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Yaron Carni 2

Yaron Carni, lead investor

Google’s announcement last month that it was acquiring Tel Aviv-based LabPixies for a rumored $25 million caught some Israeli analysts by surprise. That’s a tidy sum for a small startup with just 12 employees that has raised less than $2 million over its four years of operation.

Yaron Carni, LabPixies’ lead investor wasn’t caught out, however. “I immediately loved the company’s products, their vitality and, of course, the team,” he said. Speaking on behalf of a handpicked group of angels including Auren Hoffman and Fabrice Grinda, Carni added “we were all deeply impressed with the character, commitment, talent and forthrightness of the founders.”

LabPixies was particularly attractive to Google due to the company’s role in developing some of the first and subsequently leading ‘gadgets’ for the iGoogle platform, Google’s alternative interactive home page. LabPixies products have garnered as many as one billion impressions a month while signing up 40 million users. One of its most popular products is ‘Flood-It,’ a game that involves dragging colored balls around the screen. “It’s very addictive,” admitted Carni.

LabPixies also builds translating programs, news and weather reports, calculators and calendars that run on other social network services including Facebook, Hi5, Yahoo and MySpace, as well as Google’s own Android mobile operating system.

However, LabPixies doesn’t make its money from the Web, but by selling mobile apps, primarily for the iPhone. Company CEO Ran Ben-Yair won’t divulge financial information, but he did tell the Israeli business journal The Marker several months back that the company has “millions of dollars in revenues.” Carni added that the company has kept costs down by staying “lean.”

Despite Google’s increasing competition with Apple in the mobile space, there’s no indication that the search engine giant will drop its support for LabPixies’ iPhone products.

Google plans to merge LabPixies into its Tel Aviv office, which according to a press release “will anchor our iGoogle efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” leveraging LabPixies’ “knowledge and expertise to help developers and improve the ecosystem overall.”

The big winners, of course, are the investors and LabPixies founders – CEO Ben-Yair, VP R&D Oded Poncz, VP business development Nir Tzemah, and creative director Udi Graff.

Investor Fabrice Grinda wrote on his blog that he was “seduced by the company. They had crazy amounts of traffic in the right countries (Western Europe and the US). Their users loved them. Moreover, their products fell squarely in a rapidly growing ecosystem: Social networks and mobile applications.”

If anything, Grinda was sorry to “sell so early. The company and team are great and the category is only becoming bigger.”

Google Israel’s managing director, Prof. Yossi Matias, is understandably bullish on high-tech in the country. “Google believes in Israeli innovation and creativity and we’ll continue to strive for collaborations with local companies and startups in the future,” hesaid .

Carni, in turn, is a big believer in Google. The deal to buy LabPixies spanned a number of months, Carni said, during which time Google was “a pleasure to work with… from the product people to the human resources professionals. They were always direct, honest and comprehensive.”

LabPixies is Google’s first acquisition in Israel. The company joins other international Internet heavyweights such as AOL, Microsoft and eBay who have invested in the local Silicon Wadi high-tech scene. Google has been active in Israel since 2005 but has never bought a company until now.

This post originally appeared on the Israel21c website.

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Image from Mary Lindsay's blog

Image from Mary Lindsay's blog

When the web first started becoming paramount in how people consumed news, there was a lot written about the dangers of information “narrowcasting” and how it would result in a populace that knew little about what happening outside their own limited sphere of interest. Traditional print newspapers and magazines were lauded because by their very nature they enable readers to serendipitously stumble across news they might not have searched for on Google.

An interesting interview on a recent episode of NPR’s On the Media with Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center, and Clive Thompson, a writer for Wired and The New York Times Magazine, suggested that – surprisingly – social media could be an answer.

Thompson cited the research presented in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” about how many people someone can actually have as friends or colleagues. The number, says Gladwell, is 150; human beings can’t really keep track of more than that. But on social media, that number jumps to the hundreds (and in some cases, particularly on Twitter, the thousands).

I have over 600 Facebook “friends.” Do I know all of them well? Certainly not. But something interesting happens when it comes to learning about news. The more “friends” we have, the more likely it is we’ll learn something about a topic we didn’t expect to and likely wouldn’t have searched for either.

And if enough of our friends share or re-tweet on a particular subject, we will come to think this is “important” (even if it’s really about some ludicrous boy in a balloon). More seriously, the tweets emanating from Iran during the recent mini-revolution definitely opened many new eyes.

Admittedly, most of our friends are “like us” in terms of educational backgrounds and socio-economic standards. But some of those friends may have a wider circle that includes one or two more exotic colleagues. And I have not been terribly discriminating about who I “friend” – when I have a question that I need answering, I then have a wider circle to whom I can publish.

The issue of serendipity in social media has come up recently with one of my clients. The client has a particular organizational focus, and most of what we post relates to that topic. But sometimes we also publish links to articles off-topic which we feel will be interesting to our readers. It’s a way of keeping the site timely and relevant. But it also has the effect of populating our fans’ activity streams with news they might not have seen otherwise.

So, if part of the product management services you provide your clients includes preparing and executing on a social media “content plan,” keep in mind the serendipity effect. It can help establish you more as a destination site within the social media universe…and it’s good for the world too.

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YouTube is Embracing Hyperlocal

by Brian Blum on July 30, 2009

in Classified Advertising

Hyperlocal is coming to YouTube. The Google-owned video-sharing giant has invited the more than 25,000 news sources listed on Google News to become video suppliers. The site is also promoting videos from ABC News, The Associated Press, Reuters and other outlets.

YouTube’s hyperlocal trick is to match your location with news from your area (in YouTube’s case, that could mean as far away as 100 miles). Through its “News Near You” feature, the site is already distributing hometown video from dozens of sources, and says it wants to add thousands more. Ultimately the goal, speculates The New York Times, is to engineer newscasts on the fly.

So far, most of the videos on YouTube aren’t coming from mainstream TV outlets. You’ll see panoply of college newspapers and radio stations and amateur filmmakers. But that doesn’t devalue the potential. And of course homemade video from Iran already made news when distributed by YouTube last month.

To date, nearly 200 news outlets have signed up with YouTube to post news. Google search results now show YouTube videos alongside news articles. News providers split the revenue from any advertisements that appear with them.

The new YouTube program shouldn’t run into the same controversy that has plagued Google News recently: news outlets sign up as explicit partners.

For newspapers, distribution of video news via YouTube could have additional revenue opportunities: links to classifieds pages can now be embedded directly into videos. These links could be keyed to the specific content of a video (a review of a new car could like to the automotive classifieds). Or it could be a more generic link back to the publisher’s classifieds section (or for that matter wherever the paper wants the link to go).

That might be the first revenue-generating application of YouTube’s new program. But newspapers should keep their eye on the program and, we’d suggest, jump in early to grab mindshare and credibility in the brave new YouTube news world.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts: AIMGroup.com.

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How to Block Google From Indexing Your Site

by Brian Blum on July 19, 2009

in Home

As newspaper chains and agencies like the Associated Press complain that Google News has been aggregating their content thereby hurting monetization opportunities, a Google exec says: “grow up.”

Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google, writing on Google’s public policy blog, explained that if you don’t want your content to show in search results or on Google News, you can put a simple piece of code on the site that will block Google from indexing the article.

For all you techies, just add <meta name=”googlebot” content=”noindex”> to a page and that’s it.  It’s called the Robots Exclusion Protocol and it’s been in use for more than 10 years.

(It’s something by the way many good blogging systems like WordPress have been able to do with free plug-in’s for years.)

Publishers can even require that the material Google indexes can be removed after a certain date (say, when it gets archived and goes behind a pay wall). You simply add a specification to the page reading “unavailable after,” Cohen went on to explain.

Cohen started off his post by quoting a declaration from a group of European newspaper and magazine publishers stating that they “no longer wish to be forced to give away property without having granted permission.”

“We agree,” he responded, “and that’s how things stand today. The truth is that news publishers, like all other content owners, are in complete control when it comes not only to what content they make available on the web, but also who can access it and at what price. This is the very backbone of the Web.”

Frankly, we don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Having content show up on Google News and point back to the original story seems like a way to increase traffic and generate revenue. Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia University Journalism School and former deputy managing editor for The Wall Street Journal, said the same in an interview at PaidContent.

“Yes, it’s hard on the ego to watch another site get credit for your hard work, but is it really hurting the bottom line?” Aggregators are possibly “saviors” for drawing eyes to news sites, Grueskin said.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts: AIMGroup.com.

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