Archive for August 13, 2011

EZOfficeInventory Lets SMBs Easily Track And Manage Company Assets (In The Cloud)

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Office inventory management systems: Not exactly the world’s sexiest software to be sure. Yet, without inventory and asset management systems, many enterprises would likely work at a similar pace to the DMV. Currently, SMBs have no shortage of tools to choose from when selecting a software system for tracking office assets and inventory; however, most of these options involve working tirelessly with Excel or using some kind of desktop product, like TurboSystems, Data Village, or FoxFales, to name a few. If a company has more than a few dozen employees, though, Excel and desktop solutions can be a pain in the ass.

Syed Ali, a former Sun Microsystems employee (before the company was acquired by Oracle) and his team of IT and software geeks, said that they had grown tired of having to deal with repeated occurrences of outdated and incorrect office inventory in today’s tracking solutions. Syed said that he and his team have collectively worked with many different companies that, for example, do in fact keep lists of office assets, but specific information related to who has what (like tracking records of check outs) is often completely missing or worse outdated — not to mention the fact that misplaced assets are often assigned the wrong employee who may not even work at the company anymore.

The problems, as one can imagine, are numerous. To help resolve these issues, Syed and his team are today launching EZOfficeInventory, a SaaS-based solution that approaches asset management untraditionally through a delegation model, in which the responsibility of inventory tracking is shared by employees, reducing the workload on the administrators.

The solution enables pooled office assets to be tracked with ease through a checkout and checkin mechanism for employees as well as an activity newsfeed for administrators, allowing them to review and take charge only when needed. Employees can also identify available assets that they need to get their jobs done and can get access to manuals and drivers instantaneously.

Since EZOfficeInventory resides in the cloud, the solution employs QRCodes as asset tags so that, with an asset’s unique URL embedded in the QRCode, employees can quickly reference asset details and identify the rightful owner in the event something gets lost. And employees can do this with a quick scan from an iPhone or Android device installed with a QRCode reader and web access.

The solution also works to minimize the effort involved in audits, as administrators can request pictures of the asset or other custom workflows from employees with a few clicks. EZOffice also lets administrators view reports on usage, track checkouts and checkins, the total cost of ownership, and even service history on their company’s assets.

Companies can also change the security settings in their solution so that it is compatible with existing workflows and add further privacy features when necessary.

Some readers may find the following newsfeed image to be reminiscent of Basecamp (the well known product released by 37Signals, the same company that is home to David Heinemeier Hansson, the guy who created Ruby on Rails). EZOfficeInventory is also implemented in Ruby on Rails, as Syed says that he is “an avid fan” of the web development framework.

EZOfficeInventory offers a free two-month trial of its cloud app, with packages for more than two users beginning at $29 per month.

The asset management system is still in the very early stages (and the startup is bootstrapped at this point) at this point, and there’s work to be done on the website’s design and UI (and on the name as well), but the software itself is attacking an important pain point for many small and medium sized businesses.

While putting the responsibility of asset management into the hands of employees (along with, of course, a system of checks and balances) may well prove to enhance efficiency and trust among those employees, it is risky. But Syed says that this is “part of the fun of merging enterprise with web development” and the very process of using web tech to target enterprise level problems. It’s a shot at the status quo, and the CEO believes it’s a shot worth taking in spite of the risk.

For more on EZOfficeInventory, click here.


OMG/JK: With Google+, It’s All A Big Game

Even though it’s the end of summer and tech news has started to slow to a crawl, there was actually quite a bit to talk about on OMG/JK this week. In this episode, Jason and I focus on three key things: Amazon’s Kindle web reader, Facebook Messenger, and games on Google+.

Is Amazon screwing with Apple? Is Facebook screwing with SMS? Is Google screwing with Facebook? Those are the main points of discussion. We also sort of veer off into a discussion about whether or not Google+ is all one big game in the more metaphorical sense.

And as a bonus, you’ll get to see our awkward transitions between stories.

Here are some of the key stories we talk about this week:

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2005 Zuckerberg Didn’t Want To Take Over The World

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The Huffington Post has come across this fascinating five-minute interview of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s Palo Alto office in June 2005. The clip is apparently part of a longer 40-minute-interview from a documentary about millennials shot by Ray Hafner and Derek Franzese.  That interview has never been shown in full, and if I were Hafner and Franzese I’d be figuring out a way to do that stat, especially post-The Social Network.

Zuckerberg’s initial vision, “an online directory for colleges” seems remarkably short-sighted in light of the fact that Facebook users comprise now 11% of the world’s population and 35% of the world’s online population. In retrospect Zuckerberg may have wanted to put the fratty red beer cup down (Fun fact: He had just turned 21, also that’s co-founder Dustin Moskovitz doing a keg stand).

But at the time the site, which Zuckerberg modestly described as an online directory for colleges, had only penetrated 800 schools.The fact that Zuckerberg seems impressed by seeing people using TheFacebook at college parties and by reports of people logging in internationally leads one to wonder just how strategic the social network’s meteoric rise was.

His goal at the time was to expand to all 2,000 US colleges, and when asked what was next the Facebook founder said, ”There doesn’t necessarily have to be more. A lot of people are focused on taking over the world or doing the biggest thing and getting the most users … There’s a level of service that we can provide when we’re a college network that we wouldn’t be able to provide if we went to other types of things.”

This is a far far cry from Facebook’s current motto, “Making the world open and connected.” But sure, hindsight is 20/20. I mean how else do you explain Zuckerberg, and Reed Hastings, making this CNN “10 People Who Don’t Matter List” in 2006. Hilarious copy, below.

In entrepreneurship, timing is everything. So we’ll give Zuckerberg credit for launching his online social directory for college students just as the social-networking craze was getting underway. He also built it right, quickly making Facebook one of the most popular social-networking sites on the Net. But there’s also something to be said for knowing when to take the money and run. Last spring, Facebook reportedly turned down a $750 million buyout offer, holding out instead for as much as $2 billion. Bad move. After selling itself to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox for $580 million last year, MySpace is now the Web’s second most popular website. Facebook is growing too – but given that MySpace has quickly grown into the industry’s 80-million-user gorilla, it’s hard to imagine who would pay billions for an also-ran.

Five years, eternity in Internet time.



Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 500 million users.

Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It…

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17 Secrets To Building Danny Meyer’s Restaurant Empire

Danny Meyer

Image: Business Insider

Since opening in 2004, Shake Shack has become a phenomenon: people will wait in lines for hours for a burger made with the chain’s special “shack sauce.”  

It was a brilliant concept devised by New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group also includes a host of other restaurants — Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park and Blue Smoke, among others — employing more than 2,000.

Of the 25 restaurants Meyer has opened, only one has closed — a stunning track record given that 80% of New York City restaurants fail. 

From a detailed profile by the New York Times and an exclusive interview with Business Insider, we’ve compiled the 17 ways Meyer has become New York’s most successful restaurateur.

Yumbling’s check-in app focuses on its Mexican users

Wondering which restaurant you should go to? The Mexican app Yumbling, which just went out of private beta this week, can offer you recommendations directly on your phone. But how exactly does it work?

What does Yumbling do?

Yumbling is an app that provides entertainment recommendations to its users in Mexico, from restaurants to movies and shows. These recommendations are personalized, based on the user’s location (à la Foursquare) but also on their preferences. For example, its suggestions go as far as taking into account food pricing and movies’ genres. So how does Yumbling know whether you prefer fancy food and action movies? According to its founder and CEO Ricardo Suarez, it mostly learns it over time as you use the app – which could be a challenge for Yumbling if users can’t immediately see its potential. On the other hand, being asked tons of questions when signing up would also be a huge turn-off.

The app is already available for iOS as well as most Blackberry and Nokia phones. An Android app will be released soon. Feature phones “are on the roadmap too”, tells Ricardo Suarez, which could be important for Yumbling to gain critical mass in a country where smartphones are still a minority. A limited version of the platform can also be accessed from the web, without the check-in features.

Yumbling vs. other check-in apps

One of Yumbling’s main challenges will be to compete with popular check-in apps such as Foursquare. Ricardo Suarez doesn’t deny Yumbling shares elements with these competitors (as it does with Yelp, which isn’t available in Mexico.) However, he insists Yumbling isn’t a clone of any of these services.

It’s true that Yumbling differentiates itself on several levels, starting with its niche, which is entertainment. Even if it includes check-in, badges and the likes, it chose to focus more heavily on recommendation and social. What remains to be seen is how the social layer will work now that the service is public; its relevance will depend a lot on the traction Yumbling manage to gain.

Cultural understanding could be Yumbling’s main asset; Ricardo points out that the app is “tropicalized”. To give an example, its check-in feature is actually a ‘check-out’ feature: dinners use it when leaving a place, rather than arriving. They can even delay notifications, and although the app is integrated with Twitter and Facebook, default settings aren’t usually set on “share”. These are small differences, but reflect Yumbling’s knowledge of its Mexican users’ privacy preferences, which are deeply tied to security concerns.

Yumbling, a Mexican startup

At the moment, Yumbling only works fully in the metropolitan area of Mexico City, though the cultural part of the service (shows and events) is already available nationwide. The startup’s team of five will now be working on adding restaurants’ and other local information to fully launch the service in Mexico’s other main cities. As for international expansion, Ricardo thinks Yumbling might first spread out towards the South (Central and South America) rather than to the US. This is quite surprising knowing the opportunity the US Hispanic market could represent, but the plans could obviously change – Yumbling will have to mature nationally before making any serious international plans.

As for its business model, Yumbling plans to leverage its advanced users’ profiling to sell targeted advertising. Sponsored badges and challenges (a series of actions to complete to win a prize) will also be a complementary source of revenues. Yumbling already managed to convince investors of this model and raised seed capital from Mexican angels a few months ago. This is quite an achievement: the Mexican ecosystem is less developed and early investment in web-related ventures is still scarce, despite recent initiatives such as Wayra and Mexican.VC. This initial round should give Yumbling enough resources for its launch. Its success will now depend a lot on its capacity to acquire users.

Would you use Yumbling? Let us know in the comments.

The history and future of NASA’s social media strategy

Growing up in the US, I obviously can’t speak for what it’s like to interact with Government agencies in other parts of the world. Here, though, there’s always that degree of separation between “we the people” and Uncle Sam. Since 2009, NASA has been trying to change that, all in the name of following a 1958 legislative act to the letter.

I had a chance to talk this week with NASA Social Media Manager Stephanie Schierholz about the history of NASA’s outreach, as well as the future. Since so many people tie the work of NASA solely to space shuttle missions and those missions have now ended, I was curious as to where the agency would go next. What Schierholz had to say gives incredible insight to how the agency runs, as well as some clarification of things yet to come.

The History

NASA, as I previously noted, was organized in 1958 in part as an answer to Russia’s launch of the Sputnik. As part of the conditions of its formation, it was mandated that NASA would share what it was doing as widely as possible with the American citizens. Being a government agency, it is naturally funded by taxpayers and as such it behooves the agency to be transparent about where its funding goes.

Traditionally, NASA spread word of its missions via television and newspapers, just as any other government agency would. In the early 1980′s, NASA TV was born to provide mission video to engineers and program managers, but NASA archived the footage as well in order to provide it to media organizations. As time moved on, these broadcasts began to be disseminated via more traditional means to the public over satellite and cable TV.

Flash Forward

As NASA has continued to keep the goals of public information in mind the organization has seen fit to use social media in order to keep the knowledge flowing. According to Schierholz, “it wasn’t clear cut as to whether [social media] was a worthwhile investment” of NASA’s time when the agency first stepped foot into the realm.

“We took Twitter as a test and now we have 1.3 million followers. That was in late 2008 or early 2009. Six to eight months later, we were on Facebook, but in the early days we invested most of our time on Twitter.”

You can now find all of NASA’s social channels via its Connect page on the NASA site, but getting there took a lot more than just signing up for an account.

Red Tape and Hoops

When any government agency makes almost any move, there’s a staggering amount of red tape which must  be removed. NASA is certainly no exception and the agency has perhaps had to work harder than others because of the methods that it has chosen in order to make certain that information is available.

In Schierholz’s view, the move to social media was a natural extension of what NASA was doing with NASA TV. “It seems natural to reach people where they are.” But in order for that to happen, the agency has had to go so far as to have specific terms of service written for social services so that it could agree to them.

“Twitter’s terms of service is acceptable to the government without any amendments to it. Foursquare is a great example of what is required. I was a user in 2009 and had played with it for 8 months before NASA worked with it. We had to figure out not only how we would use it but also whether it would be valuable and why.”

But the tape has been removed for a number of services, including Foursquare and Gowalla. In fact, partnerships have been made and events have been created that surround location services such as the first checkin from space:

NASA has also managed to be involved with sites that are more closely related to its obvious content. “Flickr and video platforms make a lot of sense for us and we’ve been using Slideshare since May.

The Continuing Mission

I was curious as to what would happen to NASA’s social media work as the space shuttle missions came to and end. While I’m aware that there’s much more to NASA than just strapping a cabin onto a rocket and hurling it into the sky, the shuttle missions have been probably the most recognizable part of the administration for years and they’ve certainly been the part that has gathered the most attention.

Schierholz assures me that NASA’s mission is far from over when it comes to social media and in fact we can expect everything to continue just as it has.

I asked, specifically, about the NASA tweetups that have happened over the past couple of years. These events, where followers of the @NASA Twitter account are invited to one of the properties to experience and ask questions, have been happening for almost 3 years and they’ve gathered a huge amount of attention.

“The first tweetup was in 2009 by the jet propulsion laboratory. They sort of did it as a new twist to the open house concept. It was a great success, had a lot of interest and when we told headquarters about it we started looking at feasibility.”

Turning the NASA tweetups into a more organized, official entity took a bit of time. Schierholz tells me that the first two events were held at NASA headquarters “to get a feel for the interest”. As the tweetups have grown, they’ve ranged from 2 hour events all the way to a half day and then even two-day events for shuttle launches. According to Schierholz, NASA has held open-houses for many years so transitioning to the idea of a tweetup was actually quite easy. “We weren’t changing too many things.”

What Schierholz states as one interesting fact is the response that NASA gets from invitations. Even for events that are only held for a couple of hours, NASA sees people flying in from literally across the country to take part. Going back to the subject of government entities seeming to be unreachable, Schierholz posits that part of NASA’s goal is to educate the public that “all of the centers are accessible.” As such, when people come in for a tweetup, they are then able to spread that education in an almost viral manner to others.

The Tweetup Culture

There is an ecosystem that has self-evolved around the tweetup participants. Schierholz says that as time has progressed the percentage of press versus Twitter users who attend events has taken a surprising turn. For the latest launch of the Juno 5-year mission, “we had 130 Twitter users and only 60-some registered press”. While that might seem damaging for helping to spread the word of NASA, Schierholz believes that it has actually fallen in line with the goals. One of the things that NASA has faced as newspapers have shuttered is the loss of “space geek” reporters. These reporters are now being replaced by space geek Twitter users who help to spread the word, often times volunteering for interviews with their local news agencies as a “word from the street” perspective.

The tweetups will continue, too. “There’s a lot of education that NASA is trying to do on a broad level,” says Schierholz. Simply because shuttle missions are over, space flight is not. Much of NASA’s work has been overshadowed by the shuttle missions, but there are still missions for the International Space Station, the Hubble Telescope and an increasing focus on Mars missions to keep things moving.

As these missions progress, so too will the tweetups and NASA’s social media presence. The culture that has evolved is one where participants have gone so far as to book joint housing in order to get past inflated hotel costs – for the STS133 launch, it was the first time that this happened and now 4 or 5 group houses being set up for a big event is becoming common. While there may be only 100 or so active #nasatweetup hash tag users during an event, they then get to join the fraternity of past visitors who share experiences and keep the memories alive to help feed information to others.

In all, over 2,000 people have participated in NASA tweetups and they’re building a community across the Internet. From alumni groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to self-organized wikis at NASAtweet.com Schierholz has seen efforts put out by the public that NASA simply doesn’t have the time, manpower or funding to do by itself.

Moving Forward

I finished the conversation with Schierholz by asking her what was next. If Twitter was the next big thing, and Facebook, Ustream and so on, I was curious to see what NASA thought would be the next step down the social media path.

“”We’re always considering what’s on the horizon for social media. We’ve been recognized as a leader and now we feel a pressure to maintain that perspective.”

In doing so, NASA is offering an open window into a government operation – this fact alone is something that we never thought we’d see and often times don’t. “It’s a great time to remind people about the other things that NASA does. This personal ability to have a level of accessibility that people have never had with astronauts is amazing.”

So then NASA’s social strategy is far from over. In fact, with the challenge of overcoming the space shuttle’s popularity, it is perhaps reaching a position where it will require more effort than ever before.

Glorious Images Of Apple’s New Spaceship Headquarters

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As we noted in June, Apple is building what is sure to be the coolest office building ever in Cuptertino, CA. The building is so important to the company that no less than Steve Jobs went to a Cupertino City Council meeting a couple months ago to seal the deal. They were eating out of his hand. All the rest is really a formality at this point. “There is no chance that we’re saying no,” Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong said after the meeting.

Today, Cupertino released more detailed plans about the project on the city’s website. Known as “Apple Campus 2″ to the city, the project will be built on a 175 acre area near the 280 highway. The total building will be approximately 2.8 million square feet, will feature a 1,000 seat auditorium (perfect for all but Apple’s biggest events), a fitness center, 300,000 square feet of research facilities, a power plant, and underground parking. But all of that sounds boring, what you really need to see is what it looks like: a giant, flying saucer-like loop. Luckily Cupertino included Apple’s proposal documents which include many new renderings of the project.

Cupertino says they still have to review the environmental impact of the project and have a few more public hearings before it’s actually approved. But yeah, again, there’s no way this isn’t getting done. Apple’s plan is to break ground next year and have the new headquarters done in 2015. It will house over 12,000 employees in one massive building.

Below find some new renderings and the full proposal embedded below that by way of 9to5 Mac.



Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer,…

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Nerf’s New Vortex Blasters Shoot Discs! And They’re Awesome!

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When I was growing up, one of my all-time favorite toys was my Nerf dart blaster. Every summer, the other neighborhood kids and I would take off on our bikes, blasters strapped to our backs, and have a full-on foam war. It’s been a solid decade since I’ve raised my not-so-dangerous weapon, but the other night something magical happened. I got to go to Nerf’s unveiling of its Vortex line of blasters, and realized that these things aren’t just for kids.

There are four new models in the Vortex line, and while they look pretty similar to older Nerf blasters, these sexy beasts have something totally new up their magazine sleeve: discs. Yep, little green discs fly out of these bad boys, and if you saw it happen, you totally wouldn’t believe that it doesn’t hurt to get hit.

Vortex Nitron:

This is the bad mamma-jamma of the Vortex family. It’s the first fully automatic, clip-fed disc blaster in the Vortex line. It’s removable clip can hold up to 20 discs at a time, and comes with an extra clip that attaches to the back of the gun for quick reloading. The Nitron shoots up to 50 feet, and is capable of rapid-fire shooting, although that really equals out to about a disc per second. Still impressive, but don’t get the idea that this is some sort of Nerf machine gun. It requires six C batteries which are not included, and will retail for $39.99.

Vortex Praxis:

The Praxis is designed for long-range shooting, and should come in handy for anyone training to be a sniper. It comes with a removable shoulder stock, just in case your arms are a bit too short. Unlike the Nitron, the Praxis requires a good pump before each shot, and comes with a clip that carries up to ten discs at a time. The Praxis will go for $24.99.

Vortex Vigilon:

The Vigilon is Nerf’s mid-sized blaster, and is just right for smaller kids. It holds up to five discs at a time, and comes with a rapid-reload built-in disc clip. When you press a little button on the sides the drop-down clip is released and with the discs, it’s really easy to just grab five at a time and shove them in there. Pop it back into place and you’re ready to go. The Vigilon will cost $15.99.

Vortex Proton:

Meet Nerf’s baby blaster: the Proton. This little devil shoots one disc at a time and comes with three discs. It’s super easy to reload, and is light enough for a little kid to run around with it all day without feeling weighed down. The Proton will go for the relatively low price of $9.99.

All four of the new Vortex models will be available in retail stores throughout the nation on September, 10, as well as HasbroToyShop.com. Check out our hands-on gallery just past the break.


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Dropbox $5,000,000,000+

dropbox

Image: Flickr BabyBen

See Also:

Brittany Laughlin

DreamIt Ventures

happy couple


The details of the mega round Dropbox is raising haven’t been released, but TechCrunch has heard from one source that investors have been chosen.

It also heard that the round is in the $200-300 million range as previously reported, and that its valuation is set at $5 billion or higher.

TechCrunch doesn’t know who the lead investor is, but it has heard that the startup didn’t go with the highest bidding firm.

Dropbox is a former Y-Combinator company; it is a cloud file storing and sharing service.

For more startups that have recently reached billion-dollar status, check out: The Billion-Dollar Club: 12 Startups With Skyrocketing Valuations

ReadWriteWeb Events Guide, August 13, 2011

We’re always on the lookout for upcoming Web tech events from around world. Know of something taking place that should appear here? Want to get your event included in the calendar? Let us know in the comments below or email us.

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