you find and share great content out along The Long Tail, and the more you use it the better it becomes at finding those gems that make the web, at its best, so entertaining and informative.
It's a bit unusual among startups in that it's about ten years old, and has already been through a major acquisition (for $75 million by eBay in May 2007) followed by an even more unusual event in April 2009, when its founders, including Camp and his co-founder Geoff Smith, bought it back from eBay at a deep (though undisclosed) discount.
The same week that industrial designers and roommates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky quit their day jobs back in 2007 to try and become entrepreneurs, the landlord of their SoMa apartment hiked their rent.
Faced with a sudden need to make some extra cash, they hit upon an idea. They knew that a major design convention was opening in town and that the hotels were fully booked. So they contacted the attendee list to offer airbeds in their apartment for people having trouble finding a place to stay.
The response was overwhelming and they quickly booked three guests, which netted them $1,000 or so, and in the process Airbnb was born, a community marketplace for people to list and find unique places to stay around the world.
Fast-forward to today, and Airbnb (which is headquartered in SoMa) is truly global in scope and has reached what Gebbia calls a "tipping point," with over 60,000 active listings in 12,663 cities in 181 countries. And just yesterday, it was announced that actor/tech fanatic Ashton Kutcher has invested a significant amount of money in the company and signed on as an advisor.
Molly Wood, CNET's Executive Editor, and the host of a daily web show covering technology, posted to her blog last week under the headline: "Welcome to the age of data. Watch your back!"
In a conversation with 7x7, she said that the current "information boom" sweeping through the Bay Area can be summed up by one word -- data.
"The startups have this in common. They harvest data, use it to make connections, to advertise to you, or to use the web as a giant recommendation engine. Essentially, they are forming a kind of supercomputer made of users and their data."
She notes the "dark side" of all this. "The level of information out there about you and me is staggering. They can sell this data. So the cost of 'free' has never been higher."
After the recent controversy caused by revelations that Apple has been using its customers' iPods, iPhones, and iPads to collect location data about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi hot spots, the Cupertino-based company moved quickly to claim that a bug was responsible and that it soon will be fixed.
Invariably, the way this story was perceived by much of the population was as another example of sinister, surreptitious data collection by modern technology in ways that could further compromise our dwindling sense of privacy.
Therefore, it triggered new calls for restrictive legislation in Congress and overseas.
What tends to get lost in the news cycles that originate with revelations like these is that virtually every tool or service we have grown to depend on in modern communications technology is storing data about how we use them 24-7.
David Sacks likes to call them "Dilbert problems."
You know, all those excess emails, unproductive meetings, and other awkward aspects of daily life in the typical office that make you wish you were anywhere else than -- in the office.
As the CEO of Soma-based Yammer, which positions itself as the "Facebook for inside the company," Sacks has a pretty good story to tell.
Since launching in September 2008, Yammer has attracted enough B2B customers that it now appears to be able to stake its claim as the social media platform of choice for the Fortune 500.
In every neighborhood where tech startups are located, you’ll see them – small groups of bright young men, mainly engineers, going out to lunch together. Very occasionally, there will be a woman who is part of the group, but that’s an exception that proves the rule.
It’s an odd phenomenon, this gender segregation, especially because virtually none of these young men fit the old-fashioned stereotype of sexists; by contrast, their generation supports equality between men and women more than any in the past.
And as these companies grow, they hire plenty of women. At Twitter, for example, a recent estimate has women accounting for around a quarter of the workforce.
But where the paucity of women is most striking is on the boards of directors of Web 2.0 companies. In a piece last December for the Wall Street Journal, Kara Swisher documented that none of the leading companies in this sector – Twitter (9 members), Facebook (5), Zynga (5), Groupon (9) and Foursquare (3)-- had a single woman on their board!
Facebook is ruining my life. My boyfriend and I were fine until I figured out that his last girlfriend is a total FB whore who posts a new profile pic every week, constantly updates her overly accessible wall, and has 800 friends. It doesn’t help that she’s gorgeous. I know she’s made herself available to him again, though he declined. Dealing with that is challenging enough, but tracking her status is making me crazy. I visit her page way too often and sink into total insecurity every time. Help!
Since it's a cliche that men and women are as different as, say, Venus and Mars, it should come as no surprise that the genders use social media differently, including when shopping online.
And with that emotionally-loaded holiday, Valentine's Day, looming on the horizon, those differences may well have unintended consequences in the offline world as well.
A new study by Empathica, a retail consultancy, found that women are looking more for good deals online, whereas men are more likely to just be seeking information.
“Women are more intentional and thoughtful shoppers,” Empathica executive Gary Edwards told Chief Marketer.
If you want to find out who drives innovation at a company like Facebook, it’s best not to look from the top down. Thus, while most of the press focused on 26-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg for being chosen as Time’s “Person of the Year,” a virtually unknown intern, Paul Butler, released his data visualization of human relationships globally based on ten million friend pair samples from the site (see image).
Butler, who hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is a math/computer science student at the University of Waterloo, told TechCrunch he came up with the map by doing this:
Q: I met a guy on OKCupid. We’ve IMed, and he’s asked me out, which is all fine. But I can’t Google him, and he’s not on Facebook or even on LinkedIn. I notice I feel uncomfortable about going out with him. Am I crazy? I don’t think he’s a serial killer or anything but even my 76-year-old Cincinnati grandmother shows up on a Google search these days!