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Online marketing

Every 12-18 months it seems a new internet model hits critical mass and makes people wonder where was this Godsend of a product before; everyone is writing and talking about it, and the world is deluged with the inevitable clones and copycats. This is an inevitable part of the digital world we live in today… and the du jour “it” thing is crowd funding.

In the web’s infancy, independent bloggers and site creators would often include a PayPal donate here button on their site in hopes that some of their traffic would find it in their kind hearts to donate some money to help fund their artisanal or professional dreams. It’s questionable how effective what amounted to online begging was, but it never stopped webmasters from incorporating that little orange-brown button on their site. This practice has evolved into online platforms whos aim is to be the middle man between those in need of funds and those with funds to spare or share.

The crowd funding platform has two distinct models: money is given in return for actual goods or services, or investment with equity.

Some of the top crowd funding sites are:

Kickstarter – the alpha dog of crowd funding sites. Launched in 2009. More than 63,000 projects started and $250 million in pledges raised. Projects centered around creative artists and entrepreneurs/inventors attempting to launch new products. More than 13,000 campaigns have successful attained their monetary goal. Each campaign must offer a “reward” to contributors and if the finance goal is not met by a self-appointed deadline, the project receives zero funds. Roughly 60% of the 2,000 applying projects are accepted. Kickstarter receives 5% of funds raised, in addition to 3-5% to Amazon Payments, which processes contributions.

Indiegogo – founded in 2008. Any project is accepted with the exception of pornography or anything illegal. With a similar setup to Kickstarter, Indiegogo differs in that projects may keep whatever funds they raise regardless if they’ve met their monetary goal or not. Since all projects are accepted, the level of competition for awareness and funds is steep. Contributions can be made via check, credit card, or via PayPal. Indiegogo takes 4% if the fundraising goal is met and 9% if it isn’t. There is a 3rd party payment processing fee of 2.9% as well. Indiegogo is the site used to raise funds for bullied bus monitor Karen Klein, who received over $700K to send her on vacation.

GoFundMe – launched in 2010. GoFundMe is a platform dedicated to people who need to raise funds for personal reasons ranging from accidents and medical issues to tuition costs to celebrations and parties. The project is shared with users via social media and email. GoFundMe automatically deducts a 5% transaction fee for each donation a project receives. An example of a funded project includes sending a dying cancer patient on vacation through the $30K+ raised.

Unlike the previous money for goods platforms, there exists venture capital crowd funding platforms.

Microventures – launched in 2010. Microventures is an online broker-dealer that connects startups with angel investors looking for a share of equity. Investments amounts can range from $1,000 to $50,000. The funds are placed in escrow until the stated goal is reached. If the goal is not reached, the funds are returned to investors. Microventures handles investor relations throughout the entire process. There is a $100 submission fee, $250 for due diligence, and 5-10% fee of the total is the project goal is successful. Microventures’ primary area of interests are: internet tech, media/entertainment, software, , mobile, social, and gaming.

This is just a small fraction of the crowd funding platforms out there. Many are niche-orientated looking to attract a particular segmentation. They include: educational projects, music and musicians, scientific research, social awareness campaigns, television pilots and series, cosmetic surgery, nonprofits, and even adult.

With President Barack Obama signing the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startup) act into law on April 5th, it opened up startup businesses to new potential investors – the citizens of the United States. Private citizens could now invest in new business and entrepreneurs in an effort to help grow the economy. A by-product of the Act was growing the world wide web as well and making things more crowded.

Sources: Inc.com, TriplePundit.com, Wikipedia.org, Microventures.com, Kickstarter.com, GoFundMe.com, Indiegogo.com

It seems that Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg is no longer the boy CEO and it’s not strictly because of his very adult move to take the largest social network down to Wall Street. There is an old new face to social media’s superstar pantheon – his name is Sahil Lavingia, he’s a 19-years old CEO, and he secured $7 million in funding for his company. Take that, Mark.

As an employee of Pinterest and the one who designed the virtual pinboard, Sahil Lavingia contributed to what is now the 3rd (or 4th, depending on who you speak to) largest social network online. Unfortunately for Pinterest and fortunately for Lavingia, being an employee was not the goal – being his own boss and running his own company was, so he left Pinterest before its meteoric rise and started Gumroad.

The aim for Gumroad is to streamline the distribution of online payments. The key differentiation for Gumroad is that it connects prospective buyers and sellers across social media platforms. So as a member of Gumroad, you can sell your goods to your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Gumroad will help convert social networks into virtual marketplaces. The company will take a 5% cut of sales in addition to .25¢ compared to a similar service offered by Ebay, who takes a 9% cut plus insertion fees (which run from .10¢ to $2.) Gumroad will be the simplest and cheapest method of online social network transactions available.

Although not a totally new idea, enough VCs think highly enough of the idea, and more importantly of Lavingia to invest $7 million into Gumroad. SV Angel, Accel Partners and Lowercase Capital gave Gumroad $1.1 million in funding late last year. Gumroad has announced they’ve received another $7 million round led by Mike Abbot, former Twitter engineering head and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Additional investors in Gumroad include Max Levchin of PayPal and Turntable’s founder Seth Goldstein.

Lavingia is one of the youngest persons to receive money from a venture capital firm. Wise beyond his years, Lavingia is being guided and mentored by Josh Elman, a principal at Greylock Partners, a Silicone Valley venture capital fund. It’s impressive to consider when you take into account that Lavingia learned how to code four years ago at the ripe age of 15. Mark Zuckerberg must be proud.

Sources: Mashable.com, The Economic Times, Gumroad.com

We get it. Data is precious B. KB. MB. GB. TB.  Bits, bytes, and data.  We collect it daily and it needs to go someplace.  By now, most of us have (barely) lived through a hard drive catastrophe, whether it be hardware failure or operator error.  All of our photos, documents, movies, music, spreadsheets, powerpoints, and pdfs need to live somewhere not “here,” but somewhere “there” where it’ll be safe and secure, yet easily accessible when we need it.  That brings us to today – 2012 – Welcome to Cloud Wars, the battle in the sky for your data.

Here are the key players in the Cloud War:

Apple iCloud

If you have a Mac running their latest OS (Lion) and/or an iOS device, you are familiar with iCloud.  With no effort on the user’s part, contacts, photos, apps, documents, calendars, music, and other types of data are automatically backed up to iCloud and sync to your other devices iCloud-enabled. 5GB of free storage is given automatically, with an upgrade to 25GB for $40/yr and to 50GB (maximum storage offered) for $100/yr. iCloud only works on the web, Lion, and iOS.

Box

Box is aimed at a more enterprise customer with a strong focus on sharing content collaboratively. Users can send invites to  other participants to share and edit data, post comments and discussions, and receive automatic updates via email.  For personal accounts, Box.net offers 25GB for $9.99/mth and 50GB for $19.99, while business accounts can have up to 1000GB of storage for $15/user up to 500 users.  Note, there is no desktop sync for personal accounts, only business. Box supports web, Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, and Windows.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the current king of cloud services right now.  Integration between Mac and Windows and every other major platform has helped Dropbox hit critical mass, combined with the ability to backup and share any file from your desktop in just two clicks makes the process incredibly simple.  By inviting friends to try the service, free users of Dropbox can take their free 2GB (comparatively, not a lot) of storage and increase it by 500MB (per invitee) up to 18GB.  An upgrade to Pro 50 gives you 50GB for $9.99/mth and Pro 100 gives you 100GB for $19.99/mth.

Google Drive

Google is one of the newest players in the cloud game and has some distinctive offerings.  To begin with, 5GB are offered for free, and upgrading to 25GB costs $2.49/mth and 100GB costs $4.99/mth. A key differentiator for Google Drive is that it is really an extension of Google Apps, the online office suite, as well as a storage service.  The ability to edit Google Office Apps is built into the service while online, but offline editing isn’t supported.  The end game for Google as always is to utilize as many of their services as possible.  Google Drive supports Android, Windows, iOS, Mac, and the web.

                                           

Microsoft SkyDrive

Microsoft is also one of the most recent companies to throw themselves into the mix.  Similarly to Google, SkyDrive is an extension of Microsoft’s Office Web Apps where you can edit Office Suite apps online.  The key differentiator from Google Drive is that the file formats are the same on the web as it is on the desktop.  Also, Microsoft offers a feature called “Fetch” where if you forget to sync something up to your SkyDrive from one system, you can remotely access your other computer and grab the file.  The free storage begins at 7GB and you can add 20GB for $10/yr, 50GB for $25/yr, or 100GB for $50/yr. And SkyDrive works with Windows, iOS, Mac, and the web.

Roundup:

Determining the right service for you depends on several factors: cost per month, cost per GB per month, maximum file size, storage capacity, and platform integration. Another aspect to consider is Terms of Services and Privacy Policies. Dropbox and Google have been known to have some issues with users regarding the legal rights to data and information. Take a look at your needs and the data you’ll be using the service for in order to help make the right decision on which service to use and see your data up there, out there.

Sources: Microsoft, Box.net, Dropbox.com, Google.com, Arstechnica.com, Guardian.co.uk, FastCompany.com

The tablet market has firmly entrenched itself in the consumer landscape and shows no signs of eroding anytime in the near or distant future. As Steve Jobs proclaimed, we are living in the post-PC era. Although not the first tablet on the market, Apple’s iPad has seized a firm grasp on the market-and-mind share of the public regarding tablets. So, when it comes to the iPad, there is no competition. Naturally, Google has something to say about that.

According to reports, Google is looking to launch a 7-inch tablet with Asus at a $200 prince point some time in Q3 2012, through an online store, alongside other co-branded tablets from Samsung and Asus. It appears their goal is to build a tablet to compete, if not rival the iPad but Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

This is not new grounds for Google as they tried this approach with its Google Nexus One smartphone through its own online store two years ago, but shelved the efforts after disappointing sales. In case of role reversal, Google is playing the role of David versus Apple and to a lesser extent Amazon’s Goliath.

“We are currently modeling 48 million iPad shipments for calendar 2012,” according to Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu. In a few months, Amazon has sold more than 3 million Kindle Fires, entrenching it as the number two tablet on the market.

More than a strong brand name will be needed for Google to seriously consider making a dent in the tablet market. Apple and Amazon’s tablet success is based on several factors.

The iPad seamless integration into Apple’s iTunes ecosystem provides a wealth of media content for customers to consume, in addition to the incredibly robust App Store, which expands the capabilities of the tablet through 3rd party software. Likewise, the Kindle benefits from the connection to Amazon.com, where e-books, music, movies, apps, and more are a click away.

While the iPad boasts the more impressive hardware specs and is available for $499 & up, Amazon has been able to make the Kindle competitive in the market by offering the Kindle Fire for $199.

Earlier this month, Google consolidated its apps, e-books, and digital movies and movie businesses into one location called Google Play in order to align to align itself against Apple and Amazon.

But questions still remain: will purchasing a Google tablet require a two-year data contract from a cellular partner and will there be an infrastructure to support the tablet.

The biggest question for Google isn’t if, rather how… how soon and how good?

Sources: Computerworld.com, InternetRetailer.com, and AllThingsD.com

Facebook is saying goodbye to check-in deals, as it welcomes in Offers.

Offers allow page owners to post coupons that Facebook fans can collect from the News Feed or ad units. Unlike the previous check-in deals, Offers can be redeemed in-store or online, but don’t require users to visit a physical location.

Facebook is currently beta testing Offers with select businesses. The general thought is that Facebook is opening up Offers to larger brands first that are working with the social network as a premium advertiser under the guise of discover and resolving any issues with the creation and redemption of offers before taking Offers live to all pages.

Facebook says Offers will be available to all pages soon, but there is no clear timetable for the rollout.

The potential of Offers vastly outshines its predecessor, check-in deals, for several reasons. Check-in deals were difficult to create, needed Facebook approval, and their discover was difficult. Offers, on the other hand, are a more streamlined process. Page owners can create Offers as page posts, so they’ll be distributed to the page’s existing fan base. Claiming an offer is just as simple –one click sends a coupon to a user’s email address –which results in prominent News Feed stories that increase awareness of the promotion. Businesses may also purchase Sponsored Stores to support the offer.

Macy’s posted the first Offer last month. The coupon ran for three days and contained a 25% discount on purchases of $100 or more. The offer was claimed by more than 41,000 customers.

 

Sources: InsideFacebook.com and PracticalEcommerce.com

On Friday, March 16, Pinterest debuted their new profile pages, as it draws comparisons to Facebook’s Timeline with its clean, streamlined look and feel. The design change has brought on a much less cluttered page making the Pinterest experience user-friendlier.

The previous profile contained five columns; now there are four (although if you stretch your browser’s window, you can accommodate more). The tab on the left detailing following information and your photos and video pin status has been removed. Now, a horizontal bar at the top of the page details this information, as well as your name and description making it more visible. You will also see the profiles of the three people who you most frequently re-pin.

Added is a feature that helps you discover new people to follow and an “activity” button that reveals a pictorial summary of your recent pins and new people you followed. Adding new people will add their pins to your home page.

The page now makes use of white space to make viewing the page easier. In addition, the default for the profile page shows recent pins instead of Pinboards.

Pinterest has made the profile page customizable to an extent. The order of your boards – collections of photos with common themes – is easily rearranged. Plus, your most recent photo is displayed larger than the other photos in the board. You still do not have the ability to rearrange the photos themselves, only the boards.

To address the issue of knowing who you follow and who follows you, Pinterest created a navigation strip that contains this information, a count of your board, your pins, and “likes” from others.

When browsing profiles, you will be able to see all the things pinners have been doing on the network.

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann said, “We wanted to make it more beautiful… to make your profile different in kind than the profile you have on Facebook.” Yet, looking at the new design Pinterest can’t escape the Facebook comparisons as the social media big dog is the standard by which all other social media platforms are judged and compared against.

The jury has yet to reach a verdict on the design change as users are still acclimating themselves to the newness. It’ll be interesting to see if the new profile page will increase or slow the sudden and massive growth of the new social media site du jour.

New Profile Page

Old Profile Page

 

Sources: Mashable.com, Huffington Post

The headlines that grabbed our attention this past week:

Gilt Picks Your Next Discount Amount Based On Your Klout Score @ Mashable – Flash sales website Gilt Groupe has partnered with Klout — which measures a social media user’s online influence from 0 to 100 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Foursquare — to offer the unique discount on Klout’s Perks platform and will give out discounts solely determined by its members’ Kloutscores, with rollbacks as high as 100% off apparel and home decor.

Twitter Plots Big Changes to Brand Pages @ Ad Age Twitter continues to work on fine tuning its brand pages to add experiences, including e-commerce, contests and sweepstakes, according to three executives familiar with the matter. Read our deep dive into the most recent brand pages updates here.

PayPal’s New Digital Wallet Will Offer Personalized Deals, Flexible Payments, And More @ TechCrunch – “PayPal is changing, and this is the first major revamp of the core PayPal product. We’re known as an online payments brand but this is all part of PayPal becoming an actual wallet.” It seems like our wallets are going to get a even more digital if Paypal has its way.

AT&T announces $400 Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox @ cnet– AT&T will begin offering an exclusive Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox to its customers. The $399 device is a wireless audio system with a built-in dock connector for smartphones. Featuring a pair of easy-carry handles, the speaker system comes with a remote control and Bluetooth connectivity and gets its power from six D-cell batteries.

NYT @ SXSW @ Tumblr page – It’s SXSW time and this is one of our favorite Tumblr accounts that let’s us experience the wackiness of Austin without the tired feet, long lines and wet weather.