Microsoft Paying Bloggers To Write About Internet Explorer

Update: Microsoft says they’re suspending the program in a statement: “This action by a vendor is not representative of the way Microsoft works with bloggers or other members of the media. The program has been suspended.”

Why in the world is Microsoft (through an agency) trying pay bloggers to write about Internet Explorer? Do people still do this? And given my position on paid posts, why would they think I’d be willing to participate?

This is just layers of stupid.

Here’s the link in the request below. Here’s the hashtag (#IEbloggers) that they’re requesting people use, so I’m guessing anyone using that is getting paid.

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The Data Center Is Broken, And Mesosphere Fixed It

mesosphere2“The data center is broken, and we fixed it, like Google. Developers will never have to worry about scaling issues again.”

That’s a strong statement from Mesosphere CEO Florian Leibert.

At CrunchFund, we believed it and invested last year. And we’re very happy to see Andreessen Horowitz lead a new round (along with Data Collective and Fuel Capital) of $10.5 million today.

Mesosphere isn’t some hot new messaging app, but they do make it possible for that app to scale. As Cloudera is to Hadoop, Mesosphere is to the open source Mesos cluster manager.

To some including us, that’s just as sexy as that app. Or even more so.

In short, it’s the operating system for data centers. It lets you combine your severs into one, big computer. And it’s credited for fixing Twitter – Mesos manages some 50,000 cores at Twitter, in fact.

“Mesosphere brings Google-scale compute to everybody,” says former Twitter Chief Scientist Abdur Chowdhury.

Mesosphere provides the packaging and tools needed by companies without Twitter’s resources but who want the same ease of scaling. And those companies are starting to migrate to Mesos and Mesophere more and more frequently.

Airbnb, Twitter, Hubspot, URX, ebay, Groupon and others using Mesophere are just the beginning. We are very excited about where this company is going.

10 Million Designs On Studio And They’re Just Getting Started

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It’s been a good week for Studio, one of our investments.

Yesterday TechCrunch covered the launch of Studio 2.0 (download app here). And today Apple put it on the “Best New Apps” list.

What is Studio? If you haven’t tried it yet, it allows you to create, remix and share designs using your own photos. It’s extremely fun and really easy to create great looking images quickly.

Studio first launched eight months ago and since then they’ve gathered 2.5 million happy users who’ve created 10 million designs.

And that was just the old version. Check out the new version of Studio, you’ll like it. And let me know what you think.

The video below shows you how it works:

Finally, The Fake Follow On Twitter

It was, whoa, nearly six years ago that I humbly requested that Twitter give us the ability to follow someone without actually having to listen to them talk.

Why would we need such a feature?

But there are a lot of people who for some reason are greatly offended when you don’t reciprocate a follow…on Twitter… When this happens (and it happens a lot), you have a choice – deal with the fallout (“that guy is such a jerk”) or just friend the person and avoid the pain. Here’s the problem, though. When you follow too many people the service just becomes unusable.

The Fake Follow looks like a normal follow to the other person, but to me it’s like I didn’t follow them at all. This solves the ego stroking issue (and related problems) that so many people have, and it keeps the content stream clean and usable.

Twitter announced that exact thing today.

Muting a user on Twitter means their Tweets and Retweets will no longer be visible in your home timeline, and you will no longer receive push or SMS notifications from that user. The muted user will still be able to fave, reply to, and retweet your Tweets; you just won’t see any of that activity in your timeline. The muted user will not know that you’ve muted them, and of course you can unmute at any time.

They’re calling it “Mute,” but we know exactly what it is. A Fake Follow. A glorious thing.

Abacus, the Back Office Inefficiency Remover

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I’m fascinated by startups that remove inefficiencies from real world tasks. Abacus, one of our newest investments, does exactly this. But most people don’t quite understand why yet.

At first glance it’s just another useful app for streamlining business expenses. TechCrunch did a good overview of the service when it first launched a couple of months ago, but I don’t think they quite captured the essence of what Abacus is doing.

There are a whole class of “software-meets-reality” startups today that are successful because they remove pain from a real world activity. Sometimes people didn’t even quite know that the pain was there.

Uber is a perfect example. After using it for the first time people realize that it isn’t really about the nice cars. It’s about getting a car whenever and wherever you need it. That’s a service that taxis are supposed to provide, but they don’t. Anyone who has stood endlessly on a street corner waiting for a taxi, or who scheduled one for a ride to the airport but it never bothered to come, understands this. Uber fixes the taxi mess and makes life more enjoyable.

I’m not going to say that Abacus is the uber-for-expenses because it isn’t. But I apply the same thinking towards analyzing what Abacus does as I did when we invested in Uber.

First, like other apps Abacus makes it a lot easier on the user to keep track of business expenses. Take a picture of a receipt or let it interact with your email and you’re basically done.

The key differentiator with Abacus, though, is that it takes a (very painful) batch process of dealing with employee business expenses and removes pain at almost every point along the way.

Here’s how the old expense system works:

1. Employees gather expenses and file reports periodically to the company.

2. The company goes through an approval process, enters reports into accounting software and then either cuts physical checks or integrates into payroll. They need software for all of this, and more software for communicating with employees. lots of back office employee time is spent dealing with all of this.

3. Employees get paid eventually, but it may be 60+ days after the expense.

4. That means employees have to float the expense for a long time on their credit cards. If they can’t handle the delay they have to do things like borrow the company Amex to pay for bigger expenses, which adds further complexity to they system.

Here’s how Abacus works, eliminating pain and busy work along the way:

1. Employees use the app to get expenses into the system as they incur them.

2. A manager uses the app to approve expenses immediately (or every few days, whatever they want).

3. Abacus auto-syncs with the companies accounting software, makes a same day auto-payment to the employee’s bank account, and handles all communication with the employee.

Again, I want to highlight that the main feature here isn’t “taking pictures of receipts.” It’s about eliminating the need for employees to float expenses for weeks or months, and about removing a ton of back office manual process pain while doing it.

That means a company looking at Abacus is going to see a lot of happy and want it immediately. The fact that it’s very reasonably priced makes that decision even easier.

Not only did we invest in Abacus, we’re going to use it ourselves at CrunchFund and recommending all of our portfolio companies take a look. Once a startup has even a few employees, Abacus makes a lot of sense.

Big hopes for this one.

Facebook Gets it. Google Doesn’t.

Facebook announced a new way for people to log in to apps “anonymously” today. You still log into the (third party) app using your Facebook credentials, but Facebook sends absolutely no information about you at all to the app.

Read all the coverage about it on TechMeme. The tech press is impressed, even to to point of wondering if there’s a catch.

I don’t know the details, such as if this is something all apps have to implement if they want Facebook login, or if developers can opt not to offer it while still using the “normal” FB login.

But it doesn’t really matter. Facebook is addressing a strong desire for privacy by its users.

Distill that even further and it comes down to this – Facebook is treating its users, at least in this case, like its customers.

Then there’s Google. Today I read that they’re going to stop scanning student Gmail accounts (because of a lawsuit). Of course the rest of us who haven’t sued Google get the same old treatment.

I’m also still simmering over Google+ logins. I’ve diligently avoided getting a Google+ account for years now. The times that they’ve auto-created one for me because I clicked the wrong button I’ve deleted it. I’m still able to use Gmail without it, but Google Voice is rumored to be shutting down soon, and the only way I may be able to continue using my Google Voice phone number is if I finally relent and get a Google+ account.

I’m not going to go into the very many reasons why getting a Google+ account may be a bad idea – you can Bing that if you don’t already know. But even though no one wants to use Google+, Google is pushing, whining and pleading with you constantly to sign up – because it’s the only way they can continue to push higher numbers of “active users.”

No one uses Google+, but the whole Internet has an account there.

We’re not Google’s customers. Never were. We’re just a bundle of data to be sold to advertisers, and they don’t give a damn what we think about that.

Facebook may not be all that different, really. But at least today they treated us like human beings. And for that I’m grateful.

Don’t Be Evil™

Twitter Private Messaging: Opportunity Lost?

The valuations of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and others are, obviously, stunning.

Twitter is our de facto identifier now (think of all the times you see Twitter handles on TV news and other media). Not Facebook, and certainly not Google.

Allowing proper private communication among users is an obvious easy win. And yet Twitter has never really cared about private messaging. Direct messaging is a long neglected product, and Twitter doesn’t seem to care much about it.

I wonder if Twitter execs regret not paying more attention to private messaging, and if they occasionally fantasize about the extra tens of billions of dollars they might have added to their market cap if they had done so.

It’s not too late.

CrunchBase Is All Grown Up

In the early days of TechCrunch I realized we could really use a data repository to help keep track of all the financing, M&A and people news around startups.

We’d cover all of these things as they happened but it was a huge pain to go back and research historical information. I thought about creating a basic wiki for startups but the lack of structured data was an issue. If I created a profile for a person I wanted there to be links to the companies that person worked for automatically created. Adding them in by hand wasn’t going to work, and anyway the links would quickly become stale.

So we built CrunchBase in 2007, a wiki with structured data, and started dumping data into it. We quickly abandoned the first iteration and by late 2007 we had a pretty good application that served the community well for years.

When AOL acquired TechCrunch in 2010 I kept telling them that CrunchBase was probably the most valuable thing they were buying. It took a while but they finally got it and started putting real resources towards improving it.

Today there are an astounding 23 people working on CrunchBase, led by Matt Kaufman. I’ve known and sometimes worked with Matt for some 15 years now, and he’s a very good product guy. It’s in the right hands.

Yesterday CrunchBase relaunched and has some really nice new design and data organization features. You can read all about it on TechCrunch.

I really like where CrunchBase is heading. I do urge them to keep the data open to all, something we built in from the beginning. This is community data, edited by people in the community, and it’s important that the community continues to feel free to use and repurpose the data.

Some rules around the API are needed, and there have been some bad actors that have taken advantage of the openness of CrunchBase in the past. But the benefit to everyone in having this data available and open far outweighs the damage done by those very few bad actors.

Congratulations to the team on a great relaunch. I continue to use CrunchBase daily and am so proud to see it continue to grow.

The Hypocrisy Of Sam Yagan & OkCupid

OkCupid played a major role in the successful effort to bring down Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

On March 31 the company showed a message to all visitors using Mozilla’s Firefox browser. The message stated: “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”

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As we all know, Eich’s opposition to equal rights for gay couples stemmed from his $1,000 donation to support Proposition 8 in 2008. There are no other allegations that he ever showed any other discrimination against gays or anyone else.

Most people will argue (including me) that OkCupid is permitted to express opinions and take actions like this under its first amendment rights as a corporation.

But what was OKCupid’s motivation? And how does OkCupid’s co-founder Sam Yagan fit into this?

I believe that it was a PR stunt by OKCupid, that the company isn’t really committed to gay rights at all, and that OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagan was particularly hypocritical in this.

To go further, I think that a person and/or a company who deliberately destroy a man’s reputation and career under false pretenses just to get a PR bump is being explicitly evil.

Here’s my support of that.

1. Many people (here’s just one example, but a quick search pulls up far more) have pointed out that OkCupid’s actions appeared to be little more than a PR stunt to get attention. Regardless of motivation, there’s no argument that OkCupid benefited hugely from the saturated media coverage of their boycott.

This was a PR stunt, and as I show below, nothing but a PR stunt.

2. Sam Yagan is the co-founder of OkCupid and CEO of Match.com, OkCupid’s parent company. He certainly approved OkCupid’s actions, and his twitter stream shows numerous statements confirming his approval and, later, support of Eich’s forced resignation.

3. And yet Sam Yagan made a $500 donation to U.S. Congressman Chris Cannon in 2004.

4. Cannon has a special kind of hate for gays.

The Human Rights Campaign gave him a 0% rating on supporting gay rights. He voted no on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. He voted for a ban on gay adoptions. And he supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as man/woman only.

He also voted to make the Patriot Act permanent, and supports (literally) any limitation on abortion that anyone can possible think up.

He’s the kind of politician that led me to vow to never vote for a republican again.

5. Is it absurd to judge Yagan as a person based on a single donation, years ago, to a politician well known for waging war on gays? Yup. But that is precisely what Yagan and OkCupid did to Eich.

In this new reality, supported by Yagan, it is both acceptable and a moral imperative to judge people based on their prior political donations, even those made years and years ago.

6. How can a man orchestrate and support a boycott of Mozilla over Eich and yet donate to a hateful politician like Chris Cannon? How do you square that?

You don’t. A man who feels strongly enough to boycott Mozilla over Eich’s actions is not a man who would donate to Chris Cannon.

OkCupid received a clear benefit, media attention, for trashing Eich. But their co-founder and ultimate CEO has shown strong anti-gay tendencies in the past. That’s hypocrisy, and worse.

Division And Fear In Silicon Valley

I have not seen any issue that has divided Silicon Valley so deeply since first moving there in 1992 as this Mozilla thing has.

I’m not talking about the blogs, even this one. I’m talking about very emotional disagreements breaking out on Twitter and Facebook between people I respect and who until recently thought that they saw these issues of equality, tolerance and freedom the same way.

The worst of what I’m seeing is this – people who have steadfastly supported gay rights (and minority rights in general) but don’t like seeing how Eich is being treated are being called bigots and worse by their colleagues.

At some point soon everyone is just going to exhaust themselves, and an uneasy truce will emerge.

But the long term fallout seems to me to be that a lot of people simply won’t say what they think any more out of fear of retribution. That’s what will cost us the most.

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