Our day out at the Olympics Final Saturday

HomeAway files for IPO

HomeAway filed it’s S-1 on Friday (indication that it wishes to make a public offering).

The S-1 is available here:

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Beautiful house in Austin

HomeAway up with the big boys in Super Bowl commercials

HomeAway and the most customisable commercial ever made?

HomeAway.com launches it’s “Ministry of Detourism” commercial to be played at this year’s SuperBowl. It’s customisable – insert your own face, your holiday rental property or direct the advert… – and share it with your friends.


Watch the commercial and the other webisodes which explain the Hotels vs Holiday Rentals debate.

Eric Schmidt At DLD11: Google Will Add 1,000 New Employees In Europe


In the closing keynote of the DLD Conference in Germany, soon to be former Google CEO Eric Schmidt took the stage, notably less than a week after passing on the reins of the company to Google co-founder Larry Page.

These are my live notes from the keynote:

Thank you for inviting me. I wanted to take a moment to praise mr. Burda for what you have accomplished in general, and with this event. I don’t know of a more better-done invitation-only event on the globe, so my congratulations to you.

I hope you do this for many years to come.

I have a lot of things I wanted to talk about. Important announcement for starters: we had a good year and very strong last quarter.

Our businesses are doing very well around the globe, and as a result I’m happy to announce we’ll be adding 1,000 new employees in Europe and make some significant investments.

Hundreds of these people will be located right here in our technology center in Munich.

So, I think my next decade at Google will be even more interesting than the first. Technology will finally start doing what we want, instead of us telling technology what we want it to do.

(He’s giving some examples of innovation in computing)

Three things I want to highlight. In the area of mobile, the smartphone is the device of our time. In all forms, so including tablets, there are examples abound. If you have a child, you’ll notice they’ll have two states: asleep or online.

In two years, smartphone sales will surpass PC sales, and the growth factor is increasing. Mobile is growing 8 times faster than the equivalent of the PC at its time. We see it in our data at Google, and I’m sure you can see it too.

The majority of people will soon go online from their phones more than from their computers. Landlines will disappear.

If you think you like your mobile phone, image if you’ve never had any computing device and a solid smartphone is your first. That’s transformative, a mobile revolution.

That’s where my ‘mobile first’ motto comes from.

Another trend I want to highlight: I would argue that devices that are not connected to the Internet are no longer interesting. Take every single device you know that has a CPU, and start thinking what will happen if it can connect to your WiFi network.

The networks, by the way, are seeing their own evolution – look at LTE networks that are forthcoming. It’s an order of magnitude of improvement, and it will be global, even amazingly in the United States.

Interestingly, Germany is the leader in LTE deployment in Europe. One of the interesting estimates is that there are about 35 billion devices connected to the Internet. Soon, there will be so many that we’ll stop counting. We need to give credit to the backend part of the equation.

Typical example: we have this voice translation feature, real-time translation from one language to another using nothing but voice. It’s magic, but at the same time it isn’t, so we look at ‘how did this happen’?

In the backend of that service, there are thousands of servers, which by the way you don’t have to pay for. We need to talk about that at some point.

But to me, this changes the game. How many wars have started because of miscommunication? Now we can try and solve that.

You can do other things with your phone, but we must always remember that there’s a lot of infrastructure and things going on in the background.

Now, of course, we can digitize everything. If you think about it, computers can give you digital senses you didn’t even know about. Think of it as augmented humanity, computers actually making us better humans.

Take location-aware apps. For example when you’re walking on a street and your phone can tell you that you need something from a store that you’re walking by. That’s the future.

What drives us at Google? We basically want to give you your time back, make things faster, speed up search and especially more personal. But always with your permission, I have to stress. You decide where the boundary lies.

So imagine your phone knowing you really well, your likes and dislikes – the perfect walking companion.

(Schmidt mentions the huge growth of Android and Chrome, which I’m leaving out)

The Internet is the greatest disruptor of all times. It has replaced the economics of scarcity with economics of abundance. You’re everywhere all the time. It’s going through industry after industry after industry. You can now literally reach a billion people online, every day – who would have imagined?

It’s also terrifying, because it has a lot to do with information, and information is still power. I don’t know how society will work out conflicts on a variety of levels, but I do know people care a lot about it.

I don’t think society has fundamentally figured out how to deal with this abundance of connectivity, but it’s something I think needs to be figured out soon.

We’re just at the beginning. Which I think is why you need to keep doing this conference, by the way.

I’m a computer scientist, so I think computer sciences can solve a lot of problems – I may be a little biased.

Imagine a near future where you never forget anything, because computers, with your permission, remember everything. I used to love getting lost, wandering about without knowing where the hell I was. It’s terrible, you can’t get lost anymore.

You know your position to the foot, and by the way, so do your friends. With your permission. Computers can predict whether you’re meeting your friends as you’re walking towards their house, for example. With your permission again.

I’ve been surprised how much we can know about the earth thanks to Google Earth. We have the ability to know everything that goes on, anywhere, at all times. We know climate change is real, and we need fact-based discussions about it ,and technology helps us do that.

At Google, we’ll help you sort things out.

You never travel alone anymore, your friends are always with you. You’re never bored again, you ‘waste your time’ going online instead of watching television.

You’re never out of ideas.

And what is it about this car thing? Don’t you think computers should be driving cars? We’re doing some things at Google to experiment with self-driving cars, which I think is very exciting.

So never lonely, never bored, all the world’s information at your fingertips.

And importantly, not just for the elite. Historically, information has always been reserved for the elite, for various reasons. Our vision is that information will be accessible to every single people on the planet, and we’ll help sort it.

And it will not just be in the Western world. There are about a billion smartphones in the world, and in emerging markets the growth rate is much faster.

Our next achievement is bringing people in emerging markets into ‘our’ world.

I would argue that the future of all of us should be organized around a future of trying to do good. It’s pretty clear to me this is going to happen. This is a future that gives people time back to do things that really matter.

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Are the 2012 Olympics ticket prices too expensive?

Guardian UK

At up to £725 to get into a final, the entry fees will be too steep for the average punter

Taxpayers have stumped up billions to build the Olympic venues in London, yet with ticket prices of up to £725 for track and field finals, many will feel that only freebie-grabbing politicians and corporate hospitality guests will see the benefit. But are the London 2012 prices significantly higher than those charged at previous Olympics?

Compared to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, prices are certainly steep. Tickets for athletics finals in Beijing started from 200 yuan (£5.80), around a tenth of the minimum price demanded for London. But organisers say that given the much lower local incomes in China compared to the UK, it is fairer to compare prices to the earlier games in Athens 2004 and Sydney 2000.

But the figures suggest that even on this basis, London 2012 is very pricey. Athletics finals in Athens 2004 were a maximum of £255. Organisers have divided the athletics finals into two brackets – “finals” and “super finals” – with the latter covering the premium events such as the men’s 100m final. The cheapest price for a ticket at a “super final” will be £50, but then it rises rapidly through the various seating brackets.

The best bargain for London 2012 is the opening ceremony tickets at £20.12, although quite how many will be made available at that price has not been revealed. In Athens and Sydney, minimum prices for the opening ceremony were much higher. But the best seats will cost more than £2,000 – four times the price in China and double any previous Olympic opening ceremony price.

A games spokesman said: “We finalised our pricing having gone through a careful process of benchmarking and analysis of previous games, other UK events and sporting events, as well as undertaking research. The desire has always been to balance our budget, but also to ensure that as many tickets as possible are priced in an accessible way and giving us full venues.”

If you see the Olympics as a big yawn, yet live not too far from the action, then you should consider renting your property out. Tim Boughton of rental agency HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (holiday-rentals.co.uk) says homeowners could pick up as much as £2,000 a week.

“If the rental price rises seen in the South African World Cup are repeated, homeowners could generate an average of £4,500 by renting their houses during the 16-day event – an average of £2,000 per week,” he says. “Even at this increased rate, holiday home rentals still often work out cheaper than similar standard hotels, making them an attractive option.” But listing your home on the site costs £239 and any income from rents will be liable for tax.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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How Spotify’s Failure to Launch in the US Could Save the Company


Even the long fawning UK press is now saying what any startup who has tangled with the music industry has said all along: Spotify will not be able to launch its free any-song-you-want-to-hear-the-second-you-want-to-hear-it service in the US. The Telegraph is reporting that at the last minute the labels demanded too much upfront cash, killing a hard negotiated potential deal.

This is sad, but not a surprise. Despite all the reasons consumers would love it and labels should be empowering a rival for iTunes, the labels are in defensive mode and have never been rational when it comes to these things. My issues with how Spotify has handled this aside, I actually didn’t want to be right on this one. It’s a sad day for users.

But this will be the interesting thing to watch: Does Spotify just roll these we’re-definitely-launching-in-the-US assurances forward to 2011, the way the company has the last two years or does it pivot, and focus on building a profitable site for Europe and other less guarded pockets of the emerging world? In the Telegraph link above an unnamed source says the year of brutal negotiations has forced Spotify to “stop and think about whether it can afford the move to the US and indeed whether it is worth it,” while the article quotes a Spotify spokesman as saying the negotiations are “on-going.” Oh, Spotify.

Here’s my advice: Pivot. Spotify has spent two years, and undoubtedly plenty of money and focus, fighting what was always a Don Quixote like battle to make the US labels listen to reason. This is the same industry who sued their users. It was a valiant effort, but it didn’t work. We can argue why they should back Spotify all day long, but the last two years has proven that they are just not going to listen without Spotify having to make some major concessions.

I think Spotify should walk instead of making those concessions. No matter how hot of a startup you are, money and time are exhaustible commodities. Spotify should start directing them at challenges elsewhere until there is enough of a sea-change in the US music market that labels see reason. Giving into the labels’ demands isn’t the answer. Instead, Spotify should retreat, build in other countries, perfect its model, get to profitability, and then come back to this market when the labels are weaker and Spotify is stronger, boldly proving cynics like me flat wrong. Use your international headquarters as an advantage, not a liability.

Spotify board member Klaus Hommels told me in an interview late last year that he believed Spotify may be the venture industry’s last-ditch effort to build an online music company. (Other than Pandora, of course, the online music company with nine-lives that finally won the right to exist.) He told the labels in negotiations that if they opted instead to drain Spotify’s venture cash and leave it for dead the way they have to so many others, they may never get another hot upstart to back. And that would resign them to an Apple dominated world.

He may be right. So why not play the long game, instead of the short one?

(Note: Don’t worry, I’ve put two dollars in the TechCrunch Pivot/Swear Jar.)

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Quora Signups Exploded In Late December — Then Doubled From That This Week


So this service Quora, it’s getting pretty hot. But up until now, we’ve only be able to guestimate how hot it actually is. But today they’ve finally shared some actual information — on Quora, naturally.

Specifically, Quora engineer Albert Sheu has put up a long answer to the question: Why did the Quora website get so slow at the end of December 2010? The reason Sheu gives includes a brief explanation of how the service works. When someone adds an answer or updates one, everyone else on that page sees the new information in realtime. That’s obviously not easy to scale, and Sheu says they’ve never tested it beyond 2 to 3 times their normal load. That was an issue at the end of December because they started seeing spikes of 5 to 10 times their normal activity.

Why was that? Sheu credits a few things, namely, us:

On December 28th, we saw between 5-10 times more activity on the site than usual. A number of blog posts, including ones on TechCrunch, Scobleizer, CNN, and others fed a huge number of new users to the site. Later in the day, “Quora” hit the San Francisco trending topics list on Twitter, pushing our system beyond its ability.

Sheu credits Amazon’s EC2 system with allowing the service to get back up to speed relatively quickly. But the fact of the matter was that they simply weren’t really prepared for such a spike. And given how big it was, that seems understandable. Further, Sheu writes, “We take site downtime very seriously here, and so we did an extensive post-mortem of our site scalability during peak usage, and while usage was lower over the New Year’s, we upgraded and migrated almost all of our servers, removed a lot of inefficient code, and distributed some of our previously non-distributed systems.”

And it’s a good thing they did that, because this week, just one week later, the service has seen even bigger growth. Look at the two graphs below that Sheu has shared. The first one represents the late December explosion in signups. The second one is the explosion this week. As you can see, the giant growth from the December week has been far eclipsed by the growth this week. In fact, he says the signup surge this week has been twice as big as it was in the late December period.

This round however, we were much, much better prepared for the increased load. While a few of our services still saw delays, for example with email deliverability and picture uploads, our main web servers stayed up all through Monday and Tuesday,” Sheu notes, thanking the engineers that helped keep things up.

It seems as if most Quora users had seen the massive influx of new friend requests on the service in the past week or so — now you know why. I wondered if it was something Quora changed with regard to autofollowing, so I asked the company. “Nope, we haven’t changed anything recently. There has been a lot of activity and growth the last week especially,” co-founder Charlie Cheever told us last night. Sheu’s data clearly confirms that. And he seems like a good resource to have for scaling — he’s previously worked at both Twitter and Facebook.

So we’re sorry Quora for contributing to the problem. But it sure is a nice one to have.

Information provided by CrunchBase

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Airbnb Tucked In Nearly 800% Growth In 2010; Caps Off The Year With A Slick Video


This past December, I used Airbnb for the first time. After two years worth of buzz reading about the startup on TechCrunch and other places, I was interested, but skeptical. Turns out, it is just as awesome as it sounds. You can get a room, in various places around the world, in great neighborhoods, for bargain prices. And apparently I wasn’t alone in using the service in 2010. They saw nearly 800 percent growth for the year, co-founder Brian Chesky tells us.

More specifically, they went from about 100,000 nights book in January, to just about 800,000 nights book by the end of the year. “Travelers came from over 160 countries, and booked places in 89 different countries. We expect to hit 1 million nights booked sometime this spring,” Chesky says.

To make sure that happens, Airbnb continues to expand their coverage around the world. Chesky lists Hawaii, Sydney, Tokyo, Lake Tahoe, and Austin as places that have gotten recent traction.

They’ve also created a slick new video to explain exactly what Airbnb is to those, who like me previously, might be skeptical. Chesky says it was filmed at 13 different actual Airbnb locations around the world. It’s nearly as nice-looking as their iPhone app.

Information provided by CrunchBase

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